Monthly Archives: May 2008

women have human genomes too, it turns out

Wow, after four men, a female human being’s genome finally got sequenced. Go Dutch.

Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 27—Geneticists at Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) have announced the first complete sequencing of a woman’s genome. The announcement was made at Bessensap, an annual meeting bringing together scientists and the press in the Netherlands.

The DNA of Marjolein Kriek, a clinical geneticist at LUMC, will be made public after a full bioinformatics analysis that will take approximately six months. “We considered that sequencing only males, for ‘completeness’, slows insight into X-chromosome variability. So it was time, after sequencing four males, to balance the genders a bit,” remarked Gert-Jan B. van Ommen, head of the LUMC team.

eurekalert.org via partner’s subscription to BioTechniques Weekly

I guess that answers Dorothy Sayers’ question.

escapist reading about our “leaders”

an upsetting day. so, reading the news.

Farewell to the crown, farewell, the velvet gown, won’t you all come tumbling down? Goodbye to the crown! (Chumbawamba, “Farewell to the Crown”)

Nepal votes out their monarchy and institutes a republic. Gyanendra has to vacate the palace within two weeks or face eviction. Also, he had to start paying his own electric bills a while back. Ha ha, I love that. It is balm to my troubled soul. The palace building will be turned into a museum.

The NYT also reports that former Illinois governor George Ryan, with six years left on his prison term for racketeering and fraud, will seek executive clemency from Bush.

The lawyer, James R. Thompson (also a former Illinois governor), said any larger purpose in the conviction and sentence of Mr. Ryan, 74, had been served. “The man has gone from being the governor of the state of Illinois to being a prisoner in a federal penitentiary,” Mr. Thompson said, later adding: “His career is gone. His reputation is gone.”

Ah if only that were the standard for all prisoners. Anyway I will say that Ryan did a good thing by ordering a moratorium on the death penalty after learning of wrongful convictions.

And, finally, the NYT reports on McCain’s use of Bush for fundraising:

Despite the efforts by the McCain camp to keep at arm’s length a president with an approval rating stalled at 28 percent, it is worth remembering that that 28 percent can be fiercely loyal and often wealthy. … “He is very popular with high-dollar donors,” [conservative economist] Mr. Bartlett said of the president.

updated 5/29: Also this note on how the presidential fundraising travel expenses get billed:

By blending official events with party fundraising, Bush dramatically reduces the cost of presidential travel that’s charged to the political campaigns. Taxpayers pick up the rest of the tab.

media annoyances part 2: Tom Ashbrook “On Point”

So Adam Nagourney certainly was annoying me today, but yesterday, I was way more irate at someone I don’t usually hate, Tom Ashbrook, in his radio show “On Point”. Granted, I was driving around in Boston traffic, trying to find parking in the over-crowded Longwood Medical Area, and did I mention that I was driving around in Boston traffic? with Boston drivers? or perhaps I should say “people in Boston who drive cars but really should never have been given licenses to do so”.

Still even though I had massive external provocations (why is it that people in Boston do not seem to have learned how to make left turns in an intersection?) Tom Ashbrook was far more annoying. “On Point”, hosting an hour-long discussion on the earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. At one point a caller made the eminently reasonable point that US resources were committed to Iraq, leaving us vulnerable to natural disasters; he brought up the US national response to Hurricane Katrina.

Now, there are sooo many reasonable responses to this point. But Tom Ashbrook totally ran this one off the rails onto his own bizarre tangent. Which apparently was an interest in discussing how authoritarian governments stack up against democratic governments in responding to natural disasters.

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media annoyances part 1: Adam Nagourney

Two things annoyed me in the last 24 hours. Well, two media things.

First, this morning in an article about same-sex marriage in the NYT, there was utter stupid cluelessness that led me to conclude the article must have been written by a straight person. And indeed, But then I just looked at the byline and it was by Adam Nagourney, which explains this article. Why is Adam Nagourney so bad? Anyway today he wrote in paragraph 1:

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gay marriage & Equal Protection jurisprudence

Well, I loved the California same-sex marriage decision. Not just because it granted same-sex marriage, and not just because it said that the state needs to use the same term to refer to same-sex and opposite-sex unions, but because it significantly expanded Equal Protection jurisprudence.

For the non-law-geeks out there, federal and state constitutional guarantees of “equal protection” apply only to certain protected classes (“suspect classifications”), and now homosexuality, in California, gets the highest protection. Here’s how it works. When determining whether a law or action violates equal protection, a court will determine whether (a) a fundamental right is being violated, in which case the court will apply “strict scrutiny”; or (b) what classes of people are being treated differently. If the class is race, the court applies “strict scrutiny”, as it does with violations of fundamental rights. Gender gets “intermediate” scrutiny. The lowest level of scrutiny is a “rational basis review”. If the class has not been deemed a “discrete and insular minority” that has routinely and historically suffered discrimination, then the court applies a rational basis review — a much lower standard of review. Basically, a law that discriminates a class of people is okay under rational basis review, so long as the government has any rational basis for the action. Any law that creates multiple classes is subject, by default, to this review. For instance, “taxpayers” and “non-taxpayers”.

