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Journal Journal: Not Voting is a Valid Option 11

I write this because so many have said that if you don't vote, you have no right to complain. I agree that people should make the effort, but spoiling your ballot is an entirely reasonable thing to do.

The reason why is to some extent game-theoretical, although it is hard to make the argument rigorous. Essentially, a priori, one "should" have an equal probability of voting for any given candidate. The effect of this is that in a (say) five candidate election, apart from one's choice getting elected, you can also pass on a message of how to win your vote next time.

Assuming that your choice doesn't get in, this means that you can pass on one of four messages. If these choices are a priori equiprobable, the information transmitted is as much as you'll be able to transmit most of the time, given that you're a typical voter. However, it is possible to transmit still more information if not voting is an option. What's more, a vote for a candidate carries still more meaning if not voting is an option, so that spoiling your ballot should be a priori as probable as voting for any one of the candidates.

Since not voting carries clear voter intent, you have as much right to complain about the government as any voter.

The Almighty Buck

Journal Journal: A Friend's Georgist Economic Speech

A friend a mine, Adrian Wrigley, recently gave a talk that I think folks on Slashdot would find interesting. I also wish to increase his exposure and that of the ideas that he is pulmigating.

Taxation, Housing and Social Mobility

presentation for Fringe meeting, Liberal Democrat Conference, September 2008, Bournemouth.

Dr. Adrian Wrigley

Today I'm going to talk about some ideas we've been thinking about up in Cambridge. We've called these ideas "Systemic Fiscal Reform", or SFR for short. It's our name for a mixture of existing concepts and their application to contemporary problems. I'm going to give you a flavour of these ideas, particularly in relation to housing and the Credit Crunch, poverty and social mobility.

So what is the system that our systemic reform speaks of? It is the current system of taxation, welfare, money and land. It is in fact the capitalist system! It is a system that has arisen by the use of conquest, revolution, force and finally the so called "democracy" of today. It is a complex system of interacting components and flows of money, value and power. In spite of its many strengths, the flaws of modern capitalism are becoming increasingly apparent. We believe the reforms we propose will strengthen the existing system while overcoming its problems.

And we find the necessary reform delivers little short of the emancipation of the people and of the planet. For without such reform, we are condemned to the immorality not only of financial slavery and economic instability, but environmental catastrophe. At the heart of this reform is a new relationship between money, the state and the people - the Fiscal System of tax, benefits and money creation.

The current tax and welfare system is a complete mess. It's not efficient. It's not fair. It's barely comprehensible and certainly not simple. It fosters tax avoidance and cheating. And sadly, the Liberal Democrats' response is to accept it broadly as it is, just like the conservative parties.

The whole group of taxes which focus on economic transactions, such as trade of labour, goods, houses or shares, including gifts, inheritance and profits, I will call Transaction Taxes or TransTaxes. Just like trans fats, the TransTaxes are wholly bad for you. There is no minimum requirement of TransTaxes for a healthy society. So what kind of tax isn't a TransTax? A levy on digging up fossil fuels or dumping waste. A tax on land ownership or radio spectrum allocations. A charge for access to the roads, rails or runways - even the poll tax and TV license are not TransTaxes.

What is it about TransTaxes that makes them so bad? We start from the basis that transactions are fundamentally good! We don't want to block them! Transactions in the general sense are key to improving human welfare. And the TransTaxes gum up the very arteries of the economy. They are "welfare negative". In economics terms, they have a deadweight cost - a pure waste of economic resources and potential. But it goes deeper than that.

TransTaxes have become complex and expensive because people are devious and their transactions are complex. People become companies, partnerships, charities, or non-doms. Transactions are masked, hidden or restructured for the tax-man. Transactions are extremely numerous, and virtually every one of them now is covered in two or three layers of corrosive TransTaxes.

Under the current TransTax system, the benefits of effective government are delivered on a plate to the landed few. It's no wonder then that ordinary voters have lost interest in politics! They can plainly see their taxes channelled away for the benefit of others and rightly conclude that their interests are being ignored. The tax system is at the heart of the democratic deficit.

So if TransTaxes are so bad, why are there so many of them? Paradoxically, the answer is that there are so many because they work so badly! You simply cannot collect enough from any one of them to fund modern government. In the current economy, VAT, for example would have to be about 120% in order to supply all the funds. Corporation Tax would have to be 300%. Income Tax would have to be nearly quadrupled! The main transaction taxes are now working flat-out as they are. The greater the TransTaxes, the greater is the loss to society.

