Why Corporate Participation in Politics is Bad, Bad, Bad

I’ve talked before about why corporations are evil (or rather, why they tend to behave that way). But there’s something else I want to talk about which is related to that – and that’s corporate participation in politics.

Let’s back up a bit first though and go over what exactly is a corporation?

A corporation is a sort of legal fiction, an “entity” that exists only on paper, created and sustained only by the laws that allow its existence, and designed to shield people from loss and liability so as to give them a way to do things they wouldn’t be able to (or wouldn’t want to risk doing) otherwise.

In order for this to work, corporations have to be able to do some of the things ordinary people do – borrow money, have credit, enter contracts, etc.

But lately, corporations have started to be able to do things that aren’t strictly necessary for corporations to exist – specifically, they can now participate in politics in ways that they weren’t allowed to before.

Now, corporations can’t vote in elections – thankfully things haven’t gotten that out of hand yet – but it’s getting close, because of the way corporations are now allowed to influence (i.e., give money to) politicians & political campaigns.

This isn’t, by itself, a bad thing. People band together for political reasons all the time, and they can gather money and contribute to campaigns & such – this is nothing new.

What’s new is that corporations are allowed to do this, on their own behalf.

The problem with this is that corporations are inherently immoral.

Remember – corporations are not people, even though we sometimes think of them as being like people. They exist to shield people from risk, and to make a profit. Corporations do not exist to be nice, or act in a moral manner.

Let me say that again: corporations do NOT exist to be moral, or be nice, or obey laws. While all (or some) of those things may be done by some corporations (especially when they are small), they are NOT the purpose of the corporation, and they can all be subverted to greater or lesser degrees in pursuit of the primary purpose, which is PROFIT.

This is true even if the people running the corporation are the nicest people, and the shareholders are all nice, ordinary people themselves – all of this is stripped away by the structure of a corporation, by its very nature.

Everything a corporation does is measured against a single metric: profit. Even adherence to laws is considered only insomuch as how much that disobedience would cost (literally), or how those individuals in the corporation would be punished directly by disobedience.

Now, don’t get me wrong here – I’m NOT saying that corporations are themselves a bad idea, or that these attributes of corporations make them terrible. There are problems with them, sure, but they have served us well over the years with various tweaks here and there, and I’m sure they will continue to do so in the future.

The problem here can be summed up like this:

  1. Corporations are inherently immoral.
  2. Corporations can now participate directly in politics.
  3. Because corporations are inherently immoral, their influence in politics will also be immoral.

Politics is a nasty enough business on its own, but now it is going to be much, much worse – which is why letting corporations participate in politics (a la the Citizens United decision) is such a bad, bad, bad idea.

This is akin to suddenly having large, sentient, carnivorous dinosaurs appear, and then giving them an almost equal vote in our political processes, and wondering why very soon it’s legal for people to be eaten by dinosaurs at any time, or have their homes stomped on, etc.

When corporations can participate in politics and government, the natural evolution will be for corporations to gain more and more influence, behaving like parasites, until eventually they merge with government itself, and you can no longer tell where one ends and the other begins.

Corporate participation in politics is, frankly, wrong, and it runs contrary to all the ideas of democracy that underpin so much of our society. If we are to continue to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people – and not a government “for the corporations” – then corporate participation in politics must not be allowed.

10 Years of WordPress

wp10logoWow, has it really been 10 years?

Yes, it has – officially 10 years ago, on May 27th, 2003, WordPress was released.

As part of the WordPress 10th Anniversary Blogging Project, I figured I would  I’d share some of my memories of using WordPress over the years.

Back in 2003, when WordPress was first released:

  • I was still using Windows 2000 on my home computer (I did use XP at work – cutting edge at the time!)
  • We were only on the 2nd Matrix movie, “The Matrix Reloaded”
  • I was still using the “Mozilla Suite,” the descendent of “Netscape Communicator.” (It wasn’t until next year that it was split into Firefox & Thunderbird)
  • We had just lost the Space Shuttle Columbia a few months prior
  • The iPod was only on its 3rd iteration, and the iPhone was still a distant dream
  • Slim flip-phone cell phones were all the rage
  • The Concorde made its last commercial flight

I didn’t start using WordPress myself until a little bit after its release – until around December 1st, 2005, in fact.

