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Saturday, February 01, 2003

Astronauts' Hymn

Tony Adragna
Eternal Father, King of birth,
Who didst create the heaven and earth,
And bid the planets and the sun
Their own appointed orbits run;
O hear us when we seek they grace
For those who soar through outer space.
-- J.E. Volonte, 1961
My prayers are for the families of these very brave men and women.

Yes, very brave, not arrogant. The folks "who soar through outer space" don't do so thinking they've conquered space anymore than sailors think they've conquered the sea. They know the risks to self are great, yet they go anyway. That's not arrogance — it's courage!

God Bless the Brave Crew of the Shuttle Columbia


Friday, January 31, 2003

Patently Broken System

Tony Adragna
Dan Gillmor is a blogger. Dan Gillmor also writes a column on technology for the San Jose Mercury News. On Jan 20, 2003, Dan posted this entry
You may recall that SBC Communications' Prodigy subsidiary had to spend megabucks defending itself from British Telecom's outrageous assertion it had patented hyperlinks (a judge tossed BT's claim out like the garbage it was). Perhaps SBC learned something in the process. says SBC's lawyers are claiming the phone giant has a "patent on Internal links and Includes" and is threatening lawsuits. If SBC wins this, it can hold most of the Web hostage to royalties.

Prior art, anyone? Let me know and I'll post it here.
They did, and he did

Dan's got a much bigger point to make, though. Citing the British Telecom patent claim to "hyperlinks" — BT lost the case — and the current claim by SBC, Dan says
I'm not quite ready to echo Web commentary that calls SBC's offer a BT-like shakedown. But the company's claim has a certain odor, at best. In fact, U.S. Patent Nos. 5,933,841 and 6,442,574 may well turn out to be just one more example of a patent system that has run off the rails.

To get a patent, in theory, you have to come up with something new and useful. Then you have to convince an examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) that you've achieved this milestone.

In practice, the system is in trouble -- and so is innovation in America.

The patent examiners are overworked and under-knowledgable. They grant ridiculous patents, and take a polluter's stance: Someone downstream will clean up the mess.


The patent office, which seems to be in the business of working for applicants, not the public it's supposed to serve, would never have issued the British Telecom hyperlink patent if it had properly done its homework.

Is the SBC case another example of sloppy work at the patent office? It might be.

And a broken system just keeps rolling along. Hiring lawyers instead of engineers is not the way to innovate.
The system is broke!

And it doesn't stop there. Dan hits on another area of patent practice that gives rise to some serious questions — patents & the human genome.

A long time ago — it seems so, anyway — I posed the question, "Why are stem cells patented?"
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) holds "the patent" on stem cells derived from embryos. Do they actually hold a patent on stem cells, or is it a process that they've patented. This question has serious ethical implications in both stem cell, as well as genetic, research.

If the patent is on the process, then I have no objections. If the patent is on a stem cell or gene that has been altered so as to make it something not found in nature, then I would also have no objection to the patent (though, I will reserve a right to object to the new product). But, if the patent is on a stem cell or gene that has merely been extracted and placed in a sustaining environment, then I must object. This last scheme is no less than claiming ownership of the basic building blocks of life, and that is a scarey proposition.
I'll set aside the ethics question so we can concentrate on the question of whether unaltered genes & undifferentiated stem cells ought be patentable in any event. I ask: Where's the innovation?

There's certainly some invention in the process it took to "discover" specific genes & extract stem cells, and that invention ought be patentable. But the the genes per se are not something new simply because they've been newly discovered. Rather, they're "basic building blocks" that have always existed in the public domain since they entered the genome.

You might as well file a patent on water, then sue Coca Cola for using it in their formula.

Does my soda pop analogy sound like hyperbole? Trust me, it's not meant to be — returning to the Boston Globe story
But patent examiners became pickier. They began to insist more that applicants demonstrate specific uses for their discoveries, as required by patent guidelines. The stricter approach was codified in a January 2001 publication in the Federal Register.

