Archive for December, 2006

 Merry Christmas 2006

This year I decided to go high-tech for the holidays and send out video Christmas cards. We had fun putting this together — who knows, this may even become an annual tradition. I hope you enjoy it.

 What Private Property?

Apparently the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) has become jealous of all the attention I’ve been showing Ameren lately, and has decided to make a play for the number one spot on my list of most hated public utilities.

We live in a world of easements. [easement, noun: an interest in land owned by another that entitles its holder to a specific limited use or enjoyment] Public utilities justify the existence of easements because of the potential benefit to everyone. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, as they see it. That would be bad enough, but the reality is, even though by law an easement means co-ownership, or jointly held rights to a piece of land, the public utility has full ownership of *all* land, and it is up to them which land they allow you to use and which land they keep for themselves. So it is far from a 50-50 proposition. For if a utility has a use for a piece of your property, it will become an easement and under their exclusive control, regardless of your feelings on the matter. Does that sound like co-ownership to you?

Craig Berry is a nice enough fellow. He is a Right of Way Agent for MSD and he recently came to my house to “negotiate” an easement on a piece of my property. He actually used the word “negotiate,” and I can tell by the way he said it that he really believes that this is what he does. His job is to “negotiate” easements. I asked him if I don’t have the option of saying no, is it really a negotiation? He didn’t have an answer. That’s because his job is easement acquisition. Using his brain, and actually thinking about what his job means to the rights of individuals, is not a part of his job description.

I’ll keep you posted as this saga unfolds. The work is not even scheduled yet, but eventually MSD will be tearing up my back yard to put in a new sewer line, and I have absolutely no say in whether or not it happens. So my question is, why bother calling it an easement? Why pretend that the rights to my property are jointly held? Does that make it easier for the Craig Berry’s of the world to sleep at night? I’d prefer a little honesty. Just call it what it is: seizure of private property without regard to the rights of the property owner. I think that’s called theft.

 Casino Royale

So Daniel Craig’s not as bad as everyone said he was going to be. I’m by no means a fan of the 007 franchise, but I enjoy a good action movie, and this one certainly delivers. I have to wonder how many stuntmen were killed while filming the opening scene. It’s the cusomary chase scene, but this one isn’t in cars or rocket boats, it’s on foot. But don’t think that it is any less suspenseful or spectacular — this one is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Craig does a more than admirable job, and while he may not have the sex appeal of Sean Connery back in the day, he is no less suave than a Pierce Brosnan, or a Timothy Dalton, but somehow more believable in the role. It suits him well. I predict a successful run of sequels for the new Mr. Bond.

 The Undiminished Flame

In answer to the response to my last post, I thought I would elaborate a bit on copyright law.

My first assumption is that justice is served only when the victim of an injury is made whole. That is, the purpose of a justice system is to restore the victim to the point (or as closely as possible) they were at before the injury occurred. Justice is not about punishment or revenge. This is because the victim has a right to compensation, and it is only by exercising this right that justice is legitimately pursued. The victim does not have a right to punish or seek vengeance against their attacker. The only thing they have a right to is that which was taken from them as a result of the injury.

My second assumption is that the so-called “theft” of intellectual property falls into the rather large category of victimless crimes. And if there is no identifiable victim, then no crime has occurred.

So, a victim of embezzlement should have little problem proving that they suffered injury — one day the money was there, the next day it wasn’t. A criminal investigation would hinge entirely on the exercise of this victim’s right to compensation. Search warrants, obtained from a court, based on probable cause, would allow the legitimate suspension of a suspect’s right to privacy. In other words, the victim’s right to compensation trumps the suspect’s right to privacy.

Not so for the author of some intellectual property (especially that which is in some digital format). Theft does not occur when a copy is made because nothing is taken from the author. The argument that potential profits are stolen is also untenable because the author must then prove that the copies that were given away or sold at a lower cost would *still* be sold at the author’s asking price. Since this cannot be proven to any reasonable level of satisfaction, no injury has occurred. If no injury has occurred, there is no victim. If there is no victim to exercise his right to compensation, any suspension of another’s right to privacy in order to investigate the alleged crime cannot be legitimate. Therefore the law is unenforceable, and is no law at all.

