Happy Birthday To You

Birthday20cake “Happy Birthday To You” is perhaps the most recognizable and well-known song across the English-speaking world.  Many of us learned to sing this tune in different languages as children.  In China, Japan, and Argentina, they sing Happy Birthday.  If you are connected to Western culture, even remotely, you’ve heard this song before.  Many musicologists consider it to be the most popular song in the world.

If that's the case, why don't TV characters sing “Happy Birthday” like you would at home? Ever wonder why each chain restaurant makes up its own birthday tune?

The reason is simple: though the song was written in 1893 it remains under copyright.  All public performance or use in commerical entertainment requires the performer to pay a fee to the copyright owner. 

“Happy Birthday To You” was written by Mildred J Hill and Patty Smith Hill, sisters from Louisville, Kentucky.  Patty was a kindergarten teacher and notable figure in education.  She taught students but also served on the faculty at Columbia University’s Teachers College.  Mildred, although also a school teacher, had considerable musical experience.  In 1893, Mildred was teaching kindergarten at the Louisville Experimental Kindergarten School where her sister, Patty, served as principal. 

After what must have been several nights burning the midnight oil in a creative fervor, the modest six-note melody had been completed.  Albeit, with alternate lyrics:

Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning, dear children,
Good morning to all.

Although written for teachers to sing to their students, the reverse seemed more popular.  The song became a modest success with children after having been published in the 1893 songbook, “Song Stories for the Kindergarten”. 

At some point between 1893 and 1924, an unknown individual wrote the modern lyrics to the song and then the tune began to really catch on.  In 1924, a songbook edited by Robert H Coleman put the Happy Birthday lyrics to paper for the first time.  By the mid-1930’s the song was etched into American culture.  It had become the popular song of birthday celebrations.  There is record of it appearing in Broadway musicals.  It was even used for Western Union’s first ‘singing telegram’. 

In 1934, Jessica Hill, sister of Mildred and Patty, decided to protect her family’s creation.  She presented evidence to the court that “Happy Birthday To You” used the melody her sisters had written for “Good Morning To All”.  The court agreed and a copyright was granted for the melody. 

By the law in force at the time, the copyright was to expire 56 years later.  In 1976, the entertainment industry feared that music, novels, and other creative works from the beginning of the century would enter the public domain.  In response, Congress passed the Copyright Act of 1976 which extended all copyrights.  Then in 1998, when the song, and other creative works of that era, were again to become public domain, Congress acted again.  The Copyright Act of 1998 extended the song’s protection through 2030.

If we leave arguments about an infinitely extendable copyright aside, we come to questions inquiring minds are asking.  How much money do the licensing rights for “Happy Birthday To You” generate?  How gets that money?  What it is used for?

Milred and Patty shared their copyright with a record label that eventually became Time-Warner music.  Mildred died in 1916 and Patty passed away in 1946.  Both were unmarried and childless so they bequeathed their copyright into a foundation and left its control to their nephew Archibald Hill. 

The song has been an incredible cash cow.  Its use in a single major motion picture can generate $50,000.  In 1996, Time-Warner Music estimated the song's revenue at $2 million a year.

Hill, the heir, was a linguistics professor who managed the income from the copyright through the Hill Foundation.  As his aunts had intended, most of the money went to education: either to enlarge the linguistics library at his university, support research into educational practices, or to grant scholarships to children. 

When he died in 1992, he willed ownership of his own personal assets to his nurse, Muriel Wright and control of the Hill Foundation to the Maryland-based non-profit, the Association for Childhood Education International.  Fourteen years later though, the Maryland-based foundation claims they have yet to receive any money for their share of the copyright.  Lawsuits have been filed and they aren't fighting over chump change.  The value of back payments could exceed $20 million.

As writer Bruce Anderson noted in his article about "Happy Birthday To You":

The next time you hear "Happy Birthday" in a movie — and now that you’re listening, it won’t be long — stay for the credits at the end of the movie. Think about how Hollywood would love the story of the Hill sisters, two Southern kindergarten teachers who write a song that they only hope will be a useful teacher’s aid. Instead, the song is a hit that never goes away. It is sung hundreds of millions of times each year, a musical juggernaut that tops the efforts of Tin Pan Alley’s best. Appropriately, then, film credits are the one place left where Mildred and Patty Hill still get their due.