''If the patent application discloses only nucleic acid molecular structure for a newly discovered gene, and no utility for the claimed isolated gene, the claim invention is not patentable,'' the government said in its notice. ''The genetic sequence data represented by strings of the letters A, T,C and G alone is raw, fundamental sequence data,'' and thus not patentable on its own.
I think that rule is a significant step in the correct direction. But, it still leaves open the door to patenting the "basic building blocks" so long as you can find a "utility", and I'll rest my case on the absurd example I gave above.

It seems to me that granting patents on the basic components of biology & chemistry is patently offensive...

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

SOTU is unimpressive, and so was the President

Tony Adragna
Platitudinous posturing! That's how I'd describe most of Mr. Bush's address, Will. Tell the truth, I really don't expect much more on these occasions, no matter which party occupies the Oval Office.

Highlights [excerpted from the speech]
[...] end the unfair double taxation of dividends...

$1.2 billion dollars in research funding so that America can lead the world in developing clean, hydrogen-powered automobiles...

$400 billion dollars over the next decade to reform and strengthen Medicare...

$450 million dollar initiative to bring mentors to more than a million disadvantaged junior high students and children of prisoners...

$600 million dollar program to help an additional 300,000 Americans receive treatment over the next three years...

The qualities of courage and compassion that we strive for in America also determine our conduct abroad. The American flag stands for more than our power and our interests. Our Founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity – the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men. In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people ... and we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society, and educate all their children – boys and girls. In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine. Across the earth, America is feeding the hungry; more than 60 percent of international food aid comes as a gift from the people of the United States.

As our Nation moves troops and builds alliances to make our world safer, we must also remember our calling, as a blessed country, to make this world better...

$15 billion dollars over the next five years, including nearly ten billion dollars in new money, to turn the tide against AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean...
I do very much like that bit about our "conduct abroad" — addressing the crisis of AIDS in Africa ought make Bono happy. The president really speaks to me re advancing our "values interests", and I hope others are hearing him, too. We've been too long accused of being only concerned for our strategic & economic interests [Zathras will, no doubt, again disagree with myself on whether we ought be doing that...]

I wonder 'bout the numbers, though — my tally came up to $1,087.25 billions including the unspoken $670 billion to fix dividend taxation [correction: that $670 billion is for the entire tax cut, $300 billion of which is for fixing the dividend tax — had two things running through my head, and I did mean to put it correctly, but just got the wires crossed] (if that even makes it out of committee) — that's a little over a trillion. I think it's money well spent [notwithstanding that I've got some priorities I'd put before the tax cut], but I'm not convinced the assumptions on revenue are correct. Sure, the economy grew during the '80s, but so did the public debt at a rate that evidenced structural imbalance.

When are we gonna get around to doing things like fixing the AMT?...

Overall, I'll give Mr. Bush a B — that's about average nowadays...

Gov. Locke (D - WA) did about as well as can be expected, including coining a new meme to replace "voodoo economics" — "upside down economics"....

Addendum: What did I think of Mr. Bush's points on Iraq? I share Josh's opinion, "I don't think things look much different than they did few hours ago."

Pre-SOTU Note

Tony Adragna
Just listening to the NewsHour special, and I heard Brooks say something that caught my attention. He was talking about how prior administrations have done both aggressive war policy and aggressive domestic policy at the same time, pretty much not caring a damn about deficits. Brooks cited Lincoln during the Civil War, and said {paraphrased]: We alwqays do this.

Sure, fine, Brooks is correct. But, he conveniently skips over the fact that with the Civil War, WWI, and WWII came increases in taxation — specifically, income taxes. Those tax policies were called for by political leadership as a means of funding expenditures on the war effort.

Just proffered this as a counterpoint to the current initiatives...

Nix Blix!

Tony Adragna
I listened to Dr. Blix deliver his update yesterday, and I'm not happy with what I heard.

