Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How To Tick Off a Potential Babysitter

Edit 8/18/12: Oh wow, I'm a bit mortified to ever have written this.  That phase didn't last long at all.  Amazing what a couple years of thought will do to your perspective... I thought about taking it down completely, but I may be more mortified in 20 years!

One of the ideas I had for jobs this summer was, surprisingly enough, babysitting. I'm not sure why, but it's something I've always wanted to try. So I signed up for several sites online that would list jobs parents had posted. Turns out to be a hard market for a male with no experience to get into. I guess that didn't really surprise me, but what did surprise me were how some parents handled their job postings. So here are some of the things that have happened to me, that I hope I will never do once I'm on the parent side someday:

1. Ignore applications. I've been shocked how few parents actually respond. Even a "Sorry, but the position's been filled" would be nice. I know real jobs don't do this, but I had thought that individual people were more polite.
2. Not mention the ages of your kids. Don't you think that's an important detail?
3. Not return direct questions. Like when I ask the ages of your kids, it would be nice if you answered. (See #1 as a crossreference!)
4. Post a job without exhausting other options first. There was one who canceled his posting because a neighborhood girl came through. Another from out of state needed a sitter while they attended an adults-only wedding. I thought I had that one, and then they decided to bring another family member out instead.
5. Pretend to be a job when you're really a sitter. I'm shocked how many postings really turn out to be other sitters with no computer skill at all evidently, who are really advertising themselves in the jobs areas. How do you miss all the clear "how to sign up correctly" pages?
6. Unrealistic expectations. I saw two that had unique language requirements. One wanted the sitter to be able to tutor in Mandarin Chinese. The other required Eritrean. Do you know where Eritrea even is? Me neither. (Well, yes, I do, but I bet I'm within 2% of the nation on that one.) How many Eritrean-speaking babysitters do you think Denver has? Another expected you to be able to get on a military base. Edit: Maybe I had unrealistic expectations too...
7. Not delete the post after it's filled. I'm on four sites. The one has everything reviewed and is mostly OK. Some posts are still there a long time; surely they're filled. Another seems to be totally dead. (I thought about making that another point, but I won't.) Another automatically expires jobs after a month. The fourth doesn't. It is relatively cluttered with jobs that get left around for months. I'm sure they get filled because a lot of people are applying. (The few people I have talked to say they get overwhelmed with the number (35 in one case) of applications they get.) But seriously, when you've filled it, delete it!
8. Flatter your kids. I find it hard to believe that every kid is sweet, yet the parents all claim they are.
9. Try to go outside the site's communication system. There've been a few who've said something like "I didn't want to pay the extra money to be able to be contacted in the site, so email me at ___ or call me at ___". Unfortunately for them, the site automatically removes those and we're out of luck. (Remember that one site that is dead? Just in case anyone were ever to find me, I did put in my email address, but it took a lot of effort to get it into a form people could read and the system didn't automatically block.)
10. Don't get to the very end and change your mind. Three of the sites also have tutoring, elder care, pet care, etc. available, and I applied for a calculus tutor on one. It made it to the point of "Let me know when and where you would like to meet next week" before another person showed up that she liked better. Funny, it had sure sounded like a job offer to me...

Or, just don't have kids. I'll have them for you someday :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why I Will Never Again Use KeyBank

So maybe a month ago now, I got an advertisement from KeyBank in the mail advertising "Get an iPod nano when you sign up for our Key Free Student Checking Package." Hmm...I'd been looking into an 8GB iPod nano anyway, and this was exactly what was being offered in the fine print. The requirements were simple:
1. Open a Free Student Checking Account with Debit Card
2. Apply and [be] approved for a No Annual Fee Student Credit Card with 1% cash back
3. Enroll in Free Online Banking and Online Statements (emphasis in original)

Pretty easy huh? I already have checking and savings accounts with First Bank, but the savings account handled my personal savings and also college savings, including the few scholarships that come directly to us and not the school. (I really like those, because they can stay around in the savings account, earning interest, until I'm ready to use them, and if I have a surplus of scholarships they can be put off for another year. I already have a Junior year stash this way!) Balancing the savings account, with my form of accounting and my mother's different system, with two different funds in it, was really a mess too. So it certainly wouldn't hurt to have a third account to separate these out. A credit card would be nice too; I don't have any credit yet, so a student card would be a great way to start with it. And online banking/statements is no problem; the First Bank accounts are already set up that way and no paper is great for the environment.

So we went in to a nearby KeyBank maybe two weeks ago. I had even read the fine print ahead of time and didn't see anything disturbing. It was kind of odd that they kept mentioning people under eighteen, even though it explicitly stated you had to meet all three requirements and the credit card was only for those over eighteen. I could see that biting some people, but not me as I'm eighteen. So we showed up and set the account up. The lady was very friendly and we left confident that the whole promotion would work out. The checking account was open with the online banking and statements set up. The credit card application was sent and should be done in one day or so, and we tried to put my mom (and her credit) as a cosigner on the card just in case they wouldn't take anyone with no credit, which, really, they should anyway as it was a Student Credit Card.

Fast forward six days to Saturday. Finally, I got a letter in the mail saying the credit card application had been denied. First off, I'm pretty sure it doesn't take the USPS five days to ship a letter all of five miles. I called the branch back and the banker had no idea what went wrong and promised to get to the bottom of it. Because of all the privacy rules these days, she didn't get very far, and I had to call Citibank myself to find out why they didn't approve it. (KeyBank has Citibank do their credit cards.) Turns out that Citibank does a credit check and automatically reject anyone who has no existing credit. The credit check was in the fine print, but we had assumed that they were just looking for bad credit, not no credit. Why else offer a student card if you're not going for the poor students without credit? Kind of a Catch-22 if you ask me (or the banker).

