During a recent episode of Philosophy Bites on Genocide, philosopher Chandran Kukathas began his dissection of exactly where the crime of genocide resides by presenting two alternate perspectives on the structure of groups. In a collective, each individual member of the group benefits the whole, and the whole benefits each of the individual members. They are inextricable. In a corporation, the group and its members are separate things with occasionally distinct motivations and objectives. The type of structure you assign to an ethnic group, a religious group, or a national population affects how you frame, legislate, and ultimately prosecute the crime of genocide.
A public park in Utah that includes a monument to the Ten Commandments need not make room for a similar monument reflecting the beliefs of an unusual religion called Summum.
The article continues,
The decision was unanimous but fractured. In four concurring opinions, six justices set out sharply contrasting views about the decision’s scope and consequences. Ten Commandments cases are typically litigated under the clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the case decided Wednesday, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, No. 07-665, was brought under a different clause of the amendment, the one protecting free speech. The concurrences offered varying views about whether the decision foreclosed or left open a separate challenge to the Ten Commandments monument under the Establishment Clause. In addition, several justices expressed concern that the court was moving too fast in designating some kinds of expression as government speech immunized from free-speech scrutiny.
In his majority ruling, Justice Samuel Alito cited John Lennon’s lyrics for the song “Imagine,” publicly displayed in a mosaic in New York’s Central Park, as evidence for the possibility of mutiple meanings present within a single text: “Some observers may ‘imagine’ the musical contributions that John Lennon would have made if he had not been killed.” Others, he continued, “may ‘imagine’ a world without religion, countries, possessions, greed or hunger.”
Last November, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Pleasant Grove City, Utah, et al. vs. Summum. The background is this: in a park across the street from City Hall, Pleasant Grove has displayed a granite monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments. “Thirty miles to the north,” explains the NYT “adherents of a religion called Summum gather in a wood and metal pyramid by Interstate 15 to meditate on their Seven Aphorisms, fortified by an alcoholic sacramental nectar they produce and surrounded by mummified animals.” In 2003, the sect asked Pleasant Grove’s mayor if it could donate a similar monument displaying its Seven Aphorisms. The mayor declined. At issue are not only Constitutional subjects like the separation of church and state or the limits of free speech and religious expression, but also more nuanced questions about the nature of gifts, especially unwanted or unwelcome ones, and the role of signs and public notices, especially those that are in some way aligned with the state. The Court is expected to give its ruling sometime this spring.
“At present, U.S. copyright protects an individual’s work for his or her lifetime, plus 50 years; corporations with works ‘made for hire’ hold rights for 75 years. Under [Sen. Christopher] Dodd’s proposal, at the end of each of these terms, the rights to an additional 20 years would be publicly auctioned, the proceeds going to build an endowment dedicated to the arts and humanities.” Sen. Christopher Dodd reads into the Congressional Record an article by Lewis Hyde from the L.A. Times on the so-called “Arts Endowing the Arts Act,” which auctions off copyright extensions on fading copyrights (like Mickey Mouse), in order to build an endowment for new arts and humanities work in the future.
On a recent episode of Philosophy Bites, I heard Donna Dickenson refer to the longstanding Common Law practice that once something is removed from your body it becomes designated as “res nullius,” or “no one’s thing.” During the interview Dickenson mentioned the seminal Moore case, which challenges this idea. The case is summarized by Wikipedia as follows: “[In 1976] John Moore underwent treatment for hairy cell leukemia at the Medical Center of the University of California at Los Angeles under the supervision of Dr. Golde. Moore’s cancer was later developed into a cell line that was commercialized, and the court ruled that Moore had no right to profits from the commercialization of anything developed from his discarded body parts.”
“Three weeks ago, [Evan] Guttman went on a quest to retrieve a friend’s lost cellphone, a quest that has now ended with the arrest of a 16-year-old on charges of possessing the missing gadget, a Sidekick model with a built-in camera that sells for as much as $350. But before the teenager was arrested, she was humiliated by Mr. Guttman in front of untold thousands of people on the Web, an updated version of the elaborate public shamings common in centuries past.” NYT on a cell phone lost and found. More thoughts on the case from Clay Shirky here at NPR’s On the Media.
The law on keys vs. combination locks: “[T]he law has always drawn a distinction between objects and what’s in your brain. And even though the key to a lock and a series of numbers that’s the combination to a combination lock are functionally the same thing, the law draws a distinction and says that under the Fifth Amendment you can’t be compelled to disclose what’s in your brain if it’s going to hurt you.” More on this fascinating segment of “On the Media” with NYT reporter Adam Liptak and host Bob Garfield.