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Comment: Reasons why people become hostages (Score 5, Interesting) 331

I've been thinking about this for a long time, especially after the rash of hostages killed by ISIS. At this point, nobody can really claim to not know the danger. I know nothing about Lo Porto but Weinstein clearly knew the dangers. So we did he stay there? I think there are several reasons why westerners put themselves in deliberate danger in places like Pakistan, Syria, etc.

1) Some people are simply mentally ill. After the first Japanese hostage was killed by ISIS, it came out that he was mentally ill. Not mentally ill enough to need to be locked away, but clearly incapable of making rational decisions regarding his own safety. People like this are simply always going to gravitate towards dangerous places because the internet makes sure that they know where the really dangerous places are.
2) Some people believe that they are special and the bad guys won't go after them because they are "helping". Most of the hostages fall into this category. Weinstein was like this. Alan Henning fell into this category and possibly the first one as well. Reports are that Henning believed to the very end that the fact that he was there to help would save his life. Sometimes these people get away with being in a dangerous location once and they think that they are simply lucky and won't ever be harmed. Henning went into Syria several times and was left alone. The second Japanese hostage executed by ISIS went to help the first one and he went because he'd been to the area before and thought he was special and the bad guys would leave him alone.
3) Some people are so overcome with their desire to help others that they can't rationally assess the danger and while they know if they are captured it's going to end very badly for them, they believe that they will simply beat the odds. Remember many years ago when Americans and Europeans volunteered to be human shields for Saddam Hussein? They were like this. A few months ago it got announced that a young American female hostage was supposedly killed in a bombing raid against ISIS. She had operated in the area previously and had to know the danger, but she believed that because nobody had yet bothered her that she could work there at no risk. She died as a result of being wrong about that.

There's some overlap between those vague 3 reasons I gave for people ignoring the real danger to be in places like Pakistan and Syria and so on, but I don't know how we can ever stop people from willingly becoming victims of their own bad decisions about personal risk.

Comment: Re:Public domain? (Score 3, Interesting) 298

Does anyone know if *any* work has become public domain in the last few years in US and Canada? From what I see it just sounds like anything that's was copyrighted will now forever be copyrighted as copyright gets extended by X years every X years (with X=20 here).

In the USA, the answer is "no". Unfortunately, some years ago the classical music label Naxos got greedy and put out a CD in the USA of a 1930s classical work, specifically Pablo Casal's recordings of the complete Bach cello suites. In Europe this recording had clearly entered the public domain, but not in the USA. In fact, there was no question that it was still under US copyright at the time Naxos put it out. Not only was it under copyright, but the US copyright owner (Capitol Records) had their own copy in print and sued Naxos for copyright violation. It was really idiotic for Naxos to try to get away this in the US market and they lost the case. But a worst case scenario happened in the case. The court that heard it (in my opinion) basically made up the law and came to the conclusion that every recording every made or sold in the USA, even as far back as Edison's first attempts in the late 1800s, was still under copyright in the USA because they basically claimed that "common law copyright" protected them until the US law covered them. Naxos couldn't really appeal this because they had no way to argue that what they did was legal, so this horrible court decision that all US sound recordings are still under copyright became US law. Short of convincing Congress to pass a law on the subject, we're basically screwed now as there's nothing ever recorded or sold in the USA that is in the public domain at this time. Do note that this crazy legal finding doesn't apply to books, movies or anything else.

Comment: Solution to copyright extension (Score 1) 298

While I don't personally agree with this, I get that businesses and musicians and such want copyright to last for a really really long time. There's a way to meet their desires and satisfy the public's desire for things to actually enter the public domain. If these copyrights are so valuable that 50 years is simply too short, then rather than give extensions away for free, make the copyright holder fill out a form, just like they used to have to do, and pay big money for an extension. Offer 20 year extensions, but make the rate they charge go up exponentially with each renewal. Perhaps the first renewal costs $100,000. The 2nd renewal costs $10 million dollars. The 3rd renewal costs $1 billion and so on. I'm pretty sure that even Disney isn't going to pay $1 billion to keep Steamboat Willie out of the public domain or even if they do pay it for that one, there would be plenty of other properties that they simply can't afford to renew and thus they'd have to enter the public domain. If these are so valuable then why isn't the government getting paid for each renewal? And if the copyright holders forget to renew in time, well, tough. In the old days people did forget to renew and nobody cried out that this was just the most unfair thing ever in the history of mankind.

