The Expanding Universe and Leonard Cohen

I just have to remark on how interesting it is that the universe is expanding. I know– you think Bill’s off on another one of his pointless tirades here— but think about it. Until about 1918, almost everybody in the world thought that the universe was essentially static and unchanging. Sure, the earth rotated around the sun and the planets circled in their orbits, but this was part of a complex, mechanistic entity that had been devised by God or nature eons ago and could not be altered. It remained only for science to uncover the rules by which this mechanism operated.

Einstein ran into problems with this view. His theory of relativity should have led him to the conclusion that the universe must be expanding, but he found this concept so odious that he postulated the existence of “anti-gravity”– something that kept the stars and planets from collapsing in upon themselves with the force of gravity.

Unfortunately for everyone, Edward Hubble came along and proved that not only were there more galaxies than just ours, but that almost all the other galaxies were high-tailing it out of here as fast as possible. Hubble used something called the Doppler effect to analyze the position of distant stars. Essentially, the Doppler effect means that sound or light waves decrease in frequency the farther away an object is, and increase when an object moves towards you. Think of a police car siren.

Hubble studied the light waves emitted by the stars and was astounded to discover that almost all of the stars are moving away from us.

Don’t you find this alarming? Imagine you are in a big stadium with 100,000 people. You look around with your binoculars for about two-thousand years and make all kinds of charming observations about people’s different heights and weights and hair colours. You notice that they are moving around, but you think that they’re just circulating around the stadium. Suddenly you begin to realize that all of the people, in all directions, are moving away from you. Furthermore, you suddenly realize that they are all leaving rather quickly. Why are they leaving? Where are they going? Why do they hate us so much? What do they know that we don’t know?

Is there a bomb in the stadium? And nobody told you?

“Four o’clock in the afternoon, and I didn’t feel like very much”. Leonard Cohen, Dress Rehearsal Rag (Songs of Love and Hate)

Would such a line have been possible in a static universe? I don’t think so. I think Cohen knows why they’re leaving. Furthermore, I believe that Cohen is aware of the the effects of time-travel: “The rain falls down on last year’s man”. Could it be that he has uncovered the secret, and went back one year to look at himself? Is that why it “seems so long ago/none of us were very strong”– how would he know that, if he hadn’t found a worm hole, probably somewhere on Clinton street? Why does he claim, “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder”?

So, what does it all mean? “You’re living for nothing now/I hope you’re keeping some kind of record.”

Some Christians believe that the expanding universe is proof that God created the world. The idea that all the stars and galaxies are flinging themselves off into infinity faster than the speed of light does indeed suggest that God put out his finger and actualized the entire universe in a blinding flash.

After insisting that the world was flat for 2000 years, and then insisting that it was only 5000 years old (if it was 5000 years old, we wouldn’t see the light from stars that are more than 5000 light years away, even though there are a zillion of them), and that Noah took dinosaurs into the ark, (even though he couldn’t possibly even have had room for every species of insects), and that the sun revolved around the earth, one has to take the church’s pronouncements on science with a small degree of skepticism. On the other hand, the Big Bang is about as apt a description of the idea of “creation”, out of nothing, as any.

Well, I find Hawking very edifying, and I think a lot of what he has to say applies to Leonard Cohen’s songs.

Idiotic Shopping Experiences

I went to Future Shop today to buy a battery for my camcorder.
I don’t, as a rule, like big, boxy “super-stores”. I bought the camcorder itself from Steve’s TV, which is a more traditional, little, boxy store. But I needed a battery quickly, and Future Shop was right there on the horizon, so I dropped in.

First of all, the place is infested with well-dressed salesmen. They’re all over the place, watching you, waiting to pounce. You have to be very careful with your body language in a Future Shop. One dropped elbow or inquisitive glance, and you are immediately surrounded by these polished, buff, slick, oiled robots.

