Saturday, July 26, 2008

T. Boone Pickens

T. Boone Pickens is coming to the prairie today, to discuss his energy plan to reduce dependence on foreign oil. This is a good thing, insofar as we are now talking about a deeply intractable problem and, as a proud funder of the slimy, misnomered Swift Veterans for Truth (to the tune of about three million dollars), there will be a lot of interest in what he has to say in our capital city (where the Positive Voter Index stands at Republicans +7).

If you read the Pickens Plan, as he exhorts us to do in numerous commercials, you might think that he's had some kind of deathbed conversion. He calls the United States "the Saudi Arabia of wind power," and cites a 2005 study by Stanford University, which revealed that there is enough wind power worldwide to satisfy global demand seven times over (I'm stuck on the fact that Pickens-one of the largest donors to conservative causes-is actually citing a study from a University he would probably otherwise dismiss as a liberal hotbed). It's certainly striking to see someone who has spent a lifetime in the oil business become such a champion for alternative energy sources, but he seems to be one zealous convert.

Of course, there's always a catch and in his case, it's significant. For Pickens, the operative idea is not as much a reduction in reliance on oil in toto as a reduction in reliance on FOREIGN oil. As it turns out, he's all for drilling anywhere and everywhere in this country: "I say east, west coast and ANWR—get it all! To get off of foreign oil, that is the enemy...You’re drilling and whatever you are able to find and put into the domestic system will help us.”

But this is not written into the text of the Pickens Plan. And there is probably a good reason for this: he knows that not one ounce of oil, taken from these places, is ever going to result in bringing down the price of gas at the pump in any significant way. It is disingenuous at best, and a ridiculous lie at worst, to imply that failure to exploit these resources is the reason for high gas prices, as he does. According to the Energy Information Administration, there MIGHT be a tiny decline in pump prices by 2030, should such drilling take place. So the question is, would such drilling be worth the environmental impact?

I hope Pickens means what he says about wind. Here in Kansas, where our governor wisely put her foot down on the construction of two coal plants on the grounds that they would have negative environmental impacts, wind seems like a great alternative. But we should all read his fine print (so fine it's non-existent) before signing up.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Barack Chalk Jayhawk

Unless you're a prairie dweller or a die-hard sports fan, you probably don't know the meaning of this post title, and why would you? But my employer is the University of Kansas, whose mascot is the Jayhawk (a mythical bird that cannot fly), and "Rock Chalk Jayhawk" is a chant, intoned slowly, at sporting events here (by the way, we're called "KU," not "UK"). In the last 25 years, this phrase, as well as the words "Kansas," "Jayhawks" "Crimson and Blue," and other such words and phrases have been trademarked by the University, and they have made millions in t-shirts, ballcaps, hoodies, stadium chairs, etc. purchased by the faithful from licensed vendors, who pay the University a premium for the use of those words on said items.

This week, a jury decided that the University can demand that vendors cease and desist the production of such paraphernalia when those trademarked words, in combination with certain colors and certain other words, either infringe on the right of the University to make money, or dilute the trademarks themselves. Apparently, KU is the canary in the trademark infringement coal mine: other universities were watching the outcome of this case closely.

They should not have bothered. Because you could not make case law out of this verdict if you tried. What did the jury have in mind when, for example, after viewing over 200 t-shirt designs, they found in favor of the University as regards a t-shirt design that says "Kansas Swim Team" (with little sperm swimming underneath), but in favor of the the t-shirt purveyor-defendant regarding t-shirts that say, "Kansas Drinking Team," and "Kansas Co-ed Naked Beer Pong?" Furthermore, there were hundreds of other designs, all related to the University, but which were idiosyncratic to individual players, coaches, or administrators. Why were some of these deemed off-limits while others were not, even though all were equally offensive, or equal in their use of trademarked words? For example, the coach of the football team is quite obese. The jury ruled in favor of the University regarding the phrase, "Our Coach Can Eat Your Coach," but in favor of the vendor on the phrase, "Our Coach Beat Anorexia."

This t-shirt conundrum also has a political side story: for the last several years, I have been the faculty advisor to the Kansas University Young Democrats, a sanctioned University student group who pay tuition to this University, and work their collective tail off for the party locally and statewide. This year, as with a lot of college students, the group became Obama supporters, and asked the University's trademark office for permission to sell t-shirts that said "Barack Chalk Jayhawk," with the Obama campaign logo. Clever, no? They were given permission to sell fifty.

The point is, they could have sold several thousand, and made a considerable amount of money for their University-sanctioned group. I had people calling me from all over the country who wanted those shirts, after our governor, a big Obama supporter, was spotted on TV wearing hers. Yet, they were enjoined from making more, because this would have "infringed upon" and "diluted" the University's marks.
So this is what it's come to. These kids go to this university for four years, and build up an affinity for the place. They pay tuition, they purchase tickets to the sporting events, they buy their books through the bookstore, and when they graduate, the Endowment Association comes calling for a donation to their alma mater. In other words, they are encouraged to have pride of ownership in this place, to be "loyal," because it is this loyalty that the University hopes to capitalize on long after they have graduated. But, as students, they are not allowed to participate in commerce that involves the symbols of their University, even if the entity that profits is a University-sanctioned group.

Call me crazy. But I've seen t-shirts with the Jayhawk wearing a dangling cross on a chain. I've seen "Jewhawk" t-shirts. I've seen "Gayhawk" t-shirts. I have no idea if any were sold by licensed vendors or not. Either way, none of these logo modifications seem to have done any damage to the University's reputation. In fact, I'm guessing that they help the wearer further identify with the University, which is what donor-dependent institutions (e.g.all universities) want. But this is the sort of nonsense we get when we privatize those portions of the institution that make money. The forest is lost as the focus is placed on those lucrative trees.
So Barack Chalk Jayhawk! Go Nebraska-O(b)mah(m)a! And USC, I hope you will print silkscreens of Obama dressed as a Trojan. You get the picture. The big picture. The rest is nonsense.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Fourth amendment: 12/15/1791--07/09/2008

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures , shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue , but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Say adios to the Fourth Amendment today. Recite kaddish, have a viewing, put it in the ground before sundown, sit shiva, send it to the place that God has prepared, whatever your religious or spiritual predilictions may be. It was killed today, at the ripe old age of 216, by a Congress so predatory, so shortsighted, so craven, that they passed a law that, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley says, has "not an ounce of principle, not an ounce of public interest." Briefly, this law expands the power of the president to wiretap American citizens. In doing so, it enables Bush to cover up his crimes by granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies that did his dirty work for him.

According to Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), seventy senators, all of whom voted today, had never been briefed on the wiretapping program, and didn't even know what they were voting for. I'm guessing that one of those was another constitutional law professor, my candidate Barack Obama, who voted in favor of this bill. This just boggles the mind.

But what is worse is that Bush's criminal behavior, past, present, and future, has been enabled by a Democratic senate. This is the point at which I need to be reminded why I, along with so many others, gave my money and time to the cause of Democrats taking back the Senate in 2006. Seriously, this is important.

I think there are probably more than a few of us reconsidering the depth of our support for Senator Obama. We'll never vote for the other guy. He's much, much worse. But we're a lot more jaded, and maybe not as willing to spend our money (which we need for gas anyway--it just hit $4/gallon on the prairie today) or our time on someone who has, along with other Democratic colleagues, sold the American people out and contributed to the gutting of the Bill of Rights in one fell swoop.