29 January 2004

First, the general (and bizarre) news this morning, then (later today) a comment on another item.
  • The truly bizarre nature of trademark law, which allows mark-holders (and, in fact, requires them) to constantly assert ownership of common terms, came out yesterday from the dysfunctional Sixth Circuit. The decision in the Eagles (or eagles?) case is much more important for what it implies than for what it says. At its core, this is a case about civil procedure, not trademark law; but the context of the matter is otherwise revealing. From a procedural aspect, it reflects some serious problems with prior counsel; one basis for requesting a delay in the trial date should have been known months before the trial, but was not made clear to the district court: that band members who are critical witnesses would be on tour in Europe during the scheduled trial period. (Yes, those Eagles.) It also reflects the ridiculous standard for "defending" one's mark; the Eagles, from all appearances, had to defend the derivative mark "Eagles Records" from a foundation devoted to preserving the American eagle that, among other things, used the intuitive domain name eaglerecords.org.

    Trademark law should allow a holder to disclaim a particular "unauthorized" or "unlicensed" use of its mark, such as a nonprofit organization using common English terms that just happen to add up to a "fanciful" mark, without jeopardizing all ability to defend the mark against others. It does not; and thus this lawsuit.

  • Senator Leahy's statement on judicial confirmations is an interesting piece of rhetoric. Although it is at times a bit over the top, and resorts to some unfortunate language, the underlying facts indicate that the judicial confirmation process is broken at this time, and will remain so until somebody blinks. That's not good for anybody; it involves a clear dereliction of duty by everybody involved in the name of partisan advantage; and it should result in a serious spanking behind the woodshed for the Bush judicial-nomination people, for both parties in the Senate—and for the media for misreporting the context of the dispute. There's plenty of blame to go around here; and, frankly, it starts (but by no means ends) with the Administration's removal of the ABA committee on nominations from the process. It's one thing to say post hoc as to a specific candidate that "the Committee's partisanship or 'liberal bias' improperly influenced a particular rating, so I'm going to ignore it"; it's another entirely to cut the Committee out before it says a word as to a particular candidate.

    "Liberal bias"? What do the following confirmed judges have in common (hint: it's not liberalism)? Hon. Alex Kozinski (CA9), Hon. Alice Batchelder (CA6), Hon. Michael McConnell (CA10), and Hon. Patrick Higginbotham (CA5)?

  • Fascinating that NASA Administrator O'Keefe is now using safety concerns as his main justification for not sending up Hubble telescope maintenance missions when those very same safety concerns were raised repeatedly five years ago and denigrated as impossible. Nothing like a billion-dollar accident to make one realize that safety concerns are valid, eh? One might also wonder whether the ultimate cost is much higher or not, but the problem with assessing costs and benefits of scientific research is that the benefits are seldom truly apparent until a couple of decades down the road from the costs.
  • Of more than passing interest, the World Economic Forum has begun demonstrating some of the potential dangers of patronage in the arts. Although it is giving a public presence to prominent authors who do not necessarily accept the views of the Forum, one must question whether the real audience—the attendees—is listening to or rubbing elbows with the celebrities, or just being a potential pool of patrons.

    "There's no such thing as being a writer, and that's the be-all and end-all," [Nobel Prize in Literature honoree Nadine] Gordimer said. "I'm also a citizen, a human being, and I have social responsibilities. I'm here to learn how the world is being run and see what I regard as the biggest problem, the gap between rich and poor. …. There's a feeling that the past is the past, and we start from zero. But the past largely forms the present, and from there one looks at the future. And the writer's imagination encompasses this role."

    Alan Cowell, "Writers, Spying in the House of Power" (29 Jan 04) (fake paragraphing removed for clarity).
  • I have only disgust for some obviously improper behavior (plenty of disgust to go around for plenty of improper behavior) in the Detroit terrorist-cell trial. Did nobody even ask an experience analyst who did not have a preset political agenda just what might be going on? I suppose not; because if they had, and the analyst gave a complete answer, and the answer was given much weight, that trial would not have happened—or at least would not have proceeded in that fashion.