Is It The Wrong Question?

This article form a technology news site The Register makes an interesting read.

We have heard all sorts of allegations from the big boys in the music industry, the most extreme of which is that they are destined for the workhouse. As I have pointed out peer to peer file shareing is just one more nail in the coffin of the music inductry (if they are to be believed) that started with reel to reel tape recorders in the 50s. To misquote Mark Twain – the death of the music industry has been greatly exadurated.

Of course the problem is that it is not the assertions – which are rediculous of course – which is the issue it is the question. Has the music industry actually suffered from the evil of peer to peer that has beset it, and where is the evidence?

It appears to me that the music industry has never been healthier. The number and quality of the musisicians, the origonality of the music being produced is is great now as it was in those helicon days of the mid to late 60s which we all took to as a period of unprecedneted creativity. If this is what peer to peer has done then more power to it.

Let me give you a for instance. About five months before Norah Jones  debut solo album was launched she put out the seminal “Come Away With Me” on free file sharing sites. The record label released the album without much fan fare but people all over the world rushed to buy it on the strength of this pre-released song. It slowly took off and eventually became a best seller around the world on not much more than word of mouth and “illegally” shared songs.

The irony is that the very practice that the big boys in the game are trying to shut down could be a huge revenue spinner for them if ony they asked the right question. Instead they are trying to strangle the goose that could lay the golden egg for them.

Evolutionary Morality

The whole subject of morality is a rather thorny one and has been tackled by far greater minds than mine, from the perspective of religion, humanism and evolution. I just hope I am not biting off more than I can chew here.

What prompted this though was a talk on Ockham’s Razor a few weeks ago from an evolutionist and atheist (although I do dispute that there can be such a thing as atheist) speaking in defense of evolutionary morality against the claims of Christian’s who often ask him in his talks how he can explain morality just using evolution.

As an aside, the reason that I doubt the existence of atheists is that to believe in atheism it requires that that they have absolute knowledge and I believe that it is impossible for them to know beyond doubt that something that they have no evidence for or against does or does not exist. This is an act of faith which atheists deny so by their own philosophy the best they can do is state that they have no evidence for the existence of a god which is closer to agnosticism if anything. It is somewhat like saying that Schrodinger’s cat is definitely dead.

Back to the subject. This guy’s argument (if I remember it correctly) was that there are evolutionary drivers for morality and that these drivers govern our behaviour and that these behaviours dictate our moral norms which in turn govern society. So the generally accepted norms that guide or conscience are no more than evolutionary imperatives to ensure the propagation of our species. In his talk he said that whenever he addresses this issue he takes an example from the recent news and uses it to explain the relationship between evolutionary theory and the morality behind the particular event being reported.

The particular example he used was that of a person who was found abusing a child. His argument was that children are the carriers of the genetic map into the next generation so the evolutionary driver is to protect that gene pool into the following generation the child must be protected and shielded from harm until that child is old enough to reproduce so as to pass on that particular genetic map. Many moral behaviours can be explained in similar terms. I have a number of issues with this argument. Don’t get me wrong, if evolutionists want to base their morality on such a foundation then I have no objection but at least let them engage in some intellectual honesty and not engage in self delusional rubbish as the excuse for logic above.

First this only explains the reason that parents would want to protect their children. I have no genetic stake in the protection of the children of my neighbour, let alone some stranger’s children. So why should I care – but I do. Let us say for example that the protection of another person’s children strengthens society on which I depend but this makes that child’s protection convenient – not a moral driver. It does not mean I can not abuse another person’s child, only that I may reduce my effect my chances of my offspring’s survival. But that only governs children in my society, the further children are from me relationally the less I am dependant on their survival. In fact it may aid my genetic survival if I kill those children in another society. So far from protecting children evolutionary morality would drive me to kill other people’s children. The behaviour of many lawless people can indeed be explained in evolutionary terms.

So the question really is why is it that some evolutionary explained behaviour is subject to regulation and others not? The fact is that behaviour of both the good and bad can be explained in evolutionary terms so why label one set of behaviours good and another set bad? The only explanation is that there is an independent driver for our behaviour and this tells us that some behaviours are good and some bad, and this is our moral compass, and nothing to do with evolution. The only explanation for this behavioural polarisation is that there is an inherent sense allowing us to distinguish the two.