Income Tax and Means Tests are the statist solution to raising revenue and poverty protection. They are cumbersome, bureaucratic, highly intrusive. But most of all, they place the self-interest of the government machine above the interests of the people. It becomes clear why government policy is so work-obsessed. It is because their income is derived from the wages paid and price of goods consumed - and it is lost through benefits paid. And government has become oblivious to the value in the economy.

Now it seems people are resigned to having an intrusive system. They have become compliant in the face of a wall of regulatory changes. As politicians and the public see the symptoms of the TransTax disease, they demand state remedies. Farm subsidies to ensure a Basic Income for farmers. Transport subsidies to address underinvestment. And housing subsidies to address high house prices. We end up with public acquiescence to a system spiralling out of control.

We have been duped into thinking this is the only way. That taxes on work, creativity and success are not only fair and efficient but necessary. And means-tests on pensioners and the unemployed create the right incentives to save and to work. But standing back a few moments it becomes obvious we have become brainwashed by rhetoric without substance.

The task of managing this hideous beast has become a major focus of political debate. Those mandarins in The Treasury know that it has become a futile task of fire-fighting the flux of fixes to a failing system.

And widespread use of Transaction Taxes is necessary for efficient implementation of a totalitarian state. By abolishing these taxes, the shift to totalitarianism can be stalled.

Corporate power is granted by the government through the controls and inefficiencies of the tax system. The tax system imposes a heavy penalty on small business, self-reliance and entrepreneurship.

I suggest that the transaction taxes have become so complex, divisive and problematic, that they have enveloped almost the entirety of political debate and legislative time, pushing out the simple, effective solutions. In effect, we are simply chasing our tails trying to solve problems of our own creation.

We should leave the Statists in Labour and the Tories to fight over 10p tax bands and stamp duty holidays. What is at stake here is much more important. The long term solution has to be to rid the world of TransTaxes altogether.

So what is Systemic Fiscal Reform? It is a programme of abolishing TransTaxes one by one and replacing them with a system of charges for consumption of government services, and the collection of unearned scarcity rents. It replaces means-tested and conditional welfare payments with a universal Citizens' Income. And it restores the role of the state as the exclusive issuer of the currency - removing the ability of banks to create new money.

The biggest scarcity rents are those of land and of fossil fuels. Both are essential for modern life, both already command high prices. The land scarcity rent is collected as a Land Value Tax - hence my appearance today at ALTER. And the fossil fuel scarcity rent is collected as a Carbon Tax on importation and mining of coal, oil and gas.

Europe desperately needs the Carbon Tax - VAT however is needed like a hole in the ozone. layer Surely in this time of global emergency a swap can be achieved?

And what of the user charges? In the case where the state is taking care of you - such as in a prison, care home or school, part of the cost of the care is charged to your Citizens' Income. In the case of access to road space, a fuel duty or toll is charged.

There is a historical issue here for us LibDems. Why did the party drop the policy of a Citizens' Income? Because you cannot begin to deliver such a policy with a hopelessly inefficient tax system. You simply cannot collect enough transaction taxes to pay out a credible Citizens' Income. By failing on tax reform, we had to ditch the Citizen's Income. Lord Russell was right to call for the parties old Citizen's Income policy to be dropped, but failed to provide a viable alternative.

It is surprisingly expensive to collect tax from one group of people, and hand it out to another group of people. Both groups are seen squirming to play the system, either to under-pay, or over-collect. Effectively, the costs of the two activities are compounded. Is it not so much better simply to cancel out benefits and pensions with any tax liability and settle the difference?

So where does housing fit in? The first and most important thing to understand is that there is no housing shortage in this country. None whatsoever. Access to housing has been squeezed out by the speculative aspirations of the wealthy. You can tell when you have a housing shortage because the average occupancy rises sharply. It has done the exact opposite. Home rents would have surged too. They haven't.

Land is now the biggest tax haven of all. Consistently, British governments have pursued the perverse policy of pumping the price of houses! What more could you do if you wanted to boost poverty and widen inequality? If that was the aim, Britain has been exceptionally successful. The wealth gap has widened, not only under Conservative governments, but under the Labour which asserts addressing inequality is a priority! And now that wealth gap is matched by a corresponding health gap. Did our leaders sleep through their economics classes? For the politicians today clearly fail to grasp even the basics of Political Economics.

