Thursday, March 31, 2005

Grokster

On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the MGM v. Grokster case. I was originally planning on attending the arguments, but the required wait was too long (almost 12 hours, overnight, in poor weather for a guaranteed spot)(hey, it was a popular and important case - lots of people did want to see it and waited all night). However, I was able to go to a panel at George Washington University and listened to several of the lawyers involved discuss the case. I'll relay here what I heard then, and my thoughts on the case.

For those unfamiliar, Grokster, involves a peer-to-peer file sharing system, basically, a way to trade copyrighted music and movies for free. MGM, and other music and movie studios, had sued Grokster, and they were claiming that Grokster, even though it wasn't itself stealing copyright music, had to be responsible for everyone that used the technology Grokster provided to steal copyrighted material.

A similar case was heard in the eighties, regarding the legality of Sony's Betamax technology (the early version of VCR's), which the TV industry claimed was used to illegally tape shows off of TV. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that so long as there were substantial non-illegal uses for the people who made the technology couldn't be held responsible for illegal uses.

Whether or not that was really the ruling in the Sony was one of the question in the case. Should the court apply its previous standard? Was that the real standard they laid down, or is there more too? Should the Court also consider tempering its previous decision?

From all accounts, I get the idea that this is in fact what the Court will do. How will they temper their decision? From the sounds of it they liked using the idea of "inducement." This would mean, I believe, that if the technology producer induces users to do illegal behavior, then the technology could be held responsible for those illegal uses.

What does it take to qualify as inducement? This is quite the question. Does advertising the ability to download pirated music qualify as inducement? How about responding to consumer questions about copyrighted songs? What about simply placing your product, which is capable of illegal uses, onto the market?

Presumably the first two would in fact qualify. The last, it is doubtful. The problem I see, and the great fear I have, is that music and movie studios will keep pushing against the inducement line, finding new and creative ways to accuse technological innovations of inducing illegal downloading. And I fear the courts will side with them. This would provide a huge disincentives for introducing new technology.

For example, iPods would probably have faced a significant lawsuit had they been introduced in a world that had such an inducement law. Only very recently (a couple of days ago, expressly for the court case) did the music studios decide they weren't opposed to iPods. Previously they had been considered, by the music studios at least, a threat to the industry.

This is, of course, the primary argument of the copyright industries; their very existence is threatened by the existence of these technologies. With these technologies the studios will lose money, won't be able to pay many artists, and therefore, with no money in the business, artists will lose their incentive to produce music. This is, clearly, a bit stark, and the studios realize that it won't be the death of their industry, but the more dramatic they can make it sound, the better for them.

The flip side of the coin is technological innovation. The tech industry is concerned that if they are held responsible for individuals' copyright violations that there will be no reason to introduce new technology. If simple introduction of a product or service leads to a law suit, there is an enormous reason to never release that technology. Especially if your technology is freeware, which would never earn any profit but would cost you an expensive lawsuit. The technology side probably also paints the picture a little darker than reality. However, I'm inclined to agree with their side.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, I don't see the threat to the music industry as significant in any way. I do see a threat to major labels - those who make the most off of music sales, but that is only one side of the industry. There are plenty out there who love these services because they increase exposure. In effect, the supply of music has been kept artificially low by the major labels, and they have a virtual monopoly on the music world. File-sharing increases the ability of independent and new music to become exposed to the masses, at the expense of the major labels. Given this fact, I think file-sharing is actually a social good, that major labels should be taken down a few notches. Sure, some of the trading is illegal, but not all of it is, and overall the effect is better for society, and will correct the economic imbalance created by the major labels.

Second, I sincerely doubt that people will have less incentive to create music or movies. I am convinced that copyrights are already extended for too long, and give too many rights already. Especially in light of the fact that most artists don't actually retain their copyrights (they sell their copyrights, which then makes them money), but instead are forced to sell them to a major label. The labels, which control the distribution side of the music industry, also essentially control the demand for artists as well. Because there are only major labels they can sign artists to contracts on the label's terms, and artists are relatively powerless. If the industry takes a few hits the artists will actually be better off too. There won't be less incentive to produce, because the artists will be able to negotiate more favorable terms for themselves when the studios' power decreases.