Please feel free to use evolutionary explanations of our behaviour but I think that to use evolution to explain the existence of morality is a step too far. There has to be another reason for this innate sense of right and wrong.

Is this drama or farce?

In a previous post I suggested thatthe media feeding frenzy over MP allowances in the UK may be somewhat an overreaction. I am not so sure now.

This latest revelation throws doubt on the basic competancy of some of these people.  Is it any wonder that Brown’s poll results make Turnbull look popular. Maybe it is time to sack the lot and start over, this time with people with a minimal level of honesty and competance. Redeploy them in the Postal service maybe.

Double standards

The recent arrest of Roman Polanski has met with a great dela of criticism amongst the film community but what are the real issues here.

He was charged in a duly constituted court and the result was I believe a plea bargain. Certainly, if he has concerns regarding the court case they should be considered. But instead he fled the coutry never to return.  It is not as if the allegations are not serious. Supplying drugs and alcohol to a 13 YO and having sex with her are hardly things that can be ignored.

Being a great film maker does not exempt one from the application of justice.

Red flag to a driver

How long will it be before the roads are so lined with signs that it is impossible to see through them? It seems to be the government’s policy that they form an impenetrable border along every road. Speed changes, and advisories, parking signs, road condition warnings, road works, where will it end?

This article from the ABC News site is yet another example of idiocy gone mad. I think the following comment from lukewarm sums it up perfectly;

“60 – way too fast – it’s still pretty easy to kill someone at 60.

No, it should be walking pace, with a man carrying a red flag walking in front”

I could not put it better myself. It is comforting to know that most of the comments responded negatively to the suggestion that P-Plate driver be limited to 80 kph.

First I want to talk about the issues with this particular proposal but I also want to talk about road safety in general.

The problem with this particular proposal is that it will not in fact increase road safety, in fact it will reduce it. As one commenter pointed out any difference in speed between the average traffic flow and individual vehicles decreases road safety and increases the probability of collision. Also the driver will get frustrated watching all of the other cars overtake them and will result in an increase in recklessness when they get their full license. And finally it reduces the skill of the P-Plate driver since they get no experience at driving at faster speeds.

The problem however is far more widespread that just P-Plate drivers. It highlights the whole area of road safety.  I doubt that our regulators are as ignorant to believe that this plethora of silly laws and speed limits are making our roads safer, but I could be wrong.

The issue is that the driver is so bombarded with signs and instructions that the driver’s attention is constantly being taken from the actual process of driving and being redirected to the speed, the road condition, animals, children present, road construction (absent) and general instructions, all of which actually increases the probability of an accident.

There was some research done on the effect of such safety features such as centre lines and border lines on roads and the non-intuitive outcome was that it made no difference to general road safety. The reason was that these features gave the perception that the road was safer which meant that people tended to drive faster and the overall result was no change in overall safety.

Similarly it was found that the more signs you have the less safe the road tends to be. The reason being that the signs lead to the driver being more distracted from their driving. Similarly the more speed limit changes there are the more the driver has to concentrate on adjusting their speed and the less the driver will concentrate on driving. This is not just my theory, there is your actual scientific research that demonstrates this.

Case in point. The Adelaide to Viictor Habour road is mostly 100 kph from old Noarlunga to outside Victor Harbour. Recently the section of road near the Willunga turnoff has been reduced to 80 kph. Southbound this occurs in a downhill section of road. The result being that the driver has to remove his attention from the road in order to achieve some theoretical savfe driving speed in order not to get done for speeding. The result? A reduction in safety exactly where the concentration on the road needs to be highest.

Another example is where road work signs are left out even when there is no roadwork being done. How is this safe for anyone. It is just plain laziness.

The problem is that law makers are responding to public pressure in order to appear to be increasing road safety and are in fact decreasing road safety. Science does not come into it.

Freebies and the Appearance of Corruption

In my industry gifts and gratuities are strictly controlled with clear guidelines. Not only do valuable gifts corrupt at the very least they give the appearance of bias.

What I would like to know is how the PM justifies the gift of a vehicle? By what possible standard does he think that this is acceptable? Maybe he did, maybe he did not make representations, the question is not his actions so much as the appearance of corrupt behaviour. If a public servant accepted such a valuable gift he would be instantly dismissed. One rule for the goose and another for the gander.