The pumping of house prices is from two sides. First they have strengthened land's role as our local tax haven. Secondly and more subtly, they work with the banks who are the beneficiaries of the money they create to buy the houses. The banking subsidy alone is worth in excess of £70bn/annum in the UK. The housing crisis and credit crunch are a predictable result of little more than a giant money laundering scheme for banks creating new money passing through the property market to the wealthy. If any sector deserves windfall tax, it is the banks.

There is a long tradition of supporting Land Value Tax in the Liberal Party since Churchill in the 1900s and before. Such support however is not confined to the Liberals - The Fabian Society is founded with Land Value Taxation at its core - a fact that seems to be very poorly understood by its current members. Labour was right to drop Clause 4 and the common ownership of the means to production, but wrong to leave a philosophical vacuum in its place. Had the membership read Henry George's Progress and Poverty, I have little doubt that Labour would have adopted a Georgist constitution.

Until you understand the key relationships in the economy - that government spending in general delivers tax-free income and windfall gains for landowners, you will not grasp the profound significance of the Land Value Tax. Every time the tax on workers is spent on improving transport links, schools or hospitals, it is like a shot in the arm for the land and homeowner. Progressiveness of the tax system is largely a smokescreen! Poverty is caused by the regressiveness of the spending system and the perverse effects of targeted welfare.

Society must recognise that we are not discussing a fringe issue like drugs policy or even a major issue like education. We are discussing the central issue in politics as well as the delivery of our core values. We must be working towards a comprehensive and radical development of party policy.

So how does this fit in with the question of social mobility? There is much to be said here. Firstly, the right to all you produce yourself is immensely powerful. It gives you access to the full value of your education, your unique skills and your diligence - in effect, you retain your own economic rent. This is a powerful driver to self-investment and to entrepreneurship. At the other end of the spectrum it denies the idle rich the opportunity to maintain their position simply by charging the poor for access to natural monopolies. It clears the way to improve your circumstances. Only by eliminating the poverty trap can we achieve social mobility.

These reforms should not be contentious! Opinion polls show that Income tax is reviled, Inheritance Tax is abhorred. And benefits cheats are hated. But beyond that, abolishing the system of state oversight and tariffs over everybody's lives is the real political win.

The tax system must be robust against being undermined by narrow political interests. This is an immense challenge which Transaction Taxes comprehensively fail. They are adjusted annually for political expediency, and are the subject of political vote buying. Systemic Fiscal Reform has a uniform, ultra simple and consistent approach and by aligning political and financial interests, it should be much more robust.

Also, being much simpler, with fewer moving parts, there is much less to go wrong than in an economy bound by Transaction Taxes, welfare, fixes and subsidies. The principle of Occam's Razor is paramount; we must keep it simple.

Land Value Taxation goes a long way towards broadening access to land because there is no need for a bank to to create large sums of money to lend to a prospective land purchaser. Anybody with an appropriate plan will have land available to them, essentially debt free.

So what about banking? Most money created in this economy is not issued by the government and used to invest in businesses or public facilities, but is issued by banks as debt to be used to buy land at speculative prices. But we are not here to bolster the interests peculiar to the banking industry. And none of this unseemly scramble to own land is economic investment at all - for every buyer investing, somebody else must be selling their investment.

The two main taxes in Systemic Fiscal Reform, Land Value and Fuel have an overwhelming catalogue of reasons for supporting, and essentially no valid reasons to oppose. It is not a question of balancing the "legitimate interests" of different groups, nor of carefully comparing costs and benefits. It's what you might call "a no-brainer". And likewise, for welfare policy the Citizen's Income is an absolute "slam-dunk" - there is no alternative that even comes close. I looked.

I examined alternative schemes to improve tax efficiency or annihilate poverty. The Flat Tax, The numerous "Fair Tax" proposals, and others. Their advocates promote their solution based on how much less damaging it is compared to the present system. They are generally correct in having found less bad systems. But positive benefits are few and far between. We have seen The TUC call for an expansion of this failed system backed by journalists and the public apparently completely blind to the basic economics.

If you had Land Value Tax with Citizens Income, who would want to abolish it for TransTaxes? Certainly not the workers who would have their earnings curtailed. Nor the poor who get a significant fraction of their income from Citizen's Income. Nor the businesses who would have to administer the alternatives. The lazy owners of large tracts of land will have already sold out or started using it, so even they wouldn't be so keen.

