maradydd: (Default)
Please, for your own sake as well as the rest of ours, shut up with the damn tone argument already.

Yes, yes, Dawkins and Hitchens and Myers (oh my!) are caustic. Allow me to point out something that you seem to have failed to notice: They know that.

I point this out because, as a frequent Pharyngula reader, I enjoy reading PZ Myers' discussions of ethics from an atheist perspective. More generally, I enjoy reading discussions of ethics from a wide variety of philosophical and religious perspectives. Every metaphysical system has its own set of axioms, and it is interesting to see how different approaches to epistemology, ethics, &c. can be derived from these axioms. Myers, for example, has a debate going on with Sam Harris about whether there can be a scientific foundation for morality. (Harris says yes; Myers disagrees, and the reasons why are interesting, so go read it yourself.)

"What principles can we validly derive from the following assumptions?" is a rewarding avenue of inquiry. It is a rewarding avenue of inquiry even if one does not agree with the assumptions in question. Or the derived principles, for that matter. As just one example, Fred Clark's grueling exegesis of the Left Behind novels is fascinating stuff because it delves relentlessly into the moral fabric that underpins the books' (and authors') worldview, and provides real perspective into the Avengelical (h/t Making Light) mindset. This turns out to be an approach that has far more staying power (coming up seven years now) and promotes far more cogent discussion than mere fisking or snarking would. Picking apart how premillennial dispensationalists' principles lead them to their conclusions actually serves to make both the principles and the conclusions even more horrifying, but I hold that this is a good thing; getting a person to examine his principles -- which is probably the most effective way to get him to examine his conclusions -- generally requires, as Atticus Finch had it, standing in his shoes and walking around in them for a while. Even if you need to bleach your feet afterward.

But concern-trolling over the tone argument is boring. It's boring in discussions of racism, it's boring in discussions of feminism, and it's boring in discussions of religion or the lack thereof. Sure, it'll draw hits to your blog, but it's the search-engine optimization of debate: you might pick up some more AdSense dollars (trolling, concern- or otherwise, is certainly an effective tactic for this), but you're not adding anything new to the discussion. You could reply to the substance of your opponents' conclusions -- bonus points for tracing the logic back to an actually held position and not a strawman -- but, no, those pearls won't clutch themselves.

So, ask yourselves: do you want the hits, or do you want to add something to the substance of the ethics debate? Because you can do both at the same time, but it requires real research and real effort. Taking the time to understand someone's underlying axioms is serious work, but it is also the only way to address the substance of any philosophical perspective. Otherwise, you're just tilting at strawmen, and it's getting dull.

tl,dr: silly internets, put more work into entertaining me, kthxbai.

Your friend,
maradydd: (Default)
"I wonder if these fucktard gun-huggers realize the moment they show up at a Presidential event with an AK-47, they're put on a watch list."

Oh, so you're just another 1984-style fascist. Right, don't need any more of those in my life than I had two days ago. Unfollowed, and good riddance. I have other sources for link aggregation that are much kinder to my blood pressure.
maradydd: (Default)
What's the deal with people using Facebook messaging in lieu of email these days? I don't understand this phenomenon, and I don't like it.

Just so everyone knows: I rarely use Facebook. My account there exists only because I needed one to do some development there for work. It might look like I use Facebook, but that's only because I have my Twitter client set up to push messages to Facebook (in point of fact, I set this up when I configured the client and promptly forgot about it, and was then surprised to get a mess of Facebook status replies). If you send me a message via Facebook, whether by scribbling on my Wall or sending a private message, assume that I either won't see it at all, or won't see it for a week or more.

I have three email addresses. One is my personal email, one is my work email, one is a dumping-ground account that gets a whole lot of mailing list traffic that I really don't have time to read. Where do you think Facebook notifications go? If you guessed the third one, hurray, you win a No-Prize. Those itty-bitty status notifications get drowned in a sea of bug reports and developer chatter, maybe three to five percent of which I actually read. Stuff gets batch-deleted every week or so, and it's easy for the only indication that a Facebook message has arrived to get lost in the noise.