US politics has been plagued for many years by the gross corruption that accompanies the lobbying process in Washington and ewe have more or less been spared the larger excesses here in Australia, not that lobbyists have not corrupted politicians but in the US it has become an art form and corrupt politicians are notable for the rule rather than the exception. This incident is an indication that we are travelling down the same slippery slope.

We should accept no lower standard of behaviour than we would expect of anybody else. Not only should politicians be above reproach but should have the appearance of being above reproach. Politicians should be subject to the same rules and every one else. I view the acceptance of such a valuable gift as bribery and corruption and is totally unacceptable. If it is private then he should have paid for it himself. It was for business purposes then it should have come out of his parliamentary allowance. The only acceptable path is for him to return the vehicle.

In any case I doubt the character of a leader who would allow himself to be so compromised to accept such a valuable gift. He is no statesman and he is no leader. He should make way for someone who has the self control to no be corrupted by his avarice.

The Ignorance of the Judiciary

There seems to be a recurring issue with judges making rulings on subjects that are beyond their understanding. I know there is the principle of the “reasonable man” and that this hypothetical “reasonable man” does not necessarily have specialist knowledge in a particular field. This is what makes the “reasonable man” a good forensic test. The problem is that a judge is not necessarily a good model for a “reasonable man”.

This court case and judgement  to anyone who has any understanding of how search results work (or the English language) for that matter wonders how much a “reasonable man” this judge was. The consequence for this judgement beggars belief. It is just one more example of how ignorant judges are failing the IT world.

The Mythology of Illegal Downloads

Yet another perpetuation of the vast mythological story that is mis-named Illegal downloads appeared today on the BBC News site. Were these the same advisers that said that the Y2K bug (another mythological creature) would bring universal disaster?

First of all I would like to know the evidence for this assertion. Under British law an act cannot be deemed illegal until it has been proven in a duly constituted court of law. Have there been seven million successful prosecutions for copyright violation using Internet downloads? I think not.

My second issue is the “cost to the economy”. How is this cost established. One wonders what vested interest these so called advisors have.

It is these silly assertions based on vague assumptions and flawed logic that results in a complete loss of credibility for these advisers.  But for the media to simply parrot these unsubstantiated assertions without question is a gross abrogation of their responsibility.

I am not saying that many people are acting in a way that is contrary to the law but these over exaggerations and generalisations are not at all helpful to the debate. If the music industry wants to address this issue then they have to stop treating every broadband user as a criminal, stop using pejorative language, stop these gross exaggerations and deal with the issue in a rational and sensible manner. No one is going to treat them with respect until they stop these school ground bully boy tactics and treat people with respect.

What passes for logic…

Is it just me or can other people see the flawed logic here? Pay rates industry wide are rising and one employer is saying he is going to be priced out of the market. Ignore the fact that cleaning conmtractors are akin to slave labour and that it is a cow of a job, how is the fact that all employers are going to be subject t0 this extra cost going to send just this one to the wall?

If his business is so poorly run that paying his employees a bit more (along with eveyone else in the industry) is going to send him broke then maybe he should look for another job.

The Great Australian Firewall – the secret censor

It appeared at first as if Stephen Conroy, the Australian minister for communications, was being advised by the Chinese government. The plan was to censor the Internet (an oxymoron in and of itself) but he was not telling you what was being censored. When the proposed list of censored sites was leaked he became all high and mighty and threatened legal action. In the end it made him look like a fool and out of touch with the realities of the Internet, out of touch with his constituency and out of touch with the principles of open government.

Now it appears as if he has made a massive back-down. Coming off his pedestal of self righteousness, declaiming all who disagreed as pedophiles or anti-society he has stumbled and fallen (or is that crawled) into a hole of his own making. Not that he would see it as such, looking thorough his strongly tinted political spectacles.

His answers to the Senate estimates committee are the typical double speak and mass of contradictions of a politician who has been weighed and found wanting. The writing may not be on the wall for him but it appears as if it is for his mess of a censorship plan. Don’t get me wrong – unlike those liberals in the media who claim that they don’t believe in censorship (and on close analysis really do) I am open in my support of censorship. If there was a mechanism whereby a consistent, legal  and open method by which unacceptable sites could be regulated then I would be all for it. The Minister’s plan however was a complete and utter disaster before it even left the hangar. He is desperately trying to salvage some credibility, too late I think.

I am afraid that as far as the Internet goes  the horse has well and truly bolted and the dyke long since burst its banks.