Just as Universal Healthcare has won hands down against other models such as in the US - in spite of concerns about affordability, Universal Welfare will win decisively against a mean, vindictive "us and them" model of selective and conditional welfare. The conditions imposed on claimants such a ban on working create poverty.

In countries without universal healthcare, access to medical help is a constant worry. The elderly are advised that a substantial proportion of their retirement savings will have to be allocated to health. This worry and stress has been entirely eliminated in the UK by universal healthcare. But people still face financial worries. Will they be able to afford the basic necessities of life? This is where Universal Welfare must be a priority of a Liberal Democrat government.

Some people will say that Citizen's Income will introduce a something for nothing culture. We already have a something for nothing culture - the banks with their unfettered credit creation rights, the owners of land collecting our civic amenity value, and most importantly, the government with its baseless TransTaxes - little more than legalised extortion. We must turn the tables on the government by making it work for us, not the other way round. This can only be done through value taxation for the amenity it delivers to the community, not price taxation on transactions we do between ourselves.

But note that something for nothing is an economic fact of life - economists call it "economic surplus" and "economic rent". Somebody has to get it! The only question is how we share it! The current system of sharing economic rent on the basis of wealth is the crux of the matter. It explains the paradox of poverty amid plenty and the shortage of housing amid under-occupancy. And it is the major cause of an entrenched social divide.

How do we go about introducing Systemic Fiscal Reform? Let me make it clear. The economy is in grave peril. But we must not let short-term fixes impair future stability and we must not let house price inflation resume. For that is certain to lead us further down the road of inequality, inefficiency and instability. The best solution is to use Land Value Taxation to block house price rises while abolishing TransTaxes one by one.

We must carefully unwind the the house price inflation of the past thirty years. To achieve this, we need a powerful combination of policy steps that are extremely sensitive to existing interests. You cannot expect support by attempting a massive programme of redistribution.

We must reject the notion of windfall energy taxes when they are driven the deeply flawed European carbon policy. Phasing out VAT across Europe for the carbon tax is fair on business, fair on consumers and fair on the planet.

Systemic Fiscal Reform is scrupulously impartial and non-discriminatory in its approach. The Citizen's Income is available to all resident citizens. The land value tax does not try to select some owners for punishment or favours. The Carbon Tax does not seek to reward coal or some other fuel because is is "fuel of the month". It is an amoral system. This strength will help ensure widespread appeal.

In conclusion Systemic Fiscal Reform is ambitious, yes. Does it have technical challenges? yes. Can it win universal support? Probably not - but I have found support coming from right across the political spectrum - including those who find themselves unable to support existing parties. People hear the basic concept and ask who they should vote for.

For the Liberal Democrats, this is key. Unless we have revolutionary policies effectively presented, we will never see Vince hold the keys to number 11.

And revolutionary policy is needed. Wealth is all around us. Persistent poverty is unnecessary. Access to housing must be restored. Finance must be tamed.

We should Restore the Citizen's Income policy linked to a full Land Value Tax! We should scrap VAT for a Carbon Tax. We should phase out these cancerous Transaction Taxes.

This is real change through real economics. This is Systemic Fiscal Reform.

Dr. Adrian Wrigley, Bournemouth, September 14th 2008.

The Media

Journal Journal: Traitorous Censorship by Mainstream Media 7

Although I think that for Ron Paul to win would be the most interesting result, and that I have problems with some of his policies (notably on abortion), I am simply astounded by just how much the mainstream media appear to believe that it is their right to pretty much exclude a popular candidate who isn't extolling hate from their coverage.

In legal terms, it is probably their right, but to deny the voting public the ability to make an informed decision is surely traitorous. If I lived in the US, I'd have seen a lot more evidence by now, but check out this graphic. The NYT are playing the same game (RP certainly has more support than Rudy, for example). Why is this even seen as acceptable by journalists? It isn't even bias; it's unprofessionalism.

Edit: NYT have updated their results since I write this article yesterday; Rudy had around 3% of the vote IIRC.

Journal Journal: An Extremely Delicate Subject 6

Something has been on my mind - on and off - for the last few weeks - in the light of James Watson's pressured resignation as Chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

That thing is the possibility of scientific views that are at odds with society's real or perceived interests, and the effects of the clashes between those views upon science. This is a difficult topic, for I'm sure that we're generally happy (in principle) with our moral views impinging upon the progress of medicine, even though we might differ upon specifics.

