Thursday, May 31, 2012

Could This Patent Actually Be Beneficial?

For most of my life, I ignored/accepted it, but since I've become interested, every argument -- moral or practical -- that I've seen for "intellectual property" has collapsed under even nominal scrutiny. IP doesn't protect anything resembling justifiable claims to property rights, nor does it, as its supporters love to claim, "spur innovation."

At least not usually ... but I think I may have found the exception on the latter count.

The patent in question, granted to Sony last November, would seem to put Sony in the position of being able to demand that anyone wanting to put a TV/radio style commercial -- i.e. one that actually interrupts play for "a word from our sponsor" -- into a video game to get Sony's permission (presumably pursuant to an exchange of filthy lucre).

Setting aside the complete silliness of the patent claim itself (the "invention" they're trying to claim "ownership" of has been around for as long as media, whether it's a full-page ad in the middle of a magazine article, a reading of a list of sponsors between acts of a play, etc.), I can actually see it "spurring innovation."

To wit: If Sony goes all patent troll with this idiocy, trying to extort money from other game companies for the "privilege" of interrupting their games with commercials, those other game companies will probably come up with different, less intrusive ways to monetize their content through advertising.

I doubt that's the outcome Sony has in mind (and it's even possible that the patent is just "protective," to let them do their thing without fear of getting sued by some other troll), but it's one I can live with.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Et tu, bitly?

It's becoming almost a kind of PTSD with me. As soon as I see the words "welcome to the new [name of product or service]," I break into a cold sweat and start to shake. Those words invariably portend technical horrors of a Lovecraftian variety.

A few months back, I shifted from my long-time favorite link-shortening service, tinyURL, to, mainly for one reason: The extension for Chrome allowed me to right-click on any link and choose "shorten and copy to clipboard" sans fuss, muss or page-hopping.

This morning, I got a nasty surprise when I right-clicked on a link. Instead of "shorten and copy to clipboard," I was greeted by "save link to bitly."

When I hopped over to the site, there it was: "Welcome to the new bitly."

Now instead of speedy, courteous link shortening with no guff, we get "bitmarks." A bookmarking service ... with the link-shortening function still hidden in there somewhere ("need the shortlink to one of your bitmarks? Click its i button") but for my purposes as distant as Mars.


Back to TinyURL, which while not quite as sexy as old bitly, is far, far superior to new bitly at shortening URLs.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

First Impressions of Yahoo! Axis

Didn't even know it was coming until I discovered this morning that it's here.

Interesting new search "browser" -- actually, for a desktop user with no Apple mobile devices, just a browser extension. Since I don't use iPad or iPhone (apparently the killer feature is sync between those devices and desktop), the desktop app is the only thing that matters to me.

It's quite nice. Sits in the lower left-hand corner of my screen as a search form. Not only auto-completes searches as I type them in, but pulls up preview screen shots of the results. I could get used to this, even dependent on it, pretty quickly.

I'm impressed by its quickness and fluidity. I mean, I'm using a 2006 Mac Mini -- Core Duo, not 2 Core Duo CPU, and maxed out at 2Gb of RAM, but the results show nearly instantly, and scrolling back and forth across those thumbnails happens without visible pause or delay. Which makes me think that, despite opening day exposure of a serious security flaw, this thing was in general very competently designed.

One down side: So far as I can tell, it can't be turned off without actually disabling the extension (we're talking Chrome for Mac here; your OS/browser mileage may vary).  There really should be a convenient on/off switch.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Little Snort of the Old Solidarity ...

When someone as flush with seizable assets as Steve Newton goes out on a limb for principle, I see no reason not to join in. So:

US military intervention in Yemen, pursuant to orders given by US president Barack Obama and absent a congressional declaration of war, constitutes not just stump-stupid foreign policy but high crime.

This remains true even if we set aside the fact that American citizens have been murdered under color of law in Yemen pursuant to those orders -- and that's a fact we shouldn't set aside.

If the wheels of justice do indeed grind, even coarsely, Obama will one day find himself standing, clad in orange coveralls and manacles, in front of a bureaucrat wearing a black dress, to answer for his crimes, and these things shall be counted among those crimes.

