July 2, 2012
Some Thoughts on the Affordable Care Act
It is constitutional to collect taxes based on things citizens consume, do, or do not do. That's the basis for the Supreme Court's ruling that upholds the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
From both an economic and financial standpoint, these types of taxes (usually excise taxes) are imposed to encourage, discourage, or help pay for the costs associated with a product or service. A common one is the tax on cigarettes.
Cigarettes are taxed because there is an external cost associated with their consumption that will not otherwise be borne by the manufacturer, retailer, or consumer: health problems and the associated cost for treating them.
There are many who consider health care to fall under the category of a social service similar to police, fire, military, unemployment insurance, etc. Truthfully, most of the rest of the first world considers it as such. In fact the UN includes it as a human right, much like the U.S. constitution lists the pursuit of happiness and freedom. In such a situation, barring universal government-provided health care, the current reform bill is a halfway measure towards that.
The tax is thus a mechanism (albeit a somewhat unbalanced one due to its small dollar amount) by which to still rely primarily upon private health insurance companies while moving towards universal coverage. That's also why the majority of provisions in the bill are designed to prevent the private insurers from rejecting applicants or denying coverage.
A different implementation would have been to expand Medicare and Medicaid to cover all citizens and increased taxes or reallocated spending to cover the additional cost. Then the arguments around being forced to buy something would sort of be moot in the same way you are "forced to buy" other government services via taxation. But that couldn't get past the Republicans and the health insurance industry lobbyists.
In one ways, the tax associated with the reform bill is similar to Medicare/Medicaid because it is a progressive tax: the amount you have to pay for not having purchased health care is dependent upon your income. Taxpayers currently pay into Medicare and Medicaid based on their income.
History and economic theory has shown that the universal safety nets provided by government services like the police, fire departments, military, education, and also health care have a net positive effect on economic growth, social stability, and technological advancement. By contrast, environments at odds to that have a net negative effect as seen in the reaction of financial markets to war.
One example of the benefits of support services and safety nets are individuals being more likely to quit their current job to start a new business without having to worry about reduced income affecting their family's health or safety. (e.g. the police, fire departments, military, schools, etc. won't stop providing services to that family.) Likewise, with less basic living necessities riding upon a paycheck, individuals are less bound to indentured servitude.
An argument against this is that providing too many basic services can discourage individuals from actually contributing to society. And this has happened in some countries where social protections and safety nets have gone too far and tipped things upside down. The right balance is to provide enough to keep people safe and healthy without providing enough to satisfy their recreational and entertainment desires. (Plus, there is always a percentage of people who will produce for the sake of producing or advancement of technology.) I don't believe health care risks pushing the balance too far.
January 8, 2011
Arizona Rep. Giffords Shot
I'm very disturbed by what just happened today, when a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Arizona. It appears his target was Arizona Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords or Judge John Roll, and possibly both. I'm not disturbed so much by the actual shooting, as there are always going to be people who do things like that. It's bad and unfortunate, but it's also something that we have to live with as human beings&emdash;we're not unselfish, unemotional robots.
The problem is that public figures and people associated with public service (and unfortunately all associating themselves with the Republican party) have been using rhetoric that probably contributed to today's shooting. Saying sorry isn't good enough. I hope they understand that what they say can have serious consequences and will try to change their behavior. I won't condemn someone for saying something in poor taste, that could be misinterpreted, or containing exaggerations. But after saying something like that, one should recognize that might have happened and clarify what was really meant. Because a lot of people aren't that intelligent or capable of in-depth rational thought.
Here's some of what I'm talking about:
- Sarah Palin posted a map with crosshairs targeting Giffords and wrote, "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" (Source: San Francisco Chronicle)
- Jesse Kelly, who was running for Congress in Arizona, promoted his campaign with the following words: "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly." He was advertising an offer to recreationally shoot guns with him for $50. (Source: Arizona Daily Star)
- Judge John Roll (killed at the shooting) had received death threats, spurred on by talk-radio shows, in relation to an civil-rights lawsuit involving illegal immigrants. (Source: The Arizona Republic)
November 23, 2010
Constitutional Rights vs. TSA Procedures Tested
Matt Kernan recently returned to the United States from a business trip to Europe. Flying back in, he decided he did not wish to go through a backscatter X-ray machine or submit to the new TSA enhanced pat-down procedures. It took 2.5 hours, but he managed to leave the airport and go home without going through either. He has documented what happened in his blog post You Don't Need to See His Identification.
This is a pretty interesting situation because of the clear statement he said to the TSA officials:
“I am aware that it is policy, but I disagree with the policy, and I think that it is unconstitutional. As a U.S. citizen, I have the right to move freely within my country as long as I can demonstrate proof of citizenship and have demonstrated no reasonable cause to be detained.”
November 14, 2010
TSA Rules in Review?
I'm very interested in following the situation that seems to be unfolding regarding one traveler's incident with the TSA at SAN, where he is potentially facing a civil suit and/or $10,000 fine. Apparently, the current rules regarding flying in the United States allows for legal punishment against any travelers who do not abide with the security regulations once entering the screening line. This makes sense on the surface of things, but it also means deciding to forfeit your flight does not allow you to escape penalty. It also means civil disobedience in protest over the latest security measures carries a stiff penalty.
At the crux of things is a question of whether or not the new backscatter and "enhanced pat-down" procedures are a violation of civil rights. One side argues that these measures are necessary for safety purposes. The other side argues they are a violation of civil rights and the fourth amendment which protects against unreasonable search and seizure. This is the same reason law enforcement officers need to establish reasonable suspicion (which can be used to obtain a warrant) before engaging in searches. Failure to do so allows any evidence obtained through an illegal search to be thrown out of court.
Anyway, apparently local news has picked up this person's story. I am looking forward to how this plays out.
November 7, 2010
Eric Cantor is running a voting program called YouCut, and is soliciting advice for spending cuts, "to defeat the permissive culture of runaway spending in Congress."
I'm a little suspicious of their weekly "winners" of cuts. Apparently, you only have a few choices each week. You cannot vote to not cut a program. And the voting is by text message. This means, if 1 million people don't want to cut something, but one person does, that suggestion could be the week's winner.
The way the cuts are worded is fairly biased as well. And it doesn't matter what the impact of the cut may have been, voting against it is always used to negatively label that congressman.
October 31, 2010
No Gene or DNA Patents
Looks like the Department of Justice has decided patenting of genes or DNA discoveries is invalid, as these are indeed discoveries of something that already exists in nature. I agree with this but it remains to be seen if the patent office and courts enforce this decision.
October 23, 2010
The Guardian Iraq Report
The Guardian has analyzed the over 390,000 documents leaked via Wikileaks and put together an amazing brief interactive analysis in their Iraq: The war logs report. There is a tremendous amount of information contained in those records, which document in detail the sort of activities happening in Iraq since the removal of Saddam Hussein and his government in 2003.
I strongly recommend everyone take a look through the articles and reports The Guardian has put together. Given the size and depth of the information contained in the leaked documents, only a very small portion can be covered an summarized when presented for general consumption. But I believe it is important to know and understand the situation in Iraq, the activities that are taking place there, and the level of involvement and acceptance or tolerance that the U.S. government is engaging in.
For a quick overview, you can start with their Iraq war logs: An introduction. There are a bunch of jumping off points from that page. The New York Times and SPIEGEL have also put up special sections to cover the newly revealed information.
If you missed the earlier coverage on Afghanistan, also from documents leaked via Wikileaks, check out The Guardian's Afghanistan: The war logs site.
October 12, 2010
Big Brother Privatized
As if Blackwater (now Xe Services LLC) wasn't proof enough of how private companies performing federal duties without oversight is a bad thing, an agency called the Institute of Terrorism Research and Response (ITRR) has been caught performing domestic surveillance on behalf of state and federal law enforcement agencies. Even worse, it appears their so-called "intelligence" is mostly complete fabrication or contain extreme conclusions based on innocent fact.
ITRR's activities were exposed in relation to surveillance over civil protest groups in Pennsylvania. The Al Jazeera article focuses on the group Peace of the Action which was founded by Cindy Sheehan. But the leaked documents also explicitly mention the recent UC tuition protests and suggest law enforcement start "coordinated responses" to control this "Anarchist movement."
ITRR states it is "an American and Israeli nonprofit corporation."
October 8, 2010
FBI Tracking in my Neighborhood
Wired is reporting on a 20-year old student in Santa Clara (where I live) that found an FBI tracking device on his car when getting auto service. Turns out the device was indeed installed by the FBI and he was probably being monitored for somewhere between three and six months.
I really do hope the ACLU does something with this case. I disagree with the recent 9th circuit ruling that states it is okay to initiate tracking of a person without a warrant, so long as the object you start tracking is publicly accessible (even if on private property). In other words, the FBI is allowed to place the tracking device on Afifi's car if it was parked outside his house, or at some other location, without a warrant. I believe in due process and the checks and balances between the executive and judicial branches of our government. A warrant should always be required for law enforcement agents and agencies to engage in surveillance.
May 7, 2010
Accidentally Lose Your U.S. Citizenship
Senators Leiberman (I-CT) and Brown (R-MA) has introduced a bill called the Terrorist Expatriation Act. It's a fairly short and simple proposal to amend 8 U.S.C. 1481 with text that allows for the revocation of U.S. nationality (either through birth or naturalization) for, in short, doing one of two things (paraphrased):
- purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the U.S. or a U.S. ally that is currently providing support in a situation of U.S. hostilities
- providing material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization
In my opinion, these two items aren't too controversial when viewed as a general goal. In one sense, they are either expanding upon or clarifying the definition of treason. Which is already listed as a reason your citizenship can be revoked.
However, I take issue with the second statement because it does not including purposefully. It would be quite easy to mistakenly provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization. Maybe you happened to write a big check to a door-to-door solicitor.
