Intellectual Property and "Free" Trade

Russia has been in talks with other world leaders for some time now as to its desire to join the World Trade Organization. The deal is close to being signed, and this week it was announced that Russia would have to meet a number of imposed conditions before being allowed to join. Specifically, these have to deal with intellectual property rights. In the two-page document, popular music website allofmp3.com was specifically named as a site that would have to be shut down.

In case you're not familiar with allofmp3 (where I buy all my music), let me bring you up to speed. This site has been operating for a few years now, on quasi-legal grounds (though they are apparently in compliance with Russian laws). They offer music sales of individual songs or albums, using the encoder settings of your choice, without any DRM-type protection like the Apple Music Store, and at much lower prices. Instead of paying a flat fee per song or album, you pay based on filesize. Therefore, music encoded at higher quality will cost more, since the rate is $0.02 US per megabyte. This typically translates into songs which you can buy in better quality encoding than iTunes at less than 10 cents a song.

I've argued from the beginning that the DRM-protected $1 songs, or $10 albums from iTunes are not reasonably priced, considering the cost of new CDs nowadays. For example, the average cost of a new CD on Amazon.com today (looking at the top sellers) is between $9-12 US. Even if a new CD costs $12, it's completely unreasonable to pay only $2 less for the same album on iTunes. Let's consider the cost of manufacturing the CDs and jewel cases themselves, the booklets, transportation, cut taken by the retailer in order to pay employees, store space, and turn in a profit. Are we to believe that this all amounts to $2? Hardly. Allofmp3's prices may be on the low side, but it's far more reasonable and in line with reality than the prices the record labels want you to pay. Bandwidth is cheap nowadays, and encoding an album takes only a few minutes (on an average computer).

This brings up the question of shutting down Allofmp3. I find it fascinating to note how the WTO is such a lobby for US multinational corporate interests instead of really being involved in "free trade". It works in one direction. On one hand, the WTO has absolute power to require Russia to legislate on issues the US deems important, and on the other hand, though the WTO ruled against the United States on the Canadian softwood lumber dispute, it seemed to have no power whatsoever in enforcing the decision (such as by imposing sanctions, etc.) These are neoliberal economic policies at work. You can get on the train, but you're playing by our rules.


Conservatives: God fearing people, yet not important for weather

I was recently going through forum exchanges about the latest Al Gore presentation on climate changes and global warming "An Inconvenient Truth" when I came across a few things I considered interesting. Reading through the counter thesis and public expositions opponents of the film have is quite interesting. Many members of the republican party has opposed the ideas that Gore presents forward and has counter argued the scientific data presented forward by Gore.

It isn't a surprise that Gore's film isn't all that well received amongst certain government parties who have refused the terms brought forward during the Kyoto conference. Wikipedia specifically states Australian government as a skeptic and unwilling to change its mind. I remember reading headlines in the newspapers here about Harper criticizing Kyoto as well and rejecting certain policies.

What intrigued me the most actually were responses from republican suporters. A lot of them believed that human beings were too insignificant to have such a big impact on the weather. The idea that humans were so important as to have a negative effect, and not only that, but the ultimate negative effect was an absurd idea to them. These are the same people who believe we are so important that we had to be created by a higher being. Something isn't right here!

I guess the counter argument would be that if we were to be so great as to change the weather, we'd be competing with God. And God doesn't like competition. So that's why so many other rights should be revoked: Abortions, cloning, euthanasia, etc... Any slow process cannot be understood because of a lack of immediate responce or action from the opposition: Surely my car hasn't melted any snow as I drove it, can't possibly be that dangerous.

This reminds me of people who are either visual or auditory. A visual person could understand the concept of molecular structures only if he is to see it through a microscope, where somebody strickly auditory could understand the concept through words and explanations. But this still puts me in a dilemma, the same people who don't believe in global warming believe in the invisible Great Being!

I've yet to see the documentary, it's sitting on the pile of "to-watch" but I'm interested in giving the global warming issue a sit-down and the intellectual attention it deserves.