February 9, 2006 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

A Brief Rundown of Micro-Nations

Conchrepublic What makes a nation?  What is a country?  Can one simply 'start your own country' on unpopulated land?  There are two legal schools of thought available to us.  The Montevideo Convention asserts a nation need have only:

  1. a defined territory
  2. a permanent population
  3. a government
  4. the capacity to enter into relationships with other nations

An alternate and also acceptable viewpoint is the constitutative theory of statehood.  It claims that a nation is only a nation when others agree.  If no one recognizes you, you don't exist.  But, do you need buy in from everyone or just a few?

Welcome to the world of micro-nations.  Tiny, often with a population of one, these rogue states attempt to assert their independence against the enormous power of existing sovereign nations.  While they are often seen as wacky or frivilous, they cannot always be easily brushed aside. 

Micro-nations of the 20th Century

Rating system: The more coats of arms a micro-nation has the more serious its founders are about being a real nation.  They may have spent huge sums of money or risked life and limb to defend their claims.  Other micro-nations are for amusement, tourism, or indulging the egos of wealthy men of leisure.


Principality of Sealand


SUMMARY: Prince Roy occupied the previously abandoned 10,000 square foot radar platform in 1967 and declared it a sovereign nation.  Approximately 6 miles off the coast of England it had been built during WWII to provide protection from Axis aircraft.  At this time, radio in the United Kingdom prohibited commercial broadcasts.  Prince Roy set up a radio station on the platform sending music, talk, and advertisements to British consumers. 

This quickly drew the ire of the British government who tried to shut down the operation.  However British courts held that Sealand was located in international waters and therefore was outside government jurisdiction.  This legal victory was heralded as a great success and, to Prince Roy, confirmed that he was free to operate his own "nation".   

In 1978, a number of Dutch and German men came to Sealand on business. Shortly after their arrival, these men kidnapped Prince Roy's son Michael and took Sealand by force. When he returned from travel abroad, Prince Roy recaptured the island with a group of his own men and held the attackers as prisoners of war. In what Prince Roy considered an act of de facto recognition of his nation's sovereignty, Germany sent a diplomat directly to Sealand to negotiate for the release of their citizen.

Today Sealand hosts internet services for those who want their online activities to be beyond the reach of any national government.  Due to the high security requirements of this operation, visitors are not permitted to approach Sealand.

Update (July 1 2006): On June 24th, 2006 a devastating fire ripped through Sealand destroying its internet services area and heavily damaging its living space.  The sole man onboard Sealand at the time was injured and evacuated.  Currently Sealand is unoccupied and though Prince Roy vows to rebuild, Sealand is now unoccupied, with no industry, and not surprisingly, without fire insurance.


The Conch Republic


SUMMARY: The Conch Republic was established on April 23, 1982 in response to a United States Border Patrol blockade of the Florida Keys. All traffic, including that of US Citizens was required to pass through customs to reach the Florida mainland.  Many people living on Key West were of the opinion that if the United States wanted to treat the Keys like a foreign country, Key West would become a foreign country. 

Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow issued paperwork seceding from the Union.  They declared war on Washington, immediately surrendered, and requested foreign aid. The US Government never reacted to the secession.  In the opinion of many natives this established sovereignty for the Conch Republic.

Although the Conch Republic enjoys a modest dose of self deprecating humor, those in its government are dead serious about their sovereignty.  Conch Republic passports continue to be accepted at border crossings in over twenty nations.  Government representatives from the Conch Republic attended the Summit of the Americas meeting in Miami. 

The Conch Republic operates various government offices, embassies and consulates around the globe, a tourist shop, and an independence day celebration.

Despite this effort and independence claims, Key West continues to receive funding from the State of Florida and the federal government in Washington, DC.  Its citizens vote in US elections and enjoy representation in the US Congress.

Like Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a major portion of The Conch Republic houses an operating US Naval Base.


