Am I the only one who seethes upon entering a waiting room or gym dominated by a babbling television? I suspect we are the majority. But what to do? I recently learned about an ingenious culture-jamming technology — TV-B-Gone — a device that enables anyone to reclaim TV-saturated public spaces for ordinary real life.
For a time I thought I might be in line for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. It was the late 1980s, and a Reagan nominee — one Douglas Ginsberg, a district court judge — had just flamed out after the discovery that he had smoked marijuana with students when he was a professor at Harvard Law School. That got me thinking. If everyone in my generation who ever smoked pot was now disqualified — well, I just might be the last person standing.
My town is losing a car repair shop. The gas station at the end of Main Street will continue to sell gas, but the garage attached to it is going to close. The mechanic, who has been there for twenty-five years, will have to find work elsewhere. He had a loyal following; a friend told me he once opened early on a Sunday to fix her tire.
A big victory for California beach-goers and the integrity of the public trust doctrine! After years of bare-knuckle litigation, billionaire David Geffen has agreed to allow public access to the beach in front of his Malibu estate. Anyone can now reach the beautiful Carbon Beach by walking on a paved path from the Pacific Coast Highway to the beach.
Why is it that fake news is increasingly more insightful than the real news? The Onion (April 13) comes through with “another hilarious satire on the mad logic of market culture. “Cost of Living Now Outweighs Benefits” describes how the Federal Consumer Quality-of-Life Control Board has concluded that “for the first time, we have statistical evidence of what we’ve suspected for the past 40 years: Life really isn’t worth living.” The article continues:
I’m looking at a letter I received last fall from the Social Security Administration. It’s a statement of my account: how much I’ve contributed, how much I will get each month when I retire, how much my family would receive if I were to die. It is a bit unsettling to see my life reduced to numbers this way. (The record of annual earnings shows why my mother once remarked to my then-girlfriend that my brother was “the practical one.”)
Can the world’s poorest countries improve their lot by adopting the intellectual property (IP) standards of the West? The West insists that’s how countries develop themselves economically, technologically and socially. Yet the behavior of the United States Government and major multinationals suggests a distinct lack of confidence in their claim.
Those who see open-source software as a new model for economic production will find much to ponder in Democratizing Innovation, a new book by MIT professor Eric von Hippel (MIT Press). The book is a fascinating elaboration of how open-source principles are expanding into many new corners of the industrial economy.
Readers, please excuse two zany intellectual property stories in a row, but this latest development could not be ignored. Last Friday, a federal district court in San Francisco decided that the sequence of 26 asanas, or yoga poses, developed by Bikram Choudhury as part of his Starbuck’s-like franchising of yoga, may be protected by copyright law. Judge Phyllis Hamilton refused to dismiss the case as beyond the scope of the law, and so the case is now cleared to go to trial.
In a scary/serious display of commodity fetishism that even Karl Marx would have thought extreme, property rights are now being handed out for colors. I know, it sounds crazy, but, gosh, it’s darn difficult to say no to the mad, totalizing logic of the market. [inline:1] The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had been fairly cautious in granting color trademarks. But the floodgates were opened in 1995 when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the Qualitex Co. to own a distinctive shade of green-gold for its press pads (see above).
It is a sad but inescapable fact that anyone who gives money to public television these days is, well, a sucker. I wince at saying that, because I remain a staunch believer in the idea of public television. We very much need a non-commercial oasis of thoughtful news and public affairs programming. We need a network that welcomes idiosyncratic and diverse viewpoints; that showcases challenging artistic fare; that does not pander to corporate donors; and that is courageous enough to defend this vision.
It always irritates me to see the Michael Eisners and Ken Lays and George W. Bushes portray themselves as “self-made men” — Ayn Rand superheroes of the capitalist order. Individual initiative matters in creating wealth, of course, but some of the most critical ingredients are social investments — schools, colleges, government R&D, small business assistance, the courts, the stock market, regulatory agencies, and much more. These are precisely the factors that the “I did it all myself” storyline denies.
The announcement that Wal-Mart will soon build a superstore in Hadley, Massachusetts — the town adjacent to mine, Amherst — has provoked fear and loathing among many of us in the Pioneer Valley. People are rightly proud of the things that are unique and distinctive about this area, and big-box superstores are not part of that equation. Amherst was one of the few places in the world known to have convinced McDonald’s to leave town. People here take pride in the local arts and music scene.
The inkjet printer represents one of the worst business models ever devised. They sell the things for practically nothing. “What?” you think. “I can buy a printer for less than a hundred dollars?” Then you discover that the cartridges cost twenty-five to thirty dollars each, and that they wear out all the time, so that you’ll pay for the printer several times over within a year or two.
It is the conceit of the digital age that online literary collaboration is utterly new. And, of course, it is, in its way. Dan Gillmor, former tech columnist for The San Jose Mercury News who is now championing “grassroots journalism,” asked readers to give him feedback for the chapters of his book, We the Media, as he was writing it. J.D.
You may recall the landmark open-access publishing rules that the National Institutes of Health was poised to adopt late last year (see previous post). Now it seems as though commercial journal publishers have succeeded in watering down the plan. The result: a diminished victory.
Boston was tired and a bit grimy when I was a child there in the ’50s. Even Fenway Park was just an old place where the Red Sox played, near the tire outlets and Sears Roebuck store. But then there was Christmas. You’d walk across the Commons in the biting cold, next to your father in his big overcoat. There were reindeer, creches (butt out, ACLU) cheery Christmas music, a canopy of lights on the bare trees overhead.
Last weekend I made the trek to New York City to catch the final two days of The Gates, the audacious and improbable installation art project created by Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude (what are their last names?). A friend had said that a person’s reaction to The Gates is essentially diagnostic; it reveals what sort of person you are. If so, The Gates re-confirmed me as a commoner. The project reinvigorated my delight in welcoming public spaces.
I love tools. I stop at hardware stores sometimes just to look at them. The utter economy of a screwdriver and hammer feels almost cleansing in a society built upon diseconomy and waste.
Technology is another matter. Technology is what happens when the tool becomes the task, rather than just a means of doing the task. Usually it doesn’t so much solve problems as shift them around and create new ones. Cars, televisions, cell phones — we all could make a list.
I had this lawyer. Some big guys were suing me and I had this lawyer. The big guys, they used all the tricks. Shopped for a friendly forum. Pleaded hardship and poverty, even though some of them are rich as sheiks.
They won the first round, but no surprise there. We’d win on appeal I thought. I kept waiting for the lawyer to file. I was patient. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and all.