The All-Thing

All carrot and no stick, since ought-three.

初入淮河 (楊萬裡(1127-1206))


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Thu, 05 Jun 2003


I really have issues with the word pirate when applied to DRM.

"The Court of Appeals decision confirms our long-held position that music pirates must be held accountable for their actions, and not be allowed to hide behind the company that provides their Internet service," said RIAA president Cary Sherman.

No. Pirates were people who forcibly boarded other ships, killed men, raped women, and other horrendous acts. To equate people who copy music—an action which causes no physical harm to any other being in the universe—with murderers and rapists is, in my opinion, to engage in a very henious act of language engineering.

Unfortunately this usage seems to have been around for quite a while. At least since 1913.

Posted at 15:36 | /words | (leave a comment) | permalink

Flexibility and Law

One idea that's been slowly emerging in my mind over the last few years is the concept of flexibility in law. I'm talking specifically about the judicial aspect of things: what you are responsible for when you take on the role of judging another human.

I used to believe that the letter of the law was what was important; you as judge or jury member had the duty of interpreting the law to the best of your ability and determining whether or not the defendant had violated it. That was the whole and the extent of your duty.

Nowadays, I don't think it's quite that cut and dry. I have come to believe that we as human beings have a responsibility to society to create and maintain human society, and this means taking into account what we intuitively feel is right and wrong—our a priori beliefs in the degree of wrongness of an act. This means that the our judgment should not be based solely on the letter, or even the spirit, of the law.

The fundamental idea that provides this belief is that we are humans and not machines. It can be convenient to think of the universe as clockwork around us, and at some deep physical level it may be, but at the level of social interactions, we live in a human world. A world where there are always shades of gray, there are always situations which the creators of the law simply didn't take into account or couldn't forsee (through fault or no fault of their own), and things are rarely black and white.

This doesn't mean, I don't think, that the idea of declaring things legal or illegal has to change. (Though certainly it is related to my hatred of so-called zero tolerance and 3 strikes laws, which are attempts to apply fundamentally inhuman principles to human situations). All it means is that, if you find yourself on a jury and you have a gut feeling that what you're doing is wrong, DON'T DO IT. Regardless of what the judge says, you have the ability to use your better judgment in determining the degree of punishment that the defendant deserves, if any.

Related issues:

  • The case of Ed Rosenthal, who was convicted of federal marijuana charges by a jury of twelve, nine of whom later regretted the decision when they discovered what the judge had not allowed them to hear during the trial—that he had been working under the auspices of the city of Oakland and of California state law.
  • Jury nullification.
  • Copy protection is a crime against humanity, an essay by David Weinberger.

Posted at 14:53 | /society | (leave a comment) | permalink


The only way to keep your health is to eat what you don't want, drink what you don't like, and do what you'd rather not. -- Mark Twain