Drinking from skulls (adventures in travel)

Anyone who travels, especially on business, has stories at the ready.  The time you slept on the airport floor because of the blizzard, your suitcase that went to ORF instead of ORD, the screaming baby and sometimes fun things like the celebrity sighting or the flight where everyone goes a little nuts and starts singing show tunes.  And yes, all those things have happened to me.  In fact, my friends sort of expect it now.  When Mak travels the odds of Til Eugenspiel playing some merry pranks increases. If I’m flying alone it’s no longer a question of odds, it’s just math.  And yes, on occasion I’ve been known to howl at the moon or, more often call for the empty skull of the CEO to drink my Diet Mountain Dew.

There was the time in Roanoke when we got on the plane, then we all got off because of a flat tire.  No problem, it’s a 15 minute fix they tell us.  Of course, that didn’t include the five hours it took to drive the tire from IAD to ROA.  That’s also the time the gate agent was a real drama queen, equal emphasis on both words.  After four hours he stormed off. Considering that we’d been waiting for hours everyone was amazingly civil, no one had even raised their voices or cursed, we just wanted some updates now and then.  After we heard that door slam we all burst into laughter. When we FINALLY got on the plane we took over the cabin staff’s job and did the pre-flight orientation ourselves with each row taking a turn–my line was the “remember, the closest exit may be behind you.”

Then there was the time I had the middle seat between one very large man who had been drinking for quite some time and was dealing with some digestive issues.  The other side was a another guy from a culture that, well, doesn’t place the same value on personal hygiene as we Americans.  I turned the overhead fan on full blast to keep the stench down and ended up with wind burn at the end of that five-hour flight.

I still have fond memories of the dragon lady, snapping her fingers to get the attention of the cabin staff, arguing with me whether or not Ohio and New York were in the same time zone, picking up one end of the seat belt as if she were picking up a dead mouse by the tail and dropping it on my lap “this is yours.”  Complaining that she’d told the agent she wanted a window seat, which she had, but it was over the wing.  That was a flight from Chicago to Honolulu so dragon lady had time to molt at least twice along the way.   When she went to the bathroom I was shameless and looked through the papers in the seat pocket–she was on her way to a psychological society conference!  My friend and I are still convinced she was conducting an experiment on us to present at the conference.  I mean really, how can you be headed to Kauai and be in a bad mood?!

Ever been on a flight where there’s you, your buddies and about 80 people over 80?  That’s when I was flying to Tulsa with a bunch of very senior seniors on their way to Oral Roberts for something.  Not a single one could reach the overhead storage and they all had to carefully fold their coats, try, fail, refold and try again.  Reverse that scenario for getting off the plane.  Bless their hearts.  Actually I felt sorry for them because they really didn’t know how to travel and I can’t tell you how many of the little old ladies I had to show how to use the motion sensor faucets in the bathroom.

There was the landing where the pilot rethought things and did a 6 Flags roller coaster maneuver.  I told the terrified teen next to me that she’d have to pay big bucks for a ride like that at an amusement park.

Or the landing so sudden that all the oxygen masks fell.  Pilot apologized and said Denver had raised the runway 8 inches since the last time he’d been there.  Yes, he was joking, we were all just glad to get off the plane.

And the time when the wheels went down, then we heard the wheels go back up and we kept going–and landed at another airport.

Of course I’ve had the usual lost luggage, the many gate changes (record stands at 5 for the same flight),  sitting out a hideous storm on the tarmac hoping lightening didn’t strike the fuselage,  having to change plans completely when between take off and landing a tornado had gone through my connecting airport.  One flight where the kid behind me spent the entire flight kicking the back of my seat–such an urge to break knee caps and I’m not sure there would have been a jury that would have convicted me.  Oh, and the family that brought brats (as in sausage, not nasty children) on board in Philadelphia when we sat in an unair-conditioned plane in 100 degree weather.  We all stunk of garlic at the end of that flight!

