Wednesday, November 26, 2008

$ H2O & IP

After much pondering over what are the greatest inventions of history, I’ve settled on these three: Money, Water, and Intellectual Property (a.k.a. $H2O&IP). These inventions blow my mind in their complexity, success, and in the hope they provide me for the potential of humanity.

There were many other truly amazing candidates I considered for greatest invention ever, such as the wheel, the screw, the electric grid, the scientific method, the transistor, or FedEx. But those all seem like things that any entity with intelligence would have come up with eventually. $H2O&IP, however, require not just an intelligent being but a whole society of intelligent beings acting together, seeing beyond short-term self interests, and fore-seeing how collaboration on something bigger then themselves can benefit all.

$ ~ Money:
    Money is not really worth anything, intrinsically, beyond whatever heat its paper incarnation may generate when burned. It’s “value” lies only in a group agreement (or “shared delusion” if you prefer) that it has value. Before the shared delusion called “money” was invented, you could only expect to barter what you immediately had for what your immediate neighbor immediately had, which was probably not much different than what you had. After money was invented, you could use tokens to trade for very different and specialized items near and far (both in space and time). I can only begin to understand what advances in society this one invention made possible; I’m sure that without money we’d all still be scratching out a mere subsistence.

    What makes money work is that we trust that the various I.O.U.s that represent “money” will be repaid by responsible and trustworthy parties. In the U.S., for example, the primary value of a dollar lies in a worldwide understanding that the U.S. federal government will generate a finite amount of dollars (and thus a fixed scarcity) and that it won’t lie about that amount.

H2O ~ Water:
    I know that humans did not invent the combination of one oxygen with two hydrogen atoms, that’s not what I mean by honoring the invention of water. What I honor is the invention of trenches, canals, reservoirs, treatment, recycling, and the rest of the infrastructure that leads to water being widely available to many many people all year round. In many cases we’ve reached an extreme where we can get water delivered directly to our own faucets and time of day or night, and it’s drinkable, and it’s very cheap.

    What makes this all possible is the foresight of many people who preceded me and many people I share my community with. The farmers upstream of me limit their water use so there’s some left for me, and those farmers trust those upstream of them to limit their own use, and they trust the state to maintain the reservoirs and dams. I trust my own and surrounding cities to manage the water treatment. I trust the great bulk of society not to poison my water. Future generations trust mean not to drain their aquifers.

    I just went to the sink, one of many in my house, and got a fresh drink. That’s amazing!

IP ~ Intellectual Property:
    I can create an idea and own it! This little blog posting, for example, is mine; I and only I get to decide what can be done with it. How did a society of individual self-interested automatons ever get so communally wise that it saw the benefit of protecting ideas and even the wispiest expression of those ideas?

    IP, which is a term for honoring one another’s creative process as much as we may honor each other’s possessions, has led to a richness and quality of things and non-things beyond whatever I would have imagined had someone come to me, centuries ago, with the notion that people’s ideas could be protected as property. Who was smart enough to foresee that, and how was the rest of society smart enough to see it too?

    There’s nothing easier to duplicate than another person’s creative output, be it a story, song, drawing, or device—so easy that there’s no way to enforce the honoring of these IP rules. And yet, we as a society have agreed to respect the wishes of the creators. We have agreed that the world can be trusted with our ideas.

What these inventions have in common, beyond the incredible foresight and intelligence that was necessary to come up with them in the first place, is trust. Without a fundamental trust in our societies, governments, and basic institutions—without a fundamental trust in each other—these inventions could not exist.

Today I give thanks, and what I’m thankful for today is that I belong to a humanity that had both the intelligence and trust to invent $H2O&IP. Mostly I’m thankful for the trust of my fellow humans.

Sometimes it is hard to feel as good about society. Sometimes the basic trust falls apart, which you can follow in stages through the loss of these greatest inventions. First comes the loss of IP (if the society had advanced to that stage at all). Then comes the breaking down of the water supply. Then comes the collapse of the monetary system (usually through astounding inflation and eventual worthlessness of the currency). We can find examples all over the world of countries, including my own, in various stages of this decline. These are signs of how much the people in that society have lost their basic trust of each other.

We, as a species and as a society, invented $H20&IP, so I remain hopeful we won’t lose them.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Photo Fun with The Biggest Loster

In Hawai'i we got a behind-the-scenes tour of filming locations for the Lost TV show (thank you very much for the gift, Lady De'an'na). We learned a lot about the show, such as how they turn the same small clay hill into numerous different locales of the island, and how it takes at least 300 people full time to keep it all going.