Comment: Re:We can learn from this (Score 1) 163

You might ask, "Well if we know what the problem is, we can fix it! Why not close the loopholes?" The fundamental problem there is that the people in position to close the loopholes are the ones receiving the bribes, and they want the bribes to keep coming. The only thing that could get them to change the law would be if their corporate overlords, i.e. those providing the bribes, bribed them to make it illegal. The problem with that is that the corporate overlords also want the bribes to remain legal, so that they can influence public officials.

I don't remember the exact wording, but I read somewhere where I think a lawyer said something like this - "You pass a law. I use a hole in your law. You plug the hole. I drill a hole in your plug." This is the real reason why the loopholes can't ever be closed. Lawyers, which is what most politicians are, are simply too good at finding ways around everything.

Finally, you might say, "Well why not just vote those bribe-takers out of office?" The problem there is that the bribes are used to buy elections. Without that money, you can't run ads, you can't get on TV, and you can't even participate in the public debate.

I think the real problem is that probably about 70-75% of the US electorate votes only on party affiliation and nothing else in a general election and they simply won't ever vote for a candidate of the other party. This is the reason why people keep getting re-elected to Congress once they get in as long as they don't commit outright crimes. The money does help in primaries and in rare general elections that are up for grabs. I've never voted in an election for the US House that was actually competitive. I've lived in both solid Democrat and Republican districts at various times and none of those elections ever had a candidate from the less popular political party have a real chance to win.

Comment: Re:stop with the pipes already. (Score 1) 670

Farms: the northern half of the US is going to need to stop insisting on a seasonless produce aisle. Its unsustainable. Strawberries in january contribute to carbon emissions and water depletion. Stop pumping the avocado market and realize its a fatty fruit that doesnt need to become the staple diet of a population with 60% obesity and leading the world in heart disease. We dont need to be grazing cattle and making rice, a crop that requires a flooded field. The thing we do best is dates, a plant that grows in arid climates anyhow.

Pretty ignorant posting for a post currently modded "5, Insightful". Dude, there's no chance avocados are going to become a "staple diet" of the USA. It would be great from a health perspective if they did because they contain heart healthy fats and they can make you feel full in addition to being good sources of various nutrients but I can tell you that actually it seems to me that most people I know don't like them very much. Is there really all that much cattle grazing and rice growing in California? All the US rice I've seen comes from either Texas, Louisiana or Arkansas. I would think that land is too valuable in California to use it for cattle grazing. And sorry man, but I'm not real crazy about dates and neither are most Americans. Date palms don't tolerate cold weather at all, which is why I assume they only grow them much further south than Los Angeles. You can actually get snow there on rare occasions, which is very bad for date palms.

Comment: In the end did Wu just brute force it? (Score 1) 58

by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (#49509819) Attached to: Computer Beats Humans At Arimaa
Many years ago, it was assumed that in order for a computer to beat humans at chess that major advances would have to happen in artificial intelligence. In the end IBM just simply brute forced an approach by basically allowing the computer the equivalent of an open book test against a poor human who could only go by memory. Maybe some improvements got made in searching in order to beat humans, but I think that's about it. I know that arimaa was developed in the hope that it would spur new AI advances in order for a computer to beat humans. I have no idea - did Wu just simply brute force his way to victory? Is arimaa so little played by humans that the best players are far weaker at it than humans are at chess and thus it just wasn't all that hard to eventually write a program that could defeat the best human players? Did Wu actually advance the art any with his winning program?

Comment: Re:Advanced Voting Solutions (Score 1) 105

by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (#49485561) Attached to: The Voting Machine Anyone Can Hack

Considering the company gave $32M to various democratic campaign orgs during the 2012 election cycle, this should come as no surprise.

It is absolutely no coincidence that VA and PA, both reddish states, and both critical to Obama's re-election, somehow fell to the blue category using these voting machines.