Oh, and the lady that pitched a world-class hissy snit when she and her husband weren’t seated together.  I changed seats so they could be together but as I got up I told the stewardess in a stage whisper. “If their marriage can’t survive a 17 minute flight apart then I don’t think my changing seats can help them.”

Most of those thing I can tell myself to ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and get on with things but it’s when the airlines just flat out lie that I lose my cool.  You do know that the reason they want you on the plane fast is because on-time departure means they pulled the blocks away from the tires on time.  It doesn’t mean you took off on time.  That’s why the 24 minute flight from South Bend to Chicago is shown as taking a full hour–it gives them 36 minutes to f*ck with you and still be on schedule.

When a flight says on time and it’s already 40 minutes past departure.

When a flight says on time and there’s no plane.

When 10 minutes before boarding they change gates and you have to hustle your butt from the F concourse to the far end of C. (Chicago).

When your suitcase doesn’t get on the plane (when the connection is long enough) because there’s paying cargo they want to transport instead but they tell you it will be on the next flight–and say that for three straight days. Ever go to an international conference without a change of underwear?

Or when the flight is already two hours late and they scold people for not getting on the plane fast enough for an “on time” take off.

Or when they’ve over-sold the flight and ask for people with flexible travel plans to take a later flight. On December 24th.

Today I’m hoping that my suitcase from the last trip shows up before I leave again in a few days.  How my suitcase was able to make it to ORF when the airline couldn’t get me there I don’t know but I did have to explain that no, I was not going to drive to Norfolk to pick it up. They’d need to bring it to South Bend.  “You’ll have to pick it up.”   Well, driving 5 miles to the airport is a much better deal than driving 795 miles so yeah I’m fine with that.

Now, where did I put that skull……

Small luxuries, big luxuries

Today I’m more aware than usual of the advantages that make smooth my path.  A few extra dollars allow me to use valet parking for this business trip.  I don’t normally use valet but it’s winter and I’ll be getting back late at night.  It won’t be much more than standard parking, maybe $8 max more and still cheaper than taking the cab. I live in a cheap area, but my car will be there, engine running and windshield scarped. Because of storms and rescheduled flights I have two very long layovers (7 hours in O’hare and 6 hours in Washington)  but a couple of years ago I decided that I did enough travel that I’d get a United Club membership.  It means I’ll have wifi, working outlets, clean bathrooms with no waits, food, comfortable seating and mostly safe. Certainly not crowded, not noisy and a staff constantly on the move keeping things cleaned. That I can say that means I have technology with me, lap top, very good head phones and more. It also means my luggage is tagged as priority so it’s one of the first off the plane.  Bottom line, this lay over will be far less hassle and maybe even productive.  My path will be smoothed for me in terms of parking waiting and even getting on the plane (I board in group 2)

I don’t completely take it for granted, I know I’m a lucky lucky person thanks to an accident of birth that landed me in a middle-class Caucasian family that valued education and lived in an area with college-prep high schools.   But there are other advantages I, and most of us have that are all but invisible to us.

When I take my Mom to events on campus I have to get there very early to get one of the few handicapped spaces near DeBart. I’m aware that I’m mobile, I can walk the four steps up to the auditorium level.  With Mom we have to take an elevator and not just any elevator, the one that opens in the back.  We don’t sit where the sound is best, we sit in the wheel chair area in the back, off to the side.  Often my view is partially blocked by a pillar. The people in the great sound seats have no idea that they’re getting a different performance than we are.  They’re sitting where the sound blends at its best, the balance  is at its best, where no pillar is in the way.

And it’s not just that, it’s also where other special needs people and their companions sit.  It’s not unusual for autistic or children with other challenges sit with their parents so our performance is often punctuate with an over stimulated kid who stands and waves their arms while their parent tries to calm them enough to stay or try to leave as quietly as possible. Other children with profound medical complications have machines that hiss and whoosh to keep them breathing or fed or whatever.  And, it’s also where considerate parents and grandparents with a passel of small kids will try to sit because they know their kids are going to be disruptive just because they’re kids.