The case of James Watson's utterances that led to his pressured resignation is interesting not because of what he said, but because Steven J. Gould said something equivelent in his book "The Mismeasure of Man"; a book criticising the IQ test.

Moving onto specifics, Watson said "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really" , whereas Gould said that IQ tests are biased towards skills that are exercised, and valued in Western culture. Neither authour specifies cultural or genetic causes.

I am not competent to comment upon the validity of their respective statements, but I find it notable that whereas Watson was condemned, Gould was lionised for his comments. What concerns me is that this episode reveals how non-science influences acceptable spoken or published scientific views, and so risks crippling science itself, since recorded science is the sum total of scientific publications. Within NASA, a manager attempted to suppress views that were contrary to "young earth" creationism, and inconvenient views on climate change - of all hues - are suppressed differently in different contexts, making a bit of a political football of it.

More and more, we expect people in respected positions to resign for expressing unpopular views. Does this risk accumulating to the point where it harms science? Publishing an unpopular paper could harm the "standing" of a well-respected journal. There are of course other journals, but there's a point where you can only publish in a poisonous rag which has no peer review.

It isn't only a matter of political correctness, but also modern, manipulative neo-Straussian* moves to control speech that is perceived as being harmful to society by undermining the myths that bind us. The best that we can do at this stage is to remain clear-eyed as to what is going on, and those of us who are batting for one political side or another should see that truth is harmed as we persist in tit-for-tat political censorship.

At the root of this is the growing feeling that reality is known and individual, rather than unknown but shared. Either we cannot accept that we might be wrong, or else, we don't want anyone to be wrong. But apart from being non-sense, we open ourselves up to manipulation, risking eventual tyranny born of solipsism.

*I don't personally believe that Leo Strauss holds the views that some of his "followers" have read into his works. The problem with being subtle is that subtlety can be read as cunning.

Lord of the Rings

Journal Journal: ISO Processes Stymied by Aftermath of OOXML Vote

Andy Upgrove reports that the SC 34 committee that just failed to approve OOXML as a standard has ground to a halt as the new members who joined for this one vote have since neglected their duties, failing to even hand in abstentions, and therefore preventing progress on even procedural issues.

Because of this failure to make progress, together with the original subversion of the standards-making process, reform of the standards process is now on the agenda. Is it possible that this reform will be complete before the third (and final) "technical" vote on the approval of OOXML as a standard? Will the committee be able to stave off future attempts to subvert the process by interested parties?


Journal Journal: Ask Teh Slashdot 4

First, an entertaining story.

The night before last, I was attempting to get a game compiled to run in 64 bits on my Opteron. It was a ridiculous hour, but I was going to get it working before I went to bed, dammit!

Well, okay, not a good start. I found that SDL_GL_SWAP_CONTROL wasn't recogised, and that I needed to upgrade my SDL libraries to at least version 1.2.10. So I fired up the trusty Yum Extender widget on my Fedora 5 box, and found that I couldn't get it... Unless I pulled from the development repository, which I did.

SDL-1.2.11-2 was to be had, but required at updated glibc. So, without much thought, I grabbed the latest one, and set the game compiling again, and indeed it got a lot further, until the compile got to this line:

/usr/lib64/ file not recognized: File format not recognized

I had grabbed a glibc that was too advanced. Version 2.6.3; well, I had no intension of running cutting edge code anyway, so I erased the files.

rpm -e glibc.2.6.3.x86_64 glibc.2.6.3.i386

Which turned out to be pretty dumb. I had managed to strip the basic subsystem out of my machine. Applications that were running would keep running; no new apps would start.

So (I was tired, remember), I rebooted. Naturally, the boot baulked at the first opportunity. I reset the machine to an install disk to "upgrade" the system to the Fedora 5 base system, but /dev/md1 (the boot sector) wasn't clean, and I was instructed to boot up my system and sort out the problem before attempting an upgrade (sensible advice, but frustrating).

I finally solved this problem after a very short night's sleep (3 hours) by using my Fedora rescue CD, not chrooting (doh!) and fscking the /boot partition. The rescue CD wouldn't let me unmount /dev/md2 (AKA /, the root partition), so I just hoped that all would be well... And it was! Reinstalling the base system happened pretty quickly.

Well, I had been running kernel 2.6.18, which ran all my hardware (including the memory card reader), and generally did the job. But fedora 5 begins with kernel 2.6.15, which means that unless I upgrade, I can't read in an artist friend of mine's photos to use on his website.

