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(I’m proud to support this artist on Patreon.)
We’re having a general election here in the UK, and so there has been more than the usual amount of talk about “fairness”. Fairness is one of these slippery words, the definition of which depends very much on your worldview. But ignoring even that, I’d like to propose a new rule to be observed in political debate, worldwide:
Politicians should be banned from arguing for change using the words “fair” or “fairness” unless they also specify what level of change would be “unfair”.
Let’s take the common example of taxes. We often hear phrases like “the rich should pay their fair share”, or “it’s only fair that those with the most resources shoulder the burden”. If a politician says this, they need to be asked “OK – so what level of taxation would go beyond ‘fair’ and get into ‘unfair’?” They would be allowed to define it in any number of concrete ways, e.g. “I think it’s unfair to take more than 50% of a person’s total income”, or “I think it’s unfair to leave anyone with less than £15k of income after tax”.
But the one answer that should not be allowed is the equivalent of “‘fair’ means paying more than they pay at the moment”, however much that is. In those cases, talk of fairness is actually covetousness in disguise – people are being taxed simply because they have money and the politician wants some of it for their own purposes. Covetousness knows no limits. If they want to argue for this, they can – but they should not have the gall to try and call it ‘fair’.
Politicians don’t like making such commitments, because then they would have to (shock!) keep them, or be easily held accountable. But the convenient thing about “fairness” is that it’s very elastic – people can generally be convinced to agree that any tax rise is ‘fair’, as long as it doesn’t target them. After all, most people like the idea of spending other people’s money on stuff that they want to happen. But without any sort of upper limit defined, taxpayers can never know when a particular politician might be coming back for another bite of their earnings – and that most certainly is unfair.
The piece does include, at the end, a section on the specific applicability of my analysis to the Mozilla community.
Comments, as always, are most welcome. :-)
Have you ever been hit round the head with the truth so hard that it leaves you staring in slack-jawed wonder? I just had that experience.
So anybody who voted for Obama — whose legal vision on abortion is simply a more sanitary version of Kermit Gosnell — has absolutely no right to the phrase “black lives matter.” If you voted for Obama, then shut up, leave the protest, and go home. Throw your “black lives matter” sign in the nearest dumpster, and try to retrieve your conscience from that dumpster. If you think that partial birth abortion, performed on a black child, ought to be fully legal constitutional act — like your man in the White House does — then you need to come to grips with the fact that the race problem in America is not ultimately cops in NYC, the race problem in America is you. — Doug Wilson
Black lives matter. All black lives matter.
The more this sort of thing happens, the less I feel like supporting Team Internet. There is now only one level of disapproval on the Internet – total screaming outrage. And all of a person’s other achievements seemingly count for nothing if he does something that meets with that disapproval.
Twitter: could it be the greatest hate generator the world has ever built? Or perhaps it just more easily reveals what was in human hearts all along.
(Troll (v.): to say something with the aim of provoking an angry reaction which benefits you.)
Soon after came the calls for a boycott.
A few days later, a Facebook friend linked to this video, which you absolutely should watch in full:
So, if you were someone who called for or joined this protest, what did you achieve here? Let’s consider. You got to look angry and intolerant – even if you didn’t use language like that depicted in the video, everyone will assume that you did. You got to look weak – it’s now clear that even companies whose core market is supposed to be the All-American family with traditional values have no problem taking an explicit stand for same-sex marriage, because they think it’ll be a net win for their sales figures. And you got to look fearful and patronised – what they did is the approximate equivalent of patting you on the head and saying “There, there, dear, don’t be scared, it’ll all be alright in the end.” You gave the company a ton of free publicity, and they got to look enlightened and forward-looking.
And the crowning achievement of the trolling, the pièce de résistance, was the fact that there was a shot of a mixed-race family somewhat later in the original, and they included that in the “bits people didn’t like” section of the follow-up video, right after showing the gay couple. So you all look racist, too – even if none of you had any issues with the promotion of that type of family.