I also take issue with the proposed bill as a whole because it allows for revocation of your citizenship without being convicted of anything. The current law only allows for revocation of your citizenship because you have asked for it, or if you haven't then you can challenge it, or if you are convicted of treason (at which point citizenship is fairly moot). But the new section (8 U.S.C. 1481.a.8) that would be added by this bill doesn't require any due process.
Lastly, it's pretty unclear what might qualify as material support or resources. A public protest could easily fall within that generalization. I can also see courts, if any were involved, tied up for months debating whether or not someone acted purposefully.
For all the senators who have made public statements about needing to review the bill before being sure (I'm looking at you, Nancy Pelosi) it takes about 5 minutes. Take a copy into the bathroom.
December 25, 2007
Empire is a novel by Orson Scott Card published last year. I found it in the airport book store and the back cover described a book very much like what I had recently been thinking about, regarding the current direction of the U.S. government and society as a whole. The main characters are all U.S. soldiers or veterans that lean right to varying degrees, who are caught up in a sort of rebellion when a successful rocket attack takes out the top members of the Executive branch and cabinet. In the resulting chaos, a left-wing group conquers New York City and various state and local governments begin aligning themselves with this new organization.
I wish Card had focused more on the issues, morals, and ideas associated with how and why this could happen and the consequences of a country that has become so divided and complacent. Instead the majority of words are there to move the plot along without a whole lot of commentary on the subject. That's understandable, considering this is supposed to be a thriller and exploration of a possible near future for the United States.
To his immense credit, Card does make parallels to a possible consequence within the story, and the book has underlying criticism of both right- and left-wing extremists as well as the citizens who have allowed things to reach this point. Which is good, because it slips those thoughts into the reader without forcing the issue. People of any political leaning can read it, enjoy it, and not feel like Card is trying to force his own beliefs upon them. Your individual political views will shape your perceptions of the story and its political opinions. Although I suspect (and no doubt Card does as well) that people who lean far in one direction or the other will not be able to see that they are exactly the kind of people being criticized by the book. Instead, they will believe the book vindicates their own political choices.
December 12, 2007
2013: No North Pole
Recent modifications to arctic melting models by Professor Wieslaw Maslowski and his colleagues have shown a dire result: ice-free summers of the North arctic circle. They argue that previous models which predicted this to occur decades out fail to take into account some recent observations on the annual shrinkage of the arctic ice sheet and that effect on future years. The BBC article includes statements from other scientists who support Maslowski's team's new model.
This is pretty bad. A large amount of water will be getting dumped into the oceans on an annual basis, resulting in overall rises in sea level worldwide. The animals that rely upon ice to walk on will drown. There is no land mass at the North Pole, which means when the ice melts, the only thing left will be the ocean. It looks like the disappearance will be quite sudden. No more polar bears.
December 10, 2007
Halliburton/KBR Gang-Rape Cover-up
ABC News is reporting about the gang-rape cover-up of a woman who worked for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad two years ago, by fellow employees. According to the article, she was repeatedly raped, threatened about her job, and then held prisoner in a shipping container for 24 hours before a sympathetic guard allowed her to call her father and report what happened.
The U.S. justice department, state department, Halliburton, and KBR seem to be doing whatever they can to forget the incident. Two years later, the case has not proceeded through the justice system because of the loophole that allows private government contractors exemption from prosecution for things they do in Iraq. KBR claims any legal action must take place through private arbitration, which would make it so no transcript or liability becomes public. Jamie Leigh Jones will be speaking with news agencies, including 20/20, in an attempt to get word out on what happened.
October 7, 2007
The Torture Memo
The New York Times has an excellent timeline of secret U.S. government approval of torture by interrogators justified by the so-called war on terror and based on the current administration's dismissal of law and human rights. It seems that against growing public and legal opposition towards the abusive treatment of suspects and prisoners, the Justice Department continued to issue classified statements approving the use of such treatment.
The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department...the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.
Perhaps the most disappointing truth is that instead of trying to do the right thing, the humane thing, and the legal thing from the beginning, this administration's attitude towards the issue has been to do whatever they can get away with. If someone finds out about something specific, then adamantly declare that it's legal, necessary, and provide other excuses. Stop it if things really come down to that, but keep doing everything else until those actions end up in the right place.
October 5, 2007
RIAA Wins First Jury Trial
Capitol Records v. Jammie Thomas is the first lawsuit by the RIAA against an individual file sharer that has gone to a jury trial. While some of the comments made by the plaintiff's witnesses are questionable irrespective of the trial itself, in the end Jammie Thomas' defense was pretty weak because of what she said on the stand, and so I'm not at all surprised that the jury found her guilty on all 24 counts of infringement, for a total of $220,000 in damages.
Still, this is a landmark case for the RIAA, because a jury trial becomes very public. And I'm sure that's why the RIAA decided that they would be willing to go to trial this time. They knew the circumstantial evidence was very compelling and the defendant would not be able to convince many people, even if the jury acquitted, that she was not guilty. Previous cases where the evidence is not at all strong will result in the RIAA refusing to let it get to a jury trial.
September 29, 2007
GameStop Ratings Advisories
Luna and I stopped in at GameStop today, and while we were browsing through the games I heard something interesting. There was a mother in, buying a game for her son who was not there with her, and as she was paying for the game, the GameStop employee was informing her of the ESRB rating and description. I suppose this is normal policy now, when selling games to parents or grandparents, because of all the public outcry, lawsuits, and legislation attempts over children ending up with violent or sexual games.
Of course, I'm in the camp that believes the responsibility for making sure your children play games that you think are suitable belongs entirely with the parents/purchaser. But since computer and video games are something the majority of that generation don't understand, they want a ratings board and laws to do that for them.
September 27, 2007
Portions of PATRIOT Act Unconstitutional
Two provisions of the PATRIOT Act have been declared unconstitutional by Federal district court judge Ann Aiken. 27b-6 has the details, but basically Aiken ruled that the secret spying court cannot issue orders for domestic wiretaps, as it would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement must get a warrant, as has always been the case before. The secret spy court is used by the Executive Branch to get permission to acquire foreign intelligence. But the Bush administration has been using it to get permission to acquire domestic intelligence, under the excuse that they might acquire "foreign-ish" intelligence at the same time.
Pelosi Will Never Impeach
In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says she will not impeach Bush. She claims that she doesn't have the influence to bring about impeachment proceedings, but I would think the Speaker of the House better have that sort of influence as the party leader. She also claims that there are no grounds for impeachment, based on the current situation in Iraq. She also avoided the question as to whether or not holding the administration accountable actually involved any sort of real punishment.
But the point of impeachment, not just of Bush but also Chaney and other government officials that are involved, is to remove these officials from public office because they have committed criminal acts. Irrespective of impeachment, these same officials should be arrested as criminals, since they are civilians and are still bound by word of law, even if they are also high-ranking officials in the U.S. government. Why isn't the FBI showing up and taking them away? Even the right-leaning 24 did that.
Blackwater Questions ? Scandal
Blackwater USA is a private security contractor hired by the U.S. Dept. of State to provide police duties in Iraq. However a recent situation involving the shooting death of Iraq civilians in Baghdad Square has put their involvement and government relationship under the microscope. The Washington Post has some coverage about how Blackwater is straining Military and Diplomatic relations with Iraq and U.S. politicians.
There seem to be two open issues here. First, whether or not Blackwater is suitable for the work they have been contracted for. Their actions imply a certain corruption of power and their attitude one of disregard for the authority and trust placed in them. It seems like in this case, asking independent contractors to act as police or soldiers is like asking a four-year-old to direct traffic safely. Blackwater employees are supposed to be trained, and according to the article, many of them are former SEALs. But comments by military personnel don't place much faith in those employees.
Second, exactly how is it Blackwater received this contract and how can it be for such a large sum? FedSpending.org reports that Blackwater has received almost $900M for their contracts, while the Defense Department has only received $100M for their role in Iraq, since 2004. This smacks of corruption and kick-backs to me, but I don't have enough information to know if that's really the case.
September 23, 2007
Automated Targeting System is Big Brother
The Washington Post put up a very scary story yesterday. It turns out that the information collected by the DHS on travelers is much more extensive than previously expected. The first paragraph summarizes very well just how much traveling has become a threat to our expectations of civil liberties and to our rights as guaranteed under the Bill of Rights (depending upon interpretation):
The U.S. government is collecting electronic records on the travel habits of millions of Americans who fly, drive or take cruises abroad, retaining data on the persons with whom they travel or plan to stay, the personal items they carry during their journeys, and even the books that travelers have carried, according to documents obtained by a group of civil liberties advocates and statements by government officials.
The last time I took a flight, I carried almost nothing. I did, however, carry my iPod and a couple of books. I don't believe there was any time at which the contents of my iPod or the titles of those books would have been seen by an employee of the TSA but they would certainly have known where I was going, whom I was going to see, and my purpose for travel. The fact this is all recorded and will remain on record for at least fifteen years is very disconcerting to me.
I can understand the arguments for such high degrees of surveillance. I simply don't accept them. This is not the society I want to live in, and I do not trust human beings to be free of corruption or vice. The latter is probably the most important lesson to be drawn from the efforts and writings of this nation's founding fathers.
Greenspan on The Daily Show
The WSJ has an interesting post in their Economics Blog covering Alan Greenspan's recent visit to The Daily Show, including a video of the seven-minute discussion. What's great about being on The Daily Show, as opposed to many other publicity venues, is that John Stewart will ask real questions in a fair manner. (It certainly helps that his viewing audience tends to be more educated than other audiences. The attack vectors of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly make it very hard to hold a reasoned discussion on their shows.)
In this case Stewart asks Greenspan to explain why the economy needs the Federal Reserve System at all (see Purposes and Functions). Greenspan explains it very well, in simpler terms than what you will find in an economics textbook, although also in very short terms. I really recommend people pick up a copy of The Age of Turbulence.
