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Sunday, September 05, 2010

I became aware of Alan Fletcher's book "The Art of Looking Sideways" when it was first published in 2001, and though I've still not read it, the term stuck with me. I eventually came to associate it with a technique for thinking about "hard" problems that I'd always used in some form, but that subsequently became more refined and deliberate once I had a term for it. So while I suspect that much of what I will describe will have some similarity to Fletcher's work, this really has nothing directly to do with it aside from that wonderfully useful term.

By "hard" problems, I meant, at least in part, those question in philosophy and its ugly stepsister, politics, that have seemingly defied conclusive answers, and have certainly defied widely accepted consensus answers. But it also means any problem one is having difficulty coming up with an answer for by the usual means, whether in science, computer programming, personal finance, relationships, wherever such problems arise.

Monday, June 28, 2010

J Neil Schulman writes

For now I would be entirely satisfied if libertarians and anarchists recognized my property rights in the things I create and respected my right to license copies, using no other enforcement mechanism than social preferencing.

"Rights" to me, and I think to a lot of people, implies things that are legitimately addressed by force.

Here's what I do recognize: the creator of a work has moral ownership of it, at the very least the link between his name and the creation should not be severed. (And every one of the alternative business models that have been proposed, some of which I think are very viable, rely on that link being maintained.)

Copies made and sold under false pretenses, such as a claim that the author authorized the copy, is fraud.

Modified work presented as the author's own work is fraud.

Unmodified work presented as the product of someone other than the original author is fraud.

Modified work, such as parody, commentary, or other fair use should maintain the link between the author and the original work, as well as to acknowledge the modifications as not the original work.

It is immoral to try to make money from another's work at the expense of sales by the original author, but this does not preclude all copying nor distribution as immoral.

It is immoral, and ultimately self-destructive, to always seek value for nothing.

None of this has clear lines, and much of how these principles apply to a given concrete situation will always remain subjective.

Enforcement of any of this is immoral, both by the above, and because enforcement in any but small numbers of edge cases, is not possible without prior restraint or a requirement to prove innocence. Social sanctions are the only way to discipline behavior toward those principles, and that relies on how people evaluate the behaviors.

Libertarians will generally tolerate casual copying, convenience copying, sampling, parodying, previewing, and transient copying....

But, they should have a very low tolerance for abusive copying, such as seeking to parasitize an author's sales, changing the work in such a way as to undermine its original intent without being blazingly clear it is a parody, or just seeking to take a lot of value without giving any in return. They should be ready and willing to use social sanctions to address this. It should be uncool to admit that you torrented 500 songs and never sent a dime to any of the artists.

Artists, on the other hand, should, though obviously cannot be forced to, do several things:

Make it easy to pay for something. Often the price of a movie or song in money pales in comparison to the indirect costs involved in buying it legitimately, such as figuring out how to actually effect payment, DRM and other "protect my computer from me" BS, and arcane pointless rules about copies for backups, car vs work vs home, multiple computers, and time-shifting. Just stop. If I buy a copy of something the copy is mine to do with whatever I please.

Stop expecting the market price of work to be maintained anywhere near the level that the media companies, with the help of their captured legislatures, have set. Those days are long gone, and will not come back. So long as artists and media companies try to hold on to them, crass pirating will continue and expand, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. Social pressure works both ways, if you expect people to pay on the honor system, start charging honorable prices and cut out the dishonorable middle men.

Stop threatening casual copiers, and work on converting them to paying customers through incentives and persuasion. Accept that there will be free-riders, that nothing you could ever do will stop that, except to stop producing. Understand that people who become fans from free downloads are likely to eventually become paying customers of not just the music, but live performances, special packages, merchandising, etc., especially after they get out of high school and get jobs. (BTW, Microsoft has admitted that they are a 12-figure company *because of* pirating. It locked in millions of people to Windows products. )

Stop expecting artistic work to be a possible golden ticket to untold wealth without ever lifting a another finger. The Beatles and Michael Jackson were a fringe side-effect of a state granting of IP privilege that never existed as rights, back when there was no internet to call their bluff.

There are viable non-IP business models that can allow good artists to make a living, and mediocre artists to make some money.
Find one that does not rely on state-enforced IP. IP, for the arts at least, is a dead letter regardless of what libertarians say. It's a buggy whip, and the only market for it ten years from now will be sado-masochists. Deal with it and move on, or expect to keep getting smacked around. There is no "safe word" for economic pain.