It was lots of funny seeing hatches, houses, the submarine, and so on. But it wasn't so much fun running into Hurley. It was pathetic, really. He's lowered himself to charging loser tourists $10 a shot to get their picture taken next to him on his "golf course". Here we are with him:

According to our tour guide, Hurley has acquired a terrible cocaine & melange addiction (commonly known among the crew as "Hurley's Spice"), now he owes everybody money, and has taken to whoring himself out to tourists.

We wanted another picture with him, but Hurley wouldn't do it unless we paid another $10, so we took a picture from far away when he wasn't paying attention. From that distance Hurley looked really small, so Amy pretended to be kissing him like he was a little chubby doll.

It's funny what you can do with camera tricks.

We ran into Locke too, who, it turns out, is also addicted to "Hurley's Spice". He whores himself out by telling the Lost secrets to anyone for $100. We paid our hundred, and here's what we got (BIG BIG SPOILER ALERT): "They're all in a virtual reality video game called 'Lost in Thought', sort of like Second Life but much more realistic, very very expensive to join (because you're paying not just to play but to disappear or be disappeared and to resolve your unresolved real-life problems), and kind of dangerous too because before entering the game they play with your memories: removing some and adding others."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Plastic? Oh no. Banned!

On this, the 40th anniversary of what has come to be known as the “Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth” movement, it’s time to remember where it all began.

Like most significant social trends, the “Fantastic No-Plastic Friday the Fourteenth” movement was started by John Lennon. Ringo walked in to a session with water in a plastic battle, something the fab four had never seen before. “It’s amazing”, said Paul. “Om”, said George. But John was furious, “I expressed my feelings on the matter last year with my tirade against plasticine porters with looking-glass ties. Was that not clear enough for your little minds? Alas, lads, here you are with water in a plastic bottle just to mock me. We’ve got to break up the band, I mean it this time.”

“But it’s just a little bottle,” pleaded Ringo. “I get thirsty on me drums.”

The blood rushed to John Lennon’s face as he stomped his feet, yelled, and started a movement: “Plastic? Oh no. Banned!”

It’s been forty years. The movement’s name has changed, and the goal has lessened from an outright ban to the occasional Friday ban, but John’s legacy remains. If John Lennon were alive today, I’m sure he’d be breathing.

Remember, it’s FNPF14 today, so reject any single-use disposable plastic items. Here’s an interesting slideshow to remind us why:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

in the shaggy white dog house

O: Brent, is this you?

N: Baracko, buddy, glad to hear back from you.

O: Sorry, my man. I’ve been so busy.

N: I understand. You’ve got an administration to put together. Don’t worry about it.

O: No, really. I’ve been very rude. I didn’t even thank you for writing that presidential endorsement. That endorsement really helped us win the election.

N: Aw shucks. You would’ve won within my little endorsement.

O: Maybe, but it wouldn’t have been a landslide. And for that I thank you.

N: It was nothing, seriously. Don’t mention it again.

O: I won’t. But more important, I’ve got to thank you for the helping with the press conference last week. That “mutt” crack you gave me was a good one, and you were right, the press loved it.

N: and you thought it might be in bad taste.

O: I won’t doubt your advice again, buddy, which is why I’m calling you now. There’s another press conference coming up to cover the economic changes and new appointments…

N: you want to nominate me for a cabinet position? Gosh. In all unabashed and undeserving humility I acc…

O: No no no no no, that’s not it. I’m worried another dog question will come up and, you know me, I'm no good with the dog stuff. But you, you're great with dog humor, like a dog whisperer but with jokes... like the dog tickler or something.

N: You need another dog joke?

O: No, I made up my own joke this time, but I need to know if it’s any good or maybe if it’s offensive. First, you need to set me up. Pretend you’re the press asking a dog question.

N: OK. Baracko, Um… I mean: Mr. President Elect (it sounds funny to call you that), have you decided on a first puppy?

O: Good question. Yes, we’ve decided on a female alaskan husky. We’ve made this decision for two reasons. One, it’s a hypoallergenic breed and so won’t aggravate Malia’s allergies. And two…

N: (…oh no…)

O: Reason number two why we're getting a female alaskan husky is… wait for it…

N: (… oh no…)

O: The second reason is that 46% of the American public has already voted that they want an Alaskan bitch in the white house.

N: oh. no. you di'nt.

Monday, November 3, 2008

John McCain for President

We at BNB heartily endorse John McCain for U.S. President, 2000.

Any Republicans reading this blog before the primaries eight years ago, go to the polls now and do your civic duty.