I found the camcorder section at the back, in front of a wall of television sets. One of the robots came over and tried to help. The batteries were locked in this rack. He didn’t have a key. Why not? I don’t know. Where I work, we tend to trust people with keys. If we didn’t, we would never get anything done, because everybody would spend most of their times running around getting keys from the people who are supposed to make sure you don’t do anything stupid with them.

Mr. Robot went to another salesman. He didn’t have the key. Another salesman came up: the manager has the key. Where’s the manager? We don’t know. We stood there waiting for five minutes making small talk with a robot while the other salesmen ran around looking for the manager. Finally, they found him. A key was brought. They opened the rack and we bought a camcorder battery. This is a “lithium ion” battery, which is supposed to last for four hours. It cost $89.99. It takes four salesmen to release the battery from it’s guarded position on the display rack.

There is a desk and a computer near the camcorders and the salesman took my VISA card and charged my account and then printed a receipt. Then he escorted us to the door.

Now if I owned a store and customer came in, I would think that the last thing you want to do is clear him out of the building to prevent him from doing any further shopping. But that’s what this salesman did. He took my battery, and some blank video tapes I had purchased with it, and escorted us right to the check-out counter. At this point, the cashier touched the items with a magic wand so we could escape through the detectors and leave the store.

I had wanted to check out the CD section– about time I got a digital remaster of Springsteen’s “Born to Run”. And I wanted to check out their prices on CD players. And I’m always on the lookout for interesting software or computer accessories. Not today though. One purchase, and out you go!

I’d like to talk to the idiot who devised this strategy. I’d like to know his reasoning. I don’t like Future Shop, but I’m curious about a marketing strategy that consists of reducing the possibility of customers making multiple purchases. Is it to prevent shop-lifting? Is it to keep people from switching price stickers around? Don’t they have enough robot-salesmen in the store to prevent such things from happening?

At Steve’s TV, I bought the camcorder from a salesman. He took me to a counter where a pretty girl rang it up on the computer and then gave me a receipt. I walked out of the store un-noticed. But I’ll be back.

For the record, by the way, on the items I purchased, the prices at Steve’s TV were either cheaper or the same.


Everybody thinks, the on-line bookstore, is such hot stuff. In the past year alone, the value of Amazon stock soared from about 2 cents a share to $550.00, or something like that. Amazing.

The trouble is that Amazon has never actually made a profit. They lost about $45 million last year. Yet everybody thinks they are worth more than K-mart. Amazon was given a business load of $275 million dollars last year. Why? Does anybody seriously think an on-line bookstore operating out of a garage that hasn’t made any money yet is worth more than a well-known discount chain with hundreds of stores and offices and other assets? No. But everybody thinks everybody else does. So, you buy some Amazon stock and hype it up until everybody else starts buying it up. Then you sell it and get the heck out of there before it all crashes.

As a store, Amazon sucks.

I ordered a book, “Into the Wild”, by Jon Krakauer, in paper-back. How much is a paperback at a conventional book store? About $12-15 nowadays, I guess.

The price for this book was $10.36, U.S.. That seems like a pretty good deal. Let’s order some more:

Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen, $18.20
Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers, $21.00
Wow! Three books for $49.56!

Actually, that’s pretty pricey. I think the government should subsidize books. Reading make you smart. The smarter we are, the more money we make. The more money we make, the more taxes we pay. The more taxes we pay, the more money the government has to build obsolete bombers and missile defense systems. Go for it.

Anyway, you hand over your VISA number and wait two weeks, and, voila: your book arrives by parcel post. Then you get your bill.

Whoa, Nellie!

The bill is for $59.00! How’d that happen? Oh yes— the ubiquitous “shipping and handling” charge.

Now, could someone explain something to me? You walk into K-mart. You see a book. The price of the book is $10.00. You go to the check-out. You hand over $10.00. You walk out with the book. Well, okay, first you pay $1.50 in taxes. Then you walk out with the book.

