Archives for January 2009

Memo for Davos by Ramkishen S. Rajan and Kenneth A. Reinert

Over at RGE Monitor, they are hosting a Davos Debate.  Ramkishen S. Rajan and Kenneth A. Reinert, co-editors of The Princeton Encyclopedia of the World Economy, have posted a Memo for Davos in which they write, “While globalization may be a means of promoting economic development, it has clearly increased economic insecurity and contributed to rising social discontent in many countries. Under the Washington Consensus, a simple formula guided economic policy: globalization was good for growth, and growth is good for the poor. With globalization now unraveling, it is time to revisit this mantra.”

They call on the participants at Davos to consider five things–

  • The world is highly interdependent. Consequently, recovery is a collective good.
  • We must reconsider the balance between financial liberalization and regulation, and reduce the incentives to take outsized risks.
  • Despite the distraction of the financial crisis, the real economy—the actual production of goods and services–still matters.
  • We must revisit the issue of regional and global financial coordination and what, if any, role the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in particular should play in future crises.
  • The poorest among us will need to be protected.

Chronicle of Higher Education considers the state of academic publishing

Jennifer Howard at the Chronicle for Higher Education interviewed university presses large and small, including Princeton University Press, to probe what these uncertain financial times mean for our unique publishing programs. Surprisingly, it’s not all doom and gloom–though she reports that sales are down an average of 10% for the period between July and December 2008, she notes that some presses actually saw increased sales while others are making strategic changes to their business practices. And perhaps even more promising, Howard notes that none of the presses she spoke to mentioned trimming the number of books they are publishing.

But, in spite of this scattered good news, the future is still uncertain. As Howard writes, “For publishers, as for much of the world, the scariest thing about the downturn may be how hard it is to get a handle on.”

She goes on to quote Princeton University Press’s director Peter Dougherty: “The general feeling of uncertainty, I think, is as troublesome as anything. In a normal year, you can make some predictions with some confidence based on how things have gone. This year it’s a very, very difficult game to play.”

James Cuno on “Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong?”

Two questions dominate our consideration of the fate of the world’s ancient heritage.  The more vexing and urgent one — how can we prevent the looting of archaeological sites and the illicit trade in antiquities -– is not the topic of this article.  The second one is.

“Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong? In Western museums or in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?”

This question turns on two presumptions:

  • that antiquities are not where they belong, and
  • that civilizations create things and certain modern nation states have inalienable rights to them as heirs to those earlier civilizations.
  • In the first instance, it has been argued that British, French, and German nationals removed antiquities found in the Mediterranean basin and the Middle East only because their nations were the dominant military, political, or economic powers in the region.  Had Greece, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran been equally powerful — indeed if they had been independent, sovereign nations (they weren’t; they were part of a weakening Ottoman Empire) — they would never have allowed foreign nationals to remove their ancient cultural property.  And now that they are independent, the antiquities in question, even if they had been removed legally under previous regimes, ought to be returned to the jurisdiction of the appropriate modern nation states.

    These calls to return artifacts are an effort to redress historical imbalances of power, and have been justified on these terms.  It is also an effort to rewrite history.

    The Bronze Horses—who can lay claim?

    The bronze horses atop St. Mark’s in Venice were looted from Constantinople in 1204 on the order of the Venetian Doge during the Fourth Crusade. They had been in Constantinople under the Byzantines since the fall of the Roman Empire during which the horses may have been made (although they have also been attributed to the 4th-centuty BC Greek sculptor, Lysippos).  Venice itself was once part of the Roman Empire and then Byzantium until it became an independent Byzantine state in the 8th century and an independent city state by the 12th century, not long before the Doge ordered the removal of the bronze horses from the capital of Byzantium of which once Venice had been a part.

    History is untidy.  The imbalance of power in the region changed hands many times.  At which point should one redress it by returning the horses, and to which modern nation state?  Each country–Greece, Rome, and Turkey–has a case for their return on these terms: Greece, perhaps the first political authority to host the horses, lost the region to a more powerful Rome; Rome to a more powerful Byzantium; and Byzantium to the more powerful Ottomans who were then succeeded by Turkey.  Which imbalance of power should be redressed by returning the horses?

    Do civilizations ever make things?

    And what of the second argument for the return of antiquities, that even if legally removed, the great treasures of ancient art belong in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?  Do civilizations ever make things? And what defines the extent of civilizations: time, space, artistic forms?