Finally, and most importantly, I do see a major threat to the technology industry. As acknowledge previously, new technology will still be introduced. However, I feel it will be introduced only in a limited fashion, and probably much less often. Lots of technologies will never see the light of day for fear of a lawsuit. Especially freeware versions, which means that society will pay a heightened cost for technology. Given that new technology breeds new technology (often exponentially), and that creative break-throughs from one field can often be applied in new, creative ways to other fields, it seems to me that we should protect technological development. It seems more important, socially, than protected major media labels.

Given these three reasons, hopefully the Supreme Court doesn't vary its stance much from Sony. I'm truly afraid that our copyright industries have grown too powerful, and I fear they'll continue to expand. There is no reason to protect our current system, especially given that artist incentive will likely not be harmed by allowing new technologies. On the other hand, there is every reason to protect technological innovation and introduction. We can always use a faster internet or better photocopiers. There's no reason for another Brittany Spears. Let's hope the Court agrees.

Bobby's driving through the city tonight,
Through the lights in a hot new rent-a-car

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Schaivo

It turns out the court turned down the appeal anyways. The possibility I was excited about in my last post has been cut off. I think it's a ridiculous denial of due process, but that's the system. Let's fix it. Factual inquiries (such as gaurdianship decisions) should be heard by juries. One judge should not have an effective monopoly over a case. When new facts come to light a new judge should rule on them - not the same judge as the previous decision. Let's clean out all the process questions - then we'll be able to trust those making the decisions.

We're caught in a trap, I can't walk out

Thoughtoids

A new decision on the Schaivo case means the Schindlers will probably be filing a new suit. It will basically request that the case be heard on the facts, without any reference to the lower court decision. Basically, this is exactly what I wanted to see happen. Whether or not the federal court will decide to hear the case is a seperate question (and I think they should hear it) but at very least they are allowing the claim to come forward. It's a step in the right direction.

Second, I've been having a terrific debate with a friend on the issue. The debate is here on the blog, but people might have missed it. So I want to direct them to my previous post about the issue. Scroll down a ways to find the conversation, which started last night. It brings up some good legal-ish considerations. I don't know that I've gotten the better of the discussion, but I think my points are at bare minimum important considerations which call into question the way we do things. Which is part of what I'm trying to do here.

Also, keep an eye out for the file-sharing post, coming shortly.

Third, I get married in less than 2 months. This makes me very excited and happy. There's a ton of stuff to get done still, and it'd be nice to have a quick break away from all the work to spend some time with Laura. It's not gonna happen though, since I'm not able to fly back between now and the end of classes, and without some vast generosity Laura wouldn't be able to fly out here either. Any volunteers?

Last night I saw Al Franken on Conan O'Brien (oh, that sounds bad). He mentioned, again, that he might run for Senate in 2008. In Minnesota. So, let's hope he decides to do that, he'd be an excellent, intelligent, candidate.

And, finally, speaking of Minnesota, a recent study revealed that it has more people with highschool diplomas per capita than any other state in the nation. It is also entrenched in the top-10 for college graduates per capita. Arguably it is one of the best educated states in the country. A month or two ago a seperate study revealed that Minnesota is the healthiest state in the nation. Invariably the state ranks in the top 3 healthiest in the country, but lately it's been topping the list. Hmm, healthiest state and arguably best-educated? Is it any wonder I claim it to be the best in the nation?

I try to say goodbye and I choke
Try to walk away and I stumble

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Let's Go Team

This is the year. It's time to get excited. The Twins are looking good.

I could give you lots of reason to love this team. The gorgeous starting rotation. The solid bullpen. The suddenly studly offense. The delicious Hormel domedogs. I could give you lots of reasons, but the best reasons to get excited have little to do with the specific players. And even less to do with the Metrodome's dining options.

I see three main reasons for Twins fans to be excited. The first is that this year, they can compete. The Twins have entered into an elite crowd. In years past the Yankees were considered the pinnacle of baseball teams, unapproached by anyone else. Last year the Red Sox took a huge leap forward and joined the Yankees on that top shelf. This year, the Twins have done the same. Their pitching staff, their offense, their defense - it's all there. People might not know it yet, but by the end of the season they'll see that the Twins are on that same level. This doesn't mean that the Twins will beat the Yankees or the Red Sox. In fact, they might be the least of the three teams. But they've climbed to that level. When the elite teams are listed, the Twins now deserve to be on that list. They've seperated themselves from the rest of the baseball world, in the same way that the Yankees and Red Sox have, and this is the year that will show through.