Stop looking at fans of your work as enemies. And fans, stop looking at the producers of the art you love as milch cows or mindless automotons who are and always will be just categorical "artists". They can always become plumbers if the pay is better. But hey, maybe John Mayer will whistle a tune while he is unclogging your sink some day.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

In self-teaching a variety of subjects (including the one I am currently employed with), Ive come across several common obstacles. Even the best self-learning materials fail to address all of these consistently, and it is one of the most difficult things about learning a subject on ones own.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Suitable for nailing to an appropriate door near you...

agora (1) - n. A place of congregation, an ancient Greek marketplace.
agora (2) - n. A market free of forceable regulation, taxation, and government
(The) Agora - The aggregate of all such markets of any size.

95 Theses

1. Free, unregulated, untaxed, and unmonitored trade is the natural right of all human beings
2. In a voluntary trade, both parties receive more than they give up, otherwise neither would trade.
3. Nobody gets taken advantage of through mutually voluntary trade.
4. Taxation forces people to pay for things that aren't worth the cost
5. Government regulation forces people to abstain from trades they would otherwise voluntarily make.

6. Markets collect, organize, and distribute information more rapidly, accurately, fairly, and efficiently than any central authority could ever do, even with superior resources.
7. Prices are information.
8. Force distorts market information.
9. Governments' only means of action is force.
10. Governments operate blindly because they only see information distorted by force. The more information they gather, the less clear their vision becomes.
11. Aggression is a reaction to unpleasant or unwanted information. It's motto is "kill the messenger".
12. A market is smarter than any of it's participants. A government is stupider than most of it's participants.

13. Governments require markets for their survival; markets thrive in the absence of government.
14. The more efficient a government is, the more dangerous it is.
15. Markets improve the material well-being of all people. Governments improve the material well-being of some people at the expense of other people.
16. Markets are more powerful than governments.
17. Human survival and well-being require free markets.
18. Human survival and well-being require the absence of government.
19. The best humanitarian aid that can be brought to impoverished people is to allow them access to the Agora, usually by removing their governments.

20. Productivity is the application of intelligence to labor for creating something of value to someone.
21. Labor is equivalent to value in the same way crude oil is equivalent to a vacation.
22. The non-productive have always and will always try to live off the value created by the productive.
23. The productive will by right decide how much, if any, to allow it.
24. Charity is offered and received face-to-face, or it is no longer charity.

25. Wealth is the natural and honorable reward from trading value for value.
26. Wealth is a store of productivity, not a store of value.
27. In the Agora, the rich have already given back far more than they received. That's the only way to get rich in the Agora.
28. Those who get rich outside the Agora could never give back all they have taken.

29. Money laundering is an invented crime, the concept cannot exist in the Agora.
30. Price gouging is an invented crime, the concept cannot exist in the Agora.
31. Unfair competition is either not one, or not the other, or not in the Agora.

32. Market price is an observation of history.
33. Market price is related to value in the same way news photographs are related to current events.
34. "Intrinsic value" is a lie told by parasites to try to steal from producers.
35. Companies advertising their product as "an $XX value" are lying to you.

36. Fiat currency is theft by fraud.
37. Gold and silver are usually the bases for real money because they have properties that best serve that purpose.
38. Paper is the basis for fiat currency because it has properties that best serve that purpose.

39. Communication strengthens markets and undermines governments.
40. Markets are the way communities stay organized when they are too large for face-to-face interaction.

41. All resources are human. The term "human resources" is demeaning to the nature of both humans and resources.
42. Competition is not the purpose of a market, it is one of its methods.
43. Natural selection in the Agora is more Lamarckian than Darwinian.
44. Natural selection in the Agora does not destroy resources, it reallocates them.
45. Natural selection in the Agora does not kill people, it frees them to be more productive.
46. "Dog eat dog" is a feature of governments, not of markets.
47. Monopolies can only be created and sustained by governments.

48. Freedom to fail is every bit as important as freedom to succeed.
49. The Agora guarantees neither, and resists the perpetuation of both.
50. Markets don't have goals, values, or ambitions. Markets are a tool for human beings to pursue those things.
51. "Market Failure" is an oxymoron. People sometimes fail to use markets properly.

52. Innovation is an inherently Agorist activity, even when it happens outside the Agora.
53. A primary goal of government is to restrain innovation.

54. Raw materials in the ground are not resources until they are brought to market.
55. The owners of private property tend not to destroy it. Commons are routinely destroyed or exhaustively consumed.
56. Agorist exploitation of the environment increases resources, and protects the environment. Government "protection" of the environment reduces resources, and harms the environment.
57. No species is endangered when it is owned. The best way to keep a species from extinction is to allow it to be property in the Agora.

58. "Public property" is an oxymoron, and privatization of profits is not privatization.
59. Property is authority. It's not a market without private property and private authority.
60. Where there is private property authority, there is an agora..
61. Private property let open to the public is not a commons.

