Foie gras madness

by Michael Alderete on 4/29/2004

Continuing our theme of ranting about idiotic legislation, Tuesday’s Chronicle carried an article about a proposed ban on foie gras. That’s right, a new law banning the production or sale of foie gras anywhere in California.

The reason is the supposedly inhumane treatment of the ducks who are the source of foie gras (which is duck or goose liver, specially fattened). Actress Bea Arthur called foie gras production “a nightmarish industry.”


Let’s face the facts. Meat production in the United States is a nightmarish industry. Go visit a cattle production facility one of these days, that’ll show you inhumane. Or pork, or chicken. Or read Fast Food Nation, that’ll turn you into a vegetarian, at least for a while. The factory-style production methods used to produce enough meat to put into supermarkets across the US would make most people vomit if they saw them first-hand.

Foie gras production is no worse than any other form of meat production, and — by the very nature of how the ducks are fattened up, and the product that is desired — it’s actually better than most. That’s one of the reasons foie gras is expensive, you actually have to treat the animal pretty well.

People like Bea Arthur, who want to pass legislation outlawing sale or production of foie gras, are one of three things. I suspect that most of them are just plain ignorant or stupid. Then there are the hypocrites, who think that foie gras production is somehow different, worse, than the rest of the meat industry. “I eat meat, but foie gras is inhumane.” Bullshit. It’s all or nothing.

Then there are the Radical Vegetarians, for whom this is the thin tip of the wedge. First they’ll get foie gras banned. Then veal. Then it’s on to hamburgers and bacon.

OK, maybe I’m kidding about the Radical Vegetarians…

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by Michael Alderete on 4/24/2004

Through the grace of a friend of a friend, I am now a Gmail user. (Gmail is the 1-gigabyte web mail service from Google that has gotten a lot of press lately.) I am only posting the news here so I can also post my thoughts on the so-called “privacy issues” that people have raised regarding Gmail, especially the moronic state senator Liz Figueroa, who this past week introduced legislation to ban Gmail.

First of all, Google is very up front and direct about how Gmail works, what information they will have about you, and how they plan to use it. If you do not like the way Gmail works, you don’t have to sign up for it. Gmail is entirely opt-in (indeed, it’s currently hard to get the opportunity to opt in).

Why a state senator feels the need to “protect” people from something they don’t have to sign up for is beyond me. More proof that politicians are publicity hounds first, uninformed technophobes second, and advocates for genuine public good dead last.

Some of us, dammit, want Gmail to do what it does: scan your e-mail to improve the quality and relevancy of ads served. Log on to Yahoo!‘s or Hotmail’s web mail systems, and tell me you actually like the horrible Atkins and dating services ads they are serving up. Tell me that’s better than targeted ads that might actually be useful.

(Before you scoff about ads that are useful, read why I like Google’s ads. I’ve bought things from the ads placed on Google searches.)

The other response to these so-called privacy advocates is more technical. The concern is that Gmail will be scanning all incoming and outgoing e-mail. Well, so do all of the other web-based e-mail services. For that matter, so do most ISPs and corporations. They are scanning for viruses, worms, and spam, but they are scanning all your e-mail already.

As usual, Tim O’Reilly has the most sane and forward-looking take on the whole issue. For my part, I’m happy to make the deal with Google, relevant ads for a great web mail service (and it is noticeably better than Yahoo!‘s e-mail service, which I’ve used extensively for many years). My only real concern is, how do I get my archived e-mail (all 250,000 messages) into it?

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 6/19/2003

From the ever-quotable JLG:

“The Tax Code: the statement of our true values.”

Especially apropos with the permanent repeal of the inheritance tax currently on the legislative agenda. (This is the bill that will let the wealthiest 2% keep the all money in the family when they die, instead of just most of it.)

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Phoenix from the ashes

by Michael Alderete on 1/19/2003

If you’re familiar with the ongoing debate over copyrights, you probably know that the Supreme Court ruled, in Eldred vs. Ashcroft, that Congress could extend copyrights essentially indefinitely. This is a case that a lot of people wanted to win.

The lawyer who lead the case, Lawrence Lessig, appears to be taking the defeat and turning it towards victory, with a proposal that would move the great majority of material affected into the public domain, while still allowing copyright holders who are actively using their rights to publish commercially valuable works to keep those copyrights:

Here is something you can do right now. In this NYT op-ed, I describe a proposal that would move more work into the public domain than a total victory in the Supreme Court would have. The basic idea is this: 50 years after a work has been “published,” a copyright owner would be required to pay a copyright tax. That tax should be extremely low—this proposal says $50, but it could be $1. If the copyright holder does not pay the tax for 3 years, then the work is forfeit to the public domain. If the copyright holder does pay the tax, then its contacting agent would be made a matter of public record. Very quickly we would have a cheap, searchable record, of what work is controlled and what work is free.

If Justice Breyer is right that only 2% of the work from the initial period affected by the Sonny Bono Act continues to have any commercial value at all, then this proposal would mean that all but 2% will move into the public domain within three years. And as the proposal applies to all work that is more than 50 years old, it would apply to a much larger range of work than would have been affected had we prevailed in the Supreme Court. This could give us (almost) everything we wanted—98% of the public domain that our framers intended. Not bad for government work.

It’s a great proposal, and one that deserves broad support, even from the giant media companies that fought so hard to extend their copyrights. There’s a FAQ about the proposal. I’m exceptionally proud to have suggested question #3 to Prof. Lessig. (I do not know if I was the only one with that suggestion, but it’s exciting to have made a contribution, no matter how small.)

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