Wait. So, nacho cheese is just whatever we believe it is?
I went to Mike Siemienas, spokesman for General Mills (which owns Old El Paso) and these alleged “nacho cheese”-blasted taco shells. “I mean, the team MUST have some way to describe nacho cheese,” I implored. He said that Old El Paso looked at some combination of “light/dark, flavor strength, saltiness, moistness, color, amount, heat/spiciness, texture, crispness, crunchiness.” Ultimately, Siemienas said, “It really is based on what consumers are used to and what they believe nacho cheese flavor is.”
Wait. So, nacho cheese is just whatever we believe it is? Are you kidding me? Besides bringing up deeper, noncheese-related existential issues, this left me wondering—do people expect nacho cheese to have any particular flavor? Or color? Or texture? Or is it just any cheese that happens to be on nacho chips?
The cheese industry itself didn’t have much to add to the debate. “There really is not a Nacho Cheese per se,” says Sara Hill, manager of cheese education and training at the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. “There might be some jarred cheese blends on the market that say ‘nacho cheese,’ but again, these are blends that are meant to heat up and dip chips into.”
Even the most dramatic estimates of the social cost of abusive patent litigation range in the low tens of billions of dollars. But according to a new study by the distinguished economists Robert Litan of the Brookings Institution and Hal Singer of the Progressive Policy Institute—a study I helped to fund—liberating patent licensing from its litigation-focused costs and risks would enable tens of thousands of currently-dormant inventions to be commercialized and conservatively add up to $200 billion a year in increased output to the U.S. economy. That’s at least ten times bigger than the litigation problem, and directly impacts job creation.
Here’s the challenge in a nutshell: innovation drives the economy, but much of the new technical knowledge required for such innovation is contained only in patents. The U.S. patent database is the world’s largest encyclopedia of technology improvements and technology experts in the world. Some of that database is directly relevant to the new products and services that any individual company is working on improving or creating. But the database is too hard to access.Accessing the knowledge and expertise contained in the patent data-base is not a problem for large Fortune 500 companies. Giant companies have long recognized the value of the patent database and spend millions, and in some instances billions, on dedicated teams and expensive tools to mine the patent database for competitive advantage and effective legal risk management. But for the vast majority of smaller and mid-sized businesses that are responsible for the bulk of U.S. job creation, patents represent not a treasure trove of new technical knowledge but a growing multi-trillion-dollar database filled with infringement risk.
I told myself that if I shouldered the push — the benchmarks, the testing, the reporting, the retesting — and set the tone of the room so the children felt a sense of playfulness while they worked hard, then everything was fine, right? I incorporated playdough in the literacy block and little cars in math. I picked funny books so we’d have the chance to laugh, and I gave the kids a lot of high-fives. I taught them to take deep breaths to counteract their decreasing serotonin levels brought on by hours in our lovely but intensely scripted classroom. I took a lot of deep breaths myself, to keep the guilt under control.
Ideally, the children would choose their own questions to investigate. But for most of the day, I chose for them from the required curriculum, then tried to sell it as play. What they heard was song, rhyme and encouraging words, but the sound behind that was something like the insistent chugging of a troop train.
And these kids were relatively lucky as far as mandates. In Virginia, the state kindergarten reading standards are overambitious, to be sure, but they don’t go quite so far as Common Core, which requires 5-year-olds to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding.” While there are early-childhood programs that have eliminated all play of any kind, I taught in a program that guarded the hour of play on the state-approved schedule and allowed a half-hour of recess. Out on the playground, I could see Josue’s shoulders relax and his eye contact resume.
No wonder early-childhood educators so often burn out. It’s not from working with energetic little kids. It’s that internal lurch between feeling like American education heroes and feeling that we’ve met the enemy, and it is us. Often both before lunch.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” With his first line, CS Lewis’s A Grief Observed reacquaints his reader with the physiology of mourning; he brings into each mouth the common taste of private and personal loss. “I know something of this,” you think. Even if you have not experienced a “front line” bereavement, such as the loss of partner, parent or child, you have certainly lost something you value: a marriage or a job, an internal organ or some aspect of mind or body that defines who you are.
Perhaps you have just lost yourself on your way through life, lost your chances or your reputation or your integrity, or chosen to lose bad memories by pushing them into a personal and portable tomb. Perhaps you have merely wasted time, and seethe with frustration because you can’t recall it. The pattern of all losses mirrors the pattern of the gravest losses. Disbelief is followed by numbness, numbness by distraction, despair, exhaustion. Your former life still seems to exist, but you can’t get back to it; there is a glimpse in dreams of those peacock lawns and fountains, but you’re fenced out, and each morning you wake up to the loss over again.
Grief is like fear in the way it gnaws the gut. Your mind is on a short tether, turning round and round. You fear to focus on your grief but cannot concentrate on anything else. You look with incredulity at those going about their ordinary lives. There is a gulf between you and them, as if you had been stranded on an island for lepers; indeed, Lewis wonders whether a grieving person should be put in isolation like a leper, to avoid the awkwardness of encounters with the unbereaved, who don’t know what to say and,
though they feel goodwill, exhibit something like shame.
“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road”- Stewart Brand