Tag Archives: commentary

informal commentary

on the sexiness of testosterone and unquestioned assumptions

Last weekend I was listening to a program on “Testosterone” on “This American Life” (archive) and, predictably, my interest in the topic was equaled or surpassed by my exasperation and annoyance at its handling. “This American Life” is a one-hour show, that aims to do something rather cool: Shed some light on a topic by telling several different stories related to the topic. But at the end of this nuanced hour, all I wanted to do at the end of it is say, “Jesus, it’s more complicated than that.”

First of all, on some level, the mere existence of a show on this topic annoyed me. Testosterone is just so over-exposed. Testosterone is a sexy hormone, and by that, I don’t mean that it is a sex hormone or that it is responsible for the sex drive. I mean that people love talking about it, thinking about it, writing about it, and attributing all sorts of amazing qualities to it.

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Recording industry in England

John Naughton had a nice column last week in The Observer (at the guardian) trashing the British Phonographic Industry. Triggered by their spokesperson’s statement that “For years, ISPs have built a business on other people’s music,” Naughton awarded it “Fatuous Statement of the Month” and went on to excoriate their arrogance and the legislation they’re pushing to mandate ISPs to deal with copyright infringement. And properly Naughton pointed out that “ISPs have indeed ‘built a business’. They’ve done it by providing an internet connection for upwards of a billion individuals and businesses across the planet.”

But what I thought was funny was the spectacle of the phonographic industry, which represents record companies, complaining about someone else “building a business on other people’s music”. The irony kills.

of penumbral emanations and scholarly trends

Speaking of penumbra yet again (1, 2) , I had previously blogged about a Circuit split on laws banning sex toys — it was Valentine’s Day, and I was feeling a bit whimsical, so I wished for a “penumbra” that would strike down stupid laws.

LawPundit “ha[s] an opinion” on my wish for a penumbra that covers “no stupid laws”; I thought it was pretty amusing & worth checking out.

LawPundit also annotated my use of the word “penumbra” with a link to google:define:penumbra. Unfortunately, I don’t think that quite captures the legal nuance. Legal scholar/lawyer-types know the reference, of course, but for those non-lawyers, “penumbra” is famous in Constitutional law as a reference to Griswold v. Connecticut. In Griswold, the Supreme Court overturned a Connecticut statute that made it a crime to buy contraceptives. Justice William O. Douglas, looking at the Constitutional guarantees of individual liberties as a whole, wrote that the statute violated the individual right to privacy, which could be found looking at the “penumbras” and “emanations” of Constitutional protections. The language is a little funny, but standing alone, or with Eisenstadt (which extended to unmarried people the right to buy contraception), this case, and the words “penumbra” and “emanations”, would provide simply a pleasant diversion to while away the afternoons in contemplation of rarely-used words in legal opinions. The concept of “penumbras” of a set of enumerated rights is not that bizarre, especially in light of the Ninth Amendment (which notes that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”) and the Tenth Amendment (which states clearly that powers not delegated to the US, nor prohibited to the States, “are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”). These Amendments practically beg for penumbral analysis, and “privacy” (a concept theoretically defined and refined only in the last 125 years, but whose spirit animates much of the Constitutional protections) and “autonomy” (not considered one of the Constitutional “rights”, per se, but I keep wishing) are ripe concepts for that sort of analysis.

But conservatives have freaked out when the penumbras that protect privacy were extended to abortion in Roe v. Wade and to other matters of sexual privacy since then, and and now excoriate the very notion of penumbras. And emanations. (One could argue that the very essence of conservatism is a certain distaste for emanations.) So, “penumbras” the concept has acquired a certain air of disrepute in many legal circles, because even scholars who find it perfectly reasonable to examine the Constitution as a whole as well as in its discrete little parts, tend to back off a bit from Douglas’ sweeping penumbras and emanations, so successfully have right-wingers trashed those ideas. A damn shame, because the concept is perfectly reasonable, and it’s only the rabid dog opposition to abortion that has cast the shadow over Griswold and its penumbral emanations.

circuit split on sex toys

Well, the 5th Circuit (Texas) has just said that Texas’s anti-sex-toy-law (memorably mocked by Molly Ivins in this video, available at youtube via pandagon) is unconstitutional, relying heavily on Lawrence (or so I hear, via pharyngula); I haven’t read the case yet).

