Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Is Nate Silver trying too hard?

I should mention - 1.I appreciate the job Nate Silver does and 2.I only have an issue with the first part of his post.

At issue, in Nate Silver's mind was the following passage from the Washington Post: In one of the first internal struggles of the incoming Obama administration, environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are trying to shift the priorities of the economic stimulus plan that will be introduced in Congress next month away from allocating tens of billions of dollars to highways, bridges and other traditional infrastructure spending to more projects that create "green-collar" jobs.

Notes Silver:
1. The term environmentalists is a loaded term
2. The infrastructure package has not been decided, therefore environmentalists cannot technically 'shift priorities of the stimulus plan' away from anything.

My counterpoints:
1a. "Whaaa?" I suppose 'environmentalist' is a loaded term if you also believe the world is flat. Hasn't the mass media been pushing the benefits of living a 'green' lifestyle on us since before Al Gore lost in 2000? I know I've been recycling since then (which is not an attempt to pour adulation upon myself, more to point out the fact that I have disassociated the term 'hippie' and 'environmentalist' long ago.

1b. It would behoove Nate Silver to proffer an alternative term if he dislikes the term environmentalist so much.

2. Nate Silver is very precise. I'm sure it comes with the job when working in statistics. That being said, this is the type of argument (semantics) that gets people combining the terms "liberal" and "elite" into a single phrase. While the argument has merit because the target is a newspaper, it doesn't carry an ounce of emotional persuasion because most Americans cannot identify a dangling modifier.

I appreciate Nate Silver, but he should let his statistics do the talking. It will help keep him from complaining about media bias where none exists.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Short honeymoon for women's groups & Obama

Apparently the peace brokered by Hillary Clinton between Barack Obama and her PUMAs has begun to fracture. Some have accused the President Elect of taking "a step backwards" with regards to women's rights, but a quick look at President Bush's current cabinet appears to show the number of positions being filled by women for both the current and upcoming cabinet at 5.

Are NOW and the New Agenda proposing a quota system for cabinet slots? If so, what is necessary? Do they need 10 of 20 positions filled by women? Just to be clear, my distaste is twofold:

1. for quota systems - Can we please hire/nominate on merit? I understand the concept of the glass ceiling, but we need to find a better way to solve that problem than designating a rigid system wherein the President needs to hit a certain number for each gender/racial/religious/ideological group. I would imagine most presidents have a difficult enough time finding someone qualified and matching them ideologically/politically, without the added burden of a quota system.

2. for CNN - How is it that this interest group drivel gets attached with the news agency's tag? I bet the Log Cabin Republicans are sad that they didn't get into Obama's cabinet, but I would also guess that if they put out a press release, CNN wouldn't allow it to make their ticker. Its manufactured drama that an incoming president in the midst of a terrible recession does not need.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CNET Free Mp3 of the Day Actually Really Good: Matt Pond PA

Matt Pond PA is one of my favorite indie pop rockers, and right now, you can get a free mp3 over on CNet.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Posner Quote of the Week

[T]he public-works expenditure program that President-elect Obama is proposing, though anathema to economic libertarians, resisted by the Bush Administration, and bound to be wasteful, as all such programs are, may be the most sensible response to the depression and one clearly superior to a tax cut.
-Richard Posner's weekly comment.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ebert's Picks from 2008

As counterpoint, Ebert includes Rachel Getting Married in his list of the best from 2008.

His opinion on film is somewhat more highly sought than my own.

Plenty of other good films in that list as well. Two examples which Ebert claims uplift the superhero archetype (guess which?), Tarsem Singh's The Fall (which imdb dates to 2006, how picky are we about original release dates?), and this final confession:

Looking back over the list, I think most moviegoers will have heard of only about 11, because distribution has reached such a dismal state. I wrote to a reader about "Shotgun Stories," "I don't know if it will play in your town." She wrote back, "How about my state?" This is a time when home video, Netflix and the good movie channels come to the rescue. My theory that you should see a movie on a big screen is sound, but utopian.

Weddings Not to Crash: Rachel Getting Married

Possible Spoiler (on hover).

I say "possible spoiler" because the plot is essentially revealed in the first shot of the film to anyone paying attention. We then spend two hours dwelling on that obvious point.

The film would be more interesting if the characters were at all sympathetic. Defenders of the film might expect me to empathize with Anne Hathaway's Kym, likely mistaking attraction for empathy. Kym's the fuck-up, which might be endearing to some, because, well, we're all fuck-ups in one way or another. But mere humanity is hardly enough to earn my interest. Ken Lay was a fuck-up, but I'm not on pins and needles for his docudrama.

Characters neither sympathetic, nor entertaining. Add to that a lack of any novel or meaningful message and you get a film that feels purposeless. I suppose you could get a "Don't Do Drugs" message from the film, but the film doubles back on that a few times to appear more nuanced. In shooting for something slightly deeper than an after school special, it somehow misses, and achieves less.

The one interesting part of the film was the setting: a bohemian wedding populated by random musicians, friends of the musician groom to be. I found myself constantly craning my neck to look at what was going on behind the action, ultimately a bad sign for a film.

If there's one major message to take from Rachel Getting Married, it's that handycams are overused. If you want to create the image of documentary honesty, try using craft sometime. Rack focus and call it a day. Maybe shake a camera in the beginning of one shot, to create the illusion of a handycam, without actually ever touching one. You should especially avoid this desperate grab at verite if you're Married to the Mob's Jonathan Demme. Nobody's really buying it from you.

The handycam trend is disturbing, and it's not just limited to Beloved's own Jonathan Demme. It comes off like an Opera singer using Auto Tone or a typograhper using Arial. Auto tone and Arial are both wildly popular. But when a professional uses either technique, it screams at the audience "You aren't worth my time."

Maybe Rachel Getting Married isn't worth yours.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Great Idea Embargo

Some have wondered why you can't view full episodes of the Daily Show online outside the US. I suppose this is likely related to DVD region codes and why I can't access BBC television via internet in the states: silly restrictions on the trade of culture across borders.

Most states maintain cultural quotas, which limit how much film, television and other media moves into the country. This creates scattered worldwide release dates and enormous import markup for media.

Perhaps most perniciously, it keeps everyone around the world culturally isolated.

It's as if everyone decided, "Well, we'll buy/sell their clothing, but we don't want to actually listen to anything they have to say."

If we trade anything throughout the world, shouldn't we start with ideas?

Auto Industry Relief/Bailout

At the risk of rehashing, there are some interesting videos to watch about the Auto Industry.

Jon Stewart argues that the Auto Industry should be supported:

The folks over at Zakaria's GPS (Tom Friedman, Niall Ferguson, Anne-Marie Slaughter) think we should cut them loose:

(Part 2 is here).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Brin's Rule

I just realized something as I tried to find something on Hulu.

Brin's Rule: No matter how good you think your internal site navigation is, a Google search from outside is more efficient.

Page's Corollary: This holds even when your primary site navigation is a search powered by Google.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

File Names

Ever notice how you can't use a question mark in a filename under NTFS¹, but ¿ is perfectly legal?

Does the upside down question mark see a lot of use on its own?

Other legal filename characters on my system:
Smiley: ☺
House: ⌂
Integral: ∫
Sun: ☼
Gender signs: ♀♂
Suits: ♠♣♥♦
Musical notes: ♪♫
Greyscale Shades: ░▒▓
Triangles: ▲▼
Arabic Place of Sajdah: ۩

Sure, the question mark and colon are reserved because they are associated with system commands.

This wasn't a very thorough list of exclusions though. Unicode 266A, the eighth note (♪), results in abnormal behavior, but it's still allowed.²

There are some names where question marks and colons still thrive: books, film and music. As our filesystems grow increasingly cluttered with media files, you'd think someone would want to address this issue, if only for all those hapless fans of "Who's Harry Crumb_"

Maybe the workarounds haven't occurred to anyone. You'd think that a system font could reserve a little unicode space somewhere for system friendly versions of colons and question marks. That's a pretty jury-rigged solution, surely if anyone actually bothered to think about this, far better solutions could be found in under an hour.