Can you get kernel 2.6.18 (Fedora, x86_64) for love or money? Well, I tried for a little too long, but eventually gave up. If I try to upgrade to 2.6.20, this happens; I remember something similar happening last time that I attempted this.

Well, my mission to you, should you choose to accept it, is to locate for me kernel- for the x86_64, or else to help me get my SATA RAID 5 partition detected on boot by kernel 2.6.20; Am I missing important kernel options, say?

Thanks in advance!
~Tim (Morosoph)


Journal Journal: Critique of Channel 4's "The Global Warming Swindle" 5

I'm not saying that this is the whole story, but following on from Railgunner's JE, I asked a friend of mine to comment, and he sent me the following PDF, made in response to the video:

Following the EU's behaviour with respect to software patents, and the current behaviour with respect to MSOXML, I'm now officially unconvinced by either side. I neither trust government bodies, nor those who are criticising them. Perhaps this was what the programme makers intended. Perhaps it is those with vested interests who are replying truthfully, but misleadingly.

I'd hate to have to make a political decision on the proper response to climate change.

Added footnote (16/Mar/2007): My friend sent me a link to an article in The Independent, and the discussion on the issue on Technocrat is interesting. I would like to see an explanation of CO2 lagging behind temperature increases, as emphasised by eglamkowski, below.


Journal Journal: An Implication of the Zeroth Law of Robotics

Most of us will be familiar with Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics, which, by simple virtue of their popularity, are bound to have an influence upon robot design.

In practice, however, human nature being what it is, we are bound to create war machines. Even if we do not, we should make ourselves aware of an implication of the zeroth law:

A robot may not injure humanity, or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

The implication is this: any robot that is created that does not follow the laws of robotics, should not be able to reproduce. If it needs to build robots, in turn, they must have a lower complexity than itself, and carry the same condition. Further, a robot that can create robots and does not carry this rule should be destroyed.

It's pretty clear that in the event of war, the three original laws would have to be suspended for the sake of the zeroth, further, having made a strategic decision with (one would assume) a higher-powered machine, that strategic decision should not be overruled because the robots on the ground lack information. Although a better solution might be that war robots carry a "degree of confidence" in their creator robot, or the strategist, this ignores the human hand, where humans will not want robots to be surrendering on their behalf. Humans believe in their wars, and won't want robots contradicting them.

So, why is this implication so important? The answer lies with genetics. The reason that we put so much effort into survival and the protection of our families, and to a lesser extent, our friends, is that we are genetically programmed that way. Those genes that have enhanced our survival qualities have been successful. Unlike most of us, robots can truly be selfless.

However, if robots build robots, mutations are bound to occur. If it were left unchecked, one would find that those mutations favouring the robot's own survival (and those of its 'offspring') would prevail over robots that do not have that mutation. Robots would slowly become selfish, and promote their selves and their own 'relations' above human beings, for at some point, the wired-in laws, insofar as they existed in the first place, would be subject to mutation. Thus reproduction-capable robots not carrying the laws must face capital 'punishment', as must those disobeying them (since the laws could remain intact, yet somehow be "wired around"). Asimov's laws will then be part of the survival criteria, the only exceptions being those robots that cannot reproduce, and therefore never get the chance to evolve.

With Asimov's laws as part of the survival criteria for reproducing robots, we will find the laws being respected and strengthened down the robot generations, for the criteria for robot survival will match the criteria for robot self-propagation.


Journal Journal: Watch Where you Watch 3

An article in New Scientist Tech on recent patents reveals Philips's plan to subvert the intent of laws to protect copyright through technical means in order to apply anti-piracy laws to those who wish to watch DVDs from other regions.

According to the article, the effect of this is that in some countries, "watching a movie in the wrong country could land you in jail for 10 years or paying a $1 million fine". The technology is intended for Blu-ray and HD-DVD players, and works by integrating region-protection in with the disk's anti-copying encryption.

Could this backfire? It certainly gives an excuse for those who wish to break the encryption to do so. One that surely has a reasonable chance of standing up in court. Could the effect of this technology be to subvert the tougher anti-piracy law, for the sake of allowing simple arbitration of goods?


Journal Journal: Vote Third (or Fourth) Party 2

There has been a lot of discussion about wasted votes, the importance of voting, etcetera. I would like to ask people to vote for a "minor" party.