The second reason to be excited is the emergence of "Minnyball." A few years ago Moneyball hit shelves, and people fell in love with the strategies of Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. They were a successful small-market team, and Moneyball laid out the reasons for their success. GM's around the country copied the approach. Fans demanded for it. It was all the rage.

In the last three years we've seen the Twins rise up as another example of a succesful small-market franchise. The Twins don't use the Moneyball strategy. Their approach is building from within, focusing on player-development. They stress defense and fundamentals, doing little things right, aggressive baserunning, etc. Moneyball is more concerned with the stats. Minnyball is more concerned with the players. The reason to be excited is that Minnyball is begining to take-off. GM's who once followed Moneyball strategies are converting to the Twins' model. Our system is being copied. And as we all know, immitation is the sincerest form of flatery. It's good to be a Twins fan, because the people in the business are Twins fans in the most real way.

The final reason to be excited for this season is because of what I call the "victim vacuum." Last year, and the year before, a good chunk of our nation hopped onto the Red Sox bandwagon. Partially this was because they hadn't won a World Series in a long time. But there are lots of teams who haven't won in a long time that didn't curry the favor the Red Sox managed. The difference was that the Red Sox perpetually lost to the Yankees. They were seen as victims, and therefore sympathetic. Now that they're defending world champions, it isn't likely that people will see them as victims. And because they aren't victims any more, people are likely to place their sympathies elsewhere.

The natural choice is the Twins. The Twins have lost to the Yankees in the playoffs the last two years. They've made the playoffs, but not the Series, three years in a row. They've got a young, fun, lovable team who plays hard but still gets the short end of the stick. I'm convinced that by the end of the year a good number of people, around the country, will hop onto the Twins' bandwagon, and they'll become one of America's favorite teams. It won't rise to the Red Sox level, sure, but there will still be a love for the Twinkies.

Yes, this season is all about the Twins. We stand a good chance of making it all the way, but even if we don't, this is gonna be the year. The year of the Twins.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Thoughtoids

Happy Easter!

This week, keep an eye out for 2 baseball columns. Hopefully by mid-week I'll be able to get to a post all about how wonderful the Twins are. Then, probably Friday or Saturday, I'll post my picks for the upcoming year, and give a quick overview of the upcoming season. I'm also hoping to put up a couple of other posts about assorted topics.

Including the Grokster case, which is being argued Tuesday before the Supreme Court. This is a case regarding the legality of peer-to-peer file sharing systems, which are widely used for sharing digital music and other files. I'm hoping to get to the oral arguments on Tuesday, and I'll lay out my take after hearing the sides present their case.

In the last week I've been introduced to two new restaurants in the D.C. area that fit perfectly into a student's lifestyle. One is a European-style coffehouse/restaurant called Bread and Chocolate. I ate Easter brunch there - yum! Also, I had a mimosa and didn't get carded. Finally. (I mean, I was carded in London for crying out loud!) The other place, Bricksckeller, offers a gi-normous selection of beer from around the world. I had a Polish beer. It was kind of bland. Go figure. I probably should have known about these places a long time ago, but I didn't, so back off, ok buddy? Anyways, I'll add these to the list of places to take my visitors, and let people know that they're in for a real treat at either restaurant.

Finally, the Schaivo situation is all but resolved. It doesn't look like Terri will have the feeding tube reinserted, and will probably pass sometime this next week. This situation may be closing, but I'd encourage people to keep an eye out for legislation to address and prevent the problems which have happened in this case. Hopefully such legislation is structured in manner that is cautious and protective of life, but respects the wishes of the individual.

And that's all I've got for now. Have a great week!

Hush that fuss. Everybody move to the back of the bus.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

What's Wrong With These People?!?

As most everyone knows, there are certain things about living on the East Coast which irk the heck out of me. I've decided that from time to time, I will be putting them up on this blog, airing out my differences with the region. Yes, that's right, this'll probably be another recurring feature. But this first "What's Wrong" may take the cake. It really exemplifies just how stupid East Coast Folk can be.

I teach a highschool street law class. My students are juniors and seniors who have spent their entire lives in an urban setting. This means that in addition to the normal cocky self-assured half-assed highschool mentality they're also quite cynical (youthful idealism? Ha! As the students in my class would probably say "That thang ain't for me dawg. That's for my kids.") Suffice it to say, we joke back and forth a lot, everyone hassling everyone else, and we have a pretty good time with it. They might not know much about trial procedure, but my students could badger the snot out of a witness.