    The government of Italy claims that all antiquities found within the borders of the modern state of Italy were made by cultures autonomous to the region. And yet for hundreds of years before the rise of Rome what is now southern Italy and Sicily was a Greek colony known locally in Greek as Megale Hellas, or Greater Greece.  Roman culture is defined by its emulation of earlier Greek culture.

    Cultures of any consequence have never been autonomous, have always overlapped with others, and their cultural products have always been hybrid.  As the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah has put it: cultural purity is an oxymoron. To claim one’s culture to be autonomous is to make a political claim, not a scientific one.

    On what basis can modern nation states claim to be heirs to ancient civilizations, except perhaps because they occupy land once occupied by inhabitants of those earlier civilizations? What if the borders of the ancient political entity and those of the modern nation state  are not coextensive?  Former empires — whether Babylonian, Egyptian, Persian, Chinese, Greek, Roman, Mongol, or Ottoman – distributed their cultural forms and influence across vast stretches of the earth’s surface.

    So again, the question is did civilizations make things?  And if they did, can a modern nation state claim such ancient things theirs by inheritance?  Appiah thinks not.  When writing about ancient Nok sculpture found in what is today Nigeria, he reminds us: “We don’t know whether Nok sculptures were commissioned by kings or commoners; we don’t know whether the people who made them and the people who paid for them thought of them as belonging to the kingdom, to a man, to a lineage, to the gods.  One thing we know for sure, however, is that they didn’t make them for Nigeria.”

    The UNESCO Convention of 1970 claims that ancient cultural artifacts were created by the “collective genius of nationals of the State.”  The Convention, written by representatives of modern nation states to support the primacy of national claims on antiquities as national cultural property, holds that ancient remains were produced by a collective national genius that is one and the same with that of the modern state.  All such claims are political in nature and nationalistic in character.

    The evolution of the Parthenon politic

    Consider the origins of the Parthenon as the symbol and political manifestation of what UNESCO would call Greek genius.

    The Parthenon was completed in 432 BC.  Eight centuries later, under the Byzantines, it was converted into a Christian church and remained so for a thousand years until the Ottomans conquered Athens and converted the Acropolis into a military garrison and the Parthenon into a mosque.  In 1687, a Venetian army besieged Athens and in the process bombarded the Parthenon causing the supplies of gunpowder stored there to explode.  Two years later, the Ottomans returned and built a small mosque within the ruined Parthenon.  That mosque would survive until the defeat of the Ottomans in the Greek War of Independence in 1833. Then the new, Greek nationalist forces declared the Acropolis and the Parthenon sacred Greek monuments and cleansed the area of what they thought to be all non-Athenian materials.

    To mark the new status of the Acropolis and Parthenon, the new Greek King (the 17-year old German son of King Ludwig of Bavaria) commissioned the German architect Leo von Klenze to rebuild Athens as the new state’s national capital. In a ceremony of dedication on the Acropolis, the young German prince (now Greek king) sat upon his throne within the Parthenon and, in front of soldiers and courtiers and young girls waving myrtle branches, listened to a speech delivered by Klenze in German.

    “Your majesty stepped today, after so many centuries of barbarism, for the first time on this celebrated Acropolis, proceeding on the road of civilization and glory, on the road passed by the likes of Themistocles, Aristeides, Cimon, and Pericles, and this is and should be in the eyes of your people the symbol of your glorious reign…All the remains of barbarity will be removed, here as in all of Greece, and the remains of the glorious past will be brought in new light, as the solid foundation of a glorious present and future.”

    The physical reminders of the years when the Parthenon was a Byzantine church and Muslim mosque were to be removed.  And the once pagan temple and all of the Acropolis were to be preserved as the nationalist political symbol of the new Greece.

    As one archaeologist put it, speaking at a meeting of the newly formed Archaeological Society of Athens in 1838, “it is to these stones [the sculpture and architecture of classical Greece] that we owe our political renaissance.”  Or, as another archaeologist wrote more than a century later, in 1983, the Parthenon is “the most sacred monument of this country…which expresses the essence of the Greek spirit.”

    The “imagined community” rears its head

    The question of nationalism (and nationalist political symbols) is complicated, especially in the case of Greek nationalism which depends on and derives from a notion of ancient nationhood. And yet most characteristic of ancient Greek collective identity was the preeminence of the city-state, whether Athens, Sparta, or Corinth.