The rest of the audience doesn’t know we’re there, they don’t know about the service dogs, the seriously disabled children, the medical equipment. They enjoy the concert free to pretend that the world also includes the very aged, the mentally ill, the developmentally impaired, the blind, humans of all ages on the autism spectrum, the cerebral palsy, the muscular dystrophy and all the other conditions that I don’t recognize but share the back of the auditorium with Mom and me.

My priority boarding, use of the United Club, valet parking–those small luxuries smooth my path, make my travel easier but the large luxuries we seldom consider.  The ability to walk up a flight of stairs, the ability to book seats based on where we want to sit, not where we have to sit. The luxury of not needing to know which bathroom stall has the best grab bars or not paying attention to how high the threshold is and can I get the wheel chair over it or do I need to turn Mom’s chair around so the big wheels go over the bump first.

It’s a good day to say thank you for those big luxuries we seldom notice.


Lost in the Library

Lost covers a lot of territory.  Yes, come senior week some of our students will lose their cookies in the library–there’s a game they call the Hesburgh Challenge where they try to drink a beer on every floor or the 14 story building, plus the lower level.  That’s a lot of beer.  Alcohol content aside there’s the issue of capacity and many find it necessary to shed themselves of some of that liquid volume. More about the Hesburgh Challenge at some later date.

I have no doubt that some will lose their virginity in the library. Not that I’ve seen it here in Camelot but having worked at Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois well, undergrads do find the chance of discovery titillating and they’re certain that they will shock the librarians.  Oh little cracker doves, there comes a time when words and acts cease to be shocking and are just vulgar.

Then there are the physical items:

  • computers
  • full cups of $5  coffee
  • flash drives
  • head phones and earbuds
  • boots (boots?  shoe boots in 17 degree weather? two foot snow? yes.)
  • scarves, mittens, hats, shirts, slacks, sweaters, sweat shirts
  • underwear and  smelly socks
  • loose change
  • back packs
  • term papers
  • text books
  • notes
  • wallets and passports
  • IDs
  • skate boards
  • bikes
  • phones (yes, apparently they are capable of putting them down)

Basically, if it’s a physical item and you’d think they’d want to keep it they’ve left it in the library.  But there’s other things our students lose in the library; they lose their preconceived ideas, they lose their parochial view of the world, they lose their inability to contextualize events, ideas, literature, they lose a view of education where all the instructor wants is for them to synthesize information, at least this instructor.

Knowing what apostasy means with in Muslim faith requires a different dictionary than knowing what apostasy means to Mormon or Methodists.  Sure that’s a nifty quote but who said it and why should we care what they think? That editorial about the letter from the president of the University of Chicago to incoming students–if you want to understand that editorial then you need to know what that letter said, and what else was going on that made him think he needed to write it. Sure that article says according to Blah Blah–but let’s find that study and see if it really said that or if they distorted it out of all meaning. I know what Thomas Paine said about a natural form of government, I’ve read Common Sense–you read it and tell me what you think he meant and if you agree with it and why.

Information Illiteracy, that’s what gets lost in the library–provided there’s a librarian there to help them lose it.


Feet of clay

A friend recently admitted, very publicly, how complicated her life has been the last few years. By complicated I mean knitting an internal combustion engine from recycled aluminum cans riding a unicycle and translating the Bible from Greek to Korean complicated.  Now, as it turns out, she didn’t do it all perfectly.  Gasp, shock, horror.

This admission is likely to cost her a few friends who prefer the image of the saintly woman to the flesh and blood woman who had to keep her son’s toe nails trimmed, make sure the household didn’t run out of toilet paper, keep a pay check coming in and yes, did some thing that weren’t necessarily honorable but probably necessary to maintain sanity.  I applaud her for doing a far better job of it than I would have.  Whatever else, she was supportive as she could possibly be and has a remarkable kid.