If I come across any way to materially "obstruct" Obama in commission of his crimes which does not otherwise violate the principles by which I strive to live, I'll happily engage in said "obstruction" six days a week and twice on Sunday.

If there's a jackbooted thug responsible for monitoring this kind of thing and toting up prospective Seizures for Sass©, he may now feel free to augment that prospective take by my net worth of approximately $1.43.

Hey, if other bloggers kick in, maybe we can raise enough to buy Obama a steak dinner some day ... prepared by the staff at FCI Terre Haute!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Another "New Gmail" Bug?

Sometimes a new user interface grows on me over time -- at first I think it's ugly and dysfunctional, but later I admit that it's actually more intuitive and has improved my user experience.

So far, no signs of that happening with "New Gmail." It's still ugly, and new annoyances continue to pop up. Lately (only lately, which is why I think it's linked to "New Gmail"), when I start to type in an email address or contact list name for which there are quite a few possible options, "New Gmail" freezes. About half the time it regains its footing after a few seconds. The other half of the time, it never does and I eventually get one of those Chrome browser messages asking me if I want to kill the non-responsive page.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" can be taken too far -- new stuff comes along that users just don't want to do without, etc. -- but in my opinion the previous version of Gmail wasn't broken in any respect. It worked great. It looked great. "New Gmail" is ugly and doesn't work right. Why, Google?

On the plus side, the Chrome browser now lets the user set to automatically invoke Gmail instead of defaulting to a desktop email client when clicking an email link on the web. That's nice!

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Marriage: Politics vs. Society

That's the title (and topic) of my latest C4SS op-ed:

Marriage has existed, in one form or another, for as long as humankind. Monogamous, (theoretically) life-long heterosexual marriage with property equality between partners is only one such form. If that form was truly superior to all conceivable others in all ways, it wouldn't need a politician with a tin badge and a .44 Magnum to "protect" it from competing alternatives.

Check it out.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some brief notes on a recent controversy

After saying my initial piece on this, I resolved to remain mostly silent on it in public. In private, too, for that matter.

One venue in which I didn't have the luxury of silence was on the board of the Center for a Stateless Society, which, after much discussion, arrived at its organizational response (which you can read here).

That discussion's penultimate result was my resignation from the board, not because I disagree with that response (although I do in some particulars), nor by way of dissociation from C4SS itself (I gave up my vote -- but not my voice -- in the Center's governance, not my day-to-day work with the Center), but because we were at an impasse which only that would resolve.

C4SS's board operates on something close to a "consensus" approach. I was unwilling to endorse the course of action which all other board members seemed to be coalescing around, and most of those other members had one or more irresolvable problems with the course I proposed. This would have continued until minds were changed, and that just wasn't going to happen. By resigning from the board, I stopped being a roadblock to the unanimity they required to do anything.

Why bring this up? Well, I've heard that it's already been mentioned on at least one Internet radio show. If the rumor mill vomits up something that doesn't match the account above, it's inaccurate.

As to other facets of the issue (some of them covered in civil tone in two blog posts by Claire Wolfe, here and here, and a little less civilly in comments on those posts), I may write a long piece on them in C4SS's "mutual association" area, but I'll throw out a couple of clarifications/correctives here:

  • If Ms. Litz had been part of a clandestine or military revolutionary organization, or was being judged not on "movement credentials" but solely in the context of black/gray market considerations, I'd have no theoretical problem with a resolution along the lines of "... and they never did find the body." Neither context applies here.
  • I agree that much of Ms. Litz's post-revelation rhetoric has been self-serving and indicative of a desire to shift at least some responsibility onto shoulders where it doesn't belong. That may make her less easy to sympathize or empathize with, but it doesn't change the basic factual landscape (she was abducted; she was threatened; she broke under coercion; she's admitted it).
  • Double, triple, maybe even quadruple standards are at work in various takes on the matter. Most of us break under far less immediate and onerous state coercion in various ways, every day; Ms. Litz's own actions are treated as different not just in degree, but in kind, even though the gun was closer to her head and had a larger bullet chambered. At least one voice loudly condemning Ms. Litz immediately turns right around and commends the informant who snitched on her because that informant has since gone through alcohol rehab and is a "different person" now. And while I'm not normally known for smelling sexism in every word or action, I note that a number of males who took their sweet time about revealing what they knew, and continue to defend each other, felt the urge to throw a bunch of "evil little woman" innuendo into the mix when it came time to attack her.
  • Contra those who seem to think otherwise, I have not suggested that Ms. Litz immediately (or for that matter, ever) be returned to a place in the movement in which trust regarding confidential information is a factor. I understand not trusting her now. I understand not expecting to trust her in the future. If I wanted to buy drugs the government didn't approve of, she wouldn't be on my list of people to talk to. If I wanted to form a clandestine revolutionary organization, I wouldn't recruit her to it.
  • BUT! For me, it comes down to a few key questions. Do we, the movement, decide who's with us, or do we let the state decide that for us? The latter is a bad idea, because they can break almost anyone. Do we signal to activists that if they ever break under coercion, it's better to stay broken and rat out as many as they can (and to keep it secret as long as possible), because all coming clean will get them is condemnation and cold shoulders? That's a bad idea too. We should fight to keep control of our own movement rather than allowing the state to act as our HR department. And we should do our best to bring those who break under coercion back into the movement -- albeit in less trusted roles for obvious reasons -- rather than accept this kind of attrition.
Finally, something to think about:

Ms. Litz -- and, from what I can tell by reading other accounts, not only Ms. Litz -- made the mistake of assuming that it's possible to do three things at the same time: Climb the bourgeois upward mobility ladder (go to college, get a law degree, open a practice, buy that nice brownstone, etc.), and engage in black/gray market activities on a larger than trivial scale, and play key roles in the freedom movement.

Ms. Litz is living proof of the flaws in that assumption. Try to do all three things, and it's likely you'll end up not being able to do any of those things. Ms. Litz is still trying to find a way to do the first and the last, having been caught in and blackmailed over the middle; I doubt she'll succeed.

There are some respects in which living in a society which has progressed further toward real totalitarianism is actually ... liberating. If you're Orwell's Winston Smith in fictional Oceania, you already know you are the dead. If you're Nechayev in tsarist Russia, it makes sense that:

A revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no private interests, no affairs, sentiments, ties, property nor even a name of his own. His entire being is devoured by one purpose, one thought, one passion -- the revolution. Heart and soul, not merely by word but by deed, he has severed every link with the social order and with the entire civilized world; with the laws, good manners, conventions, and morality of that world. He is its merciless enemy and continues to inhabit it with only one purpose -- to destroy it.

The society we live in at the moment pretends not to pose that conflict -- having to choose between being a revolutionary or having a "normal" life in many respects. Ms. Litz's situation proves that that freedom is at least partially an illusion, subject to state suppression at any moment.

Of the things I find offensive in this whole matter, probably the ugliest is that some have presumed to judge Ms. Litz on Nechayev's criteria while continuing to indulge that illusion for themselves.

And that's all I have to say at the moment. More than I intended to, actually.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

It's Mine and Mine Alone

My opinion regarding the proper approach to comrades who, under coercion, assist the state, that is.

This post is also mine and mine alone. I sought no permission or approval from anyone before writing or publishing it.

The reason I am writing and publishing it is to dispel any false impressions that might arise from reading comments like this:

I will never trust anything associated with [the Center for a Stateless Society] again after watching so many of you choose to retain such a liability in your midst.