So then she tried calling her manager, marketing, and various other people to find a loophole. There was none. Some idiot in marketing had designed a promotion, aimed at college students, and even acknowledging those under eighteen, that required existing credit! Even though they also used the word "Student" all over the place! What else can a student credit card possibly mean besides "credit card for students without credit"? Seriously now. So I demanded my original deposit back, and it arrived the other day.

Fast forward another few days, and we found out that the promotion has been cancelled. Apparently the bank chain got overwhelmed with too many credit card applications not going through (presumably for the same silly reason as mine) and cancelled the whole promotion. Which is kind of crazy because there was no "Offer subject to change [or cancellation] without notice" in the fine print. They should have just updated it to be more reasonable for their target audience. But whatever. I wouldn't quite call this a scam, but it was arguably false advertising. They've lost my business, and my immediate family's business, for life.

(Oh, and after the fact I just bit the dust and ordered a refurbished orange 8GB iPod Nano directly through Apple, and it comes with a warranty, which may or may not have been the case with this 'promotion'.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Discrimination Against Children

Last Saturday, we were given a gift certificate to eat at the White Fence Farm, an interesting, but pricey in my opinion, restaurant in the Denver area. It was all decorated in the farm style and had a traditional menu. My tastes are still somewhat childish in nature, and almost nothing looked good, so we all went with the basic fried chicken which I can at least tolerate. There were a bunch of sides that only my dad liked, of course, but overall it was OK and we got enough. But it's not a place I'd go on my own, partly because of the price.

But what really bugged me was one particular room, the Fireside Room I believe. There was a sign in front asking for "Adults only please". And, of course, there was almost nobody sitting there. Now I guess it makes sense that some people would like to be in a quiet environment and not have a bunch of sniveling kids running around and screaming their heads off. But to just put a blanket ban on kids? That goes too far in my opinion. Surely no one still thinks that, just because it might make some people uncomfortable, we should have separate sections for non-Caucasians? (For the record, I don't think so either.) What's the difference? We have smoking sections, but I think those are justified not because of people's comfort, but because of the health risks.

If nothing else, I think it could have been worded to request no children. "Child" is a more subjective term; as far as I know there's no legal definition, and maturity level would factor with the actual age in determining the person's status. Even better would be a rule that goes at the heart of the request, for example to keep your volumes low. Surely a quiet fifteen year old "child" would be more welcome than a talkative 19 year old girl, who just happens to be legally an adult?

As you can see, the whole thing kind of bugs me. I understand the idea, really I do, but do discriminate against a class of individuals seems unfair. At least the word "please" was used.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian

So my family went to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian on Sunday, which is made more amazing by the fact that we don't go to many movies these days. Cheaper to rent and/or buy them later on. This one, however, was worth paying more to see in the theater - I enjoyed it a lot! Here's some a more detailed review:

Although I really liked Night at the Museum 2, it had a totally different appeal to me than the first movie did. The first was more or less realistic; if you can get past the premise of the exhibits coming to life at night, it was pretty believable. When the characters made a mess, our hero the night guard was in trouble the next day. This movie, however, completely broke with any sort of logical realism this time around. Here's some examples:
  • The range of the tablet's influence seems to be variable. Presumably, it should affect an area about the size of the museum in New York, or the next door homes would also have things coming to life. But it's range seems to be much greater at the Smithsonian, which the movie points out is multiple separate museums. My sister pointed out that the items "woke up" when the characters entered the building with the tablet, and hadn't beforehand, but there's still a problem: The bad pharaoh stayed alive even when the tablet left the building. Even worse, at the end of the movie it is acting both on the New York museum and the Smithsonian. Something doesn't add up.
  • There was no attempt at damage control. Multiple times significant messes were made and there was no attempt to hide them. It would be kind of obvious the next morning that something big happened if the Smithsonian visitors and staff came to entire windows being broken and substantial numbers of exhibits moved around as the bad guys' loot. Nobody makes any effort to clean up or set things right, which would lead to a major shock the next morning.
  • Speaking of which, where were all the people during the night? The characters were outside a few times and the area was deserted. Is the National Mall really completely deserted in the middle of the night? No cars? Surely there's more than one night guard on duty...Nobody at all?
  • I thought some of the characters were a little "out-of-character" and/or voice. Lincoln sounded nothing like what I would have expected, and he was portrayed to be far stupider than I believe he was as well. Other characters were equally bizarre, and I felt the whole thing was more of a comedy than a remotely-realistic analysis of what would happen if all these characters were together at the same time and place. Would we really be going on and on about Napoleon's height, as humorous as it may be?
  • In general, I just felt the movie was far less realistic than the first. The secret is out, and out in a big way. (And, to avoid a spoiler, this certainly applies to the ending, which was totally unrealistic, but amazing!)
But I did love the movie! I just loved it in a different way. The first one was intriguing; this was entertaining. There were lots of jokes to pick up and so many characters that everyone's bound to find a few they know. A little romance to keep my sister happy. But the realist in me needs to go away to fully appreciate the film for the comedy that it is.

One last complaint: The bobblehead Einsteins really should have made a crack about quantum gravity or string theory ;(

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Should Companies Include DRM in Their Products?

This is the third and final major paper I wrote for my NHV class last semester. It was inspired by the mess I'm having with EA to get Spore to work correctly. I think the root of the problem is that EA, like lots of game manufacturers, is supposedly scared of piracy so they have all these silly things in place to stop it. In the process, I couldn't really buy used and had all kinds of problems. As of today, I think it will work out, but in the mean time the damage was done and I wrote the researched argument on the evils of copy protection - DRM. Remember, all text automatically copyrighted 2009 by Oliver Chase, and will be caught by if anyone tries to plagiarize it.

Should Companies Include DRM in Their Products?