When I started using WordPress in 2005:

  • We were just starting to lament that schools were switching to using Java (the horror!) to teach programming
  • I still had a CRT TV in my living room (and on my computer – though I had just gotten an LCD display at work, and I’d soon get one at home as well)
  • Digital Rights Management came into the spotlight with the discovery of Sony’s rootkit that silently installed when you inserted a music (!!) CD in your computer.
  • This was the year I took down my old hand-coded personal site (which was old, dated, and not really very good) in favor of this blog.
  • And, of course, 2005 is the year I unexpectedly found myself living with my two wonderful rabbits

In all that time, I’ve switched WordPress themes more times than I can count – and upgraded and installed numerous useful (and sometimes silly) plugins.

Still, it’s amazing to see how far WordPress has come. It’s been a great 10 years, and I’m looking forward to 10 more!

Happy 10th birthday, WordPress!

Florida Activates System for Citizens to Call Each Other Terrorists

Florida Activates System for Citizens to Call Each Other Terrorists

Or, in other words, a very, very, very bad idea… but sadly not the first time we’ve seen something just like this.

There’s the “if you see something, say something” campaign that you see plastered all over the place in the greater NYC metro area (and probably elsewhere), as well as the “anti-terrorist hotline” in the UK – among many other examples.

uk anti-terrorist hotline billboardThe problem with systems like this is that they’re often very poorly thought out and ripe for abuse. Really, these systems are just ways for people to snitch on one another for vague and ill-defined reasons.

A system like this can only work if:

  •  People are capable of making reliable judgements on risk (they aren’t)
  •  People can be trusted to only make objective reports (they can’t)
  •  Few people will abuse the system for personal gain (they won’t)

People being people, you will see people reporting others that they don’t like, or trying to submit false reports to harass others – especially if the system is anonymous. Anonymous tips from the public are fine, but if you treat every anonymous tip as legitimate (and with terrorism tips like this, you almost have to, or else what’s the point) you are quickly going to find yourself chasing a LOT of dead ends, wasting time and effort, and just generally getting drowned in the noise of the system.

And if the system isn’t anonymous, what sort of review process is there? Where does this fit in the context of judicial review? What sort of penalties are their for false statements? If the penalties are too low, then the system is ripe for abuse just like if it was anonymous. If the penalties are too high, then people won’t use it for fear of making a mistake – thus nullifying the entire point of the whole thing (and easy way to report “suspicious” activity).

Even if somehow a middle ground is found for this system… where do these reports go? How long are they stored? Can you submit a plausible (but false) report about someone you don’t like, and then have that person get subtly harassed for years afterwards (getting “extended” pat downs whenever they travel, finding themselves on black lists, the subject of needless surveillance, etc.).

Finally, can  you trust the public to really know what “suspicious activity” is? The answer is, resoundingly, “no.” Unless the would-be perpetrator is being astoundingly obvious about his/her intentions, the likelihood of anything they do seeming “suspicious” is practically nil. And of course, there are far more ordinary and innocent things that people do all the time that might (incorrectly) appear suspicious if you don’t know the whole story (or are already in a paranoid mindset).

When you consider all of these problems – and these are all legitimate, real problems with a system like this – you have to ask yourself if it’s worth it. Is the thing you’re trying to prevent (terrorism) worth all the mistakes and harassment and wasted time, effort, and money? Because terrorism is, realistically, a rare thing – despite what some people would like you to believe – and it’s unclear whether it’s worthwhile to try and prevent these rare events, when it’s unproven whether such methods would even have an effect at all!

If terrorism were something mundane, like say, tooth decay, we’d NEVER even consider measures like this – you’d be a laughing stock if you even suggested such an insane idea. Even if it were something equally (or even more) deadly, but less emotionally charged, like say, wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets (all of which are the cause of far more death & pain & suffering than terrorism is), there would still be heavy political and civil opposition to such a heavy-handed approach, not to mention lots of arguments about all the money it would cost.

I know it’s hard to do, but it really is very important to take the “emotional” aspect out of the question when you’re dealing with policies like this – because it just skews things so far into the realm of the unreal that it’s not even funny… and in many ways, it’s quite dangerous, especially to those principles we hold dear.

Where the Water Flows

I make no secret of the fact that I love photos of flowing waterAnd I also make no secret of the fact that I’m a big fan of using slow shutter speeds to create that “silky water” effect.

Just recently I got myself a better tripod (and a nice ballhead to go with it), and ever since then I’ve been playing around with this technique a bit more.

benro a0580f tripod

I also just recently picked up an ND filter (“neutral density” – basically sunglasses for your lens) and decided to try it out.