¹ Maybe Mac/Linux handle this better. If my Ubuntu machine wasn't currently a giant paperweight, I might know.

² Make a file with the eighth note character in the middle of the title. Navigate to that directory via command line, and type "dir" to see this in action. The filename will spill over the date at the beginning of the line.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Personal TV Guide

This seems handy.

In the html section, they recommend a format for their links! They are trying to get linkers to bump up their search engine rankings! They are searchacking by proxy, and I will not play their game.
Oh, fine: TV Guide.

AdBlock on Chrome

I've been using Chrome more and more over the last few months. It's been a battle of speed vs. features for me. When FF is loaded up with a dozen extensions, its features clearly outstrip Chrome, but it slips in speed.

I stripped out a bunch of my extensions, and I'm down to these "essentials":

  • AdBlock Plus
  • Ads have grown increasingly obnoxious on the internet, this is a good way to take back some control.
  • Delicious Bookmarks
  • I bookmark anything on the internet I might want to reference later. It has become easier to build a delicious collection of personal links than to store all of those in one browser.
  • Download Statusbar
  • The built-in download window for FF is kinda obnoxious, because it resolves something via a popup that could otherwise be resolved in the same window. Chrome defaults to providing download info in a statusbar, but allows you to pop out a window for more info if you choose. The Google statusbar could still be more informative (speed info and pause/restart/multithreading options would be ideal).
  • Google Gears
  • Lets me use Google Docs offline. No doubt this will become better as more webapps use this to allow offline access. No doubt Google will include support for this extension in Chrome very quickly.
  • Linkification
  • Converts text links into a clickable links. Saves me about a dozen copy/pastes every month.
  • OpenDownload
  • Restores the "open when complete" option to the FF download dialog, a feature that was stripped from all users sometime during FF's paternalistic security freakout.
  • PDF Download
  • Keeps you from accidentally clicking through to a PDF link and losing control of your browser for a minute while it loads. Chrome's architecture should make this less of an issue, as each tab is handled in a separate process.
  • Repagination Lets you view multi-part articles in one giant page. This is currently dead, but is very handy for those obnoxious sites that put out 25 part articles with a short blurb and photo on each page. Currently dead, and needs some enterprising developer to make a version that supports 3.0.4.
  • Tab Mix Plus
  • Includes tab features that should probably be included in FF by default, like an "undo" for recently closed tabs.
  • Ubiquity
  • An addon by Moz devs that allows quick interaction with website APIs, and stands to completely revolutionize browsing.
Some of these features would be redundant in Chrome, some might not make it for a long time. But I'm still very excited to hear Chrome will support Adblocking and other extensions soon, and hope that Chrome's architecture helps it stay fast while becoming feature rich.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Nate Silver on Obama as a Leftist in Centrist Clothing

Nate Silver is still writing quality analysis over at 538. A few days back he weighed in on whether Obama will govern from the center-left or far-left.

Silver examines every policy proposed on Obama's website, and rates them on a one-dimensional left-right scale. I think his analysis is misleading, foreign policy clearly needs to be evaluated on a pragmatist/ideological scale, and maybe other policies should be as well. An economic liberal/paternal scale would be helpful as well, though Silver notes that some of Obama's policies flirt with libertarian paternalism, so that might break down too.

It's unsurprising that everyone has such a hard time categorizing Obama, since our two-sided political labels are completely inadequate to capture any modern policy.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What should we do with Interest Rates during a Credit Crunch?

Some observations:

1) The widespread unavailability of credit is like a shortage of capital.
2) Resources are more efficiently allocated during a shortage by higher prices. (Economists show this by pointing to a complicated diagram, like the one below.)
3) Lowering interest rates lowers the price of money.
4) Everyone's lowering interest rates in response to the credit crisis.

I assume I'm missing something?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Aaron Barnhart Quote of the Week's hoping the justices can find the spinal werewithal to end the idiocy known as FCC v. Pacifica.

In case you've forgotten, FCC v. Pacifica is the case that ruled you can't say words like "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, or tits" on the radio.

The only place you can say "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits" is on the internet.

I'm not sure why anyone would want to say words like "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits" on the internet, but we absolutely can, because we are not on the radio, and that's a good thing to keep in mind.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Do you know how I know that Bill Maher is a prick?

He makes Howard Dean look gracious. I saw him on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight. Harry Reid has nicer things to say about John McCain and the Republican Party. He is the type of person that made me reticent about voting for Barack Obama.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Who is Peter Schiff?

Peter Schiff was the economic advisor for Ron Paul. He criticizes the U.S. for our low savings rate and the lack of "real value" creation (raw production).

In these clips from the past few years, people (like Ben Stein) scoff as Schiff predicts a coming downturn in housing and in the financial sector.

You probably get the idea with that one, but you can always search YouTube for Peter Schiff for more fun.

UPDATE: I have no idea whether he's really bright or just lucky, I moderated the tone of the post to be more agnostic.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Secretary Clinton

This would probably confirm that the decision to keep Hillary off the ballot was purely tactical, and that any conflict between Clinton and Obama was a bluff.

Of course, Richardson is certain Bill hates him for backing Obama, so who knows.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Auto Industry Bailout

Megan McArdle of The Atlantic makes compelling points against the Auto Industry bailout.

Some background...
The bailout plan gave tremendous power to the Secretary of the Treasury. Consider "Sec. 8.":

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.
Paulson ran with that authority as he attempts to shift the focus of the funds.

Perhaps ironically, Paulson now objects to Obama's (and Barney Frank's) plan to funnel some of the money towards the auto industry.

I wonder if Paulson would have demanded $700 billion if he realized that he wouldn't be able to retain control over it very long, despite the strong language to the contrary in the bill.

In fact, this is why some tend to object to setting large piles of money in the government's hands. It's anybody's guess as to who will manage to spend it first.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lifesharers and the Organ Donation Gap

Because of the profound organ donation gap, if you need an organ sometime in your life, chances are 9 to 1 you won't get it.

Lifesharers is a nonprofit which aims to reduce the gap between donors and those in need.

Members of LifeSharers promise to donate their organs upon their death, giving preference to other LifeSharers members first.

Anyone can join for free online, it takes moments. I recommend you and your loved ones sign up here.

Other suggestions states can employ to reduce the gap:
1) Presume consent for organ donation upon death, move from opt-in organ donation to opt-out, which increases cadaveric donation rates by 25-30% (Abadie and Gay, The Impact of Presumed Consent Legislation on Cadaveric Organ Donation [PDF])
2) Implement the Spanish model of organ procurement, which aggressively recruits older donors leading to the highest cadaveric organ donation rates in the world, and compensates hospitals for their work in organ procurement, leading to one of the best organ matching systems in the world. (Id.)
3) Implement the Iranian model, provide compensation to living donors, which leads to the highest live donor rates in the world, and is the only model that has completely eliminated the donor gap.

Hat Tip: Freakonomics, via Freakonomics.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Advice for Obama

The Freakonomics blog recently asked for advice for Obama. I doubt it will get much attention in the hundreds of comments there, but here is what I would recommend to the President Elect:

Visit your states (even the red ones). Hold a few town hall meetings. Don’t just sign legislation, but occasionally give us a speech explaining why you support the policies you do. Implement e-petitions. Invite the fourth estate (and maybe a blogger or two) to witness your decision making process first hand, so the media can help us to stand beside you as you lead.

Rove initiated this idea of a permanent campaign, by which he meant tightly controlling the messages and images associated with the administration. I trust you’ll leave his specific approach to the dustbin of history.

