Tuesday, March 29, 2005

more p2p legal woes

Not easily deterred, the entertainment industry is trying to take down Grokster and friends. But they're fresh off a loss at the highest level to Sony which basically said P2P is cool as long as it actually has legitimate uses, as noted here. From what I can gather (from reading this and some of this, among other things) the difference here is that MGM is making the case that Grokster and Co. are knowingly promoting and profiting from illegal file-sharing.

As convenient as P2P programs are, I can't see how anyone can defend the rampant theft of intellectual property that they allow. I'm not saying the programs should be held responsible, but every now and then I hear someone talk about how there's supposedly nothing wrong with such file-sharing. Whatever...get a brain, folks. Taking movies, music, etc. without paying for it is theft. Is that so hard to grasp? Another thing that gets to me is that the each side's favorite argument sucks. The entertainment guys claim that the sheer volume of piracy warrants shutting down such programs and the software guys say they should not have to care about any illegal activity their stuff can be used for. The answer is somewhere in the middle. We can't hold programmers responsible for everything their programs can be used for, just like we can't hold gun manufacturers responsible for all shooting deaths or blame cigarette manufacturers for all cases of lung cancer. But we can expect said programmers to make reasonable efforts to prevent illegal use of their software (like oh, say, not promoting piracy for profit), especially when they are well aware of the problem already.

If it turns out that the evidence shows that the companies producing and marketing such software have their hands in the cookie jar on purpose, I hope they get punished hard for it and future programs will be expected to have some level of control measures. They'd already be responsible for more crimes than anyone can count. But, that being said, I think the government would be in over its head if it tried to do much of anything about the situation. Whatever the intentions, file-swapping will continue, probably unabated, regardless of whatever regulations are put in place. For one, geeks have consistently shown that they can stay ahead of attempts to slow down the practice. Just witness by the multitude of P2P programs at keep springing up whenver one gets shut down. And said geeks have shown no regard for the law anyway, so extra regulations on the books without teeth are unlikely to have any effect. And giving them teeth would likely get us into risky territory with the Constitution. (Oh, wait, nobody pays attention to our founding framework anymore.) In short, I can't see any way the authorities can ultimately come out ahead on this one. At least not this side of communism.

If the entertainment industry wants to put a stop to it they're going to have to enter the tech war and play by tech rules, not rely on the government or anyone else to come to their rescue. They need to shift their focus from punishing those caught in the act to preventing the piracy in the first place. Again, I'm not saying some common-sense requirements and controls aren't called for here. But file-sharing is like tax evasion or speeding--no matter how many people get in trouble, it will always be a rampant problem simply because so many people are doing it that most don't have to face the law.* There's too much software piracy going on to prevent by punishment, and focusing on the technology end would make solving the problem much easier and faster. Assuming it's possible, that is.

*One can legitimately question whether tax evasion and speeding are actually problems, but they're the first things that came to mind and they work to prove the point.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

schiavo case: some thoughts

All is well in the world for now, as I have found CSPAN in my new cable channels. I had thought it wasn't in the free package I'm taking advantage of but I can now watch endless hours of edge-of-your-seat thrilling political debate. (As evidence of how much of a loser I am, consider that I watched the 11 hour, 15 minute steroids in baseball debate almost straight through, breaking every now and then only to check the tourney games or get more food. And I actually found it very interesting--should have live-blogged it.)

Right now CSPAN is showing U.S. House debate on some bill to allow federal courts to decide Terri's fate. I don't know the details because I haven't kept up with the case closely this past week. But I don't like the sound of it. Is more court intervention really what we want? Sure, it might work well in this particular case, but us right-wingers must remember that any law that can be used in our favor can probably be used against us just as easily. And given liberals' blatant disregard for such archaic concepts as the Constitution and legislative intent, they wouldn't think twice about twisting something however many ways necessary to push through their agenda.

Don't get me wrong, I support Terri and I think she ought to be kept alive. But I disagree with some ways that goal is being pursued. I would even say the libs could have a leg up on this issue. As much as we might not want it to be the case, the truth is that Michael Schiavo has the legal right to decide his wife's fate if she cannot make that decision for herself. Granted his story is more than a bit shady, but numerous courts have reviewed the case and basically decided in his favor. If we're going to talk about respect for the law and due process then we have no choice to accept this and let Michael make the decision he is legally entitled to make. "We don't like it" is never a good enough reason to change any laws. Emotions and law never go together and that includes this case. Now if Terri has been denied due process, or laws have been circumvented (such as ordered treatment being denied or earmarked money being taken away and used for other things, to name a couple examples), that's a different story. I'm not familiar enough with the details to know to what extent that's happened and what the legal process would be to counter it. And I'm not against Jeb Bush making a one-time decision (i.e., no legal precedent) to keep her alive. But creating or changing laws so one situation is easier to live with is a bad idea.