I'm not talking about Blix's testimony to Iraqi non-complaince — that was expected, appeared throughout his comments, and is a fair assessment. Rather, I'm not liking the terms in which Blix couched his comments
The implementation of resolution 687 (1991) nevertheless brought about considerable disarmament results. It has been recognized that more weapons of mass destruction were destroyed under this resolution than were destroyed during the Gulf War: large quantities of chemical weapons were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision before 1994. While Iraq claims – with little evidence – that it destroyed all biological weapons unilaterally in 1991, it is certain that UNSCOM destroyed large biological weapons production facilities in 1996. The large nuclear infrastructure was destroyed and the fissionable material was removed from Iraq by the IAEA.[emphasis added]
The statement is true, but I've two problems with it.

First, despite Blix's assertions that he would only deliver a report and leave the politcal decisions to the Council, he makes here a pointed argument for continuing inspections. Leaving that point aside, the argument might have merit if not for the fact that Blix himself notes inspections don't work without voluntary compliance. If Saddam hasn't yet fully committed to compliance, then continuing the inspections regime is a farce.

"Stormin' Norman" ain't so "stromin'" no more Interesting story on Schwarzkopf re the current Gulf crisis & its predecessor. Worth noting 'bout the piece is Schwarzkopf's dislike of certain Pentagon personages for their high opinion of themselves vis a vis "mak[ing] sound military judgments." The General thinks these folks ought listen a bit more to "[...] guys at the Pentagon who have been involved in operational planning for their entire live..."

It's not an unreasonable criticism to suggest that on "operational" matters the political folks should grant some deference to the operators. One of the lessons that Schwarzkopf learned from Vietnam is that you go in with overwhelming force, and he applied that lesson when he commanded troops during the Gulf War. Some folk had been arguing, and are still arguing, that we coulda done it with less. Yea, but...

And honest enought to admit "You can't help but sit here today and, with 20/20 hindsight, go back and say, 'Look, had we done something different, we probably wouldn't be facing what we are facing today.' "

I'm for Change, Too

Will Vehrs
Tony, count me in with Zakaria. I believe attempting regime change in Iraq is the right thing on several levels. It has the upside of possibly changing the whole dynamic in the war on terror, the Middle East stalemate, and world-wide coddling of dictators. I don't deny there is a downside risk--as Tom Friedman pointed out, we may find that Iraq is not like Germany under Hitler, but like Yugoslavia under Milosovec. Still, I do not think things could get appreciably worse.

If President Bush and his advisors have guessed wrong on their Iraq strategy, if a military action comes to pass and is not successful, or if an invasion leads to unforseen negative consequences, that will be tragic, but it will be tragedy in pursuit of a plan that held promise for the safety of Americans and the freedom of oppressed people. Such a tragedy would lead to the defeat of President Bush in 2004 and the chance for those who oppose this Administration and oppose its foreign policy to put their ideas into practice. To govern is to choose, and to choose is to face the judgment of the American people on election day.

I am with President Bush on Iraq, mindful of the risks, and willing to accept the consequences.

Monday, January 27, 2003

"I’ll take my chances with change"

Tony Adragna
Fareed Zakaria tells the risk-averse to "Looking on the Bright Side", and he's correct — especially the closing
There are always risks involved when things change. But for the past 40 years the fear of these risks has paralyzed Western policy toward the Middle East. And what has come of this caution? Repression, radical Islam and terror. I’ll take my chances with change.
I'm tempted, though, so I will go a step further tha[n] Fareed. Truth is that Western policy has been worse that "paralyzed" over the past 40 years. In some cases we've been active enablers of repressive regimes. The anti-war folks will point to that history and call us "hypocrites", suggesting that our current arguments for taking down these regimes are disingenuous, and arguing that we oughtn't go to war.

I point to the same history — of both paralysis & enabling — and argue we've a moral duty to clean up that mess.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

QP Post-Game Show

Tony Adragna
I know what the Bucs were doing — playing in the Super Bowl, they knew what they were doing, and they won.

