Saturday, May 19, 2007

I recognize that I seem to post most often about intellectual property, and my Google ads attest to this fact. They are as of this posting, for example, both ads placed by IP lawyers. Nothing wrong with that, unless I have aspirations to make a little money from this blog.

Nevertheless, this is an interesting op ed by Mark Helprin. In it, he argues that copyright law should be extended, not limited. He's a writer, and so he doesn't touch at all on the issue of "digital rights." Unless a book has been specifically digitized into an eBook format, it's not very likely to suffer from the widespread infringement "enjoyed" by music and video.

I don't agree with Mr. Helprin, of course. Again, he's not arguing for copyright, per se, but rather assumes that copyright is valid (a legitimate assumption) and argues instead that it should last forever--or, something close to it. As Ayn Rand wrote, however:

Material property represents a static amount of wealth already produced. It can be left to heirs, but it cannot remain in their effortless possession in perpetuity: the heirs can consume it or must earn its continued possession by their own productive work. The greater the value of the property, the greater the effort demanded of the heir. In a free, competitive society, no one could long retain the ownership of a factory or of a tract of land without exercising a commensurate effort.

But intellectual property cannot be consumed. If it were held in perpetuity, it would lead to the opposite of the very principle on which it is based: it would lead, not to the earned reward of achievement, but to the unearned support of parasitism. It would become a cumulative lien on the production of unborn generations, which would ultimately paralyze them. Consider what would happen if, in producing an automobile, we had to pay royalties to the descendants of all the inventors involved, starting with the inventor of the wheel and on up. Apart from the impossibility of keeping such records, consider the accidental status of such descendants and the unreality of their unearned claims. - Capitalism: The Unknown Idea, Ayn Rand, 1966.

The power of her argument here is how it highlights the vital importance of the individual in creating intellectual property. Mr. Helprin focuses on the long-term economic value of the property itself without recognizing its connection to the individual who created it. Those who argue against intellectual property in general, who like to say that "ideas want to be free," are making the same essential mistake.
"Carter: Bush’s foreign policy is ‘worst in history’": wow, what a headline. It's surreal, even. The subhead is even better: "39th president says 43rd has done severe damage to U.S. reputation abroad." This, from Jimmy Carter, whose principle contribution to America's "reputation" is to have shown our great nation as morose, emasculated, and ineffective. His most recent escapades have been just as disconcerting.

For a President who nearly destroyed the United States through sheer micromanaging incompetence, Carter has some nerve attacking Bush. Of course, Bush makes for an easy target.
Producers can say anything, and often do. Michael Moore is a manipulative, disgusting, vile specimen, and hardly deserves comment. But, I'll believe that the US government is planning to "seize" his movie when I see it.
I'm not sure I like the looks of the 2008 Audi R8, but I certainly like the specs. At $134K fully loaded, it's even more "affordable" than some.
Digg Report: Today's #1 Digg, at 6189 Diggs (including mine), is about the upcoming release of Blizzard's Starcraft II, the sequel to immensely popular and quite fun Starcraft. I'm looking forward to it, even if the trailer does depict a criminal released from prison as a "Marine."
I think that telecommuting is a great idea, and of course I'm not surprised at its growing popularity. Personally, I enjoy working at home. In my previous job, I drove 25 miles each way through the admittedly beautiful Malibu Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway. But, it took me an hour each way, and with gas prices the way they are, close to $75/week in gas expense alone. I'm happy to have both back.

I just don't understand why Congress sees a need to get involved. If telecommuting makes sense for a particular company and employee, then they'll do it. If not, then they won't. As with all things economic, injecting government force into the equation 1) is fundamentally wrong and 2) creates the sort of artificial incentives that will ruin the concept.

Really, though, I was being facetious: I do understand why Congress will get involved. They can't help it. But that's a discussion for another post.
And, once our military commanders in Iraq are sure enough that these are the men who abducted three American soldiers, they should be summarily executed unless they are willing to provide demonstrably credible information on the "insurgency."

Should their information lead to Iran, all the better.
The issue of immigration is so complicated that I haven't yet spent the time to fully digest all of it. Perhaps the new immigration bill is good, maybe it's bad. But, I don't think that American immigration policy should give a rat's a** whether Mexicans are "wary of" it.

I welcome anyone who comes here peacefully and is willing to pay for their own existence. For a free society, infusions of productive, law-abiding people can't be a bad thing.

But, the idea that Mexicans (or anyone else) are somehow entitled to come here and work is erroneous and offensive. The fact that they can make more here than in Mexico doesn't create on their part a claim on America. Ultimately, they should be happy with whatever they get.
I'm all for modern medicine's ability to cure disease and improve our health, but this can't be healthy. I'm not a woman, but the women I know aren't really in a huge hurry to stop their periods. I'm not sure exactly what this is trying to accomplish.
I've been remiss in not yet saying to all of our military men and women around the world:

Happy Armed Forces Day!

I only wish I could do more to honor your efforts in upholding your values.
Viva la France!
Thanks to Little Green Footballs for this one... Although, I don't know if I agree with what Fred Thompson says here. I don't believe in bipartisanship, except to acknowledge that both parties are really much the same and so the only reason they're not bipartisan is because... Well, I suppose it's because they're really only fighting over how to arrange the deck chairs. Or, as Ayn Rand might have said, it's because the witch doctor and Attila the Hun don't always get along.

