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Our Broken Patent System Part XLXXII

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Technology is changing even our most mundane items. For instance, I’m pretty sure my stapler has Bluetooth now.

As people build on the available state of the art to give us ever newer and cooler things, we see time and again innovation being thwarted by patents. Our broken Intellectual Property system is effecting our lives more and more every day. Today it’s thermostats. Tomorrow it’ll be coffee pots with timers or cars that use a certain joint in their axle. New products are either being made more expensive due to outrageous licensing, or they’re being kept off the market to begin with because small companies don’t have the resources to navigate reams of patent law. The end result is we have to put up with crappier products.

Tell me again how patents incentivise innovation.

 

Hoosier Mate

February 6, 2012 Leave a comment

Parks and Rec Spoilers Below:

Amy poehler parks and recreation


Amanda Marcotte makes a pretty strong case that Parks and Rec has recently been laying off the subversive feminism it specialized in over the last couple of years. Ben has become a bigger part of Leslie’s life and has played the “knight in shinning armor” on more than one occasion. Where once our strong willed, independent heroine would have come through on her own, or (more often) by rallying her friends and coworkers to pitch in, now we see Ben more and more saving the day.

I can’t say I completely agree that we’re seeing the writers dumb it down. After some growing pains, I see Ben as integrating into Leslie’s team. She’s always had a tendency to get in over her head, and the show has been clear that it’s characters care about each other and are step in to help. Ben sacrificing his job to save Leslie, for example, is similar to her taking the fall for shooting Ron in the head. In the show’s world, these are the things you do for the people you care about. You could argue that it’s a trope the writers have returned to too many times this season, but I’m not sure it reflects a change in the shows point of view.

However, in a follow up post, she points to this week’s Operation Ann as the payoff of this new anti-feminist bent. She calls this episode a “fundamental betrayal of both the characters of Leslie and Ann and of the show’s quiet but persistent feminism they’re now selling down the river in a desperate bid for ratings. ” This is a serious accusation, and I don’t think the evidence warrants it.

To me, the question is whether or not the story stayed true to the characters. Were Leslie and Ann acting in a way we would expect their characters to act? This is a tough question because, over the course of 4 seasons, Ann has only every really existed in relation to the characters in the series. I’ve seen most episodes of this series twice now in the last two months (don’t ask) and I still don’t think I have a great handle on Ann Perkins. That’s problematic, but it doesn’t effect this argument. It’s been a constant of the show since day 1.

But we do know a little about Ann. Specifically about how her feelings of self worth are tied up in her relationships. She gets lonely and makes bad decisions. After breaking up with Mark, she kisses Andy. When Chris breaks up with her, she dyes part of her hair pink and flails about dating random men (after she considers moving). What Amanda sees as “having a fun time tearing through every dude in Pawnee” was really Ann’s reaction to being rejected. Remember that that storyline ended with her and Leslie’s first big fight as Ann decides to skip out on a job interview so that she can go on a date with a guy literally named “The Douche”.

So when Valentines Day comes, it doesn’t seem out of character for Ann to be a little bummed that she’s spending it alone. Even empowered women who realize that Valentines Day is horse shit can still find herself feeling down having romance thrown in her face constantly. This episode wouldn’t have worked if it were randomly situated in the season. But in context it makes sense.

I don’t know that Amanda’s correct in thinking that Season 2 Leslie would simply have given Ann the same speech she gave Chris and sent her on her way. We know that Leslie is a romantic at heart, and that she loves to meddle. To me, it’s totally plausible that after seeing Ann seem sort of lonely, Leslie would take it upon herself help Ann find a date, whether she wants it or not. Why didn’t Leslie treat Chris the same way? She’s not as close to him or as protective.

So Leslie puts the rest of her team on the case. They are each charged with bringing a single male friend for Ann, and of course each screw it up in their own unique way. When April suggests she try going on a date with Tom, the audience is as shocked as Leslie. But April’s reasoning makes sense. “[T]he whole point of Tom’s character” is not that he’s “an insufferable douchebag”. In fact, he’s an insecure but generally decent guy who often acts like a total douche as a defense mechanism. The show has often hinted that there’s a likeable guy underneath the cologne cloud. Ann (and the audience) want to see if there really is anything worthwhile to this guy.

In Season 3, Ann (sort of) almost set Leslie and Tom up. That didn’t work because Leslie would never have put up with Tom’s bullshit.

But Ann isn’t Leslie. She doesn’t see the world in quite the black and white way her best friend does. Whether you like the direction this storyline is going, it’s true to the characters. And hopefully, it’ll be funny too.

Worldwide SOPA

As I write this, SOPA is not yet law. It hasn’t even been voted on in Congress. Free speech advocates across the country have banded together to fight this bill. I’ve been planning a post on the particulars of the bill, but enough has been said over the past few weeks that I’m not sure what more I can add. Suffice it to say that I am against any attempt to treat people as felons for violating “intellectual property”. When ideas flow freely, we all benefit.

What scares me the most, though, is the way the idea of protecting IP at all costs has infected all levels of our government. Big Media is likely to be seen as holding the leash of government in the coming decade the way Big Oil was in the last. The State Department, for instance, is trying to bully our trading partners into accepting draconian IP protection that hasn’t even been able to pass in the US (yet).

If you’re reading this blog, you probably fall into the gaping chasm that many in our government labels “criminal”. What’s infuriating is that this criminalization of a large class of Americans is happening without what feels like a real debate. It’s conventional wisdom that something must be done, and that rather than heeding the advice of the experts, we should wield as large a club as our political capital will allow. Consequences be damned, something must be done now.

