Monthly Archives: June 2007

The Television Is Coming For Your Children!

Senator Jay Rockefeller, hailing from the peace-loving state of West Virginia, believes that the programming on your television is too violent. And nothing– not even the first amendment– will stop him from trying to protect you from that television.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he will push legislation in the coming weeks to limit violent content in the media.

“I fear that graphic violent programming has become so pervasive and has been shown to be so harmful, we are left with no choice but to have the government step in,” Rockefeller said at a meeting of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

“To be blunt, the big media companies have placed a greater emphasis on their corporate short-term profits than on the long-term health and well-being of our children,” Rockefeller said.

If Jay Rockefeller really wants to help the long-term health and well-being of the child my wife is expecting in two months, he’ll lower my taxes enough to make it possible for me to afford to keep that child out of the public education system. I’d prefer he leave the choices of what to watch on TV to me. I’ll take care of my children, I don’t need to government to do it for me. I’ve got enough problems paying for and dealing with the government’s current intrusions into my life, the last thing I need is a new one.

Ted Stevens, who’s never met an unconstitutional federal dollar he didn’t try to shove in his pocket and take to Alaska, somehow decided today was the day to fight for free speech. My guess is that he’d be right on board if Rockefeller had an R after his name instead of a D.

“I think we have to tread a lot softer than you indicate,” Stevens said. He said he was concerned about First Amendment implications of any legislation and the possibility that Congress might overreach and pass a law that would be invalidated in court.

One of the heads of Fox came out to do some damage control. He knew that he was in a room full of people who don’t care about the Constitution, so he tried to play the spin game. I’d hate to remind him that they don’t care about results or causal links either, it’s all about political pandering anyway:

Witnesses at the hearing included Peter Liguori, president of entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Co., which produces the show “24.”

Liguori said that there was “no causal link” between television violence and violence in young people, an issue that has been hotly debated. “Without a causal link, we cannot justify imposing content limits on our media,” he said.

Personally, I’d say that without a Constitutional amendment, we can’t justify it… But that’s just me.

Instead, if this passes, we’ll have a blatantly unconstitutional law. And like many laws passed purely to placate sensibilities, it’s about as clear as mud.

One thing the FCC did not do in its report was define the meaning of “excessively violent programming that is harmful to children” which would be at the core of any legislative initiative.

Ahh, I love it when they talk vaguely. It makes me never know whether I’m breaking the law… That gets the adrenaline flowing!

Intellectual Property And Caesar Salad

Pete Wells of The New York Times writes today about what may well be one of the most inventive extensions of intellectual property law that I’ve ever seen:

Sometimes, Rebecca Charles wishes she were a little less influential.

She was, she asserts, the first chef in New York who took lobster rolls, fried clams and other sturdy utility players of New England seafood cookery and lifted them to all-star status on her menu. Since opening Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village 10 years ago, she has ruefully watched the arrival of a string of restaurants she considers “knockoffs” of her own.

Yesterday she filed suit in Federal District Court in Manhattan against the latest and, she said, the most brazen of her imitators: Ed McFarland, chef and co-owner of Ed’s Lobster Bar in SoHo and her sous-chef at Pearl for six years.

The suit, which seeks unspecified financial damages from Mr. McFarland and the restaurant itself, charges that Ed’s Lobster Bar copies “each and every element” of Pearl Oyster Bar, including the white marble bar, the gray paint on the wainscoting, the chairs and bar stools with their wheat-straw backs, the packets of oyster crackers placed at each table setting and the dressing on the Caesar salad.

Mr. McFarland would not comment on the complaint, saying that he had not seen it yet. But he said that Ed’s Lobster Bar, which opened in March, was no imitator.

“I would say it’s a similar restaurant,” he said, “I would not say it’s a copy.”

Lawyers for Ms. Charles, 53, said that what Ed’s Lobster Bar had done amounted to theft of her intellectual property — the kind of claim more often seen in publishing and entertainment, or among giant restaurant chains protecting their brand.

That’s right. She’s asserting that someone who copied her ideas for a restaurant has violated her intellectual property rights.

As is typically the case with stories, like this, though, there is much more to the story. As it turns out, Ms. Charles’ ideas were not entirely original:

[Ms. Charles] acknowledged that Pearl was itself inspired by another narrow, unassuming place, Swan Oyster Depot in San Francisco.

Now, in the same spirit, couldn’t McFalrand argue that Ed’s Lobster Bar was “inspired” by Pearl ? After all, how many original ideas are there when it comes to restaurants. Doesn’t Ruth’s Chris take it’s inspiration from Morton’s ? And can anyone really tell me the difference between Chili’s and TGI Friday’s ? Or Romano’s Macaroni Grill and The Olive Garden ? It’s food people, there are only so many ways you can make it.