Democratic supporters in 2004 claimed that Ohio was "stolen" to help Bush win re-election. It seems funny to me that the losing side always claims the winning side cheated. If the Republicans cheated in 2004, then why did they lose Ohio in the two following elections? I know it's always fun to tout conspiracy theories, but the simple truth is that in presidential elections, a significant number of Democratic supporters vote that can't be bothered to go to the polls otherwise. Florida went to Obama in 2008 and 2012 but it will likely be a cold day in Hell before a Democrat can win a state election there in a non-presidential election year. Same with VA and PA.

Comment: Re:Tax exempt? No we don't revoke that (Score 1) 700

Besides, even if it was revoked, they would likely just find a really good accountant / lawyer team and end up paying the same amount (or less) in taxes. Last year Prudential insurance paid no corporate income tax and received a $106 million rebate. Time Warner cable paid no taxes on $4.3B in profit, CBS no taxes on $1.8B. Scientology could probably do better on their taxes by registering as a corporation anyways.

Liberty Media is another company like those you mentioned. They actually pride themselves on not ever paying US taxes on their earnings and they have an entire accounting department dedicated to finding legal loopholes and deductions that allow them to pay no taxes. They became the owners of the Atlanta Braves baseball team through a complicated transaction with Time Warner that resulted in neither company paying any taxes on the deal. That deal happened in the previous decade so I don't remember if Liberty Media actually wanted the Braves or if they simply acquired them as the best way to avoid taxes on the deal with Time Warner but that deal raised a lot of eyebrows in the US sporting world and provided the first insights into how far Liberty Media will go to legally avoid paying taxes.

Comment: Re:Not a surprise (Score 1) 250

by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (#49431901) Attached to: Verdict Reached In Boston Bombing Trial

Given his poor defense, I'm really not all that surprised. Though I wonder how it will flesh out in appeals if he gets the death penalty. One might argue the poor quality defense would force a retrial if they can convince an appeals court of incompetence or something like that.

The "But my lawyers sucked!" argument very rarely works. If it did work, then a significant amount of defendants would deliberately get bad lawyers, roll the dice, and if they lose ask for a retrial. Even trying this trick by representing yourself as your own lawyer doesn't work. People tried that in the past and then when they lost, they argued that they had incompetence representation, namely themselves. I'm sure that his next set of lawyers will indeed argue that his defense was incompetent, but the odds of a court agreeing are pretty low. That kind of argument really only works when you can prove criminal misconduct or incompetence to the extreme, not just merely being dumb. You're allowed to have bad lawyers in the USA and yes, you often lose when that happens. His lawyers knew that they couldn't run the standard "He didn't do it so you have to prove it" argument so they gambled that maybe sympathy would work. It sounds stupid, but honestly, I don't see how it's worse than defiantly arguing "It was somebody else", especially in sentencing. All it takes is one juror to give him credit for admitting to it in the penalty phase and he can escape the death penalty. Well, I actually don't know the federal rule but most US states have an "all or nothing" rule in the death penalty where one dissenter can stop it.

Comment: This is why they reinvent the wheel (Score 5, Insightful) 626

My thoughts exactly. A human-spoken language designed from scratch to be simple and easy to learn? It's been done, Esperanto. And, since my mother learned it in the '50s, it's been around for a while. How long have UN documents been available in Eperanto? Been there, done that... Why reinvent the wheel?

I can't say this without sounding like an old man, so you kids stay off my lawn. There.

One of the problems I see with younger IT people, like presumably the poster who asked about this, is that there are always the following assumptions.
1) Everybody older than me is an idiot.
2) I've had some kind of genius insight that nobody before has had, because, well, see #1.

Perl is just horrifically bad? Then let's invent Python which is just so much better in every way possible. Oh wait. Python sucks bad, so let's invent Ruby. There's probably something out there now that will replace Ruby because Ruby just sucks too. The people like the original poster never ask these kinds of questions:
1) Has this been tried before and failed for a really good reason? Really good reasons might include it being really difficult to do this, being able to do it but not well, being able to do it well but nobody wants to use it, etc.
2) If there's been no big push in the past to get this done, is there really some kind of true demand for this?