Some years ago a friend’s daughter was going through dialysis waiting for a kidney.  When she was in the hospital the first time I suggested that they take things to give her a manicure with some fun nail polish.  I thought it was important for her to know that she was a whole person, not just a patient.  That little girl’s story has a happy ending.  An appropriate kidney became available in less than two years and no one even had to die to supply the kidney.  I look at this friend’s stumbles in the same light, she had to be more than just the wife of dying man.  And she was and is.

I too have feet of clay and they’re about to be more obvious.  Here in Camelot the Dome has invited VP Pence for the commencement address.  It’s a masterful political move; ND usually invites the new president to speak but huge numbers of faculty and students were opposed and some were in favor. I signed petitions, I participated in protests and sent personal messages urging that we NOT have that sorry excuse for a human here on the grounds that if he had been a student he would have been expelled because of his behavior.  Having that beast here was going to chaos and carnival.  Father J. side-stepped the whole thing by inviting Pence instead.  Make no mistake, Pence is horrible, but he is the former governor and he’s unlikely to openly insult people.  More than that, it will allow commencement to be about the students and not about the BLOTUS.  At least mostly.

There will be some who will charge me with enjoying my white privilege by not being as outraged as they.  They’re probably right.  I haven’t been quite about my views on Pence, I’ve said repeatedly that he’s all about e pluribus unum as long as the pluribus looks like white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, evangelical Christian rural Indiana. He’s wildly hypocritical and was happy to hurt the cities in order to keep his base happy no matter the harm to the state as a whole.  I won’t go to commencement.  If there are protests I’ll participate but I’ll try to keep this about the students and their accomplishments. No, I’m not as outraged as if he’d invited DJT.  As the former governor of the state there is some justification in inviting Pence, as disgusting as he is. There was NO justification in inviting DJT. In its own way it’s an insult to DJT with just enough of a good reason that the orange one can’t go completely off the rails over it.  As I said, it’s a masterful move and as a cis-gendered, white, heterosexual Christian I have the privilege of enough breathing room to say so, walk away from this and move on to other ways to resist this tragic lapse of national judgement.

So yes, with this early spring my sandal-clad feet of clay are on display.

Note:  there is nothing wrong with being white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, evangelical Christian and rural.  All those things are great.   There is something wrong with insisting that the entire, increasingly diverse, population conform to the social expectations of that single, specific demographic and, it’s wrong to insist that being anything else is less than another equal and valid part of this, our happy republic.



Lent, with cats

As part of my Lenten discipline I start each day reading in a quite room with no distractions.  Except cats.

Now I’m not a purist, when I say I start the day that’s after I pee, make the bed, feed the cats and get my morning Diet Dew in the cup.  No distractions includes longing for that first lovely salvation of morning caffeine. But then I settle into a chair in the den (Mom’s room much of the year) and pick up In Parables: the Challenge of the Historical Jesus.  I’m ready, lets get this thing done!

Push kitty boy away from the cushion he was determined to use as a scratching post.  Pick up kitty, tell him he’s a good boy, he’s a handsome boy, kiss his head and put him down.  Kitty claws enter my thigh.  Human, you are not done admiring me. Pet pet pet, good kitty.

Okay, NOW I’m ready, In Parables, I’m about to make you my bitch.

NO KITTY!  And there goes my Diet Dew.  With cat-like reflexes (ha ha) I catch it before it tips completely.  After clutching it to my bosom (you know how I feel about my Diet Dew) I pull my legs up and brace it between my thighs and assure it that Mommy will protect it from the bad kitties.  Pick up Parables.  Sarah jumps onto my shoulder and starts walking around my neck and face like an indoor track.  Stops frequently so I can admire her “rose bud.”

Resettle in the chair protecting my caffeine and finding an angle where I can read over Sarah’s back (or whatever part of her body is between my face and my book).  Parables, prepare to be read.