This looks like a pretty clear Circuit split with the 11th Circuit (Georgia, Alabama, etc.), which only a couple of years ago found a similar Alabama law to not violate the Constitution (PDF, Williams v. Atty General of Alabama, 11th Cir. (2004)); the Supreme Court denied cert on that one. (See Michael C. Dorf discussion at FindLaw for an overview that discusses this case with respect to the various standards in Constitutional Law.)

I really wish that we could have a penumbra of no stupid laws.

Southern “mistrust”

Okay, still on hiatus, but this NYT Magazine article on Democratic presidential contenders Clinton & Obama annoyed me:

In other words, if you condescend to Southerners or simply don’t show up, then it’s all but impossible to erase the legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation.

“Legacy of mistrust left over from the era of desegregation”? Please. I am so fucking sorry for the white southerners who feel so “betrayed” by whoever forced desegregation down “their” throats.

Earlier in the article the author, Matt Bai, described the South as a “less-welcoming political culture” for Obama and Clinton.First of all, let me just say that what we’re pussyfooting around here is racism and sexism. Can we just say the words?

Also, what fucking mistrust? White racist southerners may be pissed that segregation ended and that civil rights were enforced, but there was no “trust” that was “betrayed” — that implies some kind of innocence betrayed by a wrongdoer. Instead of innocence, we’re talking about ending the equivalent of apartheid in the US — state-mandated political, economic, and civic racial segregation, backed up by lynchings and mob violence.

Second, allow me to just fucking point out that “The South” includes people other than racist, sexist white people. The majority may be racist, sexist, white people, but it’s grotesque to write an article about racism and sexism in the South, never even straightforwardly label the phenomena, and worse yet, fail to acknowledge that there are people of color in the South. Not just Black people, but Brown people too. And while I fled, I’m pretty sure that there are at least one or two feminist atheist antiracist queers who are white down there.

Can we talk about the “mistrust” now, please?

Okay. My special anti-racism-in-the-media rant over. Happy MLK Day. Back to hiatus.

the eternal verities of fashion preferences

christ what a crock: The London Times reports that:

We all know that women like pink and men prefer blue, but we have never really known why. Now it emerges that parents who dress their boys in blue and girls in pink may not just be following tradition but some deep-seated evolutionary instinct.

I guess “evolution” waxes and wanes with the fashion trends of the centuries, because in the US in the 19th & early 20th centuries pink was the boys’ color (because it was a type of red, a strong masculine color!) and blue was the girls’ color.

So many possible responses to this utter blithering idiocy. I don’t know whether I’m madder at the Times (and other press) for reporting this crap uncritically, or whether I’m madder at the evolutionary psychologists who, in all seriousness, confirm their own social prejudices as eagerly as did the phrenologists and racist European skull-measurers of the 19th century.
update: of course, the bloggers & commenters of the world have already hit this one: the comments on the London Times article are largely insightful; bad science.net is snarky & gives historical context also; broadsheet @ salon.com had a little detail & a lot of commentary, but surprisingly, didn’t jump on the stupidity quite as much as they really could have.

agh – LA Times on “piracy”


This LA Times article
reports on consumer attitudes in LA about “piracy” of goods. Of course, the author (Richard Verrier) seems mortally confused about the differences between trademark and copyright.

Although previous studies have documented piracy’s toll on the Los Angeles economy, the U.S. Chamber report is the first to focus on the attitudes and behavior of consumers here who knowingly buy fake goods, including bootleg movies, illegally copied CDs, knockoff handbags and counterfeit auto parts.

“The study confirmed what we already knew: That the buying of these products is widespread and is viewed as a victimless crime,” said Caroline Joiner, executive director of the chamber’s global anti-counterfeiting and piracy initiative.

