Archive for March, 2005

the pulpit

Thursday, March 31st, 2005

Society is not defined by what is right and wrong, and legislators would be best off leaving that question to the pulpit. When people form a society, they share a set of values which are used to define the rights which that society will protect for its citizens. The legislative concept of right and wrong should have its basis in these rights, not in the subjective morality of individual desires. “What rights are we protecting through this legislation?” “What rights would this legislation potentially impinge upon?” are the questions legislators should be asking, not “How will this promote my agenda” or “What would Jesus do?”


Thursday, March 31st, 2005

What is truth? Truth is a consensus. We can only judge reality through our perceptions, and those perceptions are demonstrably fallible. So truth is only what we can agree on. In the scientific method, evidence is paramount in demonstrating truth. The scientific method is the best mechanism we have for finding truth. It is tempting thus to implicitly accept all information as truth from persons who refer to themselves as scientists. This leads to an argument from authority fallacy. It is possible, after all, for someone who refers to themselves as a scientist to not practice the scientific method. Therefore, we introduce credibility to replace authority as a metric for evaluating a claim. Credibility is determined by examining all past claims of this person and judging whether or not the provided evidence supports their claim.

Credibility is domain specific. Judging a claim includes both judging the individual as being fundamentally intellectually honest and a steward of truth as opposed to one who is subject to biases or who makes exceptions to truth seeking in special cases, and also judging whether the credibility domain of the individual includes the claim they are making.

It is possible for even credible sources to be wrong though. So we cannot just implicitly accept the claims of credible sources, they still must be evaluated ourselves. Using credibility, we can establish an order in which we evaluate claims, since we have no time to evaluate them all. In an instance where two claims are equivalently supported but contradict each other, we will go with the claim of the more credible source until the less credible provides more evidence to overcome the credibility gap.

Information overload is the big problem of this age. We need efficiency in sorting through the barrage of information that bombards us from all angles.Determining a source's overall credibility as well as his domain credibility is the most important thing we can do to ensure that we are not deceived. Weeding out junk claims in this fashion will force people to provide more solid evidence and reasoning to gain our attention, which means less of our time is spent entertaining claims which lack truth.


Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

DRM = Copy protection
Trusted computing = Treacherous computing = Hardware DRM
Trustworthy computing = Microsoft trying to fix its insecure software

The difference? Trustworthy computing benefits the user. Trusted computing removes the user's capability to exercise fair use rights.

Theory of ethical legislation in the US

Monday, March 28th, 2005

Life, liberty, and property are the only concerns of the law.
Legislation should prioritize life, liberty, and property in that order.
Legislators should omit individual agendas.

An act which is heinous; causes measurable harm to another's life or liberty. Always results in a prison sentence. No disenfranchisement – a check against overzealous legislators. Causes loss of “responsibility required” civil liberties, unless the law is later overturned. Prosecutors cannot plea bargain into a felony charge from a non felony charge.

– Acts which would have been felonies in a causal chain of events, if a third party had not intervened.
– Acts which constrain another's life or liberty without measurable damage.
– Acts which involve theft or destruction of another's property.

Misdemeanors can be assigned community service, fines, or restricted jail periods.

All other acts which some party claims victimization in are tried in civil court. This prevents encoding subjective morals into criminal law, because ultimately the law must have a basis in protecting at least one of life, liberty, or property to avoid being thrown out. Civil court thrives on case law, and case law which becomes archaic can be overturned by new rulings.

An exception to criminal law is the reflexive case. In other words, it is impossible for an individual to victimize himself by definition. Therefore, suicide and many other current “immoral” acts cannot be illegal. In the case of suicide, the body is left to the victim's estate.

Acts that do some nebulously defined harm, such as things that harm “society”, where a victim cannot be identified, are strictly for civil courts.

“Responsibility required” civil liberties: Liberties which a citizen of a free society enjoys, but which have potential for harm to others in certain circumstances. Handgun carry; recreational drugs; prostitution, etc. Providers of such are regulated by the state to ensure that ex-felons do not have access to these. Existence of regulated providers should keep black markets out of business.

ad hominem

Monday, March 14th, 2005

Ad hominem attacks at the source of a statement do not serve in place of refuting the statement. Certainly, when a bias or interest in the topic is exposed, that may call the person's reasoning into question. But until the statement is refuted, it stands, regardless of who stated it.

Wise words from a fool's mouth are still wise words – or more succinctly – a broken watch is still right twice a day.

double standard

Monday, March 14th, 2005

There is a supposed double standard in the political views of freedom of information types. It goes that, on the one hand we expect the GNU General Public License to be enforced, but on the other hand we complain when the RIAA sues people who are sharing music online.

There are a few gaping holes in this supposed contradiction. First of all, the RIAA is suing end users for disproportionate sums compared to the supposed damage they have done, in some cases $100,000 per user. They assume that they price of their CD is the value of that CD, in calculating the damages, which is an economic fallacy when a monopoly (such as any copyright industry) is involved. The RIAA also uses this money to lobby and/or bribe politicians for copyright enforcement rights that are in contempt of due process and unreasonable searches, and for arbitrary copyright privileges and lengths. In contrast, the GPL crusaders simply want the source code that they are entitled to by the license, not any sum of money to appease them – the freed information is the goal of the license and its adherents, not revenues.