I read some time back (I think Wendy McElroy wrote it but I can't remember) an excellent article about the ramifications of changing laws to accommodate this case. For example, if conservatives are so in favor of the sanctity and power of marriage, why would we want responsibility for Terri to be taken from her spouse and given to her parents? When she married, her primary caregiver in times of sickness and health became her husband. That doesn't change if the husband unexpectedly morphs into some kind of monster. Life sure would be great if there were an easy "back door" out of such predicaments, but guess what, there's not. The lesson I'm drawing here is to be very careful in choosing someone to spend your life with because they might just be making your most important decisions for you someday. Another issue is that laws being enacted to deal with this specific case may end up taking power away from individuals in the long run. (Okay, everything government does is for that aim so that's not such a grand statement, but stay with me.) Allowing for more extensive government/court review of such right-to-die cases could pose major complications down the road. As someone recently put it, the more narrowly defined a law is the better--no reason to open the door to excessive abuses of government power.

Even now I'm listening to a representative (not watching so I don't know who it is) quoting the emotional appeals of her father--"I gave her hand in marriage," "I watched her grow," etc.--and asking the Speaker to "please give this woman food and water." In my humble opinion such emotional arguments have no place in the House chambers regardless of the issue at hand. It's simply a bad foundation for laws, period. And it's being made on both sides, too, with opponents talking about how Terri's life is so bad and worthless because she can't do things most of us are accustomed to. Both sides need to drop it and talk facts and logic.

Bottom line: No amount of laws or government tapdancing will solve all problems, so we must accept that sometimes we won't like the results. There are right ways and wrong ways of getting to an end--choose wrong and reap the consequences later.

Update: It seems the federal bill in question is narrowly defined enough to only apply to this case, and that some House leaders (read: conservatives) wanted it to be broader but Dems stonewalled and fought for a compromise. This will likely be the first and last time you ever read this on my blog, but...good for the Dems.

Saturday, March 19, 2005


A quick quote from this ESPN.com article about Vermont's win over the 'Cuse:
Hakim Warrick ended the final game of his impressive career with 21 points and 12 rebounds, his 16th double-double of the season, but he had 10 turnovers.

Yeah, that's TEN turnovers. In a college game. I hate to pick on the guy, especially since he's so good, but how does he do it? In an NCAA Tournament game, no less? Probably not the kind of triple-double he was hoping for. Amazing.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

march madness

Yup, it's that time of year again. The best three weeks in sports is finally upon us. And, being the great college basketball mind that I am, I would like to enlighten the masses (anyone?) on some details of the tourney.

2005 National Champion: Illinois
Next...not quite as obvious as UConn last year (yes, I picked them--no 20/20 hindsight BS here) but pretty close.

Overseeded: UConn, Washington
So let's get this straight. A team goes into the Big East tourney ranked #14 nationally (that's in the 4-seed range for those of you who are bad at math), with no significant injuries or suspensions a la UNC and Wake, gets upset in their only challenging matchup of the tournament and is even dominated by a smaller team in what is supposed to be their forte (boards), and when the dust clears they're a TWO?? WTF!?!? Are you kidding me?? This is seriously the worst overseeding I can remember and I've been paying close attention to the tourney for well over a decade. Even Washington, who closed the regular season at #13 but beat #8 'Zona (for the third time this year--no small feat) to win their conference tournament, didn't get this much help from the committee. I'm not aware of any rule that says the defending national champ must get a huge break in seeding but there must be one. Hmpf, you learn something new every day. Here's the clincher: the Huskies are so overseeded that I am left with no choice but to pick those perrennial chokers from Kansas to go to the Elite Eight. Ouch.

Any other year this gross hand-out of a 1 would top the list. But it's clear to me the committee was looking to fend off accusations of conference or east coast bias by not adding another atlantic-state team to the top tier. And Washington is actually quite respectable I think--not 1-seed respectable but certainly better than their ranking shows, with their dominance in the Pac-10 and a decent non-conference schedule. But UW and Wake should swap seeds and perhaps the committee put those two together to accomplish that.

Honorable Mention: Gonzaga, Oklahoma
Dunno why, I just don't have a lot of confidence in the Zags. Yeah, they've done well in the tourneys of yesteryear, but now they're just an overhyped mid-major that will have lots of trouble playing up to expectations. They played some good teams outside the WCC, but if a tough schedule prepares a team for postseason success the Zags are toast. And the Sooners don't seem to me to be in the upper echelon of tourney teams (read: seeds 1-4) but they did close the regular season strong so maybe they deserve their props.

