All Posts By Michael Kahn

More Thoughts on the Brave New World of X-Rated Trademarks

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Yes, you are looking at the one-word trademark whose registration dispute eventually reached the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office had refused to register the FUCT trademark for apparel. The ground for refusal? Section 2(a) of the Lanham Act, which prohibited the registration of trademarks that were immoral or scandalous. Erik Brunetti, the applicant, refused to give up, and the matter eventually reached the Supreme Court, where the issue was whether that immoral/scandalous prohibition violated the First Amendment.  I eventually wrote a blog post for my law firm on that crazy case, which the Supreme Court resolved in the summer of 2019.

Well, I confess I hadn’t thought about that case or that trademark for more than two years until I found myself at a traffic light, idling behind a Honda Civic displaying an X-rated bumper sticker. And thus the catalyst for another blog post for my law firm, which you can read here.

In this new world of Trigger Warnings, however, I warn you that there are some words–indeed, some trademarks–mentioned in this post that you can’t say on the radio. Enjoy.

The Bumper Sticker

Literary Foreplay: How the Pros Get You in the Mood!

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While out in Phoenix last week I had the pleasure of spending a delightful afternoon with two of my book publishing heroes: Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, the founders of Poison Pen Press.  While sipping Rob’s amazing limoncello, which he creates with fruit from the lemon tree in their backyard, our conversation drifted, as you might expect, toward books. And in particular, the import role played by the opening paragraph–a topic I had discussed here a few years ago in the context of short stories. For a novel, that opening paragraph is the literary version of foreplay in which the author–and the publisher–hope to get their potential reader in the mood.

Rob read to me his favorite opening paragraph of all time, which he first saw in the manuscript for a thriller. He was so blown away by that paragraph that he was able to convince the author James Sallis to allow Poison Pen Press to publish that novel, Drive. That opening paragraph reads as follows:

Much later, as he sat with his back against an inside wall of a Motel 6 just north of Phoenix, watching the pool of blood lap toward him, Driver would wonder whether he had made a terrible mistake. Later still, of course, there’d be no doubt. But for now Driver is, as they say, in the moment. And the moment includes this blood lapping toward him, the pressure of dawn’s late light at windows and door, traffic sounds from the interstate nearby, the sound of someone weeping in the next room.

I was hooked! I read the novel as soon as I got back home–and it was terrific.

But it got me thinking about some other favorite opening paragraphs from novels I love. In each case, the opening sentence–like a great opening line in a singles bar–catches your attention. But what follows in the rest of that first paragraph is just as important if you, as the author, hope your reader wants to take you home. Here are just a few:

  1.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain: You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly – Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is – and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.
  2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson: We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”
  3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
  4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler: It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

My list goes on. But I wanted to end this with two truly unique opening paragraphs–one that tends to get lost in the shuffle because of the fame of its opening line and the other that has spawned an entire cottage industry of celebrators and dissectors.

The first is Moby Dick, which probably has the most famous opening line of all American literature. But that opening line only gets you to the second sentence–and as the Mark Twain example above demonstrates, that second sentence better not drop the proverbial ball. What’s remarkable about the lines that follow “Call me Ishmael” is how they lure you into the story:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

And the second is the opening paragraph of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, which has, as noted above, generated a cottage industry of analyzers and celebrators. Here is a link to just one of them. Do a Google search for “a farewell to arms opening paragraph” and prepare to descend into a rabbit hole of commentary. But first, here is that opener:

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves.

Okay, readers. Any other openers you’d like to share?

Winnie-the-Pooh and Hemingway, too! Happy Public Domain Day

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The past few New Year’s Days, and every January 1st going forward, herald a special event in the realm of copyright for an ever-growing collection of works of creative arts that fall into the public on that first day of the year.

This January 1st marks that special day for one of our favorite literary characters, Winnie-the-Pooh, who famously said to one of his friends, “It isn’t much good having anything exciting if you can’t share it with somebody.”

Well, guess what, Winnie? A.A. Milne’s beloved tale of you and your pals entered the public domain on January 1, 2022, and can now be shared and re-published for free. And not just Winnie-the-Pooh. The life of a copyright–including all the exclusive rights and restrictions encompassed by that copyright–is 95 years. Accordingly, the copyrights in a whole slew of beloved books, movies, songs turned 96 on January 1, 2022–and thus entered the public domain. In addition to Winnie-the-Pooh, the public domain now includes Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Dorothy Parker’s Enough Rope, Langston Hughes’ The Weary Blues, and on and on and on.