With all new technologies come new advantages and new pitfalls. Electronics has revolutionized modern lifestyles, including spending habits and expectations about goods. Consumers find it easier than ever before to make perfect copies of copyrighted material without paying the artists or producers. Digital technology allows the producers to fight back, however, with various technologies generally referred to as Digital Rights Management, or DRM. DRM enables companies to control who has access to their material and how it is used. On the surface this would seem to be in the best interests of everybody. The honest customer has nothing to fear and the producers still get paid for their work. But is DRM really in the best interests of society? The producers will say that anything that increases profits is a good thing. However, DRM’s adverse effects on fair use, first sale, security, and the future outweigh its benefits and make it wrong to include on media.

For the purposes of this paper, DRM will be defined as any technology ingrained into a digital product that restricts either access to the material or its usage. The terms “art” and “work” are used generally for any form of digital content, from software to ebooks to DVDs. Let’s start off with three examples of DRM that will be referenced throughout the paper. First, Cory Doctorow recalls a parent who buys a DVD for her children, who can’t be trusted with such a delicate item. She connects her DVD player and VCR together in order to record a hardier videotape from the disc. The only problem is that there is a DRM system called Macrovision in VHS tapes that will make the recording unsuccessful (Doctorow). Second, Samuelson and Schultz recall that Sony once manufactured CDs that included DRM when inserted into a computer. The discs installed a “rootkit” in the computer’s registry which was designed to be hard to detect. The system was poorly designed and inadvertently allowed malware to use the same method to hide from antivirus scanners (52). Third, Dan Miller, a university instructor, owns a DVD and feels a portion would be useful for in-class instruction. Although his computer is easily able to show a portion of the film or to split off only the piece he wants, he finds the DRM involved prevents him from copying the useful portion onto another disc (D. Miller). His only legal options are to lose valuable class time fast-forwarding or forego playing the disc entirely.

Pro DRM advocates reason that DRM is necessary to ensure artists are compensated for their works. Sharing copyrighted material over the internet has become a very easy and increasingly common occurrence (Doctorow). Common sense indicates that rampant piracy will cut into author’s profits. Authors feel that DRM helps them get paid, and so it should be included in mainstream products (Gates). In other words, DRM is an important step to ensure that authors’ needs are met so they will continue creating content for society.

Advocates also claim that DRM creates new possible market structures. Grant Gross suggests that consumers may not always need all the usage rights of a given purchase. DRM offers the capability of purchasing only some aspects for a cheaper price than the whole work. This gives copyright holders more control over the use of their content, while also giving customers more options and price control. As Gross says, “instead of paying $30 for a new book, consumers may soon be able to pay $3 for a digital copy that lets them read it once” (Gross).

The consumer point of view is usually against DRM. Cory Doctorow claims that DRM really doesn’t even work against piracy, and therefore shouldn’t be included to get in the way of the honest customer. Those who really want to steal electronically will always figure out how to do so, and it only takes one crack before it spreads across the internet to anyone who wants the free content. On a more technical level, DRM is trying to lock content up in most cases, but not all. If the content could never be accessed, nobody would ever buy the product; they still expect to be able to watch, listen, or otherwise use their purchase. Reasonable DRM is ultimately doomed to fail because it can’t distinguish between unlocking its material for valid reasons versus illegal ones (Doctorow).

An alternative is to make DRM work even better. It can lock content up so tightly that it’s inaccessible in all but the narrowest cases. (Only allow the video to be watched if it’s on our player, with the internet connection disabled, the DVD burner disabled, the license agreement is accepted, etc.) The DRM opposition feels that in so doing the copyright owner is potentially overstepping his bounds in multiple areas. Such tight controls are said to restrict “fair use” (Mitchell 28), expand the copyright holder’s rights beyond their legal scope (Mitchell 38), and otherwise interfere with the customers’ lives (Samuelson and Schultz 42). Especially when taken together, many view this as a good argument against many, if not most, forms of DRM.

Although the publishers’ points are important to consider, the support for DRM breaks down under closer analysis. In fact, it is downright wrong under the concept of utilitarian ethics. Utilitarian ethics basically says that the right action is the one that results in “the greatest good for the greatest number” of people (Edgar 54-57). Murder is clearly wrong as it leads to a very unhappy person (dead) and generally unhappy, scared citizens. The only one who really gains is the vengeful murderer. Additionally, the quality of the happiness matters (Edgar 54-57). It’s far more immoral to keep someone from writing a novel than to interfere with a catnap, because the quality of happiness gained from the writing is far greater than the temporal urge to snooze.

DRM can be similarly evaluated. Does its presence benefit society as a whole? If so, it is right to include in media. If not, as claimed here and in many other documents, then it is wrong and should not be used, or only with careful regulation by the law. Indeed, DRM finds legal shelter within the recent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Mitchell 14-20), but is otherwise on legally shaky ground (Mitchell 8-13). DRM may indeed benefit society by encouraging producers to create new works. In the process, however, it creates far greater problems when restricting the use of purchased material. Therefore DRM should be considered wrong.

To begin analyzing in more depth why DRM is bad for society, it is necessary to begin by understanding copyright. Copyright is by nature a utilitarian concept (Doctorow). There’s arguably nothing inherently “wrong” with arranging bits on a CD in a certain order or printing a certain arrangement of ink. The law makes such actions wrong because total happiness is increased by restricting copies. Without copyright to protect their works, authors are less likely to create (Doctorow), and this is undesirable. It’s better for all of society to lose a little bit of freedom so that the arts will flourish and society will be better off. Copyright is the mechanism in place to achieve this utilitarian goal. It’s also worth noting that the goal is more content, not necessarily wealthier corporations or authors.