A truly strong Republican candidate would say, "Screw bipartisanship. Here's what we need to do, here's why we need to do it, and (insert deity here) help those who get in the way!" And, hopefully, that candidate would remember that we're supposed to have a separation of church and state, in which case I could ignore what personal religion they attest to.

At the same time, the Diggsters and others might say, "Then vote for Ron Paul! He says exactly that!" As I mentioned in an earlier post, though, Paul seems to have a laundry list of "values" that he supports, rather than a consistent philosophy. And, for good or bad, I have something inherently against populists and those who garner "grass roots" popularity, because it just seems like so much mob rule to me. I would welcome being proven wrong on this one, however.

Ultimately, I like the way Fred Thompson talks, in spite of the Southern accent. I just don't necessarily like what he says.

Update: As I re-read this post, and continue to come across more about Ron Paul, I just can't dismiss the notion that he's something of a loon. Again, I would love to be wrong here.
This is a long and, in some cases, technical piece that makes a number of important (albeit, in some cases, false) points. In it, Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing and Hal Stern of Sun discuss a number of topics around system design, privacy, pirating, etc.

A couple of interesting points:

First, Doctorow says, "...I often wonder whether trusted computing architectures that allow remote parties to enforce policy on your hardware are a good idea." It's true that it's "our hardware," but that's as far as such an idea goes. If we want that hardware to perform particular tasks, and can't write our own software for it, then we necessarily have to procure that software from someone else. Naturally, we do so (or should) according to terms that are agreeable to both of us, within the context of our varying positions.

If I have a need for a piece of software to perform a particular function, and someone else has done a good job of writing it, then in this instance the software writer has the ability to enforce a policy to which I might not otherwise agree. That is, I either agree to the policy, or I forego my ability to utilize the software. Whether enforcing this policy or not is good economic sense is for the software developer to decide--and it is he who suffers the consequences of poor decisions.

There's nothing inherently "bad" in this, no imbalance in the voluntary relationship between us--it merely reflects the difference in our abilities again in this particular context. In other contexts, the roles might be reversed, and I might have something that the developer (or someone else) really needs. Ultimately, this is just the essence of the free market, and it's eminently fair because it rewards those who are productive and effective and it punishes those who aren't.

Second, at the very end of the piece, Stern says:

"Which is the one that you're going to try to regulate? After you watch a DVD you bought off of some guy's blanket on a New York City street - and you realize that you're watching a copy of the movie made by someone with a handheld camcorder, with a guy behind him asking for more popcorn and coughing - in some cases, if you liked it, you might go out and buy the real one. That's market-expanding, even if the original content was pirated. There's a reason that bands such as the Grateful Dead and Phish encouraged bootlegs: because they reach more listeners."

Similarly, this is a meaningless point, because of course any creator of intellectual property has the right to give that property away or to ignore its theft (although, perhaps as with trademarks, if one ignores copyright infringement for long enough, one might give up the right to prosecute it at some point, but that's for a different discussion). In some cases, it might even make good economic sense. However, in a free society, it's up to the owner of intellectual property to decide the terms under which he trades his property. Anything else makes him into a slave.

Today, many people attack the major labels for taking most of the profits and leaving little for the artists, and make the claim that by doing so they abdicate their right to control the property or which they've duly negotiated. This is rubbish: any artist who signs with a major label does so voluntarily and for reasons, good or bad. As has been mentioned elsewhere in this blog, denying the validity of our own agreements is the quickest way to destroying our ability to control our own existence. If we don't like the way our agreements turn out, then we need to change their terms, not evade our responsibility for them.
"Must Read" should never be placed in a sentence along with "Al Gore." Digg readers don't understand this.

Regarding the article itself, I'll provide a synopsis: "Blah, blah, blah (hidden subtext: I'm running for President again) blah, blah, blah." The "assault on reason" is his, the Left's, and the religious Right's. The Internet won't save reason, because the Internet's dominated by irrational mob rule.

Here's a good place to start saving it, though.
Here's a call for socializing the Internet. It will never cease to amaze me how people can ignore history, or even current events. The same people who complain about governments censoring Internet access are likely in support of turning the Internet over to government, apparently because they have an uncanny ability to comparmentalize their cognitive processes.

Collectivism has demonstrated itself to be a deadly mistake. It's remarkable that this has apparently already been forgotten.
China's a mess.
Hat tip to Instapundit for this one... If Tim Ferris wants to send me a free copy of his book "The 4-Hour Workweek," I'll be happy to review it, too, although I'm skeptical (or maybe because I'm skeptical).

Of course, this blog doesn't have the readership of some others, and so I'll have to just wait patiently for the book to arrive. Are you listening, Mr. Ferris?
I may be a geek, but this is exciting news. Blizzard has announced Starcraft II, and it looks like it will continue on where the first version left off.

One has to wonder what will happen to the left should the Democrats win the White House in 2008. Without the Republicans to hate, will they just collapse? And if Bush escapes officed unimpeached, will they self-destruct? Because at the Daily Kos, they certainly spend a good deal of their energy on the topic.
Celebrity Report: I was worried when I read the headline, "John Cusack is a Turncoat." I like Cusak as an actor, and thought, "Not him!" Then I read the story.