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07:34 PM by Eric: My Civic Duty Politics

I voted early today; stood in line for half an hour at a Home Depot surrounded by tawdry plastic Christmas decorations, but then what could possibly be more American than that? :)

It's funny, two years ago I felt much more political than I do now. Partially I think it might be fatigue, or media overload; I'm just tired of the whole farce, get it over with and move on to November 3 so we can all get on with the massive legal suits over an election that didn't turn out the way somebody wanted move on to whatever's next. Partially it's the not-entirely-faint feeling of disgusted uselessness the whole thing has this time around. I honestly don't like any of the candidates, on top of which I live in one of the states least likely to be considered any kind of an "undecided" state.

But mostly it's the feeling of exhaustion one gets when looking at the ballot. It's a strange combination of too many spots and not enough candidates--too many spots in that there's no way 90% of people (and I am included in that number) can make any kind of educated decision on the merits. Most people, I suspect, end up voting party lines or just randomly selecting on whatever criteria (voting for women, voting on names, trying to pick some "balance" of D vs R, whatever), which makes the whole human element fairly meaningless. Too few candidates in the sense that a third or more of the spots have a single candidate. Sure, you could write someone in (could you?), but what would be the point of that?

Eh, I went and made my choices, so here's hoping they make some kind of a difference, anyway.

09:44 AM by Eric: Why I refuse to purchase from Amazon.com Culture | Politics | Tech

I haven't bought anything from amazon.com in a long time. I don't expect I ever will. I refuse to support an organization which continues to exploit the USPTO in obviously idiotic ways. Today I saw a news report entitled Has Jeff Bezos Patented E-Mail Discussion Groups?:

First he received a patent for 1-Click e-commerce. Now he has one for e-mail discussion groups. Last Tuesday, February, 25, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a new patent to Jeff Bezos, the CEO of online retailer Amazon.com, granting him exclusive rights to "a method and system for conducting an electronic discussion relating to a topic. As was the case when he and three other Amazon executives patented the company's 1-Click ordering system, Bezos has gained control of a technology that may not seem particularly innovative to the everyday Internet user.

Or anyone else, for crying out loud.

11:40 AM by Eric: Supreme Court: No Free Mickey Politics

So the Supreme Court has ruled on the Eldred case. Unfortunately for pretty much everyone, they ruled that the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act stands.

Their arguments seem fairly weak, personally. They make entirely too much of the necessity of bringing our copyright terms in line with Europe's. I don't see why Europe's views on copyrights should trump the intent of the Framers, myself. Both dissenting Justices wrote opinions; of the two, I think Breyer's is the more compelling.

Hopefully this ruling will help to stir up the war over copyright; even the Supreme Court can change its mind.

Lessig has three posts on the subject: start here and scroll down.

11:05 AM by Eric: Fighting the war in Iran Politics

OxBlog has an interesting post about the administration's ongoing reaction to the current unrest in Iran. Apparently they're using subversive programming (over the Voice of America channels) which doesn't directly confront the regime; instead, it shows the Iranian watchers how life is different (and hopefully, more attractive) in a free country (specifically the U.S.) than it is under a theocratic regime. They don't seem to have many viewers yet (no official numbers), but that seems to be an issue of reception rather than desire (the NYTimes article referenced quotes an Iranian fellow who says they listen to the channel over the radio since they can't get it on TV). Money quotes:

The show carefully avoids direct criticism of Iran's Islamic regime; its style is subtly subversive.

A recent entertainment segment, for instance, profiled the Cuban jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who did not have a word to say about Iran or Iranians but talked movingly about fleeing a repressive regime for political and artistic freedom. The interview with Jay Leno focused on using comedy to criticize politics.

Another segment showed Iranian students at the University of Maryland enjoying Mehregan, a traditional Persian fall festival, without mentioning directly what viewers in Iran already know: that this secular holiday's celebration is discouraged by the country's religious leaders.

A regular feature called "A Day in the Life" uses a reality television approach to showcase ordinary Iranian 20-somethings living in the United States. As the jumpy camera followed Anahita Sami, a 20-year-old student, and her friends around the campus of George Washington University, she chatted about dorm life, exams, being away from home for the first time, nothing particularly exciting. But the point is made: Yeah, she can wear those clothes, say those things and do that stuff.