    As the historian of nationalism, Anthony Smith, has written, “Despite their many shared cultural and religious beliefs and practices – in language, literature, art and architecture, festivals and Games, as well as the Olympian pantheon — attempts to unify the Hellenes politically foundered on the rocks of an exclusive city-state loyalty and patriotism.” But then nationalism doesn’t depend on the accuracy of historical references.  It supposes a past, especially a glorious past, which once lost has now been found in the form of the new nation, born of sacrifice and great suffering.  In Ernst Renan’s influential formulation, the nation is a “rich legacy of remembrances,” “a grand solidarity constituted by the sentiment of sacrifices,” for which “common suffering is greater than happiness” and “national sorrows more significant than triumphs because they impose obligations and demand a common effort.”  In Benedict Anderson’s words, a nation is an “imagined community.”

    There are many reasons to be critical of nationalism.  But it is enough now to point out simply that national identity based on the presumption of inheritance from ancient cultures is a fiction.  It can also be dangerous when combined with a presumed racial or ethnic identity, an unbroken and indelible link to the peoples of the ancient past from which the nation is claiming cultural continuity.  Such ethnonationalism holds that the nation is a result of ethnogenesis, or the evolution of self-identity through myths of common origins, shared historical memories, elements of common culture, and a measure of ethnic solidarity.

    The essence of the Greek spirit

    To back up such claims, archaeology has often been called into service to provide evidence that ethnicity can indeed be recognized and identified in material, cultural remains.  As the above cited archaeologist wrote of the Parthenon in 1983, it is “the most sacred monument of this country…which expresses the essence of the Greek spirit.”  Its stones are thus not simply the material of art- and architecture-making, they are indices of Greekness, imprinted with the very markings of ethnic identity.  And as such they are inalienable from the nation.

    For this reason, it is argued that the Parthenon sculptures in the British Museum and elsewhere in the world should be returned to Greece because they belong to Greece in a most fundamental way; and then only to Greece, or rather to Greeks, with whom they share an ethnic solidarity not possessed by the rest of us.  Such an ideological view holds that the world and its history and cultural forms are divided between peoples on the basis of ethnicity coincident with modern nationhood.  On these terms, civilizations make things because the people who make them are defined by their ethnicity which is determinative of their civilization, from ancient times until the modern nation state: people and their civilizations (now nations) are one and the same.

    Nationalism is the motive for modern nation state claims on antiquity.  The rub of nationalism, however, is that there are many more potential nations than there are possible viable states.  And not all nationalisms can be satisfied, at least at the same time.  This is made all the more complicated by the fact that many of the world’s potential nations live, or until recently have lived, not in compact territorial units but intermixed with other nations in complex patterns.  It then follows that a territorial political unit can only become ethnically homogenous in such cases if, in Ernst Gellner’s words, it either “kills, or expels, or assimilates all non-nationals.”

    The pressure to forge cultural identity, property

    The cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz has identified the inherent tension in nationalism between the motive for collective identity and the desire to build an efficient, dynamic modern state.  And he sees this tension as particularly severe in the new states – those that emerged from collapsed empires over the course of the 20th century – “because of the great extent to which their peoples’ sense of self remains bound up in the gross actualities of blood, race, language, locality, religion, or tradition, and because of the steadily accelerating importance in this century of the sovereign state as a positive instrument for the realization of collective aims.” We have seen and do see this in new states throughout much of the world – in Iraq and Afghanistan currently – but it is true almost everywhere.  As people move about the world to live in new places — about three per cent of the world’s population, or nearly 200 million people lived outside the nation of their birth in 2005 – identity pressures are increasing within the context of the state and its responsibility to build a civil society.

    Strengthening claims of national identity by assuming that civilizations (now nations) make things and that nations have claims on those things as their indelible and inalienable cultural property – as things with which they and they alone have ethnic solidarity and which is theirs by fact of inheritance – can only work against our efforts to increase our understanding of the greater world of which we are a part.  They are expressions of our tendency to divide the world into mutually exclusive parts, and they are born of fear and insecurity in the face of change.

    In his recent book, Identity and Violence, Amartya Sen wrote similarly against reducing individuals to a single cultural identity.  “The prospects of peace in the contemporary world,” he wrote, “may well lie in the recognition of the plurality of our affiliations and in the use of reasoning as common inhabitants of a wide world, rather than making us into inmates rigidly incarcerated in  little containers.”

    “Where do the great treasures of ancient art belong? In Western museums or in countries where the civilizations that created them once flourished?”

    National cultural property is a political construction.  The great treasures of ancient art belong to no nation but to all of us as heirs to a common heritage.  They belong in Western, Eastern, Northern, and Southern museums.  And we should do everything in power to distribute them around the world, encourage curiosity about them as evidence of our common heritage, and assume shared responsibility for their preservation.  If nations spent as many resources seeking to build public, encyclopedic collections – those with representative examples of the world’s diverse artistic legacy — as they do in trying to prevent the export of what they claim to be their cultural property and in building national, indeed nationalist museums instead, we would all be better off.