Didn’t they handle it? Didn’t they ship the book to the store? Didn’t they pay for electricity and water and heat? Didn’t they hire someone to clean the store? Of course they did. Those are all operating expenses. But they are included in the price of the book. They make sure that they sell enough books with a big enough profit margin so they can pay all their expenses.

Now, ships me my three books and then, surprise, hits me with a $9.85 “shipping and handling” charge. I can understand the shipping charge. That seems fair. But when I ship a package this size, I pay about $2.47, thanks to our volume deal with a well-known courier company. Amazon ships gazillions of books, so they must have an even better deal. So where does the rest of the $9.85 come from? Don’t tell me it cost $7.38 for someone to put the books into a box and slap a sticker on it? Of course it doesn’t.

It’s simply a way they have of picking your pocket on the way out of the store. Amazon has no more reason for charging for handling than K-mart does. The honest thing to do would be to include the “handling” charge in the list price, so you don’t get tricked into buying a book that actually cost more than they’re telling you. Then you can compare prices fairly, and disconnect yourself from their web page and head down to your local Chapters and buy the book in person and take it home with you right away.

Update 1999-06-25

Call me stupid: I went and ordered some more books from Amazon, “Digging up Sundance” by Anne Meadows, and “Etta Place: Her Life and Times with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, by Gail Drago. Cost of the books: $15.96 + $10.36 = $26.32. Now get a load of the shipping and handling on THIS order: $18.90. That’s right– $9.45 per book. What the heck is going on here? This is double the amount I paid on my last order, even though both books were delivered in the same package. I shudder to think what the charges are going to be for a couple of CD’s I ordered but which haven’t been delivered yet. Boycott Amazon!!

The Jailhouse Snitch

Keith Madeley, who is 26 years old, is serving a life sentence in prison for the murder of Fred Sheppard, with no hope of parole for 25 years If this had been the United States, he would be sitting on death row.

Fred Sheppard was 77 years old when he was found dead, in his outhouse, on March 7, 1995. He had been shot several times. The police arrested Keith Madeley and, according to Madeley, beat him up until he confessed. When a judge decided that a confession that was the result of a beating was not admissible, the police found a jailhouse informant to testify against Madeley. There was no other direct evidence linking him to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to the maximum allowed under Canadian law.

Roy Hopkins is serving time in Warkworth Penitentiary, for robbery. He says he killed Fred Sheppard. He says he may be a crook and a thief, but he won’t let another man rot jail for 25 years for a crime that he committed.

You might remember that Guy Paul Morin was convicted at least partly on the testimony of a jailhouse informant (who later recanted, recanted his recantation, then recanted again). Jailhouse informants usually testify in exchange for something. If you think it’s pretty stupid to offer an incentive for people to lie, you’re not alone.

After boxing promoter Don King was found innocent by a jury in New York, he took the entire jury on a trip to Hawaii.

Am I the only one who thinks this is so stupid that it doesn’t even deserve a serious rant? Does anybody need a detailed explanation of why it should be illegal for a defendant to reward a jury for finding him not guilty?

The most incomprehensible part of this story is the fact that, apparently, King broke no laws. As long as he didn’t offer the reward to the jury in exchange for the verdict before they gave the verdict, what he did was legal. All he had to do was sit there and wink at them, I guess.

This, from a nation that struts the world in out-sized britches constantly proclaiming themselves the greatest, the biggest, the best. Do we really need to give those smug, sanctimonious Europeans another reason to hold America in contempt?

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14 Years

On March 16, a man in Panama City, Florida, was sentenced to 14 years in prison for putting his 6-year-old daughter into an empty swimming pool in the back of his pick-up truck and driving down the highway. The pool was blown off the truck with the little girl in it and into the path of oncoming traffic. The girl, Catriona, survived the initial fall, but was killed when she was struck by a following car.