Principality of Seborga


SUMMARY: The Principality of Seborga consists of approximately 14 square kilometers on the Italian Riviera near the French border. It has a population of about 362 citizens and 2000 other persons. Historically, its chief industry has been raising flowers.

It became a Principality in 1079.  In 1729 it was sold to the King of Sardinia. Failure to mention the principality in registration documents for the Republic of Genoa, the Viennese Congress of 1815, the Italian Act of Unification of 1861, or the paperwork forming the Italian Republic following World War II are the foundation of its claims to sovereignty. 

As tourism to the region has increased, so have efforts by the citizenry to increase recognition of their sovereign status.  Its citizens strongly consider themselves independent even if this independence is not recognized by its neighbors. Seborga has its own flag, coins, stamps, passports, and automobile license plates.


The Grand Duchy of Avram


SUMMARY: His Grace, Prince John, (formerly known as John Charlton), The Grand Duke of Avram, Most Honorable Marquis of Martha, the Right Honorable Earl of Enoch, the Viscount Ulom, and possessor of too many noble titles to mention, got frustrated with the Australian banking and taxation system in 1980. As a man of noble title, he issued a Royal Charter and created the Royal Bank of Avram. Naturally the bank needed its own coins and currency. The coins, denominated in Ducals, feature multi-color enameled coat-of-arms. The paper currency features stunning portraitry of Prince John in his younger days. 

As might be expected, the Australian authorities did not care much for this new bank and its special currency and they took him to court.  After spending millions of dollars, Prince John was victorious.  To the prosecution's surprise Australia did not have any law against issuing one's own coins in one's own currency. 

In sense, it is a moot point.  The currency does not seem to have gained much acceptance beyond the confines of the bank, which is also a tourist shop in the small town of Sorell in Tasmania, Australia.  While Prince John was working to administer the Grand Duchy, he did find time to serve in the Tasmanian Provincial Parliament as an elected representative.  It seems rare that sovereign royalty would serve as a public servant inside an different country.

The Grand Duchy of Avram has a healthy interest in peerages, titles, heraldry, chivalry and a bizarre collusion of Christianity, the Kabbalah, and ancient Egyptian religion.


Hutt River Province Principality


SUMMARY: Born in 1970 during an argument between farmers and the Australian government over wheat quotas, this micro-nation is run by Prince Leonard.  Before becoming prince, Leonard George Casley adeptly maneuvered his newborn province through the legal system of British commonwealth nations.  Through error, ignorance, or oversight, the province was recognized as independent inside the commonwealth by the Queen of England.  Once this occurred, Mr. Casley had himself named prince by the citizenry.  Commonwealth laws applying to royalty thus protected the Hutt River Principality's provincial status.

As one of his first acts as prince, he renamed parts of the surrounding geography: Lake Beginning, Mount Succession, etc.  Between 1980 and 1995, the province participated in high profile recruitment of new citizens, fundraisers, sale of peerages, extensive production of coins and stamps, as well as plans to move the entire province to an uninhabited island in the South Pacific.  In 1995, the sudden death of Kevin Gale, a notable Hutt River citizen, put an end to most of these activities.

Over time, the industry has shifted from the farming of flowers to tourism.  The principality issues its own stamps, coins, passports, and peerages.  Recently the Hutt River has allowed the registration of corporations within its boundaries.  Whether the principality will be successful in the 'offshore corporation' business remains to be seen.

Despite legal arguments nullifying the Hutt River Province's claims of independence, with its 35th anniversary approaching, it stands firmly as an accepted (though unrecognized) micro-nation.


Principality of Minerva


SUMMARY: The brainchild of Nevada businessman and millionaire Michael Oliver. In the early 1970s he announced plans to reclaim land from the Minervan Reefs in the South Pacific.  Located approximately 400 miles south of Fiji, the area was named for a whaling ship, Minerva, which had wrecked there in 1829.

In early 1971 barges laden with sand from Australia began to arrive along with construction crews tasked to develop island.   A declaration of independence was issued to neighboring nations and monetary currency was issued.  A year later, in 1972, Morris C. Davis was elected as Provisional President.