    Encyclopedic museums, like the British Museum or the Metropolitan Museum or the Art Institute of Chicago, serve as a force for understanding, tolerance, and the dissolution of ignorance and superstition about the world. They remind us of the connections that course through history and manifest themselves in the objects we prize for their beauty, eloquence, and fresh strangeness.  They remind us that culture is always living culture, always changing the way we see the world, and always transforming us, ourselves, into the bargain.

    Some argue that they are the legacy of empire, the fruits of military, political, or economic coercion. After all, we are reminded, encyclopedic museums are only in the capital cities of rich countries in the northern hemisphere.  It is true that encyclopedic museums are not everywhere equally; they are not even everywhere equally in rich, First World countries.  But they are not the legacy of empire.  If so, they would be not only in London and Paris but also in Rome, Istanbul, Cairo, and Beijing, each equally the capital of one of the world’s great historical empires.  And they are not.  There are wherever the Enlightenment left its mark – France, Russia, the Anglo-Saxon countries, principally; the legacy of inquiry in pursuit of truth.

    Current national cultural property laws constrain the development of encyclopedic museums and serve only the interest of nationalism. They claim culture for the nation and they use culture to buttress claims of national identity. They ignore the evidence of history, which, as the late literary scholar and cultural critic, Edward Said, reminds us, demonstrates that cultural expressions have always been both diverse and hybrid.  In his words,

    “As the twentieth century moves to a close, there has been a gathering awareness nearly everywhere of the lines between cultures, the divisions and differences that not only allow us to discriminate one culture from another, but also enable us to see the extent to which cultures are humanly made structures of both authority and participation, benevolent in what they include, incorporate, and validate, less benevolent in what they exclude and demote.  There is in all nationally defined cultures…an aspiration to sovereignty, to sway, and to dominance…At the same time, paradoxically, we have never been as aware as we now are of how oddly hybrid historical and cultural experiences are, of how they partake of many often contradictory experiences and domains, cross national boundaries, defy the police action of simple dogma and loud patriotism.  Far from being unitary or monolithic or autonomous things, cultures actually assume more ‘foreign’ elements, alterities, differences, than they consciously exclude.”


    James Cuno is president and director of the Art Institute of Chicago and former director of the Courtauld Institute of Art and the Harvard University Art Museums. He has written widely on museums and cultural policy. His recent books include Whose Muse?: Art Museums and the Public’s Trust, Who Owns Antiquity?:Museums and the Battle over Our Ancient Heritage and the forthcoming edited volume Whose Culture?: The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities.

    Iannis Carras reviews Russian Orthodoxy Resurgent

    From Open Democracy:

    On the eve of the election of a new Patriarch, Iannis Carras reviews a new book about the role of the Russian Orthodox Church during the transition from communism. John and Carol Garrard cast fresh light on the late Patriach Aleksii’s diplomatic skills, which his successor sorely needs to match.

    Read the complete review here.

    John and Carol wrote an article for the PUP blog after news of the Patriarch’s passing.

    The Joint Mathematics Meetings

    Math editor Vickie Kearn reports on the goings on at the Joint Mathematics Meetings held in Washington, DC, January 5-8.

    The Joint Mathematics Meetings, held in Washington DC this January, had its largest attendance ever—over 6,000 professors, practitioners, and students from high school on up. This was an increase of more than 500 over the last meeting in San Diego in January 2008. And there’s even more good news for math. During the meeting, JobsRated.com announced that the most satisfying job is that of mathematician.  This top ranking was based on stress, work environment, physical demands, income and outlook. The meeting had something for everyone. There were plenty of talks on quantum computation, differential geometry, and operator theory. There also were sessions that connected math to biology, finance, and medicine.

    The education sessions were filled with innovative ways to bring excitement to the classroom: “Using mime to see the remainder”, “Football rankings using linear algebra”, and “Using game theory to get a date” are just a few examples. Using sports and art to teach mathematics has become very popular with both professors and students. There are two new journals devoted to math and art. Even after a long day of talks, the evening sessions are always well attended. Who would want to miss the CNN United States of Mathematics Debate, Who Wants to Be a Mathematician, or Alice in Numberland?  These are all events that showed the lighter and very entertaining side of math.

    The biggest event at the meeting for Princeton University Press was the release of The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, edited by Tim Gowers. The champagne reception celebrated the culmination of five years of hard work by more than 150 people. The celebration continued later in the week with a reception at the math department back at Princeton.