With that said, complete and total copyright without exceptions would be a disaster for society. Academic scholarship would be devastated if every quote had to be obtained with permission of the author. All but the most honest authors would refuse to give permission for their works to be used in ways they don’t like but aren’t necessarily wrong, such as a negative review or endorsing the wrong political candidate. Since unrestricted copyright is so bad for society, government has also codified exceptions, the two most notable being fair use and first sale. Fair use allows the public to use portions of a copyrighted work without permission provided it reasonably passes four criteria, as set down in Section 107 of the Copyright Act: “the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; the nature of the copyrighted work; the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” (qtd. in Bonner 10). Under fair use, posting twenty minutes of the climax to a box office hit to YouTube is infringement, but the instructor from above is clearly able to show a short video clip in class. The parent may be copying the entire film for her children, but the purpose is unobjectionable and doesn’t interfere with the market, since you can hardly even buy VHS tapes any more. Whether it is technically infringement or not is probably a matter for the courts to decide.

DRM complicates the whole matter. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), consumers are essentially prohibited from circumventing any DRM included in a copyrighted work, selling circumvention devices, or even telling others how to circumvent DRM (Doctorow). In other words, if a company uses DRM, the customer is stuck with it. Period. The Librarian of Congress is enabled to make specific exemptions for specific groups of people to circumvent DRM (Siy, Rangnath, and McCartney), but this is an inadequate solution to the problem. Without an advance exception, any citizen who finds DRM blocking fair use is made a criminal by circumventing it.

The anti-circumvention detail wouldn’t seem to be important if DRM was consistent with fair use. Here’s the problem: DRM is unable to tell the difference between infringement and fair use (Doctorow). Computers are good at following absolute rules, not determining when they’re OK to break. It’s logically more appealing for a company to simply block any copying than to trust its customers to limit their copying to cases protected by fair use.

Contrary to the claims of the media and popular understanding, copyright does not give the holder the right to control everything about the work (Mitchell 5). It is limited to five rights held explained at Bitlaw: reproduction, creation of derivative works, distribution, public performance, and public display. The “distribution” right doesn’t mean the author can control where his work goes, however. It is subject to the clarification of first sale. First sale essentially means that once a work has been lawfully obtained the copyright holder can no longer control its distribution. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to sell an old video in a yard sale. Some restrictions apply; for example, music CDs can not be rented (“Rights Granted”). The point here is that copyright gives very specific rights to authors. As long as the consumer is not copying, publicly showing, distributing (beyond his legal copy), or creating sequels to a work, there is no copyright infringement.

The biggest problem with much DRM is that it not only restricts access to material but also what is done with it after purchase. In the drive to prevent illegal copying and distribution, DRM frequently claims the right to control much more than the five basic rights. Ernest Miller mentions that a DVD purchased in the US will probably not work on a relative’s player in Europe, because most DVDs are encoded to only function in certain regions of the world. However, there is nothing in US copyright law that gives the owner any right to control where the DVD is going (after he initially sells it) (E. Miller). Companies would much rather be able to sell their content in multiple markets than for it to spread of its own accord, but this is not a right they actually possess.

DRM has other downsides besides disrupting the delicate balance of power between copyright holders and consumers. There’s an added cost in terms of time, labor, and emotions, especially since DRM doesn’t really work on the pirates it’s designed to stop. For example, it took all of fifteen minutes while writing this paper to find links to Monsters vs. Aliens, a film not even out of theaters yet, and Wall-E, either to be watched online or downloaded. This was even with a parental control utility blocking Rapidshare and Megaupload! Other full videos were available on these sites as well. Perhaps if companies weren’t wasting money creating DRM to supposedly fix the problem, more resources could be spent on catching the actual pirates or better yet reducing the price of the goods in the first place. Lower priced games, at least, have been known to make far more money than the originals (Irwin), which is beneficial to all involved.

As previously mentioned, DRM can be excessive in the amount of control it takes. Not only does this potentially restrict fair use, but it can also have dangerous side effects. The second DRM example is a case in point. Users were not adequately warned that Sony’s CDs were tampering with their personalized computer settings, and this lack of awareness caused security vulnerabilities (Samuelson and Schultz 52). If DRM is ever to be considered acceptable, it certainly should not create such side effects, especially if the users aren’t warned about what the DRM is doing. This is certainly not maximizing the good of society.

Consumers also expect their purchased media to work together (Samuelson and Schultz 44-46). If a customer buys a CD from one vendor, he expects it to be able to be transferred to his iPod. DRM gets in the way here too. Vendors are capable of using DRM that is not compatible with other devices, in the process locking the consumer into one company’s device, and Sony actually did this with the ATRAC3 format (Mitchell 49). Although anti-trust laws should theoretically kick in here (Siy, Rangnath, and McCartney), enabling such a ripoff, even in the short term, is not good for consumers or society.

So restricting how a work is used is a bad idea, but what about restricting access to a work? Randy Picker points out that copyright law only deals with the use of a copyrighted work, not access to it. The copyright owner should be able to control access to his work in the same way that you can lock up a physical item. Even if the use is fair, breaking and entering is still illegal. Picker argues that DRM is perfectly acceptable for controlling access to a work (Picker 1-5).

Again, the question is to what extent. Some of the same previous issues still apply. Nobody wants his computer ruined because the DRM is making sure he has access. Even if DRM can be created that is completely unobtrusive and does nothing more than check to make sure the copy is legal before allowing all uses, there are still problems. What if the company goes out of business? This happened when Yahoo Music shut down and customers were stuck with music that could no longer be reactivated upon switching computers (Sandoval “Yahoo Music follows MSN”). Yahoo eventually had to offer refunds or replace the songs without DRM (Sandoval “Yahoo Music to offer refunds”).

Upon further reflection, it seems that access-control DRM also breaks down on the logical level. If a person has obtained the right to free use, it goes without saying that others should be able to see the result. A film clip put into a remix video on YouTube should be viewable by all, even those who do not have access to the full film. In other words, there should be no limits on access to creations of fair use, a ‘fair access’ right of sorts. Access-control DRM should restrict access to infringement, but not to fair uses. Since DRM should not restrict access to fair use, and cannot tell the difference between fair use and infringement, there is no point to access-control DRM in the first place.