Michael Oliver's stated goal was a libertarian-inspired city-state capable of sustaining a population of 30,000 persons.  There were extensive plans for a variety of light industries: fishing, tourism, and banking. 

Unlike most micro-nations which fail to gain recognition from any recognized state, the Principality of Minerva was recognized by the island nation of Tonga.  As its closest neighbor, Tonga did not appreciate the nascent nation taking root so close to its borders.  It sent a naval gunboat to clear the island.  On June 21, 1972, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga arrived via row-boat to replace the Minervan flag with his own.  The king then formally annexed the Minervan islands.

With their nation annexed, the Principality of Minerva's plans fell into confusion and it took ten years for Oliver and Davis to mount a response.  In 1982, they attempted to retake the reefs only to be removed by Tongan troops three weeks later.  Perhaps Michael Oliver's access to capital (to pay for mercenaries) was not as great as Prince Roy's (of Sealand) had been. 

The Principality of Minerva continues to operate as a government in exile.  Its offices are in South Carolina, USA.


Republic of Rose Island


SUMMARY: A short-lived new country project, Rose Island was a man-made platform in the Adriatic Sea four miles off the coast of Rimini, Italy. Constructed in 1967 by Italian engineer Giorgio Rosa, for whom the island was named, it was furnished with a restaurant, bar, nightclub, souvenir shop, post office and a radio station. At only 400 square meters in size, it was definitely close quarters.

Rose Island issued its declaration of independence on June 24, 1968. Flags, stamps, and currency were promptly issued. Rosa decreed that his nation's official language would be Esperanto. Thus, in it's native tongue, it was known as Insulo de la Rozoj.

As the island was an obvious ploy to collect tourist dollars without paying state taxes, the Italian government sent police and tax inspectors to take control of the island. The Rosan government protested the violation of its sovereignty through pseudo-diplomatic channels but this was to no avail. The government decided that the island was more trouble to secure than it was worth. In an act that no doubt establishes how seriously the establishment took affront to the status quo, the Italian Navy destroyed the facility with explosives.

As the 1960's were a time of major social change, most of the micro-nations listed here were founded in that time period.  Not discussed here are the hundreds of 20th century 'new nation' movements that operated in various countries around the world. 

Most movements died with the inaction of their founders.  Some went on to acheive legitimate sovereignty through military or diplomatic means.  A few, however, were able to organize people, funds, plans, and even criminal acts of independence before failing to actually acquire and defend their own territory.  Others acquired territory and, like the Hutt River Province, exist as quasi-sovereign states within established territories.  As the examples above have shown, to be a real nation is not as clear cut as it seems to be.

May 26, 2005 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

It Might Not Be The Tobacco Causing all the Cancer

PoloniumThe mechanisms by which chemical carcinogens induce cancer have been well established.  But, what if we could make smoking safer?  Would it be a worthwhile goal?  As a society should we work on a zero tolerance policy or, instead, pursue a harm reduction strategy? 

Smoking is a dirty habit and there's no doubt that it's bad for you.  However, despite popular conception, all those chemical carcinogens in tobacco smoke aren't responsible for many smoking-induced lung cancers.  This isn't a  conspiracy theory.  Public health officials, the tobacco industry, and informed doctors know it to be true.

Many researchers believe that a significant cause of lung cancer in smokers is from insoluble radioactive dust which sticks to the tobacco leaves when the fields are fertilized, is inhaled during smoking, and lodges (often permanently) in the lungs.  Once these particles find their home in your aveoli and bronchial bifurcations, they decay, eliciting radiation burns to the surrounding tissue.  Like any burn, inflammation follows. This attracts more radioactive and carcinogenic particulates to the area, concentrating the toxins. Eventually the genetic damage leads to cancer.

So, what's the source of all this radioactive dust?  Superphosphate fertilizer added to the fields by growers.

The Story So Far

In 1930, lung cancer was much less common (4 cases per 100,000 population per year).  By 1980, it was the number one cancer killer (72 cases per 100,000 population per year) in spite of an almost 20 percent reduction in smoking. During this period, the levels of radioactive material in American tobacco had tripled.