    One of the most active areas for presentations at the meeting is the history of mathematics. The talks are always interesting and the evening skits and movies are a guaranteed source of entertainment. Princeton released four new titles just in time for the meeting.  These include Plato’s Ghost by Jeremy Gray, The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth by Glen Van Brummelen, Mathematics in Ancient Iraq by Eleanor Robson, and Mathematics in India by Kim Plofker. These titles, along with The Mathematics of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, India, and Islam, edited by Victor Katz provide a very comprehensive library for the history of math.

    A highlight of every meeting is the book signings for new popular math titles. David Richeson was on hand to sign copies of his newly released Euler’s Gem: The Polyhedron Formula and the Birth of Topology. This is the latest release in a long line of books that bring the excitement of math to readers outside the field.

    One of the best attended events of the meeting is the awards ceremony.  We would like to congratulate our author, Jeremy Gray, for his outstanding achievement in receiving the Albert Leon Whiteman Memorial Prize for notable exposition on the history of mathematics.

    This meeting always has a high level of excitement about it. It is a great place to renew friendships with professors and classmates and make new friends, or to look for a first, or new, job. Each year, hundreds of people wait anxiously for the ribbon cutting and the grand opening of the exhibit hall, filled with book and software vendors as well as puzzle makers and mathematical sculptors. If you so desired, you could also get a foot massage, buy jewelry, or get a new tie (with or without math on it). The exhibit hall is a place to gather informally and have a cup of coffee. It is also a fantastic library where browsers can sit and read all of the new titles and talk with editors about forthcoming titles and new writing projects. It is the ultimate opportunity to find a new text for the next semester. For four days each January, mathematicians at all levels and with varied interests come together to share their ideas and learn of new ones from their colleagues.

    Here are some additional photos from the meetings. Click on each picture to see captions, etc.

    Jonathan Macey on shareholder voting rights

    As we mentioned earlier, Jonathan Macey is guest-blogging at The Icahn Report this week. In his earlier post on director capture, Macey promised to consider shareholder voting rights next and here he argues for lifting restrictions on shareholder voting and expanding the issues shareholders vote on to include generic corporate governance issues which he defines as issues “concerning broad policy that is likely to affect the value of all of the companies in a particular portfolio.””

    A brief excerpt:

    The basic infrastructure of the law of corporate voting is in need of repair. For example, the ability of management to control the timing of elections and the federal rules governing proxy solicitations do not serve the interests of shareholders and should be reformed.


    Read on at The Icahn Report

    A Subway Map of Publishing Trends

    Our friends at GalleyCat posted a fantastic graphic guide modeled after a subway map and originally created by the Spanish lit blog, Soybits. Naturally, one has the instinct to follow the yellow brick road to some sort of logical conclusion about the future of publishing.  Well, I’m no Nostradamus but I did enjoy seeing the tangled web laid out in front of me so I could visually trace the new technologies rocking our bookish world.  The map is an ingenious outline of the interconnected workings of a struggling industry that sheds some hopeful light on where we’re headed in ’09.   And there’s room to grow!  Perhaps this will jump start new lines of conversation to open up unconventional outlets in an effort to boost readership and stay relevant.

    The best part is, both industry insiders and outsiders can glance at an image and take away from that image what is universally understood about maps: there’s more than one way to get there.

    “Adam Smith, Meet Captain Hook: The Upside of Pirate Greed” by Peter Leeson

    Lately it seems that barely a week passes without headlines of Somali pirates’ latest depredations and yet another, bigger, and more daring pirate attack. In November one crew captured a Saudi supertanker, the Sirius Star, along with the 25 crewmembers and $100 million in crude it was carrying—a prize big enough to make Blackbeard blush. Last week the pirates ransomed their prize for $3 million, releasing the ship and crew.

    Between January and October 2008, 63 pirate attacks were reported in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. Somali pirates hijacked 26 ships; fired on 21; and took nearly 540 sailors hostage. By contemporary standards, at least, these “pirate statistics” are remarkable.

    But an equally impressive “pirate statistic” has gone virtually unnoticed: the number of seamen who survived their harrowing captivities by Somali sea dogs and lived to tell the tale. For example, all of the Sirius Star’s sailors were “in good health” when their pirate captors released them. And they’re not alone. According to data from the International Maritime Bureau, in stark contrast to the impressive number of assaults, only one sailor has lost his life at Somali pirate hands. This represents less than two-tenths of one percent of crewmembers taken hostage by Somali pirates between January and October and an even smaller percentage of the total number of sailors these pirates have attempted to capture.