The DRM advocates appear to have a valid point that it can be used for new market structures. True, a customer could potentially “buy” a video to watch once and then it will effectively no longer be his. But this is nothing new. A very similar practice already exists; it’s called renting. This argument really seems to be a way for the copyright holders to knock rental organizations out of the way, so that the copyright holder can “sell” (rent) whatever rights it thinks the customer wants itself. Former Disney CEO Michael Eisner actually stated, “The studio would like to offer downloads directly from their own websites” and “It's like a $2.50 video rental but we keep all the money” (qtd. in Mitchell 56). Does society really want new market structures that are actually removing players from the economy in favor of a stronger monopoly? Monopolies tend to cause higher prices, not work for the greater good.

In fact, DRM is actually hindering the creation of new markets. Technology develops from tinkering and new applications of existing inventions. If all the cool digital content is locked so it can’t legally be used, how can innovative new products be designed? For example, there’s a “DVD jukebox” out there that can hold and play multiple DVDs (Doctorow). One can think of multiple applications of such a device – libraries, families with young kids, or just the lazy majority who would prefer to start their DVDs without having to get up and change discs. This new technology was threatened in court because it went around the DRM used on DVDs in order to store the films (Borland). Here DRM has hindered a new market from even being developed.

The last of the many issues considered here is archiving old material. Traditionally collectors and librarians have taken it upon themselves to collect art and save it for the future, and to do this it is sometimes necessary to copy the original (Bricklin). The original copy of the Old Testament is no longer around, although very old scrolls do exist. Instead, it was meticulously copied by the Jews (McDowell 74). Then there’s a long chain of translations, copies, and reformatting to get to the online copies freely available today. If DRM had been entered anywhere along the way, the chain could easily have been broken. The same argument applies to your favorite local artist or author. If you lock up the work, and the author, for whatever reason, isn’t actively maintaining the work and protecting it for the future (for example, upgrading from cassette to CD), the work is essentially lost as it’s illegal to bypass the controls (Bricklin). Regardless of whether there’s some loophole that allows circumvention upon death or being unable to find the author, DRM certainly hinders the important task of archiving information for the future.

To summarize the issues with DRM, technical protection of copyrighted works is not in the public’s best interest largely because it extends the scope of copyright too much. Copyright has been carefully defined and regulated, but the DMCA and DRM modify too much too quickly. Fair use is particularly hurt during the transition since DRM cannot be circumvented legally. Barriers cannot be bypassed even by those who have legal access. Looking back to the initial examples, the honest parent has to circumvent Macrovision for her (probably) fair use to work, even though she should have full access to the product. The owner of a Sony CD with DRM has to remove the DRM installed on his computer to negate the security threat. The instructor has to bypass the DVD DRM in order to burn a copy for fair educational use. DRM is making criminals out of innocent people. Why? So the copyright owners can take more rights than they actually possess, ultimately for more money. DRM poses a serious threat to the balance between the interests of the consumer and the publisher.

So is DRM right or wrong? From the utilitarian standpoint, it’s easy to see that it’s wrong. Assuming the DRM is actually working, the companies are made a little bit better off, and society gets more content in the process. However, DRM is hindering the enjoyment of millions who can’t use their purchased products, and it limits the future from developing as normal. The greater good is not being served by DRM. Companies then have an ethical obligation to stick with copyright and avoid harming society further through DRM.

In closing, it is worth suggesting two possible solutions to the DRM problem. We can, as always, encourage our elected representatives and court system to modify the DMCA to reflect the needs of the consumer. The simpler solution is for customers to simply refuse to buy products with too much DRM. Indeed, increasing numbers of online retailers have bowed to public pressure and started selling music without DRM (Ulanoff). Let’s vote with our dollars to promote DRM-free content in other formats.

Works Cited

Bonner, Kimberly M., ed. The Center for Intellectual Property Handbook. New York: Neal-Schuman, 2006.

Borland, John. "Hollywood allies sue DVD jukebox maker." Cnet News 07 Dec. 2004. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Bricklin, Dan. "Copy Protection Robs The Future." Bricklin. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Doctorow, Cory. "Microsoft Research DRM talk." Redmond, WA. 17 June 2004. Cory Doctorow's 30 Apr. 2009 .

Edgar, Stacey L. Morality and Machines: Perspectives on Computer Ethics. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 1997.

Gates, Bill. "Gates Interview Part Four: Communists and DRM." Interview. Gizmodo. 13 Jan. 2005. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Gross, Grant. "Experts debate: Is DRM good or bad for consumers?" Computerworld 08 Nov. 2006. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Irwin, Mary J. "Valve: Are Games Too Expensive?" Edge 18 Feb. 2009. 30 Apr. 2009 .

McDowell, Josh. The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1999.

Miller, Dan. Personal interview. 22 Apr. 2009.

Miller, Ernest. "Why Use DRM If It Doesn't Work?" Weblog post. Copyfight. 07 Mar. 2004. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Mitchell, John T. "DRM: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Proc. of Center for Intellectual Property in the Digital Environment, University of Maryland University College, Adelphi, MD. 30 Apr. 2009 .

Picker, Randal C. Ts. 392. "Fair Use v. Fair Access." The University of Chicago Law School. Mar. 2008. The University of Chicago Law School. 30 Apr. 2009 .

"Rights Granted Under Copyright Law." BitLaw. 30 Apr. 2009 .

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Protecting the Environment

My second major paper for my Nature and Human Values class last semester. Enjoy.
(Paper automatically copyrighted 2009 by Oliver Chase, and will also be caught by if you try to plagiarize for your paper...)

Why Nature Deserves Ethical Treatment

Aldo Leopold and John R. E. Bliese, respective authors of “The Land Ethic” and “Traditionalist Conservatism and Environmental Ethics,” argue that humans have an obligation to protect planet Earth. In other words, there’s something wrong about injuring the natural world. However, they do not agree exactly how much responsibility we have or why. Leopold argues that treating the land ethically is necessary for the good of the planet. Bliese somewhat agrees, but additionally sees this treatment as a respect for the land God has created.

