“Don’t tell me what I must do. The only things I must do are pay my taxes and die.” – Popular twist on Ben Franklin quote

It’s tax day in the USA, and when matters of money come up, the international gripe machine swivels its cyclopean head to focus on those richer than us.  For the delectation of the howling masses, CNN trots out this predictable analysis of Mark Zuckerberg’s fortune, complete with the line “he’ll never have to pay taxes again.”

What? Unfair! We the people, innately born with virtue and made equal by dint of the fact that This Is America, squat in our upside-down condos and lament our fortune.  You know what would really make us feel better? Improving our lives? No; that can wait – what we really want to get into is negativity about one of those who succeeded. Because nothing says ‘a better future’ like denying that it’s possible for people to make it here in the now.

haruhi_profound (more…)

Published in: on April 15, 2013 at 9:28 PM  Leave a Comment  
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The Basis of Morality

Noah (@hoodedu) linked me to his thoughts on morality.  Thanks, Noah. Twitter is indeed a very awkward platform for nuance.

This discussion started with reference to the loss of a Neil Gaiman script for Dr. Who.  Thousands of users posted on reddit to pressure the person who found it (or rather, their roommate) to “do the right thing,” and the subsequent trumpeting by some that this somehow “vindicated” the moral authority of the Internet was sickening.  Let me be clear – I do think that in this case returning the item happened to be the right thing to do. But that is a happy coincidence.  I in no way want to get comfortable with the suggestion that listening to what other people claim to think is “the right thing” on an Internet forum necessarily bears the slightest resemblance to the best course of action.  I find equating the right thing to do and the popular thing to do to be morally dangerous. (Cf. slavery, the oppression of minority religions and minority ethnicities, violent homophobia, the cutting of the rose, etc. – all popularly accepted by society for thousands of years, but to me, morally unacceptable.)

If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing. – Anatole France

Now, with respect to the comments at Noah’s site:

Peter is right in that my statement is not about the generation of moral principles but rather in the idea that one should not ascribe a higher moral authority to the government, to the state, to the corporation, to a board of directors, or indeed to any man-made amalgamation of individual moral actors. Having numbers does not make them automatically more morally correct than an individual making a moral decision. (The critique of modern law as judicial shamanism, for instance, is a structural observation based upon how the ritual of law is constructed around making it appear more impressive, as if that spectacle makes it more morally correct.)

If we say that the state does not properly have the authority to tell you which god to worship, then I take a half-step further and posit that neither does it have the right to dictate your ideals, to tell you good or evil. Of necessity, it makes purely practical judgements like, “People are not permitted to steal things or we will lock them up,” which are to some degree useful for the functioning of society, but we should not confuse them with moral judgements.

Peter also says,

We simply try to muddle through, creating the best world we can — deploying not principles, but what Charles Taylor called “inspired adhoccery.”

I would restate Peter’s “ad hoc” statements thus: there exists a moral axis and a pragmatic axis, and as moral agents we are perpetually brokering an uneasy peace between the two. To be perfectly moral would require infinite resources, or at least the ability to act as if there were infinite resources – a disregard for the pragmatic side of things. To be perfectly pragmatic would require infinite moral flexibility, or effectively an outright lack of morality.  (This level of abstraction, incidentally, derives from the “postmodern” half of my explanation of my stance as “postmodernist-existentialist.”  Peter notes correctly that I differ from Sartre in at least one significant place despite calling my reasoning existentialist.  I believe even Sartre used meta-level principles for moral reasoning in No Exit, but that is a discussion for another time.) I submit that to not perfectly cleave to abstract principles is a different order of things from never attempting to stick to principles in the first place.  That, I believe, is where the real danger of doing what is most comfortable rather than what is moral lies.  Call it a throwback to my days in science: that which is never measured is never properly observed, and that which is not observed, we cannot really make clear statements about. How can you monitor your own moral progress without having some kind of measure?

In the end I suspect my differences with Noah might be theological more than descriptive: is there such a thing as morality, independent of social feedback and pragmatic goals? I say yes, as long as we believe and set it apart; law, for instance, is not morality. Noah, if I read him correctly above, says no. If you don’t allow that morality exists as a separate conceptual thing, then perhaps the distinctions I am drawing become meaningless.

I believe they have meaning, though.

The Rule of Lawl

lawl (n.) –

1. What “LOL” sounds like when it is pronounced.

2. The laughable state of affairs produced when external rules are applied to an Internet community that does not accept them.

Paul Bernal has a wonderful piece where he succinctly lists the various failings of the British government (and by extension, Western governments) in adapting to the Internet.

Professor Chris Reed gave a compelling keynote about how even legal theorists often end up getting laws badly wrong as they still conceive of it under a kind of ‘command and control’ model: a law commands, then people obey. It doesn’t really work like that – even more so, perhaps, on the internet than in the ‘real’ world.

