Film Folly

July 26, 2013

As to the evil which results from a censorship, it is impossible to measure it, for it is impossible to tell where it ends.
Jeremy Bentham

zapiro
I have written elsewhere about the idiotic antics of the South African Film and Publications Board. On that occasion they had seen fit to place an 18 year age restriction on a painting that was neither a film nor a publication; this time they have effectively banned a film as ‘child pornography’ when it depicts no children, and is evidently not pornography by any accepted definition of the term.

The film in question is “Of Good Report.” It is said to be (I haven’t seen it–that would be illegal–so I must take the producer’s word for it) a serious drama focussing on the phenomenon of ‘sugar-daddyism’. The film opens with a high school teacher meeting a young woman in a bar. He is attracted to her, but the next day she walks into his classroom as one of his students, which, needless to say, complicates matters. The actress who plays the part of the young woman is 23 years old, and the character she portrays is 16. the age of consent in South Africa is 16, so any sex between them in the film is sex between consenting adults.
Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

You Snus You Win

July 19, 2013

Politicians make weird decisions that seem to have little to do with common sense or the good of the citizenry who suffer under their rule. Here’s an example of such a decision taken by the lawmakers of the European Union, Russia, and other misguided jurisdictions.
Zwei_zigaretten
Smoking is one of the most serious public health hazards known: cigarettes will kill their users unless they die of something else first. Smokers smoke as a means of acquiring nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug. But it is not the nicotine in smoke that causes the most harm; it is all the other stuff in the smoke that kills people, like tar, and the other 2,500-odd chemical compounds that the hapless smoker inhales along with the nicotine.
Read the rest of this entry »


Death Penalty

November 29, 2012

I first saw America as she should first be seen by a foreigner: from the deck of a ship approaching New York harbour. We had passed the Nantucket Lightship in the night watches, and now at dawn could see the island of Manhattan, dominated by the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. We picked up the harbour pilot and steamed slowly in up the East River, past Governors Island and nudged into our berth at Brooklyn Pier 6.

This was in the early 80’s, and New York was a grubby, rowdy, bustling, crowded place of which I, as a young African, stood in awe. When I wasn’t on cargo watches I would ride the subways and buses, taking in the sights; sometimes I would stop off at one of the ubiquitous Irish pubs for a beer, and would chat to the locals, who—for some reason or another—would always ask whether or not I had been in Florida.

I spent the next year or two on the East coast liner trade: New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Newport News (beware of submarines), Charleston, Savannah, Miami, Mobile, New Orleans (occasionally Baton Rouge), Houston. During this time I conceived a real affection for the American people, who were invariably friendly and courteous; and apart from a curious ignorance of the events—or even the geography—of the rest of the world, they seemed sophisticated enough to value their freedoms and to take pride in the achievements of their nation. They are mostly liberal, and think quite deeply about morality and the constituent parts necessary to the maintenance of a just society. Which brings me to the point of this post.
Read the rest of this entry »


Patents

September 13, 2012

We’ve all experienced it. You’ve just caught the best wave of the day; the crowd on the beach are going “oohhh” and “aaahhh” as they admire your moves; even your dog is panting with pride at his master’s brilliance. Then, dammit, you find your cellphone battery has gone flat, just as you were ordering a pizza for delivery to the beach.

Well, this frustration has become a thing of the past, thanks to the creative genius of Mr Anthony William Jones of Garden Grove, CA. With his solar surfboard (United States Patent 8262425) you can just plug your phone into the convenient plug point provided on your surfboard. When the phone’s charged, you could use the plug for your hair dryer or portable TV.

Nobody actually needs a solar surfboard, of course, in fact I’m willing to bet that the people who want one are a vanishingly small minority. I don’t expect these things to be mass-produced and offered for sale in surf stores anywhere. So why patent it? Mr Jones is unlikely to make any money from licensing his patent. So what are patents for?