Thunk.  Kitty boy has my book-reading rubber duck. NOT A TOY. Dislodge Sarah, retrieve the book-reading rubber duck. Turn around, Sarah is now in possession of the chair and giving me stink eye.  She’s claimed that spot fair and square and no tarted-up ape  is going to tell her otherwise.

Day three of Lent, I’m up to page 8.  Good thing it’s a short book.



Lent–a Nerf crown of thorns

Mardi Gras and Carnival are over.  Today we accept the imposition of the ashes and begin the time of Lent.

If you’ve ever counted up the days then you’ve noticed that there are more than 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter.  Sundays are not a part of Lent.  Lent is never supposed to eclipse the sabbath which represents the resurrection.  That’s right, if you’re giving up chocolate or chewing your nails for Lent Sundays are by days.  And if you gave up FaceBook then you can login on Sundays.

I’ve done various disciplines over the past few years.  One year I gave up sugar and flour.  Flour was easy, sugar required a LOT of label reading but it did it’s job in making me more mindful about what I was doing.  One year I gave up oregano which put pizza, minestrone and most pasta dishes out of reach. At the same time it’s always felt as though giving up chocolate, biting your nails or not having deserts is really a second shot and keeping New Year’s resolutions.  Pretty trivial.  A very dear friend once complained about it being Lent when we were out for lunch.  She couldn’t have the steak she really wanted and was making do with lobster.  I told her she was wearing a crown of Nerf thorns.

A number of organizations are promoting a 40 bags in 40 days–to fill 40 bags (any size) with things to donate, recycle, discard.  This seems like a great idea, I’m not sure it’s really a Lenten Discipline but it’s a worthy effort so I’m not going to make fun of it.

So what is Lent?  The set 40 days dates from the Council of Nicaea in 325 C.E. and is intended to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days of contemplation and temptations in the wilderness.  After those 40 days Jesus becomes a public figure and begins his ministry.  Lent is a collective spiritual retreat, we’re supposed to live more intentionally to remind ourselves that even minor temptations are difficult to resist. The injunctions about fasting, meat etc. have changed (relaxed) a LOT over the centuries.  Probably a good idea, it’s better to have a discipline you keep than one you give up on.

Pastor Terry (Linworth Methodist when I lived in Ohio) gave a sermon on an Ash Wednesday that really stuck with me.  He thought that fasting, especially if it involved restricting fluids was barbaric and stupid–while it was one of the traditional means of observing Lent he didn’t recommend it. Basically, he didn’t think that being a cranky, headachy person at work, behind the wheel, around your family was within the spirit of Lent.  For that same reason I don’t plan on giving up caffeine–what have my friends, co-workers and library users done to deserve having to deal with me in a decaffeinated state?! Pastor Terry also said that anything involving neglect of personal hygiene was stupid. Your discipline shouldn’t be something you wear on your sleeve and it shouldn’t impose on those around you. Giving up shaving your legs or underarms, okay but bathe and use deodorant.

Because Lent nearly always overlaps with my annual whale watching trip I opt for a discipline that’s very portable and doesn’t impose on my traveling companions (who are also my best friends and women I love like sisters). So, during Lent no matter what else I choose to do I start the day with a quite period of reading and meditation on what I’ve read.   Over the years some of the things I’ve chosen:

This year it’s a twofer.  Evolution of Faith Phillip Gulley and In Parables, the Challenge of the Historical Jesus, John Dominic Crossan.  It was a tough call, I had lots of suggestions and I admit, I wimped out and went with authors I have read and appreciated before.  Finally went with these two because I really wanted to read In Parables but it wasn’t available for Kindle made it harder for travel because I don’t want to carry paper books.

Another Nerf crown of thorns.


Note:  There is something about the skin on my forehead that does not like ashes.  Usually while everyone else has a cross I have a smudge that gradually disappears over an hour or two.  This morning I accepted the imposition the campus chaplain and checked a mirror, this time it looks sort of like an IUD or, alternately, the zodiac sign for Ares.