ND filters are typically used to darkens a scene evenly, allowing for a slower shutter speed – which lets you blur out any movement… such as flowing water.

little stream flowing

Previously, I’d been using my circular polarizing filter as a sort of poor-man’s ND filter. I could still use slow shutter speeds, but I was still somewhat limited by the available light – if it was too bright, I wouldn’t be able to use as slow of a shutter speed as I would have liked. The above photo, for example, was taken in the shade under a bridge in order to allow me the slow shutter speed I wanted.

So when the weather warmed up a bit this past weekend and I found myself at a local park with some streams and rocky cascades, I just had to give it a try.

rocky cascade on Rhinehart Brook

For a first try, I’m pretty pleased with how these came out. The thing with using slower shutter speeds is that… well, you are using slower shutter speeds – which means you really need to hold the camera steady. In other words, you almost always need to use a tripod (and, ideally, a remote cable release).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have either of those things with me the day I took these shots – these shots are entirely hand-held.

small cascade on Rhinehart Brook

Luckily the exposures I was using weren’t too terribly long, so I was able to get away with hand-holding – but I did have to get a bit creative with how I steadied the camera! The shot above, for example, was taken with the camera resting on the side of my shoe as I sat cross-legged on a rock!

little cascade on Rhinehart Brook

I’m not sure why I’m so fond of this particular type of photographic effect, but I do know that it’s something I’ve been trying to do pretty much ever since I first picked up a digital camera.

Long exposures in general are just kind of fun – to me they imply motion where none exists in a way that I just find really compelling.

In the end of course this is just my taste – I like these kinds of photos, and more importantly I enjoy taking these kinds of photos.

How Copyright Has Gone Copywrong

Yep, that’s right – I’m talking about copyright again. Specifically, I’m following up on my previous post, Copyright & Fan Creations.

In that post, I talked about how all fan art is copyright infringement – whether you sell it or not is irrelevant; as soon as you draw it, it infringes on copyright. Now it’s just a matter of how much damages you are liable for.

In ye olden times, copyright infringement was strictly a civil matter, up to the copyright holder to decide to sue – just like it is up to individuals in, say, a contract dispute to decide whether or not to sue. The state doesn’t typically get involved in civil matters (that’s why it’s called civil).

But now it does. Copyright infringement, though still nominally a civil matter, is being treated, prosecuted, and sentenced like a felony – right up there with robbing a bank or murder.

This is insane.

On top of that, copyright is extremely broad, and the only “exceptions” to the law (fair use) are actually just defenses, not actual exceptions – meaning they only come into play once you end up in court (and they are by no means guaranteed).

This is so heavily skewed that it’s a miracle anyone can produce anything new anymore without someone making a claim that it infringes (often just by resembling) another intellectual “property.” (In point of fact, this actually does happen quite a lot.)

This partly explains the resurgence of old, nostalgia-driven media lately – old comics made and re-made into movies, old franchises re-made, or even board games made into movies – because the copyright on these things are already well established, and companies don’t have to go through the potential trouble of investing in new properties, only to find out at the end that someone else has a copyright on something similar.

Keep in mind that I make my living from copyright & intellectual propery – so I’m not advocating for the total abolishing of copyright. What I’m calling for is some restraint, some sanity in copyright law.

For something that was intended to foster and encourage creative works & reward creators for doing so, it is now much too heavily skewed towards protecting existing creations.

Eventually, this is going to come back around and start biting the hands of those who advocated for stronger copyright laws.

Copyright is painted with such a broad brush, and it lasts for such a long time, that it is now having the opposite effect than what was intended – or what is necessary.

Creativity still happens, of course, but the rewards & incentives copyright was intended to give simply no longer exist (or are outweighed by the risks of infringement). Copyright is stuck 100 years ago, even while copyright enforcement is using cutting edge technology.

This is terrible, and it needs to change.

Copyright is important, don’t get me wrong, but we need to stop treating it as though it is some fundamental, inalienable right which must be protected at all costs. Copyright law needs to strike a reasonable balance between protection and re-use, one that encourages and rewards creation, without discouraging new creation for fear of potential infringement. And perhaps most importantly, it needs to set some clear guidelines on what is and is not permissible vis-a-vi re-use and fair use, instead of just saying “well, we’ll know it when we see it… in court.”

These sorts of changes will go a long way towards bringing copyright into the 21st century, helping it make sense again, and put a stop to the utter madness that is the state of copyright law and enforcement today.