In theory they are supposed to encourage innovation by giving the patent-holder a monopoly over his invention for a certain amount of time. But, as Yogi Berra said, “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” Patents only make sense if (a) the effort involved in researching and developing the invention is expensive and time-consuming, and (b) the invention is easy and cheap for competitors to copy. This applies neither to electric surfboards nor to most of the other patents that are approved by patent offices around the world.

The number of patents granted is staggering. In the U.S. the patent office has approved over 8 million patents. Some of these are, in my opinion, ridiculous. A patent is supposed to be novel, useful and not obvious. But patents are granted for things that existed long before the patent was applied for (buttons on a computer’s GUI interface, for example); for things that are useless (like solar surfboards); and for things that are obvious (a carrying handle on a heavy object). Companies enter into patent wars, suing and counter-suing each other for astonishing sums of money—see the recent litigation between Apple and Samsung—which cannot be good either for the companies involved, nor for the consumers of their products. Patent ‘trolls’ buy up patent rights and use them to extort money from manufacturers who cannot afford the breathtaking costs involved in defending themselves against the trolls, which again has the effect of driving up costs for the consumer. The net effect of all this is that innovation is stifled rather than encouraged.

What can be done about this? My suggestion is that patents should only be granted in cases where the applicant could suffer substantial losses if his invention were copied by competitors, and that patent offices should be far more rigorous in establishing whether or not the proposed invention is indeed novel, useful and not obvious. Moreover, ideas should not be patentable. This would prevent patents being granted for computer software, for example. Software code is copyrighted, so the code itself can be protected, but what that code does is an idea, not a thing, so it would not be patentable.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License


Lady and the Loonies

June 28, 2012

It has reached my ears that there exists a person called Lady Gaga. I don’t know whether she is a member of the British aristocracy, or “Lady” is her name, like that dog in the movie, but I’m told that she makes her living by donning surprising costumes and singing and dancing. She is coming to sing and dance in Cape Town soon, and I say good luck to her. I shan’t be attending her performance because that sort of thing isn’t what floats my boat; but I’m quite sure that there are plenty of people who will enjoy what she has to offer in the way of entertainment.

Her imminent arrival has also flushed the usual crew of crackpots and lunatics out of their malodorous lairs. They have set up a facebook page called “Christians against Lady Gaga & Beyonce’s SA tours!!” They claim—amongst other things—that Lady Gaga is a satanist and may even be the bride of satan. Here’s a sample of the comments left on the site:–
Read the rest of this entry »


Art Raises its Head

May 24, 2012

If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.
John F. Kennedy

A week or two ago I wrote about my “blind spot” with reference to the visual arts in general and, in particular, The Scream by Edvard Munch. Now a very different painting has been dominating the news, not because of the absurd price it commanded,–it sold for a modest $16,000–but because it depicted the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, with his penis hanging out of his trousers.

The Spear would probably not have been in the news at all were the South African government not as ignorant of the Streisand effect as they are of constitutional law, philosophy, civics, economics, geography, democracy and science. They brought suit in the High Court seeking an injunction against the painting being displayed in the Goodman Gallery, or on the website of a newspaper, the City Press. Their grounds are that the painting is disrespectful and impairs the President’s constitutional right to dignity. The case will be heard today, but the outcome is moot because the image is now hosted on thousands of websites worldwide. Oh, hell, let’s make it one more:–

The Spear


Read the rest of this entry »


Corporate Bullies

March 22, 2012

In South Africa every household that owns a television set must, by law, purchase a licence every year. Businesses must have a separate licence for each TV set. A TV is defined as any electronic equipment that can receive a TV signal, so, for example, a VCR or PC equipped with a TV card are counted as TV sets and must be licensed. Failure to pay the licence fee is a criminal offense. The money thus raised is paid to the SABC, but not to other commercial broadcasters. I have argued elsewhere that the SABC licence fee is immoral; but this post is about the revolting, dishonest, thuggish bullying that the SABC and their collecting agencies use in an attempt to frighten consumers into paying licence fees that in many cases are not even owed.
Read the rest of this entry »