September 16, 2007
Greenspan Criticizes Bush Administration, Republicans
Alan Greenspan has a memior coming out tomorrow called "The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World". In it, Greenspan criticizes the fiscal policy of the Bush Administration, stating that the Republicans in both legislative and executive branches spent freely if they thought it might increase their political power. It's not too surprising then that so many industrial lobbyists were successful in dictating policy during this administration. Greenspan singles out both Dennis Hastert, who I didn't know until he started blogging after which I learned not to like his policies, and Tom DeLay as two people who encouraged this behavior. He also talks about Cheney's influence in making the phrase "deficits don't matter" a political motto.
What's interesting is that Greenspan paints former President Bill Clinton as an incredibly informed fiscal manager. Not only did Clinton take risks to ensure fiscal policy would have long-term positive results, but he did so by making sure he had all of the facts and information needed to make the correct decision. That approach is so opposite to the characteristics of Bush that it's no wonder things have become so bad for the American dollar and the majority of U.S. citizens.
If only Greenspan and his memoirs would be read by the majority of the public. It's unlikely for that to be the case though, when incendiary politics or scandal are the types of books that most people are interested in knowing about. I'm sure the book will sell well, but its audience is going to be the smaller minority of people who are educated enough to understand Greenspan's influence on history and the importance of his words.
September 9, 2007
Not Moving to the U.K.
If there's any other country that is possibly worse than the United States when it comes to Orwellian fear, it's the United Kingdom. The BBC is reporting that a four-year-old girl could not wear her hoodie at an amusement arcade. Because she might be a terrorist. The girl, Karen Lewis, was playing a game when one of the employees of the Les Harker's Amusements arcade said she could not wear her hoodie up, because it's against policy and they want everyone's faces to be on the CCTV cameras.
I'm okay with things like CCTV cameras in passive use, as long as there's nothing that says I can't do whatever I want to avoid being seen on them. I'm talking about public areas, of course. Private areas I think it's okay to have whatever policies that owner might want, so long as they don't infringe upon the rights of the individual.
September 6, 2007
National Security Letters Ruled Unconstitutional
An AP article published today states that U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero has ruled the use of NSLs unconstitutional. This clause of the PATRIOT Act allowed federal investigators to access customer records without judicial review (i.e. a subpoena). This is great. Big kudos to Judge Victor Marrero.
August 27, 2007
Alberto Gonzales Forced Out
It took long enough, but Alberto Gonzales finally gave his resignation as Attorney General after such a pitiful struggle against congressional oversight, with such disillusioning support from the Bush administration. I'm sure most people are aware of the situation, but the whole debacle can be summarized as cronyism and hubris. Gonzales is supposed to represent the judicial branch of the U.S. government, yet was a willing puppet to the personal agendas of the executive branch. And since the executive branch considers itself above the law in so many different ways, not to mention illegal ways, I truly believe that the damage to these two branches of government is close to be irreparable. Unless something very improbable occurs such as the election of Ron Paul for President.
At the same time though, this does show that the system of checks and balances can work. Sort of. Congress brought Alberto Gonzales to task, and through public political pressure and repeated calls for his resignation, ended up removing him from office. However, the truth is it should not have been so difficult to remove him or taken so long. There should have been inquiries much earlier, for things that he had a hand in, and it should not take cajoling and rhetoric to remove someone who either had knowledge of illegal activity, or was so ignorant as to be incompetent for the job. It's such a waste of resources to have to deal with things this way. The law is the law, and the government should be run by competent and intelligent people, not yes-men with low IQs.
August 25, 2007
MSNBC is reporting on how the U.S. military and current administration is actively punishing whistleblowers of fraud and corruption in the rebuilding of Iraq. Putting aside the entire question as to whether or not Iraq should be in a position where it needs to be rebuilt, the fact this is going on just points further as to how the current administration and its "military-industrial complex" is trying to use propaganda and information control to guide the American citizen towards a neo-conservative and far-right political view. (I hate the fact I used the term "military-industrial complex" but unfortunately that's the correct term for it right now. Companies like Halliburton, Fox News Corp., AT&T, and the the U.S. military are actively supporting the administration's illegal or unconstitutional activities.) What can we do when there are no police to arrest and hold accountable these people and organizations? If a regular citizen had committed these crimes, he'd be arrested and in jail, pending trial. When is Congress or the FBI going to enforce the same on the Executive branch and the executives of these companies?
August 20, 2007
Time to leave? Time to become a hermit?
The Real ID Act is making headlines again, although it really should be getting more MSM attention than it has been getting so far. CNN has published an article about what is required for states to comply with the act, and the privacy concerns associated with it. A few states and both the EFF and ACLU have been lobbying against the act, and I strongly disagree with it as well.
Ever since introducing more and more security theater at airports (how can any intelligent person believe a 4oz. liquid restriction is the answer to terrorist attacks), I've been more and more bent on boycotting travel by air. I simply don't want to put up with the stupidness of such things, and feel like agreeing to do so for the purpose of travel is an implicit acceptance of this policy. There should be no restrictions on my travel within the United States, be it by car, bus, train, or plane. Anything less is how you treat a criminal. It's perfectly legal to fly without identification right now, and it should remain so even if you do have to jump through extra hoops.
Bruce Schneier recently interviewed Kip Hawley, head of the TSA, about all of this security theater. A good read for anyone who really wants to understand what the TSA is trying to accomplish, how it is trying to do it, and what some of the real concerns and complaints with their approach are.
So this all leaves me with a question. One that I've been asking myself for a long time, probably over the past four or five years. Should I make real plans to leave the United States? The alternative is to remain in a system where our civil liberties have already been taken away and both domestic and foreign policy has made the U.S. very unpopular (as it has with me). Surviving in such a system requires me to accept the loss of the things I believe in, because once laws and powers are granted in Congress they're almost never repealed. I have little hope that a Democratic President or legislative majority will undo what has been done.
Where would I go, anyway? Many countries are either directly involved or supporting U.S. illegal activity, such as rendition. Although it is heartening to know many countries are conducting investigations into and trying to stop their involvement. I wouldn't be comfortable in a culture that was very different than the one I'm used to. Britian has become the country with the highest CCTV to citizen ratio in the world. Canada is a good possibility though, despite their publicized role in rendition which seems to be a result of trusting the U.S. more than they should have.
June 19, 2007
Luna's Green Card
Luna's Green Card arrived yesterday. It's not green, just like Alla said. It's a fancy ID card with special colors and flashy things on it, and a big metallic-looking area on the back. It looks way hard to forge. Basically, there's a photo, birthdate, country of birth, and also an expiration date. It expires two years from now, which is when we have to go through the next part of the process. With this, Luna is all set and can get her driver's learner's permit and look for a job.
June 11, 2007
Luna is a Resident
I got an email today from the USCIS because I signed up for case status notifications. Luna has officially been accepted as a permanent resident. The email says her card may take up to 60 days to arrive, although the official we spoke to at our interview said it should take about two weeks. I'm not sure yet if we should make an appointment to get her passport stamped with the approval, since then she can do things that require resident status before her card arrives. The official notice should arrive in the mail within a few days.
May 24, 2007
Our I-485 Interview
Luna and I had our Adjustment of Status (I-485) interview today at the Department of Homeland Security office in San Jose. The waiting room was very barren, and when we first walked in I didn't even know if we were in the right place. There were no government officials or clerks or employees anywhere, and I just had to look around and find the little drop box sticking out of the metal-shuttered window where we put our appointment letter. Anyway, after waiting for a while, we were called in by one of the processing employees.
As far as I can tell, things went okay. But we were told by the person interviewing us that he needs to get the documents Luna handed over to the U.S. embassy in Guangzhou sent to him, so all of our documentation is in one big file. The first thing he had us do was swear in to tell the truth, while raising our right hand and standing up. Then we showed him our passports, my driver's license, and the pictures we have. We also gave him printouts of Luna listed on my insurance and our joint bank account. Later on, I asked if there was anything else that might help, and so he photocopied our joint credit cards, Costco membership cards, and insurance cards.
He said once he receives the documents from Guangzhou, then he can make the final decision and we should get a letter in the mail about a week after he gets the documents. So total time until we get the letter should be about two weeks. Two weeks after we get the letter, we should get Luna's residency card. But once we get the letter it would be possible for us to go into the office and get her passport stamped showing residency approval. At which point she can apply for work and a driver's license.
It turns out we could have applied for the work authorization at the same time as applying for the adjustment of status. But doesn't matter now since it's already so far along the process. Luna also did not need to get the full medical examination done again, even though we were told earlier that we needed to when we first visited the office and spoke to one of the clerks. We only needed a registered civil surgeon to sign off on Luna's vaccinations, and get those vaccinations if she didn't already have them.
We got back Luna's original birth certificate as well, and exchanged it with him for a photocopy. That's good since now we have the original and can hold onto it. Hopefully everything will go through just fine and in about a month Luna will be all set to get a driver's license and look for a job.
May 18, 2007
Can't Get Driver's License
Luna went to take the driver's license written test today, so she could get her learner's permit. But as it turns out, she can't take the test and get the permit because she doesn't have her green card yet. Which makes sense, since in a lot of ways a driver's license represents the fact you live in the U.S. with legal status. But this whole process is very annoying because it's so slow and Luna can't do so many things until the process is finished.
There's also that new proposal for legalization of illegal immigrants. But as I read it, applicants would get a new Z visa under the plan that would require them to leave the country for at least eight years, and as much as thirteen. I suspect even if this passes, there is absolutely no incentive for illegal immigrants to apply. The primary reason many such people left their native country (at great financial hardship, endangering their health, and risking incarceration) was to get away from horrible conditions. Like no education, lack of health care, physical danger, etc. Having to go back for eight years, essentially starting over in their native country, and then coming back to the U.S. again, to start over a third time, seems like exactly what someone will not want to do. Especially if children are involved.