I was describing to my students the concept of "chores", which most of them, it seems, never had. When asked what a 5-year-old could do to help around the house (our mock trial involves a 5-year-old, and it was in this context that the conversation happened), I listed a couple of things. I said that he could clean his room, pick up in other rooms around the house, set the table, or take out recycling. At this the class burst out laughing.

"Man, recycling?!? Dawg, who recycles? Don't nobody recycle."

"You don't recycle?" I asked in shock. "But it's so important. It's totally irresponsible to never recycle."

"No way man! Recycling's for suckers. Just throw all that garbage in the trash man, it's all the same."
"What can you recycle?" asked another student.

"What can you recycle? Just about everything - plastic, glass, -"
I was interrupted, "Man that's just stupid. No reason to recycle. How you gonna do it anyways?"
At this point I looked around the class, several students still laughing quite hard, others blinking at me in disbelief. I realized at this point that my case was hopeless - I had a lesson plan to teach and all of my prodding about the importance of being socially responsible had earned me even more grief.

Now, I don't blame my students for their ignorance. They're largely the product of east-cost urban living. Typically you'd think that in a large city, where resources are scarce, recycling would be considered an important procedure. Instead the opposite proves true. All the resources get shipped into the city and all the waste gets shipped out. Most of my students have never seen a lake or a mountain, and those that have only have limited exposure. It's a sad reality, but this is life in East Coast cities. The amount of waste is greater (we actually use Styrofoam plates in our school's cafeteria!). Consumption is blind - no one cares where their food comes from, or that our resources might not be around much longer.

I'm not sure what kind of solution there might be. I don't think exposing urban-dwellers to the great outdoors is enough, but I'm sure that's part of it. I don't know what else to propose. Regardless, the fact remains that these East Coast folks have something wrong in their heads, and it needs to be addressed. For crying out loud I was ridiculed for recycling!


Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty

Maybe this is why we don't get any respect

Yesterday in my philosophy class we actually used the sentence "A vacuum cleaner is more like Amazonia than it is like a pile of dirt." It made sense in context.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Thoughts on the Schaivo Situation

I'm sure by now everyone has heard about Terri Schaivo. She has been diagnosed to be in a persistive vegetative state by court-appointed doctors. Her parents dispute this finding, and want to continue to give her therapy and keep her plugged into a feeding tube. Her husband wants to pull the feeding tube. Both sides argue about what they believe Terri wants. There isn't a clear answer, but the court determined that her husband's view should prevail. From what I understand, in the initial court case where this was determined a lot of key facts which later became available were not presented.

Given our trial system, this poses a significant problem for Terri's parents. Appeals typically aren't just hearing the same case over again - you need to show that the initial court really messed up bad, and often you need to show that they were completely unreasonable in their judgment. Even if all of these other facts had been known (and maybe they were - I'm working with an assumption here, but it's a well-educated assumption and I'm pretty sure that it's correct), would the first court have ruled differently? It's tough to prove that, and so Terri's parents are at a significant disadvantage.

The thing I want to throw out for now - because I need to keep this quick and get back to homework - (oh, I could go on an on about this Schaivo topic, but I'm hoping to get a discussion going here, and that'll have to be the way for this topic) - is this. It's a quote I've seen in several articles, from the decision by the appellate level judges who refused the request of Terri's parents to have the tube re-inserted. (I've taken this excerpt from an AP article):

"There is no denying the absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo," Judges Ed Carnes and Frank M. Hull said in the 2-1 decision by the 11th circuit panel. "We all have our own family, our own loved ones, and our own children. However, we are called upon to make a collective, objective decision."

Other, similar quotes, reflect that the judges must make a decision on the "legal" merits of the case - basically they're saying that their hands are tied by the legal system.

I have an enormous problem with this. How is it any different than Pilate washing his hands of Christ? Or judges in Nazi Germany sentencing Jews to death?

I'll grant that in this case there is a question about who truly has Terri's best interests at stake - the parents or the husband - and so in that regard the offense is not so terrible as Pilate or the Nazi judges, but the parallel still exists.