Of course, since trademark laws are designed to protect the consumer against confusion, if the consumer isn’t confused then there is neither crime nor victim. That doesn’t stop the government from trying to stop imports from China of counterfeit goods, but is this really the best way to spend our money? Wouldn’t we all really rather our good-inspection dollars be spent on looking for lead in children’s toys and poisons in our cat food? (Or, hell, how about bombs and suitcase nukes?)

The bottom line is that companies treat their trademarks like property, and work very hard to get governments to do the same. Traditionally trademark enforcement has been handled by the trademark owners, as it should be. Trademark owners have cost/benefit analyses to apply to enforcement. So they take on only the serious threats, and make reasonable decisions about what to pursue and not to pursue.

Shifting those costs to the public — which is what trademark (and copyright) owners want to do — means that companies owners can be as persnickety as they want about their rights, regardless of the human cost. Hence the cost to taxpayers of, what, probably thousands of dollars in pressing criminal charges against a 19 year old girl for recording 20 seconds of a film in a movie theater. (She ended up pleading guilty, by the way, paying a $71 fine and having a criminal record for at least a year.) She was prosecuted under a new Virginia bootleg law, intended to beef up federal copyrights with state criminal law.

But the public benefit to putting public funds toward policing private trademarks is negligible, even less than the putative benefit of policing private copyrights. Again, trademarks are designed to protect the consumer against being defrauded. If consumers are happily and knowingly buying knock-offs and counterfeits, then no consumers are being defrauded. There is no public good to justify use of public funds and the full weight of the state’s mechanisms of criminal law against vendors or buyers. While to my knowledge no state has tried to criminalize the purchase of counterfeit trademark goods, I will be wholly unsurprised to see such legislation sometime in the next ten years. Combining the government’s ramping up of trademark & copyright enforcement with the trend in legislation to get at tertiary support of illegal activities is not much of a reach.

Consider this ominous quote, for instance:

Nonetheless, Joiner drew encouragement from another finding: Seventy-two percent of the respondents believed counterfeiting and piracy laws should be stricter, and 90% said they wouldn’t have acquired the fake products if they knew doing so supported organized crime.

So, can we now look to Hollywood to tell us that the mob is behind filesharing? They’ve already linked P2P to child porn and terrorism so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.

Suggesting that Americans “get” IP law but just aren’t that interested in following it, Justin Hughes at Cardozo opined that “Most Americans do understand copyright and trademark laws ….” Not if crappy news reporting is where they get their information, they don’t. And while the IP policy cognoscenti may argue back & forth about the benefits and costs of IP, the lobbyists for Hollywood are happy for Americans to not get the full picture. The US Chamber of Commerce (which commissioned this survey from Gallup) might like to consider asking Americans, not just whether or not they think stronger C/TM laws are in order, but to do some ranking of customs & law enforcement priorities: bootleg purses? or lead-paint on toys. crappy recordings of crappy movies? or mad cow disease-infected beef.

fannish media studies

A friend just sent me a link to this fan video about the TV series “Supernatural”. What an awesome demonstration of the power of technology to enable media criticism. A thousand feminists could comment about exploitative or graphic visual depictions of violence against women in a series or on TV generally, and it would never have the effect of this video. … And to conclude: this is why DRM and the DMCA suck. Because they prevent (or try to prevent) people from being able to do this.

best NYT on sex differences EVER

Some mathematicians have finally pointed out the really, really obvious problem behind a popular theory of sex differences: Men are purported to have more sex partners than women … but the math doesn’t add up. Folks loving the idea that men and women are intrinsically, inherently, biologically, different have long loved to cite things like the fact that men have more sex partners than women, which shows up in virtually any survey. It’s not logically possible, but people still cite the numbers as if they mean something. (“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”) Gee, I wonder if people studying and proclaiming numerous sex differences could be infected by any other forms of biased thinking?

update: broadsheet had the best headline: Chaste women + promiscuous men = impossible and some good commentary too in the article and one or two helpful points in the comments. Unfortunately, most of the commenters are stuck on arguing about the differences between median and mean (average), quibbling about the math professor’s take, and failing to understand that (a) the NYT article just did a sloppy representation of what the math professor said; and (b) at least some part of what the math professor is really getting at is the popular understanding and use of such studies (including frequent media stories). (Many of the commenters have fallen into the trap of never going back to the source to try to figure out what they’re talking about, so they’re arguing about misquotes and misunderstandings of third-generation reports about data. No wonder there’s confusion about median and mean.)