"But, Meredith," I hear you say, "why not just point notifications at an address you actually check?" Simple enough: like Bartleby the Scrivener, I would prefer not to. I don't like the interface, application-layer protocols riding over other application-layer protocols is a stupid implementation choice, and if you think I trust Facebook with my private data, I've got some beautiful oceanfront property in Luxembourg I'd love to sell you. I'm twitchy enough about gmail. I expect to have control over my email, and anything I expect to have control over lives in a place where I can shred(1) it if the need arises. Data on Facebook is not data I own, plain and simple. (Neither is data on gmail, for that matter. Or LiveJournal, but I've got enough time invested in this blog and the community it's part of that leaving would be a hassle, so I censor myself, and hate myself for doing it.)

If Facebook someday decides to set up an SMTP gateway, so that I can reply directly to, then perhaps I'll change my mind. I doubt that will ever happen, though; they're heavily invested in their walled garden and don't seem too inclined to change that. (Perhaps I could have done something about it if I'd taken that job there, but I'm pursuing academic goals instead, and that door is closed. If you're reading this, Larry, I genuinely am sorry; I think I would have enjoyed working with you, but I have to follow this dream.)

This is a facet of today's Internet that worries me. On the one hand we've got Web 2.0 sites like Twitter, Flickr and Amazon publishing data and providing services via openly documented formats that I can read, use, and mash up any way I like ... and on the other, we've got Facebook and MySpace building extremely large ghettos on top of privately documented protocols that lock users into set patterns of behaviour. I don't like this. It stifles my creativity and harshes my mellow. It might be a nice-looking ghetto ... but it's still a ghetto.

/me sighs. Should I implement SMTP in the Facebook dialect of Javascript? I probably could; some psychopath (and I mean that as a compliment) deployed IPv6 over Social Networks there, and if my steel sieve of a memory serves, SMTP can be modeled with either the same computational mechanism as IPv6 or a weaker one. I expect it's feasible, but I don't expect to like it. (Besides, it'd be a hell of a way to ship out lots and lots of spam. I'm sure Facebook would appreciate that.)

So, yeah. If you want to send me a private message and actually have me read it, suck it up and send me an email.
maradydd: (Default)
The following is a response to this post about California's Proposition 8. I left it as a comment there, but comments are moderated, and somehow I don't think it will get posted. Thus, y'all get to read it here.

Amy writes:
"After legalizing same-sex marriage 5 short years ago HIV/AIDS has increased in Massachusetts with more than 40,000 being infected each year."
I don't know what Amy's source on this figure is, but I did some research, and this claim is not only wrong, it's wrong on several orders. The first same-sex marriage in Massachusetts was performed on May 17, 2004. Since then, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS -- "prevalence" meaning "how many people have it" -- has increased, but the rate of increase has fallen off sharply.

First of all, according to the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services' epidemiology department, whose 2007 report you can read for free, as of November 1, 2007 there were only 16,866 people known to be living with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts.

How could there be 40,000 new cases a year if the total number of cases in the state is less than half that?

The report also examines the trends in HIV infection. As you can see in the chart (the right-hand one on the first page), the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections dropped sharply between 2004 and 2005 and again in 2006. If you look at the first page of the data tables, you'll see that in 2003 the total number of cases was 14,992 and in 2004 it was 15,633. That's an increase of 641 cases. In 2005 the number was 16,217 -- an increase of 584 cases. In 2006 the number was 16,621 -- an increase of 404 cases. For the first ten months of 2007 it was 16,866 -- an increase of 245 cases.

What we can see from this is that the rate of new infections in Massachusetts has not only fallen since the introduction of gay marriage, it has fallen more quickly. 57 fewer people got infected in 2004 than in 2003. 180 fewer people got infected in 2005 than in 2004. And 159 fewer people got infected in the first ten months of 2007 than in all of 2005. If we project that trend out to the end of 2007, that would be 190 fewer new infections.

