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A blog run by a bigot.

No, not this one. THIS one. This is the guy that I was debating with at 2nd Hand Smoke a month ago. He has his own blog (apparently they'll let anyone have a blog here...) and he seems to be some sort of super-naturalist. His pet issue is the creation of children from the sex-cells of same-sex couples. It's just a DNA switch-a-roo, but he seems to think that natural=ethical and that any question which ignores this "natural fact" is just missing the point. It's also not possible at this point.

I post to his blog a lot because I find his psychosis interesting. I'd love to meet the guy. Preferably in a public place where he can't pull any "funny stuff." If you want to see what happens when you let a loon have access to science-y sounding words, go visit his blog.

[EDIT: I changed the title of the entry because I realize that one doesn't have to be mad to have these beliefs. One only has to be a bigot.]

RIAA and MPAA gone wild with copyrights.

We're going to be talking about copyright in the digital age in my class this afternoon, and I've been doing more reading on that topic than I usually do in order to prepare for class. What I've found is that the crazy is accelerating faster than I could have believed.

MPAA doesn't think they should be required to have evidence in order to prosecute (persecute) people they believe to have pirated movies. They want to sue for $150,000 per supposed offense without presenting any evidence.

RIAA (and a bunch of other people) think that they should get royalties from Broadcast Radio. They want $7 billion a year. That's almost half of the $16 billion that the NAB is reported to make.

John Barlow wrote a prophetic piece for Wired in 1994 that has been dead on with regard to the future of copyright. He followed it with another great piece in 2000. (The first gets a little lyrical, but they're both amazing.)

Barlow writes that the real problem is that the property that these groups think they have is illusiory. Ideas can't be kept in bottles or widgets, and they are worthless when they are. Information and ideas need to be free in order to be useful or great. Information doesn't behave like widgets in the market because it isn't physical. As Barlow says, if I steal your horse you have to walk, but I can take all of the information that you have and then we BOTH have it without either of us being impoverished.

The switch from selling widgets in the marketplace to selling information in the digital world has left people with the mistaken impression that they should be paid for every instance of that information in all cases because if they aren't then they are losing something. That's just not the way that information works, and the public has noticed. If you put your songs out there for free and people like them then they will buy your albums and go to your shows and buy your merch. As Barlow puts it, ethics is replacing law. Law is built to be static, but ethical requirements may shift in response to changes in society. What is happening is a shift from the law smashing you with a hammer when you don't pay for music that you enjoy to a sort of horizontal public disapprobation. There is personal presure applied from your peers to support acts and artists that you enjoy watching. Radiohead and NIN have figured this out and integrated a pay-as-you-like scheme. The Offspring figured it out long ago when they would digitally post their music for free. The Greatful Dead encouraged fans to tape their shows and give it to their friends. They did quite well for themselves by producing a product that their fans loved and by being good to their fans.

Another interesting tidbit is that artists are like waiters in the US. I can name several people who have done quite well just by making something neat on the WWW and then selling related merchendise. The comics from Penny Arcade, Questionable Content, Dr. McNinja have become a viable source of income for these guys without requiring their fans to pay to see their work online. Revision 3 is a company that produces really excellent web-based shows for free. Ze Frank had one of the greatest web-casts ever for a year. At the end he let people donate and seems to have done well on that deal. They aren't starving either, but they don't charge for their content. If you do a good job entertaining people and you forge a connection with your audience you will profit from it. People will work to support you in your endeavour. They'll do that with cash-money.

Faith "Healing" vs. Real Healing


Stories like this really get my blood to boiling. In the linked story a 16 year old died from an easilly treatable illness because he belonged to a faith which practices "faith healing" instead of real medicine. There are no charges expected in this case because the state allows minors 14 and older to make health care decisions.

Normally, I'm a huge fan of autonomy and liberty. I will argue all day for a silly basic right like the right to property. (Don't get me started on home owner's associations!) This, however, is just ridiculousness on stilts. At 14 none of us know what the heck we are talking about. That's why we're legally required to go to school. They can't drive, vote, smoke, buy porn, have sex, leave home, or any number of other things. Why? Because we're not mature enough to make those decisions, says the State. Why in the hell are we going to allow a 14 year old to make decisions which may immediately lead to life or death?

The case in question involves a 16 year old, but the principle is still the same. At 16 a kid will do whatever crazy thing their parents tell them. This seems especially true in relation to religious beliefs. I bet the convo went something like this:
"Mom, I don't feel good. I need to go to the doctor."
"God doesn't like you to go to the doctor."
"Ok, I won't go to the doctor then."
This is where the conversation ends because the kid is now dead.

You know what else I imagine God doesn't like? Just a guess: Needless death of teenagers due to easily treatable illness.

***Edit: The other picture disappeared. The new picture in this post is a fake angry bear in response to fake healing.***

Reckless Power


Apparently, John McCain thinks that we should build a whole slew of nuclear reactors. 45 of them by 2030.

That seems completely irresponsible to me. We have 104 nuclear plants in the States, and we don't know what to do with the waste we are creating that way. Why would we build that many nuclear-waste-creating things without any way to get rid of the primary waste (glowing goo) and the secondary waste (glowing goo cleanup and containment stuff)? Figure out a way to deal with the problem we have without increasing the problem by ~50%.

