Archive for February, 2005

patents

Friday, February 25th, 2005

Patent proponents assert that ownership of ideas is a natural property right that cannot be subverted in an economically functional society. Copyright proponents assert that ownership of ideas is a natural property right that cannot be subverted in an economically functional society.

This is where software patents are a problem even between these two groups. Software patents trump the natural ownership rights (if any) that were conferred by copyright. That's fair?

This is secondary to the core issue of software patents – the claim being that causing a secondary market failure (a monopoly) is less harmful than the primary market failure of uncontrolled copying of the idea (no scarcity). I think the patent pushers have yet to prove their case on this one.

hmm

Friday, February 25th, 2005

I think there is a fundamental confusion about the role of government in many people's minds. The set of actions that government force should be used in response to is a vast subset of the set of all wrong actions. People seem to have this idea that the government exists to vicariously promote their set of morals, and all they have to do is convince enough fellow citizens of the validity of their morals in order to get favorable legislation passed.

This is _wrong_. The fundamental problem here is that people are mistaking their personal, subjective morality for the objective moral code that everyone must agree on for a free society. An objective moral code prohibits actions which bring measurable harm to another individual, and the punishment should be proportional to (and of greater magnitude than) the harm wrought.

Unfortunately, we have many laws which do not fit under that umbrella. One source of such laws is disagreement over where measurable harm begins. Another source is economic regulation – these laws are often necessary, but frequently legislate subjective morality under the guise of being primarily related to the economy. The biggest problem, however, is moral ambiguity. Moral crusaders/culture warriors seek to enact laws to promote their subjective morality, and use a posture of superiority or fear to convince others to at least not stand in their way.

However, even more difficult to detect than this is subjective morals that are held by a majority. It is very easy to fall into a pattern of group-think where the majority opinion becomes so accepted that it is regarded as truth, especially in a society where critical and objective thinking is often discouraged or even admonished. Confirmation bias is utilized as an excuse for not holding agreeable claims to a high standard of scrutiny.

It's similar to how Christians say “God wouldn't like that” or “Baby Jesus wouldn't do that” in reference to some non-harmful act. Actually, they are just judging you (using their subjective morality), and using their deity as a proxy so such a statement wouldn't seem as arbitrary and baseless as it actually is.

When subjective morals become codified into law, inevitably one of a few things occurs: a minority group is persecuted using that law as support, government is expanded further in order to enforce that law more effectively, or the law continues to be broken out of sight of the police, for example. Beyond that, the more subjective laws a society has, the greater probability of an individual breaking a law at any given moment; either because that individual didn't even consider that what he was doing could possibly be against the law, or because he feels the law is wrong and is defiant of it. Such laws open the door for selective law enforcement, since everyone is guilty of something – the police will just pick the most attractive targets to bring down. “Law and order”, a popular right-wing mantra, is actually undermined by excessively broad legislation, since people lose respect for the law when they break it doing something they do not regard as wrong.

Moral crusaders are spending lots of everyone's money to target groups of people they have demonized in one way or another, but of whom only a subset usually do anything that can be regarded as harm to another. They use the correlation between some action they dislike and a harmful action to justify outlawing the non-harmful action, or they even extend the definition of harm to extend to the individual harming himself through his own conscious choice. These laws undermine respect for the law, increase the power of government, increase the tax burden on the individual citizen who is paying for their enforcement, and ultimately undermine liberty by presuming to make people's personal moral choices for them.

Why does everything that is to be discouraged have to be a criminal act? Why not leave the job of determining the wrongful nature of acts that are not themselves harmful, and assessing the associated remedies, to civil courts where it belongs? Only acts of harm that are part of a direct causal chain with intent should be considered criminal acts. Furthermore, there must be evidence of harm. Where harm is claimed but cannot be determined objectively (i.e. psychological harm), there cannot be criminal prosecution.

In the name of being “tough on crime”, we have made some relatively very trivial acts into felonies, like drug possession or copyright infringement. Unfortunately, what many fail to consider is that many states have disenfranchisement laws for convicted felons. Is it really right to put someone in prison for an act that caused little or no harm, and then remove their right to vote against whatever politician was responsible? Mandatory minimum sentencing, three strikes laws, and asset forfeiture are all weapons of the culture warrior.

And this is assuming the states were able to be self-sufficient in their legal codes. I won't even get started on the federal government.

“Status quo” conservatives are simply people who have fallen for the slippery slope fallacy with respect to “social values”.

patents

Thursday, February 24th, 2005

If Microsoft and other BSA members insist that their software patent collections are for defensive purposes only, why are they leading the initiative for software patents to be introduced in Europe? Maybe instead of defending themselves against patent litigation, they mean they intend to defend themselves against competition.

A good idea.

Culture warriors

Saturday, February 19th, 2005

When will people understand that tolerance/approval/endurance of some action (by simply not electing to pay taxes to the government to pay for the force to stop it) is not equivalent to endorsement/encouragement/embracement of that action (by promoting it and idolizing those who engage in it)?

disagree

Tuesday, February 15th, 2005

From a friend's blog:

Psychotropic drugs are fundamentally destructive to a person who uses them, and anyone who does use them should be trying to figure out a way to get off of them.