But the basic idea of a “permanent campaign” isn’t actually that bad an idea, so long as it means always connecting with your fellow citizens. We shouldn’t be a part of the process every four years, but every month of every year. It's up to us to keep up our enthusiasm and participation, but it's up to you to give us a seat at the table.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Schizopedia: Local Derby

Wikipedia articles have a tendency to let the debates from the talk page seep into the articles themselves. I'm posting those I run across during the next few months in an original Theory Bloc series, Schizopedia.

Yet another theory is that the 'derby match' saying arose from when Liverpool played Everton. Their two grounds were separated by Stanley Park, owned by the Earl of Derby. This latter suggestion can be discounted, however.

Friday, November 07, 2008

First Blood?

Rahm "Rahmbo" Emanuel's selection as Barack Obama's chief-of-staff leads one to question how Obama plans to lead a bipartisan America. There are three generally accepted views of how Emanuel might be used.

1. The "F@ck the Republicans!" strategy (check 1/3 to 1/2 the way down).

2. The Enforcer strategy (per Ray LaHood's view of a chief-of-staff)

3. The "call him President Obama" strategy (also known as the intra-Party Enforcer)

Hopefully, number one is not the true nature of the hire, as my vote for President-Elect Obama was couched in the naive belief that he would implement a new style of politics. I could see number one being effective as a counterbalance to number three (or... Rahm Emanuel is a jerk to everyone, not just Democrats that don't fall in line). Number two seems to be the best reason to hire Rahm Emanuel (other than the fact that I thought Biden was supposed to be a sounding board and critical voice in the room), and I am hoping this was one of the key factors in President-Elect Obama's decision.

I am excited to see his choice for other Cabinet positions. Should we have a separate post for odds on those positions or add it into comments for this post?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Live Coverage of Election Night on the Internet

Metafilter has a thread on where to go for live coverage of the election if, like me, you'll have internet but no TV.

A few suggestions in the thread jumped out at me, and US Election Atlas both look good.

FiveThirtyEight would be the go to source for commentary, if they're covering it live (which I expect they might). With hundreds of comments every hour, they are currently the undisputed kings of the electoral blogosphere.

There's a really polished and free live coverage applet out there, CoverItLive. rc3 used it during the debates, and I hope someone puts it to good use as the results pour in. (I suppose Talkinator might do just as well for most purposes, CoverItLive seems a lot like putting a moderated chatbox on your site.)

UPDATE: Google provides live election right here, via their extremely handy embeddable gadget.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Age of Doctors Declines Over Time

Clicking through you can clearly see how the age of Doctors sharply declined from the early 1960s to the 1980s. Doctor age rose again under Thatcher, but has since resumed its steady decline.

(Alternate headline: "Doctors Who Get Younger Over Time")

UPDATE: Doctor Who spoilers in the comments.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The CCF Turns Down Money from Gamers

GenCon, a massive gaming convention, holds an auction every year and donates a portion of the proceeds to charity.

Last year Gary Gygax, co-creator of D&D, passed. In Gygax's honor, GenCon decided to donate the proceeds of the auction to his favorite charity, the Christian Children's Fund.

The CCF declined over $17,000, and the reigning assumption is that they felt the money was "tainted" by its association with the occult.

I struggle to believe that there are people out there who actually believe in something clearly good, like helping starving children, and apparently also believe complete nonsense, like the delusional tracts of Jack Chick.

What kind of God would rather see starving children than catch anyone palling around with hobbyists? What kind of monster would you have to worship before "not taking charity" is the appropriate moral response in this situation?

I hope in the coming days the CCF will come forward to set the record straight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dan Rather Actually Lets Guests Speak

In the ad for Dan Rather Reports, he lists the major selling point of his program: he lets his guests finish sentences.

The nerve.

Who will protect us from the experts?

We common folk need help to understand complex ideas. It is the correspondent's job to help us filter the statements of experts into simpler ideas, often by shouting over any nuanced points the guest is trying to make.

Correspondents level the playing field. If we saw smart people talking on TV uninterrupted, since they are smart, we might be fooled into thinking they are right. Not so. The correspondent helps us realize this by cherry picking arguments and cutting off a mic whenever a guest becomes dangerously persuasive.

Without the bullying correspondent, we would all suddenly have to make our own straw men out of the opinions of others. Faced with such a task, we'd probably all just abandon thinking forever.

I'm sticking MSNBC and FOX at full volume on opposite sides of the room for my election night coverage. The louder correspondent wins my attention. It will be a triumph of democracy if I wake on Wednesday with tinnitus.

AltDrag: Drag Windows More Easily

Ask a hardcore Linux user why they prefer the OSS OS, and they might go on about the core principles of Linux's design, or the basic philosophy of open source software. Only occasionally will they remember that both GNOME and KDE implement a few hundred things better than other Windows. None of these improvements are particularly earth shattering, but in aggregate, they are pretty remarkable.

Take window movement for example. If you want to drag a window in Ubuntu, you can drag the titlebar, like in Windows, or you can hold down the Alt key to click and drag any part of the window. If the titlebar is way off the screen, no problem.

AltDrag emulates this behavior for Windows.

I have a taskbar at the top of my screen (the bottom quarter inch of my display is broken, and I haven't gotten around to replacing it). Window tops stretch out of reach on me all the time, so AltDrag's a godsend.

Now I just need to find a clock like the one GNOME uses. Oh, here. Thanks, Google.

I suppose that's the one upside to Windows: if you can think of it, someone's probably already coded it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

McDonald's: Safer Investment Than U.S. Government

Investments in McDonald's and Finland are currently easier to insure than investments in the U.S. Government.

This might just be market noise, both institutions are looking fine for the long haul.

On the other hand, Washington has been known to spend beyond its means. If I had to bet on who would stay solvent longer, my money would be on the clown.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Wikifights: Wikipedia Articles that Read Like Debates

Many of the obvious worries about Wikipedia have been dismissed over time.

However, Wikipedia does have some really odd stylistic flaws. Awkwardly, many Wikipedia articles read like debates. Here's a wikifight from Boxing the Compass:

Despite the name of the 1959 Alfred Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest, there is no such direction. However, old-timers allow three letter directions to have a 'by' inserted beween the first and second letter. Hence, NNW becomes North by Northwest, per Hitchcock's title.
You tell me, is "North by Northwest" a direction or not? (And who are these "old-timers?" Are they Hitchcock fans?)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Buckley Endorses Obama

The appeal here is not primarily that Christopher Buckley's endorsement of Obama bears his famous name. It's a genuinely well thought out and occasionally funny libertarian-for-Obama piece.

Wick Allison wrote a libertarian-for-Obama piece a few months back that focused on Obama's qualities. There's a bit of that here. Buckley mentions Obama's intellect (but half dismisses it). Buckley's piece is more interesting for his discussion of McCain. It's a completely tragic depiction. McCain has been a paragon of qualities that should be in all of our leaders.
But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain.

(Right after this story broke, he appeared on the Daily Show in an interview worth checking out.)

UPDATE 10/23: Touched up, added links.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Catholic Vote & Barack Obama

The question has been asked, can a pro-Life Catholic (the question "is there another kind" will be left for another day) support Barack Obama? The columnist summarizes the three main points thusly:

1. The abortion fight has been lost by the pro-Life groups.
2. There are evils other than abortion that Republicans tend to ignore.
3. Obama supports government actions that would reduce the number of abortions.

Of the three arguments, the first argument seems to be flat wrong. Abortion appears to be a hotly contested issue still. The third argument appears to me to be unconvincing, as the columnist adds that Obama, from a big-picture perspective, views abortion as a right of all women (viewed through the lens of Roe v. Wade). This being said, it is unlikely for him to lead the country in a direction of fewer abortions.

