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Today In Things That Are Overdue But Very Welcome

[ 82 ] June 16, 2014 |


The White House announced on Monday that President Barack Obama will issue an executive order requiring all companies with federal government contracts to refrain from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

It is currently legal to fire people because of their sexual orientation in 29 states, and in 33 states it is legal to fire people for their gender identity.

Anywhere from 15 to 43 percent of gay people have experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace, and over 90 percent of transgender workers report that they have been discriminated against or harassed. This executive order would protect over 1 million LGBT workers, the largest expansion of workplace protection for gay and transgender workers in the country’s history.


Bulletproof Backpacks

[ 20 ] June 16, 2014 |

We won’t protect our children from being shot at school through restricting gun ownership. That would make too much sense. But what a business opportunity for the innovative capitalist! Thus we have a company marketing bulletproof backpacks for children.

Tony Gwynn

[ 38 ] June 16, 2014 |

The deserving Hall of Famer and face of the Padres has died at age 54. He was diagnosed with cancer in his cheek four years ago (avoid chewing tobacco, kids), and had to take a leave from his coaching job at SDSU, but I had no idea it was this serious. Terrible news.

No Real Progress in Bangladesh

[ 50 ] June 16, 2014 |

Colin Long’s Jacobin essay on visiting the Tarzeen and Rana Plaza factory disaster sites is all worth reading, but the important part of the article is his discussion of the aftermath. For very little has changed. The international accords are all about western brands protecting their own image at home–which is fine–but for workers, these accords have no meaning, even if they have heard of them, which most have not. The apparel companies still do not care one bit about the conditions of work, how the workers are treated or whether workers live a dignified life. The increase in the Bangladeshi minimum wage also brought on a much harder workday for the workers as the employers just drove them harder and fired their assistants to maintain their profits. Neither of these advances–and ultimately they are both still advances despite the problems–get at the main thing that would improve working conditions in Bangladesh, which is giving workers power to improve their own lives. Instead, Bangladeshi unionists are still intimidated and even murdered, acts to which the apparel companies are complicit.

But there is basically no way for Bangladeshi workers to grab that power to create a dignified life, not when the apparel companies can and will just move to another country to exploit. Without taming capital mobility, the slow and painful but real progress of workers’ rights gets cut off at the knees. And there’s no way the apparel companies are giving up that trump card.


[ 198 ] June 16, 2014 |

I know next to nothing about Wisconsin politics, so I found this Alec MacGillis article on Scott Walker quite enlightening. If it is accurate, we are basically looking at a highly cocooned politician used to fawning angry Milwaukee suburbanites and with no national experience pretty unprepared to deal with the big time, which includes surrounding himself with people who think racism is Hi-Larious. Not to mention that has not the slightest ability to appeal to anyone who did not already vote for Romney. Plus, this:

Walker’s only overt enthusiasms appear to be his Harley Davidson motorcycle and Ronald Reagan. He and Tonette married on Reagan’s birthday, and every year they celebrate their wedding anniversary / Reagan’s birthday by serving the Gipper’s favorite dishes, such as macaroni-and-cheese casserole and red, white, and blue jelly beans. Walker’s mother attributes his even keel to his faith. “He prayed and read the Bible every day, and when things got rough, [supporters would] tell him they were praying for him,” she says.

I’d like to think this is some sort of stupid public story that Republicans like to tell each other while actually eating endangered species murdered just for this anniversary (25th anniversary means a tasty dinner of black rhino!) but I’m sure it is true and is a sign of the pathetic overwhelming hero-worshiping of Grandpa Caligula by a section of American whites.

Announced Without An Uptempo Lead-In

[ 17 ] June 16, 2014 |

Casey Kasem, R.I.P.

SEK’s final Game of Thrones recap until next May is now up

[ 113 ] June 16, 2014 |

You’ll have to wait another nine months for my next recap, so savor this one!

Question: Do you write any women characters who AREN’T strippers or whores?

[ 149 ] June 16, 2014 |

It was a tl;dr situation, but Origami Isopod tells me that Frank Miller wants to write “Captain America.”

Your thoughts?

Here’s a trailer for Miller’s new movie. (Directed by Robert Rodriguez.) Embarrassingly, I really want to see it. I quite enjoyed “Sin City,” despite it having some, um, issues (for me…as a humorless feminist).

Points for anyone who knew who this entry was going to be about before you clicked through.

Will the Green Lantern Work In Iraq? Give Me Six Months

[ 160 ] June 15, 2014 |

I don’t disagree with Erik that Tony Blair is the person I least want to hear from about Iraq. But surely Tom Freidman is in the top 5. Some selected insights from Mr. Suck On This:

  • “in Iraq today, my enemy’s enemy is my enemy.”
  • “In a word, Maliki has been a total jerk.”
  • “Maliki had a choice — to rule in a sectarian way or in an inclusive way — and he chose sectarianism.”  [Nobody could have predicted! --ed.]
  • “Believe it or not, it’s not all about what we do and the choices we make. Arabs and Kurds have agency, too.”
  • “Leadership matters.”