There are times when we expect those in a position of power, i.e. our judicial branch, to transcend the limitations of our system. We have a system for a reason, and the vast majority of times it will get things right. But there are exceptions, such as this situation, where people need to break from the mold to make the right determination.

This is to say nothing of the content of the decision. I think it is important that this case be reheard, and for that to happen Terri's life needs to be continued. The judges seem to agree. They point to the tragedy of the situation, and then let us all know that there isn't anything they can do. I call bullshit.

I think I may write this idea out more explicitly and eloquently in the future (maybe not, we'll see). But I'm hoping this gets some discussion going. Please do respond with any thought or question. Ok, go:

Sent shivers down my spine, body's aching all the time

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Some terrific accidental humor. And for those who know Derek, well, it might be even funnier. Also, since posting old media on my blog seems to be about all I can muster lately I figured I'd stick with the theme. I promise more real posts, hopefully by this weekend. Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Up, Up, and Away!

I am Superman! (Click the link, enjoy).

How about that, two superhero posts in a row!

Hulk Smash Puny Blogger

I hate it when I type a post and then for some silly reason or other end up losing it! This. Makes. ME. SO. ANGRY!!!! RAAAAGH!

Aw dammit, now I've gone and turned all big and green. Stupid gamma rays.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Thoughtoids

I'm experimenting with putting pictures up on my blog. The thing tells me it worked, but I don't see the image up yet. Anyone know how to help me? Of course, if it does end up working, don't worry about it. Hopefully when I'm done with this post there'll be a picture up.

I've created a blog for my thesis. I don't actually have the thesis up there yet, but it will be soon. I've just got to get it loaded onto my laptop, from my desktop.

So I'm coaching mock trial for my highschool class. Basically, I'm not even teaching the class any more, it just is mock trial, and I "coach" instead of teach. I don't really do anything differently. The odd part is though, coaching seems to require more preparation in some ways than teaching. When coaching I have to respond to what the students are doing instead of assign them things to do. I need to be able to answer their question and guide them.

One of the most interesting things I've discovered about coaching is that the way I was coached is the way I do it now. The context is different, but the idea is the same. When I was growing up, playing baseball and soccer, my coaches (often my dad) normally used the "play everybody evenly/teach the fundamentals" approach. I'm finding that I don't want any member of my mock trial teams to specialize. Even though when they actually perform they'll be doing one small roll, I want them all to learn all the rolls - direct and cross examination, about evidence and objections, about impeachment - the whole process. Plus, they'll all also have to specialize in one of the 6 witnesses. But so far I haven't narrowed down their task at all - they're all working with all 6 witnesses.

When all of us teachers have our class together (It's a class through Georgetown which sends law students to teach in all the DC highschools, and then we all have to have a class about teaching law to highschool students) I can tell that not everyone is taking the same tactic. And sometimes I worry that my kids won't perform well in the competition, because the other classes will be better prepared. And then I realize that I'm thinking too narrowly - because the competition isn't just one week in April, it's life. And because their exposure is so much wider, my students will be better prepared. It's funny because when my coaches taught me the fundamentals of baseball they didn't just teach me to keep my glove on the ground or stay in front of the ball. They also taught me how to approach learning, how to lead, how to teach; they taught me the fundamentals of life.

Off on another tangent, I've got a visitor coming this weekend, into next week. It's Andy Schou, who is the little brother of Joel Schou. Andy, Joel, and I took a trip to London my senior year of college (to visit the ever-beautiful Laura). You've all heard snippets of that trip, and I won't give you any more, except to say that Andy and Joel are two of the most fun guys I've ever met. We had an awesome time, and Her Majesty's Euchre will forever be remembered in the pantheon of great card games.

Also, because Andy is coming, I was forced to buy a new bed. I'd been sleeping on my futon ever since my air mattress, well, since it, um... broke. It didn't pop. Quite the opposite in fact. It had all these grooves shaped into it, to help it keep form and whatever I'm sure. Well, the grooves didn't hold, and so, under constant air pressure, inverted, which ultimately meant they pressed outward and upward. Thus my bed, which used to look like this:
______
[______ ]

Now looks like this:
____^^^^^^]
(.......................}
(__________/

No, seriously. It's done that same sort of expansion in width, length, and height. Basically what was once a nice air mattress which fit snuggly in my room has become a gigantic plastic/rubber marshmallow which takes up about a third of the entire cubed area of my room.