What this means for all of us is a topic I explore in this post I wrote for my law firm. And, as you will see in that post, there is an important cautionary lesson lurking within the realm of public domain, as best exemplified by the action figure below from the McFarlane Toys’ “Twisted Land of Oz” collection.

 

The Tin Woodman

Trademarks, Pelotons, and Heart Attacks: The Sex in the City Trifecta

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During my years as an intellectual property lawyer, I have gathered a collection of NSFW cases in a folder labeled You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.

As discussed in my latest “lawyer” post (linked below), those cases include:

  1. A copyright dispute between the makers of two competing farting dolls–yes, dolls that fart;
  2. A lollipop company that sought to register the trademark for a sucker it hoped to sell to fans of the South Carolina Game Cocks (yes, you can probably guess the trademark for that sucker): and
  3. Groucho Marx’s brilliant response to a demand letter from Warner Bros., owner of the rights in the movie Casablanca, over the Marx Brothers’ film A Night in Casablanca.

Ah, but the recent Peloton brouhaha over what can best be described as the Product Placement from Hell deserves pride of place in my folder.

Hope you enjoy! Here is the link.

Why Is the Wisest Advice in the World so Hard to Follow?

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Many years ago I came across some words of wisdom from Mark Twain that have both inspired and haunted me ever since:

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Mark Twain

Ironically, those words were similar to advice my late father gave me: “Son,” he said, “make your errors in this life ones of commission and not omission. There are far worse things in this life than fucking up. You can always start over again. But if you fail to take that leap, it will haunt you forever.”

Or, to quote that wise 20th Century philosopher :

When you come to a fork in the road, take it

Yogi Berra

And yet we all realize (a) the deep wisdom of that advice, and (b) the difficulty of following it. Think of it as the lifetime equivalent of the first time you stood at the end of the high diving board staring down at the water below–or maybe at the edge of a cliff a good twenty feet above the lake. Should I jump?, you ask yourself. C’mon, just jump, you wuss. You can do. Just do it already!

Well, we’ve all been there. Over and over. At so many decision points in our lives–big ones, such as a new career opportunity, and little ones, such as what to order at a restaurant. And, as we look back on those decision points, we realize how often we decided not to jump, decided to back away from that cliff. Inertia is a powerful force in all of our lives. But then think of the times you did take that leap. Take a moment to gather some of your fondest memories–big and small–and how many of those would not exist today if you hadn’t taken that leap. Perhaps those memoires include a rock concert you decided to attend at the last minute, a hike you took in a national or state park, an oddball class you enrolled in during college and loved, a trip to someplace you’d never been, a yoga class, a guitar lesson, or any of dozens and dozens of other memories you are so grateful to have.

But then there are the bigger (and scarier) opportunities–your career, your relationships, your move to a new town or even a new country. The leaps you took, and the ones you didn’t take.

In a class I taught for years at the Washington University School of Law, I encouraged my students not to focus too narrowly on what they believed was the optimal career path, which many viewed as a clearly marked, well trod stairway up to that treasured tier known as “success” in a law firm or business. “Look at the careers of some of the most admirable people you know,” I would tell them. “I guarantee that none of them got to their present position following a straight line. Each of their life paths is a dizzying set of crisscrosses, screw-ups, back steps, and re-directs.”

Whether your personal hero is Barack Obama or Jeff Bezos or Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Ernest Hemingway or Lin-Manuel Miranda or Phil Knight or Oprah Winfrey or some other woman or man you admire (and even envy), take a moment to track their career paths and you will see the wisdom and the deep challenge captured in that timeless Robert Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken”:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
 
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
 
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
 
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Jay Gatsby and Notorious B.I.G.: A Match Made in Baseball Heaven

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Ah, baseball season has arrived! And with it, the joy of the walk-up song. For the true baseball fans among us, name a favorite player and you can name his walk-up song. Same for your team’s closer (whose walk-up song is known as the “entrance song”). Including even those greats who’ve retired. What Yankees fan, when hearing Metallica’s “Enter the Sandman,” doesn’t sigh at the memory of Mariano Rivera coming in from the bullpen for yet another save?

(For the uninitiated, a walk-up song is that heavy metal, hip hop, or country tune that blares throughout the stadium as the player walks from the on-deck circle to the batter’s box–or, for the closer, as he jogs in from the bullpen to the mound.)

Being not only a baseball fan but a mystery author and a former English major, I’ve twice before welcomed the baseball season with a post challenging readers to come up with walk-up songs for some of their favorite literary characters.

For example, imagine Jay Gatsby, wearing that baggy Yankees uniform from the 1920s, stepping off the on-deck circle and heading toward home plate, elegantly swinging his bat. What would be the perfect walk-up song for the cheering crowd? My choice: “Mo Money Mo Problems” by Notorious B.I.G.