Jeffrey Sakemiller had four previous drunk driving convictions, his license had been suspended, and he was legally drunk at the time of the incident. His wife, the mother of Catriona, said “I hope he rots in jail”. Her comment made me wonder if he had kidnapped the girl. I know that what Jeffrey did was incredibly stupid and destructive, but if I were Catriona’s mother and Jeffrey’s wife, I wouldn’t say what she said out loud. I’d say something like, “This is the saddest day of my life.”

Fourteen years is a long time. If I had been the judge, I don’t think I would have given him 14 years. He didn’t murder the girl deliberately in a drunken rage. He was certainly criminally negligent, but our society usually makes a distinction between stupidity and evil. The judge was rightly appalled. But 14 years?

Stupidity is causing a death through bad judgment. Like Bush invading Iraq. Evil is when you knowingly do something that causes death. Like fudging the intelligence on Iraq.

Victor Robichaud of Paris, Ontario, did something fairly similar. He tried to pass a car illegally on a hill one night in 1997, and ran head-on into a car driven by Caius Jupan of Kitchener. Jupan was killed and Robichaud was charged with dangerous driving causing death. He received an 18-month sentence. This was considered pretty stiff, by Canadian standards. Both Robichaud and Sakemiller did something very stupid that resulted in the death of an innocent person. Neither of them intended to hurt anyone.

The difference is, Robichaud still has a chance to live a meaningful life.

The cigarette companies have also been accused of causing the deaths of innocent people. But the cigarette companies are not persons: they are corporations. In the U.S., several states have taken them to court. The tobacco companies negotiated a settlement. They paid a big fine. But who, really, is “they”? Management? Don’t make me laugh. Shareholders? Are you kidding? “They” turns out to be you and me! As a corporation, Phillip Morris and R. J. Reynolds and the gang can simply pass their fines on to us in the form of higher cigarette prices. Nobody goes to jail. Nobody even pays a penalty. Just us corporations here. Oooo. Owww. That hurts.

The difference between Jeffrey Sakemiller and the corporations that produce cigarettes (and the corporations who produce herbicides and genetically re-engineered food and bovine growth hormone…) is that the corporations, in many cases, deliberately produced harmful products for the purpose of material gain.

Jeffrey should have incorporated himself and hired a lawyer. He could have claimed he was a manager for a company that produced thrill-rides for little children. He could have claimed that his own research showed that the pool was safe on the back of the truck and anybody who thought otherwise was a liar. He could have complained bitterly that without tort reform, bold entrepreneurs like himself are discouraged from growing the economy.

He would still have been sued. He would still have lost. But then, at least, he would not have gone to jail. You can’t put a corporation in jail. Even if the plaintiff had won millions and millions, Jeffrey could have just closed up shop, walked away, and started a new business somewhere else.

The judge wanted to send a serious message to society. The message is, “don’t be so stupid”. Is that a helpful message? I have a hard time imagining that anyone dumb enough to put a child into a swimming pool in the back of a pick-up truck and then drive down the highway would be smart enough to read the newspaper and get that message.

In New York City, a dumb social services worker allowed a child to return home to her mother even though she had been charged with abuse and reckless endangerment several times. The child was killed. I don’t think the social services worker was even fired.

In the same city, four cops, looking for a man suspected of carrying a weapon, fired about 40 bullets into an innocent stranger. Republican Governor Giuliani defended their honor.

I think I would have given Jeffrey Sakemiller about two years, and I would have taken his license away for fifteen years, and instructed the local child welfare office to see that he is never permitted to look after young children again. I would also have given a good tongue-lashing to somebody: what was someone with four drunk driving convictions doing on the road at all? How could he even own a pickup? Who entrusted an incorrigible drunk driver with the care of a six-year-old girl?

Did the child’s mother, Rebecca, know he was driving around drunk with Catriona? Was she so angry because she wanted a break from the demands of an active child and and insisted that Sakemiller take her with to the store?