Here's why:
  • You communicate the most information with a "minority" choice.
  • You are actively voting for diversity of representation.
  • Your intent will affect the mood of the local population proportionately*, and could therefore win more support for your cause.
  • Your vote will give strength to would-be third party voters in future elections.
  • Whoever gets elected, they will want to win the next election, and you have given them some indication how to win your vote. You could find yourself better represented than many voters for that candidate.

*I did some canvassing for a centrist, socially liberal party in Britain a few years ago. One strategy was to go after the vote of the less-supported "main" party, which resulted in an equal number of votes falling from the other party, now that their provisional supporters felt less threatened. Voters do sense the intentions of their immediate community when making their own judgements on how to vote.


Journal Journal: With Freedom Comes Responsibility

Further proof of the instict to regulate unnecessarily.

I was going to call this JE "Freedom Brings Responsibility", but the politicians' catchphrase, "explaining" why because you have some freedom left, they should be able to deny you freedoms of their choosing, seemed somehow appropriate.

The take on the following article that I wish to emphasise is that security theatre is harming security.

Is this the end of the road for traffic lights?

By David Millward

Most traffic lights should be torn up as they make roads less safe, one of Europe's leading road engineers said yesterday.

Hans Monderman, a traffic planner involved in a Brussels-backed project known as Shared Space, said that taking lights away helped motorists, cyclists and pedestrians to co-exist more happily and safely.

Residents of the northern Dutch town of Drachten have already been used as guinea-pigs in an experiment which has seen nearly all the traffic lights stripped from their streets.

Only three of the 15 sets in the town of 50,000 remain and they will be gone within a couple of years.

The project is the brainchild of Mr Monderman, and the town has seen some remarkable results. There used to be a road death every three years but there have been none since the traffic light removal started seven years ago.

There have been a few small collisions, but these are almost to be encouraged, Mr Monderman explained. "We want small accidents, in order to prevent serious ones in which people get hurt," he said yesterday.

"It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.

"We only want traffic lights where they are useful and I haven't found anywhere where they are useful yet."

Mr Monderman, 61, compared his philosophy of motoring to an ice rink. "Skaters work out things for themselves and it works wonderfully well. I am not an anarchist, but I don't like rules which are ineffective and street furniture tells people how to behave."

In short, if motorists are made more wary about how they drive, they behave more carefully, he said.

The main junction in Drachten handles about 22,000 cars a day. Where once there were traffic lights, there is a roundabout, an extended cycle path and pedestrian area.

In the days of traffic lights, progress across the junction was slow as cars stopped and started. Now tailbacks are almost unheard of -- and almost nobody toots a horn.

However, it is not the cars which seem to be involved in the greatest conflict, it is the cyclists and pedestrians who seem to jostle for space. Driving around Drachten, vehicles approach roundabouts with considerable caution - traffic approaches from the left, but cyclists come from either side.

Cyclists, almost none of whom bother with helmets, signal clearly at junctions making sure motorists are aware of them.

Thus far, Drachten's drivers and pedestrians have voted the experiment a success.

"I am used to it now," said Helena Spaanstra, 24. "You drive more slowly and carefully, but somehow you seem to get around town quicker."

Tony Ooostward, 70, was equally enthusiastic. "Everybody is learning. I am a walker and now you are the boss at the crossroads, everyone waits for you. But at the same time pedestrians wait until there are a number wanting to cross at the same time."

Kanaan Jamal, 39, like many people in Drachten, uses a bike to get around. "It is very smooth -- a lot better than other towns," he said. The consensus is that the creation of uncertainty by taking away the lights and even in some places the road markings has worked

"Anybody who is new here doesn't know what to do. They don't know who has priority, the car, bike or pedestrian. It's all confusing, but because of that everybody takes care," Mr Jamal said.

The Matrix

Journal Journal: Linus Still Wrong on GPL Version 3

For the record, so was I; I believed that the anti-DRM provision was opposed to all DRM, rather than just DRM that specifically preventing modified versions of the code from running "turning freedom number one into a sham", in Stallman's words.

For those who missed it, there was an article on the front page Linus Speaks Out On GPLv3, but I went to Groklaw directly, since Slashdot sucks for insightful commentary.

Linus is making some of the same philosophical errors that I took him to task for a few months ago, but has added to that a certain naivety about the legal process, and labelling the goal of maximising freedom as "extreme".