The other problem with this is that the complaint involves the RIAA going after _nonprofit_ file sharers. Note that commercial pirates are not exempted from criticism. Of course, you could just accuse the freedom of information types of being communists, but also note that the GPL does not prohibit selling the software. GPL defenders equally lambast both freeware and commercial authors who are benefiting from the work of open source authors who were motivated because of the GPL, but refuse complying with the GPL by reciprocating the benefits to the community, which removes incentive for the authors of the GPL software to continue to develop it.

Copyright is supposed to be an exchange. In accordance with the Constitution, the federal government is authorized to provide “temporary” monopolies “to promote progress of the sciences and useful arts”. 100 year copyrights are not temporary by any definition that takes human life expectancy into account (is a 100 year sentence a “temporary” imprisonment?). Furthermore, it is arguable that such indefinite copyright lengths are actually counter to the promotion of progress. It is a myth that new works are borne entirely of some inspiration of genius. Every new work is both a combination of inspiration and standing on the shoulders of those who previously innovated. For an example, look at jazz to see how a healthy innovative environment functions, and compare the level of innovation to the humdrum commercial music that the RIAA promotes.

Another related problem is that the GPL crusaders are directly defending authors who are actually creating new material, while the RIAA is not. The RIAA claims to have the artists' interests in mind, but nowhere have they shown that they share the dividends of these suits with the artists. Copyright privilege already extends to the life of the author plus 75 years, so if the artist's contract assigns the copyright to an RIAA member company (as is frequently the case), they get 75 years of royalty-free mooching off an artist's life work. That's not a good deal for the public at all.

The original 14 year term is far more reasonable. To the GPL, this would mean that the source code is required by copyright to be shared for 14 years until the software becomes public domain. That certainly seems reasonable given the length of the typical software life cycle. To the RIAA, this means that artists would have to continue to innovate, and that the RIAA would have to support an enviroment that fosters innovation, instead of simply living off the fat of previous works.

So while the RIAA lobbies for and continues to obtain arbitrary copyright powers, I feel that nonprofit sharing of their work in violation of their copyright is justified.

Some compare this to Robin Hood and claim that it's just like trying to justify stealing from the rich just because they have something you don't. The fallacy there is that Robin Hood was not simply stealing from the rich, he was challenging the arbitrary authority of King John and the Sheriff of Nottingham, and returning freedom to the people that was removed from them when they had done no harm. Nonprofit sharing harms no one except producers of shoddy or trivial works. When shoddy or trivial works become the norm, nonprofit sharing helps those who produce innovative works, because they can be identified before purchase as opposed to the purchase being a gamble for the consumer. Nonprofit sharing thus promotes progress, and you'd think it should be a constitutionally protected right. Note that the authors would not be required to provide the mechanism for doing this – they are free to invoke whatever copy controls they want, but the consumer is free to bypass them at whatever expense or hassle it takes him.

As for who holds the moral high ground, the GPL advocates want the free dissemination of information and the legal ability to modify it to their own desires and share the result with others. The RIAA wants money for their executives, shareholders, and their legal war chest. Into whose hands would you rather place the reins of legislating incentives for innovation in society? Whose goals include the long term benefit of the most people?

state law

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

A frequent argument of proponents of a strong central government with authority overriding locales is that if states had varying laws, the effect to travelers would be confusing and would lead to more people being jailed for doing things that they didn't know were illegal. Ignoring the completely asinine end of it, that not knowing otherwise, people might assume violent actions were legal, we are left with what to do about varying levels of legislation against non-violent acts. Generally these fall into two categories – economic regulations and moral regulations. I think the following strategy can address this problem:

If it can be shown that a nonviolent act was not illegal in
the subject's locale of residence, and if it can be shown that he had not been previously accused of the crime in the locale where it was committed, then the conviction can be thrown out on the basis of tourist ignorance. Nothing is said about acts which are committed in tandem with the excused act and that do not fall under this measure otherwise.

Yes, this does mean that tourists get one, and only one, ticket out of a nonviolent crime that they may not have had prior knowledge of. This would not excuse any violent crimes committed at the same time, or other nonviolent crimes of which the perpetrator was provably aware of their illegality.

Reply to OpenBSD Wireless article

Tuesday, March 8th, 2005

is that the FSF and the Linux community mocked us, rather than mocking the closed vendors

That's a nice troll, but I've never seen evidence of this “mockery”. More truthfully stated, most people think going as far as demanding open-source firmware is unrealistic compared to the goal of having freely redistribute firmware so that OS installations from a wireless net are possible. I don't understand what problem the FSF would have with this considering open-source firmware would be included in their ideology. And Debian, the largest nonprofit Linux distributor, requires all programs to be open source in order to be in the main archive, and a firmware is a program that runs on a slave computer, so I don't see why this approach would be mocked there either.