Here is a brief excerpt from a letter detailing Thomas Jefferson’s thoughts on this topic:

“He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me … Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody…”

This quote very succinctly sums up the issue for me. Society has attempted in the past to grant this exclusive right, but we have a reached a point where the will and convenience of our society are now in conflict with one another.

“Intellectual property,” as defined by our current laws, is no more property than the flame on top of a candle. Technology used to be such that one could not convey the flame without selling someone the candle. Today, that is no longer the case.

 The Russian Front

In the war over copyright law a new front has opened. After being fired upon by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (and, presumably, the RIAA), the Russian government has agreed to shut down “websites that permit illegal distribution of music and other copyright works.” Russia has agreed to modify its laws by June 1, 2007 to make sites such AllOfMP3.com illegal. I’m surprised that the same government who just dispatched former spy Alexander Litvinenko would be so willing to just roll over. Maybe it’s all a ruse. Maybe when the deadline passes and the US cries foul, they will simply have lunch delivered to RIAA CEO Mitch Bainwol in the form of a polonium sandwich. I wouldn’t mess with the Russian mob, if I were you, Mitch.

It’s sad news though in this terrible War, which, like so many other wars (Poverty, Drugs, Terrorism) is nothing more than a war on the rights of the individual. It was nice to see someone — *anyone* — willing to stand their ground and tell the RIAA to go to hell.

I used to be firmly in the other camp: defend the artists’ rights to profit from their creations, as provided by the Constitution. But then one day I realized that even though I am a potential beneficiary of this manufactured right, I value my natural rights to privacy and to freely contract much more. And since technology has led us all to a point where this pretend right can no longer be enforced without violating real rights, Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 simply becomes null and void. Add it to the list of fundamental flaws in our Constitution.

If it wasn’t such an egregious violation of our rights, I could almost feel sympathy for the recording industry, as it flails about watching its business model evaporate before its very eyes, lashing out against those who would do it harm. Suing grandmothers (both alive and dead) for downloading rap music, while ignoring the sins of its own. Eighty-three year old Gertrude Walton died in December 2004, but that didn’t stop the RIAA from suing her. Meanwhile, in December 2006, the CEO of Warner Music admits that his own children have illegally downloaded music, and yet nothing happens to them.

Why the disparity? Because, you see, it’s all about the money. The RIAA would like to take the moral high ground, and claim they are just defending the rights of their artists, but their actions betray them. All they care about is the money. The law used to be crafted such that they were guaranteed a profit on their product. But technology has rendered copyright law obsolete. Rather than pursuing new revenue streams, they seek to infringe upon the rights of all people — not just Americans anymore — by drafting and pushing through Congress legislation like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA will gut, if it hasn’t already gutted, the notion of “fair use” and puts into place provisions of enforcement that are simply Draconian.

The RIAA (and MPAA) will get their money. Even if they have to sue, slander, and terrorize every person and country on Earth. Watch out comrades!

 Power to the People

If Travis Bradford is right, in the next decade or so we will all be producing our own electricity using solar technology. Back in August, I wrote about how utility monopolies are starting to be challenged in many states, but converting to solar must be an even better solution. Not only does a solar revolution allow us all to thumb our collective noses at government-mandated monopolies, but it represents a much more environmentally friendly alternative.

Decentralization of power is good. Decentralization of clean power is even better.

 Here We Go Again

Earlier this year I wrote about AmerenUE’s pathetic response to a massive power outage in St. Louis that occurred as a direct result of storm damage and Ameren’s lack of proper tree trimming maintenance. It looks as though Ameren is not yet done atoning for those sins.

Today more than 500,000 people in the St. Louis area are once again without power. Thankfully, I am not one of them this time. Although, that is only because we moved out of our old house — which, of course, is once again powerless. The predictions of the local media are even more dour than last time — with early estimates of at least 5 days to restore power.

The last storm in July occurred during the peak of the summer heat, and several area residents died from it because they had no power to run their air conditioning. I fully expect the death toll from this outage to far exceed that, as we are in the grip of the worst snowstorm in years, and temperatures have dipped into the twenties.

The cost of repairs this time will no doubt exceed those of last time as well. Which leads one to wonder, what if Ameren had simply coughed up the few millions it takes to keep the trees trimmed? Would they have saved money in the long run? Would they still need the rate increase they had the audacity to request earlier this year?