But the essence of the problem with Intellectual Property today comes in the story of a Caeser Salad:

[T]he detail that seems to gnaw at [Rebecca Charles] most is a $7 appetizer on Mr. McFarland’s menu: “Ed’s Caesar.”

She has never eaten it, but she and her lawyers claim it is made from her own Caesar salad recipe, which calls for a coddled egg and English muffin croutons.

She learned it from her mother, who extracted it decades ago from the chef at a long-gone Los Angeles restaurant. It became a kind of signature at Pearl. And although she taught Mr. McFarland how to make it, she said she had guarded the recipe more closely than some restaurateurs watch their wine cellars.

“When I taught him, I said, ‘You will never make this anywhere else,’ ” she insisted. According to lawyers for Ms. Charles, the Caesar salad recipe is a trade secret and Mr. McFarland had no more business taking it with him after he left than a Coca-Cola employee entrusted with the formula for Diet Coke.

Let’s just dissect this one for a second. Ms. Charles learns a Caeser Salad recipe from her mother, who in turn had “extracted” it from another chef decades ago. And now she claims that another chef has violated her intellectual property rights by duplicating it.

More to the point, though, is the fact that Caesar Salad (and, that, by the way, is the proper name, not Ceaser’s Salad),  is in itself an original idea that has been copied by, and modified by, countless chefs, professional and amateur, for the past 83 years. For Ms. Charles to claim that her “modifications” to an idea that has been around for almost a century constitute intellectual property worthy of protection is, quite honestly, absurd.

From a legal perspective, her IP claim is dubious at best. There is admittedly no originality in the recipe.

The only credible legal claim that Charles would have at this point is that McFarland, who was apparently a former employee of Ms. Charles, violated her trade secrets by copying the recipe.

But there are two problems here. First, the recipe itself was a copy from someone else. Second, there’s no evidence from the article that Charles took any steps to maintain the secrecy of the recipe. She shared it with McFarland and did not extract from him any explicit promise that he wouldn’t share it. And, quite frankly, she served the salad to the public on the daily basis. Anyone could’ve taken it home and figured out how she made it.

From a legal perspective, I can’t see how she has a case.

But that’s not purpose of this post.

The purpose of this post is to point out the absurdity of the current state of intellectual property laws. To say you can claim an enforceable right over a food recipe is, quite simply, absurd.

How Libertarians Should Define Themselves

David Boaz examines yesterday’s Supreme Court near evisceration of the First Amendment, and comes up with this idea:

Maybe libertarians should try to describe their philosophy by saying “libertarians believe in the free speech that liberals used to believe in, and the economic freedom that conservatives used to believe in.”

Works for me.

H/T: Coyote Blog

Michael Bloomberg: Just Another Apostle Of The Nanny State

Much was made of last week’s announcement by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that he was leaving the GOP, and much of the buzz was because of speculation that this announcement might lead to an independent run for the White House.

As this press release from the Club For Growth demonstrates, if he runs, no matter how he portrays himself, Americans should remember that he’s just another apostle of the Nanny State:

Washington – It wasn’t enough for New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg to make the mere presence of an empty ashtray in an office building illegal. Nor was he satisfied with banning trans fats in all New York City restaurants. Now Mike Bloomberg wants to tell New York City residents what to drink, and he wants to spend taxpayer dollars to do it.

According to the New York Daily News, Mayor Bloomberg is launching a $700,000 ad campaign to promote tap water. Taxpayer dollars will fund a total of 1,400 advertisements on New York City subways, bus kiosks, and check-cashing stations. Ironically, this campaign comes one month after the city raised water rates.

This latest waste of taxpayer dollars reflects Mayor Bloomberg’s long record of raising taxes and city spending through the roof. In his first term, Bloomberg raised sales, income, and property taxes while increasing spending by an average of 10% per year—far outpacing the growth of inflation and population.

“Many journalists have labeled Mike Bloomberg a ‘fiscal conservative,’ but there is nothing conservative about spending $700,000 of taxpayers’ money to tell them what to drink,” said Club for Growth President Pat Toomey. “Bloomberg’s latest crusade demonstrates his little respect for New York City’s hardworking taxpayers and the right of individuals to make their own choices.”

What ? You mean the government shouldn’t be spending tax dollars on a campaign to remind us we need to drink water ? Who else can I depend on to tell me what to do when I’m thirsty ?

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