That's a judgement call that might be valid for yourself, but don't pretend to know what's better for other individuals – it is harmful to your well-meaning premise (presumably that individuals should be ruled by self-determination instead of enslaved to external forces).

The body develops immunity to the beneficial effects of any drug, eventually requiring stronger and stronger doses, but never does so to the side effects.

This is a false, though oft-repeated, generalization. Every mind-altering substance is different in its effects, and only a few actually fit into that box that you've drawn out.

There are 3 components to substance addiction; reinforcement/habituation, withdrawal, and tolerance. Anything pleasurable is reinforcing: chocolate, sex, alcohol, etc. It becomes a habit when the person does not control their impulses to partake. Some drugs are extremely reinforcing to the point where natural rewards are irrelevant, and others not so much, complementing natural rewards instead of displacing them with drug cravings. Withdrawal is a combination of psychological and physical effects that occurs when a habitual user attempts to quit. You might be surprised to learn that alcohol withdrawal can actually kill the subject; no other substance withdrawal is as physically brutal. Opiates and tranquilizers also have very unpleasant withdrawal effects. Withdrawal causes continued administration of the substance to have a positive reinforcing effect proportional to the severity of withdrawal symptoms. The last criterion, tolerance, is a phenomenon that is most closely associated with opium derivatives. This is unfortunate, because coupled with the unpleasant effects of opiate withdrawal, it is responsible for the downward spiral that habitual opiate users tend towards. This effect is present with alcohol too. Most other substances that exhibit an effect similar to tolerance are actually simply saturated in the body – ingesting more has no effect until the body eliminates what is already inside. Since withdrawal symptoms for most substances are mild to non-existent, the user is inclined to moderate their usage or quit instead of OD-ing. The effects of tolerance in the absence of withdrawal thus have a negative reinforcing effect on continued administration of the substance; the user simply becomes bored or burned out.

So what's a beneficial effect? By definition, all recreational drugs produce pleasurable effects (such as psychedelic, painkilling, sedative, etc) to at least some users, or they would not be used. Does a beneficial effect imply a pleasurable effect in this context then? It is a false statement that the pleasurable effect of all drugs decreases over time (i.e., that all drugs foster tolerance). Each drug is unique in its effects and its addiction potential according to the habituation/withdrawal/tolerance characteristics of the substance. So maybe beneficial effect was meant in general, relative to the user's life. The user is responsible for evaluating his/her use and the associated consequences, just like with legal drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine. We aren't doing future adults any favors by propagating falsehoods and inaccurate generalizations. And we aren't doing ourselves any favors providing advice to friends that is based on false premises.

Even worse is basing public policy on false premises. Even worse than that is propping up unconstitutional actions of the federal government because drugs are felt to be some kind of special case. You would think a small-government advocate would get this, but Republicans are just way too hung up on the drug issue. As a result, they willfully contribute to the imbalance of power in this country and the imprisonment of peaceful individuals who refused to follow laws that are wrong.

Prohibition causes more harm than drugs cause. This is not the Great Society anymore where we can use public policy to meld individual desires to conform to some utopian vision. Drugs are real, people like them, and people sell and use them despite the law and despite the dangers of an unregulated black market. Only accepting that reality will bring us closer to ideal policy on the issue.

cheating in online games

Monday, February 14th, 2005

Two solutions:
1) Utilize TCPA chip in upcoming machines. This will only work if the user can manage the keyring, and e.g. it is not preset with RIAA/MPAA keys only.

2) Like on P2P networks, let users accumulate a trust rating based on how many people don't think they are cheating.

standards

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

So, Bill Gates claims Microsoft software is superior to open source offerings because it is more interoperable. That's a convenient attack, considering the following:
1) Microsoft has deliberately, through patents as well as a combination of secrecy and rapid changes, foiled efforts at open source software interoperating with its products.
2) Microsoft refuses to incorporate support for standards whose origin is in open source software (like OpenOffice document format), limiting their uptake.
So yes, Microsoft software is more interoperable with the existing install base, simply because it has taken steps to ensure a competitor cannot claim that title. Does that say anything about the quality of Microsoft software? No, but it does say something about the assumptions their business model is based on, as well as their attitude towards cooperation and open standards.

A security hole with a patch reflects badly on a vendor because the security hole existed in the first place.
A security hole without a patch reflects badly on a vendor because they are not supporting their software.
Both reflect badly on the vendor, and neither should be apologized for by platform advocates.

A remote push vulnerability is worse than a remote pull vulnerability is worse than a local vulnerability.

A politician who has noble intent but ill implementation is equal in merit to a politican who has ill intent and solid implementation.

rms

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

a reply from osnews against some anti-rms trolling:

When will people stop with these cheap shots? RMS is not concerned with open source, rather the four freedoms that he feels should be guaranteed to users of software. Many other licenses satisfy this definition and you will notice that there is no problem with them. The only thing “better” about the GPL from his perspective is that it is the strongest way to spread the four freedoms, as opposed to non-reciprocating licenses which can result in a user further down the distribution chain being denied those freedoms.