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Posts from November 2006

An Open Question for Drug Patent Advocates

(Link via Catallarchy 2006-11-09.)

Defenders of intellectual enclosure almost always point to the pharmaceutical industry in order to defend patent laws on consequentialist grounds. The idea is that it’s very risky to invest money into new drugs, since new drugs take years of expensive new research and development, which often fails to pan out a marketable new drug. If the successful avenues of research weren’t so very lucrative, then pharmaceutical companies would not be pursuing nearly as much new research as they do. So, therefore, you shouldn’t undermine the patent restrictions that make successful new drugs so very profitable to develop. Here’s a typical example from Greg Mankiw’s Blog, in light of the election results:

My interpretation: The Dems will likely give us lower drug prices and less research into new drugs. Good news if you plan to be sick soon. Bad news if you plan to be sick in the more distant future.

— Greg Mankiw (2006-11-09): Dems and Drugs

Whether or not this is empirically true, if Mankiw intends to provide some guide to policy, then it requires you to know somehow or another what the right amount of money to devote to new drug research would be. (It’s silly to claim that a policy will prevent enough money going to new drug research if you have no idea what would count as enough.)

So, here’s the problem, and the open question. The most efficient level of investment in new drug research is probably greater than zero. And it’s certainly less than infinite: my resources aren’t infinite and neither are yours, and each of us needs many things in life besides research into new drugs. But beyond that, patent advocates pretty much never say anything at all about what the right amount of money to spend is, or how they would know what it is.

So–in the absence of free, competitive bargaining by drug-takers with drug-makers over how much the new drugs are worth to the would-be customers–just how do you calculate what the most efficient level of investment in new drug research would be?

Airport! 2006: Homeland Security edition

Here’s how the government is keeping you safe from terrorism:

Within the security community, there’s been a lot of talk about security theater when it comes to the airline business. In the last few years, plenty of new security measures have been put in place — but just because we can see or deal with new security measures (dump your liquids, everyone!), does it actually make us any safer. While there’s been a ton of attention paid in the last week to a security researcher who showed just how easy it was for anyone to create their own boarding pass to get past the security check point, a much scarier story is sent in by Damon, who points out for all of the security changes, new technologies and new processes it doesn’t do a damn bit of good if the TSA screeners let people with weapons through the checkpoint. That’s exactly what happened at Newark airport, where a secret shopper (or should that be secret bomber?) test found that 20 out of 22 weapons got through the security clearing process. Now aren’t you glad that you have to remove your shoes and can’t bring a bottle of water on board any more? If we’re serious about air travel security, then it’s about time that we actually focused on security — not play-acting to make people think that something’s been done.

Here’s Tim Lee’s communique from the Technology Liberation Front:

The fundamental problem here is that the TSA has no particular incentive to make air travel safer. They have to act like they’re responding to terrorist threats, but as long as they appear to be doing something, it doesn’t matter if any of their security measures actually accomplish anything. And, not surprisingly, it appears that to a first approximation, they don’t.

— Tim Lee, Technology Liberation Front (2006-11-02): Oops

Your thought for the day comes courtesy of M. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon; this one goes out to all the folks waiting in line to get and protected by the TSA:

To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (trans. John Beverly Robinson), Epilogue ¶ 39

Further reading:

Thanks, bro: a “racially themed” frat party at Johns Hopkins University

(Story thanks to a tip from Lisa Casanova.)

Campus life in America

photo: two white members of the women's softball team, in blackface, posing for the camera with gold teeth flashing and hands making gang signs

Stetson University, Halloween 2005

photo: frat brothers, one in blackface, pose a mock lynching.

Oklahoma State, September 2002

photo: white frat brothers, one in blackface, pose with the student in blackface kneeling on the floor and a student dressed as a cop pointing a prop gun at his head. Ole Miss, Halloween 2001.

Ole Miss, Halloween 2001.

photo: white Beta Theta Pi frat brothers flash gangsta poses in blackface. Auburn, Halloween 2001

Auburn, Halloween 2001.

photo: white frat brothers, one dressed in Klan robes and one in blackface, stage a mock lynching. Auburn, Halloween 2001.

Auburn, Halloween 2001.

It’s early November; that means it’s time for yet another isolated incident at a Halloween party on yet another college campus. This one comes to us thanks to the brothers of Sigma Chi at Johns Hopkins University:

BALTIMORE – Johns Hopkins University suspended a fraternity Monday afternoon following a racially themed Halloween party Saturday night at an off-campus house.

Members of the Black Student Union and supporters rallied on North Charles Street in front of the campus, speaking out against the local Sigma Chi chapter and perceived racial hostility on campus. Hopkins is investigating the party and said the national Sigma Chi fraternity has imposed a 45-day suspension of the chapter's activities and will conduct its own investigation.