Why would the tobacco industry use a radioactive fertilizer on their crops?  Simple economics.  Documents released during the state's tobacco settlements indicated that cigarette makers were aware of the problem as early as 1966 (Lorillard Tobacco).  A memo from Phillip Morris in 1975 discusses the issue as an ongoing concern.

Organic tobacco uses a different, uncontaminated fertilizer and thus avoids the problem.  Organic brands used to claim they were healthier for you.  They're not allowed to do that anymore but they are far less likely to kill you, and the government knows it. 

Tobacco consumption (and nicotine addiction) substantially increase the risk for other diseases (emphysema, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma).  Only about half of the deaths attributable to smoking are from cancers.  Public health officials and anti-tobacco lobbyists figured, "why make things complicated?".  Just give people the bottom line: Stop Smoking.  Phillip Morris is legally forced to repeat this in its public service ads "There's no such thing as a safer cigarette".

But, is there no such thing?  How many lives would a safer cigarette spare?

A Safer Cigarette

In this country we spend money to reduce the risk of death from all sorts of things.  The addition of seatbelts to school buses is costing taxpayers around $1 billion.  Net benefit: 11 lives saved per year on average.  What would be the taxpayer's cost to force tobacco companies to remove radioactive materials from cigarettes?  $0.  How many lives could be saved in the USA over the next twenty years?

It's a complex problem and depending on your initial assumptions, you could end up with a wide range of answers.  If polonium induced cancer is avoided, what's to say the subject wouldn't die from a pneumonia exacerbated by COPD?  Of course, you also should consider that the subject might have lived an extra five years before COPD set in, and another six years before complications claimed their lives.  How can we include the economics and quality of life issues for people who would have gotten lung cancer and then, through expensive medical treatment, survived?

In the USA, in 2003, roughly 171,900 people developed lung cancer and 157,200 died from the disease.  Best estimates from the American Cancer Society (ACS) allow that 82% of these cancers are caused by smoking tobacco.  Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated that "90% of smoking related lung cancers are caused by radiation".  This means that in 2003, approximately 116,000 Americans would not have died from lung cancer if cigarettes had had their radioactive content removed.  Globally, perhaps 1 million lives would be spared each year.

In addition to the cancer risk to the lungs, polonium-210, the primary radioactive component of tobacco smoke, can become soluble and be circulated throughout the body to every tissue and cell. Chemical testing will find the element in the bones, organs, blood and urine of smokers. This circulating radioactive material has the potential to cause genetic damage and may instigate diseases such as liver and bladder cancer, leukemia, and cirrhosis of liver.  More research needs to be done in these areas.

Take a pessimist's view of these napkin statistics and imagine that the percentage of lung cancer deaths induced by radioactive material is 1% instead of 90%.  To remove this material would still save 1,289 lives in 2003.  Make it 0.1%.  You still save 128 lives each year.  Do you remember the cost to add seatbelts to schoolbuses?

Keep in mind that the initial savings would be small.  A man who has smoked for fifty years would only start smoking non-radioactive tobacco tomorrow.  There is still fifty years of radiation damage inside him.  But, with each passing year, the toll from death and disease will drop.

Since anti-smoking advocates have no qualms about increasing the cost of cigarettes (usually through revenue generating taxes), why not allow tobacco firms to pass these costs directly to the consumer?  Considering the extensive research done on this subject already, why has the National Institutes of Health (NIH) not funded investigation into this area?

Postscript: The Drug War

There is another plant who's leaves are dried and then smoked: marijuana.  Despite desperate attempts  by the anti-drug forces in government and its political lobby to prove that marijuana smoke is a carcinogen, evidence is severely lacking.  Until recently, marijuana was not grown using superphosphate fertilizers and marijuana lacks the sticky hairs found on the underside of the tobacco leaf where radioactive particles accumulate.

Marijuana smoke does contain many of the same chemical carcinogens as tobacco.  Although it is difficult to compare tobacco and marijuana users in an apples to apples fashion, the absence of observed carcinogenic effects seems difficult to reconcile if the chemical carcinogen model (aka 'tar') is 100% complete.

October 25, 2004 in Politics | Permalink | Comments (0)