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July 2003 Archives

Details on the California governor recall

Here's an article with details on the California governor recall. It's a pretty bizarre thing. The vote is currently scheduled for October 7. If you're a citizen living in California, I urge you to register to vote.

Which way is Chinatown?

When the topic of racism against Chinese people comes up, I've often commented that I can't recall the last time I've heard a racist remark directed at me. Well, I heard one today... I think.

I was washing my car today on the curb when a guy drove up and stopped next to me. The passenger-side window was rolled down, and a little kid was sitting in the passenger seat. I'm pretty sure I didn't get them wet or anything. But the guy leaned over and asked, "Hey, which way is Chinatown?"

I stood there kind of dumbfounded. It sounded racist to me, but he didn't have a particularly big smirk or anything, and it might have been an honest question, I thought.. But he was going in the opposite direction, and my house is practically on the other side of the city from Chinatown... I don't know.. in my confusion, I just sort of jerked a thumb back in the general direction of Chinatown. He said, "Alright," and drove off.

I thought about it afterward, and I became more convinced that it was a racist "joke". I can't imagine why anyone would be driving around way over here asking for Chinatown. Maybe I should've shown him a different finger. But then I also find it hard to imagine someone in the Sunset District dissing a Chinese guy on the street. I mean, the Sunset District is filled with Chinese people... I don't know.. It's just something I can't recall experiencing in 19 years of living in this city.

And again, he didn't laugh or anything. So I'm not entirely sure what it was all about. I do know that I don't want to believe the comment was racist.

The story behind the Hussein sons' last refuge

Saddam Hussein's sons were staying at the home of a loyalist named Nawaf Zaidan. Zaidan got lots of money and goodies from the Hussein family in exchange for his loyalty, and Saddam Hussein's sons recently came knocking on his door to cash in on years of favors. That very house was a gift from the Hussein family. Although the US would not comment on the identity of the tipster, it seems likely that Zaidan turned the brothers in, since his family happened to go out the morning of the attack.

In related news, the US recently shifted its intelligence focus from high-level officials to mid-level ones who are actually conducting attacks, and it's been working. I guess they're learning.

Also, here's an alleged email from someone in Special Operations. He talks about how things in Iraq aren't as bad as they seem. He talks about a case where soldiers were fired upon, but they helped move elderly bystanders out of the way before firing back. He says the locals are getting to like the soldiers. It's very emotional and may seem a bit offensive at times, but I think you have to excuse a little racism from people on the front lines.

Finally, for a cheap laugh, check out the latest quote from Wolfowitz: "I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq." :)

Deceptive Southwestern Bell phone

[Southwestern Bell phone] [plastic antenna] My parents bought a Southwestern Bell cordless phone for really cheap. Only $7 after rebates! The quality really sucked, though. It was really really staticky even if you used it right next to the base. They expected it to suck, but not quite that much, so we're going to go return it.

In any case, here's the real kicker: I accidentally broke off the antenna on the base... or so I thought. It turns out it's not an antenna at all!

The "antenna" is just a piece of plastic!

And I'm pretty sure nothing's missing inside, too. It's just a little plastic thing that slides into a socket, completely for show. Sheesh.

You get what you pay for, and I guess we paid for a fake antenna.

Iraq update: The Happy, the Sad, and the Despicable

A couple of links on Iraq from blogdex:

Iraqis are optimistic. The economy is slowly improving, expatriots are returning to the country, and they have more free speech than they've had in 50 years. Most of the resistance is from the Sunni areas near Baghdad from the people who formerly held power. Anyway, this article lists a number of concrete changes for the better, lest we forget that things certainly are a lot better there now than they were under Saddam Hussein. It's a clearly biased article, so take it not as the gospel truth, but as a counterpoint to Iraq-is-another-Vietnam-now stuff that you probably see more of.

Our soldiers are pissed. They keep being told that they'll get to go home soon, only to find out when the time comes that they have to stay longer. Morale is not high, but maybe there are exceptions... I recently found out that a friend of mine from middle school who joined the Marines a few years back is still there. His unit is coming home, but he actually volunteered to stay for another assignment! He's a crazy bastard, but I wish him luck. :)

Update (Jul-18): Good God. Apparently the White House was so annoyed by the above ABC News article on our pissed off soldiers that it resorted to bigoted personal attacks on the ABC reporter. White House officials told Matt Drudge to announce that the reporter is gay and Canadian. Now that's just absolutely despicable, in my book.

Meanwhile, in a more expected development, several of the soldiers who went on record with complaints will lose their careers. I think that's a more complicated situation, as soldiers are generally accepted as having fewer civil rights than the general population. What's interesting is that the reaction from officers seem to be mixed. Some are saying that soldiers bitch all the time, and they're annoyed that ABC focused on the negative. Others, though, say that morale really is low.

