Monday, December 19, 2005

P2P Ethics

I can legally watch my television. It picks up broadcast signals from the air. I don't pay for it. If a friend came over, we could watch it together.

I can use my VCR to record a show on television.

I could let my wife watch the show I recorded too. And if a friend came over to visit, and we could all enjoy the show together on our own schedule.

But my friend is busy. I lend him the tape. He watches the program at home later. He brings back the tape.

We both like the program and decide we want to watch the next episode also. We both record the program. We watch on our own schedule.

One week, I forget to record the program. I borrow my friends recording and make a copy. Is this substantially different from both of us recording it off the airwaves ourselves?

Is it okay to use peer to peer filesharing protocols to share television programs? The answer seems murky, but why?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The importance of soda straw chains

"(We'll) feel like we've accomplished something in life that's important," said ninth-grader Melissa Bateman.
Said by a middle school student upon attempting to break the world record for longest straw chain. Breaking world records is cool and all, but important? Probably not.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Pope, John Bolton, North Korea...

James Lileks has a hilarious article reviewing 2005 in The American Enterprise. It's all pretty darn funny, but these are some of my favorite, laugh-out-loud parts:
Pope John Paul II dies. To the horror of many, his successor turns out to be Catholic.
John Bolton is nominated to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N., despite his moustache. The U.N. tower has 38 stories, Bolton once noted, and “if you lost ten stories today it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.” To the contrary, insisted Bolton’s critics, the uppermost floors are devoted to tsunami advance-warning detection, non-polluting hydrogen power, and a cheap AIDS vaccine that also doubles as a dessert topping—all almost ready for release...
Iran announces it will no longer allow inspectors into the Khomeini Memorial Peaceful Nuclear Research Facility for Hastening the Destruction of Israel. European diplomats threaten to take the matter to the U.N. Subcommittee of the Task Force for Occasionally Threatening to Issue a Strongly-Worded Report...
North Korea’s envoy approaches a negotiation table in Beijing at an oblique angle. He traces a tic-tac-toe grid in the dust on its surface. He wanders off again. Whistling.
Roberts refuses to profess that he would powder the bottom of the Bill of Rights, tuck it in, leave a light on, and play new-agey music softly while he read a book in the next room, one ear cocked should the Constitution wake up crying because it had a nightmare about an emanation chasing a penumbra. He is confirmed nevertheless.
There is a lot more...definitely a good read.

Barbary Pirates and Al-Queda

Joshua E. London's column on NRO has some interesting comparisons between the Barbary pirates and our current war on terror. One of the more interesting paragraphs:
[Jefferson and Adams] questioned the [Tripoli] ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic even though America had done nothing to provoke any such animosity. Ambassador Adja answered them, as they reported to the Continental Congress, “that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”
And then the "money" quote:
Note that America’s Barbary experience took place well before colonialism entered the lands of Islam, before there were any oil interests dragging the U.S. into the fray, and long before the founding of the state of Israel.
It's a good point to remember. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, but he brings up some ideas worth considering.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Thank you Morgan Freeman

The story is all over the news, but it made me so happy to hear that I had to post it. Morgan Freeman wants people to stop identifiying by race. I haven't agreed with Freeman many of the times I've heard him speak about politics, but he nailed it. "I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man."

This is in line with a recent article by Walter Williams. He was writing about the largely baseless charges of discrimination that fly around. Here is a bit of what he said.

One wonders what those blacks, who lived during the era of gross discrimination and are now deceased, would think about so much of today's behavior, rhetoric and excuses.

What would they think about black neighborhoods, once thriving economic centers that have been turned into economic wastelands by a level of criminal activity previously unknown? ... What would they think about predominantly black schools where violence and intimidation are the order of the day, with police cars outside and metal detectors inside? What would they think about black students who seek academic excellence being mocked, intimidated and assaulted by their peers for "acting white"?

We hear often about the disparities that remain between the races in our country. I don't dispute those disparities. But Williams points out, I think correctly, that the cause is probably not discrimination.

For a large segment of the black community, these gains remain elusive. The gains will remain elusive so long as black civil rights and political leadership blame and focus their energies on discrimination. While discrimination exists, the relevant question is how much of what we see can be explained by it. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, 60 percent of black children raised in female-headed households, high crime and poor school performance have devastating consequences.

This level of pathology cannot be attributed to discrimination, considering that much of it was absent in earlier times when there was far more discrimination, greater poverty and fewer opportunities.

It's time that black people hold fellow blacks accountable for squandering opportunities won at a high cost by our ancestors. Failing to do so makes all blacks complicit in the betrayal.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A "Living" Constitution

My ideas about the Supreme Court have been taking shape in the last year or so, courtesy of the increased media attention on vacancies and political events. I (not surprisingly) come down pretty close to an originalist point of view. I am uneasy with the idea that a judge (or panel of judges) gets to decide what is "moral" or "right" under the guise of a "living" Constitution. That is the job of elected representatives, not appointed judges with lifetime terms.