It is the second argument that holds the most substance (and not inconsequentially, the one I thought the columnist failed to counter effectively).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

DMCA and Politics

Fred von Lohmann, my Cyberlaw idol, blogged today about the way the DMCA is chilling political speech. McCain has asked for special fair use rules so his supporters can post clips of the debates, but von Lohmann argues that we don't need special rules for politics, we just need to fix the rules we've got.

The DMCA had a neat provision when it was enacted that makes sure YouTube can't be held accountable if one of its users uploads something subject to copyright. That's a good idea, because it lets services like YouTube exist. They can run a user-contribution heavy site without having giant safeguards in play on the front end. More innovation, more sharing, everyone's happy so far.

To keep the immunity, sites like YouTube simply need to respond by taking down any video when a rightsholder asks them to in a "DMCA Takedown Request." So far, sounds reasonable. You want some provision to protect rightsholders, certainly.

At least, this seemed like a good idea for the last few years, while NBC stuck to getting all the SNL skits removed, and there were only a few problems. But now folks are getting really savvy about takedown requests, and realized they can submit bogus requests or massive requests for thousands of videos pretty easily. There's no real way to vet the requests, or to just keep people from simply requesting takedowns of any videos they just don't like, claiming to be a rightsholder.

The last big scary example was when the Church of Scientology sent out DMCA takedown requests for thousands (4000) of videos made by critics of scientology.

Now, the original poster can protest the takedown notice, but here's the catch: to contest a DMCA takedown, you have to allow your personal information to be handed over to the group who requested the takedown. Many of the critical scientology videos were posted anonymously precisely because Scientology employs a rule called "Fair Game," which encourages Scientology adherents to silence their detractors by any means necessary.

Anonymity has its place in political speech as well, and it can play a vital role in protecting other controversial speech and works.

Currently, the DMCA makes sites like YouTube into a deletion friendly wiki: people who don't like certain videos can have them taken down, but it's much harder to get those videos back up. I'm glad McCain understands some of the problems with the DMCA, and I hope he soon realizes that we don't need special rules for politics, but we need to fix the system as a whole.

UPDATE: More coverage from CNet.

Monday, October 13, 2008

On Piracy

Three interesting items on copyright, piracy and music today:

1. Lawrence Lessig writes "In Defense of Piracy" for the WSJ.

"The extreme of regulation that copyright law has become makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, for a wide range of creativity that any free society... would allow to exist, legally."
2. UMG Chairman Doug Morris discusses piracy and (other topics) in a Billboard interview.

Morris actually seems more upset about institutional content providers than pirates. He talks about new entertainment platforms on the web, and compares them to "a company like MTV, where [UMG] gave them... music for very little money and [MTV] built a $30 billion company or whatever it was for nothing." (Morris seems to be holding a bit of a grudge.)

On the web, Morris's clearly talking about sites like MySpace, but the "there is no promotional material/always get paid" strategy hits smaller, more innovative groups like Muxtape far harder. Muxtape's version of this story makes for an interesting contrast, and feels like a potential example of what Lessig might call "creativity any free society should permit."

3. xkcd has a webcomic breaking down the dilemma of a music fan given the DMCA.

Of the links, this undoubtedly has the highest payout per sentence.

Gordon Brown Saves World Financial System

Nobel Prize Winner Krugman argues that might be the headline in a few months.

Full disclosure: I am an unabashed Anglophile, and will repeat any story that makes Gordon Brown look like a rock star.

Hat tip, rc3.

UPDATE: Krugman just won the Nobel Prize in Economics, the only Nobel Prize which is not a Nobel Prize. I'm still not quite sure how that works.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Who Caused the Crisis?

FactCheck addresses the blame game for the current financial crisis. Misleading campaign ads blaming Republicans/Democrats put this issue under FactCheck's bailiwick, but the heart of the piece is when they survey all the opinions on who is to blame. Apparently, everyone played a role:

  • The Federal Reserve [PDF], which slashed interest rates after the dot-com bubble burst, making credit cheap.

  • Home buyers, who took advantage of easy credit to bid up the prices of homes excessively.

  • Congress [PDF] which continues to support a mortgage tax deduction that gives consumers a tax incentive to buy more expensive houses.

  • Real estate agents, most of whom work for the sellers rather than the buyers and who earned higher commissions from selling more expensive homes.

  • The Clinton administration, which pushed for less stringent credit and downpayment requirements for working- and middle-class families.

  • Mortgage brokers, who offered less-credit-worthy home buyers subprime, adjustable rate loans with low initial payments, but exploding interest rates.

  • Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who in 2004, near the peak of the housing bubble, encouraged Americans to take out adjustable rate mortgages.

  • Wall Street firms, who paid too little attention to the quality of the risky loans that they bundled into Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS), and issued bonds using those securities as collateral.

  • The Bush administration, which failed to provide needed government oversight of the increasingly dicey mortgage-backed securities market.

  • An obscure accounting rule called mark-to-market, which can have the paradoxical result of making assets be worth less on paper than they are in reality during times of panic.

  • Collective delusion [PDF], or a belief on the part of all parties that home prices would keep rising forever, no matter how high or how fast they had already gone up.

  • Hat tip, OC.

    Friday, October 10, 2008

    Merit Systems for Judges

    While some states have elected judges and some have merit based selection, Kansas uniquely allows both: local areas decide for themselves how judges are selected. That decision is now returning to the ballot in Johnson County. I was going to gather my sentiments on the issue and put them into a post when I received the following forwarded email, which covers my thoughts fairly well:

    On November 4, voters in Johnson County will be asked in Question No. 1 whether to discard the merit system of choosing judges (through a citizen nominating commission, appointment by the Governor, and retention elections every four years for every judge) and to change to a system that will select our 23 judges through partisan political elections. Judges will have to run as Republicans or Democrats every 4 years, answer to wealthy contributors, political party bosses, and outside special interests.

    I can give you a hundred reasons why a "NO" vote is a good idea. I also want to let you know that as a friend and a lawyer who knows something about the legal system in Johnson County that I hope you will vote “NO” on Question No. 1 and will also tell others to do the same.

    If you want to learn more about this issue, please visit

    I believe this may be the most important issue to be decided in Johnson County in years. Turning our judges into politicians is simply a bad idea for citizens and a bad idea for businesses and economic development. We don’t need 12 more campaigns every two years, with judges being forced to raise tens of thousands of dollars, make campaign promises, and then worry about re-election instead of worrying about being fair and impartial. That's probably why the Friends of Police of Johnson County, the League of Women Voters, the Chambers of Commerce in Leawood, Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park, Northeast Johnson County, Shawnee, and the Greater Kansas City Chamber, the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, and the Johnson County Bar Association (by a 98% vote) have all endorsed a "NO" vote on November 4.

    Let me know if you have any questions. I know that fair and impartial judges are the key to a fair and impartial justice system. The current merit system has been in place since Johnson County’s voters overwhelmingly adopted it in 1974. There is no reason to change!

    Thank you for your consideration and, I hope, support.

    Amy E. Hackler

    Thursday, October 09, 2008

    The A-11 Offense, or, Brawn Hates Brains.

    I've mentioned before how much I like it when some players find new ways to play(/distort/damage) their game.

    In that vein, Freakonomics mentions a football offense that allows every player to be a receiver. This is apparently mind blowing to football fans, but to me it just sounds like another casualty of innovation. A few coaches came up with a good idea, a hack on their sport, perhaps exploiting the overlooked contours of the scrimmage kick formation, and 10 states immediately ban it for being too effective. What's next, leg weights for fast runners? The one arm tied behind your back rule for strong guys?

    Nah, that wouldn't make sense, because speed and strength are valued in our culture, just not intelligence. 

    Exhibit A →

    Outsiders could easily get the impression that football fans are constantly complaining that cleverness is unsportsmanlike. (The last link is my favorite, the opposing coach was furious.)

    More broadly, every cultural history is filled with examples, myths and allegories dwelling on the cowardly nature of innovation.