Rubbing me the wrong way

I have a thing about rubbing. Today, as I got on the bus, it was quite packed. There was one last seat available, sitting between two people. The guy on the left had his legs spread open in a V-shape, likely to somehow prove that his balls were so oversized they needed all this breathing room to be "comfortable". Naturally, you'd figure that, when someone would sit down in the middle seat, he would move over, place his legs straight, whatever. This guy was interested in none of the above. No doubt he would have been just as happy if I had sat on his fucking lap.

As I'm sitting down, with my legs straight, squished between these two, the guy's leg was sticking so far out that it kept rubbing up against mine. With every bump and turn, his leg would just rub back and forth. I occasionally gave him little nudges, trying to inch his leg back to his own "side", but he was far too arrogant to move over and give me some room. His "breathing room" and comfort just couldn't be infringed upon, because he's such a fucking king or something. The more I thought about it, and the longer this went on, the more it started getting to me, and I just felt like cutting his whole leg off. This is a tiny behavioral example which really doesn't have a huge impact (other than the annoyance of have some random guys leg rubbing up against mine), but it's an example of something which I have far less tolerance for: the arrogance of some guy who thinks he has an inherent right to all this space, and his contempt for others around him. In the words of The Frantics... "boot to the head!"

Response to: Contagious Stupidity

The following is a response to the previous post "Stupidity can be contagious".

This is brilliant and funny stuff. I'd like to add a new topic of study: comparing IQs between the religious and non-religious. Also, since critical thinking, as you say, is developed during the teenage years, there may be an important link to discover between how religious people lived those important years, and how non-religious people did. Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation is studying something quite interesting. He's doing his PHD at the moment and looking at physiological aspects of religion, using tools such as MRI/CAT scans of the brain in order to try and find an area which is triggered or stimulated by religious behavior. Fascinating.

The question of smokers and gamblers is equally interesting, and also brings up this idea of nature vs. nurture. Both being addictions (one physical, one psychological), the real important thing is to figure out where there was a moment of logical weakness in that person's life which made them begin smoking/gambling. Is there a correlation in IQ, as you say, which would predispose a dumber person to become a smoker (I'm assuming that smokers don't have higher IQs, being that there's no logical benefit to smoking, nor is there for gambling, if you look at the odds... which are designed against you winning).

My first reaction to the IQ-test question was that IQ and/or behavior-type tests don't usually have right or wrong answers, but instead are indicative of something larger. This is actually an interesting question of logic, however, which one doesn't usually see on typical IQ tests (which deal with things such as association, deduction, etc.) This is sort of a trick question, and it's very interesting. People make the assumption that if a question is being asked, that there must be a very clear and concise answer. In fact, there are likely dozens of factors which might explain that men have more accidents than women, none of which can be narrowed down to a simple multiple-choice question.

Dumb people use stereotypes and pre-built conclusions in order to make quick decisions on things (which reminds me of armchair philosophers). The smart person understands the inherent complexity of the question and instead understands right away (in this case, WITHOUT even having read the answers) that the answer cannot be so clear-cut and simple. The inquisitive/rational/curious mind is intrigued and wants to use their rational capacities to figure it out, even knowing that they may not come to an immediate answer. The dumb person doesn't go through this process and uses vague conceptions of belief and guesstimates. This reminds me very much of how people act in regards to religion.


Don't give me a credit

Notice: There have been some technical problems publishing to the blog in the past few days (which explains lack of posts, delayed postings, etc.). Blogger is a real bitch sometimes.

As promised, the Conservatives are going to be giving a tax credit equivalent to 15% of the cost of monthly transit passes. Here's the catch: it is retroactive to July 2006, but you have to have kept all your expired passes and submit those with your tax return for eligibility. I don't think anybody has done this... I certainly haven't. This also poses problems for people who use tickets instead of passes, or those who file their taxes online, like myself. It seems like the whole concept of tax returns just creates a logistical nightmare which costs more manpower to operate. Why not simply increase funding to mass transit in order to reduce the fares by 15%? At the end of the day, the incentive is the same -- if not stronger -- and yet it is far more efficient and cost-effective. So now, I am faced with only being eligible for the credit on two months' worth of passes instead of 5 months, AND I have to send in the passes for the credit, though I usually file my taxes online. The Conservative government's policies in this regard do more to discourage people from getting the credit, in my opinion, than to encourage people to use mass transit -- as they should.


