Spring is around the corner, and with it comes the urge in some people to sow seeds or buy plants. Arbor Day follows in April, on the 26th, and some folks may be tempted then to plant a tree. Or many trees. In the last 20 years the Chinese and Indians have planted millions of trees in their countries, and NASA has noted from space the greening of those places on Earth. China and India also happen to be contributing greatly to air pollution as they industrialize and their inhabitants adopt a First World lifestyle, and their planting of trees does not entirely offset that, but still the result is better than if they had done nothing.
Rosa ‘Jean Giono’, a hybrid tea rose introduced by the French hybridizer Alain Meilland in 1996. Photo by T.Kiya. The Meilland firm created the renowned ‘Peace’ hybrid tea rose in 1935. Hybrid tea roses are undeniably beautiful, but that beauty often comes at a cost in deficiencies in other areas such as disease resistance. It is tempting to resort to various nasty concoctions in order to keep them looking their best. Either find a better way, or don’t grow them at all and seek out hardier heirloom roses grown on their own roots instead.
Live in an apartment with no outside space at all? You can’t plant a full size tree, though there are palms and ornamental figs that fit the bill on a small scale. Growing plants indoors helps clean the air every bit as much as outdoor plants, leaf for leaf. Have a small space outside, perhaps on a sunny balcony? Consider planting one rose bush in a pot to itself that you can pamper like the Little Prince with his single rose, and then cut down to a few short canes in preparation for bringing inside for the winter. Have some outdoor space left over? Plant one or two patio variety tomato plants and add some herbs at their feet.
The point is to do something, and not to allow the scale of global problems overwhelm you into paralysis. People have similar fears about political action, even something as basic as voting. What use is my tiny contribution, they ask. Well, it’s something; it’s better than nothing. Earth Day is also coming up, on April 22, and instead of dwelling on the impossibility of one person saving the entire Earth, it would be more practical to grow at least one plant. Sow a seed, even one as insignificant as a mustard seed. You might discover after a while that in taking one small action to nurture life close to home you have saved more than you imagined possible, starting with yourself.
This is the entire 30 minute Canadian animated film by Frédéric Back that was released in 1987 and won the Academy Award in 1988 for Best Animated Short Film. It is based on a 1953 allegorical tale by the French author, Jean Giono, about a shepherd who sowed tens of thousands of tree seeds in a barren area in the foothills of the French Alps during the first half of the twentieth century.
This Memorial Day marks the 150th anniversary of the holiday. When it was first formally celebrated, the holiday was a remembrance of Civil War dead and was called Decoration Day. Since 1868, Americans on Memorial Day have taken to visiting the graves of not just fallen soldiers, sailors, and marines, but those of their friends and relatives regardless of whether or not they died in military service to the country. Officially Memorial Day is for remembering and honoring the country’s war dead, but it has also become a day for remembering and honoring the near and dear, and most Americans usually do that by decorating the graves with flowers.
In western societies, placing flowers at grave sites goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and even before, to the stone age, as archaeologists discovered not long ago. Since then, as Jews and Muslims have asserted their own cultural and religious preferences for honoring the dead, the tradition of remembering with flowers has remained mostly a Christian one in the west. There is an entire symbolism of flowers dating from the ancient Greek and Roman mythologists and carried on by Christians, but it’s a safe bet to guess most people pay little attention to such subtleties when picking out a specific flower or an arrangement of flowers to place at the grave of their loved one. Most likely they pick out something they themselves enjoy, or that they know was a favorite of the departed.
Common poppies blooming in May 2015 in Guelma, a district in northeastern Algeria. Photo by Yaco24.
There is one flower symbol that remains widely understood, and it is the red poppy originating from the battlefields of Flanders in World War I, which has come to specifically memorialize military members dead from service in all wars since the so-called War to End All Wars. “In Flanders Fields”, a poem written by John McCrae, a Canadian who served in the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, noted the red poppies growing among the graves of soldiers buried after the Second Battle of Ypres. The fame of McCrae’s poem established the common red poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a tough plant long known in the region as a colonizer of disturbed ground, as the Remembrance Poppy thereafter.