If people don’t believe that piracy is ‘wrong’, they won’t want to obey.


Published in: on April 2, 2012 at 2:22 PM  Leave a Comment  
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You May Be A Bad Person, But Not For These Reasons

I arrive at the same conclusions as White Coat Underground.  Female contraception is important and should be covered as part of basic health care.  However – importantly – this is not because I feel that any political opinions with irreconcilable differences are somehow inherently invalid. WCU discounting the legitimacy of opposed political arguments seems far too over-zealous, to the point of actually being inaccurate.

The political is odd, in that it seems patently fringe . . . If the argument is, ‘don’t use my taxes for stuff I don’t like,’ then what they really are saying is, ‘taxation is illegitimate.’

No doubt some people really feel that way, but at a more moderate level, that argument is actually perfectly valid. The essential point of any representative government is that we agree to pool our resources for expenditures we cannot individually meet. The US goes further and allows people to designate where their tax dollars go. There is nothing “fringe” about someone accustomed to this wanting their money going to uses they approve of. WCU would probably not object to someone protesting that their tax dollars, in the Kissinger years, went to funding some third-world dictator; the core idea that we are on some level responsible for what our tax dollars do is the same.  We must allow that conservatives as well as liberals may feel guilt over what their dollars do.


Precious Bodily Fluids

In something straight out of a satire, a man is suing because his stripper ex-girlfriend took his semen and used it to impregnate herself without his awareness, so that she would have kids and he would pay alimony.

General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh… women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh… I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Captain Lionel Mandrake: No.
General Jack D. Ripper: But I… I do deny them my essence.

I’m not sure if Dr. Strangelove is a better fit for this demented reasoning, or Astarotte no Omocha, for the “we have ulterior motives for obtaining your genetic material” angle, but this surely is not something we expect to see in normal reality.

At the NY Post, comment logs are full of the usual incendiary postings. Some feel sympathy for the man; some for the woman. I feel bad for the kids.

Published in: on November 30, 2011 at 3:55 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Law and literacy

Why do people lose perspective as soon as a matter concerns the law?

Today’s Internet example comes from Gizmodo’s article about a “ballsy teen who sold his own authentic white iphones.”  Essentially, some kid figured out the Original Equipment Manufacturer for the next-gen iphone parts, batch ordered a bunch, then resold them for people who wanted next-gen iphone hardware ahead of release.  Apple sued him, but has now dropped their lawsuit following his offer to settle out of court.

Is that questionably legal?  Sure.  But is it theft?  People persist in deliberately misusing the concept of theft: downloading TV shows, previewing comics, and getting backup copies of music they actually own may or may not be copyright violations, but never are they theft.

Theft is the illegal acquisition of a good (without consideration) and also the disappearance of that good from its original owner, who loses its use.  Of course, the distinction with downloading is that no good has gone missing. In the mock iPod case, there are physical goods, but there was also consideration: money changed hands.  Furthermore, the goods did not come from Apple. Most likely the OEM was contractually obligated to not sell those goods ahead of time, but that is hardly the kid’s problem: he has no legal duty to enforce or abide by contracts that do not concern him.

This is not a merely academic distinction: copyright violation is a civil offense, which essentially means that money was not given to the right people or in the proper way.  On the other hand, theft is a criminal offense, a more serious matter.

FUNimation sub downloading addendum

On Twitter, sh1zuka raised another interesting point to think about:

@moritheil conversely I think they went over. By DLing the HS eps via bittorrent, they uploaded to the swarm, same as the 1337 ppl they sued

I don’t think we know for sure that they used a torrent service.   It’s quite possible they used a direct download.  The only way such a thing could be proven would be with a court order, which they are unlikely to ask for.  A defendant sued by them could try, but even if they did, I wonder what the legal status of a downloader from FUNimation is – would it be OK to download from the official distributor, who knowingly uploads as they download?  Is there any implicit license in the knowing act of uploading?  (If I put my candy on your tray, can you eat it?)

Even if so, does the proportion taken from FUNi matter?  Is it only a defense if 100% of the file was downloaded from them?  50%?  10%?  FUNi can certainly upload all it likes – but will a judge accept the argument that the upload end of a torrent being legal implies something about the download end?  There’s no entrapment or anything, since that would require FUNimation to set it up, and they almost certainly got it from a preexisting downloading scheme.

If these possibilities were invoked in court, it would probably take a long time to sort through all the scenarios, since the case would probably wind up making precedent.  However, for that very reason, a defendant (most likely cash-strapped) would be unlikely to want to take this approach.

Published in: on March 22, 2011 at 2:50 PM  Leave a Comment  
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FUNimation using ‘pirated’ subtitles

Torrentfreak ran an article about FUNimation using downloaded subs to create their dubs. It read, in part:

There is no doubt that Funimation is using ‘pirated’ subtitles, but it seems unlikely that they failed to secure the appropriate rights.