The NYT article of course didn’t help clarify anything about median or mean (that is after all part of the problem that leads to the necessity of the math professor speaking up) but they did, to their credit, get the lede implication right: The thing this really casts doubt on is the big, all-encompassing theories of human nature that argue that men are inclined to X, and women inclined to Y, because of their y and x genes respectively. So, the numbers in the surveys could be right or wrong, but the conclusions about “women’s nature” and “men’s nature” are not well-supported by relying on the median. It would have been cool if they had talked about the implications of mean and median for social sciences behavior: Are averages or medians more susceptible to social pressures, for instance? Seems plausible that those numbers would have different artifacts but I don’t know, and the NYT didn’t help.

Anyway, as the professor suggested, the numbers have to be off somewhere, because while, yes, mean and median are different, you’ve still gotta make those numbers reconcile somehow. In other words, if median and mean are different, then there have to be differences in mean among subgroups that generate the median. In other words, if most women are more chaste than most men, then some women have to be having a lot more sex than either most women or men.

The most recent survey (NCHS 2007 survey of sex & drug behavior of US adults) that precipitated this discussion showed that 29% of US men report having 15 or more female partners, and 9% of women report having 15 or more male partners. It’s a little difficult to imagine that the 9% of women have so many more partners than the 29% of men, on average, that they make up for the 91% of women who had fewer … My guess is that there is greater variability among female sex habits, that there is some real, intentional fudging in the self-reported data, and that there is some methodological and definitional problems in how men and women define sex (I’m thinking of rape: I know that some people forced to have sex nonconsensually would not “count” that person as a sex partner, whereas it seems plausible that the rapist might well count their victim as a sex partner, especially if the rapist didn’t so self-define).

The greater variability point, if true, is itself interesting: Since “greater variability” shows up so frequently in sociobiological arguments about there being more male geniuses and idiots, you’d think the “greater variability” argument would be of interest to them in the realm of sexual behavior, too.
update: slate covered it too, with the mean/median point. while focusing on the trees, slate managed to notice the forest in a single paragraph toward the end.

good news in SCO case

The District Court of Utah has issued a decision and order finding that SCO does not own parts of Linux (D.Utah 2007/8/10). The lengthy litigation (funded in part with Microsoft’s investments in SCO) was the only serious shadow hanging over Linux, although the claims seemed bogus when examined closely. (I also liked this chart that geekly picked over the possible harms to linux.) It’s good to see Judge Dale Kimball come to the same conclusion.

The D. Court of Utah website was down yesterday and for some reason has labeled all SCO filings and orders as available only through PACER (a fee-based access service to public court filings). However, groklaw posted the decision.

positive about civil unions

In last night’s Democratic candidate debate about The Gays, Clinton explained that she’s not anti-gay marriage: “I prefer to think of it as being very positive about civil unions.”

As Michele (my Massachusetts spouse) said: “If she’s so positive, why doesn’t *she* get one.”

on insanely stupid, homophobic, racist, white Republican legislators

Bloggers & media have been all over the latest in a long, long series (at least as long as i have been reading the news, which is 20+ years now*) of sexcapades by Republicans and religious right leaders: Florida state legislator Bob Allen (R), who solicited an undercover cop for a blowjob in Titusville, FL, and is consequently being charged with soliciting prostitution. The cop was black, and Allen said that there were black men loitering about the park so he offered the blowjob + cash to avoid becoming “a statistic.”

Where to begin.

1 – It’s a relief that it’s charged with soliciting prostitution; not too many years ago he could have been charged with violating Florida’s sodomy law. (Not that I’m happy he was charged, at all. Once it was clear it was a gay thang, the officer seems to have been only too happy to bust the guy for solicitation. Bob Allen is pathetic, but is this what we need to spend public funds doing? The cop was plain clothes investigating a burglary. I’d rather have had him finish that job than bust Allen for a BJ.)