It is worth noting that the opium poppy,Papaver somniferum, is native to the Mediterranean region and the Near East and yields opiates such as morphine, named for Morpheus, the god of dreams. Opium poppies were well known to the ancients for their anesthetic properties, a blessed relief for those wounded in battle or near death. It’s flower is not a symbolic reminder like the red poppy of those lost to the violence of war, but its value in easing suffering and bringing on the forgetfulness of sleep to those maimed and agonized by that violence makes it more important to those poor unfortunates, and certainly more useful. Rest in peace.
“. . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . .”
― an excerpt from Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution.
Recently the pharmaceutical company Allergancut a deal with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of upstate New York to hold the patent for one of its drugs in order to protect the company from patent challenges. The reasoning behind the deal is that since Native American tribes have sovereign immunity from some types of lawsuits under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, Allergan is protecting itself from expensive and sometimes unwarranted litigation relating to its patent. In return, the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe will receive millions of dollars up front, and millions more in royalties. Since this is a new type of arrangement, it’s unclear how well it will hold up in court.
Illustration for an 1881 patent granted to Thomas Edison for an improvement to the incandescent light bulb he had first patented in 1880, itself an improvement built on the work of Canadian inventor Henry Woodward. Edison collected 2,332 patents worldwide, many of them for incremental improvements such as the one pictured here.
Patent infringements and patent challenges are nothing new, but with the explosion in technical innovations, new drugs, and medical devices in the past thirty years or so, the amount of infringement and challenge cases in the courts have exploded as well. Widespread patent trolling is a new phenomenon, tying up court dockets with often tenuous claims by some patent holders that their patent rights have been violated by another party.
The troll in this circumstance is usually an affiliation of lawyers sometimes known as a Non-Practicing Entity (NPE), which does not make or sell anything, but collects patents for the leverage that gives them in either extracting (extorting) licensing fees or lawsuit settlements from other parties. The patents used suit the purpose because they are overly broad and general, leaving plenty of room for interpretation by the courts, and the victims are often small to medium sized businesses which can’t afford the millions in lawyers’ fees and court costs it would take to defend themselves, instead choosing the easier and cheaper route of ponying up the licensing fee to the troll.
It’s hard to find fault with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe for agreeing to the deal with Allergan. Native American tribes are often poor, their reservations pushed onto marginally productive land, and if they can take advantage of their status as sovereign nations within the United States to make some money, then more power to them. That same sovereign nation status, after all, has usually proved a mockery as European immigrants violated treaty after treaty with the Native Americans in pursuit of land and natural resources, taking what they liked with military force if words would not suffice.
Allergan, on the other hand, is doing what American companies seemingly do best, which is to cleverly exploit a loophole in the system. Whether Allergan is protecting itself from trolls or planning on doing the trolling itself from its newly purchased protected perch, that is yet to be seen. Large companies, such as Apple, can be both targets and perpetrators, though as perpetrators it’s often in the sense of patent infringement rather than trolling.
This cartoon of a “self-operating napkin” machine by Rube Goldberg originally appeared in the September 26, 1931 issue of Collier’s Magazine.
There’s plenty of gray area involved, and that’s where legislators need to step in to more clearly define the lines and reduce the amount of trolling lawsuits. Congress has acted in the past several years by changing the laws in favor of genuine innovators and against NPEs. More needs to be done, such as making the loser in a lawsuit pay the legal fees of both sides if the judge determines that one side has acted with intent to harass and extort the other.
This film of less than two minutes demonstrates Wallace’s endless enthusiasm for Goldbergian contraptions, much to the dismay of his dog, Gromit.
Some states have enacted such legislation, but where the case gets decided in a federal court, such as would be the situation should Allergan get challenged or challenge another party, the proceedings are not as clear due to fluid interpretations of the 11th Amendment. It appears that besides tightening up the rules governing patents, the next step is for Congress and the States to clarify the 11th Amendment to take away the sovereign immunity loophole. It’s unfortunate that Native American tribes would be denied a source of revenue, but patent parking really is a shady deal that needs to be stopped before it goes too far, similar to what has happened with the entrenchment of offshore tax havens for corporations.