Courts have consistently declined to apply any heightened scrutiny to laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Instead, they have applied “rational basis review with bite” — finding that some laws that discriminated against homosexuals did not even have a rational basis. For instance, Colorado’s Amendment 2 failed rational basis review. This is nice on the one hand, because it is an affirmative slap at the law, making it plain that really nasty discrimination is irrational. On the other hand, it makes it very hard to strike down such laws, because it doesn’t recognize the “class-ness” of homosexuality — the fact that gay people are treated as a class and routinely discriminated against.

So the California decision is the first to recognize that gay people are treated as a class and routinely discriminated against. Which means that, in California, we have a lot more protection now. And even if the right-wingers who are freaking out manage to define California’s marriage laws to exclude me and Michele, that won’t undo the strict scrutiny holding.

Ha.

damn good alterations

Canadian Club (“CC”, not Creative Commons) has been running these really offensive & annoying ads aimed, apparently, at a very small demographic: straight white men with masculinity issues and daddy issues.

My partner pointed them out to me — plastered on bus stops in our ethnically diverse and progressive, queer-friendly community — and we enjoyed speculating on how enterprising billboard alteration-ers (certainly not us, I’d like to emphasize) might edit the ads to be more appropriate for our community. (Way to do stupid poorly-targeted advertising, jack-asses.)

For instance, the ad that showed a guy making out with a woman in a lounge, that implied “dad” was cheating on mom — that could easily be edited to make it appear that mom was picking up a stray businessman to fulfill those needs that dad wasn’t capable of satisfying. Again, I repeat, we would never consider doing the alterations ourselves. Pure speculation.

a better Canadian Club ad
An improved Canadian Club ad.

Anyway, Rebecca Tushnet reports about another woman’s response to the ad campaign. CC ran one of those cheesey “get involved and do it yourself” fake participation schemes so that straight white overcompensating men with daddy issues could put their own daddies into the ads. Michelle Koenig-Schwartz began Project: Canadian Club – Your Mom Had Groupies in response.

The pictures are awesome, and I have to note that these would go over a lot better in Jamaica Plain. Tushnet’s post also contains great analysis, so read the whole thing.

i heart new york

New York’s state tourism board is seeking to reclaim their “I heart NY” slogan. (link from michele) According to the article, the slogan was developed for them pro bono by graphic designer Milton Glaser in the early 1970s. It was used prolifically as a mark; then they let their registration lapse and stopped policing it; and then everybody and their sister started selling products with “I heart NY” on them. Over the last few years the tourism board (“Empire State Development”) realized the “error” (read: revenue stupidity) of their non-policing ways so they renewed their registration and began policing the mark.

How did they begin? By threatening to sue Mr. Glaser (the original graphic designer, remember, who donated the logo pro bono), who had, after 9/11, designed an “I heart NY More Than Ever” logo. He was naturally outraged.

random aside: My browser (Firefox 2.0/Mac 10.5) displayed the “heart” ♥ on the browser bar (generated by the title tag) but on the headline text itself and throughout the rest of the body of the article, I saw only a junk ascii character. Looking at the source, they used ♥ in both the title and throughout the body. No problem with display (either of the NYT article or this post) in Safari. Apparently, this is some kind of Firefox rendering problem. Hmm.

… Anyway, just a note on terminology. Here again we have people talking about “fakes”, which is the accepted jargon within trademark circles for unlicensed products. Note, however, that they’re not “fake” in any way that ordinary people would understand fake: It’s not like the t-shirt or mouse pad or bumper sticker is not really a t-shirt or mouse pad or bumper sticker. “Fake” means “unauthorized” — that the NY tourism board didn’t license the use of their registered mark to the t-shirt, mouse pad, or bumper sticker maker.

Well, “unlicensed” or “unauthorized” might arguably be serious when people are actually paying good money for the brand. Traditionally marks are meant to help consumers identify the source of a good or service, so that they can choose to pay top dollar for goods and services with good reputations for high quality. Quality might be quality of components — well-made, true cotton and not poly-blend, etc. Or it might be more money than the bare physical elements of the product are worth, for instance, as in paying top dollar for a Gucci purse. Here we’re getting into more ephemeral attributes and qualities: quality of design, maybe, and of course “authenticity”.

But how does that apply to “I heart NY”? Slogans can be marks; you can associate a slogan with a particular good or service. “I can’t believe it’s not butter.”

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ftw

I had been seeing “ftw” in internet chit chat for a while, and I just finally got around to looking it up and seeing what it actually means: “for the win”.

In the meantime, I had just sort of assumed it was an inversion of “wtf” — sort of taking the aghastness of “wtf” and adding onto it a fillip of “wack”! So I’d been reading it as “fuck the what!”. I actually like that a lot better than “for the win”.

happy birthday is free after all

According to Robert Brauneis’ new paper, “Copyright and the World’s Most Popular Song”, the song “Happy Birthday To You” — long held as an example by us copyright reformists — is most likely not copyrighted after all, due to the tortuous path of ownership and failure to re-register.[linked from patry copyright blog]

See also the brauneis website for the song’s history.