2 – Some people seem surprised that when Republicans ostensibly straight men solicit sex from other men they often (usually?) offer to give rather than to receive. It’s pretty obvious: See, receiving they can get at home, with their eyes closed. Giving, for Republicans ostensibly straight men, is best done in parks, bathrooms, park bathrooms, etc.

3 – It’s a shame that there is still so much homophobia that Republicans gay men resort to paying strangers when there are lots and lots of men having gay sex for free. In Florida. Even (or especially) in Cape Canaveral.

4 – What’s worse: That racism is apparently so acceptable for this “straight” white Republican man that he thinks it’s an excuse (albeit a really, really implausible one) for being gay, or that he thinks being gay is worse than racism? What a sad and tangled mess that man’s mind is. (John Scalzi has the best comment:

The only real bit of news out of all of this is that Allen would rather be seen as a terrified racist than as someone willing to solicit strangers in a public restroom to get some man-on-man action. Well, here’s the thing, Mr. Allen: Clearly, you can be both.

5 – Gotta love the last line of the Orlando Sentinel story:

When Allen was being placed in a marked patrol car, he asked whether “it would help” if he was a state legislator, according to a police report. The officer replied, “No.”

6 – Allen’s political positions: Cosponsor of an anti-public lewdness bill that would have prohibited park sex. CFNews 13. He got a 92% rating from the Christian Coalition prior to his 2006 election.OS 7/12 He supported amending Florida’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and opposed a bill to curb harassment of gay students.365gay


* There must be a blog somewhere dedicated to charting the sexcapades of moralizers. If there’s not, I would love to start it, but it would be apparently a full-time job, so some independently wealthy person needs to start it. Or pay me to start it. Seriously.

arrested for 20-second recording

Some poor kid took a short clip of the Transformers movie, and was hauled out and arrested. The theater (Regal Cinemas Ballston Common 12, in Arlington, Virginia) is pressing charges that could land this 19yo in prison for a year for the 20-second film clip. She recorded the clip to show her little brother, because she thought it would get him excited to go see the movie, too.

I think the only good outcome of this is that the theater has lost years of revenue from this young woman because in addition to trying to put her in prison for a year, they have banned her from their theater for life. Hopefully her friends will boycott the theater on her behalf too.

If you have any thoughts about the ludicrous nature of this prosecution, feel free to share them with the theater at (703) 527-9730; Regal Cinemas at 877-TELLREGAL (1-877-835-5734); or the Arlington, VA, Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney at (703) 228-4410.

Her trial date is set for August 21. She’s being prosecuted under a new Virginia statute that criminalizes using cameras in movie theaters.

Further reading:

  • Washington Post 8/2
  • USA9.com
  • excess copyright
  • Two commenters on slashfilm note that “Regal offers employees, most of whom make minimum wage, $10,000 for catching a ‘pirate’. I’ve never heard of anyone getting it.”1 and “the MPAA gives a cash reward (Around $500 last time I checked) to whoever reports someone for using any kind of recording device in a move theater”2

cross-posted at sivacracy

update 8/9:

  • free culture NYU calls for a boycott.
  • a commenter posted the email address for the VP of investor relations: ddelaria at regalcinemas.com
  • a commenter at sivacracy suggests that people at arlington do a mass protest and everybody record 20-second video clips.

technological mandates

I’ve written before about the ways in which criminalizing specific medical procedures — e.g., the “partial birth abortion act” — is a technological mandate. As a technological mandate, bans on specific abortion procedures are subject to all the same flaws, overreaches, underreaches, definitional problems, and obsolescence problems that mandates involving technological protection measures for copyrighted works are. As with people’s experiences with DRM, the best way to see the problems with these kinds of rules is to hear the stories of women who have had “partial birth abortions”. I encourage geek liberators to think about technological mandates more broadly.

irrational economics @ the DOJ

The OECD is releasing a study confirming that entertainment & IP industries puff up their “lost to piracy” figures — by a lot. Actual losses are under $200 billion worldwide per year. The industry estimates at $600 to $1000 billion or more per year.