At least Friedman, unlike Blair, is skeptical about intervention, although if the president was inclined to I’m sure he’d come up with some rationalization to support it.  But that thinking this puerile can be so influential explains a lot about how the Iraq fiasco happened in the first place.

Go Away

[ 84 ] June 15, 2014 |

There is not a single person I want to hear less from on Iraq than Tony Blair.

Sunday Book Review: Torpedo

[ 13 ] June 15, 2014 |

Katherine Epstein’s new book “Torpedo: Inventing the Military-Industrial Complex in the United States and Great Britain” is about two things.  First, it’s about the torpedo, including both the struggles that several companies went through in the United States and the United Kingdom in manufacturing early torpedoes, and the doctrinal turmoil that the development of the torpedo generated in both the United States Navy and the Royal Navy.

Second, Torpedo is about the development of the legal, bureaucratic, and technical foundations of the modern military industrial complex.  Building on the work of other theorists, Epstein argues that the real foundations of the MIC lay in naval procurement at the end of the nineteenth century.  The industrial demands on naval warfare, both in terms of capital intensive production and capital intensive research, required a large peace-time commitment on the part of the government.  The state and private industry could equip armies much more quickly than they could equip navies or (eventually) air forces.

This meant developing novel forms of public-private interaction.  In particular, to acquire advanced technology the state could no longer rely on private firms using their own capital to develop off-the-shelf products that the military could choose to purchase.  The capital requirement of innovation, combined with the fact that defense firms had a limited number of customers, meant that firms would only pursue innovation if assured that their investment would pay off.  This meant that the state would have to pre-emptively invest in private innovation, whether through direct grants or through guaranteed purchase contracts.

This, in turn, created a complex set of intellectual property problems.  The private firms that developed the torpedoes wanted to own the intellectual property associated with that technology, or at least to be fairly compensated for their investment.  This meant selling either to the United States or to some foreign government.  The government, on the other hand, felt that its investment in the projects meant that it should share (at least) in the ownership of the intellectual property. The government also worried about the export of advanced technology and advanced intellectual property to foreign buyers.  This set the stage for brutal IP litigation between the US government and several private firms, both foreign and domestic.  That the government and the firms needed each other served to make the fighting even more vicious.

The US systems of intellectual property and export control were unprepared for this development.  The US tried to rely on the 1799 Logan Act (meant to prevent private individuals from conducting US foreign policy) in order to prevent US firms from exporting torpedoes abroad. Similarly, US patent law struggled with the quandaries associated with joint public-private development of IP.  In the United Kingdom, which already had a system of export controls and secret patents, this process ran far more smoothly.

On the organizational and doctrinal side, Epstein points out that while we would expect the USN, as the smaller and less tradition-bound of the two navies, would focus on a “disruptive” innovation like the torpedo, in reality the Royal Navy pushed farther and faster on torpedo doctrine and technology than any of its competitors. In contrast to the hidebound institution often depicted in popular history, the early 1900s were a period of intellectual ferment in the RN, with questions of fleet design and ship construction hotly debated between several factions.  The torpedo, understood by many as a weapon with war-winning potential, loomed large for most of these factions.

The RN also had better access to research and training resources than the USN, which allowed it both to formulate doctrine more effectively, and to feed experiential knowledge back into the system of technology development. Consequently, Epstein argues that the conventional understanding of the relationship between disruptive military innovation and established military power is wrong; the most advanced military organizations typically have the greatest means not only to pursue disruptive innovation, but also to evaluate the implications of such innovation.

This is a good book; it’s an interesting book, and it breaks new ground on the role of intellectual property law and the defense industry while also contributing to the literature on military organizations and innovation. But this book ends up being about two different things; the development of naval doctrine in the early twentieth century in the RN and the USN, and the development of modern intellectual property law.  There are some people that are interested in both of these things (me!), but that number is extremely limited. Many readers are going to find particular parts of the story intensely interesting, but will skip some of the other chapters.  For my own part, I found the intellectual property angle much more interesting than the naval doctrine angle, although that’s likely because of the nature of my current project.

I can heartily recommend Torpedo, and indeed I suspect that scholars of the history of the modern military industrial complex will find it indispensible.  At the same time, the transition between the two foci will be a struggle for a lot of readers.

High Brow to Low Brow, 1949

[ 132 ] June 15, 2014 |

Where do your tastes fall on this 1949 chart from Life magazine?

Beer may be low-brow but of course it is awesome. Bourbon and ginger ale? Why waste the bourbon on that. No lower-middle brow for me. Extra dry martini? Well, for 1949 I guess that’s as good as it’s going to get. So maybe I am upper middle-brow. But no, the combo of beer, westerns, and the jukebox make me distinctly low-brow. I’ll even stick with the coleslaw I guess.


More readable version here:

And really, how could charts from 1940s magazines steer us wrong?

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