Attention to detail

Here's a thought about attention to detail. (It's the July 12 post.) I've always been a sucker for attention to detail in movies and software and such, and I'm kind of fanatical about minor details in stuff I make as well. I usually just think of it as an aesthetic I like, but that post explains one reason why it's worth the effort.

Who's looking out for the Baathists?

I'm certainly not, but that's just my point. Baath Party loyalists have been behind many of the guerrilla attacks against US troops in Iraq, and the occupational government has banned the party. In the US, the banning of a political party would be unthinkable. Or, if not unthinkable, it would at least raise a lot of objections with mentions of the McCarthy era. Do it in Iraq, though, and I don't hear many people complaining.

Iraq is different. It is a country in turmoil, unstable and poor, and Baath attacks on the government are far more sustained than terrorism on our native soil. As much as we advocate free speech and democracy, they are values that only function with large educated middle class. In Iraq, if we instituted democracy right away, extremist anti-US groups are the most organized and would thus grab power.

It just makes me think about how fragile our cherished rights really are. If circumstances were a bit different, we would not have our free speech and our democracy. We complain when China advocates "stability" over democracy, but if our own country ceased to be stable, I think we would lose our freedoms as well. Look at Israel, a modern country ruled by fear, where many people want peace and quiet before all else. But I'm not blaming them. If I lived there, I'd probably feel the same way. They cannot afford to care too much about civil liberties.

It makes me think: When the government takes away some of our freedoms to promote "national security", things might be more complicated than they seem. We all know the argument: "What's the point of protecting our freedoms if there won't be any freedoms left to protect?" Certainly, many politicians are merely using national security to enact their dream bills... But the argument works both ways: If the security of a country goes to hell, its freedoms are sure to follow. Another popular quote: "Those that would give up essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither." But what if, by holding on to all your liberties, you'd also end up with neither?

I think democracy and civil liberties are luxuries of an already stable and well-off country. We cannot single-mindedly advocate civil liberties before security any more than we can do the reverse. Again, I think our administration is going about many things the wrong way, but we need to remember that if terrorism were to get even worse in this country, we would inevitably lose even more of our rights.

One concrete case of this conflict: Detained terrorist suspects. Civil liberties are essential if we are to protect the innocent. In this country, we would rather let ten guilty people go than convict a single innocent person. But what if those ten guilty people could kill ten others? A hundred others? What about the rights of those victims? It gets more complicated then, and I don't pretend to know the answer. As with most things in life, we'll just have to strive to find the right balance.

The Satellite War begins

In that recent RAND article I posted, they mention the potential for attacking satellites with nuclear weapons. Well, a simpler kind of attack is already happening. A number of Iranian expatriates have been broadcasting pro-protest stations into Iran via satellite. Now, someone in South America is jamming that satellite. Apparently, it's something you can do with a relatively small dish of your own, and they haven't even managed to triangulate the source yet.

What's scary is just how easy this seems, just like how easy it seems for malicious hackers to disrupt our critical infrastructure in general.

I'd love to see some summary of the history of political satellite jamming, but that article doesn't have that info.

Protests in Iran and the War on Iraq

So today is the 4th anniversary of violently suppressed protests in Iran, and there have been ongoing street battles. Now, I don't pretend to understand the situation there very well at all, but this Volokh article contains an interesting quote from an open letter written by the student protestors on why they're protesting:

"...we are worried to see the experience of our neighbors be repeated here."

It seems to me that this had to be one of the main goals of the war on Iraq. Plain old-fashioned rule-by-fear. I don't know if it balances out all the problems the war has caused, but if governments like Iran move toward reform through direct fear or through their citizens' fear of a US invasion, that might not be such a bad thing. I mean, obviously diplomacy would be better, but the Middle East is not exactly a place where diplomacy has a great track record...

Review of major problems brewing in the world

Here's a review of major international security issues in the world today. It's written by various members of the RAND Corporation, a non-profit think-tank that the government consults. The RAND Corporation also plays a central role in many conspiracy theories. :) Regardless, I think this is an enlightening article.

Rethinking the copyright battle

I've ranted a fair amount about copyrights. The debate often sounds like this:

"Down with money-grubbing corporations! Information wants to be in the public domain! Freedom to make derivative works!"

"Down with naive hippies! Artists deserve to be compensated! Authors have rights!"

Maybe this actually a false dichotomy. Why can't we compensate authors and guarantee access and derivative works? My thoughts were sparked by the following Usenet post by J. Michael Straczynski. He created Babylon 5 and wrote most of its episodes. He's also written for Murder, She Wrote and some 80s cartoons.

From: jmsatb5@aol.com (Jms at B5)
Date: Sun, 29 Jun 2003 09:09:10 +0000 (UTC)
Lines: 48

[Eliyahu Rooff said:]
Can anyone seriously conceive of writers or musicians deciding that they aren't going to write or perform any longer because the copyright won't last more than fifty years beyond their deaths? Writers write because it's what they want to do. Musicians compose and perform because they love to. Painters paint and sculpters sculpt, again, because it's what they want to do. To put the question to JMS -- Joe, would you cease your writing if the duration of copyright were only fifteen years, renewable once?