Although Leopold and Bliese both reach the same conclusion on protecting the environment, Bliese has the stronger argument. Leopold’s reasoning has good points, but it doesn’t really compel the individual person to treat the land better. Without a source for morality, the reader is left wondering why nature should matter to him personally. Bliese has the better argument, as he has found a deeper, more universally appealing, and more personally compelling reason to protect nature, namely a relationship between God and man.

Aldo Leopold’s paper tries to convince the world that we need a “land ethic” (239). He claims that there were many fewer people who received moral treatment hundreds of years ago. Each person looked out mostly for himself and a few other individuals, and his moral duties expanded only gradually. Over time, humans have come to extend moral treatment to the communities they live in and their nations. Along the way, they have elevated women and slaves from pure property to people deserving of moral consideration. Leopold says that it’s time for another extension: to the land itself.

To answer why a land ethic is needed, one must first understand Leopold’s conception of ethics. Leopold views ethics based on community: “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community, but his ethics prompt him also to co-operate” (239). In this light, an action is right when it benefits the community, which indirectly benefits the individual.

It is clear in Leopold’s mind that human society depends on a healthy environment. He explains this in the concept of the biotic pyramid. Simply put, there is a flow of energy from the simplest life to the top of the food chain, humans, that is very complex. Indeed, “the biotic mechanism is so complex that its working may never be fully understood” (Leopold 241). As humans ultimately depend on nature for food and resources, it’s unwise to make changes to these relationships. Breaking or stressing the connections too much could imbalance nature and lead to disaster.

Because of this dependency, it makes sense to Leopold that harming the land is equivalent to harming humans directly. For this reason, Leopold includes the land in the moral community, thus mandating that it receives ethical treatment. The problem is that modern society does a poor job of preserving nature. We can’t get people to take care of the environment by merely educating them; they will act in self-interest regardless of how they are taught. The economy only protects the profitable parts of nature, but does little for those considered worthless. Trees are not planted unless there’s an economic motive; certain ecosystems, like bogs and deserts, are left unmanaged and frequently harmed. Eventually the land will recover, but it may not be as healthy or useful as before. Left solely to individuals’ self-interest, the environment is not adequately protected.

To compensate for this carelessness, Leopold wants humans to consciously think about the impact their actions have on the environment. He says, “Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right, as well as what is economically expedient” (Leopold 262). Perhaps if the fundamental way of thinking about the world is changed, people will better evaluate the environmental costs of their lifestyles. Just as murder harms society, unnecessarily harming nature hurts the biotic community and is wrong. Ultimately Leopold’s argument is holistic (based on the entire earth) or even anthropocentric (based on humans); it is based on the idea that we need a fully healthy environment for the good of society or the larger community of which we’re part.

Contrast Leopold’s basis for the ethical requirement to conserve nature to that of John R. E. Bliese. While Leopold makes his claim from the concept of a biotic community, Bliese sees preservation as a result of nature’s divine creation. Bliese explains that conservatives are friends of the environment by going through several key conservative principles. Three in particular stand out as to why conservation is wise: piety toward nature, social contract across generations, and prudence.

Bliese’s main point deals with piety toward nature. For Bliese, conservatives see the world as the creation of a supernatural being, which he leaves unnamed, but hints to be the Christian God. The realization that the world is a gift from this creator then calls humanity to act piously, with “a sense of restraint into [our] behavior … toward nature” (Bliese 144). This knowledge should limit what man does to nature. It’s not something to just trample or conquer for selfish purposes. Instead, it is to be treated with care and respect, as a divine creation should be treated.

Bliese also believes that conservatives have an obligation to future generations and that this view in turn spills over into environmental considerations. His moral sphere, if you will, is expanded to include the interests of people still to come. As this increase in moral duty is quite general, it can be applied in many areas. The implication for nature is that it is to be preserved for the enjoyment and/or use of future generations. Ruining it now would be doing our children and grandchildren an injustice and should therefore be avoided.

Finally Bliese deals with the virtue of prudence. In this case, prudence boils down to being cautious with complex things. Because the environment is so complex and interconnected, it is unwise to go tampering with it. The effects are unknown, and we have obligations to our offspring. Instead of making hasty changes, society must carefully analyze its decisions to avoid ruining the environment. Leopold implied this as well, as Bliese’s description of prudence is very similar to the concept of destabilizing the environment and harming the community.

Leopold and Bliese come to similar conclusions. There is something wrong about making choices without thinking about the impact on the environment. Bliese has better support for this conclusion on a number of levels, however. The first issue of contention is on the value of an individual object, be it animal, plant, human, or nonliving. In building his whole definition of ethics upon the idea of community, Leopold deprives individuals of intrinsic value in isolation. Without an interdependence with the rest of a system (for example, if life were found on a comet), an individual is nothing. It derives a value from its role in stabilizing the whole of nature but nothing from its mere existence.

Many modern Americans would object to this devaluation of individuals, but the problem goes away entirely when a creator is presupposed. As His masterpiece, every single bit of creation would have a value of its own, derived from God Himself. Bliese correctly recognizes this fact in quoting Richard Weaver, who states, “The creation of a benevolent creator is something good” (145). The collective planet has a worth of its own, to be sure, but the last plant on earth would still deserve to live as long as it could on sunlight alone. Each individual requires ethical consideration.

One could easily object to Bliese that if all of nature is special, how are we permitted to use any of it at all? Though Bliese doesn’t explicitly address this issue in his paper, he does hint that some uses are better than others. For example, he has a major problem with materialism, collecting stuff that we don’t really need. Wise use of environmental resources, without real impact on future generations or ecosystem stability, is probably more acceptable if done out of necessity (building a house) rather than selfishness (building a mansion). Another distinction that others have used is in the types of resources. Animals may be considered more ethically important than plants for instance. Plants were originally given to man for food (The Holy Bible: New International Version, Gen. 1:29), and possess a different type of soul than animals (Todhunter). Nonliving matter has even less spiritual significance. So it’s not that we can’t use any resources, but we should use the less valuable ones whenever possible: those that are renewable, derived from plants, or completely lifeless.