And that's to say nothing of the hypocrisy of building nuclear plants while forbidding others from doing so. We sanction Iran because they want to build nuclear reactors, but the "cure" to our problems is to build nuclear reactors? Riiiight....

Good news for gamers:


Video game addicts are not shy nerds!

The AMA has considered adding video game addiction to the list of official addictions in the DSM. This psychology grad in Australia has shown that we MMORPG players aren't the basement-dwelling, anti-social, socially inept trolls that we are stereotyped as.

I don't count myself as an addict of anything (except JUSTICE), but I have always resented the public perception that gamers have gained over the years. I don't live in a basement, I don't have any social issues, and I can put down the game when I need to do so. I've known a lot of different gamers in lots of different games and I've never known one who matched the stereotype.

Thanks for bringing the science, Daniel Loton!

(PS: The guy in the above photo isn't Loton. That's Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel. He's the most famous gamer on earth. Not only is he not some creepy guy in the basement, he's turned his awesome gaming skillz into a brand. He has merchandise. I swear I played Quake with him back in '98-'99.)

Randomness = Love?

I'm totally on a bioethics kick recently. One of the things that's come up in genetic engineering discussions over and again is the idea that a parent who makes some selections (sex or hair color or something) with regard for their child will be an unfit parent because they will view their child as a commodity or something.

This just looks like a bad argument to me. I can't think of any strong reasons to suspect that having a child with randomly assorted genes will be treated better by their parents or that the 'naturalness' of it all has anything to do with parenting ability. There are plenty of parents who do it the old fashioned way and still end up treating their children horribly. If there's no correlation between the two then what is the argument about?

Holy Crap!

A politician is running on a platform of raising taxes!

Yep. I typed the right word there. Obama has said that he will raise taxes on those making above $250k/year and those who have large profits from the stock market in order to lower taxes on the middle class. (McCain is going with the classic tactic of promising big tax cuts to corporations and such.)

I kinda like the idea. The check that we got from the Bush tax cut is great and all, but I would have voted against it if I'd been asked. Why politicians think that a country in debt can give people back a big chunk of the taxes they pay I will never know. Currying favor before an election year, maybe?

At heart I'm kinda Libertarian, and I don't know that I want to pay taxes to the State at all, but if anyone is going to it should probably be those who can afford to give up some cash instead of those who are scraping to get food on the table and keep the car running so that they can get to their minimum wage job. We're not going to get rid of the IRS, so let's have a tax plan that makes some fiscal sense!

Of course, McCain is telling folks that Obama is raising taxes on "everyone," but you have to expect some spin on something like this. I'm pretty sure that neither of these guys is going to do exactly what they campaign on, but I'm offended that McCain thinks no one will read a paper or listen to an Obama speech in order to get the right story. Apparently McCain thinks that "everyone" either makes $250k+ or makes lots of money in the stock market. Maybe most of his friends do.

The value of tradition.

I read Wesley Smith's blog "Secondhand Smoke" and I occasionally comment on things that go on there. Smith is a bright guy, but I disagree with him on almost everything and that makes the discussions interesting for both of us.

The current argument I'm in started out with Smith's post regarding the distrust between the public and the medical community (perhaps including bioethicists) and has ended up as a 'discussion' between myself and another poster regarding the value of tradition.

I have argued all along that tradition does not provide much, if any, moral weight. If a policy is going to stand it will need more legs than the spindly tradition leg. He seems to think that if I (and all bioethicists) don't accept tradition as an important argument then I am dismissing it because it is tradition-based. That's just not the case. I merely recognize that tradition only means that you've done something for a long time.

Perhaps tradition is important. Maybe we've been doing things in a certain way for a long time because it works. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't question the things that we traditionally do. Traditionally black people were sub-human slaves and women lacked most of the rights that men had. Neither of these traditional conditions or beliefs could withstand the onslaught of rational argument, and neither should lots of other traditions.

What do you think? Tradition as a spindly-leg or unquestionable rock-solid pillar?

Where have all the bodies gone?

This article, over on Wired, takes a look at one of the constants of video gaming. When we kill a truckload of bad guys their corpses don't just stack up like kindling. A new game, Ninja Gaiden II, doesn't leave us with an empty street. When you dispatch a bunch of evil ninjas they stick around. The author of that article points out that this trend began a long time ago. It was originally a response to the need to free up computing power. All of the corpses sitting around needed to be rendered (a really grisly word here) by the computer and the old ones just couldn't keep up.

Now it might just be that this trend has become a tradition that has followed us into the modern age of games, but it might also be that

"... when you put it that way, this idea -- that the bodies of everyone we kill
just sort of wink out of existence -- is so hilariously pregnant with misplaced
dread that it's practically Freudian. It's as if our violent games can't quite
bear to have us face up to the dimensions of what we're doing. So they just get
rid of the evidence." -Thompson

I don't know what the plot of the Ninja Gaiden game is, but I picture Mario shrugging as he walks through a field of squashed goombas and dazed turtles saying "It's not my fault. I was just trying to save the princess!"