Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Failure of democracy or evidence of its success?

For those of you following the current US economy, no doubt you are enthralled by the failure of the US$700 Billion bailout of their economy. The proposed emergency legislation was canned last night, in a decision of 205 for and 228 against. ( Interestingly, the party split was 33% Republicans in favour and 60% Democrats in favour. Despite this, however, some lay the failure of the rescue plan at the feet of the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is a Democrat.)

Bipartisanship aside, it seems that one of the decisive factors was the looming election, and politician's fears of supporting an unpopular policy. “People’s re-elections played into this to a much greater degree than I would have imagined”

So this raises the question, is this evidence of a mortal failure of the model of representative democracy or a rallying cry, screaming that it is very much alive and kicking? On one hand, this may show that a politician's chief concern is re-election: Blind to all other considerations until this condition has been met, politicians are willing to sacrifice anything to maintain personal power. On the other hand, however, this may show that politicians are deeply receptive to the fears and wishes of their constituents, and won't be bullied into supporting something that they don't believe, simply because their party leaders command them.

So what does it all mean? Are we watching the collapse of representative democracy as we know it, or witness to its phoenix-like rise from the ashes?

Friday, September 26, 2008

The SMH and copyright

Apparently we, in Australia, have little to fear from the copyright police. No RIAA-style grandmas in court for the Disney album little Tinkerbell downloaded from the internet, not at all! In fact, we have one of our largest newspapers telling us, despite discussing just how illegal it is, exactly how to do it.

Um. Yeah. :)

Can I get instructions for shoplifting next, please, SMH?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

As the US economy shits itself, we look on in confusion...

I am not an economist. I know nothing of economic theory, and have a five year-old's grasp of economic practice. Yet even a five year-old can see that there is something hideously wrong with the US/World economic system. Some of the big thingies* in the US have encountered troubles - Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie May. Now the US federal reserve has bailed out the insurance company American Insurance Group with a loan of US $86 Billion.

It seems that the so called 'sub-prime' crisis is tearing apart the fabric that holds together modern economic theory. Fascinating to watch, unless of course, your house is being repossessed, your job cancelled, or your food is too expensive to buy for eating. No-one, it seems, knows how long this recession will last, what the long term effects may be, or if there even is a recession at all. (In The Doubter's Companion John Raulston Saul argues that the world economies have been in a depression since 1973 (pp 95-99). Coincidentally, the same year that Black Sabbath released Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. But I don't think you can blame them entirely). I am sure that there are a stack of tricksy economic sleight of hand tricks to pull, and like rabbits out of a hat, we will all emerge unscathed and better for the experience.
One idea, that is so simple that it must surely be wrong is put by former US senator in a NY Times article today: “We’ve been consuming more than we’ve been producing. We’ve been spending more than we’ve been earning...It’s been a big holiday.”

Governments in the developed world have followed the mantra of privatisation to the letter, and privatised debt, shifting debt from a public responsibility onto the backs of 'working families'. Now, the US government is throwing money hand over fist to prevent full scale collapse of the US and world economy. For years, free market advocates have been voiciferously opposed to the state interfering in economic matters. Should we now demand that the state remove its hand and let the world economy collapse, or will the invisible hand come to the aid of struggling economists to explain why the system is not working?

As should now be entirely clear, I don't really know what I am talking about, and have no idea of what I want to say. But when US $86 Billion is thrown at something, I wonder what in hell is going on, and could that money be spent elsewhere?

* Again as the use of the technical term 'thingies' shows, I am not an economist. I don't know who these Freddie Mac or Fannie May people are, why they had a fight and are now not talking. And I don't know who let the Stearn Bear into the US stock exchange, causing a Bear-ish market. I think there is some gun related freedoms going on here: as some of you know I fully believe the Second Amendment and the right to arm bears, but maybe not in a crowded stock exchange. But more on that some other time.

Why Digital Rights Management is lame

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is lame. Here's my most recent example of why:

Spore is a recent game designed by Will "The Sims" Wright as basically a "sim evolution" game. It's had a lot of hype and seems pretty fun for a Sims-fan like myself (although it didn't play so well on my Macbook, unfortunately). It's currently retailing in Australian computer game shops for around $90-100. Which is a lot for a game, in my opinion.

In order for EA (the publishers) to extract as much money as possible from people who wish to play the game, they decided to put DRM on the game. This is pretty standard practice in the game industry. Usually the DRM is along the lines of "you have to register online to play" or something that makes it really hard to rip a copy of the disk using basic disk ripping tools. Or registration keys, etc. etc. Game distributors know that it's pretty much inevitable that their games will end up being pirated anyway, since hackers are pretty smart and like to get things for free, so will poke away at it until they succeed. So DRM acts basically as a "speed bump", hopefully slowing the flow of pirated copies until the first couple of weeks sales (which is usually when games sell the most copies) come in.

This time, however, EA decided to a) get greedy, and b) piss off their customers more than usual with DRM by using a 3 installs and you're out system. Now considering that it's actually recommended that you reinstall Windows at least once a year or so, this effectively gives your copy of the game 3 years if you're particularly careful (not of course, barring the fact that you may end up buying a replacement computer and wanting to install it on that, or you get infected with a virus and need to reinstall, etc.).

So given that DRM is really just a "speed bump", this is lame, lame lame. Why? Because even before Spore was available for sale, a leaked, pirated, cracked copy was available to download, that was playable without having to worry about how many times it was installed. The DRM was effectively useless. And it seriously disadvantaged the people who actually bought the game, leaving pirates, once again, the winners of the DRM game, and people who want to support the games industry the losers.