This is a good thing, I think. In some countries, we may not have any choice but to use force (Afghanistan and, IMO, Iraq)—some countries have such a tight grip on their populace and/or are so dangerous that time is too short. But in many other countries, like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, etc, I think this is a great tactic.

05:31 PM by Eric: Copyright and the First Amendment Culture | Politics | Theatre

Evidently the Yale Law Journal has begun putting some of their articles online. They have a really good article up entitled The Freedom of Imagination: Copyright's Constitutionality, about whether or not copyright (being, as it is, a major restraint on the exercise of free speech) is constitutional. The author decides copyright proper (that is, the parts that deal with unauthorized reproduction and distribution) are constitutional, but that the parts prohibiting derivative works may not be. To support the idea he puts forth a new logical basis for the First Amendment, which is that it is intended to protect the free exercise of imagination. His reasons for the basis are very interesting and, I think, quite persuasive. In fact, this seems like the best suggestion for balancing copyright with artistic interplay I've read yet.

10:55 AM by Eric: Software copyrights == patents Politics

I've been reading Lawrence Lessig's weblog for a few days now, and I'm really interested by his proposal to reform software copyrights. The original post is here: the coke classic. The salient graf is here:

So I say: give the inventor of code a relatively "opaque" monopoly for a truly limited time -- 5 or 7 year terms, renewable to 10 or 14 years if the inventor wants. But as part of that bargain, require that the inventor escrow the code, so that at the end of the monopoly, the public gets something useful contributed to the public domain.

There are various responses to this post; Lessig links them in a followup here. His major detractor, Ted Shelton, seems to be arguing that there's a substantive difference between patents and the proposed software copyright, in that while an expired patent merely provides all the information required to reproduce the object or process covered by the patent, the new style software copyright would provide the object or process itself. I don't think this is a substantive argument.

09:21 AM by Eric: Some more good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Politics | Tech

There's a couple of encouraging developments in the War on Fair Use. Two bills have been introduced to Congress (though they will almost certainly sit still until the next session) which would return significant Fair Use rights to consumers of digital media, mostly removed by the DMCA. The first is the Digital Choice and Freedom Act. The DCFA would explicitly provide consumers with the same Fair Use rights with digital media they enjoy with analog media (such as cassettes and VCR tapes), among them the right to make personal copies and compilations.

The second act in question is the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act. This act would counteract the portions of the DMCA which make circumventing copy-protection schemes illegal even for uses previously covered under Fair Use. Essentially the act would make it legal to bypass the copy protection on a DVD in order to make a backup copy or to extract clips from the film for use in a personal compilation. (Currently even attempting to bypass such protections is illegal.) This has very, very important consequences for digital research—there have been a number of important cases where legitimate academic researchers have had their research shut down (or chilled, which amounts to the same thing proactively) by the threat of prosecution. The bill also would extend some pretty strong protection to devices which merely are "capable of enabling significant non-infringing use of a copyrighted work", in stark contrast to the DMCA's inverse requirement.

As noted, the bad news is that neither of these bills will go anywhere until next session—and in fact, probably neither will be passed. The hope is that by introducing two such bills, Congress will be forced to address the issue somehow—preferably by repealing or significantly reworking the DMCA itself.

This provides a unique opportunity, since there is an election coming up, after all (nice timing by the bills' supporters). Send the candidates in your area letters or e-mails requesting that they clarify their stance on the two bills in question, and vote your conscience. It's time the consumers had a say in the Rape of Copyright.

Saw this via Ars Technica.

04:15 PM by Eric: Are we using the same dictionary? Politics

From today's UPI story entitled Blix: Iraq accepts all UN inspector rights:

"On the question of access, it was clarified that all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access," he said in his statement.

Which sounds like a good thing. It conjures up visions of a group of Marines standing watch over the guards of a suspected WMD lab while inspectors search it over the loud protests of a commandant. Au contrare, my naive friend:

"However, the Memorandum of Understanding of 1998 established special procedures for access to eight presidential sites."

Come again? Either "all sites are subject to immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access", or they're not. You can't have unrestricted access to "all sites" and yet have to jump through hoops to inspect some sites.