Maximising freedom may well be an intellectually extreme position, in that it isn't a blend of several positions, but it is not a politically extreme position, in that it is what a large number of political activists attempt to do, although the trade-offs are not always agreed (this is not true of politicians, who also seek power for themselves and to favour their benefactors). The idealism of the French flag reflects exactly this position: liberty, equality (the basis for trade-offs), fraternity (sharing the fruits of the work done). I suspect that Tolvald's opposition to the FSF's "crusading" is in fact in opposition to a highly American view of freedom, but the freedom promoted by the GNU GPL is more of the anarchist's view of freedom than the capitalist's, when taken to extremes. Naturally, it isn't in fact anarchistic, for it uses law to maximise freedom.

What about his naivety? It is two-fold. First, he is applying an engineering fix to a political problem, thus the bug (in the DMCA etc) is legislative, and therefore the fix is legislative. This stance is reasonable given legislators that actually listen to their constituents, and wish to deliver the best set of laws that balance their interests, and if they are out of balance, they will attempt to restore that balance in future legislation. If you think that this is what legislators do, then the GPL version 2 is the right one for you, for you will always have the right to reverse-engineer, and the protection of intellectual property will only go as far as is necessary to provide a sufficient incentive to create, without being overly onerous upon further innovation.

Secondly, legislators are not the only ones who shape law. Take the recent action of France's Supreme Court to savage fair use rights. Crusty old judges, I'm afraid, are exactly the types who are most likely to miss the difference between theft and copyright infringement, ignore the economics (since the issue is couched in moral and legal terms), and overcompensate for imagined loss by handing out fines proportional to the infringement. (For the record, I favour proportional fines and|or sentences for making money from piracy, for then it is diverting spending that would have otherwise have been spent upon original work, and therefore is theft), but that is not the issue that I wish to raise today. Fines for copyright infringers are one thing, but what we see is a wholesale attack upon the entire concept of fair use, the right to reverse engineer, and more. The "proportional" response has included an "acceptable" degree of collateral damage, but economic competence would have led to the conclusion that the response was in fact disproportionate.

Given legislation from the bench, legislation through contract is entirely appropriate. I do not wish leave it to my government to defend my freedoms; I also wish to defend it through my own actions, and the rights that I give to people to make use of my work. This is not an extreme position; it is a position that I accept the social contract as decided at such times as the birth of nations, and wish to do my own part to revitalise and uphold my side of that contract.

Footnote: Tom Hudson has said plenty in support of Linus's stance. I think that the best, and simplest response was given by WNight.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Majoritarian Bias in Science

Not a thesis, but an example. From New Scientist:

How people with autism miss the big picture

"A PICTURE is worth a thousand words" may sum up how people with autism see the world.

Brains scans of people with the condition show that they place excessive reliance on the parietal cortex, which analyses images, even when interpreting sentences free of any imagery. In other people, the image centre appears to be active only when the sentences contain imagery.

The results agree with anecdotal reports that people with autism are fixated on imagery but struggle to interpret words and language. They frequently excel at recording visual detail, but overlook the bigger picture and the context that comes with it.

Researchers led by Marcel Just of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, scanned volunteers' brains while they were deciding if certain statements were true or false. Some of the statements relied on analysis of language alone, while others could only be understood by considering the imagery they conjured up. "The number 8, when rotated 90 degrees, looks like a pair of spectacles", for instance, needs both arithmetic interpretation and visualisation of the rotated number.

Just says that the observed over-reliance on the parietal cortex might have arisen to compensate for poor brain connections to the prefrontal cortex, which interprets language (Brain, DOI: 10.1093/brain/awll64). "That makes it difficult to understand complex language and to understand the intentions of other people," he says.

My response:

With regards to your article on autism "How people with autism miss the
big picture", it appears to me to be biased and one-sided.

The title, for a start, is ironic: autistic people will frequently
infer too larger a context, a bigger picture than that which is narrowed
by socially conditioned readings of intent. I have Asperger's Syndrome,
so I have some insight into this. Those same readings make it
impossible to discuss (for example) the science of evolution with some
people; the theory of the selfish gene is taken as scaffolding for
economic atomism with selfish individuals, for example, whereas the
wider picture is that many forms of co-operation and the theory of memes
restores the analysis.

I've seen the reading of intent blind people to a larger concept really
quite often.

Back to the title: I do not think that it helps the different to be
portrayed as inferior, although they may have difficulties. Not readily
narrowing your perception and interpretation to fit cultural norms does
result in miscommunication. Those on the autistic spectrum therefore
suffer for being in a minority, but it is misleading to say that they
have the smaller picture.

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