For the record:

  • Yes, the person in question has been associated with the Center for some time.
  • Yes, the matter of the person's continued status with respect to the Center is under discussion and some kind of statement will almost certainly be published once that discussion has ended and any actions resulting from it have been taken. If commenters like the one above know the outcome already, they have bright futures as TV psychics.
  • No, I am not going to divulge particulars of that discussion at this time, except to note that my particular positions on the subject seem to be very much in the minority (some particulars more than others, different particulars resonating or dissonating with different people). In other words, not only do my public writings on the subject not represent the Center's position, the Center's position when fully formed will likely not greatly resemble those public writings.
  • No, that person's association with the Center never has been of such a character that it constituted or constitutes a "liability" of the kind the comment implies, if for no other reason than that none of the Center's activities are of a character that could be informed on (we fly our black flag in the open) and that even in the very limited sense in which the Center handles any confidential information (donor lists, for example), she has never had access to that information.
This is the place where I stop before I'm tempted to get mean, and ask those who are interested in the matter and the Center's response to it give us a little time to arrive at that response. Keep in mind that when this matter came to our attention and yours, the people who brought it to that attention had known about it, and had been considering their responses to it, for weeks or months. It's not unreasonable for us to take a few days on it ourselves.

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm ..."

Steve Newton over at Delaware Libertarian (welcome back to the blogosphere, Steve!) has posted a couple of items on the possible impact of Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson on the presidential race.

In particular, Steve has theorized that Johnson might impact the race with respect to the issue of marriage apartheid. Here's one of Steve's pieces on that, which links to another.

I'm personally more skeptical than Steve as to whether or not Johnson will have any great effect at all on the outcome (aside from  possibly determining the disposition of New Mexico's five electoral votes -- he's that state's former two-term governor).

BUT! I think a lot of people are thinking about this in the wrong way. To steal one of Steve's quotes from a spokesperson for the American Anti-Family Association ... er, "National Organization for [sic] Marriage:

If Obama were to embrace same-sex marriage, he'd be on the wrong side of majorities in [several battleground] states.

And that's true, but it's nowhere near all the math.

First of all, it's a reasonable bet that most voters who are very much against same-sex marriage, and consider it an important issue, are already just not available to Obama under any circumstances. He loses nothing by further pissing them off.

Secondly, by getting fully and unambiguously on the right side of the issue (which, the news broke as I started this post, he just did), he energizes otherwise lukewarm supporters who care about the issue and didn't like seeing him remain on the fence.

Where does Johnson come in? Well, Johnson's been a supporter of marriage freedom for a long time, and has recently publicly reiterated his support for it from the bully pulpit of his presidential candidacy.

Had he not done so, Obama might have been able to remain on the fence. After all, it's not like Romney was an alternative for those "I support Obama but wish he'd come out for marriage freedom" voters.

But Johnson is right on that issue and Obama wasn't. And Johnson excels Obama by far on the ACLU's civil liberties canvass, too.

And the key here is that we're talking about battleground states, where a percentage point or two may be the difference between getting those electoral votes and not getting them.

A pro-marriage-freedom Democrat, especially one who also cares about other civil liberties issues just might be disappointed by Obama's record, and tempted by Johnson's.

And it just might only take a few of those voters to swing a close election.

So yeah, I think we can at least prospectively and partially credit Johnson with bringing Obama down off the fence, and on the right side of it, even.

And, well, it sucks to be Mitt right now. He's painted himself into an anti-family, pro-torture corner on marriage and civil liberties. He doesn't have any fences he can climb down from. His only hope with regard to pro-marriage-freedom and pro-civil-liberties Republicans is that he can satisfy them enough on other issues, or scare them badly enough about Obama on those other issues, to hold on to their votes. Too bad for him that Johnson's better than he is on foreign policy, immigration policy and economic policy, too.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

When the Comrade Beside You Falls ...

... do you kick her in the kidneys, or do you help her up?

When the comrade beside you is captured by the enemy, do you curse her name and write her out of the movement, or do you rescue her if possible and aid her and keep solidarity with her if that's the best you can do?

If the enemy extracts information from the fallen or captured comrade, at what point do you determine that that comrade is a traitor rather than a victim? Do they have to waterboard her, pull out her fingernails, and show her a family member with a gun to his head? Or are there lesser coercion levels, including threats -- "we'll put you in a cage for 20 years;" "we'll abduct your children and put them in foster care;" "we'll seize your father's business" -- to which capitulation is an understandable, rather than treasonous, act?

Just asking.