We're not talking about a couple of country cottage retreats, either; the presidential palaces comprise "hundreds of acres both within and outside of Baghdad." You can hide a hell of a lot of weaponry -- conventional or otherwise -- in hundreds of acres.

Blix is claiming this as a victory, which disappoints me. I had hoped he might actually prove to be up to his nominal job. Instead he's basically invited Iraq to pick up right where they left off in '98, playing hide and seek with the inspectors. Anytime the inspectors get too close to actually finding anything worthwhile, doubtless the trail will lead to a presidential palace, and by the time the "special requirements" have been satisfied, the game will have started all over.

03:17 PM by Eric: Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale Culture | Humor | Politics

Okay, Captain Euro Goes to Sunnydale is brilliant. Mac captures the voices of the characters absolutely perfectly (and incidentally, the political commentary is pretty decent too):

XANDER: So this is what you do, huh? You roll into town in your tights and insult people with your nose-up-in-the-air attitude? I need any insulting done, I can get it at home, I don't need your contribution.

SPIKE: And I'll insult him.

XANDER: Right, Spike can insult me. Lord knows, that's the only way he ever gets to hurt anyone anymore.

SPIKE: Mate, don't push your luck.

XANDER: Or what, you'll have a headache at me? Bring it on, blondie.


12:40 PM by Eric: Moral bankruptcy in higher education -- and the lack thereof Politics

Every once in a while someone in a position of authority will stand up and say something that needs saying, and say it openly (none of this "a source at…" crap). The sad thing about this is that it's rare enough to be noteworthy.

Harvard President Lawrence Summers stood up and said some things that needed saying about anti-Semitism in the Western world, and I respect him for that. Often University presidents, like other heads of state, refrain from saying the things that need saying because of other concerns (political or not). His adamant denial that Harvard would divest itself of Israeli monetary concerns was worthy of applause, however shameful the need for it.

Someone else from Harvard has added their own voice to the mix, again in an open manner which invites debate and confrontation. Alan Dershowitz has written an opinion piece challenging Paul Hanson, a House Master at Harvard who signed the divestment petition. Dershowitz makes several important points regarding Israel's history of democracy and respect for human rights, among them praise for Israel's independent judiciary, its protections for freedom of speech, its refusal to use torture to extract information from suspects, and its multiple offers of statehood for the areas it has conquered. In a final masterstroke, he challenges Hanson to an open debate on the topic—a challenge Hanson has refused once already, citing "more important priorities". (Though what priorities could be more pressing to a Harvard professor than openly defending their ideological stance, a stance many people find objectionable and would doubtless like clarified, is hard to imagine. or perhaps not, given how defensible Hanson's stance is…)

When one side of an argument issues public invitations to openly debate the positions and the merits, and the other side has better things to do, I think it reflects rather important clues as to which side is both more intellectually honest, and more morally correct. Of course, Dershowitz says it better:

A House master who peremptorily signs a petition and then hides behind "other priorities" does not serve the interests of dialogue and education. I hope that Hanson will accept my challenge, and that if he does not, that I will be invited by his students to help fill the educational gap left by the cowardice of those who have signed this petition and refuse to defend their actions in public debate.

01:10 PM by Eric: The UN Reorganizes…again. Politics

How you can tell when a government has jumped the shark: they start issuing "five year plans", each of which have "similar goals" — thus indicating no real progress from one to the next.

With 15,484 meetings held and 5,879 reports issued — each in six languages — during the latest two-year budget cycle, UN officials say their workload has become so heavy that it has left them little time to carry out their required tasks, let alone reflect on what their organization is doing and how well it is performing.

Of course, the report says nothing about addressing the inherent contradictions and blindnesses present in many of their programs. On the contrary:

11:59 PM by Eric: Complicated Culture | Personal | Philosophy | Politics

The world is a complicated place. It was a complicated place on 9/10/2001, and it's an equally complicated place today. I have no doubt that it will still be a complicated place on 9/11/2003 as well. 9/11 didn't simplify things, nor complicate them; on a macro scale, I don't even think it actually changed much.

This post was actually written on 9/12, but I have backdated it to the night before so that it will show up if anyone goes looking for that date on my blog.

09:15 AM by Eric: Anarcho-fascist nutjobs Politics

Ref: USS Clueless: The Fringe of the Fringe

Den Beste says:

Of all the odd statements in here, easily the most strange one is this:

The authority of the state derives from its goals.