From some great characters in literature, the perfect walk-up song is obvious. Take Satan from John Milton’s Paradise Lost? Easy: “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones. Shakespeare’s Iago? “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogrood. Dr. Pangloss from Candide? I’d opt for Louis Armstrong’s version of “What a Wonderful World.” And Marlow from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness? Talk about low hanging fruit. No question: Gun N’ Roses’s “Welcome to the Jungle.” (I originally stupidly credited the song to AC/DC, but my daughter Hanna caught the error and I corrected it. Thanks, Hanna!)

Mystery fans? Harry Bosch would opt for the Indigo Swing’s jazzy version of “Another Day in L.A.” As for Philip Marlowe? ZZ Top’s “Sharp-Dressed Man.” Why that particular song? Read the first paragraph of The Big Sleep, one of my favorite opening paragraphs by one of my favorite writers:

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning mid October with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything a well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.”

The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler

“Sharp-Dressed Man,” right? Of course.

Okay. Your turn to come up with some walk-up possibilities.

Are you a classic literature fan? What’s the appropriate walk-up song for Captain Ahab? For Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy? For Shakespeare’s Falstaff? Or Hamlet? Or Huck Finn? Anna Karenina? Holden Caulfield? Or whatever character you love.

Mystery fan? Sherlock, of course. But perhaps Dr. Watson. Mickey Spillane? Kinsey Millhone? Sam Spade?

Romance fans? Sci-Fi fans?

Then join in! We need some more walk-up songs for our favorite fictional characters.

Fathers and Sons and the Iliad: An Apology to Homer

I confess to a failure to appreciate certain works of literature that bask in universal acclaim. One example triggered my apology to Tolstoy for failing to love Anna Karenina–a novel on every list of the greatest works of world literature. And for years I felt a similar bafflement over my lukewarm reaction to Homer’s The Iliad.

I had started that classic excited to finally read the original version of the Trojan Horse episode, that brilliant strategy that ended the 10-year war between the Achaeans and the Trojans. Instead, as I soon discovered, the plot of the Iliad covers just a few weeks in the ninth year of the war and focuses mainly on a ridiculous quarrel between the great warrior Achilles and Agamemnon, who has become leader of all the assembled Greek forces besieging Troy. Agamemnon, in his bloated sense of self entitlement, decides that he hasn’t had enough of the spoils from this war. Specifically, he’s had his eye on a ravishing slave girl given to Achilles. So he takes her for himself. Achilles, now pouting over the loss of his concubine, refuses to fight in the war. Worse, the gods interfere in the outcome of every single battle in the book, each time depending upon the whims of that particular god. And even worse, the Iliad ends before the Trojan Horse scene. Sort of like watching Oceans 11 or The Sting but having the film end before the big climax. It reminded me of my surprised disappointment at the end of David McCullough’s engrossing 1776, when I realized that the Revolutionary War would be continuing beyond the year 1776, and thus beyond the end of the book.

So why have I returned to The Iliad with new appreciation? Because of Hector and his father. Let me explain:

Hector is the great warrior of Troy. He is the son of Priam, who is the king of Troy, and he is the brother of Paris, the handsome bozo who caused the war by seducing Helen, the beautiful wife of Agamemnon’s creepy brother Menelaus, and convincing her to return with him to Troy. Yes, the cause of all the death and devastation suffered in that ten-year war is an angry cuckold seeking revenge.

To me, the two most compassionate scenes in the Iliad are (1) when Hector says goodbye to his wife and baby son before heading off to his battle with the fearsome giant Ajax, and (2) when Priam, at mortal risk, comes alone at night to the tent of Achilles to beg for the corpse of his son Hector that Achilles has killed.

You will not be surprised that I am hardly the first to be moved by these two scenes, both of which have inspired numerous paintings, sculptures, and other works of art.

Priam Begs Achilles for Hector’s Body (Alexander Ivanov)

In that nighttime scene in Achilles’ tent–which occurs in the final book of the Iliad–Priam tearfully begs Achilles to let him take his son Hector’s body back to Troy for a proper funeral. In making his plea, Priam asks Achilles to think of his own father, Peleus, and the deep love between them:

Revere the Gods, Achilles! Pity me in my own right, remember your own father! I deserve more pity. I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before–I put to my lips the hands of the man who killed my son.

The Iliad, Book 24 (Transl. by Robert Fagles 1990)

Both men weep–Priam for his dead son, Achilles for his own father. Achilles agrees to give Hector’s corpse to Priam, who brings the body back to Troy for the huge funeral pyre that is the final scene in the poem, which ends with these words: “And so the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses.”