May 13, 2007
An Inconvenient Truth
I finally got around to watching An Inconvenient Truth, a documentary about global warming focusing on the personal crusade of former Vice-President Al Gore to educate people about this "climate crisis". A real quick presentation about the issue was given at the 2006 TED conference, which you might want to check out. I greatly respect Gore as one of the very few really educated and contemporarily-savvy politicians of our time. And the global warming problem is one that I have believed in for a long time now.
I think one of the primary reasons I really liked this documentary is because it feels less like an opinionated exposé or personal agenda and much more like the sort of presentation or lecture you might find in academia. Of course, due to the nature of the presentation, the actual research and science involved is glossed over, but it's important to note that the scientific results and their projected impact on our world are presented. Which is where things change from opinion and subjective points of view or conjecture into real scientific data, interpreted in a scientific manner, and presented for public consumption.
One thing of note about the DVD is there's a 30 minute extension in the extras that half rehashes the existing talking points of the presentation in the documentary, and half brings in new information about the topic that is related to those talking points that have come out of research since the movie was produced. It's probably of interest to some people, but if you've already accepted the situation then it's probably not worth the time. Might be better to find newer information on the web.
February 13, 2007
Adjustment of Status Application
I mailed out Luna's Adjustment of Status application today. This is the application we need to file for her conditional permanent resident status, or green card. It took us about a month to put together all of the documents, figure out what those documents are, and everything else. But finally we had everything we needed and I sent it out with delivery confirmation and certified mail. I don't know how long it will take for the paperwork to get processed, or when Luna will have to get fingerprinted, but this means we're done for now until we have to file to remove conditional status two years after we get the conditional status.
We mailed the following documents:
- I-485: Application to Register Permanent Residence of Adjust Status
- G-325a: Biographic Information for Luna
- G-325a: Biographic Information for me
- I-797: Notice of Action (photocopy)
- I-864: Affidavit of Support
- I-693: Medical Examination of Aliens Seeking Adjustment of Status (sealed)
- Supplemental Form to I-693: Document of Immunization (sealed)
- Luna's Passport (photocopy)
- Luna's I-94 and K-1 Visa (photocopy)
- My Passport (photocopy)
- Two passport photos of Luna
- Two passport photos of me
- Most recent bank statement (photocopy)
- Most recent pay stub (photocopy)
- Most recent W-2 (photocopy)
This was all mailed to the Chicago lockbox address of:U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
P.O. Box 805887
Chicago, IL 60680-4120
January 29, 2007
Social Security Number
Some people may not know this, and I wasn't aware of it until last week, but it's possible for someone on a K-1 visa to get a social security number, without having to file paperwork with the USCIS (formerly INS) asking for a work authorization card. All you need is the I-94 form that was given to you when you entered the country and passed through immigration. So Luna and I were able to apply for her social security number at the local office today. We should receive her social security card in one or two weeks at which point she can find a job and also start doing all those things which require a social security number.
Apparently, it may help to wait two weeks or so after entering the country for the I-94 information to get into the system. I don't know if that is really true though, and I read that if you go before the information has been entered they can still process your application it will just take longer because they need to wait for it to get into the system. Luna's I-94 form stub is stapled into her passport next to the K-1 visa, and it's actually a very important document to have because it's also used on the adjustment of status application.
August 11, 2006
V for Vendetta
A few friends came over tonight to watch V for Vendetta. Jeannie, Gary, and Dantam showed up and Bryant was supposed to be he never did and we couldn't reach him by phone. The movie turned out enormously better than I was expecting. Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving were excellent, and I was especially impressed by how well the personality and emotion of V could be portrayed even from behind the mask. The visuals, action sequences, and sound were also very good.
One aspect I particularly liked was the basis in reality that the world of V exists within. Although this is a comic book adaptation, the people are not supers and do not have any abnormal powers. There aren't any strange guns or weapons, and the characters are human in their normality and emotion. This is extremely important because the ideals and morality of this film is built upon the idea of you and I, and not the idea of something supernatural or larger than the individual.
There really is too much to say about the ideals and morality present in this film, and they come directly from the comic. The original work is sometimes said to be a satire and criticism of the UK government when Margaret Thatcher served as prime minister, because the comic features the opposing views of anarchism and fascism. The movie was modified to some degree to feature the opposing views of liberalism and (religious) conservatism, to some degree. It's taken a little farther than simple left-wing/right-wing politics.
Unfortunately, the thing that really made this movie have an impact upon me is because it captures so well exactly how I feel about certain things today. I think it's been such a long time since a movie that does this has been produced, where the current political, social, and economic situations are the real focus rather than an intellectual side-note. And it's certainly the first one that takes it as far as this one does for something that I am living through.
I do hope people will understand when it is said "artists use lies to tell the truth" that the statement is as much about the movie itself as it is about what's going on in the movie.
June 4, 2006
Mayor Bloomberg's JHU Address
New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg gave a moving and insightful graduation address to the students of John Hopkins University. I'm pleased to hear of his opinions on certain topics, which happen to match my own opinions on those same topics, and to know he is making a stand for it, at a time when politicians tend to be more concerned with their position and belief in fallacies than with taking the time to understand and make intelligent decisions.
June 2, 2006
Fixing the U.S. 2004 Election
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is someone I've admired for his stance on protecting the environment. I only think it is a shame that he and his cause doesn't get as much attention as they should. Today I came across an essay he wrote for Rolling Stone entitled: Was the 2004 Election Stolen.
In this essay, he presents evidence that indicates a conspiracy to ensure that President Bush would be elected to a second term. This is something I'd wondered about, after reading about electron fraud or errors and how in almost every case it seemed to favor Bush over Kerry. It seems that the implicating evidence is stronger and the scope of the situation broader than I had thought.
April 27, 2006
Canadian Music Creators Coalition
A number of Canadian musicians have formed the Canadian Music Creators Coalition. This group was created to stand against recent political and legal "abuses" that have been harming the reputation and consumers of the Canadian music industry. The three goals of this coalition are to make it clear that suing consumers is bad, DRM is a risky and more often than not negative proposition, and to promote local Canadian music. They also want to make it clear that the labels are not looking out for the best interests of musicians or consumers. The top three coalition members listed on the home page are: Barenaked Ladies, Avril Lavigne, and Sarah McLachlan.
April 17, 2006
DMCA's Unintended Consequences
The EFF has published version 4 of their DMCA Unintended Consequences document, which lists ways in which the existence (and not necessary the litigation of) the DMCA has negatively impacted technological advancement and existing rights in the United States. The geographical distinction is important, as the rest of the world is not bound by the DMCA and may continue to operate without its burden, but in doing so can no longer engage in trade of technology or information with the United States, its citizens, or people who do interact with the United States.
April 13, 2006
NSA Wiretap Whistleblower
On April 6, a former AT&T technician, Mark Klein, released a statement detailing his knowledge and involvement in what he refers to as a secret room built by the NSA to perform mass communications analysis. This would be in direct violation of, depending on your interpretation the U.S. Constitution, and also of laws preventing surveillence of U.S. citizens without a warrant.
April 12, 2006
iPods for Senators
A while back, IPac started a donation campaign to send iPod's to every U.S. Senator after the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation chairman revealed during a hearing that after getting an iPod he suddenly understood how the "Broadcast Flag" and "Audio Flag" would be detrimental to both consumers and technological advancement. The MPAA and RIAA representatives at that hearing were blind-sided by his questions. Donate today.
April 10, 2006
Bush Administration's Iran Plans
The New Yorker has a piece titled The Iran Plans: Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb? I'm not sure where the information is coming from, but as The New Yorker is a very respected and long-lived publication, I assume they've done their fact checking. The gist of the article talks about the plans President Bush and his administration have for Iran, with the clear preference being war in order to bring about regime change. For alarmists, the use of tactical nuclear strikes against underground bunkers is mentioned as an option.
April 3, 2006
Swoop and Squat
Apparently a new form of fraud is becoming popular, or at least more widely known. It's called Swoop and Squat, and basically involves someone cutting you off so as to force a rear-end collision. Since the rear-ender is usually the one held at fault, this means the other party stands to benefit. Plus, it seems a network of auxiliary services are staged to try and pry more money out of you. A few others are listed at Allstate's Fraud page.
March 28, 2006
BusinessWeek 50 - Gougers
I noticed something strange about the top performers in the BusinessWeek 50. The vast majority of the top companies are in health insurance and energy. (Halliburton is also listed, but their growth is even more ethically questionable.) But shouldn't health insurance and energy companies be making minor profits, and not huge ones?
If health costs are so high, or the insurance prices need to be high to cover things like malpractice, why are the health insurance companies actually making lots of extra money? And energy should not be priced at whatever the market can bear, since they are legalized monopolies due to infrastructure limitations. All of these consolidations are not good for consumers and I'd be interested to see how pricing is determined. When there's only one supplier, or a few suppliers with close ties to each other as well as high-ranking members of the federal government, things should smell fishy.
March 22, 2006
Luna told me that Huo Zhe is the only movie by Yimou Zhang to have been banned in China. I can understand why, as it paints the rise and social condition of Communism under Chairman Mao in a less than flattering light. In fact, I believe there are hints of "disappearances" but this is not obviously stated. Regardless, it is an excellent movie about how a husband and wife continue with their lives, finding happiness and meaning in family no matter all the hardships they have to go through.
I did really like the way things changed over the years, as the movie spans about three decades. The acting by Li Gong and You Ge is really good, and it was interesting to see how they have to adapt to the changing times when the people they've known all their lives are affected by the revolution. There are some really tragic situations, and a constant condition of tension that is still present in China today.