That goes totally contrary to my political belief, which is that the authority of a state derives from a mandate granted by those who are part of it. This statement turns out to be the key to understanding Treanor's fundamental politics: he doesn't see states as being permanent entities, nor as being ones associated with physical locations.

Actually, surprisingly enough this didn't originate with Treanor. In fact, it was (or at least, is very similar to) one of the major influences in the French Revolution -- which was heavily informed by political philosophy of the early to mid 1700's, much like our own American Revolution. In that Revolution, the government was considered to receive its mandate from "the will of the people" -- but not in any way most Americans would interpret that phrase. The *goals* of the state served as pure justification for any action the French government -- whose every act, by definition, was the righteous execution of the "will of the people" -- might take, including terror, purges, executions, and torture. I believe that the state was also defined similarly to Treanor's ravings -- as the pure expression of a set of political goals, rather than any physical location or constituency. One can verify this by scanning the original French Constitution's language.

For more on the topic (and I know I've plugged this before) check out a book called Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light, which is a comparative history of the French and American revolutions and their ideological underpinnings (as well as a dissection of why the American Revolution was so much more successful, at least from a classical liberal point of view). Anyone who shares Den Beste's political beliefs (or who finds the anarcho-fascist viewpoint utterly incomprehensible) might find the book instructive.

One final note: it's not entirely bankrupt to consider a state a non-permanent, non-physically located entity. One can easily speak of states that no longer exist, or a state "in exile" (much as Taiwan has considered itself China "in exile"). Depending on one's sympathy for them, one might even consider the existence of a Palestinian "state", despite the fact that it has no borders and exists almost purely at Israel's sufferance. The definition of state is fairly nebulous; we can't demarcate by ideology (else the US itself would not be a state) nor by race/ethnicity (ditto). We could define a state as a population or area governed by a common system and instance of government, but that runs the risk of identifying the local union or Rotary Club a state, which doesn't seem right either. Also, one might consider the smallest state possible. Can one man be a state? What if he's a head of government (a King, perhaps) in exile? What if he's a billionaire who buys an old oil platform in international waters, raises a flag over it, and lives there alone? (I don't believe Treanor's "Europe" is a valid state, but it's difficult to articulate a precise definition of "state" that correlates with my "common sense" of whether something is a state or not.)

08:56 AM by Eric: More good news in the Copyright Wars Culture | Filesharing and DRM | Music | Politics | Tech

I stumbled across this interview with general counsel for Verizon about peer to peer, and found it somewhat reassuring. The RIAA/MPAA have pushed so hard for the laws and protections they want (in order to maintain their stranglehold on music and video respectively) that they've started to irritate the big boys of telecom.

04:33 PM by Eric: Democracy in the Arab World Politics

I've been reading a number of articles that discuss Bush's speech demanding that Palestinians vote for their own government. Most of these articles seem to assume (or argue) that this is based on a simplistic view of democracy, one that believes that any democratic nation will automatically choose a peace-loving, Western-friendly regime. Writers point to that speech in order to mock the simple-minded buffoon who believes that votes solve everything. I think that's a straw man, and a shallow perception of the possible consequences of such an action.

09:06 AM by Eric: Well, duh. Politics

I've seen this survey claiming 1 in 3 Europeans harbors anti-Semitic feeling pretty widely linked; but there's one point I haven't seen anyone make yet.

The story claims that 1 in 3 Europeans thinks Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country. I have to say that believing this is true is not really anti-Semitic so much as it's just plain logical. I mean, which country would you be more loyal to? The country which allows (even encourages, even at official levels) vicious hate speech against your kind, in which your places of worship are burned, in which a people who want your complete extermination are allowed to profess -- and even practice -- their views, or the country which exists to serve as sanctuary from all of that? I know which one I'd pick. Frankly, given certain events here (*cough*SFSU*cough*) I'm not even sure I'd blame an American Jew for being more loyal to Israel.

Oh, and along the lines of people I greatly respect, add these guys to the list. Geez, all the (Pakistani) guy wants to do is play tennis, make some money, and if he happens to change some attitudes along the way, great. So of course Pakistan is considering action against him.