The uproar began shortly after the Halloween in the 'Hood party was advertised on the Web site Facebook.com. The invitation encouraged racial-stereotyping costumes, included references to the late attorney Johnnie Cochran and O.J. Simpson, and prefaced descriptions of Baltimore as a ghetto, the hood and the HIV pit with a four-letter epithet.

The invitation was attributed to Justin H. Park, who is listed as a Sigma Chi Class of 2008 member on the fraternity's Web site.

Johns Hopkins said in a written statement that the Greek life coordinator had told the chapter president last week that he found the advertisement racist and offensive, and directed the fraternity to withdraw the advertising immediately, but it reappeared without the coordinator's knowledge, in an altered but still offensive form.

… A small group of black students went to the party and said white students were dressed as pimps, prostitutes — and slaves. Outside the front door of the house in the 200 block of East 33rd Street was a plastic skeleton dressed as a pirate, hanging from a rope noose.

And then as you walked up to the house, you heard fake gunshots — as if there is a gun fight in this neighborhood every night, said freshman Blake Edwards, 18. The noose is extremely offensive and makes a mockery of the minority students that go to school here. Several of the girls I went with left in tears.

The entire city of Baltimore should be offended by this.

— Ron Cassie, The Examiner (2006-10-31): Johns Hopkins fraternity suspended after racially themed Halloween party

Here is the text of one of the invitations posted to FaceBook by Justin Park. I don’t have access to FaceBook so my information is limited, but I gather that this is the revised version:

OMG RACIST officially invites you to this delightful gaiety in honor of the last day of October, held in the exquisite metropolis paradise that we affectionately refer to as the mother-f*cking ghetto, aka the hood or as I like to call it, the hiv pit.

Refreshments include Foie Gras, Belgian Caviar, and Cambodian Breast Milk.

Ornate antique bathtubs full of Evian and Perrier will be provided for your bathing pleasure.

Admission to this bonanza is contingent on appropriate accourtrement – regional clothing from our locale is recommended. These include, but are not limited to, fur coats, copious amounts of so-called bling bling ice ice grills, hoochie hoops, white Tee’s and Air Force Onez.

There will be special accolades to those attired in the most conniving and despicable outfits.

OMG RACIST would like you to know that he does not condone or advocate racism, fascism, communism, consumerism, capitalism, terrorism, organism(s), sexism, womanism, jism, or any other -ism’s.

For the record, we would like to thank our founding fathers for incorporating the first amendment into the venerable Bill of Rights, and Johnnie L. Cochran for being a true homie and getting Orenthal Simpson, commonly known as OJ, acquitted.

ps we STILL don’t discriminate against hoodrats, skig skags, or scallywops.

— Justin Park, quoted at GreekChat bulletin board

Just about every year, right around now. I get to hear the same thing again: a bunch of students, most of them white, threw a party involving blackface costumes and other forms of crude racist caricature. It happened at Auburn–at least twice. It happened at Ole Miss. It happened at Syracuse. It happened at Oklahoma State. It happened at Stetson. It doesn’t always happen at a fraternity party, but it often does. Sometimes the kids opt for broad pastiches of gangsta images that they’ve picked up from MTV. Sometimes they opt for explicit references to the history of slavery and militant white supremacy. Sometimes–as it seems happened in Baltimore–they opt for both. The pattern is established, and the reactions are reliable. While University administrators are busy rushing to make a public example of whoever was caught throwing the party, and anxiously insisting (to anybody who cares to listen) that this is an isolated incident, not representative of the campus culture, etc. etc. etc., it’s left to those who know something about what actually goes on on campus (usually Black students or faculty) to point out, yet again, that these things happen in a broader context, that this is nothing new, that things like this happen all the time on campus, and that the only thing special about this case is that the story went public. Then a few months later, everything settles back down, the administration eases or completely reverses its disciplinary actions against the fraternity, and we wait until late next October or early next November, when exactly the same damned thing happens at yet another Halloween party somewhere else.

Just this last weekend I was driving to work, just south of the University of Michigan campus, looking at the party-goers wandering to campus Halloween parties in their costumes. And I drove through the streets wondering whether I’d be seeing the Klan robes, the nooses, the blacked-up white boys dressed as slaves, or the thug poses and afro wigs and the insufferable grins. And wondering, if I didn’t see it, whether it was going on somewhere else, out of my sight, where it would hit the papers in a few days. I was worrying about all these things when I should have been enjoying the simple, silly joy of people dressing up for the night because every fucking year I can fully expect to hear another story about another racist party, just about now. Over and over again.

Thanks a lot, guys. You have officially ruined Halloween.

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