Unfortunately, I see the United States falling into that same situation today, with ultra-conservative religious and big brother observation/control becoming more common. Hopefully the Constitutional protections will eventually revert the damage done so far. However, I'm not too optimistic based on how the judicial branch at all levels is starting to involve personal opinions more instead of relying upon the Constitution and law.
March 13, 2006
Yes More Secrets
A small group of senators have drafted a bill that would make it illegal to talk about illegal spying. In other words, it would be illegal for the press to have disclosed the illegal NSA wiretapping that has created a huge backlash against President Bush personally and his administration as a whole. The bill authors claim reporters would be exempt, but the wording does not seem to indicate that. Plus, individuals who pass on that information could still be prosecuted. That means me, for example, writing about it in my blog or passing a news article on to a friend.
March 7, 2006
Information Control for the Marines
It seems that the U.S. government, in its wisdom, has decided that US marines should only have access to "good" political news. Based on the examples given, that would appear to be right-wing conservative news. Edit: based on posts to /., it seems some military personnel (not just marines) are experiencing this but others are not. So this may just be an isolated situation (in terms of network topology, not geography).
March 6, 2006
South Dakota Bans Abortion
A number of sites are reporting that South Dakota has banned abortions, in direct conflict with the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling. The law bans almost all types of abortions, including those due to rape or incest and also when the mother is at risk of injury or death. The goal appears to be to push this into the Supreme Court for another ruling, as with two new conservative justices, it is likely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Especially as both implied that they would rule against abortion if put to it.
February 15, 2006
Abu Ghraib Abuse Photos
More photos of prisioner abuse in Iraq by U.S. soldiers have been published by the media, although only by the non-U.S. media as no mainstream news corporation in the U.S. is willing to go against the Bush administration's media control efforts. These photos are in addition to the photos previously leaked in 2004, but the source of these photos has not been made known. Perhaps if these photos had been released to the U.S. public earlier, the anti-torture bill put forth by Senator John McCain might have passed through without being watered-down.
December 16, 2005
Bush iPod Transcript
At the end of an interview by Brit Hume, George Bush talked about his iPod playlist and comes off as a little stupid.
Bush : Beach Boys, Beatles, let's see, Alan Jackson, Alan Jackson, Alejandro, Alison Krauss, the Angels, the Archies, Aretha Franklin, the Beatles, Dan McLean. Remember him?
Hume: Don McLean.
Bush: I mean, Don McLean.
Hume: Does "American Pie," right?
Bush: Great song.
Hume: Yes, yes, great song.
Unidentified male: . . . which ones do you play?
Bush: All of these. I put it on shuffle. Dwight Yoakam. I've got the Shuffle, the, what is it called? The little.
Bush: It looks like.
Hume: The Shuffle. That is the name of one of the models.
Bush: Yes, the Shuffle.
Hume: Called the Shuffle.
Bush: Lightweight, and crank it on, and you shuffle the Shuffle.
Hume: So you -- it plays . . .
Bush: Put it in my pocket, got the ear things on.
Hume: So it plays them in a random order.
Hume: So you don't know what you're going to going to get.
Hume: But you know --
Bush: And if you don't like it, you have got your little advance button. It's pretty high-tech stuff.
Hume: . . . be good to have one of those at home, wouldn't it?
Hume: Yes, hit the button and whatever it is that's in your head -- gone.
Bush: . . . it's a bad day, just say, get out of here.
Hume: Well, that probably is pretty . . .
Bush: That works, too. ( Laughter )
Hume: Yes, right.
Senate Rejects Patriot Renewal
Excellent news was reported today: the U.S. Senate voted to reject renewal of the Patriot Act! Calling my senators and congresswoman, and continually emailing them to lobby against the renewal has paid off. Or, perhaps it was the idea of 1984 abuses that changed many minds. Details on the renewal rejection are in this AP article. Now we just need to get past the end of the year, when the clauses finally expire.
Say NO to Torture
Senator McCain has succeeded in bucking the Bush Administration's attempts to legalize prisoner torture and gained White House support for the ban against torture, although that support has been given as a last resort. McCain was able to pull so many representatives over to his side that the statement by the Bush Administration is seen as a measure to save face. The expressions on McCain's and Bush's faces in this photo are excellent.
December 13, 2005
30,000 Iraqis or 2,000 Americans
There's been a lot of debate over the loss of mroe than 2000 U.S. soldiers in the ongoing military action in Iraq. U.S. mothers protest against these losses were symbolized by Cindy Sheehan's vigil. But rarely does anyone ask or even care about the Iraqi civilians that have died (military losses are of course expected). President Bush has finally acknowledged the count of 30,000 Iraqi deaths as a result of the invasion and subsequent military activities. Only ~4000 of those 30,000 have been military or government personnel. The Iraqi Coalition Casualty Count keeps track of the deaths in Iraq for both sides.
Secret CIA Prisons
European investigators into the allegations of secret CIA prisons in European countries have found preliminary support for those allegations, and claim that those prisoners were moved into Northern Africa shortly after the initial accusations were raised. Interesting support for these claims also comes from a planespotter, who apparently photographed and logged the flight of a plane involved in the CIA transport of an individual claiming he was abducted and interrogated. A photo of the plane has been posted as well. This is a lot like the episode of 24 involving the secret detention of Victor Drazen.
December 9, 2005
Patriot Renewal Moving Forward
The White House and Republican representatives have reached an agreement that lets the Patriot Act renewal process move forward. Since things are moving towards the possibility of making those provisions permanent and extending them for another four years, I called my representatives Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Zoe Lofgren to let them know I am opposed to the renewal.
December 6, 2005
Fire the FCC
I came across a web site today that would like to Fire the FCC. Unfortunately, at this point, I have to agree with them. So far, the only things which the FCC has been doing lately have resulted in censorship, restrictions of technological innovation, the U.S. falling behind other countries in terms of telecommunications infrastructure, entrenching monoplies that no longer have technological or economic reasons for protection, and clinging to old models that no long apply. In other words, they're wasting money and hurting our economy and technological advancement.
November 25, 2005
Last night Shannon and Yvonne came over to sleep over. Yvonne didn't do much except read. She brought and finished some fantasy book by Mercedes someone, and also The Lost World. She also read my copy of Fight Club. Shannon started reading volume one of Azumanga Daioh.
In the morning, Shannon and I watched Star Wars: Episode III. She hadn't seen it before; Yvonne didn't want to stop reading to watch, even though she hasn't seen it yet. She'll have to watch it some other time. What's interesting is that if you consider President Bush as Emperor Palpatine, the movie takes on a very specific political stance. One which I happen to agree with. We also watched some of the special features, which made Mei-Ling say that she feels bad about watching pirated copies because they do so much work to make the movie.
Shannon went on a hugging rampage with Asuka and Niea. She kept trying to hug them a lot, but was usually holding them wrong so they would wriggle away. Chie kept hiding under the beds, but he did come out last night while I was sleeping, and also again around noon. I took him down so they could pet him, but he got scared and ran away back upstairs to hide inside my bed again.
After we finished watching Star Wars, Shannon and I played some Magic: The Gathering. I beat her with my deck so we swapped, and then she won with my deck. So she started to redo her deck but got annoyed at it because she picked too many cards. She doesn't know how to decide between cards, and always just tries to pick cards that are good without thinking about strategy or cost. That works in simple games like Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh but doesn't work in Magic.
While we were doing that, Mei-Ling watched Hero, and Yvonne started to watch with her after she finished reading. Then they left to have Thanksgiving dinner with some people they know.
November 23, 2005
Bush Wanted to Bomb Free Speech
It is being reported that President Bush wanted to bomb Al-Jazeera news offices, but was disuaded by Tony Blair. Al-Jazeera is seen by the administration as hostile to U.S. interests because their reports include content that is damaging to the U.S. Such as photos of killed civilians in Iraq. U.S. news corporations will comply with government requests not to report on certain newsworthy items. The leaked memo detailing Bush's proposal is being withheld at the British government's request.
November 22, 2005
Jose Padilla Finally Charged
After being held for three years, U.S. Citizen Jose Padilla has finally been charged with conspiring to murder, maim, and kidnap people in countries other than the U.S. Maybe one day I too can look forward to being held in solitary, treated as an enemy combatant (subject to torture), and denied my Constitutional rights until some charges can be discovered. By my own country, which proclaims to be the freest nation on Earth.
November 15, 2005
U.S. Torture Debate
Newsweek's latest issue has on its cover The Truth about Torture with a photo of Senator John McCain. Everyone should read the title article "The Debate Over Torture" which goes into detail about some of the political changes that have occurred with regards to the treatment of prisoners, detainees, foreign militants, or even random U.S. citizens (i.e. people without rights, according to the current administration).
I am still of the firm belief that you should strive to maintain your own ethical standards and apply them equally without exception. If you must make an exception, then you must also acknowledge this breach and accept the consequences. I would not treat foreigners any less humanely than I would U.S. citizens, as I value each of them equally. The U.S. government should not take such a stance either. It is a decision which I consider unconstitutional and unethical.
Specifically, I imagine the decision makers are not following the golden rule when they exercise their power. I also think it is wrong for the legislative branch to have granted such wide discretion in these matters to the executive branch. Lately, I feel as though the system of checks-and-balances has been compromised in exchange for a system of manuevering so as to accomplish the goals of a single entity.
Alito Seeking a Job
I ran across a quote by President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito, Jr. When asked about his written responses to abortion rights in 1985, he replied that his statements were those of "an advocate seeking a job." I think that sounds a little bit like a person who is going to say whatever people want to hear, rather than a person who will say what they really believe in. In other words, a person without integrity. And now he is up for Supreme Court judge, a position that requires nothing if complete integrity.