I'm sorry, Amy, but your argument doesn't hold up.
maradydd: (Default)
People. Really. When are you going to learn?

The Illustrators' Partnership is at it again, claiming that they've been sent a draft of the Orphan Works Act of 2008. (No THOMAS link provided, because guess what -- there's not one.) "They haven’t officially released it yet," they claim, "but we’ve been told the Senate will do so this week."

O RLY? Time to do a little digging.

See, the thing to understand about Congress -- indeed, any legislature -- is that it's full of rumors. The entire U.S. legislative branch, from the Speaker of the House down to the lowest congressional page, is as gossipy as a high school lunchroom. Legislators like to know what their fellow legislators are up to, and if you want to substantiate a rumor, the best thing to do is to talk to someone on the right committee.

I picked up my trusty mobile phone and looked up the Senate Subcommittee on Intellectual Property. Why, look at that -- one of my Senators, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), sits on it. I figured I'd start with her office, since I bug them pretty frequently about issues I care about -- they might even know my voice by now. A cheerful staffer picked up on the second ring, and I introduced myself and explained what I was looking for. She couldn't find anything in their database (not surprising, since neither could I), and just to make sure we were on the same page, I pointed out that I was looking for a bill that hadn't been introduced yet, but which I'd heard was likely to be introduced this week, and asked whether anyone on Sen. Feinstein's staff had heard anything about it. She put me on hold, and came back a few minutes later to apologise; no one in the office knew anything about it. I thanked her for her time, and hung up.

Strike one.

Next step: the head of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Unfortunately, no one in Sen. Hatch's office was around. (This happens when you call close to 5pm Eastern time.) I tried one of his state offices, but they said I'd need the Washington office to help me. Oh well. I'll try them tomorrow.

Ball one.

Next step: the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). (He's also the head of the Committee on the Judiciary, to which the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property belongs, which makes him a good bet for information.) This time, I got a guy who searched through the records, again couldn't find anything, and suggested I talk to somebody in the office of the Committee on the Judiciary. I thanked him and let him route the call.

Strike two.

The staffer for the Committee on the Judiciary searched through everything they had, still couldn't find anything, and said I could talk to their press secretary if I thought that would help. I said sure, it was worth a try, so he tried to raise her on the phone, but only got her voicemail. I left her a message explaining the situation (bill hasn't been introduced yet, heard it was going to be introduced this week, any information on it would be awesome, thanks), left my phone number, and hung up.

Half an hour later, the press secretary for the Senate Judiciary Committee called me back. (Now that's service!) She said that the bill was probably going to be introduced tomorrow, and she'd be happy to send me a press kit about it. I gave her my email address, and inquired as to who will be sponsoring it. As it so happens, the sponsors will be Sen. Leahy and Sen Hatch. I expressed my surprise, since the person I'd talked to at Sen. Leahy's office hadn't known about it, and she said it was probably because the other guy wasn't a Judiciary Committee staffer; she only knew about it because she was. Ok, no big deal then.

Saved by the bell! As I said before, a phone call to someone on the right committee will substantiate (or disprove) any rumor. Your legislators have their phone numbers on the Internet for a reason -- when you have questions, call them.

Still, no points to the Illustrators Partnership for saying "OMG THERE'S A BILL" but failing to disclose the sponsors or how people can get information about it for themselves. As I've said here and elsewhere, my only dog in this fight is making sure that people can get the information to make informed decisions. I'm not a fan of organisations who say "trust us, we have the data, we've interpreted it, no need for you to worry your pretty little heads over what it actually says, just listen to what we say and repeat our take on it to all your friends." A responsible organisation will give you the source material so that you can make your own decisions.

And now I'll do just that. For starters, here's all the contact information for the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. I spoke with Erica Chabot, Judiciary Press Secretary for Sen. Leahy. Give her a call at (202) 224-2154 and she can hook you up with the press materials. (I haven't received them yet; I expect them some time tomorrow.)

