Today is the special primary election for Massachusetts’ Eighth Suffolk Representative District.
How would I know that? And why was I so excited to vote?
For starters, F and I have met both candidates for our party–Jay Livingstone and Josh Dawson. They have rang our doorbell several times over the last couple of months. So have many of their supporters. They have left messages on our answering machine. They have hung tags on our doorknobs. They have slipped notes under our front door that say, “sorry I missed you!”
I don’t think I would have paid any attention to this election if it hadn’t been for the sheer energy of these candidates. With the stakes apparently so high for these guys, I felt obliged to cast a vote one way or another. But how? Their platforms are so similar. Livingstone got a lot of key endorsements, but Dawson eventually earned the Globe’s. Both nice people with sensible views. Happy smiling families. Both live in my neighborhood.
I’ve never seen an election like this. (Perhaps this is because I don’t live in a swing state.)
When I got home from work this evening, there were four messages on our answering machine: two from Livingstone’s volunteers, one from Dawson’s staff, and a final message from Dawson himself, mentioning me by name and saying that he would be honored to have my vote.
Well, Mr. Dawson, I am happy to say you earned it. I am disappointed to see that you may have lost this election. Best of luck next time.
The Boston Convention and Exhibition Center is a short walk from my office, so I went to check out the scene at lunch today. Exhausting as they are, one of the things I find so fascinating about American presidential elections is the way they capture such rapt international attention. I vividly remember wandering through the outdoor festival in Copley Square eight years ago, watching rows and rows of reporters from far-flung places reporting to their cameras on John Kerry’s situation.
It’s kind of like that here again. At least, the journalists are back. But in a more dismal setting–indoors, in a bland convention center in a relatively uninhabited part of town. With a candidate in whom I have no interest. But still, it’s neat to see the world looking so closely at us, even for a day.
I’m proud of myself: I have not watched any of the debates this year. As an informed and completely decided voter, I have nothing to gain.
In past years, watching the debates was an alternately exhilarating and gut-wrenching experience. It made me want to pace back and forth and occasionally shout back at the television set. I finally realized that this must be what it’s like for people who care about football to watch people playing football on TV.
Just checking to see if the neighbors still have their wireless network running. Yup.
The U.S. patent system is broken. In the old days, the goal was to protect the small-time inventor from getting ripped off by big companies. That would seemingly encourage innovation, which is regarded as a Good Thing. For decades however, the system has shifted to favor the deep-pocketed companies, who have discovered that with enough legal wrangling they can generally get utility patents on anything they want. Such patents are assigned a theoretical value and become bargaining chips. So that’s a bummer, but not the end of the world.
Lately, a number of hostile players–patent trolls–have taken to the scene. These are individuals, companies, or even shell companies who are neither inventors nor producers of goods. They simply buy the rights to patents and sue the shit out of people who may or may not be in violation. Most defendants settle because the cost of pursuing a legal battle over arcane and technical matters is prohibitive for all but the most well-funded companies. (For more information, see exhibit A and exhibit B.)
I propose a simple three-step fix to the system:
- Eliminate software patents entirely. This was a really bad idea. In software, last year’s novel invention is this year’s standard industry practice. Does the patent you got for an Internet shopping cart in the ’90s entitle you to billions of dollars of royalties today? No. And how can you really prove when someone is in violation? Specific executions of software concepts are protected under existing copyright law. What happens under the hood is just digital plumbing.
- Prohibit “non-practicing entities” from owning patents. All patents should be assigned to either the actual inventors or to a company actively engaged in the business. Any other ownership is not in the best interests of society–remember that we want to provide incentives for only the creation and execution of ideas.
- Eliminate jury trials for patent cases. All patent litigation should be resolved by a judge assisted by a panel of experts drawn from industry and academia. I’ve served on a jury of my “peers,” and I can certify that nobody on that panel would have been qualified to evaluate a subtle question about programming, engineering, or pretty much any technical subject. It pains me to imagine what the jury had to say about the inner workings of Java APIs during May’s Google-Oracle trial.
James Fallows makes this great point in his Sunday opinion piece, “Can China Escape the Low-Wage Trap?”:
In much of America, the Internet is slow [compared with South Korea or Japan], but mainly for infrastructure reasons. In China it’s slow because of political control: censorship and the “Great Firewall” bog down everything and make much of the online universe impossible to reach. “What country ever rode to pre-eminence by fighting the reigning technology of the time?” a friend asked while I was in China last year. “Did the Brits ban steam?”
I try my best to ignore election-related news coverage in
non-election years such as this one. It’s distracting and
counterproductive. But it can be hard to tune out—especially
when the list of apparently viable contenders for the Republican
ticket include such, um, brilliant minds as Herman Cain and
There are two phenomena at play that I have trouble
understanding. First, who would rally behind a presidential
candidate that lacks a top-notch knowledge of law, policymaking,
foreign policy issues, and economics? (Isn’t this supposed to
be the hardest job in the world?) Secondly, why does the Republican
vetting system seem to revolve around publicly questioning the
candidates on whether they are conservative enough? (Can there be
no room for compromise in a functioning two-party system?)
Fortunately, someone has written a funny and interesting essay
exploring both topics: “Why
Republicans Embrace Simpletons and How it Hurts
F told me about a new protest technique hatched by the Occupy
Wall Street types: using the pre-paid return evelopes enclosed with
credit card offers to send messages back to big banks. I have
decided to do this, although I harbor no illusions of changing the
financial system. My dream: a mailbox with fewer credit card offers
If I can help to keep the US Postal Service solvent on someone
else’s dime, that’s not a bad outcome either.