The news reports don’t say how old Jeffrey is. Let’s say he’s about 25. He’ll have to serve at least 85% of his sentence under U.S. judicial rules, so he’s going to be in jail until he is 36 or 37, at least. If he is a young man with any potential for any good at all, that will surely be driven out of him by then.

Obviously, he didn’t have a very good lawyer. If you were rich and did something really stupid that resulted in someone’s death– like Ted Kennedy, for example– you wouldn’t serve any time at all. O. J. Simpson. William Calley. Klaus Von Bulow. Oliver North. There are different laws for the rich. The first law is that all of that constitutional business about equality before the law is pure hogwash.

* * *

A New Jersey State Police officer who pulled over a 52-year-old black woman who was driving a Porsche, and spat at her and assaulted her, didn’t get punished at all, though the state government had to pay her $225,000. If you’re a taxpayer in New Jersey, you might want to ask why the government is paying out $225,000 if the police, as they claim, didn’t do anything wrong.

All the NRA members and Baptists and Republicans will accuse me of being soft on crime. I’ll be turfed at the next election. I’d say, “Fine. I’ll go live in France.”

Texas Team Names

There is a hockey league in the Southern United States, with franchises in Louisiana, Texas, and New Mexico, that the NHL could take a few tips from. It’s those colorless names: Canadiens? Maple Leafs? Jets? Boring. Why don’t they spend a few of the big bucks on some Dallas newspapers, where they might come across team names with character?

The Canadiens? Picture a svelte, French man with a middling hair cut, a moustache, and a Visa card. But Odessa Jackalopes? Hey, are we talking the Hanson brothers or what?

Odessa Jackalopes
New Mexico Scorpions
Macon Whoopees
Amarillo Rattlers
Austin Ice Bats
Central Texas Stampede
El Paso Buzzards
Fort Worth Brahmas
Lake Charles Ice Pirates
Monroe Moccasins
San Angelo Outlaws
Shreveport Mudbugs
Waco Wizards


[Unfortunately, the CBC Changed… ]

There are some who argue that the government should not play a role in the mass media. In particular, the idea of the CBC is shocking to them. What is the government doing owning and running –at arm’s length–an actual television network? Why are taxpayers funding a large agency that produces entertainment in competition with CTV, Global, and the American networks?

In the U.S., thanks to years of Republican majorities in Congress, the PBS has been gutted and is now forced to seek corporate sponsorship of many of their programs. As a result, they produce almost no hard-hitting documentaries or daring dramas. Anyone want to take on Monsanto or Microsoft or Exxon? How can you, when you now depend on the largesse of these same corporations to fund harmless pap like docu-dramas about the civil war? Even Sesame Street now has a corporate sponsor.

The result is that Americans almost never see a television program that takes a hard, critical look at any of our society’s dominant institutions. If you can remember as far back as the 1960’s, you will recall that there was a time when even CBS, ABC, and NBC occasionally produced some outstanding public service programs, including some powerful documentaries on exploited migrant workers, civil rights, and poverty.

The CBC produces some marvelous programs, including Fifth Estate and The Passionate Eye. CBC news often features in-depth analysis of important social and economic issues, which is more than you can say for CNN, the 24-hour a day sex scandal station.. CBC radio is a gem. Sure, it can get boring and tedious sometimes, and even pretentious, but who else in Canada would produce a program devoted to “ideas”? Who else would play “The Arrogant Worms”? Who else provides so many hours of solid public affairs programs?

Well, back to that government funding argument. Consider this: in order to raise one dollar of advertising revenue, the commercial networks must spend an average of 55-65 cents. These are the costs of soliciting advertising, producing the ads, and maintaining an entire department of people whose sole pursuit is to persuade corporations to put their ads on the air. This is for so-called “free” television and radio. Where does this money come from? Nowhere… if you really believe that commercial television and radio is free. But the truth is that the money comes from you and me! All of that money becomes part of the cost of every product you buy. And that cost is not insignificant. A good portion of that $3.25 you pay for corn flakes goes to advertising. Given a choice, wouldn’t you rather have your “Buffy the Vampire- Slayer” free, and your corn flakes for $2.50?  Ah– but then you might not buy Kellogg’s brand cornflakes, which are best flakes corn can make (ha ha).