Of course, I think most Americans would say that the problem is overstated, to say the least. Rather than being a drain, the technology of the last 20 odd years has allowed creativity and entertainment to flourish (outrageous reality show of the week not withstanding).

Related reading: Dear Congress – It’s No Longer Okay To Not Understand How The Internet Works

Categories: Politics

Fast Food America

September 25, 2011 1 comment

Is fast food really cheaper than cooking real food at home? If you do the math, it turns out… not so much.

In general, despite extensive government subsidies, hyperprocessed food remains more expensive than food cooked at home. You can serve a roasted chicken with vegetables along with a simple salad and milk for about $14, and feed four or even six people. If that’s too much money, substitute a meal of rice and canned beans with bacon, green peppers and onions; it’s easily enough for four people and costs about $9. (Omitting the bacon, using dried beans, which are also lower in sodium, or substituting carrots for the peppers reduces the price further, of course.)

Another argument runs that junk food is cheaper when measured by the calorie, and that this makes fast food essential for the poor because they need cheap calories. But given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few, measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content. (Why not drink 95 percent neutral grain spirit, the cheapest way to get drunk?)

So why do we continue to eat so much of it? Mark Bittman argues “The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch”. I have trouble with that because, well, cooking is work. As someone who enjoys cooking, I can tell you it’s still work. It’s active and it’s time consuming. This is not a knock on cooking, but hey, lets be honest here. Cooking, and the clean up involved, is more of an effort that stopping at the drive through on your way home from work. This is true for all but the simplest of meals.

The important thing is to emphasize the rewards involved. Health is first and foremost. But cooking can also be a creative outlet. If you have a family, then it can be a shared effort to bring people together. And with just a little bit of practice, the food you can make at home can taste light years ahead of what you get from your local take out joint.

Fast food shouldn’t be illegal. Hardee’s don’t need to be picketed. Instead we should be investing in American food culture. We teach kids about art and music, but not about food, which to me is crazy. Cooking is just as much an art as painting and clarinet playing, and arguably more important. People should take pride in what they eat, and for the most part that means cooking yourself. Eating only fast food is like listening to only top 40 radio, but worse. At least radio doesn’t hurt your liver.

Categories: Nom, Politics

The Power Of The State

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

So if Twitter is to be believed, Troy Davis, a man who may well have been wrongly convicted of murder in the state of Georgia, was just put to death by lethal injection. I honestly don’t have much to say about the specifics of his case. Most of the stories I’ve read about him only gave the basic bullet points. Suffice it to say that there was doubt that this man committed this crime, even among those closest to the case.

This seems like a good time to talk about the Death Penalty in general. A state with the power to kill is a state that will abuse that power. Someone once said that the state does not have the right to take anything that it cannot return. Each of us are living every day by the graces of a government that hasn’t yet decided we need to be removed. Once we give the state the right to take a life, we change the relationship between the people and the bureaucracy. Citizens become dependent on the government  not to protect life, but to provide it. We are put in the position of asking the a bureaucracy to grant us not just our freedom, but our very right to exist.

And make no mistake. We all built this machine. We are all complicit in this death, and every subsequent execution.

This is where some of you are no doubt going to rev your Camero engines, put on your shades and say “not me, man. I don’t even vote”. Doesn’t matter.  You have an affirmative responsibility to make your voice heard. Vote. Call your representative, even if she’s not the one you voted for. You live in America. This is the price of admission.

Categories: Politics

Maybe One Day We’ll Be A Democracy

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Kevin Drum points out here that we’ve come to a point where Republicans can run any sort of shenanigans they see fit and no one bats an eye. Of course they’re going to cynically manipulate the political system for their own ends. It’s what they do. It’s not even news any more.

What gets me is is the John Cohn quote he uses to illustrate this, though. Speaking about the nomination of Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Cohn says:

So is Cordray on track for confirmation? Of course not. As Shelby made crystal clear, he and his fellow Republicans really don’t care about Cordray’s qualifications right now. They care about the board itself. They don’t like it. Until Obama and the Democrats agree to modify it to suit conservative tastes, the Republicans won’t confirm anybody to run it.

….Brookings scholar and historian Thomas Mann has called this practice a “modern-day form of nullification.” I agree — and I think it’s worth pondering just what that means.

The consumer protection agency exists because one year ago a majority of democratically elected lawmakers passed a law and a democratically elected president signed it. Now a minority of Senators representing a minority of the country are exploiting their procedural powers (i.e., using the filibuster) to prevent that law from taking effect.

That’s undemocratic. And I mean that with a small “d.”

Growing up at the tail end of the Cold War, it was very important for teachers to emphasize that America is a democracy. But living in a democracy means asking a lot of hard questions that they weren’t interested in. It became a slogan without substance.

Now we’re seeing the institution rot from the inside. None of the basic School House Rock level mechanisms have changed, but instead they’ve being subverted in a more blatant way than ever before. We’ve lost the pretense that everyone is working in good faith towards solving problems.

This is not to say that in the past we were ruled by a benevolent class of Jimmy Stewarts. The issue is how blatant the corruption has become.

It’s entirely possible that Republicans in the Senate truly think that their actions are in the best interest of the nation. I’m sure most autocracies believe in that from the start. The fact is they’ve made it clear that they’re not interested in the rules, in the principles, that used to be part of the national myth. Today, all that matters is results.

Categories: Politics