Tuesday, July 26, 2005


I was at an airport recently, and after finishing a quick breakfast, I realized that I didn't have much time to get to my flight. However, I couldn't remember what number my gate was. Mentally, I narrowed it down to either 82 or 84, which I could see were in opposite directions. For some reason it occured to me that my gate number would be written on the under side of my snapple cap. When I turned it over, the message read "There are over 82 miles of shoreline in Nantucket."

Amazed, I began to wonder how it was that my question had been so aptly answered. After all, it's not every day that the idea comes to one that his flight number should be located on a bottle cap. Most bottle caps don't have anything written on them at all, much less the flight number of a soon-to-depart airline.

What could be the reason for that kind of a revelation at such a time? Certainly it was an important flight for me not to miss. Could some supernatural force be projecting itself into my mind at just the right moment, so that I wouldn't miss my flight?

I took a look at my boarding pass just to make sure. "Gate 84", it said. I turned around and walked to my gate.

Thursday, July 14, 2005


I was walking out of my lab yesterday and saw something that really struck me. There was a chipmunk underneath an oak tree standing up and eating an acorn. A large black dog on pulling at his leash regarded the chipmunk as the chipmunk stared back at the dog. The dog's owner, talking on her cell phone took stock of the situation and allowed her dog to continue staring at the chipmunk. I continued walking past the three, stopping only long enough to begin thinking about what all four of us have in common.

I had the sudden feeling of satisfaction in knowing that we are all cousins, separated of course by generations, but tied together by a genuine family relation. My great-great-great... grandfather and the chipmunk's could have been the same creature. It wasn't a realization of the fact of evolution. I've understood that theory for quite a long time. Rather, it was almost a feeling of community with the animals. After all, we are just one big family.

What could be more fantastic? And yet, I remember how doubters of evolution in my high-school would ask me "so you're related to monkeys?", spitting out the words in disgust.

So now I want to know: why is that disgusting? What's wrong with acknowledging that you're cousins with the animals? I know it goes against all of the myths of creation, which many educated people still believe. Is that actually a reason to find the idea distasteful?

One upshot of this is that I no longer feel like I want to eat the meat of mammals. After all, I've known enough dogs to be sure of their intelligence and emotions. Pigs are supposed to be even smarter. I do not doubt that I could become friends with a pig if given the opportunity. How can I justify killing a creature I might otherwise have been friends with to satisfy an appetite I could easily satisfy otherwise?

I'll probably draw the line at mammals. I don't feel as close to fish or fowl, and there is a much bigger difference between my mind and theirs, so I think that eating them is not so bad.

What do you think?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Internationalization of "Intellectual Property"

The Chinese Communist Party has acquiesced to enforce charges of piracy against Chinese people brought by United States companies. Despite the potentially lucrative implications for those companies, this is an unfortunate development for several reasons.

The first reason is straightforward. It increases the perceived legitimacy of so-called intellectual property. Although intellectual property was originally founded upon the public good, it is now increasingly being seen as a right that exists for the benefit of the IP owner.

Another body of law which was founded upon the public good is anti-trust law. In this realm, litigation has been decided in a way that confirms that the laws are for the public good. Companies like AMD, alledging harm by Intel, must present their claims and arguments in terms of harm to the public good.

By contrast, when companies (or individuals) try to use one of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's 10 Most Wanted Patents to extort money from small businesses, they do not have to show that such extortion is in the public interest. In essence, that debate is presumed to have already happened. The U.S. patent office implicitly takes it that the research done by the inventors, for the sake of the patents, has (in the preponderance of cases) benefited the public more to an extent that justifies the heavy burden on the courts of enforcement, and on would-be competitors and the market they would serve.

In a sense, it would be nice to have a renewed debate on whether the whole system is worth it in these terms. Unfortunately, it may be too late. Patents are no longer even supposed to be for the public good, but rather are considered as a right of inventors, akin to the freedom of speech or freedom to own physical objects.

The second reason that the development in China is unfortunate is that it pits the U.S. government together with the CCP against certain freedoms of the Chinese people. This arrangement seems like it could undermine the pro-freedom stance that has been taken in the past by the US government (not that the US hasn't seriously undermined such positions in and around Iraq over the last 3 years). Perhaps the CCP will be able to find tacit support from the U.S. and international corporations for "playing ball" like so many friendly dictatorships.