What is the worth of humans? Leopold sees humans as just another piece of the natural system, an animal, while Bliese sees us as God’s greatest creation, and with that comes a duty to the rest of the world. God placed us here to rule and “work [the earth] and take care of it” (The Holy Bible: New International Version, Gen. 2:15). Even non-Christians typically like to think of humans as having something special differentiating us from the rest of the animal kingdom. To reduce us to animal status actually reduces our ethical obligation. If man is completely natural, his actions should be natural as well, no more ethical or unethical than those of the next creature. To what degree are our actions calculated to cause harm to the community, and to what degree are they simply a natural part of life? Man cannot be both inside the community and special at the same time. The problem can be avoided by recognizing, like Bliese, that man has a special place in the world. If we are here to protect and take care of the planet, then an action would be wrong when it causes the planet harm. Man’s actions are then no longer purely natural, and can be evaluated ethically.

Leopold’s argument either distorts or entirely ignores Christianity. Twice he refers to the Decalogue as being a human-inspired set of rules for improving individual relationships. The Golden Rule does nothing more than extend these rules to all of society. There’s no real weight behind them for someone who doesn’t care about the “community” from the start. Those who see the Bible as the literal, inspired Word of God are more attracted to Bliese, who sees a parallel between a right relationship with nature and a right relationship with God. In a nation that still pays at least lip service to God, basing an ethical responsibility on Him is stronger than on some abstract community concept.

Perhaps an example can demonstrate how Bliese’s argument is more powerful. The question at hand is whether a person is doing anything ethically wrong in purchasing a fur coat, of, say, a rare Siberian tiger. Most would agree that there’s something immoral here. But why? As Leopold would say, one reason is that if too many tigers are killed, the balance of nature will be upset. Since we all rely on this balance, mass poaching ultimately hurts society and is wrong. This does nothing to prevent breeding tigers for their coats, however, provided that it’s done in enough isolation to prevent harming the rest of the biotic community.

By giving the individual tiger a value, however, buying the coat can become even more wrong. Bliese’s plea for prudence agrees that it’s unethical to tamper with ecosystems we don’t fully understand, especially as it may harm future generations. Even more fundamentally, however, that tiger was a unique creation with a value all by itself. Humans are supposed to be taking care of the planet, not needlessly conquering it. To kill the tiger just for vain, materialistic purposes is an impious, even sinful, act indeed.

From one angle or another, it is clear that humans should evaluate their actions based on the impact those actions will have on the environment. It’s simply the right thing to do. For those people that don’t yet think this way, however, the reasoning behind this conclusion is very important. Bliese’s argument revolves around an existing relationship between a creator God and mankind, present and future. Leopold’s argument revolves around a new relationship between man and nature, dropping man’s status in the process. This new relationship has no precedent and is harder to swallow. At least in this nation, with a Christian heritage and an overwhelming belief in some god or another, a new land ethic needs to pass through the filter of religion before society will change its ways.

Works Cited

Bliese, John R. E. "Traditionalist Conservatism and Environmental Ethics." Environmental Ethics 19.2 (1997): 139-41.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan House, 1984.

Leopold, Aldo. "The Land Ethic." A Sand County Almanac. New York: Ballantine Books, 1966.

Todhunter, Michael. "Do Leaves Die?" Answers in Genesis. 06 Sept. 2006. 26 Mar. 2009 .

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Free Market Environmentalism

Unfortunately, I don't get think about this blog all that often, and when I do I don't have anything worth sharing. But I do have two essays I wrote for my ethics/writing NHV class that I think are relatively good, so I'll go ahead and share those. We discussed various articles and issues in class and this first paper was to take one of the essays, summarize it, and agree or disagree. I don't think I had every been exposed to libertarianism before (although it was hinted at in economics last semester), so I was intrigued by the idea and went with the essay by Anderson and Leal, as described below. (We weren't expected to do full citations, so the page numbers are just the page in the main article by Anderson and Leal.)

Can the Free Market Save the Environment?

In “Free Market Versus Political Environmentalism,” Terry L. Anderson and Donald R. Leal argue that the solution to environmental issues is free market environmentalism. This view essentially claims that the government does a poor job of managing natural resources and that private ownership is more effective. Privatization of nature would be in the best interests of everyone – the environment, the government, and new land owners. I agree with Anderson and Leal that unregulated and private ownership of the land is the best structure for its preservation. However, I think it’s important to clarify that this plan is not the answer to all our problems. There are simply some situations in which privatizing is impractical or not immediately beneficial.

Anderson and Leal outline how inefficient the government is at managing public resources. They point out that government bureaucracy is slow to react to environmental problems and wastes a lot of tax money in the process. The government also lacks enough information about public lands to make good judgments about their use. Anderson and Leal observe that individual officials are not held accountable for their decisions about land use: “Because politicians and bureaucrats are rewarded for responding to political pressure groups, there is no guarantee that the values of unorganized interests will be taken into account” (411). Corporations and other large organizations are much better at pressuring officials than individual citizens are. In short, Anderson and Leal feel that leaving nature for government regulation is an expensive and ultimately inadequate proposition.

Anderson and Leal’s alternative to big government is to use the free market to buy and sell property rights to nature. They reason that a person or group with a stake in the health of the land, or even an individual species, will do a better job at ensuring its survival than the government will. Damaged land isn’t as profitable as healthy land, so a business will try to protect it from harm. Anderson and Leal also observe that a private business won’t struggle with choosing the best value for the land: “With markets for commodities and amenities, prices provide the necessary information for making tradeoffs” (413). This means that instead of guessing whether a piece of forest would be better for logging or recreation, an easy decision can be made based on current market prices.