… And is there any evidence-based lawmaking afoot? No, there is not. Apparently the DOJ is even more of an evidence-free and knowledge-free zone than we knew. Gonzalez is pressing Congress to pass the “Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2007”. (Perhaps if he focused more on his pressing scandals and less on unnecessary bills he would “misspeak” less often.)

The IPPA recycles a lot of bad proposals from last year’s similar bill, which generally step up the pace of criminalizing copyright infringement, permit more wiretaps (don’t they have enough?), etc. There is a crime of life imprisonment for using pirated software if you recklessly cause or attempt to cause death. The DOJ gave an example of a hospital using pirated software instead of paying for it. … And this would lead to death, how? Never mind. Moving on … More wiretaps, more computer seizures, criminalize “attempts” to infringe, bigger penalties for circumventing TPMs, require Homeland Security to call the RIAA whenever Customs sees bootleg CDs. Bigger penalties of money and jailtime. The War on Drugs is leading by a nose, but the War on IP Piracy is gaining rapidly in the Race of Follies.

The bill was amusingly described by Declan McCullough as “the most dramatic rewrite of copyright law since a 2005 measure dealing with pre-release piracy”. I think that our diminished standards of drama and frequency suggest just how often we’re having to fend off ridiculous bills being pushed by the industry and/or some discredited government hack.

Last year’s version was so soundly decried that it didn’t go anywhere, and we can hope we’re as lucky this year.

new & fabulous uses for business method patents

patent your tax strategies!

No, I’m not kidding. Go read the article. 52 patents for tax strategies have been issued since the first was issued in 2003, and 84 more are pending.

If this annoys you and causes you to mutter grumpily about State Street Bank and the Federal Circuit*, put a smile on your face with an early May review of KSR v. Teleflex: Another in a long string of Supreme Court rebukes to the Fed. Circuit and its “a patent in every pot” philosophy. Yaay non-obviousness standard! **

* I was going to link to Wikipedia for a quick review of the Fed Circuit for folks, but the wikipedia entry sucks: It includes all the employment history of the Fed Circuit and none of the substantive discussion about the rationales for creating it, the criticisms (a lot) and praise (not as much), and attempts to tinker with its structure or copy it for other areas of law. The State Street Bank entry is also not great but it gives citation, link to file, and a basic overview, so it was Good Enough.

** It’s interesting how Kennedy rejected a “rigid approach” for interpreting non-obviousness, because it might not keep up with technology. I compare this decision somewhat bitterly with his opinion in Gonzalez v. Carhart, in which he has no problem applying a rigid standard based on a particular technology (a surgical approach). He premised the right to create a blanket legal rule banning a particular surgical procedure — effectively a technological mandate — on, what? His decision that there was insufficient medical evidence to justify permitting the procedure and that the patients needed the paternalistic supervision of the State lest they make a decision they would regret later on. (Needless to say there was considerably more evidence that the procedure is medically advised in some situations, than there was evidence of any need for state paternalism to protect the emotional welfare of citizens.) I guess rigidity is okay when the patriarchy is involved.

Wiley copyright imbroglio at science blog

Last week a copyright imbroglio broke out at a science blog which had written a post critiquing mainstream coverage of a science article; the blog had posted a figure from the paper to demonstrate bad science writing in the mainstream media. Wiley sent a C&D; the blogger agreed to take the material down (actually took the data and recreated the figures herself) but posted about the incident; a blogstorm erupted (see also coturnix); THEN Wiley apologized … and the blogger as far as I can tell just left her own recreated figures on the blog post, and who can blame her? It’s a (relative) pain in the ass loading images on a blog.

So some good will come out of this incident: that a bajillion people will have heard the words “fair use” and been inspired to participate in discussions about open content, fair use, control of information, etc.

I really, really hope that people do *not* take the lesson that if the publisher had not apologized and “granted permission” that the original figures would have had to stay down. This was a classic example of the chilling effect that comes from cease and desist letters. In other words, a classic example of the growth of copyright paranoia.