More Spore DRM fun:
Spore DRM is a screw-up: "Firstly, SecuROM [(the DRM tool EA used)] didn't even work, as the game was pirated before release. Secondly, this game was much anticipated by gamers as one of the most significant releases of the year, so the idea that you could not have a single worldwide release date, and expect people in North America to resist the temptation to pirate it was just silly."

Spore rated down on Amazon as a protest against its DRM: "[Jeff Brown, vice president of corporate communications at EA] described EA’s SecuROM DRM as standard for the industry and cited Apple’s practice of only allowing downloaded music to be played on three devices. “We are extremely pleased with the popularity of Spore and the critical response to it,” he said. The latest figures on Amazon are 1,676 one-star reviews out of 1,812."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Things making me laugh today

I agree with Catie. Things make me angry. Morons is stupid. Me is the smart one.

Proof? Read these and make with the laff-laff.

Here is the Washington Post's 2008 Mensa Invitational, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

The winners are:

1. Cashtration: The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

5. Bozone: The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozonelayer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)

12. Karmageddon: It's when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes, and it's a serious bummer.

13. Decafalon: The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

14. Glibido: All talk and no action.

15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

16. Arachnoleptic fit: The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

17. Beelzebug: This is when Satan, in the form of a mosquito, gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

18. Caterpallor: The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Things making me angry today:

Okay, it's really only one thing right now.

Recently a Muslim school plan in the outer Sydney suburb of Camden was rejected, causing a lot of outcry about racism (a pig's head was found staked to the potential site with nasty signs and a lot of residents showing terrible behaviour).

The council ended up rejecting it based on the apparent fact that the plans didn't meet requirements.

However! Now a Catholic school has applied for a similar school (but with Catholics of course :P ) and the president of the local residents group, Emil Sremchevich, who campaigned very loudly against the Muslim school, said that this new school application should be just fine because they're Catholics (before he even looked at the application).

"Why is that racist? Why is it discriminatory? It's very simple: people like some things but don't like other things. Some of us like blondes, some of us like brunettes. Some of us like Fords, some of us like Holdens. Why is it xenophobic just because I want to make a choice? If I want to like some people and not like other people, that's the nature of the beast."


Let's hope the council treats this application the same way as the Muslim school. Mob rules are not okay!


Friday, September 5, 2008

George Orwell

For those of you who like the work of George Orwell, I found about a blog that is putting his diaries online, each day as they were written, 70 years ago.
I quite like a bit of old EAB's work (that' wanker-talk for Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell's human name) and personally find this to be quite interesting. Some of the entries aren't the most enthralling ie September 1: Fine and fairly warm, but the more interesting stuff is set to come online from the 7th of September, where his political ramblings enter into his writing.

This blog is pretty interesting. At the moment, Orwell is (i think) off the coast of Portugal, at Cape Vincent. You can follow his travels on a Google Maps link that the blog peoples have put up.

If you like Orwell and his stuff, get on board. If not, shoot me with a big gun.

Bye now.

re: Why Bother?

Usually, if we wait until policy or the technology itself decides the matter for us - decides our fate that is - then it is already too late. This is why philosophers & ethicists must get in there first and do the intellectual groundwork while there's still time to think about what the consequences of our policies and technologies may be...And if this is the job of scared little kitten's (which means all of us) then so be it. Pollan's article looks interesting.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ethics: Why Bother?

Having the heart of a puppy, it is easily crushed by the Iron-Boot of reality and ofttimes this leaves screaming in rage or sobbing in a dark corner. Everything is shyte, has gone to far, and why should we bother at all? This presents quite a problem for the aspiring ethicist: am I doing this to actually try and change something, or is it more some form of self-interested egotistical mind-wank where I am doing this to feel good about myself or atone for some existential sins of the past (and future).
Basically, why bother?

Well, I am just reading the article 'Why Bother' by Michael Pollan a fellow who writes some pretty beautiful and elegant books, one of which - The Botany Of Desire - I have read and can strongly recommend. Anyway, in this article, Pollan puts forward a case for trying to do something about climate on an individual level, which is pretty heartening and maybe evening a little empowering.

One of Pollan's lovely lines from Why Bother reminds me of why we should bother: "For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do."

So, Take heart, my kittens. The world may be the darkest of places, but there is hope for change, and it can only be done by people (with the hearts of puppies perhaps).

U.S. Federal Election

I am sure that some of our loyal and devoted fan base (consisting of millions, no doubt) have been following the recent developments in the U.S. Federal Election.
First off, we have Obama as the first 'non-white' major party candidate, then McCain names Sarah Palin as his running mate/potential Vice President. She is young (mid fourties) conservative, and she is female. She also has five children, one of them 17, pregnant and - shock horror - unwed. As the dirt diggers fire up their engines, and rumours and scuttlebut abound, I am become more and more fascinated by this election. Obviously the outcome wil be interesting, but to see what happens during the process leading to the outcome will be really really interesting.

Just to add a little slacademic fuel to this fire, this is a quote from our girl Sarah P from today's Australian: She is expected to highlight her focus on ethics issues in Alaska and other accomplishments...

Hmmm, I wonder if she takes an irrealist or a non-descriptive cognitivist approach, or whether she is a full blown realist. Methinks the last.