For those items that can’t really be protected by ownership, like the atmosphere, Anderson and Leal propose a different type of market structure: individual transferrable quotas. These would restrict a given activity, such as fishing or emitting pollution, to a certain amount per person or group. A really good fisherman may prefer to buy “fish quotas” from a less efficient fisherman than to go completely without the profit from those fish. Quotas also make the fisherman avoid overfishing. Besides the fact that it would be illegal, running out of fish today would put a dent in profits tomorrow, so the fisherman will make sure there’s enough reproduction for the future. The same general concepts could apply to other issues such as pollution, which will be covered later.

Overall, I feel that Anderson and Leal have come up with a good plan for taking care of the environment. Conceptually, it sounds like a nearly flawless plan that would benefit some groups while improving the quality of the planet. However, that is not to say it’s a perfect idea. This libertarian approach could indeed be used in many situations, but it fails in important ways. It would be a nightmare to implement on a large scale, would lead to economic difficulties in the short term, and certain parts of the natural world are simply not conducive to ownership.

Some ideas can sound really good on paper but not work well in the real world. For example, to some people at least, communism is a very appealing ideology; the only problem is that it didn’t actually work in a nation as large as the USSR. I suspect that this approach to the environment is similar. In practice, the wealthy will have more money for buying and selling land or quotas. In some locations, the resources of major logging companies are surely greater than a wildlife conservancy. Polar bear or spotted owl habitat might be saved, but, as was mentioned in class, some species wouldn’t be so fortunate. For example, Preble’s mouse is officially endangered, but there’s some debate on whether it’s really a unique species (“PREBLE'S MEADOW JUMPING MOUSE”). It’s unlikely that many people would be financially motivated to protect it. Although some species would see vast improvements, others may wind up in worse shape than under the current protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Additionally, if industry completely followed Anderson and Leal’s approach, the result would be disastrous. Their proposed solution to pollution is to use ITQs. A dirty, coal-burning plant would have to buy the right to pollute off of cleaner plants. This would motivate industry to pollute less, while also subsidizing green technologies. It seems clear that in the long run this would push industry to be more careful with the environment, as over-pollution would be too expensive. In the short term, however, nothing would change, except for an unpopular shift in the balance of wealth. A dirty factory can’t change its ways overnight, and adding trackers to identify the sources of pollution, as Anderson and Leal also propose, would be very expensive and time consuming, doing little for immediate problems. Eventually this would be a good way to reduce pollution, rewarding the environmentally-conscious and discouraging waste, but the costs may be too great at present.

In these rough economic times, privatization and ITQs in particular could also push companies that are already struggling to make ends meet even further towards bankruptcy. In the long run, it would probably all balance out. If a major car producer went out of business, another would likely be hiring with all its newfound ITQ money. The government would be hiring as well; a whole new division would be needed to ensure compliance with new laws. In the more immediate future, however, struggling companies would have to let go of more employees, which is not a future the public will like.

Some parts of nature are ill-suited to privatization and quotas. Anderson and Leal try to downplay this detail by merely suggesting creative solutions. Even then, however, it seems that some hidden costs and benefits can’t be dealt with, or internalized, by individual groups, at least not easily with today’s technology. For example, over the years it would take to stabilize and reduce carbon levels in the atmosphere, it’s reasonable to predict rising sea levels could flood some property. The question then becomes: Whose fault is the property damage? In other words, who pays the fine? There’s no simple answer to that question as all of society is to blame. To accurately determine who pays how many fractions of a cent would require tracking emissions from all automobiles, flights, factories, power plants, and more (past and present!), and then a system of dividing those costs out to the individuals responsible. Though this could theoretically be done, we just don’t have the technological infrastructure yet, nor is it a reasonably priced alternative to government regulation. Granted, this example may be a bit extreme, but there will be complications in a legal system that’s already too complex.

With that said, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak. In the long-run, privatization is theorized to lead to more efficient management over the environment, while creating profits for private companies and maybe even jobs. It’s just not a smart idea to rapidly switch the entire nation to a new system and then expect staggering results. Anderson and Leal don’t propose this, but it’s not much of a stretch to anticipate if their idea is accepted fully. The problems should work themselves out over time, by means of the invisible hand of the free market, so we should minimize the chaos and prolong the transition time as much as possible. Gradually implementing Anderson and Leal’s ideas in selected regions or for certain resources would allow preparation by the interested parties and allow unexpected issues to be solved without mass chaos. In small enough areas, the transition could be smooth and effective.

The other part of a gradual transition involves phasing out the laws currently in place. Since some parts of the environment can’t easily be sold, it would be wise to keep some laws in place. Public lands could be auctioned off to the highest bidder but still require protecting their endangered species. New owners should be responsible to meet existing regulations. This may seem to defeat the purpose of selling it, but if the National Audubon Society can protect birds on its land even with oil development taking place, as Anderson and Leal observe, it should be possible in many cases to develop the land without harming it. Keeping existing laws in place while allowing new owners to make money off the land could benefit everyone involved. Over time, as the free market meets the needs of the environment without intervention, statutes could be repealed even more.

Privatization of the environment is only one of many possible routes to its preservation. The free market’s ability to motivate individuals to actually care about their impact on nature makes it stand out. Although privatization won’t work in every scenario, it is a viable option in many cases. In others, use of individual transferrable quotas and existing regulations can ensure the environment’s sustainability and eventual recovery. If done at a measured and thoughtful pace, I believe that this libertarian approach should be actively pursued.

Works Cited

Anderson, Terry L., and Donald R. Leal. "FREE MARKET VERSUS POLITICAL ENVIRONMENTALISM." From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. Ed. Michael E. Zimmerman et al. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2005.

“PREBLE'S MEADOW JUMPING MOUSE.” U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 15 Feb. 2009 .