I’m pretty sure they didn’t think of this after the commercial was published; it was set up in advance. They knew this was going to happen, and you played right into their hands. As bits of marketing go, I have to say “well played”.
So, here’s my advice. Public expressions of outrage (something you picked up from the other side’s playbook anyway) clearly don’t work any more, if they ever did. When a company like Honey Maid can troll you to get a quite predictable reaction and lots of free publicity, here’s the lesson: you need new tactics. This isn’t working.
As part of our discussions on responding to the EU Copyright Consultation, Benjamin Smedberg made an interesting proposal about how copyright should apply to software. With Chris Riley’s help, I expanded that proposal into the text below. Mozilla’s final submission, after review by various parties, argued for a reduced term of copyright for software of 5-10 years, but did not include this full proposal. So I publish it here for comment.
I think the innovation, which came from Benjamin, is the idea that the spirit of copyright law means that proprietary software should not be eligible for copyright protections unless the source code is made freely available to the public by the time the copyright term expires.
We believe copyright terms should be much shorter for software, and that there should be a public benefit tradeoff for receiving legal protection, comparable to other areas of IP.
We start with the premise that the purpose of copyright is to promote new creation by giving to their authors an exclusive right, but that this right is necessary time-limited because the public as a whole benefits from the public domain and the free sharing and reproduction of works. Given this premise, copyright policy has failed in the domain of software. All software has a much, much shorter life than the standard copyright term; by the end of the period, there is no longer any public benefit to be gained from the software entering the public domain, unlike virtually all other categories of copyrighted works. There is already more obsolete software out there than anyone can enumerate, and software as a concept is barely even 50 years old, so none is in the public domain. Any which did fall into the public domain after 50 or 70 years would be useful to no-one, as it would have been written for systems long obsolete.
We suggest two ideas to help the spirit of copyright be more effectively realized in the software domain.
Proprietary software (that is, software for which the source code is not immediately available for reuse anyway) should not be eligible for copyright protections unless the source code is made freely available to the public by the time the copyright term expires. Unlike a book, which can be read and copied by anyone at any stage before or after its copyright expires, software is often distributed as binary code which is intelligible to computers but very hard for humans to understand. Therefore, in order for software to properly fall into the public domain at the end of the copyright term, the source code (the human-readable form) needs to be made available at that time – otherwise, the spirit of copyright law is not achieved, because the public cannot truly benefit from the copyrighted material. An escrow system would be ideal to implement this.
This is also similar to the tradeoff between patent law and trade secret protection; you receive a legal protection for your activity in exchange for making it available to be used effectively by the broader public at the end of that period. Failing to take that tradeoff risks the possibility that someone will reverse engineer your methods, at which point they are unprotected.
Separately, the term of software copyright protection should be made much shorter (through international processes as relevant), and fixed for software products. We suggest that 14 years is the most appropriate length. This would mean that, for example, Windows XP would enter the public domain in August 2015, which is a year after Microsoft ceases to support it (and so presumably no longer considers it commercially viable). Members of the public who wish to continue to run Windows XP therefore have an interest in the source code being available so technically-capable companies can support them.
If you live in the UK, and would rather your medical information were not stored in a central database (no, not the Summary Care Record database, yet another central database) and given, in a possibly-anonymized-but-no-guarantees form, to researchers and companies, then you need to actively opt out. Yes, really.
See medconfidential.org for how to do it.
[W]hen a President says “Never again” he is asking for the kind of outcome for which proving a negative, lots of negatives, is categorically essential. Proving a negative requires omniscience. Omniscience requires god-like powers.
— Dan Geer
(The whole speech is worth reading.)
It is not sufficient simply to point to texts that instruct Christians to “pay taxes,” and to conclude on that basis that all taxes are morally legitimate. For Christians are instructed to obey ungodly authorities, too; this instruction does not render those authorities godly, nor their behaviour legitimate.