09:03 AM by Eric: Scary judges and scary policemen Politics

This story should really need no explanation. Two quotes:

"I asked her when you became a police officer didn't you take an oath to protect and defend the constitutions of the United States and the state of Colorado. She said, 'I guess I did; I can't remember.'


[Judge Patterson claimed that] precedents of the Colorado Supreme Court and even the Constitution of Colorado are not applicable in Denver, because Denver is a home-rule city… [Assistant City Attorney Paul Puckett claimed that] "The Constitution has no force or effect in Denver, because this is a home rule city."

11:03 AM by Eric: Democracy only works in a homogeneous society? Politics

Stumbled across this post on Europe's hypocrisy re: immigrants. Some of the quotes were pretty shocking. This one, for instance:

Democracy can only function among people mutually tied by an agreed geography and identity that binds them together with their own laws and taxes?as for considering the whole world one great society, unless people are capable of being generous and inclusive within their own communities first, they are certainly not going to vote for large overseas aid budgets, debt relief and opening up trade to poor countries.

09:58 AM by Eric: The problem of Palestine Politics

Stephen Den Beste has some interesting posts on the only way(s) the Israeli/Palestinian conflict can really fall out, and on the political reasons for that. All of the possible end results are pretty bad, but then I think that's been obvious since roughly 1948 or so. I think he has some pretty cogent summaries of motivations and consequences.

In a related note, Instapundit has a link to a NYTimes article about Palestine becoming, in his words, a "psychotic death cult".

02:18 PM by Eric: Appeasement Politics

Why is Europe still so hung up on appeasement? How is it possible that they missed the lessons Hitler taught about appeasing an enemy? Does it have anything to do with their historic desire for consensus?

These questions brought to you by an interview with an Israeli woman I saw on Andrew Sullivan's page.

Looked at one way, I suppose it does make some sense that countries with large populations of vocal Muslims would rather try to appease the Palestinians -- at the relatively cheap cost (to them, of course) of Israeli lives than they would risk angering people already in their country. Looked at another way, what precisely would the French, for instance, do if the Palestinians did manage to get everything they wanted through terrorist tactics? Is that really a lesson they want to teach anyone? I think this is just a weakness of democracies, unfortunately -- elected politicians do better solving immediate problems (calming rioting subcultures) than they do avoiding long-term, nebulous future problems (what happens when terrorism is really validated as an effective "negotiation" strategy). Aside from just "wanting to do the best job they can" they really don't even have any incentive to try to avoid those future problems.

10:23 AM by Eric: The flip side of the war in Afghanistan, and other news bits. Politics

Stories like this should get more media attention than they do. I guess a bunch of Tennesseeans building a hospital in Afghanistan isn't quite as exciting as a special forces unit blowing up a cave -- or a barge ramming a bridge in OK.

In other news, Bush seems to be getting more comfortable with public speaking. I'm actually a little impressed with how he handled the reporter. According to Instapundit, the protests really are insignificant; while I don't doubt that many Europeans are anti-American, and that many of those fall into a particularly vocal percentage of the press, it's nice to know that very few of them really hate us.

Finally, this article about gun laws in England is rather interesting, in a scary sort of way. It's hard to imagine a society where they would seriously prosecute you for detaining two burglars using a toy gun. It seems unfair to put a man in jail for life because he shot a pair of burglars (killing one) when there was no police presence in his village.

09:24 AM by Eric: An indirect Hamas fundraiser speaking Politics

An indirect Hamas fundraiser speaking at Harvard's commencement? What on earth are they thinking? Saw it on Instapundit.

09:54 AM by Eric: Andrew Sullivan has written a Politics

Andrew Sullivan has written a really interesting article on the growing distance between the super rich and everyone else -- and the growing resentment on the part of everyone else. He has some intriguing thoughts and figures on possible solutions, too.

11:41 AM by Eric: This is, I think, the Politics

This is, I think, the first thing I have ever read that gives me any kind of hope for the Middle East. I have a lot of respect for these people.

02:58 PM by Eric: It's a sad, sad state Politics

It's a sad, sad state of affairs when the leaders of the Catholic religion are discussing whether or not they should ignore child molestation by their priests as long as it's not a "serial" offense. I mean, cause you know, just molesting two or three kids, that's no big deal, right? No harm no foul, you know?

Yahoo! news article

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