Sources consulted:

“Lent.” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., vol. 8, Gale, 2003, pp. 468-470. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=nd_ref&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3407706599&asid=d4bf9aec636ec0c567415bdda0cbdc95. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.

Russo, Nicholas “The Early History of Lent”


Talley, Thomas J. “Christian Liturgical Year.” Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 2nd ed., vol. 3, Macmillan Reference USA, 2005, pp. 1741-1745. Gale Virtual Reference Library, go.galegroup.com.proxy.library.nd.edu/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&sw=w&u=nd_ref&v=2.1&it=r&id=GALE%7CCX3424500581&asid=6e058d57a558474f641c50cc579927e2. Accessed 1 Mar. 2017.



I hope the birds know what they’re doing


My father was smart, observant, curious about everything, widely-read, opinionated and cheap.  When Papa was in his Kon-Tiki stage we all threw salt and chicken bones over our left shoulders and read about the formation of the Hawaiian islands.  When he was reading The Pillars of the Earth  he planted flax because he wanted to try to make linen.  After a trip to South America my father felled a tree and set out to make a dugout canoe.

Then there was sailing, as cheap as my father could be he bought quality for his sail boat.  “You’re betting your life on that [insert name of a piece of equipment]”  Usually that was followed by “That’s a twenty dollar bill you’re holding in your hand.”  That doesn’t mean he bought the most expensive, just what he considered the best quality.

My father had an interesting approach to teaching his girls life skills–when it was time to learn to swim he rowed us out to a raft, picked us up and threw us as far as he could.  We dog paddled back to raft where he’d toss us again.  None of us drowned and three of us went on get our swim instructor’s credentials and raced on our college swim team so apparently we got over the trauma, or maybe we just over compensated. We all had to get our driver’s license with manual transmission before he’d let us get behind the wheel of an automatic.  I have never regretted knowing how to clutch.

Papa was also a purist.  Regulations required that you sound a horn  when you entered the channel.  There would be no sissy air horn for the Ta’aroa, no sir, we stood at the pulpit and sounded on a conch shell.  Al Gurley never really got over the Kon-Tiki phase though Mom did put an end to the throwing of chicken bones and salt.  Then there was the dingy, open oarlocks so his girls would learn to row properly, feathering the paddles.  I still have that conch shell and sound it on special occasions.

Among the things he taught us was that robins were NOT the first sign of spring.  Nope.  Red-winged blackbirds.  When you heard that distinctive brrrrrr-chirp THEN you knew it was spring.  Today on my walk home I heard red-winged blackbirds.  At first I thought I must have misheard, maybe I’d forgotten what robins sound like or maybe it was just a variation.  How could it be a red-winged blackbird?  It’s still February!  But then I heard the call again, and again until, at last, I spotted them in the trees near the water.

It isn’t the first too-early sign of spring I’ve seen.  The crows have been roosting, something I normally wouldn’t see for a few weeks yet.  Then there’s the robins.  Some of the guys hang around all year but they’re out in force.  The bachelors are all still in their “I love you man” phase but it’s only a matter of time now before the gals show up and the guys start showing off, marking territory and telling each other that this lilac bush isn’t big enough for the two of us.

March is a long month and the last frost is weeks away.  I hope the birds know what they’re doing.


Solemnest of industries

“The bustle in a house the morning after death is the solemnest of industries enacted upon earth”; Emily Dickson’s poem The Bustle in a House about putting away the heart after the death of a loved one.  There IS a bustle in a house the morning after death; putting things away, cleaning out closets, making arrangements for services, looking for black clothing that’s appropriate–all those things we do with our bodies and our hands to keep us moving and breathing while our minds wrestle with the unacceptable but inevitable.  After a few days we realize that yes, we clearly are still living so apparently we can go on without that much -loved person.