This is based on what tempest of ANN wrote:

1) Funimation did use HS’s video/subs in that recording session
2) We do not know why, we do not know if it is regular behavior
3) Funimation is the licensee, and their license almost assuredly includes CR’s subtitle script
4) Funimation’s license and US Copyright law and USC Section 17 give Funimation the legal right to use HS’s video/subs
5) As a result of #3 & #4 Funimation’s actions (not including font) were not illegal
6) If the font in question was included as an additional file (and not hard coded), and we assume that HS does not have a license to distribute the font, Funimation may have unwittingly infringed the copyright of the font if they do not have an appropriate license for that font
7) We do not know for fact if Funimation has a license for the font

Now as for the ethics side… most of it is pretty subjective.

This is, broadly speaking, true, but two parts stand out.

I take issue with tempest giving #2 its own point because it’s blowing smoke.  “We do not know if it’s regular behavior.”  Why emphasize this?  It’s safe to say at this point that some offical dubs use subs.  Should we say that all of them do? No. But neither should we take the stance that this is probably some kind of aberration.  Further proof is required to lean either way.  The concern of fans is that this comes at a time when FUNimation is suing downloaders.  Those lawsuits don’t hinge on “regular behavior,” do they?  It is irrelevant whether this is regular behavior, so the only reason for tempest to bring this up is to discourage people from exploring the possibility that dubs they have paid money for consulted subs.

I take issue with the way #4 is written, because it is only true as long as HorribleSubs are ripping off Crunchyroll.  In other words, there is no separate legal right that FUNimation has in that category.  It is inaccurate to suggest that FUNimation has rights they don’t have.

First off, it’s legally fine for FUNi to download fansubs if they have the legal rights to distribute the thing to begin with. They have the right to download an English version of the episode because they give themselves that right, as the legal distributor.  (The law is very accommodating – as long as one is on top.)  Politically, though, this is insensitive and is probably what has some people upset: why are you suing all these people if you yourself rely on these subs?

But there is another legal issue: it does not follow that FUNimation automatically has zero obligation to reimburse or acknowledge the fansubbers who did the translations, assuming it can be proven that their dubs are a derivative work of those translations.

Now, if they are only using subs done by Crunchyroll, and CR says it’s OK, then there is never going to be any legal action, and this is a nonissue. But if they are using subs by fansub groups, without getting their OK, then there is potentially a problem.

As for points 6 and 7, they are side issues: this font is not appearing on the dubbed product, because it’s a dub.  It’s unlikely to result in legal action, either way: font makers do not typically go around suing people for accidentally downloading their font without knowing better, the way that distributors go around suing people.

It would be an ironic twist to see a fansub group sue FUNimation in court for using their intellectual property.

Published in: on March 21, 2011 at 11:21 PM  Comments (7)  
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An Economic Interlude

And crack is pretty cheap (as is my understanding). Free love pushed the value of sex down to $0 and significantly shrank an industry.


If we’re going to apply economic definitions, we should be consistent: obtaining crack is presumably cheap, but doing crack involves serious health problems and becoming useless for a job, so the main cost of crack use is in terms of health and opportunity cost.

Also, despite the label “free love,” sex is not free: you (presumably) have to get to know the other person, spend on good clothes and grooming to look attractive, learn the social skills and rules of dating, and buy drinks for the other person. (Of course, not every item may apply in every scenario, and some of those may be sunk costs, making the marginal cost of dating/hookups very low, but that’s still not free. It is only vastly cheaper than it previously was.) I’d liken it to what would happen if DeBeers suddenly opened their vaults and let all the diamonds out on the market, instead of the small fraction it lets through now. Diamond prices would plummet. This would not be the same thing as being free but would still probably destroy the industry.

Erin’s article is pretty spot-on, otherwise. Ultimately a lot of the problems discussed stem from not costs, but the arrangement of marginal costs. That is, it costs an uploader money to obtain a DVD, but none extra to upload said DVD. If, in theory, it were possible to attach a huge cost to uploading and lessen the cost of obtaining DVDs, then more DVDs would be sold and fewer would be uploaded.

The pursuit of this situation is what has driven new measures to protect intellectual property. The only problem is that granting corporations the power to implement such measures is horribly invasive of privacy, and that is also a cost that ought to be factored in.

Published in: on July 10, 2010 at 1:13 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Miscegenation theories alive and well

Their South Asian and white genetic backgrounds … put their children in potential harm’s way.

Sounds almost like something you’d expect to see on a white supremacist site, but it’s actually from the LA Times.  Nor is this alone: it comes mere months after an image was posted to the Republican party Facebook page with the caption, “Miscegenation is a crime against American values,” and after a Louisiana judge refused to issue a marriage license for an interracial couple, citing increased difficulty for such relationships.