Stupidity can be contagious

When I first began psychological studies in CEGEP, I was introduced to the idea that two things effect the human mind: Genetics and environment. The progress at which a person would evolve could be altered by the two factors named above. These factors have shown their powers when the cases of "wolf children", children who have been grossly neglected or self tought, are studied. They show that past a certain age individuals might not be able to learn how to speak a language if that part of the brain isn't stimulated or tought properly. The opposite is shown when researches correlated the relation between the IQs of adoptive parents and the adopted children. According to wikipedia, the correlation is near zero.

So it is with great distress, and entertainment of course, that a few other issues have surfaced in my head. Interesting data I'd like to collect are as follows:
- Correlation of IQ between smokers and non-smokers
- Correlation of IQ between accident prone drivers and safe drivers
- Correlation of IQ between gamblers and none gamblers

I began studying and gathering a few subjects that smoke and gamble. I used an old book that contained IQ testing puzzles to open debate. I specifically chose questions that would turn into debates to see how it is certain people think.

The question was as follows:
Statistically, men drivers are responsible for more accidents then women drivers. This statement can prove that...:
A) As usual, male shovinistics are responsible for accidents on the road.
B) Women might not have as many accidents, but they do not clock in as many driving hours as men do.
C) Men might create more accidents, but they drive more often.
D) Unable to make a conclusion.

The right answer was D, but interestingly, people chose between B and C, and often stated "I'm debating between B and C" without noticing that both meant the exact same thing. Some argued t'ill the end that B and C could be plausible answers even past the explanation of the answer. Some actually left the table still believing they were right. Even more, once the question was read, some asked to read the question but only ended up reading the answers. When prompted as to why they answered incorrectly, they brushed it off explaining they hadn't read the question, simply the answers.

Another study I'd like to take a look at is the idea that since our brains develop and learn in stages, does having a deliquent lifestyle during teenage years effect learning curves of future years. There is a multitude of learning stages. The teenage years are quite crucial as it is the stage at which a person will develop logical thinking. If somebody was to skip this part, how could it effect the developpement of the same individual years later.

I've been surrounded by several high school drop outs recently (not to my greatest joy). It seems like logical thinking isn't always present. The attention to detail and the ability to create positive and well documented research isn't even close from being applied. Instead a lot of these individuals believed in rumors, twisted sentences themselves by turning a theoritical sentence into a statement, and made no effort to recognize a feasable source from a useless one. These individuals also had very little plans for the future, and the ones that had had unrealistic ones. Such as wanting to purchase a house within the next year without job security or financial security and a good income, let's not forget these individuals have no diplomas to back themselves with.

A few individuals worked in a unionised grocery store where they often sit in the smoking section and speak of how the government isn't doing their job and how they hate their own line of work. What bothers me most is the fact that these people have kids, and are inviting a few people to drink and smoke at their houses, in front of the kids, before the upcoming chrismas party. The cycle of idiocy goes on...and on...and on...


Feminism is Dead

In my Comparative Politics class today, we had a discussion on gender roles and feminism. What's fascinating is that there appears to be a complete shift going on, and I'm not sure why. We started off by discussing the idea that many liberal feminists have in regards to getting an equal number of men and women elected to Parliament. The premise is that having more women representatives would result in a shift in policy and more attention brought to certain "women's issues" like child support.

Here's where things get sort of funny, and my prof brought this issue up based on his observations from teaching the course in the past few years. It appears that women want to distance themselves from being labeled "feminists" because somehow this has gotten a negative connotation. The prof was saying that it now tends to be the men who actually advocate and support feminist ideals more than women. This is a strange situation. Why do women no longer care? Do they believe they have achieved gender-parity, and that there is little worth fighting for now? Statistics paint a different picture. A woman graduating from university will, on average, earn the income that a man with a grade 9 education will. One girl in class argued that this is because of the childbearing process. Because they must take time off work, they are unable to advance their careers. This is a fact of life, and women must deal with it, according to her. This seems naive and beside the point, but raises the question of women who do not have children, and how their salaries compare to men. I would bet that there is little difference when comparing them to other women.