    Is it dangerous to perpetuate our ancient drives to prize raw physical prowess over thinking things through?

    Tuesday, October 07, 2008

    For Progressive Taxation

    I was pressed several months ago to give arguments for progressive taxation, the idea that the rich should be taxed at a higher percentage of their income than the poor. I have supported progressive taxation almost dogmatically for so long that it was hard, initially, to come up with defenses for the practice. (Isn't it intuitive that all should give the same? Even if we have a 19% tax, doesn't the rich individual give substantially more than his poor or middle class counterpart?) After a long rumination, here are the best arguments for progressive taxation, as I see them.

    I. We Must Tax Those with the Ability to Pay.

    The idea is that government performs certain essential functions. Paying for these government functions is a simple necessity, and we must find the money where we can. Asking those near the poverty line to support government welfare programs makes little sense, asking those near the poverty line to pitch in an equal share to support the enormous expenditures of government would require very harsh taxes on those just getting by.

    The difficulty with this argument is that it becomes an argument about government spending. Those that view progressive taxation as placing an unfair burden on the rich likely also see government as wasteful. If the spending were reduced, the need to tax the rich more heavily would be eliminated.

    II. Progressive Taxation Combats the Inherently Pro-Rich Bias of the Tax System.

    Warren Buffett tends to highlight the disparities in the tax system, claiming that he pays incredibly low taxes while his secretaries and cleaning people pay much higher rates. Buffett insists that this is not because he has found loopholes in the code or tax shelters, but others have cited those examples to further strengthen his arguments.

    The problem with this argument is that it does not tell us what to do after we address these oddities in the tax code. Suppose we normalized the tax rates of capital gains and income, and suppose we shut down the majority of obscure deductions and credits, and suppose we aggressively policed offshoring income (perhaps through strong international treaties). Is progressive taxation still a good idea? Buffett's argument doesn't necessarily get you there.

    It is consistent with his concerns to fix these issues through some sort of flat tax.

    III. Taxes are Primarily Used to Protect the Rich

    This argument may initially seem counter-intuitive, given the typically conservative tenor of political discourse. It is apparently easy to paint the government as a welfare state primarily devoted to producing handouts for the lazy poor. But the government ensures rights for many of us in a lot of subtle ways.

    Imagine all you have to your name is a bicycle, or it is your most cherished possession. If I set my mind on stealing your bicycle, while the law might attempt to help you retrieve your possession (if you live in Mayberry), thieves like me stand a fair chance of making off with the goods.

    Now suppose all you have is a large factory that produces a steady stream of goods and income. Suppose I set my mind on stealing your factory, something which seems far more useful than a lousy bicycle. As much as I attempt to make off with the means of production, I do not stand a very good chance. (Question 1: Where would I hide it? Question 2: Once hidden, how do I tell my/your workers where to show up for duty?)

    The larger your investments, the easier it is for the law to protect them. In fact, it might appear to someone living in a crime ridden area that the law is only focused on protecting large investments, and does not care at all about the rights of the poor.

    I think this is a worthwhile argument, but not one without difficulties. One difficulty is how hard it is to sell. A die-hard conservative will insist that government is in business to give handouts to the poor, and does little for the rich man. Citing Marx won't endear your cause to his ears. A more systemic difficulty arises from the fact that it makes presumptions about how to weigh many incalculables. How many impoverished individuals are afforded jobs because we guarantee protection for capital in this country? How many individuals are given good infrastructure because it is so helpful for business to quickly and efficiently move goods, labor, energy and consumers? It is likely impossible to cipher out exactly what benefits of government go to the poor, and which to the rich, because so many benefits have an endless series of effects.

    IV. Progressive Taxation Arises Naturally from a Reflection on How to Create the Best Society

    John Rawls is often regarded as the most influential moral and political theorist of the last century. Acclaim does not come without criticism, however. He is often chided by the right for coming to conclusions that are too progressive, and assaulted by the left for coming to conclusions that are not progressive enough.

    While there is no shortage of attacks on his conclusions, there is widespread regard for his methods. Because of this, I see Rawls's chief contribution in how he suggested we evaluate the very maxims we might employ to organize a just society.

    Rawls suggested that we should not imagine the just society as one that primarily beneifts our own interests. (Ok, duh.) To this end, imagine yourself behind a "veil of ignorance," where you do not know whether your parents are rich or poor, your gender or race, where you are born or under what circumstances.

    (From this "original position," he comes to three maxims that should guide the policies of a just society. I am going to tap dance past those three controversial conclusions as fast as possible, but if you want to learn more, request A Theory of Justice from your local library.)

    If you imagine yourself leaving the veil of ignorance to realize that your life is one where you are quite wealthy, do you imagine yourself balking, saying, "Wait, this is unfair, I'd rather be poor and taxed less!"

    The attack on this argument is often one of "dessert," (not the candy coated kind). The idea is that individuals who do well or worse in society are responsible for their situation, they only get what they "deserve," so we need not create institutions to help those that could very well have helped themselves.

    This does not strike me as very persuasive, though I agree with the premise. I suppose it is likely that in attending to those who have fared worse in life, we will abandon a few of those members of our society who are taking care of themselves and strictly deserve far greater rewards than they receive. However, the rich can console themselves at this injustice with the realization that they are rich, and the alternative is not preferable.

    Monday, October 06, 2008

    The Dawn of Democratic Content, Web TV Edition

    Wired has a great write up of Web TV Show Sanctuary, which is making the jump to the Sci Fi channel, and makes it sound like web tv worth watching.

    They plug a few other internet shows, including Stranger Things and Venus Rises.

    This isn't the first time cable has mined the internet for ideas. South Park was originally just a Christmas short with a fight between Jesus and Santa Claus over the spirit of the season. But this is the first time cheap green screens are being used in people's homes with some digital video to make higher and higher quality periodic content. The barriers to entry are falling apart.

    What does this mean for big content?

    Well, content industries here and abroad have pushed for draconian restrictions on trade of intellectual property over the last century, even using utility-sucking quotas to keep people in different places from sharing stories and music with one another. (It's as if Big Content worries that if we understood the perspectives of people around the world it'd be harder to churn out schlocky action films.)

    Simultaneously, the MPAA and RIAA have used various measures to kill the emergence of outsider art in their fields, capriciously hiking the ratings of independent films or using SWAT teams to bust people who make mixtapes.

    Television seems to be slightly more hip, but it's got its own share of worries. While the Writer's Strike fought to give more of the pie to individuals telling great stories, it simultaneously creates higher barriers for new storytellers getting into the field. The unions in Hollywood are most effective at turning talent away, which leads to more stuff like this at the movies, and more stuff like this on the internet.

    All the content industries have historically benefited from incredible entrenchment, and those days are coming to an end. As a result, many content producers are engaging in self-destructive behavior. They cannot win a fight against a flood of art made and shared at almost no cost. I don't want the traditional industries to fail, I want them to succeed, but to do that they need to understand it's time for a radical update to their business models. Without such a realization, they will not stand a chance.

    Saturday, October 04, 2008

    Is Canada Joining the EU?

    The Canada-European Union Trade and Investment Enhancement Agreement will include provisions on "regulatory co-operation" (reducing differences in industry regulations) and "Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications." !!!

    Meanwhile, we have 50 different regulatory bodies, and 50 different sets of professional qualifications (I'm looking at you, State Bar Associations). That combined with our current financial excellence, and our tendency for cultural disputes, I can see why they wanted to hitch themselves to a brighter star.

    When Mexico starts using Euros I'm going emigrate so I can send home remittances to the rest of the Bloc.

    Foresight is 20/20, or Solutions to the Current Financial Crisis from 2002

    Daniel over at Crooked Timber makes a note that if anyone had listened to his suggestions back in 2002, everything would be fine in the financial markets.

    It's a bit "blame the yank", but maybe we are responsible for not stopping this train earlier, and it's funny nonetheless.