I don't go around insulting people who start topics here, but this does seem rather pointless.

Comment: Re:So - the fact that others are doing it makes it (Score 1) 312

If a country wants a piece of the action, maybe they should take a good hard look at their tax code. They may have to lower taxes *gasp* Perhaps getting 17% of something is better than getting 30% of $0.

The reason companies do this is because it's more profitable to hire an army of lawyers and accountants to skirt local laws.

I agree that this sounds reasonable, but I am afraid the reality is that once countries start changing their laws to do this, it won't be enough. If country A says "OK, we'll change the law to get 17%" then country B offers 15% and then later country C offere 12% and so on, businesses will continue to complain about the declining tax rates as still being "excessive" until they reach zero. I can't rule out that some enterprising country might find a way to make a tax rate of 0% work for them if it's done in exchange for the company bringing so many jobs at specified rates there. I just don't believe that cutting the tax rates is really going to solve anything. Here in the USA there may actually be some companies that want the tax code to stay the same. I've read it claimed that Liberty Media prides itself on never paying any US income tax and even has an accounting office dedicated to zeroing out their tax bill every year.

Comment: Re:What I want to know is... (Score 1) 136

by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve (#49429353) Attached to: Australian ISPs Must Hand Over Pirates' Info

Because Dallas Buyers Club made almost no money. In total it made $59 million and out of that had to come all the expenses.

In comparison Frozen grossed $1.219 Billion at the box office alone. Lets not even count the merchandising on that film. That is why you don't see Disney suing over Frozen. They made their money and know they will destroy a cash cow in the process.

Correct. Hurt Locker cost $15 million to make and almost nobody in the USA watched it when it was in theaters. It barely made $15 million in US box office, so depending on what was spent for advertising and such, it either lost money or was barely profitable when counting foreign receipts (I don't know what it made in foreign box office receipts). This is why those 2 films are singled out. Rather than admit that the films either sucked or nobody was interested in the subjects even if the films were good, Hollywood is trying to sue its way into profitability there.

Comment: Amazon has some but not many (Score 1) 278

Hulu has captions. Amazon Prime Video has captions. It's not like you're being completely denied the joys of interwebs TV.

My experience is that Netflix has a lot more videos with captions than Amazon Prime. Last year I had a girlfriend who spoke English as a second language. Her English was pretty good, but not fluent. She wanted to improve, so sometimes we would stream movies and I would turn on the captions or subtitles (whichever is the right term) if available as she said it helped her. There were several times when both Amazon and Netflix had a movie and only Netflix has the captions. It got so common that basically we only used Amazon in cases where Netflix simply didn't have it available for streaming. I'm sure there are some movies or shows where Amazon has captions and Netflix didn't, but I think that those are exceptions.

Comment: China may have other reasons for their actions (Score 2) 31

I know that it's popular to believe that China just wants to stop Bitcoin because it can't control it and while that may be part of the reasoning behind their actions, there are possibly other reasons as well. My last 2 girlfriends were Chinese and I mean "born and raised in China". In China as the stock market is fairly new thing and the general population doesn't understand it very well, there are a lot of misconceptions about how it works. I had issues with money with both of them, although slightly different issues with each. The 2nd one had this belief I couldn't ever correct that everybody can get rich by simply buying the correct stocks and she didn't understand why I wasn't a millionaire or how it was even possible to not make tons of money on every stock available. The first one didn't understand anything about the stock market so that wasn't specifically an issue, but what ended up being an issue was a huge disconnect between her lifestyle expectations and the reality of my salary should we get married. She dumped me and went looking for someone with a lot more in the bank. The reason I bring this up is that my experience is that people in China just assume they can get rich without doing any kind of work to reach that goal. Just buy the right stocks and you'll be rich. If it was that easy, believe me, everybody would be doing that. Or "Why aren't you saving 100% of your salary?" from the first one. I think some of this may be that the government is trying to protect its citizens from themselves so they don't have to deal with massive Bitcoin ripoffs and scams that will inevitably result from an uneducated public buying them thinking that in a year or two they're all going to be rich.

There's no sense in being precise when you don't even know what you're talking about. -- John von Neumann