Gender "equality" is a funny concept that suffers from poor labeling. The basic goal of feminism has always been to make women equal to men but, depending on how you define it, this view is completely unrealistic. We can advocate for equality in regards to opportunity, salary, and rights, but it makes little sense to try and make women "equal" to men. They are not. If we push the issue of social constructivism aside for a moment, and analyze the differences between genders, we find huge differences. On a hormonal level, differences in levels of testosterone, estrogen, and others contribute dramatically to gender differences. The genders deal with conflicts in a different manner, and have certain characteristics which predispose them to prioritize issues in different ways. Another interesting fact is that the pharmacological industry has recently demonstrated that women and men feel pain completely differently.

Indeed, this is also a part of social constructivism. From a very young age, and even historically speaking, gender roles are defined by society. Hunting, for one, is traditionally a male activity in humans, but for lions, it is the females who hunt. Boys are given cars to play with, and girls are given dolls, being told that they will one day have to care for a baby like this one. Women are said to be more nurturing, and this may partially be a result from these constructions and imposed roles. Men are more aggressive, playing with G.I. Joes and the like. This is simplistic and only begins to skim the surface, but it is a good illustration. As a child, I played with Legos, trucks, G.I. Joes, Ninja Turtles, etc. My sister had Barbies, dolls, an Easy Bake Oven, teasets, and a kitchenette. How much of this was because we wanted to play with these toys from a biological perspective, or rather because society privileges these values, and punishes those who do not respect them? It is difficult to say, but the impacts on behavior later in life are clear.

It is therefore puzzling that more women seem to be losing interest in feminist ideas, even at the university level, where you would expect more women to be aware of these concepts. Why are men with little vested personal interest in the issue defending women? We should not be advocating for gender equality, as I have said, because we are not equal. We should instead seek to have an equal voice for both genders in society, so that each can bring their distinct perspectives to the table. If you're still unconvinced that there are fundamental gender differences, think back to a relationship (friendship or love) that you had with the opposite sex. It is not difficult to see how the sexes clash when it comes to dealing with situations of conflict, and even in basic things such as communication. Women think one thing, but the message does not get across. Think back to how many times you've heard: "I just don't get men/women." Some doctor made a million bucks discussing these exact same topics, when he published his bestseller Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, and yet still today, feminism is dying.


Get rid of those caps

What's with grown men still wearing caps?
I've got a client who walked in today wearing an old baseball cap backwards. This man looked in his early to late forties. What's worst is it seems his mouth always hangs a bit open as if he was constantly in search of words. Could that be the side effect of the pulling of the skin from the baseball cap? Either way, this man has children which means somewhere down the line a woman forgot that a man with a cap hasn't grown up yet and decided it was in her best interest to have kids with him.

Seriously, it's one thing to wear a cap approprietely, it's another to wear it backwards. The idea is to block out the front of the face from the sun not to get burnt. That's it, that's ALL. It doesn't provide much heat to the head, and it doesn't provide much cover from the rain. As a matter of fact, caps aren't waterproof.

What's even worst is the importance caps has had in our culture. It still lingers on to this day and styles have changed as to which side the flipper goes! Now you've got the straight model which people wear facing upwards at an angle from the face. Everytime I see these wannabes I feel like grabing the flipper with one hand as a pull-in for my other hand to break his ugly face in.


Religion and Ethics

I was reading Simon Blackburn's Ethics: A Very Short Introduction today. In the first part of the book, the author elaborates seven threats to ethics. The first, and in my mind most important, is religion. In order to illustrate the cherry picking that religious people do when selecting morals and ethics from the Bible, the author quotes a letter of sorts which had been going around the Internet (the book was first published in 2001, and I have never read this fictional "letter" before, but will take his word for it.) This is one of the best and funniest pieces of sarcasm I've read in some time.

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from you, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

a. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. How should I deal with this?

b. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as it suggests in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

c. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15: 19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

d. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may buy slaves from the nations that are around us. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify?

e. I have a neighbor who insists on working the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?

f. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 10:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

g. Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

I know you have studies these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.