To construct an adequate Christian political philosophy, each category of governmental action – from welfare provision to healthcare, from the judiciary to the military, from education to public roads and utilities – requires clear biblical justification. The mere absence of a specific biblical prohibition of a certain governmental action is not sufficient, because even if the action considered in itself is morally legitimate (e.g. the education of children), this does not justify the coercive taxation of citizens in order to fund that action without their explicit consent.
(This is a blog post I wished someone had already written so I could have found it quickly yesterday.)
The European Parliament TV site’s streaming system, used on pages such as this one, triggers the Totem plugin on my Ubuntu, which promptly crashes. :-| I’m fairly sure it uses some Windows codecs.
There is a mobile site for their main TV channels (video and audio streaming) which works a bit better – you can extract the rtsp stream from the links, and pass it to VLC. But if the session you want isn’t on TV, you’re out of luck. (Worse is if part of it is, and then it switches to something irrelevant in the middle!)
Fortunately, André Loconte has written a script which finds the right URL in such pages and passes it to mplayer with the right options. Thanks to him. Note that you may have to try various values for the “language” constant defined near the top until you find the one which is right for you. (It seems they do not allocate languages to channels consistently.)
There are only a limited number of ways governments can deal with a large debt (such as that run up in the UK): taking via war, raising taxes, currency devaluation, or default. The first of those possibilities inspired me when, a while back, I was asked to try and come up with a good way of explaining just how large the UK’s national debt is, in a way that a normal person can understand.
Private islands around Ireland seem to be going at the moment for between US$3M and US$300,000 for 25 acres (0.1 sq km). If the UK invaded the country of Eire, threw in Northern Ireland and sold the result as a private island, it would raise:
84,421 square km x £5m per square km = £421 billion.
Selling an entire country would raise only about 1/3 of the total needed to pay back the UK national debt.
The UK Government, in the name of protecting children, wishes to apply default censorship of some types of legal content to all Internet connections in the UK. Please sign the Open Rights Group’s petition against this change, and consider joining as a supporter.
My piece on Christians and Web Blocking explains how I can be both against porn and also against these proposals.
The recent passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, and David Cameron’s comments that various forms of entirely legal content (like “self-harming sites“) are going to be blocked makes this particular point in that document even more timely:
If it’s pornography today, it’s “terrorist content” tomorrow and “hate speech” the day after that – which can easily be stretched to include e.g. an expression of the orthodox Christian view that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.
Do you live in a guilt-based or a shame-based society?
Guilt is assigned by law, quantifiably based on right and wrong, and it usually goes away after punishment. Shame, by contrast, is assigned by the community, it is much harder to quantify and only disappears when a person’s honour is restored. It can potentially destroy a person’s standing in the community permanently.
In a recent book by author Steve Bell on explaining the gospel to those from an Eastern context, one of the points he makes is that Western Christians often explain the gospel in terms of guilt: “I was guilty before God, and Christ took the punishment for my sins”. This is true, and gloriously so, but Eastern societies tend to be based on shame, and this does not resonate with people from them. There is, however, also a telling of the gospel based on the concept of shame: “My sin shames me, but Jesus has taken away my shame and given me honour”. In expounding this point, he writes (p.12):
The unfortunate thing is that the Western focus on ‘guilt’ has developed to the exclusion of the eastern focus on ‘shame’…
This got me thinking (as all good books do) about the relative places of guilt and shame in UK society today. As would be expected for a 21st century Western country, I think that we are almost entirely a guilt-based society. Politicians no longer resign if they are caught in moral turpitude. People argue that private lives should have no effect on public status. Few actions which used to lead to shame do any more – in fact, “shaming” someone is in some quarters considered to be a great evil.
What consequences does this have? If people only have the ability to understand the world in guilt-based categories, then I wonder if they will tend to take their ideas of what is right and wrong from what is legal and illegal. “This is legal, so it must be OK.” This then means that people attempting to make something socially acceptable campaign hard for its legalization, because they believe it will then lead to its social normalization and acceptability. And, in a society with little concept of shame, they may well be right.