So I bought a new one, to last the rest of the year I hope. And Andy can have the futon.

And, finally, sometimes I'm gonna throw some song lyrics at the end of my posts. My friend Zhubin does it. He's got some nifty html thing that helps him do it, but I'm just gonna put it in by hand because I couldn't figure out how to make it work. Anyways, it'll be little relevant song quotes or whatever I'm listening to at the time, or stuff like that. And, on that note:


I found my mind in a brown paper bag

Just a little boxing promotional poster I put together a while back... Posted by Hello

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Erin Go Blah

I don't quite get this whole "St. Patrick's Day" idea. It seems like a silly holiday to me. In fact, it doesn't seem like a holiday at all. Maybe it's just me, but shouldn't a holiday involve doing something fun, and different from what you do on any normal day? Wearing green just doesn't qualify. Yeah! Let's put on green clothes! Wee! That's fun!

Um, no. And besides, wearing green isn't that far out of the norm. I feel bad for those whose only green clothes are so hideous that they need an excuse to wear them out in public. Without ugly green shirts I doubt St. Patrick's would even be a holiday.

I'm also not quite sure what is being celebrated. Irish-ness? We're celebrating spiked coffee? Why did we pick Irishness to celebrate? Why not English-ness? Or German-ness? Or Polish-ness? I've got no problem with the Irish loving the day, but why do so many others jump on board? For the beer? Then why hasn't Oktober Fest taken off in the US? For the wearing of a certain color of shirt? Then why hasn't "Let's all wear orange day" taken off? For the cultural appreciation? Then why do we stop at Ireland? It just doesn't make any freakin' sense!

That being said, I've got no problem with people "celebrating" it if they want to. It's usually a pretty weak celebration, but hey, if they want to call it that, fine with me. I'm not going to tell people they shouldn't wear green, or go have a Guinness, or try to get kisses because they're Irish. If you want to celebrate St. Patrick's Day, go right ahead. But for crying out loud, leave the rest of us alone! Don't ask me where my green is. Don't tell me I should be proud of "our" Irish heritage. Don't yell at me if I'm not drunk.

I see no reason to celebrate St. Patrick's Day. In my mind, it is a fictional holiday. If we celebrated all the major cultures present in the US, then maybe I'd get on board. But if I choose to ignore the day then there's nothing wrong with that. I let you celebrate, let me ignore.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Read Philosofickle, Play Again

Imagine for a minute you're sitting down to a delicious steak dinner. You've got a giant baked potato, with butter and sour cream, an ear of corn picked by hand from a beautiful field, rolls fresh from the oven, and there, in the middle of your plate, smothered with spices, is a gorgeous hunk of meat. You stick your fork into the steak, slice off a big piece, dip it into a little A1 sauce, lift it towards you lips, and stop, just short of your mouth, to quickly check the bottom of the meat for the words: "Buy T-Bone or Sirloin, Get One Free."

It's a strange phenomenon, "winning" when you eat. You can win when you open a candy bar. You can win when you drink a pop. You can win when you crack open a bag of chips. And finishing a box of cereal is as close to a guaranteed win as anything. Can steak be far behind? Soon enough cows will branded with the slogan "1 in 6 Get Free Heifer"

Only in America. And people wonder why we're an obese nation? It isn't that we're fat, it's that we're competitive. Food is all a big game to us. Opening a bottle of pop is practically a spectator sport. In fact, it's leading the race to replace hockey as the fourth major.

As far as marketing ploys go, this strategy isn't so bad. People like games. People like it when they win games. They like it even more when winning a game earns them a prize. And if they can win a game and get a prize for nothing more spectacular than digestion? Truly, is there anything sweeter? It's like a pie-eating contest without the stomachache or shirt-stains. And the blue ribbon for drinking Mountain Dew goes to... every third person!

Part of the appeal is that people feel so darn good when they win a contest. It doesn't matter if the contest is one of skill, strength, blind-luck, or yes, even mass consumerism. When people win they feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. "A temporary tattoo at the bottom of my Cracker Jacks? Yes, I really am that good."

The catch, of course, is that you always stand a better chance of losing than you do of winning. And let's not kid ourselves, because when you aren't winning, you're losing. There aren't any ties in snacking. Either you win or you lose. You never see "Oooh, that was a close one, tell ya what, we'll call it even" printed on the inside of a candy bar wrapper. No, the phrase is always something like "Sorry, this is not a winning piece."