You can also contact the offices of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who are co-sponsoring the Senate bill. Note that I got farther with the Judiciary Committee itself than with Sen. Leahy's office, but once the bill's actually introduced, you'll want to contact its sponsors and the members of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property to give them your opinion.

If the bill is introduced in the Senate tomorrow, then it should be in THOMAS by Thursday morning. I'll be keeping an eye out for it, and will post at length about it once I've had a chance to read through it. (I also owe the Illustrators' Partnership a response to their response to "Six Misconceptions About Orphaned Works", but I have this thing called a "day job" that keeps me a little busy.)

More later.
maradydd: (Default)
My friends list today has been swept by a storm of fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding this article by Mark Simon on Animation World Network about the issue of orphaned works. "Orphaned works" are creations likely still under copyright -- photographs, illustrations, written works, music, &c. -- for which the original creator cannot be found, and thus their copyright status cannot be determined. Orphaned works present a thorny problem in today's litigious society, because when the question of "who owns X?" can't be answered, very few people are willing to do anything with X if they fear that they'll be sued for it.

For instance, suppose that you have your parents' wedding album, and the photos in it are starting to fade. You go to a photo shop to get the pictures scanned and digitally retouched, so that you can save them on DVD to show your kids in ten years. However, the copyright on those photos belongs to the photographer, not you or your parents. The photo shop tells you that unless you can get permission from the copyright holder, they can't do anything with the photos. Do you know who your parents' wedding photographer was? Do they remember? What if the company the photographer worked for has since gone out of business, and nobody can track down the individual person who took the photos? The pictures are "orphaned works", and no one knows who owns the rights on them.

Or what if you're cleaning out your great-aunt's attic, and you find a box full of pictures of your town as it was 100 years ago? The local history museum would love to add them to its collection -- but it can't, unless you, your great-aunt, or somebody can track down the original photographer and secure his or her permission (or the photographer's estate's permission, if the photographer's dead) to donate the photos. (Copyright in the United States lasts for life of the creator plus 75 (EDIT: 70, for works created today, older works are weird, see here for details; thanks for the correction, internets) years, so chances are, even 100-year-old photos are still under copyright. Thank Disney for that one, guys.)

But Mark Simon apparently believes that enacting legislation to handle orphaned works in a way that protects people who legitimately try to find the original copyright holder, but can't, will lead to the effective invalidation of copyright on ALL UNREGISTERED ART EVERYWHERE OMGZ CALL OUT THE CAVALRY. His article, which I linked above, is miserably poorly researched, jumps to completely illogical conclusions, and, most retardedly of all, implores artists to letterbomb Congress in protest of proposed legislation which does not actually exist. Someone please tell me where this guy is getting the crack he's smoking, because I want to avoid that streetcorner and everything in a six-block radius, kthx.

So, here are six misconceptions that are making the rounds about orphaned works, and a short explanation of why each one is a misinterpretation or just a flat-out lie. I also give links to useful supporting material, and resources you can use to keep track of this issue as it evolves.

1. "There’s legislation before Congress right now that will enact major changes in US copyright law regarding orphaned works! We have to act immediately!" )

2. "If I want the copyright on my art to be recognised, I’ll have to pay to register each piece!" )

3. "If I don’t pay to register my copyright, anyone in the entire world will be able to use it for free!"  )

4. "Someone else could register the copyright on my work, and use that against me!"  )

5. "If I don’t track down people who are illegally using my copyrighted works, I’m SOL!"  )

6. "Displaying my artwork anywhere means that it automatically becomes orphaned, and anyone will be able to use it!"  )


I hope this addresses any fears you might have about orphaned works and the sort of legislation that might come up regarding them. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment and I'll do my best to answer them. Likewise, please feel free to link this article or reproduce it in full or in part; I am placing it under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license. Creative Commons License

[ profile] kynn also has some cogent observations about orphaned works, Mark Simon, his sources, and some follow-the-money fun here.


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