The author draws four important lessons, summarized here:

  1. [T]he perils of using anecdotes in legal and policy arguments. (p.3) Hoho. Yes.
  2. Noting the utter lack of litigation over this song, despite the weaknesses in the copyright and the money at stake ($2M/year), Brauneis suggests, “[T]he absence of such challenges strongly suggests that there are structural barriers to mounting them, and those structural barriers are worth exploring.”
  3. Noting what was effective abandonment of the copyright of the work for long stretches of time, despite significant uses by others, Brauneis reminds readers that “Were “Happy Birthday to You” a piece of real property, its open, unopposed use over such a period could have resulted in the acquisition of prescriptive rights.” Developing doctrines of adverse possession / prescriptive easements to go along with the propertarian rhetoric of copyright maximalists has been on many people’s proposal lists (even I, as a lowly 1L in properly law, came up with this argument), but this article gives the “dead hands” arguments new teeth by tying the ongoing copyright term extensions to his newly uncovered history: “In light of that increase [in copyright term], it may be necessary to develop some doctrine to avoid the inefficiency and inequity that could result from reassertion of copyright in a work that had been published and used by others without opposition over a long period of time.”
  4. A lesson about the difficulty in tracking copyright, and a reminder that that difficulty will only increase as copyright terms lengthen. Brauneis refers to Copyright Office records, which, reminder to readers, were decimated by the abolition of formal registration requirements in the 1976 Copyright Act. This is also an opportune moment to plug the Orphan Works Act, recently re-introduced in both the House & the Senate. (See beSpacific, 4/27; mebeliWired Campus, 4/25)

Also, just in the matter of women’s musical history, Brauneis does a great job in recovering and fleshing out the story of Mildred Hill and Patty Hill.

open access humanities scholarship

This is great news. The Open Humanities Press (OHP) aims to be for the humanities what many similar archives and endeavors have been for the sciences.

It will begin including the following journals: Cosmos and History, Culture Machine, Fibreculture, Film-Philosophy, International Journal of Zizek Studies, Parrhesia and Vectors.

link from peter suber @ open access news

shades of the Pinkertons

In Burger with a Side of Spies (editorial, NYT 5/7), Eric Schlosser calls for legislation to protect people from private entities, á la the Bill of rights.

The article discusses a number of incidents, including spying and infiltration
– by HP on journalists;
– by a private security firm on Greenpeace & other environmentalist groups; and
– most recently, Burger King on the Student/Farmworker Alliance.

I note that the article did not cover the related litigation against the RIAA’s minions, spying on your networks. Similarly, the article did not cover companies’ growing abuses of their employees. Still, a good start.

reading: current New Yorker

The current New Yorker (2008/5/12) is chock-full of good stuff:

* Malcolm Gladwell, In the Air, New Yorker. link from MC on closed mailing list

Invention is part of zeitgeist. Many people come up with the same ideas at the same moment — true in her field, my partner says, and it looks true from any study of the history of science.

Also I liked the section toward the end about how the practice of naming discoveries after the putative discoverer is silly at best.

* Tim Wu, Fan Feud, covering the J.K. Rowling / lexicon suit and hearing.

* covering NIN’s decision to release their new album for free on their website

ohohohoh

This is highly amusing. A Constitutional flaw in the way that patent appeals judges have been appointed since 2000 (by persons without authority to do so) threatens to invalidate all the decisions made by a panel that includes a judge appointed since 2000. [My initial hearing of snatches of this made me think there was a problem with the Fed Circuit, which would have been even more hilarious! But this is pretty funny too.]

rotflol …

but seriously, folks, this will never happen. Congress will hastily fix the appointment process and pass a law grandfathering in the eight years’ worth of decisions. The grandfather statute will be challenged, and will be upheld on appeal as a lawful exercise of Congress’ power to regulate commerce. Decisions premised on this problem will be held off or actions stayed until resolution of the dispute.

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said the government had no comment. “There is really nothing we can say at this time,” he said.

rotfl, rotfl …

But a 1999 law changed the way administrative patent judges are appointed, substituting the director of the Patent and Trademark Office for the secretary of commerce.

And now that Professor John W. Duffy has pointed it out, it’s so completely obvious! Of course the head of the PTO can’t appoint judges. How did nobody ever see this before? … Someone is going to be digging out their notes from nine years ago tonight and going “oh shit….”

teeeheeeheee…. i’m going to be chuckling on and off all the rest of the night.

Duffy paper @ SSRN

Mildred Jeter Loving, RIP

This just in from AP: Mildred Jeter Loving, of Loving v. Virginia, passed away on Friday 5/2.

A longer obit from the NYT. “Mildred’s mother was part Rappahannock Indian, and her father was part Cherokee. She preferred to think of herself as Indian rather than black.” I can’t tell if that was throughout her life, or just at the time of Loving?

“Mrs. Loving stopped giving interviews, but last year issued a statement on the 40th anniversary of the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling, urging that gay men and lesbians be allowed to marry.” (NYT). A longer statement is available at balkinization.