No...but you're not getting the crucial point.

Residuals, and royalties, are part of a writer's compensation for the work he does. They're not a bonus, they're part of his (or her) compensation. It may take a novelist five years to write a given novel. The money he earns from that book covers the down-time between that project and the next one.

Writing is a notoriously ill-paying profession, and it is not especially gracious on aging writers. So a writer's only chance for income past a certain age is the royalties he's built up on prior works.

If those works become public domain after ten or fifteen years, he can no longer make a living from those books. Will that writer stop writing when younger because of that issue? No, of course not.

Will that writer be able to *survive* financially if the rights to public after a while?

In most cases, the answer to that question is no.

We're not talking corporations here, we're talkling writers who, in a lifetime, may turn out maybe five, ten really good books, in the hope that the royalties from those books will help to keep them alive in their golden years.

So many of those writers may have to take other jobs to survive, limiting their ability to write, and hence their output. Or, if they cannot take othe work -- writers are notoriously poor employees -- more of them may have to survive in serious poverty than before.

 jms

(jmsatb5@aol.com)
(all message content (c) 2003 by synthetic worlds, ltd.,
permission to reprint specifically denied to SFX Magazine
and don't send me story ideas)

Author copyrights for life

For all my rhetoric about weighing benefits to the public with benefits to the author, should we really be framing the issue in such a utilitarian way? Maybe we should give authors the better end of the deal as a show of appreciation, even if the public gets fewer works that way. Maybe that would be the "moral" thing to do, and it would make us better people on the whole.

What would happen if we took that approach? It would mean that we should grant authors lifetime copyrights, to ensure that they always get compensated for their work. We would still have little reason to extend copyrights beyond the lives of the authors. (There's the providing for children argument...) However, we would not change our attitude toward corporate copyrights, as we have no moral obligation in that case. All the old utilitarian arguments would still hold with corporations.

Compulsory licensing

But then I got to thinking some more: Copyrights themselves are not really the issue. I don't really have a problem with compensating authors for many years after they create a work. What I do think is important is that people have access to the work.

Radio, and thankfully now Internet radio as well, work on a compulsory licensing system. Copyright holders cannot deny stations the right to play copyrighted songs, but stations do have to pay for airing those songs. Furthermore, the amount they pay is related to the amount they make. I guess that's what I see as the best of both worlds. Artists are compensated, and people get to listen to the music at a reasonable price. This sort of compulsory licensing system is also in place for medical patents and such.

I'm not saying it's an appropriate model for everything, and I need to think about it some more. I'm just saying that we might be able to apply it elsewhere. It's a sort of compromise solution.

Proposal for handing derivative works

I got thinking about compulsory licensing from an article Judge Alex Kozinski and Chris Newman cowrote called What's So Fair About Fair Use? [100K PDF]. (I found it from this Volokh post.) In this article, the authors discuss the problems with modern fair use. Under current law, a derivative work is either considered fair use, in which case the original authors get nothing, or it's not fair use, in which case the original authors prevent its publication. The authors of this article argue that we really should be encouraging derivative works.

Their solution (simplified a bit): We should prevent the court from issuing injunctions so easily. Instead, copyright holders should be able to sue for the portion of profits that represent the original work. Authors of the derivative work should be able to keep profits that represent the value they added to the work. But what if the new work hurts the reputation of the original work? Well, authors of the derivative work can still be sued for actual damages. Only if they can't pay up can a judge issue an injunction. The result is that we ensure compensation to the original authors, but they cannot force a derivative work out of existence if it doesn't really hurt them.

So again, we could separate money from access. We can support the right to make derivative works while still insisting that authors be paid. I love to say that everything in the world is gray. Perhaps we can find some middle ground.

Array vs. Malloc: A C Problem

Paul brought this little gem to my attention. You'll need to be familiar with C to answer it. (He spent 2 hours fixing a bug which hinged on this issue.) So consider the following snippets of code:

int foo[256];

and

int *bar;
bar = malloc(256*sizeof(int));

foo and bar are functionally equivalent in most ways. You can use foo as a pointer, and you can use bar as an array. C doesn't even do array bounds checking.

One difference between the two is that the memory allocated for foo gets automatically released at the end of the function, whereas you'll have to manually free the memory used by bar.

But when you go about using them, there is another crucial difference. What is it?

Post your answer in the comments. I'll post it myself in a few days if no one gets the answer I have in mind by then. (For the record, when Paul asked me this, I gave him the first difference above, but I couldn't think of the second difference.)

About July 2003

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in July 2003. They are listed from oldest to newest.

June 2003 is the previous archive.

August 2003 is the next archive.

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