And if the piece isn't a winning piece, then that means it must be a losing piece. Sure, they print their safe little "you didn't win" message on the wrapper, but we all know what they really mean. It's something more to the effect of "Ha-ha! You pathetic LOSER! You grabbed the wrong candy bar. You thought it was a winner, but you weren't even close. Missed by a mile. What a moron. If you can't even pick out the right candy bar, how are you ever going to succeed in life? Plus you're ugly and you smell bad. Loser!" And that's the trouble with Snickers. Because behind that sweet chocolatey, peanutty goodness there lies the malignant soul of a school-yard bully.

Frankly, that's not what I need from my food. My self-esteem is low enough as it is, so it doesn't help that every time I open a bottle of cherry coke I take a shot to my ego. If this were physical abuse we'd never stand for it. Here, have a bottle of pop. Either you'll get another one free, or we'll kick you in the shins! Good luck!

Maybe the reason we sustain the emotional abuse is because we're just stupider than the people selling it to us. Because now, not only do they deny you a prize and insult your ability to complete simple tasks, they actually take the time to encourage you to try again. "Drink Coke, Play Again" say the 11 bottle caps on my desk. They don't even bother to tell you that you didn't win because they're too busy lining you up for the next shot they're gonna take. In four little words they manage to get across a denial ("You lose"), an insult ("You're stupid") and a tricky hook that they use to reel you right back in ("But we bet you aren't so stupid that you won't play again!"). And it works too. After every one of those 11 bottle caps told me I was a loser I said to myself "But maybe I'll win next time. That'll show 'em!"

And sure enough, on the 12th bottle, I was the 1 in 12 who won a free coke. Yes, I really am that good.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Hi, Atus!

I will be taking a week-long or so break from blogging. I'm going home to MN to plan a wedding/take it easy. I may periodically check up on what's already here, and hopefully we get some discussions going on the same-sex marriage thing, and keep the other ones going too, if people are interested. I figure my last one should sustain conversation for a while. But don't expect anything new for a little over a week. After that, I promise to be back with a bang.

Same-Sex Marriage and Methodology

Many moons ago I posted a blog suggesting that we contract out all of the legal privileges which adhere in marriage, and that we contract them out to anyone who meets a certain level of guaranteed commitment, whether they be a married couple, a same-sex couple, non-romantically involved siblings, etc. You can read it here. This post is in some ways a follow up.

I want to take a minute to discuss the methodology behind my proposal, and why I feel it avoids falling into the classification of "separate but equal", as some have claimed.

The starting point for my proposal is to ask the question, "Legally, what could a same-sex couple be entitled to?" It seems to me that the answer, at the absolute most, is that they could demand that they be given the same legal privileges as a married couple, and that these privileges be conditioned on the same satisfaction of requirements which married couples must meet. In short, the most any couple could ask is that they be given the same legal privileges as any other couple.

The second question then is to consider what those privileges and requirements are. This is a list, extending in limited fashion, which encompasses the various legal elements of our inquiry. Privileges such as tax benefits, visitation rights, and inheritance defaults. Requirements such as willingness to work through difficulties, stability, and co-ordination of resources.

Once we reach this level we need to take a step back and observe that we have said nothing of marriage thus far, but have only considered the benefits that all couples are to receive and what the requirements are for obtaining those privileges. It seems to me that legally these are the "entitlements" which any couple could claim, so long as they meet the same necessary criteria which every couple must meet.

Thus, if every couple gets the same privileges based on the same requirements, there is nothing more to be said of "separate but equal."

"Separate but equal", it should be observed, was a legal formulation which said that people would be treated equally, but through separate means (i.e. African-Americans went to one school, whites to another). This contrasts distinctly with the present case where all couples get treated equally (the same privileges) through the same means (they all must satisfy the same requirements, based on the same forms - they'd all have to go sign the same papers, the same courthouse, etc.).

At this point some would say I have simply abolished the protection of the institution of marriage. However, nothing in the above forbids the establishment of an institution of marriage. It does, of course, forbid the direct attachment of legal privileges to the institution, but it does not forbid the government from recognizing heterosexual marriages as marriages, in institutional form. This separates the institutional question from the question of legal privileges.

Now, there are still those who would disagree with my strategy. They would argue that recognizing an institution for straight couples but not for same-sex couples, qualifies as "separate but equal" on its own. A few points need to be made in response.

