Dodd to head MPAA

Despite an explicit pledge to not become a lobbyist, former U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd [Wikipedia backgrounder] announced today that he will head the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA):

“I am truly excited about representing the interests of one of the most creative and productive industries in America, not only in Washington but around the world,” said Senator Dodd. “The major motion picture studios consistently produce and distribute the most sought after and enjoyable entertainment on earth. Protecting this great American export will be my highest priority.

“In several important ways, taking this step represents a continuation of my work in the Senate, from advancing the interests of children and families and creating and safeguarding American jobs to the protection of intellectual property and the expansion of international trade,” said Senator Dodd. [emphasis added]

A lot of outlets are covering this story, including tech outlets (like Wired) and political papers (like The Hill).  However, I was particularly intrigued by the juxtaposition of coverage in The Atlantic and The Hollywood Reporter.  The Atlantic wondered exactly how Dodd was qualified for this new job:

It’s a little bit hard to understand how Dodd’s connections throughout Connecticut, Washington, and the banking industry will prepare him for his new role, but perhaps the entertainment industry knows a different Dodd than us financial reporters.

The Hollywood Reporter suggests at least part of the answer:

While Dodd does not have a lot of experience in Hollywood, he is known to have many friends in show business, and has supported the MPAA on key trade, piracy and other issues. He was also author of banking law last year that included a section sought by the MPAA and others to stop plans for a futures market in movies.

I would add Dodd is qualified to head the MPAA because he can deliver what everyone wants when they hire a lobbyist:  something from the government.  Frankly, the content of Dodd’s work during his years in the Senate doesn’t matter; his contacts do.

I guess it was too much to expect “[t]hat Dodd would forgo a trip through Washington’s ‘revolving door'”.  Looks like he’s going to be able to break out his “thick Rolodex” after all.

Update 3/2/2011: TechDirt picked up the story this morning.

Long-winded patents

Edward Tenner over at the Atlantic has a few observations about the trend towards ever-longer patents:

Patent numbers are often treated as a proxy for invention or technological creativity. There are many more now than there were at the peak of technological optimism in the late 1990s….[But if each individual patent has] thousands of claims, is none of them very important or — as some speculate — is there a tendency to obfuscate the significant ideas with chaff, defeating the patent’s rationale of disclosure?

I wonder whether another reason for increased patent lengths is the widespread availability of word processing software.  One observation I have made in my years of legal research is that court opinions and law review articles tend to be shorter (and have fewer citations) the further back in time one goes.  Perhaps our fore-bearers spent just as much time on their “work product” (a.k.a. writing and analysis) as we do but the cumbersome mechanics of research and writing in a pre-digital era nudged one towards focus and concision.  Today, of course, the kitchen sink goes in because it can.

Whatever the reasons, you should really check out Tenner’s full post, which offers a few other explanations and ends by arguing that all this increase is not necessarily a good thing.

What the advertising in the magazines you subscribe to says about you

One book one of my classes is recently reading, The Suburban Christian,  offered this simple method for measuring your consumption levels (or perhaps what you aspire to consume): look at the advertising and the goods for sale in the magazines that you subscribe to.

This reminds me of something I noticed a few months into my first subscription to The Atlantic. I like this magazine for its reporting and commentary but I noticed that the advertisements were for luxury items I had no hope of buying and had never really even dreamed of buying. These goods were on par with the commercials that suggest that buying your spouse a Lexus with a giant bow on the top is the appropriate Christmas present.

This diagnostic would seem to fit with Juliet Schor’s ideas in The Overspent American about reference groups. Schor argues that media, television in particular, has presented Americans in the last few decades with a distorted view of the middle class. The typical TV middle-class family lives in a large house, seems not have any financial problems or even worries, has all sorts of popular consumer objects, and it is hard to tell if they even work. The average American watches these kinds of shows and starts comparing themselves to these middle-class TV families and raising their consumer aspirations to match what they see. Similarly, magazine advertisements suggest a certain lifestyle or things that the average American needs. These pitches can have a subtle but marked impact on who we compare ourselves to and what we think we need.

Autism case #1

Autism is a growing diagnosis in the United States. The Atlantic profiles the man, Donald Triplett, who was the first autism case in the United States diagnosed in the early 1940s.

The main question raised by this article, and one that is important to consider in the coming decades, is what will happen to autistic adults? There are a number of programs today for autistic children and teenagers but care is much more spotty for adults. Additionally, what happens when the parents of autistic children die? Donald has made a life for himself that includes plenty of golf and world travel but he lives in a close-knit Southern community that protects him from outsiders.

I used this article recently in class to illustrate how two journalists used a purposive sample to make their argument. Rather than try to look at autistic adults as a whole, they selected a prominent case to raise questions about autistic adults. While Donald may not be truly representative of this group, his life illustrates how an autistic adult can have a good life.

Gender bias in the application of the death penalty?

The Atlantic provides a round-up of opinions about gender bias and the death penalty. The collection of stories is prompted by recent events in Virginia:

On Thursday night, Virginia executed 41-year-old Teresa Lewis. It was the first time a woman was executed in the state since 1912 and the first time any woman was executed in the U.S. in five years.

Overall, the death penalty issue seems to be low on the list of priorities these days. How many politicians this election season will be running on platforms based on crime and law and order issues?

Modern careers more amenable to women?

Hanna Rosin writes in the July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic about the rise of women in many career fields and the consequences for society. Rosin argues that in addition to women holding “a majority of the nation’s jobs,” dominating higher education, and having a majority in 13 of the 15 job categories predicted to grow the most in the next ten years, more and more jobs today seem suited to women and men have not yet adapted:

The postindustrial economy is indifferent to men’s size and strength. The attributes that are most valuable today—social intelligence, open communication, the ability to sit still and focus—are, at a minimum, not predominantly male. In fact, the opposite may be true.

The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits.

Some of this has been more visible lately with the effects of the recent economic trouble, dubbed by some a “man-cession” or “he-pression” due to a disproportionate loss of jobs in male-dominated fields. The loss of manufacturing and manual labor jobs in the last five decades has been severe and men, unlike women, have not yet jumped on the higher education bandwagon.