    Even a single death is a tragedy. But the number of confirmed, Somali pirate killings is surprisingly small—especially for a band of Kalashnikov-toting criminals. This hardly comports with our image of pirates as fiendish, blood-lusting curs. What gives? Are Somali pirates pacifists?

    Hardly. But they are profit seekers. And just like their 18th-century predecessors, Somali sea dogs have discovered that it’s good business to treat their hostages decently—or at least to avoid killing them. Of course, not all pirates have been cordial with their captives. But according to several hostages, such as the Kenyan sailors one Somali pirate crew attacked in early 2007, their captors kept them well fed and even let them to send text messages to loved ones.

    In 1776 Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations. In it, he described the famed “invisible hand.” According to Smith, individuals pursuing their self-interests are led, “as if by an invisible hand,” to promote others’ interests as well.

    Your grocer, for example, wants to serve his own interest—he wants to make money. But to do so he must serve your interest as well. He must provide you with the highest quality groceries at the lowest possible price or you’ll patronize a competitor that does instead. The grocer doesn’t care about you, of course; he doesn’t even know you. He cares about himself, but in serving himself he serves you too.

    Among Somali pirates we can observe a bastardized version of Smith’s “invisible hand,” or rather, an “invisible hook.” Pirate greed also has some laudable consequences. Pirates’ victims are of course worse off as a result of being accosted by sea bandits. And unlike legitimate businessmen’s self-interest seeking, which creates wealth, pirates’ self-interest seeking does no such thing. But conditional on victims’ capture, pirate greed saves innocents’ lives.

    Pirates, like grocers, are profit-motivated. And, like grocers, to make money pirates must serve someone else’s interests too. Somali pirates’ most valuable assets are the ship, cargo, and crewmembers they take. These assets are only valuable to their owners, however, if they remain intact. Dead prisoners won’t fetch much in ransom. To maximize ransoms, then, pirates must minimize brutality toward captives.

    Further, to extract loot from their victims with as little ado as possible, pirates must avoid abusing them indiscriminately. If pirate victims know they’ll be abused, or even killed, whether they comply with their attackers or not, they have no incentive to do what their attackers want. On the other hand, if pirates reserve punishment for captives who don’t comply with their commands, resisting them becomes costly, providing a strong incentive for captives to comply, serving pirates’ ends.

    These logical implications of Somali pirates’ profit-making motive explain the rarity of their recourse to murder or abuse. And they explain why 18th-century pirates often treated their compliant captives civilly as well. It was simply good business.

    An important part of 18th-century sea dogs’ “pirate code,” for instance, was to show mercy to compliant prisoners. As an 18th-century pirate explained to one of his crew’s prisoners, they “observe strictly that Maxim established amongst them not to permit any ill usage to their Prisoners after Quarter given.”

    Some Somali pirates have also taken to enshrining this profit-preserving policy in writing. For example, French authorities found a “pirate manual” amidst the crew they captured earlier this year, which the pirates used to regulate prisoner treatment. Like their forefathers, Somali pirates also recognize that it’s in their self-interest to respect their captives’ lives. They can make more money by restraining violence toward victims than unleashing it on them.

    The piratical analog to Smith’s invisible hand—the “invisible hook”—is alive and well among Somali sea bandits. Blackbeard, Calico Jack Rackam, and the rest would be proud.


    Peter T. Leeson is BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and author of the new book, The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates. He also blogs at The Austrian Economists.

    Jonathan Macey on why corporate directors are susceptible to capture

    Jonathan Macey tackles the issue of Director Capture in an insightful piece at the Icahn Report. A brief excerpt:

    In my recent Princeton University Press book Corporate Governance: Promises Made: Promises Broken I apply capture theory, which is usually used to describe and model the behavior of bureaucrats in the public sector, to the directors of publicly traded companies who come to their positions through the board nominating committee.

    In my view, such directors are highly susceptible to capture… even more susceptible than bureaucrats and politicians. Capture is inevitable because management controls the machinery of the corporate election process. Management’s narrow interest in having passive and supportive boards manifests itself in the appointment of docile directors who are likely to support management’s initiatives and unlikely to challenge management or to demand that managers earn their compensation by maximizing value for shareholders.

    He promises to tackle the problem of shareholder democracy in an upcoming post, too.