    He's quite matter-of-fact about the looming financial collapse, even back then. Was the housing bubble really that obvious to everyone else?

    Thursday, October 02, 2008

    LiveBlog of the VP debate @ WUSL

    Hello all, welcome to the Theory Bloc's LiveBlog (I'm not sure if that is a word/term that has been coined/trademarked yet) of the VP debate!

    First thoughts:
    Sarah Palin is pumped. You can hear her ask Sen. Biden "Can I call you Joe?", but can't hear Biden's response. Biden's is clear and concise to start focusing on Democratic boilerplate "the economic policies of the past 8 years have failed", etc. Sarah Palin is working it early on by not speaking about specifics, rather attempting to speak to voters directly, using the term "fear" four times.

    Ifill, partisanship:
    Biden notes he is bipartisan, but doesn't supply any evidence, and then moves back to economics and John McCain's failures in this area. Smart move. Sarah Palin responds quickly and decisively with a decent response "By economy he meant American workforce". Biden is doing a great job smiling at Palin without looking like he is checking her out.

    Ifill, economy:
    Palin notes Wall Street greed and blue collar exploitation, even mentioning greater oversight. Biden mentions Obama's advance notice of the subprime situation (similar to Palin's earlier mention of McCain's advance notice of Freddie/Fannie). Biden points out the many times McCain has been interviewed citing deregulation as a central tenant. Palin changes the subject to tax relief, which is probably smart as she did it quite subtly (Biden barely touched on taxes at the end). She has shown in previous interviews that she is does not excel at citing specifics of McCain's record. Biden tears up Palin, and is starting to show some fangs. He may want to pull it back. He has shown that he can effectively work Palin over without going down this path.

    Ifill, stances on taxes:
    Biden says the Democratic tax plan can be boiled down to fairness. Biden notes McCain's tax plans favor the wealthy and corporate interests. Palin notes that millions of small businesses fall under the Obama/Biden $250K 5%, lowering the amount of jobs created nationwide. Sarah Palin notes DETAILS on John McCain's health care plan (with Bush-like emphasis). Mentions that the healthcare plan will be allowed to cross state lines, using nice buzzwords 'affordability and availability'. Biden notes that John McCain will tax people to give people a $5000 credit. Sarah Palin looks either uncomfortable or enraged (her smile does not look happy). Oooo Biden dropped a 'Bridge to Nowhere' line that just drew big laughs.

    Ifill, promises you cannot keep:
    Biden notes a multitude of items that are supported by the current regime that they would not support, which sounds like it is answering the question, but really is not. Palin notes that McCain is a straight shooter. Palin notes that the energy plan Obama voted for gave the oil companies huge tax breaks (point for Palin as Biden recently stressed this issue). Palin then ties in her experience with energy and big corporations in Alaska. Biden notes that Obama voted for the energy bill because it had real alternatives for energy (Biden parries nicely, not surprisingly). Biden is stressing that Palin did a good job with a windfall profits tax in Alaska. Its a good point for bipartisanship on his side, but props up Palin more than he needs to.

    Ifill, bankruptcy changes:
    Palin's boilerplate response when she doesn't know the answer: "Greed and corruption". Biden keeps it concise, and noted the difference between he and Obama. He's clearly not afraid of any of his votes, or the difference between he and his ticket partner. Palin jumps back onto energy again. The wife is annoyed. Palin mentions the need for energy independence, both for economic and security purposes. Ifill deftly changes the subject to... energy!

    Ifill, energy and climate change:
    Palin acknowledges global warming, kind of, and notes the nature of cyclical global changes in temperature. She also nicely moves away from the fact that people might skewer her on this and says that she wants to focus on solutions. She notes conservation and alternative forms of energy. Biden notes that the cause is manmade. He clearly emphasizes this to delineate between himself and Palin. He also notes the Republican chant of 'Drill, drill, drill'. Sarah Palin smugly notes that is correctly chanted as 'Drill baby drill'. Could she be trying to tweak the debate beast? A nice touch with 'Senator O'Biden', probably a mistake. Palin/McCain supports capping carbon emissions. Biden notes the seeming hypocrisy of McCain voting against supporting alternative energy sources 20 times.

    Ifill, same-sex couples:
    Biden's for it, fairness is noted again. He uses the term 'Same-sex marriage'. Palin does not support changing the 'traditional definition of marriage' but is 'tolerant' of adults in America making their own choices for their partners. Now Biden says he does not support gay marriage. Maybe the previous use of the term 'same-sex marriage' was a misstatement'.

    Ifill, foreign policy:
    Palin loves Petraeus "Great American Hero". Oooo Palin notes that Biden called out Obama (before he was VP of course). Palin thinks we need to win in Iraq as badly as we need to win in Afghanistan. She notes Al Qaeda and the Shi'ah extremists (no Sunni extremists?). Biden wants a plan, and says McCain does not have one. Biden says McCain voted the same way as Obama (voting against the funding of the troops because there was a timeline), but then says that Obama wants a timeline (so did Obama vote against the specific timeline then? I'm confused). Biden wants to END THIS WAR. Palin says that Obama/Biden are quitters (after a long pause). She also says the time to leave is when the Iraq government is ready. Palin notes that Biden would have run with John McCain and that Obama is not ready to lead. She showed some respect for Biden, but says that Obama is another story. Biden rehashes the McCain voted against funding the troops line. Lots of respect between these two candidates.

    Ifill, Pakistan vs. Iran:
    Biden refuses to answer her question, instead speaking of McCain... oops maybe he is answering the question. I think he just answered Pakistan as being more dangerous, but the answer was too roundabout to know for sure. Iran is Palin's pick. She begins to pull in Ahmadinejad quotes about Israel to hone her detailed knowledge of Middle East policy. She notes that Obama's views on the Middle East are dangerous.

    Ifill, engagement of enemies:
    Palin brings up Kissinger, which is a mistake. Everybody paying attention knows Couric reamed her on this. Palin says diplomacy is the first objective, using sanctions before the President sits down. Biden is going after McCain/Palin, saying the attacks on Obama are not true. Biden notes that friends and allies are looking for more talky less fighty. Biden brings up the Spain comment in seeming genuine awe.

    Ifill, Israel and Palestine:
    Palin is for the two state solution. She says it will be at the top of the agenda of a Palin/McCain administration. She wants to build the embassy in Jerusalem. Biden says he is the #1 guy for Israel in the Senate. He thinks Sec. Rice is 'trying to turn around' the 'abject failure of this administration'. Palin is encouraged that she and Biden 'both love Israel'. Biden is drawing deeper breaths. Will he explode? Palin acknowledges general failures of the past administration without being specific. Biden says "Past is prologue". I'm too busy to decipher what that means. Biden says McCain's foreign policy is going to be the same as Bush's across the board. Biden implies that change to Obama will be for the better.

    Ifill, nuclear trigger:
    Palin says nucular. How will Biden respond? She essentially sidesteps the question but adds that she wants a surge in Afghanistan. Palin is going to TOWN on Obama. Its unclear how much is true, but she has a pinpoint focus on the guy. Biden says the commanding general in Afghanistan said that the surge principles will not work in Afghanistan. 3 weeks in Iraq = 7 years in Afghanistan. Interesting point. Biden does not emphasize nuclear. Good call. It's only important to the Democratic base, you won't independent voters by making Palin look stupid. Palin attacks Biden's premise that the commanding general does not believe a surge will work. Biden says "Did too".

    Ifill, interventionists:
    Biden thinks Americans love winners. Implying that Americans hate Iraq, maybe? Biden brings up Darfur and the U.S. ability to control genocide there. Palin paints herself as the outsider, trying to label Biden a flip-flopper. She notes that Biden was with McCain and against Obama until recently. She notes her experience as governor and divestment of funds Alaska had tied up with Sudan. Good point. Biden said he never supported John McCain's stances on the war. Palin is either correct or completely out of her league because she doesn't look like she knows how to respond to Biden's denial of McCain support.

