Political Animal

No More Torture

NO MORE TORTURE….The Bush administration has officially renounced the use of torture:

“All interrogations, wherever they may occur,” must be conducted without the use of cruel and inhuman tactics, the Pentagon’s senior lawyer wrote after members of Congress and human rights groups pressed the White House to renounce abusive tactics reported by U.S. government officials.

On a day when President Bush asserted that his administration intends to lead by example in a global fight against torture, Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II said that anyone found to have broken the law in the Afghanistan deaths will be prosecuted.

….Haynes replied in a letter released yesterday that the U.S. promise of good behavior goes beyond a prohibition on torture to encompass “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Avoiding comment on specific cases and practices as “inappropriate,” Haynes said the definition refers to behavior considered unconstitutional in the United States.

This is the right thing to do, so good for them. It took a little too long, but better late than never.

Now, if we can just add to this a policy that forbids turning prisoners over to other countries so that they can torture them for us, we’ll be in pretty good shape on this issue.

Friday Cat Blogging ? 27 June 2003

FRIDAY CAT BLOGGING….On the left, Inkblot gazes imperiously at the camera while resting on his favorite red blanket, a souvenir from American Airlines. Red shows him off well, don’t you think? On the right, Jasmine also stares imperiously into the camera, probably wondering why dinner is late.

Today’s bonus cat comes from The People’s Republic of Seabrook, featuring Boo, a Siamese kitten who appears to be about the same size as Inkblot’s head. Seabrook’s proprietor, who clearly knows what his audience wants, has more here, yet more here, and yet still more here.

In other news, Moxie interviews her cat Phoebe here. Make no mistake: when Phoebe’s revolution comes, all you dog lovers out there will be the first ones up against the wall…..

Time at a Standstill

TIME AT A STANDSTILL….Sometimes I feel like time has stood still for the past 30 years in the world of American politics. Conservatives are still fighting communists and the Great Society and liberals are still fighting Jim Crow and the Vietnam war. Does it feel that way to anyone else?

I don’t have any point to make, just the observation itself. I suppose someday we’ll move on, won’t we?

Business Process Patents

BUSINESS PROCESS PATENTS….Last month I wrote a post about my general dislike of “business process” patents, and today I have another excuse to write about it: Netflix, a company that rents DVDs over the internet, has been granted a patent that covers various aspects of its business model.

So what do I think about this? I’m not sure. For those unfamiliar with Netflix, here are the basics of how it works:

  • Netflix charges a flat monthly fee.

  • Customers order DVDs over the web.

  • DVDs are shipped and returned via mail.

  • You can order up to three DVDs. When you return a DVD, you can order another one. In other words, you can have a revolving library of three DVDs in your hands at all times and you can keep them as long as you want. There are no late fees.

Overall, it’s a clever and attractive model and has deservedly attracted quite a few customers. If I were considering a patent for the totality of what they do, I might be inclined to grant it.

The problem is, none of the specific pieces seem to be worthy of patent to me, and the New York Times story doesn’t provide much insight into exactly what’s being patented:

The patent gives Netflix intellectual property protection over the technology at the core of its business: the way that a customer sets up his or her rental list; and the way the company sends the DVD’s. The patent also grants the company exclusive control over many other small parts of the process of online DVD rental.

The patent, which was filed in 2000, has 100 claims over all. The company has other applications pending with the United States Patent Office, including one on the intricately designed envelopes it uses to send the DVD’s.

I wish there were someplace to go to get some commentary on the individual patent claims, but I can’t find one and the NYT story was the most detailed I came across in the mainstream media.

So what do I think? I still don’t know. What Netflix has done is clever, but I’m still concerned that these individual patents cover things that aren’t really nonobvious at all and accomplish little except preventing legitimate competition. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.