The CBC, on the other hand, spends almost no money soliciting advertisements for their commercial-free programming. So, though you are paying for 100% of the cost of the programming with your tax dollars, you are getting 100% worth of programming for your money. Your $3.25 buys almost exactly $3.25 worth of television and radio. Best of all, it’s free of those insanely annoying interruptions!

It took me a while to get used to CBC radio myself. I kept trying some of the local “alternative” stations, until I got totally fed up with having to listen to five boring songs for every interesting piece they played, and putting up with a commercial every three minutes, and not getting any really useful information. About five years ago, I switched to CBC stereo FM and never switched back. I’m not always excited about what I hear, but even a brief taste of the alternatives drives me right back to it.

God bless the CBC.

Copyrighting Life Forms

The Monsanto Corporation is one of those gigantic entities that give me the heeby-geebies. Firstly, it is huge, massive, rich, and powerful. It is one of those big corporations that have a lot of full-time representatives in Washington D.C. persuading law-makers to change the laws to its favour. Secondly, it is smart. These guys know where the money is, and they know how to market their products, and they know how to use government policy to their advantage. Thirdly, these guys are ruthless. They will stop at nothing to make money.

In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that corporations can patent life forms. These rulings may yet go down in history as some of the most sinister acts of jurisprudence in the history of mankind. For now, they merely permit corporations like Monsanto to claim “ownership” of genetically altered plants.

Monsanto sells these mutants to farmers. So far, so good. Just like in the old days: the farmer buys his seed and plants his crops. At the end of the year, he keeps a portion for replanting. But wait— Monsanto claims that since it has genetically altered these seeds, that they are now copyrighted. They are patented. Monsanto owns a life form. So the farmer is not allowed to replant. He must buy the seeds over again, from Monsanto, if he wants to plant the same crop next year.

I find this whole concept mind-boggling. Suppose you buy a dog. Suppose the guy selling the dog makes you sign a document saying that you recognize his sovereignty over this doggie-life-form, and therefore, you must turn over all of the dog’s offspring to him. Would you buy the dog? Where does this guy get off claiming ownership of the progeny of a living thing? What does it mean to “buy” a dog, if you don’t “own” the dog’s eggs or sperm, and, therefore, the progeny? What if the guy also wants the offspring of the offspring? He’s got it, if you agree, and if the government agrees to enforce these rules.

Free market advocates would say, big deal. If you don’t like it, buy a dog from someone else. They act as if they can change what it means to buy and sell arbitrarily, whenever it suits them, regardless of our traditional understanding of the law.

What happens if all the other dog breeders get wind of this guy, and decide, hey, this is a great idea! Without performing any additional services, I can accrue more property, simply by declaring, “I own this dog’s progeny!” Suppose all of the dog breeders impose similar agreements on their customers? Why wouldn’t they? Competition? Ha ha! They would ALL gain. And all the customers would lose.

So, those farmers should just go buy their seeds elsewhere, right? The trouble is, the farmers really do compete. If some farmers use Monsanto seeds, which do grow faster and are more resistant to insects, then the farmers who fail to compete efficiently will be driven out of business.

Monsanto is the manufacturer of Agent Orange, the dangerous defoliant used in the Viet Nam War, and PCB’s. There are, according to Harper’s Magazine, 48 dumps in the U.S. that contain dangerous toxins that Monsanto is at least partly responsible for. Why don’t they pay to clean up? What? And have excessive government interference in the marketplace!!! And take money out of the hands of those New York investors??? What are you? Some kind of communist?