First, simply separating out the two questions - the privilege question and the institution question - is in itself a worthwhile effort. The fact of the matter is that these are separate issues which each need to be investigated on its own. We can grant all of the legal privileges without institutionalizing the relationships. This was the essential point of my method - I wanted to push that the "institutional nature" of marriage was separate from the privileges of marriage.

Secondly, I believe we need to further explore the question of "institutional nature". By this I mean that we need to decide what society should recognize as an institution. The fact of the matter is that we can debate whether there is a societal value to heterosexual marriage that same-sex marriage would not obtain. Before we can know whether to recognize, as an institution, same-sex marriage, we need to decide whether it is essentially the same thing as heterosexual marriage.

For those who are convinced the two are different, it makes sense for government to institutionalize one form and not the other. For those who are convinced the two are the same, it makes sense to say that the government cannot make any distinction.

This is key. Setting aside the legal privileges question (which has been resolved in favor of equality), we turn to the question of the institution. If the government recognizes an institution of marriage for hetero-sexuals only, does this qualify as "separate but equal"? In order to answer this question you must first answer the question of whether hetero and homo-sexual relationships are the same. If you believe they are the same, then perhaps denying institutional form to one would seem like "separate but equal." If you believe they are different, then clearly there is a reasonable basis for a distinction, and therefore institutionalizing one and not the other poses no problem. The point is, there is an open question. Before we can say anything meaningful regarding the "separate but equal" claim, we must investigate our underlying conclusions. And that's another post, for another time.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Weeding the Garden

I think part of understanding philosophy is realizing that there has never been a prohibition on stupid people writing down what they think.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Fruit or Vegetable?

Just a quick post about the Terri Schavio situation. For those who don't know, Terri is a woman in a vegetative state in Florida. She isn't completely vegetative, but largely so, but she functions on her own, except that she is unable to eat by normal means so she is on a feeding tube. Her husband wants, and has received court permission (awarded by a jury I believe), to remove the tube and let her starve to death. Her family says that she wouldn't want this, and the husband asserts that she does. The family is willing to take on all the medical bills, and to absolve the husband of any responsibilities. It should also be pointed out that, 10+ years after Terri went into this state, her husband has gotten engaged to another woman and has had children with her. Why he has stayed married to Terri is beyond me, though I'd expect the reasons to be largely related to money.

Anyways, I guess the simple question is this: if there is no reasonable basis for concluding whether someone in a vegetative state wants to pull the plug, who should we defer to? Her husband is her guardian, but he wants to pull the plug. Aren't those two positions inherently incompatible? Should a person in a vegetative state, who hasn't left a written directive (or clear, uncontested oral directive), become a ward of a citizen? Should the state instead step in and say "this vegetative person is now our responsibility"? Or maybe what should happen is that, absent a written directive, the state should give guardianship on a floating basis to a party who would fight for the continuation of the life. It just seems that, fundamentally, you can't be the guardian of someone if you are working for their demise.

Anyways, these are really well-conceived thoughts, as I've been really busy lately, and I just wanted to get something up. Hopefully they provide some fodder for conversation though. Mmmm... fodder...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Learning Lots of Law

How is it that Murphy's Law always proves true?
The one time you stop paying attention in class, bam! you get called on.
The one case you don't read is the one case you'll be questioned about.
The one time you open your mouth with a sensible answer your voice cracks like an adolescent boy.
The one time your insomnia subsides is when you're sitting in the front row.
The one time the professor's microphone works is the one time it scares you awake and you instinctively reach for your alarm accidentally knocking the kid sitting next to you in the arm, which then accidentally pushes his laptop off the desk, onto the floor.
The one time you're responsible for someone else dropping their laptop is the one time the top half seperates from the bottom half.
The one time a laptop is completely ruined is the one time your classmate is litigious.
The one time you're facing a lawsuit the judge's gavel suddenly splinters, a large chunk lodging itself in your chest-cavity.
The one time you have surgery to remove a gavel, and need a blood transfusion during the operation, they get the blood from a rhesus monkey.
The one time you get rhesus monkey blood it happens to have both the ebola virus, and HIV.
The one time you get ebola and HIV is the one time you die.
The one time you die is the one - Eep! Apparently the one time you write a silly blog post in class is also the one time you get called on. Oops.