Underseeded: GA Tech, Syracuse
Some of you may recall that GA Tech was a top five team at the beginning of the season. They've since dealt with injuries and just haven't played up to their potential, but the point is that there is a LOT of talent on that team. I mean, a backcourt of Bynum, Jack, and Elder, with Schenscher inside. Even if Schenscher is white, that's one of the best lineups in basketball. And they showed it in the ACC tourney with their win over UNC and a good game against Duke. As I see it, the only team on their level between them and St. Louis is Wake and they'll beat the Deacons to get there.

Syracuse got shafted. If UConn is supposedly so good, and Syracuse spanked them badly in the Big East semi's--forget the score, that game was a rout for almost the entire second half--en route to a conference championship, then shouldn't the Orangemen also be seeded high? Oh well, I guess there wasn't much reason and logical thinking going on in the war room Sunday afternoon. Warrick showed why he is one of the best players in the country, especially in showing up a bigger UConn team on the boards, and the last time that team had McNamara supporting one of the best players in the land they won it all. Don't expect a repeat but that matchup with Duke in the Sweet 16 should be awesome. And it sucks for Vermont to be so good for a small school and then hit a brick wall like the 'Cuse in the first round.

Honorable Mention: Boston College, NC State
Man, BC sure got picked on for their early exit from the Big East tourney. Supposedly the committee never tries to let postseason success or failure cloud their vision, but throw that out the window here. No way BC should be lower than a 3. They and UConn need to swap--obviously there was a simple clerical error in the war room at some point and they were accidentally assigned each other's seeds.

Of all the players I've seen this season, Julius Hodge is perhaps the most impressive. He singlehandedly sent Wake (admittedly missing Chris Paul) packing in the ACC quarters. I didn't see the Duke game so I can't comment on his performance there, but I hear it wasn't that great and so his Wolfpack only gets the honorable mention. But if Hodge is playing at game-dominating level this team could turn some heads. I expect them to lose to the Jayhawks in the Sweet 16.

Some would put Louisville here, but I don't think they're that impressive. They played in a weak conference and should have lost to a much worse Memphis team that didn't even make the tourney despite getting to the C-USA finals (that's an atrocity, by the way). So I see the Cardinals being in the 3 or 4 range, despite having Pitino during tourney time which should be a big plus. And speaking of, that UL-Memphis finish has to be the most gut-wrenching in basketball history. It's been a long time since I was that anxious at the end of a game. As deep as my hatred of Calipari runs, and as much as I would have wished ill will upon his team, I hate to see anyone lose like that. Unfortunately Darius Washington Jr. will now and forever be on the Chris Webber list of superstars who carried their team on their back only to ultimately lose the game in dramatic fashion in the end.

Upset Special: UAB, ODU, NC State
That UAB-LSU matchup just jumps out of the bracket as the obvious opening-round upset. Mike Anderson knows the SEC well from his days at Arkansas, so he'll know how to handle LSU. Combine that with the fact that the Blazers will be playing with a chip on their shoulder to silence the "they shouldn't be there" crowd, and we have an upset on our hands. This one is easy to call. Same for Old Dominion, as they've been impressive all season and they caught a huge break in drawing the Spartans. I think MSU has been overrated all season and I probably would have picked them to lose to whoever they were paired with, but seeing ODU there makes it that much easier. As for NC State, see above...Charlotte doesn't have a chance.

Honorable Mention: St. Mary's, George Washington
Southern Illinois hasn't been too impressive lately, especially in losing to SMS in the MVC tourney, and St. Mary's has been on the radar screen all season. Expect St. Mary's to be out to make a statement since they've been in Gonzaga's shadow all season. I suppose beating a down MVC opponent isn't much of a statement but it will have to work because they sure aren't getting past the Cowpokes. George Washington is perhaps the most impressive of the lower seeds, but they really got jacked in drawing the most underseeded team in the tourney. They could actually make that an interesting game, but I can't see any way they'll beat GA Tech.

Teams to Watch: GA Tech, Texas Tech, Syracuse
Obviously I expect GA Tech to make some waves and even play in April, but Texas Tech and Syracuse are two more teams that are hot. The Red Raiders quietly did well in the powerful Big 12 (or Big XII, whatever--that conference name sucks) and Bob Knight is a nice guy to have on the bench come tourney time. Syracuse has Warrick and that could take them far if he can get just a little bit of support.

