Whose Brain is This, Igor?

Dr. Joseph E. Murray died this week at the ripe old age of 93. Even in monster years, that’s a pretty good run. The good doctor found fame for having the audacity to believe that he could save lives by transplanting human organs from one person to another. As it’s been successfully done 28,535 times this year alone, I think the jury’s in. He was right. And oh so wrong to so many.


In his day, he was compared unfavorably to the first Doctor who “thought he was God.” In an NPR interview Murray recalled, “Well, they (were) saying that God didn’t want this to happen. It’s unnatural. The doctors are on an ego trip. Dr. Frankenstein stuff.”


If Murray thought he had a rough go of it, he should have had a Starbucks with Shelley. In her day she was crucified for being a discredit to her profession and her gender.


The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment.”

-The British Critic (April 1818)



Cut to today where there’s actual debate about ‘shadow siblings’, where parents are essentially growing genetic clones of their children in case the first-borns ever need a lung or liver should theirs fail. The dilemma or strategy, depending on one’s point of view, is beautifully dramatized in the novel My Sister’s Keeper.


If there is such a thing as a line, this scenario seems to approach it to me. But, that’s the point. To me. Things I do or believe make no sense whatsoever to many– starting with my parents.


Transplants, like any major advance in technology, medicine, the arts, or any other facet of life, are not for everyone. That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla. Choice. Some would gladly take a kidney from a donor or bake themselves in chemotherapy and radiation treatment to wring even a few more grains out of the hourglass. Others, when confronted with their mortality, pour themselves a stiff drink and sit stone-faced waiting for their grim guest’s arrival. It’s a choice. Who are we to say?


Unlike the innovator’s dilemma, I think of this as the ‘Complacency Conundrum’. To keep calm and carry on versus trying something, anything quite literally, to change a fate which you don’t buy into. It’s not inherited or ordained. It’s authored to those who kick in the stall.

My father went apoplectic when I suggested Baseball was foolish not to utilize instant replay in limited cases. Cases like, I don’t know, when someone legitimately became the twenty-fourth human in history to throw a perfect game only to be denied by an umpire’s inexplicable mistake. We all make mistakes. Fix them when you can, I reasoned. “Mistakes are a part of baseball!” he stammered.


Fine. Baseball’s audience is what it is and is on the trajectory it is. Football, which has heavily leaned both into technology and culture in a way Baseball never would, is on a very different path. Watch whatever you want.


It applies to media in the same way. Accept a fate that’s clear or do something radical to alter it with assurance you’ll be killed for that as well– and not softly. Technology has provided us choice. In the case of Radio it allows us to listen to virtually anything we want whenever we want wherever we are. That’s pretty good, right?


Not to certain Traditional Radio stations. Their formula is DJ chatter, commercials (except NPR), and content– almost in equal measure. Pandora comes along armed with Stanford guys who say, “our data shows the only thing people hate more than idol chatter is farging commercials, so we’re eliminating chatter and shrinking the advertising elephant in the room to the size of a mouse.”


Heretics! Burn them at the stake! That’s crazy talk.


These are the kinder commentary.


I say let them compete. But let them compete on an even playing field. This week, in fact, the Internet Radio Fairness Act was brought before Congress. The old guard, super-heavy-users of leaches and hot toddies, will tell you this is an attempt by Pandora to seek relief from a reasonable burden of “taxation”, sorry, “royalties” they’re currently paying to rights holders. “Why can’t they just run a proper business model like we do?” they’ll ask incredulously, knowing full well they pay no royalties at all.


The real issue, in fact, is not whether online royalties should be lowered but whether over-the-air terrestrial royalties should be instituted.


It’s time.


A transplant is now possible. You don’t have to get one, but it’s not for us to prevent others from getting one. If people want to listen to terrestrial music, they should obviously be allowed to and encouraged to do so. But if they want to listen on their mobile or computer or Xbox or any of the myriad of devices digitally connecting content to ears on a seemingly daily basis, they should be allowed to as well. That means they shouldn’t be penalized for stealing the crumbs from Radio’s table.


A song is a song is a song. An ear is an ear is an ear. Whenever the twain shall meet an exactly equal royalty should be paid to the people who made the music (how it gets divvied up between writers, performers, labels…is a separate, unrelated matter).


Technology has fostered choice. People should have the right to choose. Without equitable terms, we are effectively eliminating choice and furthering a monopoly because Pandora and those like them cannot thrive when they’re paying more than fifty-cents of every dollar of revenue to royalties while Terrestrial Radio pays zero. Change that immediately. Let listeners branch out. Let artists get paid more than ever before. Let competition ensue and choice reign. It might not save lives, but it might just save something that the overwhelming majority of the population wants to see not only survive but evolve to thrive.


Radio. Broadly defined.


Ears don’t distinguish. Why should the law? While choosing Pandora or Slacker or Spotify doesn’t rise to the level of choosing to ask your sister for a kidney or “Abbey Normal” for her brain, it’s a choice all the same. When we stack the deck to prevent innovation for those who seek it from flourishing, we stop progress. Or witchcraft. It’s all in how you look at it.

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