    Poetic Grapefruit over at InsideHigherEd.com

    Andrei Codrescu, Romanian poet, NPR commentator, and author of the forthcoming Princeton volume The Posthuman Dada Guide, has written about dada in the classroom over at InsideHigherEd.com. Specifically, an intriguing assignment in which he asked his students to write a poem on fruit… literally on fruit. In the photo to the right, you’ll note Andrei is holding a grapefruit upon which a student has inscribed a poem.

    Andrei also visited Princeton University Press in November and sat down with Editor in Chief Brigitta van Rheinberg to discuss dada and the posthuman life.

    Photo: Andrei Codrescu holding a poetic grapefuit. Photo courtesy of Melanie Jones

    Andrew Gelman at Firedoglake Salon

    In case you missed this yesterday because of football fever (go Eagles!), here’s a link to a roundtable discussion with Andrew Gelman held at FireDogLake Salon yesterday. Host Matt Yglesias was joined by several participants to discuss what Yglesias calls “the best book on American electoral politics of the past year” Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State.

    METAPHYSICS – Al and Marilyn

    Al and Marilyn*

    Tony Rothman

     

    Film lovers over forty may remember the scene in Nicholas Roeg’s 1985 Insignificance where “The actress,” who bears an uncanny resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, explains the theory of relativity to “The Professor,” whose wild hair leaves no doubt as to his identity.  One wonders whether Roeg could make his film today with impunity, because Albert and Marilyn have more in common than relativity; they have in common celebrity.

     

    Several years ago I had a book in press, Everything’s Relative and Other Fables From Science and Technology.  Given the title, the publisher’s house artist not unreasonably designed a cover that included a photographic image of Albert Einstein.  The publisher (Wiley) had properly licensed the photo from Bill Gates’ firm Corbis.  One would have thought that would end the matter.

     

    One would have thought.  Six weeks before publication I received a frantic email from the editor.  Albert was to be stricken from the cover.  Why?  For fear of being sued by the “Einstein estate.”  To a physicist who grew up miles from Einstein’s home in Princeton, New Jersey, the phrase “Einstein estate” rang oddly.  Albert died in 1955; his children and literary secretary are all dead.  What Einstein estate?  The editor didn’t know;  evidently the attorneys did and despite my strenuous protests, Einstein vanished to be replaced by a locomotive and E=mc2. 

     

    A little investigation revealed that indeed no “Einstein estate” existed, but that the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University Press owned the rights to all of Einstein’s writings which were not copyrighted by anyone else.  Moreover, HUJ had authorized Beverly Hills’ Roger Richman Agency to license Einstein’s image for promotional purposes and to “prevent unauthorized use of the likeness and image of Albert Einstein.”  Yes, a Hollywood agency specializing in protecting the rights of movie stars claimed to have exclusive rights to Einstein (and Sigmund Freud). 

     

    It wasn’t clear that Richman could prevent the use of a legally obtained photograph on a book jacket, so I phoned the agency and asked point blank whether use of Einstein’s photo on a book fell under its “jurisdiction.”  The spokesman asked if the book was about Einstein.  “In part,” I answered, to which he replied that I should follow the publisher’s attorneys’ advice, whatever that happened to be.  I interpreted this to mean he didn’t know.  While the cover was still in flux, I had the editors send Richman the chapters devoted to Einstein.  What was there to lose?  Eventually Richman answered: “We do not wish to participate in the publishing of the book entitled Everything’s Relative,” which presumably translates as, “we’re not sure we can sue you now; just wait.”

     

    At issue, you see, is what has become known as the “right of publicity,” a.k.a. “right of celebrity.”  A celebrity is entitled to financial gain from use of his or her image or likeness, and photographers must obtain releases before publishing such images.  Complicating matters is that state, not federal, law governs publicity.  In most common-law states publicity rights die with the celebrity, but in other states the rights are “descendible.”  In California, post-mortem rights extend for seventy years (Hollywood) and in Tennessee, in perpetuity (Elvis).  New Jersey, where Einstein resided, is a common-law state, which apparently means that New Jersey is so short of celebrities that no one has bothered writing down any statutes.  There are, however, precedents.  The most widely cited case took place in 1984 when a New Jersey court held that an Elvis impersonator violated the rights of Elvis Presley Enterprises.  Celebrities and their rights do exist in NJ; the state, though, has not yet established a duration for prohibition on impersonating the King.

     

    What of the Person of the Century?  Several lawyers gave me several opinions: 1) The use of Einstein photos on a book jacket could be considered advertising (magazine covers are) and Richman might stake a claim;  2)  As long as the book was about Einstein (several chapters) there should be no problem; 3) As long as the copyright was cleared from Corbis we were cleared too.  A representative from Corbis said that a photo used inside the book was safer than on the cover.

