May 3, 2007

Not Disneyland [3:11 pm]

BoingBoing points to this stunner: Disneyland in China? - the photos are something else! (it’s worth waiting for the slow Flash load from the link to the park’s site, too!)

Did I say Disneyland? I meant Shijingshan Amusement Park, an amusement park in Beijing that has absolutely nothing to do with Disney. Japanese bloggers seem to have recently discovered the existence of this park and have posted pictures of some of its characters:

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OT: A Case For An Imperial Presidency [10:53 am]

This piece has gotten a lot of commentary, and apparently the WSJ wants to make sure we all get to see it, so here it is — for when you need a scary story to tell around the campfire: The Case for the Strong Executive - pdf

This is not the first time that a strong executive has been attacked and defended, and it will not be the last. Our Constitution, as long as it continues, will suffer this debate–I would say, give rise to it, preside over and encourage it. Though I want to defend the strong executive, I mainly intend to step back from that defense to show why the debate between the strong executive and its adversary, the rule of law, is necessary, good and–under the Constitution–never-ending.

[...] Yet the executive subordinated to the rule of law is in danger of being subordinate to the legislature. This was the fault in previous republics. When the separation of powers was invented in 17th-century England, the purpose was to keep the executive subordinate; but the trouble was the weakness of a subordinate executive. He could not do his job, or he could do his job only by overthrowing or cowing the legislature, as Oliver Cromwell had done. John Locke took the task in hand, and made a strong executive in a manner that was adopted by the American Founders.

[...] Locke combined the extraconstitutional with the constitutional in a contradiction; besides saying that the legislature is “the supreme power” of the commonwealth, he speaks of “the supreme executive power.” Locke, one could say, was acting as a good citizen, bringing peace to his country by giving both sides in the Civil War a place in the constitution. In doing so he ensured that the war would continue, but it would be peaceful because he also ensured that, there being reason and force on both sides, neither side could win conclusively.

[...] The lesson for us should be that circumstances are much more important for free government than we often believe. Civil liberties are for majorities as well as minorities, and no one should be considered to have rights against society whose exercise would bring society to ruin. The usual danger in a republic is tyranny of the majority, because the majority is the only legitimate dominant force. But in time of war the greater danger may be to the majority from a minority, and the government will be a greater friend than enemy to liberty. Vigilant citizens must be able to adjust their view of the source of danger, and change front if necessary. “Civil liberties” belong to all, not only to the less powerful or less esteemed, and the true balance of liberty and security cannot be taken as given without regard to the threat. Nor is it true that free societies should be judged solely by what they do in quiet times; they should also be judged by the efficacy, and the honorableness, of what they do in war in order to return to peace.

Most of the criticism I’ve seen (for example, Glenn Greenwald’s The right’s explicit and candid rejection of “the rule of law”) is pretty damning of any argument that “the rule of law” is not supreme. However, I think that the problem with applying Mansfield’s argument to present circumstances is not his willingness to sacrifice that tenet of the American republic. Rather, it is the danger that an imperial presidency makes it too easy for the executive to employ his power to stifle the “debate” Mansfield cites in his opening paragraph as a necessary and ongoing element of the government. The excesses of Nixon and, IMHO, this administration are terrifying because of their apparent aim to limit the ability to conduct this conflict — it’s easy for an unscrupulous imperial executive to “win” conclusively, despite Mansfield’s assertion that such a win is not possible (see above).

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The Treacheries Of (Online) Friendship [7:15 am]

If this piece is an indication, there’s still a lot of work to be done by presidential candidates looking to use social networking tools in their campaigns: I’m sorry, Barack, we’re through - pdf

Then, while perusing a sea of tiny head shots on MySpace, I saw him. It was a no-brainer. I clicked on “add to friends,” crossed my fingers and waited. The following morning, my prayers were answered. He said yes! Barack Obama and I were officially pals. Although I had no idea what a pain he’d be.

In case you’ve never experienced the majesty of MySpace, here’s the deal. If someone with a MySpace page has an important event coming up — say a heavy metal band performing at a dive bar in Chico — he sends out a bulletin to all his “friends.” But it better be important. Because everyone knows that valuable computer time should not be interrupted by spam and frivolous announcements. Everyone except Obama.

Here are some of the bulletins he’s bombarded me with recently: [...]

[...] Before a potential bulletin about “What a Delicious Dinner” or “My Dog Just Caught a Frisbee” appeared on my screen, I called up Obama’s profile, clicked “delete” and dropped him as a MySpace pal. Bottom line: I think he’d make a great president. But as a friend, he’s a little too high maintenance.

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LATimes Editorial on Patents [7:10 am]

Continuing fallout from the recent spate of Supreme Court decisions: Patently out of date - pdf

Overwhelmed by applications, the office has granted too many weak or bogus patents. Investors have obtained patents not to develop products but to slap a duty on those who do. Attempts by Congress to reform the system have been derailed, leaving change to come piecemeal through the courts. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has issued a series of sensible rulings, most recently on Monday, that raise the bar for winning a patent and increase the incentive to challenge bad ones.

Rather than letting the courts rewrite the patent system one element at a time, Congress should overhaul it. [....]

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The WWW as Instrument of Promotion [7:07 am]

The counter-trend to the MPAA antipiracy effort. When is copyright infringement not copyright infringement? When it’s promotion! Sony spins Web to pitch Spidey - pdf

To snare outsize audiences for “Spider-Man 3,” which cost about $400 million to make and release, Sony Pictures cast its widest online promotional net ever, using the Web in ways that were unimaginable when the superhero first scaled the big screen five years ago.

The digital campaign — ads on MySpace, studio-sponsored blogs, free online Spidey games, downloadable trailers — heralds the Internet’s arrival as a bona-fide promotional tool for Hollywood and represents a shift in the allocation of dollars.

The reason is a no-brainer. “The Web,” said Jeff Blake, Sony’s head of worldwide marketing and distribution, “is a pretty economical way to reach moviegoers.”

[...] The ads that ran during “Heroes,” which like the movie deals with people with extraordinary powers, sent viewers to nbc.com, where they could see scenes from the movie. That material could be downloaded and posted on sites where like minds congregate, such as YouTube and MySpace.

“It was designed for consumers to share it and pass it along,” said Sony SVP Caines.

Young moviegoers today don’t want to be treated as passive observers but as collaborators.

“That’s the only way to reach these consumers, these teenagers,” said Mark Deuze, a professor at Indiana University who studies the media landscape. “Not by telling them to see a movie but finding ways they’re going to tell each other.”

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