62. Shortages do not exist in the free market, government obfuscation of price information is the only way to acheive a general shortage.
63. Being unable to buy something at the price you want to pay is not a shortage.
64. Markets are, in part, a process of voluntary rationing.

65. Corporations are evil only to the extent they rely on government power. Corporations with a monopoly are branches of government.
66. Markets rely on trust. Markets rely on suspicion.
67. Individuals in the Agora expect suspicion and earn trust. Governments demand trust, and earn suspicion.
68. A government truly of the people, by the people, and for the people would have no powers whatsoever.
69. If the measure of virtue for a society is how it treats the least among it, then the Agora is the most virtuous society ever known to man.

70. Governments thrive on opposition, antagonism, provocation, confrontation, and defiance. What they cannot tolerate is to be ignored.
71. The central idea behind the Agora, and one of the things it does best, is to ignore governments.
72. The effectiveness of the Agora's self-regulation is proportional to the extent to which external regulation is absent.
73. The Agora cannot be managed, controlled, regulated, or destroyed. It can only be interfered with.
74. Voting is nothing more than an expression of the voter's preferred way to interfere with the Agora.
75. The Agora is a network, and like all networks, it routes around damage.
76. Government is damage.

77. Public education is an oxymoron.
78. One of government education's primary functions is to instill fear of the Agora.
79. The Agora is all around you. It's nothing to be afraid of.
80. The Agora is peaceful. Violence and war are results of failure to embrace the Agora.
81. Guns are often required to deal with people who operate outside the Agora, because guns are the primary way people outside the Agora operate.

82. The Agora does not require permission.
83. Anyone with the power and inclination to grant the Agora permission is a threat to all honest men.
84. Anyone offering the Agora permission will be ignored.
85. Most true heroes end up in prison or murdered. This is even more true for Agorist heroes.

86. The Agora ignores creed and color.
87. When it comes to markets, black is beautiful.
88. Wherever there are human beings, there is an agora. It may be hiding, but it is there.
89. The Agora is a select community - the strict qualification for membership is to want it. Most people don't.
90. The Agora does not recognize borders or artificial boundaries. It is everywhere, and it is no where.
91. The Agora welcomes you, but does not need you.
92. You need the Agora. Even if you oppose it, you benefit from it.
93. An Agorist movement is an oxymoron. Agorism is the natural state of humanity.
94. Practicing agorism is the only way to achieve agorism. Isolated networks will eventually find each other.

95. Governments are on notice the world over: your days are numbered.

Also posted here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Timmy Geithner, who plays Obama's Secretary of the Treasury on TV, was laughed out of China yesterday. Here's a quick summation of some of Timmy's other recent public appearances:

It would appear that the Chinese are taking my advice seriously.

Friday, May 15, 2009

So, my local fishwrap is going out of business. Its no big loss, as I long ago found them unequal to the task of wrapping fish properly. Youd think they would at least try to get that right.
Kate Marymont, Gannett Co. vice president for news, told the newspaper's staff Friday that the paper will continue with a Web site edition providing commentary and opinion but no news coverage.
So, really, nothing at all has changed. I cant remember the last time I looked at one of the local newspapers - or any newspaper, for that matter - but if I had found some honest news in it, I probably would have kept buying it on occasion.

It seems that even in a desperate bid to find creative ways to remain in business, that approach was just too crazy to consider.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

A pair of Jehova's Witnesses left my doorstep just now, one of them having promised to read Atlas Shrugged. It took about 20 minutes. He may never read it - I have no idea how seriously Witnesses take such promises - but if not, he may just keep wondering whether he should.

The one before that was a 17 year old kid, a few months ago. He told me, after more than an hour, that I was a good teacher. To which I responded "that's the best way to learn". I must have used up his entire time allotment at the park, since the van came by shortly after to pick him back up. Watching him climb into the van, I'm convinced that he'd be asking some tough questions, if not of his handlers, then of himself.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Billy, it doesn't matter.
Are Waxman and Markey evil or retarded?
Any sufficiently stupid idea is indistinguishable from malice.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blaming the current financial crisis on the failure of markets is like blaming an airplane crash on the failure of gravity.

The markets didn't fail, you demanded they do something impossible. This crash is the predictable and correct result of the inputs you provided. If you let an airplane turn into an ice-covered flying brick, gravity continues to do exactly what it will do - your flight plan might as well be a parabola - and people die. The NTSB never, in its investigations, asks "What went wrong with gravity?" What makes you think markets are any different?