     

    Confused?  Welcome.  To muddy the waters further, there is the question of jurisdiction.  Richman, in an attack on a website posting Einstein quotations, acknowledged that New Jersey law is the relevant one, but one lawyer thought that California law might apply because California is the location of the executor.  Actually, Jerusalem is.  I eventually queried the Einstein Archives of the Hebrew University by what law could they restrict the use of Einstein’s image and received no reply.

     

    Richman’s tactic, of course, was one of “virtual litigation”: The agency flexes its muscle, publishers get cold feet and back off rather than fight out a real court battle.  As a result Richman and HUJ accrue a monopoly on Einstein.  In the case of my publishers it succeeded, but not without a large dose of irony: Shortly after my book appeared, the Richman agency was bought by Corbis, the firm that had authorized the use of the photo to begin with.

     

    The battle over Einstein is a mere skirmish next to the one over Marilyn Monroe.   Originally handled by Richman, Monroe’s images until recently were licensed through the agency CMG Worldwide and Monroe’s estate, MMLLC.  The latter is controlled by Anna Strasberg, widow of Marilyn’s acting coach Lee Strasberg, to whom she willed the bulk of her property.  Strasberg and CMG have accumulated over $30 million marketing Marilyn items.

     

    In 2004, CMG and MMLLC sued the children of four photographers who had taken photographs of Marilyn during her lifetime; the children continued to license the photos on various items, including calendars, handbags and wine bottles.  CMG, headquartered in Indianapolis, alleged that the sale of t-shirts bearing Marilyn’s image violated Indiana statutes, which recognize publicity rights for a full 100 years after death.  One inevitably wonders whether CMG’s presence in the state and the nearly infinite monopoly period were coincidental.

     

    But the photographers’ heirs did not roll over.  They countersued in New York and California, claiming that Monroe was a New Yorker and her publicity rights expired upon death.  In May 2007 judges in both states found for the photographers on the grounds that publicity laws simply did not exist in New York, California or Indiana at the time of Monroe’s death.  Property that did not exist at the time of death cannot be transferred, including publicity rights. 

     

    CMG and MMLLC struck back.  Since no law existed at the time in question, why not create one?  In 2007  Sheila Kuehl  (a former actress) of the California senate,  spearheaded the assembly to gut stem-cell bill SB 771 and replace its contents by a bill whose avowed purpose was to “abrogate” the NY and CA decisions.  The legislature passed the law, retroactively assigning publicity rights to celebrities who died before 1985.

     

    The saga didn’t end there, however.  In September 2008, a NY federal judge summarily ruled in favor of the photographers’ children.  The court recognized that the California law specifically allowed retroactive transfer of publicity rights to spouses and children of the deceased but not to other beneficiaries.  The bottom line: Strasberg and CMG do not own the publicity rights to Marilyn.

     

    That’s where things stand at the moment; stay tuned. 

     

    So, where does all this leave us?  About the only thing that is clear is that money, and money alone, is the name of the game.  According to a lawyer quoted by Discover magazine about my case,* “Every living person has the right to protect his or her own image,” but according to other legal eagles, that right is reserved for celebrities:  In which case, if a colleague snapped a photo of me and Al debating quantum mechanics at a scientific conference, I might have to license his picture from Corbis, but he wouldn’t have to license mine.  For that matter, does Corbis own the rights to the photos in the Lotte Jacobi Archive at the University of New Hampshire, which Einstein gave to Jacobi?  With the CA law in force, if impersonating Elvis Presley is illegal, should director Roeg be sued retroactively and are playwrights henceforth banned from writing comedies about Bill Clinton?  It is left as an exercise for the reader to construct further legal absurdities.

     

    The one other thing that is clear is that laws of the CA type are dragging us toward the “French” model, where an executor, nine times removed from the deceased, owns all the rights.  Long ago we entered the realm of the ludicrous.  If one believes the declarations page of the Dover Memoirs of Hector Berlioz, the copyright is owned by the executor of the estate of the fellow who in 1932 published a revision of the 1884 translation of the 1870 original, which appeared after the composer’s death and for which he never received a sous.  Is this to be the right of celebrity, which unlike a memoir is not even the creation of an artist but conferred upon the personality by the public?  The thought that a century from now a Paris Hilton impersonator could be sued by her estate is not only peculiar but frightening.

     

     


    * An earlier version of this post was published by US #1 newspaper, Sept. 14, 2005.

    * Discover magazine, online version, March 5, 2008.