    Ifill, VP to President:
    Biden will carry out Obama's policies. This gives him a chance to restate the platform of the Democratic party. Biden says this is the most important election since 1932. Palin says that she wouldn't agree on everything that McCain has stood for, and that she respects McCain has not asked her to check her opinion at the door. Joe Biden spends a lot of time at Home Depot. Palin says "say it ain't so Joe", good line. Shout out to Gladys Wood Elementary School and a wink to dad (Democrats are right, she's the devil!). Ifill notes that everybody gets extra credit tonight (she's on her game).

    Ifill, VP job:
    Palin absolutely kills Ifill, saying her joke was lame and nobody laughed. Damn. Biden wants to talk about education. Biden does a good job of noting his position on the ticket (point man on legislation, and keeping in the loop for independent judgment on issues).

    Ifill, VP job not held under the executive office but legislative:
    Palin agrees with Cheney and notes that the VP office should be flexible. Biden thinks that Cheney is the most dangerous VP in the history of the United States. Bold statement, but he's winning the debate, so he's probably feeling it right now. He is speaking over 80% of people's heads right now.

    Ifill, achilles heels:
    Palin notes her experience, but doesn't note what her achilles heel would be if not for experience. Alaska is apparently the heartland of America. Biden notes that his other issue is 'excessive passion' which is either really ridiculous or a veiled way of saying that he gets angry easily. Biden notes how awesome he is while tying it in... whoa! Biden started choking up! Fantastic piece of emotion. Interesting! Biden was trying to tie himself to the working class voter, noting that while he was well-off, he still could understand that people were suffering. Palin said 'Greed and corruption' for 12th time tonight (probably only the 6th time really). Biden says McCain is not the maverick that he claims to be, and cites examples in budget, healthcare, and war votes.

    Ifill, changing a vote on a value:
    Biden notes that he fought against Judge Bjork (sp?) and that he knew after 5 years that he would have to fight against judicial ideology. Palin says that she caved on several budgets, which is a good answer considering her lack of experience.

    Ifill, bipartisanship:
    Biden says he has the respect of all of Congress because he no longer questions peoples motives, instead questioning their judgment (good Jesse Helms story). Palin says there is a need to appoint people of different political persuasions while letting policies/proposals speak for themselves.

    Closing statements:
    Palin likes answering tough questions 'without the MSM analyzing what they just heard'. Rhetoric about fighting for freedoms on a generational basis. Biden notes the importance of the election, and that Obama/Biden measures progress by a host of blue/collar metrics (Democratic rhetoric). Oooo, Biden says "from both of us (motioning to Palin), may God protect our troops".

    Wow! Palin needs a mic check. Someone has jacked the volume WAY up on her mic. Let's take a look at the victories by category:

    Partisanship - push; Palin starts out strong, and Biden refuses to attack too quickly (also a good move)

    Economy - push; Biden starts to seem a bit petulant at the end of this topic (ends up fading) which is a shame because he was really tearing up Palin.

    Taxes - Biden; killed with his 'Bridge to Nowhere' shot.

    Promises - Palin; Biden made more points, but he loses here for propping up Palin with his 'windfall profits' tax while not refuting enough of Palin's points.

    Bankruptcy - Biden; he is comfortable noting differences in the ticket, Palin doesn't want to touch this topic with a ten foot pole.

    Energy/Climate - Biden; This was quite close, but Biden wins out by pointing out McCain's 20 votes on alternative energy, and because of a topic change Palin did not have a chance to respond.

    Same-sex marriage - push; only losers here are the homosexuals.

    Foreign Policy - Biden; Neither did a great job on this question, and it seemed to be a strange general topic question as Gwen Ifill had several probing questions that were specific foreign policy questions. Biden seemed more prepared to attack the current administrations setup than Palin was to defend it.

    Pakistan/Iran - Palin; Biden got into Senate speak, thereby possibly answering the question, but not in a way that most Americans will understand. If you polled Americans watching the debate, I'm willing to guess a short answer survey would get all types of answers as to what Biden thought. Palin was concise in saying Iran, and noting specific examples of Ahmadinejad's quotes.

    Engagement of enemy - Biden; Palin mentioned Kissinger which flashed me back to the Couric interview (me and everyone else watching).

    Israel/Palestine - push; Palin did a good job answering the question, and Biden did not give enough specifics for someone who should know this issue backwards and forwards.

    Nuclear option - Biden; not only could Palin not pronounce 'nuclear', but she couldn't find a way to answer the question.

    Interventionists - Palin; Biden is a pro at foreign policy and did a good job answering this question, but Palin in a surprise move noted divestment in Sudanese business interests as Alaskan governor.

    VP to President - Palin; Biden was good, and answered the question better, but you cannot, CANNOT mess with Gladys Wood Elementary!

    VP job - Biden; No question that Biden concisely and explicitly noted what he would do in an Obama presidency.

    VP executive/legislative - Biden; He went over everyone's head citing Article 1 and mentioning unitary power something-or-another, but it was dead-on.

    Achilles heel - Biden; When he got emotional it was a truly fascinating moment. Neither did a good job of answering the question, but Biden did a better job of trying/acknowledging the question.

    Vote on value - Push; Neither answer was particularly good. Palin was in a no-win situation, but managed to give a good answer.

    Bipartisanship - Biden; Palin's answer was okay, and she didn't have a great way to answer the question, but Biden's Jesse Helms story was quite good.

    Overall - push; Palin absolutely killed compared to expectations. Her main faults were changing the subject too often and moving to her safety zone (energy) more than necessary. On the pro side she cited specifics much more often than any of her interviews and added that dash of country charm on several occasions. Biden on the flip side did a terrific job across the board, occasionally failing to answer the question and/or speaking around the question, but usually giving clear and concise answers to Gwen Ifill's questions. His temperament only seemed to waiver once (that I counted). Biden's expectation threshold was higher though, so he had more to lose than Palin. I decided to wimp out and call it a push because while Biden did the better job (measured equally), Palin probably did more to help her ticket.

    Tuesday, September 30, 2008

    A Letter to My Congressman about the PRO IP Act

    UPDATE: Ray Beckerman informs me that this comes too late.

    I'm trying to compose a letter about the PRO IP Act, passed by the Senate and
    quickly facing almost certain unanimous approval in the House. Any suggestions here would be greatly appreciated, maybe there are places that could be trimmed, as it stands it is very long. Oh, urgency seems to be an issue.

    You can write something similar to your Congressman using this form.

    Dear Dennis Moore:

    I am writing to thank you for your service to our District. I would also like to urge you to oppose the PRO IP Act, but it will take more time.

    The President and co-founder of Public Knowledge recently wrote of the PRO IP bill that recently passed the senate, "The bill only adds more imbalance to a copyright law that favors large media companies. At a time when the entire digital world is going to less restrictive distribution models, and when the courts are aghast at the outlandish damages being inflicted on consumers in copyright cases, this bill goes entirely in the wrong direction."

    Currently, if someone steals a physical CD from a store, they faces a maximum of $5000 in penalties. If someone downloads a CD from the internet, this bill leaves them responsible for $1.5 million in damages.

    I know that we want to encourage robust protections for intellectual property, but it seems like there are three reasons reasonable people might be aghast at this bill.

    1) The appropriate punishment.
    District Judge Michael J. Davis lambasted the current state of damage awards in a recent case (Capitol vs. Thomas), which resulted in a $222,000 award. In his decision, Judge Davis implored Congress to take action to stop the "unprecedented and oppressive" nature of statutory damage awards. I do not believe the PRO IP Act is the direction Davis had in mind.