The law is actually on the blogger’s side on this issue. That blogger would have been well within rights to completely ignore the C&D to begin with because this was as fair use (as many people pointed out). Wiley would have then had to do a s.512 notice to the ISP (scienceblogs.com) which would also have been within its rights to ignore the notice. They could have then filed a 512(f) suit against Wiley for a bad faith s.512 notice, and EFF or any number of attorneys would have been delighted to take them on as pro bono clients, I’m certain.

My point: These incidents raise questions about the growth of copyright and whether copyright should be usefully applied to certain kinds of knowledge and how public investments in scientific research should be monitored. But they also raise simple questions of the abuse and misuse of copyright law — misuse which is illegal in some circumstances and can cost the misuser a lot of money.

I’d like to see in-house counsel advising their “junior staff” about the possible liability for misusing its copyrights. A few more high-profile cases might put that in their list of important topics to cover in their in-house trainings.

atheist outreach and hypocrite hilarity

check out this awesome overpass/sidewalk art at yonkis.com — you have to scroll all the way to the right, and it’s not a flip photo so do it slowly enough to notice the homo sapiens-like creatures … at the shortest point of the wall, at about the 75% mark (L-to-R).

The pointer came from pharyngula, where they’ve also been discussing atheist outreach. Elsewhere in the blogosphere people have been wondering if posting flyers on cars in church parking lots is a good way to reach out to the faithful (the “parking lot challenge”) and what kinds of flyers would be good. I posted some of my thoughts in a comment, but to sum up: (a) flyers can come in all kinds of different information, and if you’re willing for 90% or more to be thrown away you could save the life or sanity of some unhappy teenager who *wants* rationality but doesn’t know how to find it; (b) lots of other places are good to pass out tidbits of reason: bus and train ads, newspaper inserts, inserts in bookstore books, hotel bibles; (c) anybody ever do “you’re welcome for the good deed” card?; and (d) what do you say when someone says “god bless you” and you want to be polite and friendly and brief, but corrective?

… And speaking of religious people: The “abstinence-only” promoter in the Bush Administration’s foreign aid department (aka the “AIDS czar”) resigned in embarrassment after getting caught on DC madam Jeane Palfrey’s list of prominent johns. (See WPost 4/28 and ABC 4/27.) Ha ha. Oh, my anger at BS thinly-veiled with sanctimony is rarely so well matched by my pleasure at hypocrisy revealed. My cup runneth over, but I tell you — the Bush administration has produced so many of these kinds of things that it’s kinda hard to keep up.

I anticipate many more such juicy stories once her client list (which is in the hands of prosecutors and ABC?) is published, and we know more names of people who sought “massage and sexual fantasy from college-educated women”. The irony of the abstinence-only AIDS czar being one of the first to go is rich though. It is Good to start the day with hypocrites brought low. I am in a happy, happy mood.

shaolin trademarks and copyright as generic for IP

In an SFgate story about conflicts between folks trying to take Shaolin practice in different directions, I spotted this:

In recent years, the main temple’s abbot, Shi YongXin, has tried to copyright the Shaolin name. He’s also been criticized for commercializing the faith. YongXin gave his approval to Ho’s venture in San Francisco.

Really? I thought. Tried to copyright the name? Surely they mean trademark …. A little googling found this China Daily article from a couple of years ago (2004/9/28). I quote in its entirety because virtually every single paragraph illustrates the wacky confusion:

Shaolin monks in hand-to-hand copyright battle
Updated: 2004-09-28 09:53

The monks of China’s Shaolin temple are not just good at kung fu but also increasingly agile at using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs, state media reported.

The 1,500 year-old temple, known as the cradle of China’s martial arts, recently set up the Henan Shaolin Temple Industrial Development Co., whose main purpose is to protect the temple’s intellectual property rights, Xinhua news agency said.

“Everyone just wants to make some profits from the name, totally regardless of the integral image of Shaolin Temple,” Shaolin abbot Shi Yongxin told the agency.

More than 1,000 brands containing “Shaolin” have been registered without the approval of the temple in the United States, Japan and Europe, Shi said.