Justice Stephen Breyer has recently published a book titiled "Active Liberty", in which he defends the "living" Constitution philosophy. Rep. Tom Feeney has an excellent review of it on National Review Online. One of the quotes from Justice Breyer's book:
Why should courts try to answer difficult federalism questions on the basis of logical deduction from text or precedent alone? Why not ask about the consequences of decision-making on the active liberty that federalism seeks to further?
Rep. Feeney then adds:

Breyer confirmed this view in this exchange with George Stephanopoulos on ABC's This Week on October 3, 2005:

Stephanopoulos: Let me get you to respond to some of your critics, one of them is Rep. Tom Feeney, a member of the House Judiciary Committee. He says nobody but a subjective, biased judge can determine what "active liberty" means. And he calls your approach jurisprudential mysticism.

Breyer: Well, everyone can read this and come to any conclusion they want about it. That's fine. It's his view, not my view.

Stephanopoulos: How do you guard against the idea that it is subjective?

Breyer: That's a very good question. What I try to do in the book is to show that actually a system that refers back in the judge's mind, a framework to basic purposes and then looks at consequences in light of those purposes is more likely to lead to objective decision making, is less likely to lead to subjective decision making.

While the finer points of this argument may be lost on me (what is the difference between active liberty and inactive liberty), I cannot agree with a judge looking beyond law and precedent. That is not the judge's job! If there is a problem socially, morally, etc, than the correct course to fix it is through the legislature. Not the courts.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Mortgaged Renters

There is a new class of people in the United States. They are people I will call "Mortgaged Renters" for lack of a better term. These are the people with interest-only home loans or negative amortization loans. A generation ago, I suspect that such lending practices would have been unthinkable or at least very uncommonly available to individuals. But in reading a piece at Slate, I realize how brilliant this system is for lenders. The mortgage lenders are essentially the homeowners and the person who pretends to be the homeowner is really just a renter.

How does this play out? Well, the "mortgaged renter" does get something a conventional renter doesn't: equity. In the current housing market, that can be a considerable upside. I suspect the downside is greater. The mortgaged renter must act like a homeowner. They can't call the landlord when the dishwasher goes on the fritz. They have to pay the property tax and homeowners insurance.

Is it ethical for a mortgage lender to become a landlord without accepting the responsibilities of the landlord? I suppose the answer changes depending how the equity vs. responsibility calculation comes out.

If you've spotted other writing on this topic (which I'm sure is not a unique discovery to me) I'd love to see a link.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Belly Laugh: Are You a Southern Republican?

From Part of the Plan:
Are you a Democrat, Republican or Southern Republican?

Here is a little test that will help you decide. The answer can be found by posing the following

You’re walking down a deserted street with your wife and two small children. Suddenly, an Islamic terrorist with a huge knife comes around the corner, locks eyes with you, screams obscenities, praises
Allah, raises the knife, and charges at you. You are carrying a .40 caliber Glock and you are an expert shot. You have mere seconds before he reaches you and your family.

What do you do?

You'll have to click over to his site to read the answers. I had a great time reading it out loud to my wife.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


From the Deseret News:
Winner: Words are inadequate to express the bravery of a 9-year-old Denver boy who was shot in the back while shielding his 4-year-old brother during an attempted home invasion. No one knows why the home was targeted and the family has since moved. Police honored the boy with a trophy presentation at his school. Asked why he did it, the boy answered simply, " 'Cause he's my little brother." No further explanation needed.

Treat Diseases Equally

The Deseret News posted an editorial where they said,
"More than 1 million Americans are believed to be living with HIV/AIDS... These numbers demonstrate a need for Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act, which funds care and support services for people with HIV who do not have health insurance and other resources. The law, previously funded at $2 billion, has expired but Congress is expected to take up reauthorization bills next year."

We are a wealthy society and I think we can do much to help the poor and unlucky among us, especially in matters of health care. But I don't understand why we would single out a single disease for special funding. Why is a person with HIV more precious to our society than a person with ALS or Lupus? Isn't that the message we send when we give special funds to one group but not another?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lava flow, bench collapse

My favorite volcanoes are the scary explosive kind, but I love all volcanoes all the time (even my current nemesis, the Cottonwood Wash Tuff). This week Pele has put quite the display on in Hawai'i. 44 acres of newly formed coastline have fallen into the ocean, and the fire hose (stream of lava shooting off a cliff into the ocean) and lava "water" falls (pretty self-explanatory) are amazingly beautiful.

When I was there in August 2000, I was lucky enough to see a pretty darn amazing fire hose myself. (This pre-dated my slight improvement in picture taking; I have got to get back with a digital camera with optical zoom.)

It is interesting to note that although this eruption began almost 23 years ago (in January 1983), the only deaths directly attributed to the eruption have been caused by coastline collapse (I believe the number is up to four or five, not bad in 23 years). It's pretty easy to avoid death in a Hawai'ian volcanic eruption--as long as you obey the rules (stay off the benches and beaches in the active area), you're pretty much safe.