November 11, 2005
Wal*Mart is a company that I've refused to purchase from ever since reading The Wal-Mart You Don't Know in the Dec. 2003 issue of Fast Company. Before then, I did frequent Wal*Mart while living in North Carolina. Seems Wal*Mart bashing is becoming more popular, with dozens of labor-related lawsuits and outsourcing as a major concern. In response, Wal*Mart has put up a web site called Wal-Mart Facts and is buying banner ads to publicize it. Definitely worth taking a look at.
November 4, 2005
Alaskan Oil Drilling Passed
The Senate passed a bill to allow oil drilling in the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge. And I don't approve of it at all. Some details of the bill indicate why this is a bad decision.
I agree with Maria Cantwell that oil drilling in Alaska won't do much to improve resource availability in the U.S. and certainly not without severe consequences to the environment.
Also, the amendment that will supposedly ensure oil from Alaska is only shipped to the U.S. is stupid. The oil companies can simply export oil from other U.S. locations, instead of oil from Alaska. It's like telling someone that all the money you give them has to be used for food. But they can still use the money they already have for whatever they want.
November 1, 2005
Sony CD installs Windows Rootkit
Came across this blog entry by one of the SysInternals crew: Sony, Rootkits and Digital Rights Management Gone Too Far. Mark Russinovich recently purchased a CD published by Sony that comes with a data session and installs some DRM software on Windows machines. Turns out this DRM software is hides itself from the user by employing rootkit-style tactics. And this software is extremely bad for you to have on your computer, both for what it does, what it uses, and for being poorly implemented.
October 26, 2005
An Open Letter to the Citizens of the U.S.A.
The following is an open letter to the citizens of the United States of American from John Cleese.
In light of your failure to elect a competent President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately.
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and territories (excepting Kansas, which She does not fancy).
Your new prime minister, Tony Blair, will appoint a governor for America without the need for further elections.
Congress and the Senate will be disbanded.
A questionnaire may be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.
To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect: You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary.
1. Then look up aluminium, and check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it.
2. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix ize will be replaced by the suffix ise.
Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up vocabulary).
3. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as American English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of -ize. You will relearn your original national anthem, God Save The Queen.
4. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
5. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.
6. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler. A permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
7. All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and this is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean.
8. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables.
Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
9. The Former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) roughly $6/US gallon. Get used to it.
10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
11. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
12. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie MacDowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
13. You will cease playing American football. There is only one kind of proper football; you call it soccer. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).
14. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 21% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable.
15. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
16. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
17. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 PM with proper cups, never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; strawberries in season.
Thank you for your co-operation.
October 19, 2005
Turns out that several printer manufacturers will print a secret code onto any documents printed from their machines, which can be used to trace a document back to the original printer that produced it. And, subsequently, back to you as an individual. Why is this scary? Because dissident publications are certainly one way to get onto the FBI's watch list. The EFF (join) has published their DocuColor Tracking Dot Decoding Guide. Find out how to destroy the secret code on any of your Xerox printers. For more information, check out the EFF's summary on printer betrayal.
October 10, 2005
Potential ID Theft via Blockbuster
Since I work at Netflix, this little tidbit was of some interest today: Blockbuster paperwork left on sidewalk. Apparently, a closing Blockbuster store in New York trashed their customer applications without doing anything to ensure confidential information like social security numbers and credit card numbers were destroyed. Some employee was obviously quite ignorant of the potential consequences.
September 30, 2005
Stupid President Bush Pardons
It seems that President Bush, in his infinite wisdom, has pardoned a number of people who simply don't deserve to be pardoned. Was it discovered that these people were in fact not guilty of federal crimes? Doesn't appear so. That's what appeals are for anyway. I want to say something about this but I'd probably get carted away by the FBI for mouthing off. Tim Pepper's perspective.
September 26, 2005
Slippery Slope of Monitoring
There's news going around of LimeWire making changes to their system to prevent the distribution of copyright materials in light of recent U.S. court rulings. The recent court ruling stated "We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties." Unfortunately, if LimeWire attempts to comply, it will set a very undesirable precedent.
Essentially, what LimeWire's system will start to do is monitor communications between third-parties to look for activity which is considered illegal. This monitoring will be constant, and if its algorithms and database suspect a party is engaging in illegal activity, the system will prevent the activity from taking place. You may be thinking, "where's the harm in that?" It's a little like video cameras in stores to make sure people don't shoplift, right?
The problem is, this is more akin to having software monitor all of your phone/email communications or financial transactions or library usage to see if you are doing anything the government doesn't think you should be doing. The difference is, all of those intelligence systems have been government programs, subject to public and congressional oversight. (Although you can argue whether or not the government seems to care about that.) This would be the first time a private company will start policing the third-party use of its system for criminal activity. And private companies are under no similar obligation to behave. This is why the FBI performs wire-taps, and not Verizon.
September 12, 2005
Nuclear Proliferation Returns
The Times Online is reporting that a revised nuclear operations doctrine would allow for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against terrorists. What does this mean? It means if this goes through, Bush could have ordered nuclear strikes against Iraq. And in the future, those countries which the government decides is evil. Or countries that are suspected of helping evil.
This is very, very bad for a number of reasons. One reason is that we have entered a more "enlightened" age where most of humanity has recognized the dangers inherent to stockpiling of nuclear weapons. Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) fall under this same category of single weapons with devestating non-military casualties. One would hope that similar WMD non-proliferation agreements would arise in the near future. The complication with that is it can be much easier to produce a WMD than a nuclear warhead. But I would not say it is much easier to purchase a WMD than a nuclear warhead.
Another reason this is bad is because the U.S. government has taken a very liberal approach to who or what it labels as terrorists. There's a general attitude of label everything and everyone we don't like as terrorists. Why? Because the government has passed laws that allow the executive branch to ignore Constitutional rights and the Geneva Convention for terrorists. Laws like this proposed modification to the doctrine. I think it is highly hypocritical for a nation to decide its natural and inalienable rights only apply to humans it decides it would like them to apply.
August 2, 2005
Equal Rights for Gay Marriages
The California Supreme Court has ruled that privileges granted to traditional marriages must be extended to same-sex relationships that have been registered with the state. This is an important ruling because it sets a precedent on how Californian businesses must treat domestic partners. Aonther good example of why I picked California as where I want to live.
July 31, 2005
Stem Cell Research Support
I was heartened to learn that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has publicly announced his support for stem cell research in the United States. With his support, there is a chance that stem cell research provisions will pass through, overriding President Bush's promised veto. While I do not necessarily agree with all of Senator Frist's beliefs on the matter, I do agree that stem cell research will provide amazing scientific advances in medicine and biology. It has the potential to revolutionize our knowledge and application in as much as genetics has already done and continues to do so.
Patriot Act Renewed
I haven't written about political stuff in a while. I think I have grown more apathetic on the whole issue. But I am glad that one of my representatives, Zoe Lofgren, voted against renewal of the Patriot Act. In my opinion, the Patriot Act is one of the worst bills to pass through the legislature in all of U.S. history. And the popular media does nothing to educate the public on how we are moving closer towards an Orwellian state.
March 29, 2005
Why Not to Trust The Government
As a good example of why not to trust your United States government, it's been revealed by the Dept. of Homeland Security investigators that the Transportation Security Administration lied when asked if they had used real passenger information to test its CAPPS II passenger screening system. In addition, the sensitive personal information made available to the involved third-parties were not kept under strict privacy control.
English to Code
Computer scientists are MIT have put together a prototype tool to convert system requirements written in natural English into skeleton code. I hope they keep this going, because this will have to end the stupidness of considering code as a special sort of description, whereas the same description in a natural language is something different. Both in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of people who don't understand what a programming language really is.
Programming languages are not something special or different. They're the same as any other language, although more strictly defined and with a limited ability for expression. But the same thing applies to so-called natural languages. From what my Mom has told me, you cannot express gender of a person when speaking. And tense also cannot be conveyed. I've also been told Inuktitut has the ability to express hundreds of subtleties for snow, which English cannot. Japanese also has different speaking modes depending on the amount of respect you are supposed to convey to the listener. And also different words for saying thank you or for apologizing, depending on the situation.
Extending differences like that to programming languages is not a very big leap.
March 28, 2005
Sony Sued for Shaking Controllers
Sony has lost a lawsuit brought against them from Immersion for patent infringement of force-feedback in game controllers. Sony will have to pay $90.7 million and stop sale of Playstation consoles. However, the judge has allowed console sales to continue pending the results of Sony's appeal. While they're at it, Immersion should sue all the graduate students in universities across the country who are developing force-feedback controls.
March 14, 2005
Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
A California Superior Court judge ruled today that the ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional. California has had an interesting history over this legal and cultural issue because a California vote did establish legal marriages as only between male and female. However, there is a very strong gay presence in the state, and California is probably the state with the most support for gay marriage in terms of sheer numbers and percentage of population. The case must still proceed to the California Supreme Court.
March 9, 2005
EU Approves Software Patents
I saw today that the EU Council has approved software patents, despite strong opposition from open source advocates and member states. The article quotes Hugo Lueders, director of public policy at CompTIA, as stating this directive will allow the EU to "become the world's most competitive and dynamic knowledge-driven economy in 2010." Some people just don't understand why things like software patents and intellectual property of ideas (not implementations) are bad for society, progress, and economic growth. History does not appear to be their strong point.
February 22, 2005
FCC Broadcast Flag Out-of-Bounds
A U.S. Appeals court ruled that the FCC overstepped their authority when they put the broadcast flag into place. This flag is designed to prevent consumer devices from making copies of broadcast content, and was heavily pushed by the broadcasting industry. The law is supposed to be enabled in a few months. Said the judge, "Selling televisions is not what the FCC is in the business of". Unfortunately, it isn't clear whether or not this ruling will stand, as consumer groups may not have the necessary legal standing required to bring such a case to court.