In my view, we need to accept that the state is at war with us -- all of us, not just "movement people" -- and recognize that when we write off an actual or potential comrade because he or she was brutalized to the point of (quite possibly temporary) surrender, we are by definition adding one person to the state's ranks and removing one person from our own.

I'm not great at math, but that just doesn't seem like a very good idea to me.

Obviously there are information issues which may be less than completely transparent. Did the comrade capitulate under coercion, or actually change sides? Yeah, it's a universe of imperfect knowledge, isn't it? But let's work to realize our best aspirations instead of indulging our worst fears.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Libertarian Party, Born Again Hard?

Well, after the anti-climactic (the nomination of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for president and former California judge Jim Gray for vice-president) came the apocalyptic!

In the race for chair of the Libertarian National Committee on Saturday evening, first sitting chair Mark Hinkle, and then challenger Mark Rutherford were eliminated in favor of None of the Above.

After Rutherford's backers unloaded every dirty trick they could think of to nullify the result, it somehow magically became a tie instead of a NOTA win, and a new election was held this morning, resulting in the election of Geoff Neale of Texas (who has served as chair in the past as well).

Apparently the completely fraudulent nullification of NOTA's win was the signal for a full-scale delegate uprising that swept most of the the 2010-2012 "establishment" out of office.

R. Lee Wrights beat former chair and sitting at-large member Bill Redpath to once again become vice chair (a position that, if I am not mistaken, he once held when Neale was chair the last time).

Ruth Bennett (whom I've always liked, although I was disappointed with her recent stand in favor of forcing convention delegates who just wanted to be convention delegates and nothing else to subsidize the luxury hotel/circus sideshow preferences of more well-heeled party members) unseated sitting secretary Alicia Mattson.

Tim Hagan (with whom I served as an LNC regional alternate around the turn of the century) unseated Aaron Starr for the position of treasurer.

Establishment figures Redpath and Wayne Allyn Root did secure at-large positions ... but so did LNC newcomer Arvin Vohra, coming-back-after-long-break Michael Cloud, and ... holy bustier, Batman! ... Starchild!!!

I haven't seen Judicial Committee results yet, but at this point it looks like a different ballgame in terms of internal governance. The faction behind much of the 2008-2012 fuckery (and there's really no other word for it) seems to have been shorn of its key figures and working majority.

I still don't see the LP getting anywhere in terms of fulfilling its purposes, but it may at least have extended its own life for a few more years with these outcomes.

"New Gmail" Redux

Awhile back -- not worth finding to link to -- I opined that "New Gmail" looks like ass.

Not svelte, sexy ass, but "shouldn't be wearing stretchy fabrics in public, because it grosses people out" ass.

That was back in the day when it was still possible to revert to the previous user interface. It recently became non-optional. You get "New Gmail" whether you like it or not.

Thane Eichenauer just reminded me -- via "New Gmail" -- that I've been meaning to comment on how badly I hate "New Gmail."

It is to me as Bagginses are to Smeagols: We hatesssss it forever and ever!

Aside from looking like ass, it also seems to have at least one functionality problem.

One nice thing about Gmail is that you can start typing in an address in the "to" field and it will pop up with addresses from your contacts list.

Another nice thing about Gmail is that you can organize your contact list internally into other lists -- and those will pop up if you start typing their list names.

Lately -- just since "New Gmail" arrived -- I've found that about half the time if I start typing a list name into the field, it doesn't pop up. I have to log out and log back in to get that function to work. And it happens to be a function I use multiple times most days.

I know that I'm not the most adaptive individual on Earth -- when I like something and get used to that thing, I'm never really happy to see it changed from under me. But this goes beyond that default position. I have yet to notice so much a single, solitary way in which "New Gmail" is aesthetically or functionally superior to the previous version.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

What libertarians are doing this weekend

Well, I mowed the lawn, poured some concrete, and am considering dinner out and maybe a movie.

Some other libertarians are spending the weekend in Vegas. I hope they're having fun,  but from what I've seen, it doesn't seem to have been nearly as exciting, or as worthwhile, as my yardwork so far.