Now, can somebody tell me what the hell the Raiders thought they were doing? Oakland was done in the 2nd.

Update: The Oakland Tribune sums it up in the headline "Bucs pound Raiders 48-21" — Yup "pound" is what the Bucs did...

QP Half Time Show

Tony Adragna
Stick a fork in the Raiders!...

Least I'm getting my fill of Madden...

Punditwatch is up. More below.

I Guess I'm A "Moderate"

Tony Adragna
I don't think you've moved to the left, Will. Maybe I've just been making more sense lately — it helps that I've been doing more thinking than writing. If I've moved to the right, though, it didn't happen recently — more like eighteen years ago when I left the seminary and entered the real world...

But, I'm not the type of "political moderate" that you'll find in the legislature — the ones who will compromise principle for political expediency, or votes. Still a liberal notwithstanding how I've moderated my approach to reaching at the vision...

More on North Carolina: Got an email from someone with knowledge of workings inside the NC legislature. Seems that this party-switch is less about about politics than personal pique — least as far as Rep. Decker is concerned. Truth is that both parties have been having trouble imposing discpline, or, rather, the imposition of discipline in a ham-handed manner has been the problem.

What makes this different from the "Jeffords Jump" is that while Jeffords was unhappy with how he was treated, he was more ideologically aligned with the Democrats anyway. Decker, on the other hand, has always been the staunchest of conservatives, and there's no indication that his switch augurs support for the Democrats' agenda in the legislature.

If Decker of-a-sudden became a liberal, that would be "great". What I see instead is the petty act of a petty man, and it complicates matters for NC Democrats just as much as NC Republicans

Al Davis did good for women in sports? I was taken to task in the fray over my anti-Davis stance. It was pointed out to me that Davis hired the first woman to be president of an NFL team. As someone who leans politically the way I do, such actions should put Davis in my good graces.

What the respondant seems to have missed is that I explicitly divorced my politics from my opinion on Al Davis. I said that "my zealousness for Raiders football outweighed even my radical politics". To wit: I'm pissed off at Davis for toying with the emotions of Oakland fans...

Al Davis is a "radical", the respondant continues. He stood for pushing up player salaries, many of whom are minorities. And, he stood against the "rich kid" club owners when they were trying to keep Davis from making all these great things happen. So, I, as a "radical", should be happy with Davis.

Again, I said I was a political radical back then, though I'm not anymore. But, even when I was, my love of Oakland football outweighed my radical politics. To wit: my politics had, and have, nothing to do with my assessment. Rather, I'm talking from the perspective of an "Oakland football" fan. My assessment of Davis' legacy is very limited, but so is the context.

A real fan would disagree with me 'bout Davis. Well, try this one on: I'm also a John Madden fan, and that puts me at odds with every other football watcher I know. Go figure...

What about Title IX? What I've seen recently isn't a call to abandon Title IX, but merely, as yourself noted, tinkering with the percentages. Aren't those percentages the same thing as "quotas"? Hmmm...

The McLaughlin Group on presidential spokespersons John McLaughlin asked the group about the effectiveness of the president's team at communicating to the public. Larry Kudlow noted his approbation of Ari, which produced a bout of laughter from Tony Blankley.

I laughed too, but for obviously diferent reason than did Blankley, who then went on to say much the same as Kudlow.

I miss the old Group — Fred, Mor-tawn, Jack and Eleanor. Least Eleanor is still around, and feisty as ever she was. Gotta go Inside Washington to get my fill of Jack. The only reason I still watch McLaughlin is 'cause the old Jesuit still piques my interest...

Punditwatch is PO'd

Will Vehrs
I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore. For the umpteenth, my local ABC affiliate pre-empted This Week. Today, it was for some lame, made for television golf event. For the first time, I called the local station to complain and called ABC headquarters in California and left a scathing message. I feel better now ....

Anyway, a truncated Punditwatch is up, offering Mark Shields' State of the Union speech, exposing the dissing of Tacitus, and just generally sandbagging.