January 29, 2005
I watched Fahrenheit 9/11 the other day. I was extremely interested in what was said, although of course Michael Moore has a personal opinion which the viewer should not forget. However, it is just as important to remember that his opinion and bias comes from what he has learned and the fact he believes in his country and is a patriot of the original sense.
Regardless, I think it is important for people to watch this documentary because this is an example of the sort of questions news magazines are reluctant to fully probe. Especially since the President and his administration are of international importance, but television news has a domestic focus. I've found that reading more international news sources has made it clear how little domestic mainstream news covers.
Perhaps the most telling epitaphs are those of the soldiers and soldiers' families condemning President Bush personally (and by implication those who facilitated recent military action) for what is happening to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Moore also highlights exactly how Orwellian the United States has become by interviewing groups and individuals who have been persecuted under the Patriot Act and expansion of the Department of Homeland Security. Those incidents have barely been covered by domestic news. It's easier for the masses to accept inhumane or unconstitutional treatment of foreigners that the administration wants us to fear, than to see it happening to your neighbor.
That also brings up something that I think is fundamentally wrong with our government. We base our institutional rights on the Constitution and Bill of Rights. But the government does not extend those rights to non-U.S. citizens. This goes directly against The Golden Rule, which was used to ensure human civilization, and is more important now than ever since breaking The Golden Rule can result in the death of millions.
January 14, 2005
Malaysian VCD Pirate Shot
The Star (a Malaysian newspaper) is reporting that police officers shot a VCD pirate in the chest during a struggle. The bullet also hit a bystander after exiting the victim's chest. The pirate is in critical condition and the bystander in stable condition. The event is under investigation as the pirate did not have any firearms in his possession.
I think it is somewhat interesting to see this happening. In some ways, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Southeast-Asia is one of the biggest producers of pirated material. And the culture there accepts it as the correct way of doing business. Legitimate stores sell pirated material all the time; there are street vendors on every corner; and law enforcement seems to turn a blind eye.
I wonder just what caused the officers to focus on this particular person, and what led to the use of firearms.
January 12, 2005
No WMD in Iraq
The New York Times is reporting that the search for Weapons of Mass Destruction has ended, with absolutely no evidence that there were ever any weapons built or weapons capabilities found in Iraq since 1991, and the no real belief that any such weapons may have been moved out of Iraq. This doesn't particularly surprise me, as I already do not trust President Bush or his administration. I think the call for a thorough explanation that does not brush off the questions is valid and necessary. Maybe lying to the public should be made into an impeachable offense, at all levels of government.
IBM Donates 500 Patents
Today came another illustration of why I think IBM is a great company that I can respect: IBM donates 500 software patents to the open source community. Of course, there are financial motivations for doing this, as IBM generates a lot of revenue on services and sales for open-source systems, but it is true that many of the people with influence in IBM recognize the problems with the U.S. patent system. Unfortuantely, any continuation of this sort of policy relies on what I referred to before as the benevolent dictatorship. As soon as the people in charge are replaced with those who believe otherwise, or if their views change, then this sort of important decision will become a thing of the past.
January 11, 2005
Demand for EU Patent Directive Rewriting
Apparently a lot of politicians in the EU have been paying attention to what could happen if they accept the patent policies based on the US policies. Policies which the US is encouraging the EU to accept. There has been a call for the current patent directive to be thrown out and rewritten from scratch. The reason given is that many countries were unable to participate in the early discussions. I think going from scratch means when objections or issues are raised no one can say, "We already talked about this."
December 11, 2004
EU Patent Decision Delayed
The EU Council has decided to postpone its software patentability decision until next year. Apparently, many of the member states have started expressing concerns against software patents. Poland is one of those countries, and their statement that "'computer-implemented inventions' would be patentable, but that computer programs would not be" is exactly right, but vague due to a lack of definitions.
The idea is to patent a specific application, but not a class of applications or the technical approach used by an application. In other words, you can patent your tire, but not the tire. But that does bring up another point. To some extent, the ability to patent your tire should also be invalid for the single reason that a specific implementation may in fact be the best implementation. That does not apply, of course, to the majority of items. But it is conceivable, for example, that a specific mixture of glass creates the absolutely best transparent optical properties physically possible. A patent on that would have long-lasting damaging effects.
December 4, 2004
DRAM Price Fixing
ComputerWeekly reports that Infineon executives have pleaded guilty to DRAM price fixing. The company is fined US$160 million and four executives face the possibility of jail time and fines. Some of you may recall when this investigation began in 2002. Basically, Infineon owns the intellectual property associated with DRAM technology. Since just about every computer used DRAM technology since the late 1990's, Infineon got a slice of that pie. But by fixing prices, they artificially drove prices up for consumers and business. The US $160 million fine doesn't seem so large when you read about the ProMOS settlement, however.
November 30, 2004
Copyright: Kahle v. Ashcroft
Learned something about copyright that I didn't know before (because I was born in 1980): Kahle v. Ashcroft is asking that copyright go back to the way it was before 1976 where copyright was granted on request only and placed the burden on the copyright owner. Today, copyright is granted implicitly without burden. This is interesting.
I don't really know if I have a problem with copyright being granted implicitly so long as there's an expiration. I do know that the current trend towards infinite copyright is a real problem. An excellent story about this is Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson. (He's one of my favorite authors.) Part of the problem is basing copyright's expiration on death. People live longer today, and companies count as legal entities with the potential to never die.
Part of what this lawsuit is asking for, however, is that since some works are abandoned by their copyright owners, that work is "lost" to the world until the copyright expires. The owner has decided never to do anything with the work, but no one else can reproduce it or distribute it or derive other works from it without the owner's express permission. I can see a problem there. Maybe not much of a problem if copyright expired after a short time.
November 29, 2004
Apparently the US has announced that all future landmines will be detectable, as opposed to the historically non-detectable landmines which are still found in many places of the world. The non-detectable versions are left in the battlefield after a battle, and have been known to kill civilians years later. From the article: "The United States is setting an example among the major military powers by being the first to ban all of its persistent landmines -- both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle." The only thing is, if a landmine is detectable, doesn't that defeat the purpose?
November 23, 2004
Software Patents: IMHO
I was asked today about my opinion on software patents. This person has the opportunity to file some disclosures on products he has been working on, but he feels some discomfort about doing so because he is not sure whether or not he agrees with the idea of patenting those products. On the other hand he is being encouraged to file. There would be a financial award and it would be good for his career. My reply follows....
Well, my outlook is that I should do my part, and state my reasons for doing so to other people so they understand what I believe, and then maybe they will decide that patents are also bad. But it is not as though I will think someone is a bad person for believing in patents or filing them. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on the matter.
I have a somewhat extreme view on patents. I've posted some of this on my personal blog, and also told my manager about it so she knows that although my career would benefit from it, I'm not willing to compromise. I think the issue is too important. If IBM ever decides patents are the only way they will value more anymore, or the only way I can advance, I will leave.
I am not 100% sure, but I believe I have met someone else in IBM who feels that their career has not moved forward because they do not have any patents. That could be true. But I also believe what one of the other IBMers I met said; that I should not be expected to or feel I need to compromise my morals or beliefs for the job.
Maybe it is easier for me to say that, since I'm a little younger. I don't worry about a job or stuff like that though; I've got enough people trying to hire me that I'm confident I could find something quick.
One of my CS professors told me that although he thinks the entire patent process is completely messed up, I should go for it because as one person I'm not going to fix it and it does mean he and I can get rich off the way things work. But I think that's exactly the problem with patents. People are naturally selfish and greedy. Shareholders are this way. Companies are this way. Employees are this way. Etc. That's why the system perpetuates itself.
In simple terms, I think of it this way. Where would our species be today if the first person to figure out paper patented it? Or fertilizer? Or the axe or screwdriver? The internal combustion engine or the wheel?
Of course, in your case, you don't have the option of sharing your ideas no matter what your decision. Work for hire means the company owns any IP. It's their idea and not yours. They will most likely get it patented somehow even if you don't have a hand in it. I am the passive protestor to this, I suppose. During Extreme Blue, there was a big push for filing disclosures. My team was the only one not to attempt any disclosures, as far as I know. If someone requests my help specifically on a patent application or anything related to a patent, I will refuse. I will not attempt to stop someone else, but I will not do anything to help.
There is also the argument that if your asset is your ideas, when why shouldn't you be able to patent those ideas and that will become the basis for your contribution to the species and how you make a living. You are the thinker, and someone else is the builder.
One of the problems I have with that mindset is that it is selfish and self-serving. Ideas are meant to be shared. That is how civilization has made progress for thousands of years. Everyone believes our children are our most valuable resource and that teachers are so important. But when it comes to making money, don't you dare teach! Keep it for yourself and milk it for all you can.
It also becomes a problem because ideas are not standalone things. All ideas are built on top of other ideas. At this point, it turns into that childish argument that goes something like this: I wouldn't have hit you if you hadn't broken my toy; I wouldn't have broken my toy if you didn't buy the toy; I wouldn't have bought the toy if you hadn't broken my other toy. Etc. It sounds crazy to apply to this patents, but due to the lifetimes of patents and copyright, it is applicable. A jet engine has so many patents on it that for someone else to build one would be the same way. You owe me for this and this and this and this and this.
The only reason we can write software today is because so much of it is coming out of academia where patents do not apply. Quicksort, arrays, try/catch, object-oriented languages, etc. We have competition for journaled filesystems today, but that would not have been possible if the idea came out of a company with a patent. Things that seem cutting edge today are the building blocks for the mundane tomorrow.
Crazy rant done.
I think for you, the two sides are the compensation+career, versus the internal discomfort of having your name associated with something you don't necessarily believe in. The majority of people you meet with will not feel that way but instead will congratulate you on your accomplishment. You'll just have to figure out which of those two sides is the one you would prefer to live with.
