Big Smoke

'cause it's hard to see from where I'm standin'

That Entrepreneurial Spirit

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I bristle at the debate on patents and copyrights. On the one hand, I understand and agree with the fundamental idea: A man should be compensated for his ideas. But then when we bring on concepts like Patent Transfers and Intellectual Property as a commodity, I jump right off that bandwagon.

With those comes a different message, one that I’m not entirely down with, for what they imply switches the subject: Instead of when a man creates he should be compensated, it becomes in order to drive a man to create there must be a system of compensation, and that boggles the mind. Namely, should the primary motive for creation and innovation be a future monetary cash-in?

In what field other than finance is that not utterly destructive? Art? Art becomes diluted to entertainment, where the end goal isn’t self-expression but selling the largest number of units at the highest price. Where the lowest common denominator becomes the pinnacle of the craft. Where people listen to pop because it’s what’s always playing and counter-culturalists listen to the obscure because it isn’t pop (until it is pop, at which point they stop listening) and beyond that nobody cares what they’re listening to.

Medicine? Medicine gets diluted to pharmaceuticals, where the end goal isn’t to provide the most benefit to the patient but, again, to create a monopoly on commercially viable finds: Eradicate malaria? Pff, poor countries can’t afford that. Let’s invent another injection that makes movie stars’ faces look more photogenic and less real.

Industry? Three words: The Electric Car.

Perhaps I don’t have my finger on society, but it bothers me deeply when the basis of such property laws are perverted to the point where the very desire to create can only be explained in one manner.

Thanks, But No Thanks

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I am a biker and I use the Riverside Park bike path daily.

Even I think this cute little diversion was a total misappropriation of funds.

We’re laying off teachers and closing down libraries. We’re pulling cops off the beat and taking trains off the tracks.

And we spent $15.7 million so I don’t have to take a tiny detour?


Playing Right Into a Trap

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In his haste to find something to slam the Tea Party on as the current midterms are encroaching upon us, Mark Benjamin falls right into a very simple GOP trap. He takes this statement from Sharron Angle, candidate for Nevada:

We moved to the state of Nevada when I was three-and-a-half. My father bought a small business out in front of the convention center in Reno — and it wasn’t a convention center then; it was an onion field. His small business was a motel, and so we did those things as a kid that Americans don’t do. We cleaned bathrooms and made beds and swept floors, did laundry, those kinds of things.

He interpreted it as her being racist by confirming that such work was below the average American.

Au contraire.

In my opinion, it’s fairly clear that she was giving the usual politician faux-populist pitch wherein she established her humble salt-of-the-earth credentials while making a sly dig at East Coast Liberal Elites’ often-touted argument that illegal immigration is not a major problem because the immigrants do work Americans won’t do. She even laughed at her own satire, in the video.

Being that Arizona’s right wing is going on a xenophobic head trip right now and she’s the Tea Party candidate, my reading would seem to make the most sense, no? And being that Benjamin’s reaction belied an assumption concerning minorities and the economy that validated her narrative, he fell into a trap: Her narrative is they’re taking our jobs and to say otherwise is to be out of touch with working-class Americans. In that stead, his opposing viewpoint then becomes those jobs are so beneath my elitist purview as to be invisible.

I am by no means defending Angle or the Tea Party, and indeed I’m glad that Paul Krugman and his readers have written what they did this past day, but if any criticism from the left is to be effective, Mark, it must first be accurate.

Kagan and Sexuality

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I must respectfully disagree with Gleen Greenwald’s characterization of “good liberals” attempting to defend Elena Kagan’s (non-)scandal pertaining to her sexual orientation.

He makes the argument that if they really thought being gay was not something of a scarlet letter, they wouldn’t be making such hubbub over what in her life may be considered personal; rather instead they would affirmatively declare her sexual orientation – straight or gay – and defend it. Furthermore, he states, a politician’s personal life ceases to be personal when the politician runs for office, on the basis that we must know who we are asking to represent us.

I must disagree on both points. First of all, it’s not that liberals feel that being gay is bad, but that they know that being gay is perceived as bad, and as is most obviously the case they are attempting to steer the debate away from such nonproductive eddies lest the entire confirmation process is to be an endless howling monkey-fight and conservative radio host gangbang.