Monsanto also manufactures Bovine Growth Hormone. This is a controversial drug that many activists and environmentalists believe poses serious health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided that consumers don’t need to be advised when Bovine Growth Hormone is added to the food that goes into your body. But wait– it’s enough for the FDA to deny consumers information about the chemicals and drugs that contaminate our foods. The FDA has gone further. It has warned grocery stores that they could be in trouble if they DO label milk as produced with BGH!

Could this be because some FDA commissioners happened to be former and future employees of Monsanto? Could this be because Monsanto maintains 42 lobbyists in Washington?

When a British Magazine, the Ecologist, devoted an entire issue to Monsanto, the printer ended up destroying all of the copies for fear of a libel suit. I wonder how those people who feel that government is too intrusive feel about corporations that strong-arm printers into destroying information that they don’t want you to have?

Monsanto is onto something really hot with “Terminator Technology”. Through genetic alteration, Monsanto wants to engineer seeds that destroy themselves after every season.

Think about that. In a world where more than 1/3 of the population is inadequately fed, Monsanto wants to introduce seeds that destroy themselves after every harvest, in order to protect their billions in profits for American investors. And what if these seeds began to blend with surrounding plants, and cause massive crop failures around the world? Will Monsanto adequately compensate those farmers and consumers? Right. Just like they cleaned up their PCBs.

Monsanto would argue that, under free enterprise, they are simply being rewarded for their cleverness. They act as if seed patents are some kind of sacred extension of traditional property laws. If they did not have that protection, they say, they would not be able to produce those magnificent seeds that do so much to alleviate hunger around the world.

But who asked them to invest the time and energy into creating new, genetically altered seeds? Nobody. Why would a farmer want to pay extra money for Monsanto seeds, if he can pretty well grow enough food with normal seeds? Well, only one reason: because his competitors can grow their crops faster and more efficiently than he can. Why? Because they use genetically altered-seeds. So all the farmers start paying Monsanto a premium for their seeds. What have they gained? I don’t know.

Furthermore, with all the mergers and take-overs in the agribusiness, and the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. government to prevent concentration of ownership, there is a good chance that in the future no farmer will have a choice about where he buys his seed.

Does Monsanto, as they argue, have a right to sell self-terminating plants? Who says they do?

What Monsanto did was find a new way to use an existing technology– developed, ironically, partly at tax-payers expense!– and then get their crack lawyers and lobbyists busy creating new laws and policies to make those technologies profitable for them. The existing patent laws were quite sufficient for Monsanto to make a healthy profit on their seed and herbicide business. By inventing an extension of that law, to the seeds of the plants grown by the farmers from Monsanto’s seeds, they simply awarded themselves billions of dollars in new profits at no additional risk or labour. And if we passed a law making it illegal to copyright biological entities, as we should have long ago, Monsanto would continue to be profitable and farmers would no longer be squeezed coming and going by just another heartless mega-corporation.

You can either be appalled by this new example of corporate greed, or you can join in the party. Here’s a number of new ways that other businesses and entrepreneur’s can make money, inspired by Monsanto’s example:

1. Musical Instrument makers: demand a royalty payment for every recording or performance in which they are used. No no — even better: charge by the note.

2. Photographic Film: patent your chemical film processes and then demand a royalty for any photograph taken on your film that is sold for publication or display.

3. Cars: instead of selling cars, “license” them to the consumer, for a fixed number of kilometers per year. For every kilometer beyond that, make the consumer pay a royalty. Make them pay extra if they intend to have passengers or cargo.

4. sod: when a person buys a new house, tell them that the grass is only “licensed” to them for a period of five years, for, say $500.00 a year. After five years, they must renew the license at a new rate, or the sod will be dug up and removed. Better yet, get Monsanto to design a grass seed that dies after five years.

5. glass: you make the view possible. Charge consumers for every glance through the window. Little computers with CMOS cameras will monitor each home-owner as they wander around their homes. Whenever they look outside– kerchunk! Charge them a nickel. If they don’t pay up, the glass goes dark. If people don’t like it, fine, you can have a hole in your wall.