Final Four: Illinois, UNC, Duke, GA Tech
Duh for Illinois, but could there be three teams from one conference joining the Illini? I don't know if that's ever happened before. I think it has, in the early 80's with the Big East or maybe A-10, but I can't remember. Either way, this would be the first year in a long time. But these teams are plenty good enough, and were Wake in the Midwest (sorry, Chicago--such BS) we'd have a comparatively strong possibility of an ACC conference tournament to decide the championship. I see Syracuse and maybe Kansas (yeah, Kansas) standing in the way, but those two should be handled without too much trouble by Duke and UNC respectively.

And there you have it, folks. Armed with that knowledge you can now revise your brackets before the tourney kicks off. Or not. I'm stepping out there a bit and perhaps setting myself up to eat a few crow dinners, but I hate it when those so-called "experts" just parrot the same made-for-TV BS analysis without actually saying anything or taking a strong position. So I'll at least put my predictions and reasoning out there for all to see, and we'll just see how they play out. If you won't do the same then you can't laugh if/when my bracket deflates in the coming weeks.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

transportation pork

I guess one of the perks of living in an area represented by a congressman who's been in Washington for ages is a bigger slice of the federal pork. This article outlines four highway projects that "were funded at the request of Congressman Hoyer that will benefit Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s Counties." All sound like good investments, but are they the best thing federal money could be spent on? Especially given the current budget flap? I'm not convinced. But hey, I guess the American way is to take whatever taxpayer money you can get and not ask the hard questions.

One downside: as if real estate wasn't so inflated down here already, this will allow the Washingtonians to continue to make life hard for us by encroaching even further into the area and thus driving up property values. Better hurry up and buy in I guess.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

weird spacing in posts

For whatever reason Blogspot wants to make the spacing suck in the entire post whenever I include a quote. What's up with that? Any ideas on how to fix it?

government (over)involvement in baseball

Finally back in service with a new computer and even cable internet, although my current work schedule doesn't allow for much bloggin'. But I was able to read this ESPN.com article. It seems that the House Government Reform Committee thinks one of its duties is to get to the bottom of baseball's steriods scandal. Sure looks like (another) gross assumption of power that the government obviously shouldn't have, but definitely not surprising in the least. Several things jump out of that article as being absurd in one or more ways, and this quote from Reps. Davis and Waxman is one of them:

The committee will conduct a thorough, fair, and responsible investigation. It is important the American people know the facts on baseball's steroid scandal. And it is important that all Americans, especially children, know about the dangers of drug use. Consistent with our committee's jurisdiction over the nation's drug policy, we need to better understand the steps MLB is taking to get a handle on the steroid issue, and whether news of those steps -- and the public health danger posed by steroid use -- is reaching America's youth.

So is the Government Reform Committee really responsible for policing drug control policies of private organizations? According to the committee's own website, the closest such power is the "authorizing legislation for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and its programs as well as general oversight for all U.S. government drug control efforts" under the Subcommittee of Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources. So the reps are getting sloppy with the language; it's government drug policy, not national drug policy. Big difference. I don't think the latter could even be construed to include MLB's efforts but certainly the former couldn't. And it seems that the Office of National Drug Control Policy gets its authority from the committee in the first place so it shouldn't be a player either. Not to mention the constitutional angle that could be taken here. The bottom line is that the government shouldn't be involved in any way whatsoever.* As if that's ever stopped them before.

Worse yet, it seems that the committee is not taking action to actually control the problem, but to ensure that us average Americans know how dangerous drugs are and what steps baseball is taking to stop drug abuse among its players.** Sorry, but we don't need the government--federal or otherwise--using our money to tell us drugs are bad. We can figure that out for ourselves one way or another. And we, not our government, are accountable for our own actions. As far as knowing what MLB is doing, that's no business of mine. They aren't required to disclose any such information to me or anyone else outside of their organization, and if I don't like it I can refuse to buy their tickets and merchandise. It's in MLB's best interest to keep us fans informed but not required by any stretch of the law.

Toss this one on the "more government BS" heap...

*I suppose one could make the far-fetched argument that since cities are subsidizing stadiums these days they have a voice in how the game is regulated. But (1) the city would then have some authority over the venue in which the game is played, not teams or players, and (2) it would be city governments, not the federal government, with said authority. And since when should cities be propping up building projects that apparently couldn't succeed on their own (judging from the belly-aching from owners)? The whole argument is bunk and at best is simply another reason cities shouldn't fund stadiums.

**I don't know how many, if any, of the "drugs" being used are actually illegal, but I'm sure not all of them are. I can go to the local GNC or even a supermarket and choose from rows and rows of supplements. There isn't some kind of far-reaching drug conspiracy taking place here, with all the murders and sob stories and such. These are guys cheating to get an unfair advantage in a game. But illegal? Is Congress trying to regulate fairness in baseball? If so then perhaps they should investigate every blown call or every team's schedule. I mean, why only worry about one part of the problem?