    When someone steals anything, it's hard for anyone to rise to their defense. But in America, we believe not only in punishment for crimes and redistribution for wrongs, but we believe these responses should be *just*.

    We do not suggest that a man who steals should have his hands cut off. This is not for some modern or American love of the thief, but out of a love for a well ordered society, a truly democratic society where someone's wrongs dictate the severity of the response.

    Proponents of the bill will insist that a loss of $1.5 million is nowhere near corporal punishment. While that may be so, no one can deny it is the sort of punishment that would deeply effect one's life.

    2) Representation in Government
    Obama is running an inspiring campaign on the promise of hope, not hope for big business, but hope for the average citizen. McCain meanwhile is running a campaign on promises of ending favors for special interests, that government might be more responsive to its people. The appeal of both these positions has made this one of the most exciting campaigns of our time.

    I'm well aware that there are many noble reasons to protect American creations here and abroad. But this bill looks in every respect like a bad bargain for the American people. It looks to the voter more like a handout to big business. We are taking a few citizens who've made some common mistakes and throwing them under the bus of profits for Disney and Sony.

    The bill seems to fight against all the positions that make the two candidates for President so attractive.

    3) Chilling Effects
    My biggest fear is not that someone who intentionally stole music gets harshly punished. My biggest fear is for the innocents that we will inevitably sweep up in the tide. The RIAA and MPAA don't have the greatest track record on only targeting only the most certain of violators.

    Ray Beckerman has kept a record of the RIAA's attempts to violate civil procedure, then hop jurisdictions when a judge objects. If you don't know about the other abuses of our courts, google for the story of disabled single mother Tanya Andersen, or for the story of grandmother Sarah Seabury Ward (who never even owned the hardware necessary to engage in the acts she was accused of).

    Those stories provide a record of those who stand up to the RIAA. No one is taking a tally of the number of citizens that are accused falsely of piracy, but quickly settle because they feel they have no other option.

    There's a way to stem such abuse. If the content industry wants more significant penalties than the criminal justice system, then maybe it's time for them to submit their cases to grand juries, or up their standard of proof to "beyond a reasonable doubt." Maybe we need to simultaneously raise the penalties for those who engage in a tactic of litigious intimidation.

    Such moves might reassure us that the legislature is interested in justice for all, not just justice for a few rich industries.

    I am thankful the content industry works hard to defend the American artist. Their heart may be in the right place. But for now, I'm going to turn off the radio and listen to a little more Woody Guthrie, who once wrote:
    "'This song is Copyrighted in U.S., under Seal of Copyright #154085, for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin' it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ours, cause we don't give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that's all we wanted to do.'"

    Thanks again for your service,
    Thomas Brownback

    Sunday, September 28, 2008

    Baby's First Verb: Yet Another Url Shortener for Ubiquity

    I threw together a command (or "verb") for Ubiquity this evening. The url shorteners seem to be the "hello world" of Ubiquity, so I made one for url shortening service ( tends to produce really short urls, and has a dead simple API.)

    Previous coverage of Ubiquity here, or just check out Aza Raskin's inspiring concept/tutorial video.

    The devs pioneering Ubiquity are clearly trying to push extensionability far further than even add-ons went in Firefox.

    I am not a professional programmer by a long shot, yet this was no real sweat to throw together. The biggest hitch I had was sharing the code, but GitHub has already made that part easy.

    If I can do this, I'd expect a flood of useful Ubiquity commands in short order. (Yup, there are dozens already, also check out the requests being filled.)

    After playing around with this script, I'm now completely sold on the Ubiquity paradigm. I'm ready for the day when we stop loading websites and instead just shout natural language requests at our personal homepages (which will incorporate data from around the internet, constantly restructuring themselves on the fly to please their human masters meet the user's needs). I wonder how advertisers will feel about that model.

    My script is hosted by GitHub. If you have Ubiquity installed, which is admittedly very beta, FF will auto detect the script so you can install it and try it out.

    UPDATE: changed almost everything now that the script is up. I had a rant here about textarea and pre tags that no longer makes much sense, but html is the devil. I asked EP for the keys to the CSS, hence his comment.

    The Problem with Pork

    In the debates, McCain attacked animal research as part of the pork problem that he would continue to fight if elected. Obama retorted that while reducing pork is important, it accounts for a mere $18 Billion of Federal spending (essentially accusing McCain of being penny wise and pound foolish).

    Why don't either of them get it?

    When someone from Topeka hears about ending pork, they think about how angry they get when the government throws $7.5 Billion at bad management in Detroit.

    When someone from Detroit hears about ending pork, they think about how angry they get when the government throws $307 billion to keep failing farmers in business.

    I just found $314 Billion in "pork." McCain could have my vote if he stopped picking on science and started promising to dismantle our addiction to regional corporate welfare.

    Saturday, September 27, 2008

    The Candidates on Deficits and Debt by the Numbers

    Watching the debates, we talked most about the economic differences between policy proposals among the two candidates. (Mostly we got bored and discussed other things, since this was about as fun as watching two senators debate on the floor.)

    Here are some numbers I Googled to determine the effects of each candidate's policies on the deficit. The numbers are depressingly murky and similar, despite budget balancing being a rather popular issue for the mainstream.

    Tax Policies on the DebtIncreases national debt by $3.5 trillion / $2.9 trillion.Increases national debt by $5 trillion / $4.2 trillion.Brookings Institution Urban Institute Tax Policy Center / Tax Policy Institute
    Tax cut policy effect on revenueIncrease revenue by $800 Billion over 10 yearsReduce federal revenues by $600 Billion / $700 Billion over next 5 years.Tax Policy Center / Congressional Budget Office
    Earmarks policy on revenue"pay as you go policy," unknownSave $18 Billion per year.Obama during debate / NY Daily News, maybe citing Tax Policy Institute
    Iraq PolicyWithdraw after 16 months, save $12 Billion per monthWin after an unspecified number of months, then save $12 Billion per monthSeattle Post Intelligencer
    AfghanistanIncrease commitment, unknown cost or extentIncrease commitment, unknown cost or extent(admitted in debates)
    Other PromisesPay as you go for new spendingEliminate deficit by 2013
    Health Care$1.6 trillion over 10 years to insure 18 million new people in year one. ($90,000 per insured person per year).$1.3 billion (per year?) / $1.3 trillion (over ten years?) to insure 1 million new people. (I'm going with 130,000 per insured person per year, but that's with some assumptions to help the journalists along).NY Daily News / CNN Money
    Energy$15 billion per year in subsidies to develop clean energy technologies, completely offset by a cap and trade system for polluters$2 billion per year to spur clean coal and domestic oil/natural gas production, also offset by a cap and trade systemNY Daily News
    misc$18 billion for early childhood education$9 billion summer gas tax holiday
    $10 billion to help homeowners stave off foreclosure$300 million prize for a better car battery
    $6 billion per year to repair bridges and roads$300 million per year to retrain workers

    I was going to try to have a summary column at the bottom, to see how it all balances out, but none of those numbers make any damn sense. Some are contradictory (It's not obvious how Obama's tax restructuring can increase revenues yet also be blamed for increasing the debt.) And others are just too vague or unreliable (McCain's health care program costs are different in two different sources by perhaps a factor of 100.)

    I was hoping a quick Google would give a simple answer to all these questions, but no luck so far. Maybe everyone's plans are necessarily vague right now, because they don't know the specifics of their administration in terms of the Congress they'll be working with, or the economic situation on day one. It'd be a good time to remember that the President doesn't actually write our laws. Maybe that's why Ben Harris of the Tax Policy Center considers these fiscal projections to a guessing game.
    (Wait a minute, the guy who runs the Think Tank everyone's citing just admitted he's just making all this up? Screw this, I give up.)

    As a parting jab, please check out Steve Greenberg's cartoon on fiscal conservatism. Also, if you think you can get a handle on the budget, you might try to play Marketplace's Budget Hero.