In that stead, I posit that those “good liberals” of which Greenwald speaks have made a fatal misstep two ways. Both are political, not moral. First, in scrubbing her of all her history, they have given the Republicans – who predictably would block any nominee for any reason they could conceivably find – little else to destroy her on.

Second, it was a mistake of liberal organizations to make a big deal out of it at all, for their ire is what has given this particular story its fodder. All the right-wing had to do was plant the merest of hints, then report on the “controversy” of the liberal outrage. They’ve fallen for yet another trick, and we are all then doomed to listen to yet another month of shit that doesn’t pertain.

As for whether one’s sexual orientation is important for determining one’s worth for office, I have but two words: Ed Koch.

Not a Very Bright Idea

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Bob Herbert praises two schools in New York for offering enough college-level courses in high school to allow their students to save expensive tuition money through an abridged tenure in actual college. The comments to his column are abuzz with people who are outraged for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that the students don’t then get the full collegiate experience.

This is true. This would also be true even if they went to college for four years. College now appears to bear little relation to what the student learns but whose institution is on the student’s degree, and the student is concerned less of his classes than of his bursar bill: It may be a scant four years in college, but it’s an agonizing forty to pay it off. Personally, I’ve always been told of the supposed truth that, indeed, a university is not a trade school, and I’d agree: No trade school could justify costing this much.

It’s true that accelerated courses hinder one’s social development both in high school and college, but people do such programs out of necessity, not convenience: If it didn’t already break my bank and kill my credit rating, I’d still be in college – it’s certainly preferable to today’s job market. The schools that garner Herbert’s praise are no more than a stopgap: The system itself is flawed and the costs need to be brought to heel.


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Arizona governor Jan Brewer signed into law a ban on ethnic studies classes, specifically in response to a class that teaches Mexican-American history, on the grounds that it would “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.”

Apparently irony isn’t one of her strong points. For starters, Arizona was Mexico. For seconds, if there is resentment towards whites in that state, wouldn’t it be from the fact that it’s discriminating against Hispanics? And isn’t this bill clearly more evidence of just that? Unbelievable.

Similarly, Jackson, NY*, a small town near Vermont, has signed a law declaring all official activity be done in English – itself unconstitutional – which is not only unnecessary (what non-English speakers would they find near Vermont? Errant Quebecois?) but ugly in the sort of support it’s getting. To quote one commenter,

This is an extremely positive development to stem the de-Americanization of America.

Because America’s entire history isn’t just one big long list of immigrants. I don’t see you people speaking Tsalagi. To quote another,

Then I thought to myself: if I was in court in say, France, I would not go to foreclosure court and assume that a translator would be made available to me. I would not own property in France and assume that my ignorance of French would be accommodated. Similarly, I would not go to the hospital, or to pay a utility bill, go to school, or out to eat and assume that those establishments would provide someone to assist me in transacting my business in anything else but French.

Which is ironic, since like most Europeans, French citizens have a more robust educational system when it comes to learning foreign languages, are surrounded by people who speak foreign languages and are more likely to be conversant in foreign languages (especially English) than Americans. Not to mention the racism of assuming that because one cannot speak fluently, one must not be allowed to own property, pay bills, go to school or the hospital.

The comments are not terribly dissimilar to those in today’s Times article on racial profiling in NYC:

FACT: Blacks and latinos commit a much greater percentage of crime in relation to their overall population then white people do. Hence, more frisks, arrests, etc.

Apparently said commenter has not heard of the self-serving prophecy. Forgetting about police quotas and the high rate of drug charges, it’s a fairly simple concept: More scrutiny equals more arrests. If cops harassed random suburban white boys with the fervor they did Black hoods, we’d see a far higher rate of incarceration for whites. (Not to mention more sensationalism about the negative effects of crystal meth, but I digress.)

Two steps forward, two steps back. And to think we’re supposedly the most egalitarian nation in the world…

*It never ceases to amaze me just how much upstate New York is total hicksville.

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