Since its start, the new company has been engaged in feverish activity, registering nearly 100 Shaolin-related brands in China and has applied to register “Shaolin” brands in over 100 countries, Xinhua said.

A survey by the China Trademark and Patent Law Office found that many countries were competing to register their own trademarks of Shaolin or Shaolin temple, state media reported previously.

On the west coast of the United States alone, there are three Shaolin temples. In Europe, Shaolin temples can be found in Vienna and Budapest.

with a photo captioned:

A young monk of China’s Shaolin temple demonstrating his skills. The monks have increasingly been using copyright rules to protect their name from rip-offs. [AFP]

Further reading–it looks like this story has flurried every couple of years, 2002, 2004, 2006:
* The People’s Daily from 2002/9/25 had more information about the beginning of the trademark wars.
* The USA Today picked up the story around the same time.
* The BBC News on 2004/6/29
* 2004/6/2 a story at p2pnet.net
* Another 2006 piece from China Shaolin Temple itself gives their perspective.
* China Daily, 2006/10/19 had this insightful history:

Back in 1993, Shi Yongxin took a ham manufacturer to court for promoting the ham under the brand “Shaolin,” which he claimed constituted a trademark infringement. It was the first case on brand rights in China’s religious circles.

Recalling the lawsuit, Shi said, “a long time ago, communication and transportation were not as convenient as today, and products were circulated in a limited area, so trademark registration was not required. With globalization comes infringement. To protect the trademark, we have to register the brand ‘Shaolin.’ The registration is totally protective. ”

However, the Shaolin Temple brand is being taken advantage of by other businessmen. About 200 meters north of the temple, the local tourist bureau has built the Shaolin Temple Martial Arts School, and right across from that is a Zen institute that is backed by a salt company.

Many suspect such commercial aspirations will disturb the tranquility of the temple. Shi, however, believed such establishment is a result of the interplay between business and brand, likening Shaolin Temple to the American Disneyland, which is a brand as well as a business.

* Kung Fu Magazine had an interview with Shi Yongxin, Abbot of Shaolin temple:

GC: How is trademarking the name of Shaolin going?
Abbot: Recently, some businessmen and companies had been engaging in using the Shaolin name to further their product. This influenced the image of Shaolin culture in a negative way. Now Shaolin Temple is attending to this matter. Abuse of the Shaolin trademark will diminish the influence of Shaolin Temple and create misunderstandings of Shaolin in the public eye. Shaolin represents the best of traditional Chinese art in kung fu and Chan Buddhism. As we know, some products and services provided by these companies were outlawed by the rules of Buddhism. So we have begun to administrate the trademark of Shaolin, not for the sake of profit, just for the sake of preserving our culture and religion.

… This was an interesting search in its own right, but a couple of observations:
* You know, it’s not so easy to google for something + copyright, because every frickin’ thing on the Internet says “blah blah blah COPYRIGHT date by yadda yadda yadda”.
* This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed “copyright” being used synonymously for “intellectual property”. It’s as if the copyright trademark is itself being diluted.

* Every article has its own copyright date and they’re apparently being put in almost at random as part of website templates in some cases, the article in other cases, etc. For instance the 2002 USA Today article, which I found on 2007/4/29, had a “Copyright 2005 the Associated Press”. The Kung Fu Magazine article didn’t have a date on the article or on its copyright statement, but had an automatically generated “today’s date” in the header — so one might mistakenly read the article and think it was today. This is a problem for citations, of course, but it’s also a problem for orphan works issues in the far future. So if the dates on the works themselves are practically meaningless, then how is the future historian going to be able to tell when the 95-year corporate copyright term has expired? If we’re all relying on the overworked Internet Archive as our de facto copyright database then someone needs to give them like a bajillion dollars in a hurry so they can capture the whole Internet and do it every day.

the state of free wireless in boston

while I’ve been sad to see some cafes that previously offered free wireless moving to a pay model or restricting their network for other reasons, i’ve been seeing more and more free wireless popping up in other places.

today at a restaurant for lunch there were three: one called “[person’s name]’s computer”; one for the name of the restaurant; and one called “fuck comcast”. heh.