But, at least for me, the other scene–the one just before the battle between Hector and and the fearsome Ajax–is even more heart wrenching. Hector has returned to Troy to lead the battle against the Greeks on the plains outside the walls of Troy. We readers know already that he is destined to die in his later battle with Achilles. Hector dons his armor and heads toward the Scaean Gates, the grand entrance to the city where many confrontations have already occurred. But as he reaches those gates, his wife Andromache comes running to meet him, followed by a nurse carrying his infant son Astynax.

The Farewell of Hector to Andromache and Astyznax (Knarl Friedrich Deckler)

Hector turns toward them. “The great man of war,” the poem reads, “breaking into a broad smile, his gaze fixed on his son, in silence.” Andromache, weeping now, pressing against her husband, holding his hand, pleads:

Reckless one, my Hector–your own fiery courage will destroy you! Have you no pity for him, our helpless son? Or me, and the destiny that weighs me down, your widow, now so soon?

The Illiad, Book 6 (Transl. by Robert Fagles 1990)

When she finishes her plea, Hector nods:

All this weighs on my mind too, dear woman. But I would die of shame to face the men of Troy and the Trojan women trailing their long robes if I would shrink from battle now, a coward.

And when he finishes his long speech to his wife, the poem says that “shining Hector reached down for his son–but the boy recoiled, cringing against his nurse’s full breast,” screaming in fear at the site of his father dressed for battle, “terrified by the flashing bronze, the horsehair crest, the great ridge of the helmet nodding, bristling terror.”

Hector’s farewell to Andromache and Astyanax (C.W. Eckersberg)

And then comes that tender scene that makes me–and perhaps other fathers–teary eyed: “And his loving father laughed, his mother laughed as well, and glorious Hector, quickly lifting the helmet from his head, set it down on the ground, fiery in the sunlight, and raising his son he kissed him, tossed him in his arms, lifting a prayer to Zeus and the other deathless gods”

He asks the gods to grant his son strength and bravery and glory among the Trojans . . .

. . . and one day let them say, He is a better man than his father!

I look at my three sons, all grown men now, and Hector’s final words resonate with me. One day let those who know us say of my three sons, “They are better men then their father.”

Tonto, Aunt Jemima, and the Challenge of Oblivious Bias

Surrounded by dozens of hostile Indians on horseback waving rifles and tomahawks, the Lone Ranger turns to his faithful companion. “What are we going to do, Tonto?”

“What do you mean ‘we,’ Kemo Sabe?”

Earlier this year I gave a Strafford webinar presentation entitled “Rebranding Trademarks: Challenges of Walking Away and Choosing a New Mark.” The focus was how the Black Lives Matter movement had forced many companies to finally realize that one their most profitable trademarks was offensive to a certain portion of their customers. The result? Lucrative trademarks–such as the iconic Aunt Jemima and Eskimo Pie–became toxic. Indeed, the Washington Redskins, which had spent millions of dollars in legal fees defending its brand, played the 2020 season as simply the Washington Football Team.

But as I dug into the issues for that presentation, I realized that recognition of the harm caused by culturally offensive trademarks had preceded the Black Lives Matter movement—in some cases by decades. My personal experience was perhaps the best proof. I played on my high school football team. Back then, we were the U City Indians—and none of us back then perceived anything offensive about that name. And keep in mind that more than once, when we got off the bus for our games at rival high schools, we were met with derisive chants of “Jew City, Jew City.” In other words, if anyone should have been aware of an offensive term, it should have been my teammates. More precisely, it should have been me. Nevertheless, by the turn of the century the Indians had become the Lions.

When I attended Amherst College, our sports teams were the Lord Jeffs, named for Lord Jeffrey Amherst, who gained distinction during the French-Indian Wars of the 1700s by selling smallpox-infected blankets to the Indians. The chinaware in the school dining hall best captures the oblivious bias of that era, with dishes depicting our esteemed Lord Jeff on horseback chasing Indians around the outside of the plate. (You can’t make this stuff up.) Were any of us outraged? Nope. We were suffering from oblivious bias.

Early in the 21st Century the Amherst sports teams became the Mammoths—perhaps an overly aspirational mascot for a Division 3 school of 2,000 students, but certainly an improvement over the Indian infector of yore.

But two recent incidents remind me—and perhaps you—that we shouldn’t be too quick to congratulate ourselves for the cancellation of that handful of culturally offensive trademarks.