The fact is that, eventually, the house that holds our soul becomes too damaged for us to live in anymore and we move out.   For some that moment comes tragically young, for others it’s a span of decades that we call a full life.  In either case it leaves a gaping void in the lives of those of us left behind, a litany of reminders of moments we won’t share again, a sunset, a wave crashing on the beach, a child’s laugh, the touch of lips.

I wear a tribute on my shoulder to a friend I loved like a sister.  It’s a bird of paradise flower. It has multiple meanings–she loved birds so it’s a bird perched on my shoulder,  she loved gardening and she loved the tropics so it all fits.  And, of course, she would have hated that I got a tattoo so it’s there to annoy her for having left us all too soon and for such a preventable reason.

Today many of us are reminded again that the human tragedy is that the only things worth loving are things that death can take and yet to chose not to love is to chose to be less than human and so we love knowing that the price is terrifying in its enormity and nearly beyond our ability to pay.  But Emily is wrong, we do NOT have to sweep up the heart and put love away.  Or course you can love someone after their death.  In fact, what kind of person would you be if you stopped loving someone just because they died?


“These are your rights, all three of them”

The Clash’s  Know Your Rights  with its frightening warning that “You have the right to free speech as long as you’re not dumb enough to actually try it” is just as timely today as it was in 1982 when it was released.

You probably know that the right to free speech is in the first amendment, along with the right to free assembly and the prohibition against any religious test for participation in this, our happy republic.  But you might not know that our intellectual property law ALSO starts in the first amendment.  Yup, intellectual property law is the love child of the first amendment and Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution.

First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Article 1 section 8 of the Constitution

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;”

Those two short passages written a couple of hundred years ago are the basis of your right to do everyday things like:

  • record a show to watch later
  • quote a passage of a book or article in a paper on a website or a blog
  • parodies and satire (SNL, Weird Al)
  • memes (one does not simply….)
  • criticize our government
  • buy a generic drug (patent law)

You don’t even think about those things, but we enjoy those rights because they ARE rights granted under the Constitution and written into Federal Code such as Title 17 US Code.  Fair Use Week, February 20-24, 2017 celebrates those rights.  Copyright is part of intellectual property law but it’s not like physical property; it’s a series of rights that are granted  but LIMITED by the same law. Sections 107 and 108 take some of them away and, eventually, time takes them ALL away.

Have you enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock?   Sherlock Holmes is in the public domain.  Did you enjoy Disney’s Beauty and the Beast?  That story is public domain.  Have you printed off a recipe from King Arthur?  This chocolate cake is amazing and the biggest part of every recipe is fact and can’t be copyrighted.  Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise” is a parody and protected.

Fair Use is the awesome sauce we put on every bit of scholarship we do. Can you imagine scholarship if you had to pay royalty to make a copy of every article you want to read?  Can you imagine scholarship if you had to pay royalties for every passage you wanted to quote?  Can you imagine the state of democracy if you weren’t allowed to criticize the president?  Oh, wait…..

Our fair use rights are under threat–the term of copyright began as 14 years with a possible renewal of 14 years.  It was extended to 28 years with a possible renewal of 14 years.  Since 1996 copyright is now life of the author plus 70 years but, in the case of corporations the term is 95 years and potentially 125 years.  Copyright’s purpose is  drive MORE creativity, that’s why it says “limited time”–it’s not to provide heirs with cushy life styles or to ensure that Mickey Mouse always remains the property of Disney Corp.

You’ve seen those signs by scanners and printers about Warning: maybe be protected by copyright blah blah blah.  The law requires that those notices.  It DOESN’T require that we tell you that not everything can be copyrighted, that most of the Federal government publications are in the public domain (never covered by copyright), that works published before 1923 are in the public domain OR that there’s such a thing as fair use.  And THAT is why it’s important to keep the copyright office under the Library of Congress–libraries have been defending our intellectual freedoms for centuries and we need our national library to protect those most basic freedom, to quote, to criticize, to parody, to transform–all the components of our vibrant, creative and innovative society.