No Software Patents
Found out about this web site today: No Software Patents!. The site itself is somewhat inflammatory and as a result comes off a little immature. However, the issue of software patents is enormous and how it plays out in the EU will have a very serious impact on how software development proceeds worldwide over the next few decades, or even longer depending on how the legal environment changes.
The EU also has an opportunity to overtake the United States in software advances if the software patent issue is turned down. Software development in the United States has several problems. Some of them are:
- Non-compete clauses that are extreme due to the size and reach of some companies. Thankfully at least California restricts this to the term of employment. Software is so important to the world's operation that this is like limiting blacksmiths or metalworkers in earlier time periods. What if Da Vinci's works were locked away, even today?
- Litigation that can destroy a company, product, and for people not protected by a corporation: lives. The penalty for using an idea someone else patented, regardless of where you got the idea or if you had knowledge of the patent, is so severe an individual developer can lose everything.
- Expenses revolving entirely around intellectual property law. Lawyers, entire legal departments focused on IP, etc.
- "Paraphrasing becomes plagiarism." Because ideas can be implemented differently, the idea itself is patented. All implementations become subject. Things we have accepted as the best way for doing things, e.g. 2x4 frames for houses or wheel axels, become extremely expensive in the software world.
- The development of entities whose only purpose in life is to capitalize on intellectual property forever, providing no value to society and draining resources from others.
- A legal system that encourages people to not look for ideas from other places. Those ideas may be patented and once you've contaminated your brain with those ideas, you are liable.
If the EU rejects software patents, software development in the EU suddenly has a freedom akin to the personal freedom the United States Constitution symbolizes. The opportunity for the EU to become a the leader in technological innovation and development will be a lot greater.
November 16, 2004
Intellectual Property Protection Act
A new bill has been introduced called the Intellectual Property Protection Act (H.R. 2391). According to Wired, the bill groups several pending copyright bills together. While some of the parts in this bill are good, the bundling of bills in order to get things passed is once again causing horrible things to happen.
The following is mostly from the IPPA page at Public Knowledge. My comments added in italics.
- H.R. 2391: Researchers and inventors can share information between organizations without losing patentability. A step in the right direction because patents aren't going away anytime soon.
- H.R. 5136: Libraries are allowed to create copies of copyrighted works that have not been commercially exploited in the past twenty years. Copyright should die a lot sooner. Libraries are already supposed to be able to do this under fair use. What constitutes a library? I can make a library myself.
- H.R. 4077: Making copyrighted material available (regardless of whether or not it was consumed) through reckless behavior is illegal. Go to jail for accidents, ignorance, or insecure electronic devices. I would be guilty of this right now.
- S. 2237: The justice department gains the right to file civil actions against copyright infringers. Civil should stay civil. If the RIAA wants to prosecute someone, they have to pay for it. Not the taxpayers.
- S. 1932: Unauthorized use of a video camera in a movie theater now means go to jail. Fair use does not apply. Jail time is an extremely harsh penalty for this behavior. Plus, I should have the right to capture on tape anything I see or hear for my own reasons unless I agree otherwise. What about capturing illegal activity that happens to take place in a movie theater? I know many minors with camera phones are guilty of this right now.
- H.R. 4586: Affirms the right to skip objectionable material in audio and video works (already a right, a la the fast-forward button) but commercials cannot be skipped. Since when did I agree in a contract that I can't skip through portions of audio or video works that I legally purchased? Another good reason I don't watch broadcast, cable, or satellite television. I will not purchase any material that behaves in this manner.
- H.R. 3632: Penalties and jail time for trafficking of counterfeit records, software, movies, etc. Isn't this already covered under copyright penalties for goods in general?
- S. 1933: Certificates of copyright registration applications do not need to contain correct information for the registration to remain valid. How stupid is this?
November 15, 2004
Changing of the Guards
A lot of changes have taken place in the political area this past few weeks. Resignations on the hill include: Sec. of State Colin Powell, Education Sec. Rod Paige, Energy Sec. Spencer Abraham, Agriculture Sec. Ann Veneman, Commerce Sec. Don Evans, Attorney General John Ashcroft, counterterrorism coordinator Cofer Black, CIA leaders Steven Kappes and Michael J. Sulick. And probably the biggest news is Yasser Arafat's death.
Condoleezza Rice is the favorite for Powell's replacement. There are a number of criticisms of Rice, but while I've found her defensive of President Bush's policies (as she should be, as part of his cabinet), I don't think there is much truth to those criticisms. Her background indicates why she would be a good choice for Secretary of State.
A trickier issue is Arafat's replacement, Rawhi Fattuh is serving as interim president. Whoever ends up as the permanent president will make a big difference in the Middle East peace negotiations.
November 11, 2004
Alberto Gonzales was named Attorney General today, replacing John Ashcroft to submitted his resignation after the elections. Ashcroft gave President Bush a handwritten letter where he stated "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved." Some people wonder if his move was prompted as a bid for Supreme Court Justice. He wrote, "I believe that my energies and talents should be directed toward other challenging horizons." Gonzales as the new Attorney General does not mean that the polarizing conservative and orwellian beliefs of Ashcroft are going to be a thing of the past.
If you want to read Alberto's flattering bio, just go to the official White House version. But there is a lot more that a person should know about than his accomplishments.
John W. Dean, a former counsel to the President, wrote about Gonzales' Texas execution memos, which are very much in line with Bush's stance on the death penalty.
Also disturbing is Gonzales' role in the treatment of prisoners at Quantanamo Bay. To avoid prosecution of U.S. officials as war criminals, Gonzales' recommended that Bush push forward the view of excluding Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from the Geneva convention. Basically, the administration said that what they're doing would be war crimes, but only if we considered terrorists human beings. Amnesty International makes a point of this in their press release.
October 4, 2004
Greedy Kodak Kills Sun
Today, a federal jury awarded Eastman Kodak $1 billion against Sun Microsystems because Sun's Java product was found to infringe upon patents owned by Kodak. The $1 billion in damages and lost licensing revenue accounts for half of Sun's server and storage profits over the period of 1998 to mid-2001. Of course, Java is free and really has nothing to do with Sun's server and storage sales.
This is a great example of why I hate selfish greedy people and companies and the entire patent system. Basically, Kodak gets $1 billion dollars and effectively kills another company (along with all the opportunities for growth and technological advancement that could come from that company) because they want a monopoly on their idea and a bunch of money. An idea they don't even do anything productive with. They are sucking the blood out of our civiliztion to fatten themselves up.
For those who are willing to read up on the patents, here they are: 5,206,951; 5,421,012; and 5,226,161. Apparently communication and associated protocols between components is a new and invented idea. Never applied to people before, so obviously applying it to objects in a software architecture required amazing insight. Eiffel existed several years before Kodak's patents were filed and was based on ideas that have been around even longer.
September 30, 2004
IPac + Intellectual Property
I just found out about a new political action committee named IPac. It's a nonpartisan group designed to promote and fund government officials (i.e. congressmen and senators) who are standing up for intellectual property freedoms.
This is something I feel is very important because the entire basis of our species' survival and success depends on the sharing and building of ideas. Unfortunately, the current political system and environment favors the selfish interests of large corporations who leverage intellectual property as a monopolistic source of power and wealth generation. This is exactly what stockholders want because it allows a corporation increased revenue growth. However, this comes directly at the expense of our civilization.
As a species, we have become so successful and been able to adapt to problems because the individuals work together. When someone invented the wheel, or the combustion engine, the entire species benefitted because everyone was given the opportunity to make use of that technology at no cost. Now, that is no longer possible. Even worse, ideas in general are being assigned costs and ownership. Ideas like using electronic data transfer to provide real-time analysis of financial data, or algorithms to solve business problems. This is completely selfish and detrimental to the success and survival of our species.
Imagine having to pay huge amounts of capital up-front before you can invent or implement an idea necessary for the development of something new. Or, even worse, having to do everything from scratch, wasting time and resources, because you cannot afford the licensing and royalty fees demanded by those who came before you. Science would become stagnant.
Some links for thought:
Letter to the Patent Office from Prof. Donald Knuth. Knuth is one of the foremost persons in the field of computer science. His words are very important because of the concept he has on ideas (concepts I agree with).
A Primer in Modern Intellectual Property Law. Not in particular the quote by Thomas Jefferson in his 1813 letter to Isaac McPherson. His quote about the difficulty between things worth patents and those that do not is a problem I recognize. I do wish people would place the good of the many above their own desires for financial gain.
August 29, 2003
Mono Protest; DotGNU
Mono's web site is currently down, in protest over software patents. In the U.S. you can currently patent a software solution (e.g. Amazon.com's one-click shopping [5,960,411]). There are several movements in the EU towards this same situation. Today, several web sites have closed their doors in protest over this issue. I'm not exactly sure how long those sites will be down.
I personally hate where patents have gone in the U.S. over the past several years. It used to be you needed to supply a blueprint and working prototype of a physical object and you would be granted a patent on that specific implementation. In other words, you could patent a thumbscrew with a ridged, round head of 1/2" diameter and threads at a 30 degree angle. But you could not patent the thumbscrew itself. Today, you can patent something like a "Computer facilitated product selling system" [6,594,641]. If you read the abstract you'll notice that this is a business practice patent. In other words, if you want to do business in this kind of way, you're going to have to pay royalties to one Adam G. Southam through Reshare Corporation.
I have a particular issue with the one-click patent because I wrote FlexCart with a one-click shopping feature in it after my work developing shopping cart systems naturally led me towards this feature. I developed this capability independently and without knowledge of Amazon.com's patent filing. My software implemented one-click shopping before the patent was granted, but after it was filed.
For more information about the software patent situation in Europe, visit the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure.
Anyway, since the Mono site is down, I went looking for another .NET alternative. The GNU Project has an implementation and development environment named DotGNU. So I installed this, but I'm encountering a runtime error when I try to execute the Hello World program.