Recently in Politics Category
October 18, 2004
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.
March 11, 2003
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.
January 15, 2003
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.
December 9, 2002
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.
November 5, 2002
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.
October 22, 2002
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.
October 8, 2002
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.
October 1, 2002
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.
September 24, 2002
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.
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.