You might think that we can find an alternative to markets, that markets are a political tool that can be chosen or rejected. They're not. They operate at all times and in all places, and always by the same laws. They are the given that your political positions are tested against.

You have failed.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The people trying to politically destroy Obama (a just and noble cause), have made a tactical error bad enough that if you told me that Obama himself had put them up to it, I might believe you. They're claiming that his aunt is in the country illegally, and if he doesn't deport her, he will have no more credibility.

New Checkers Speech in.... 3... 2.... 1....

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Billy gets at the apparent double-meaning for the word "brand", which isn't really a double meaning at all. To save even more time, these people might want to go ahead and get the bar-code upgrade right now, while it is still optional.

He continues ably live-blogging the execution, in all its varied and colorful aspects.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Imagine that someone you love is dying. You know they'll be gone soon, you've known it for a long time. Years even, while they've been in steady decline. You can't even remember the last time they were really themselves, though you see flashes of it every now and then. Fewer and fewer of them as time goes by, but enough that they allow you, for a brief moment, to hope that dear old Dad, or Grandma, or Uncle Sam might brighten up enough to recognize your face, your voice, and at least offer a word, a look, an acknowledgement that he is still in there somewhere, that he is aware of what is happening, that he appreciates you sitting next to the bed all this time.

Now imagine the whole world cheering on the cancer cells, or the neural plaques that slowly, inexorably are stealing your loved one's mind, body, and soul. Everyone you meet, cheering. Turn to any channel, news or otherwise... cheering. Rooting for the cancer that is devastating a life and everyone it has ever touched. Not even because they hate your Dad or Uncle, or Grandma, they just love cancer, love disease.

You wait, probably in vain, because you know this is the last day. The graphs on the monitors went flat months ago, yet the body still sometimes quivered, sometimes gasped or rolled its eyes, and you hung on every movement as if it were a sign of life when you knew it could no longer be. All that is left is the small, quiet ritual of pulling the plug... except this time millions are watching, and cheering it on, and all you can ask is "what did we ever do to you, to deserve this?"

Keep a watch on Billy today, he seems to be handling it better than I am, almost, ironically, "live-blogging" a death... no, an execution.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

This is going to blow the minds of a lot of people I've been arguing with about anarchy.

No society worth having can function without some malum prohibitum rules.

Now, most of those I've been arguing with should agree with that. In fact, one of the objections I get over and over again stems from equating anarchy with the a-priori absence of all such rules. I'd like to see them try to reconcile what they're arguing against, what they think I am arguing for, with that statement. It can't be done.

For those of you willing to proceed with the understanding that I believe that to be true, I offer the following hypothesis: Government is incapable of generating rational mala prohibitum laws. Not pathologically incapable, but that its very nature contradicts the possibility of doing so. Federalism was, in fact, an attempt (unknowingly) to get around that fundamental flaw in the nature of government, but it merely reduced and masked the effects, it did not address the flaw itself. It was a band-aid over the sores produced by a genetic defect.

Proving it requires a bit more groundwork, and so I'll leave it at that for the moment, as an assertion to be backed up later.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Damn straight

Billy's one of the most educated people I know. If you read enough of his comments here and there, or even just look at how the little "off the shelves" blurb at the top of his blog changes over time, you get a sense of the depth of his reading. I won't go all gushy and say "he taught me everything I know", mostly because it's not true - I've done a hell of a lot of it on my own, and from picking little bits here and there from a lot of people, and figuring out how they all fit together - but I have learned a hell of a lot from him.

His "crazy" idea to hang out a shingle as "Philosopher at Large" isn't so crazy. Back when I was involved in Second Life, I considered doing just that in there, for pay. The problem with doing it in "First Life" is that there's probably a total of about 14 adults in my town who would even consider such a thing, and so the internet is a much more target-rich environment.

On the other hand, I've had some recent contact with the local homeschoolers. I decided to clean out my bookshelves - there simply isn't room to even store the entire collection - and so I donated 12 file boxes full of them to the group. It got me thinking that they are probably a market for just this sort of thing. I was thinking more in terms of teaching some C++, or at least basic programming, but they'd probably eat up some formal teaching in philosophy, or even informal discussions. And I've still got enough books left to run a lending library to some tens of these intelligent kids.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Just a quick note, regarding some arguments I've been watching around...

A position, even the most obstinately held one, is not a principle. Principles support positions. Principles are facts that can be traced all the way back, with the best logic you can muster, to things you can see, touch, taste, smell or hear, with your very own eyes, ears, nose, mouth and skin. "Gun rights" is no more a principle, and no less a mere position, than "Britney Spears is, like, the best singer evurrrrr!". except that only one of them is based on true principles.