The first example was triggered when I overheard a screed about how “offensive” and “unAmerican” it was that the introductory recording for all of those call centers—government entities and otherwise—begins by giving you the option of proceeding in English (by pressing 1) or Spanish (by pressing 2).

“This is America,” he shouted. “The Pilgrims spoke English, not Spanish!”

I shook my head in sad amazement at his ignorance. The rich history of our Spanish heritage is on full display throughout our western states, including, of course, the names of four of them–Colorado, Arizona, California, and New Mexico–and all of the major cities in California, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Barbara. And then there is Florida, named by Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513 in tribute to Spain’s Easter celebration known as “Pascua Florida,” or Feast of Flowers. Don’t forget Texas, where one can take a boat ride on the Rio Grande (in English, Big River) right through the town of El Paso (in English, The Passage). Yes, our founding fathers (and mothers) included plenty of Spaniards. And plenty of French, the obvious evidence of which remains in the names of all of those cities within the territory acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase, including St. Louis, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans–all three of which still celebrate the holiday of Mardi Gras (translation: Fat Tuesday).

Jeep Cherokee

And as for the Indians, my elementary school lessons pretty much ended with that largely fictitious first Thanksgiving feast in 1621. Still, I had thought that after 2020—and the final demise of the Redskins brand—we had ended the culturally offensive use of Native American names. But just this past month I learned that the Chief of the Cherokee Nation has asked Jeep to stop using the name of his Native American tribe as the brand of one of its vehicles. As reported in the New York Times, the Chief explained that the name belonged to the Cherokee people, and that Jeep’s appropriation of it without permission was troubling: “The use of Cherokee names and imagery for peddling products doesn’t deepen the country’s understanding of what it means to be Cherokee,” he explained, “and I think it diminishes it somewhat.”

The point here is NOT to criticize Jeep, and certainly not to criticize you. No, the point here is to ask you (as I have asked myself) the following question: before you read this (or saw that news report) had you ever connected the Jeep brand with that Native American tribe? When you saw a TV commercial for the Jeep Cherokee or found yourself idling next to one at a red light, did you make that connection? I confess that I never did. Ever.

And regardless of whether you find that Jeep brand offensive, what does that failure to make that connection say about us? Why are we still so oblivious?

If you’d like to discuss this further, perhaps you could join me during my ski vacation at the Squaw Valley Resort. I’ll be driving out there in my Pontiac, and on the way we can turn the radio to the Blackhawks hockey game.

Remarkable Graveyards and Sad Words of Wisdom

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As our days in St. Louis grow shorter–we move to Chicago in November–Margi and I took a hike through the remarkable Bellefontaine Cemetery, rightfully named a Best Hidden Gem by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In addition to serving as the final resting place for many historical figures, such as William Clark of Lewis & Clark renown, this burial ground features row upon row of grandiose mausoleums with the names of their “inhabitants” etched on the marble or granite lintels above the doorways. For example, the mausoleum above is for someone–or some family–named Tate.

Adolphus Busch Mausoleum

So, too, the earthly remains of Adolphus Busch, the co-founder of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery, has what could hardly be described as a modest burial structure.

And those were just two of dozens and dozens of mausoleums that we strolled past on our hike.

As we passed one row after another, I was reminded of the sad but wise meditation of Marcus Aurelius on this very subject. Nearly 2,000 years ago, he wrote:

People who are excited by posthumous fame forget that the people who remember them will soon die too. And those after them in turn. Until their memory, passed from one to another like a candle flame, gutters and goes out.

At Bellefontaine Cemeery
On our walk through Bellefontaine Cemetery

From Covfefe to Aunt Jemima R.I.P.–Trademarks in the Era of Black Lives Matter

In my day job as an intellectual property lawyer I’ve been blogging occasionally about the strange new world of trademarks that began three years ago with the explosion of trademark registration applications for the 7-letter typo in one of Donald Trump’s late-night Tweet complaints about what he claimed was “fake news.”

Following that trademark silliness was this year’s explosion of registration applications for variations on the term COVID-19. Those applications now number more than 350 and even include one referring back to the Trump typo: COVID-19 TAKES DOWN COVFEFE (Serial No. 88849328).

But in recent days that trademark narrative has undergone a profound change. Specifically, many profitable but controversial brands–from the Washington Redskins (dating back eight decades) to Aunt Jemima (introduced in the 19th Century)–have been undergoing an overdue but inspiring evolution, largely in response to the social protests and cultural reckoning inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. This has been the commercial trademark equivalent of the removal of statues of Confederate generals and other formerly iconic historic figures.

You can find my blog post, along with links to the earlier ones, here.