Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Thomas Babbington Macaulay on Copyright

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

These days, I don’t usually re-post links to things I read online, although I used to. This one, however, is worth the exception. This is the single finest exposition of copyright I have ever read (Lessig included, which is saying something, since I’m a huge Lessig fan). And it’s a speech delivered in 1841!

The easiest form of parochialism to fall into is to assume that we are smarter than the past generations, that our thinking is necessarily more sophisticated. This may be true in science and technology, but not necessarily so in wisdom.

Be forewarned: this speech is long, and far more intellectually challenging than most modern political speech. But the mind behind it is lively and incisive, and you may be surprised by how little the fundamental issues have changed, and how some of the disingenuous arguments put forth today echo those of the far past. Judge for yourself whether the politicians to day are wiser than those of a hundred and sixty years ago.


Macaulay on Copyright

A fable of YouTube

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a merry band of troubadors called the Richter Scales. They enjoyed making music and entertaining people, never trying to make any money at it.

One day they discovered a new country, YouTubeLand. They thought they might entertain some of the residents there. So they produced a video and sent it over, where some people enjoyed it.

Emboldened, they produced another. This one even more people enjoyed. But one person felt the video was rude to her, and started shouting that the Richters had broken the law. Without ever telling the Richters what she wanted, she used a hammer to banish the video from the land.

Confused, the Richters consulted wizards, and learned that even wizards disagreed on the laws of this new land. They felt bad that some people thought they were rude, though they were new to the land, and there were many other loutish people there already.

After much internal consultation, and encouragement from many native denizens, the Richters decided to venture forth into YouTubeLand again. They took out the objectionable parts, and replaced them with funnier ones. And they made up for their unintentional rudeness by giving credit in a new and clever way, which some in the land hailed as a new standard for virtue.

And everyone lived happily ever after. Well, most people, anyway.

Jimmy Carter has what we need!

Monday, January 14th, 2008

I love this article in The Onion, purportedly by Jimmy Carter, not because it’s so funny (although it is pretty funny), but because of how wickedly they send up everybody else in the 2008 race by pointing out how much better Jimmy Carter is on every dimension.

Reminded me a little bit of how rarely people change their opinions – most people seem to think Jimmy Carter was a terrible President. Here’s another example, from the Wall Street Journal a while ago (blogged about here):

Starting 30 years ago, [Julian] Simon (who died in 1998) told anyone who would listen — which wasn’t many people — that the faddish declinism of that era was bunk. He called the “Global 2000” report “globaloney.” Armed with an arsenal of factual missiles, he showed that life on Earth was getting better, and that the combination of free markets and human ingenuity was the recipe for solving environmental and economic problems. Mr. [Paul] Ehrlich, in response, said Simon proved that the one thing the world isn’t running out of “is lunatics.”

Mr. Ehrlich, whose every prediction turned out wrong, won a MacArthur Foundation “genius award”; Simon, who got the story right, never won so much as a McDonald’s hamburger. But now who looks like the lunatic? This latest survey of the planet is certainly sweet vindication of Simon and others, like Herman Kahn, who in the 1970s dared challenge the “settled science.” (Are you listening, global-warming alarmists?)

Using and misusing words for political gain

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I read this article in Wired Magazine about how scientists use the word “theory” when they really mean something they are 99% sure about. Clive suggests that we use “law” instead, as in “the law of evolution” instead of the “the theory of evolution”.

I have a similar suggestion for the word “marriage”. I suggest that marriage be redefined strictly as a religious term, and as such, should be removed from the legal lexicon. I think this would be a great way to resolve the gay marriage debate. Each religion can then choose to allow or disallow marriage between anyone they want. And any one of any sexual persuasion can choose to belong to whatever religion they want, and conform to their requirements.

But when it comes to state sponsored benefits, such as the ability to designate one other person to inherit your estate without paying taxes, or share your health benefits, there should be no relationship to a religious “marriage”, any more than there is a state benefit attached to baptism, confirmation, or other religious rites. Then the state benefits can be applied with no discrimination, and without angering the religious folks. Now, there will likely be some debate around child care statutes, and a we’ll also need a new word for divorce, but these seem like pretty small problems.

Clear definitions make a lot of things easier.

The world is getting better

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

I find it interesting that bad news sells newspapers, but good news is pretty much ignored. Sure there are the major triumphs of humanity, like landing on the moon, but mostly the news is of the “sky is falling” variety. There was column in the WSJ recently that described this perfectly:

Paul Ehrlich’s best-selling book “The Population Bomb” (1968) gave England a 50-50 chance of surviving into the 21st century. In 1980, Jimmy Carter released the “Global 2000 Report,” which declared that life on Earth was getting worse in every measurable way.

So imagine how shocked I was to learn, officially, that we’re not doomed after all. A new United Nations report called “State of the Future” concludes: “People around the world are becoming healthier, wealthier, better educated, more peaceful, more connected, and they are living longer.” …

The media’s collective yawn over “State of the Future” is typical of the reaction to just about any good news. When 2006 was declared the hottest year on record, there were thousands of news stories. But last month’s revised data, indicating that 1934 was actually warmer, barely warranted a paragraph-long correction in most papers.

Read the original article

Creationist Museum

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

I find this a particularly sober reminder that we who live in California (particularly the Bay Area) are very lucky. I can’t imagine living near something like this.

So what’s with all the dinosaurs? | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

The Civil Bible

Monday, November 27th, 2006

I ran across this completely by accident, but I was struck by the idea. The Christian Bible derives much of its power from the timeless ideas and morals that it describes. But a new bible, encompassing the thinking of the grand experiments of the last few hundred years, could potentially have the same power. Click through for the suggested “books” of the Civil Bible.

The Civil Bible, hosted by TnCrimLaw

Finding the Real Issues

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

I read a great quote in the latest issue of Scientific American:

As for healing a social rift, most of the debates that are commonly depicted as religion versus science are really not questions of science at all; they are disagreements among various systems of beliefs and morals. The policy fight over embryonic stem cells, for example, centers on when and how one segment of a pluralistic society should curtail the behaviors of those who hold different values. Our attention should focus not on the illusory fault line between science and religion but on a political system that too often fails to engage with the real issues.

Another related example of a “disagreement among various systems of beliefs and morals” is yesterday’s raiding of the New Remedies Cooperative, a medical marijuana center, by federal DEA agents. Prop 215 was passed in California 10 years ago, and is pretty good evidence that the majority of people in California approve of marijuana for medical use. Now, I understand the need for a federal government to ensure consistency of laws across a nation, but I think the Supreme Court has gone a little too far in this case. I also get the argument that drug use is not just about one individual choice, but a burden on society through increased crime and other societal costs – but once again, why not let the state authorities decide this?

Make no mistake. I do not use marijuana, and I will not allow my kids to use it. But the voters of California have made their wishes clearly known, and I think it is criminal for the federal government to spend our tax money to push a different belief system.

Keith Olbermann on five year 9/11 anniversary

Thursday, September 21st, 2006

Keith Olbermann eloquently and passionately blasts President Bush and politicians in general. Highly recommended.

YouTube – Olbermann on five year 9/11 anniversary

Airborne unmasked

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

David Cowan, of Bessemer VC, systematically and lucidly shows how misleading claims can still sucker a huge number of Americans into buying stupid products.

Who Has Time For This?: CREATED BY A SCHOOL TEACHER!!!!!