Logic’s Last Stand

July 4, 2008

Five Most Common Logical Fallacies

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 4:32 am

Argument is a science, and just like science, if you’re not careful you’ll end up with fudged results. There are many methods in which falsified logical results may occur, intended or not.

One thing that is important to note is that these can appear on any side of an argument or dispute, on the side of fact or fiction, these can also show their ugly head.

These are what I find to be the five most common logical fallacies.

5. Argumentum ad Verecundiam
AKA an appeal to authority or argument from authority. This means to use an opinion of someone who may be considered an authority figure as evidence or proof of a claim. This comes from a misunderstanding of the concept of expert testimony. In a court case, an expert is there to explain evidence — his opinion alone without evidence is meaningless. This is often combined with quote mining — the method of taking a quote out of context to support your side.

An example would be “Stephen Hawking’s favourite movie is The Wizard of Oz, therefore you will like that movie” This says nothing to whether or not you agree with Hawking’s taste in this or any other account (I actually have no idea what Stephen Hawking’s favourite movie is).

In most cases, however, an expert in a specific field can be presumed likely correct on an instance. For example, if a doctor says you have menangitis, you probably do, whether he provides you evidence as to the symptoms thereof or not.

4. Recursive or Circular Logic
Rather self-explanatory, but the recursive logic means that the clause your logic presents must be repeated infinitely backward. Similarly, circular logic (AKA a catch-22) is self-referential and thereby backed by nothing other than the original statement.

An example of recursive logic would be, “Everything must be created, therefore God created the Universe.” This naturally leaves the question of what then, by that logic, created God.

An example of circular logic would be, “You need experience to get a job.” Given experience is having a job, the loop is endless.

3. Straw Man
This is the technique of constructing a similar, but false argument of your opponent to defeat, either consciously or mistakenly.

An example of a straw man is, “Liberals want to raise taxes, which will hurt the economy, further increasing the recession.” The problem is that this presupposes a universal increase in taxes, which is pretty much never the stance of any politician.

2. Argumentum ad ignoratium
AKA an argument from incredulity or an argument from ignorance, this is the idea that you don’t understand something, therefore it’s false. What this is typically is a dismissal of something as just outright crazy without justification.

This is overwhelming in the argument against evolution, such as, “We couldn’t possibly come from simple celled organisms.” Because you don’t understand how doesn’t say that it isn’t true or even possible.

1. False Dichotemy
So simple and yet so common, a false dichotemy is the incorrect assumption that there are only two possible explanations. This is a part of almost every argument you’ll find, including but not limited to, creation/evolution, 9/11 conspiracies, climate change, abortion, and social programs.

Anthropogenic climate change is a perfect example, as it is continually a shouting match between humans are completely causing recent changes in climate to humans have no impact whatsoever. Splitting the sides 100%/0% leaves out everything inbetween.

This methodology is also used in order to claim proof by falsification of the other. For example, creationist/intelligent design advocates continually attack evolution as inconclusive. This is a false dichotemy as they provide no evidence for a “creator” but suggest it’s valid anyway as if should evolution hypothetically be inaccurate, the only other possibility is divinity.

Lastly, even the old videogame console wars, you’ll find it. “Red Steel sucked, therefore Wii can’t do shooters.” Red Steel obviously isn’t the only possible way to do a shooter on Wii.

Nomatter what you’re arguing, these should all be left behind. Making such a fallacy immediately discredits your position, whether your side could be argued validly or not.

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June 11, 2008

A Letter to Canada Free Press (cont.)

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 1:04 am

An exchange of emails has resulted from my initial letter. You can interpret the discussion for yourself. I have left out the forwarded email due to space and its non-specific nature (you can see it here if you like.


On Tue, Jun 10, 2008 at 10:39 PM, Yomin Postelnik wrote:
Dear Mr. Hamilton

I will be sending a detailed response momentarily. However, I must say, I find your attempt to censure voices that disagree with you to be very disturbing. You may want to open your mind with regard to such issues. Your denunciation of the piece also failed to take into account its central point. Is there a reason that you seem so intent on quashing debate?

Yomin Postelnik


From: “Derek Hamilton”

Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2008 23:28:48
To:”Yomin Postelnik”
Subject: Re: Re

You are free to say whatever it is you want to say, but the issue I raised was the integrity of the site on which the article was posted, as it blatantly demonstrated severe lack of scientific knowledge while criticising science itself at the same time.

Additionally on the issue of censorship, I can simply quote myself, “I would not have a problem with a sound, tactful argument against the position of atheism.” If I were, for example, to say that Hitler was a Catholic, therefor Catholocism is false, that would be an absurd argument worthy of ridicule. It would not be censorship to suggest that it is absurd, or the one making such a claim is in danger of losing credibility.

As for your central point, it seemed as though your point was “The universe is perfect; it wasn’t random; God did it.” Perhaps you can clarify.

If you can provide evidence of a god or gods, then by all means, do so. You’d be the first, and I’d gladly be a part of history.


ypostelnik@insidersreview.org to Derek
show details 11:41 PM (2 hours ago)

I find your efforts to censor to be repulsive in the extreme and they are not indicative of someone who espouses logic or who has an open mind on the issue

Your first question is being answered directly in a piece going out momentarily on which you will be bcced. If you have not received it soon feel free to email me back and I”ll send it to you separately
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile


Derek Hamilton to ypostelnik
show details 1:57 AM (5 minutes ago)

You appear to be avoiding the issue of the support of your claims. I will repeat again, say what you will, I will gladly hear it if you can provide evidence of a god or gods. Telling you that you are wrong is no different than the very thesis of your original article that you are factual correct and atheists are wrong. I’ve made an effort to remain civil despite your continued cries of censorship when presented with the evidence of your argument many flaws.

I have read your forwarded form letter, and it seems to merely include a lengthy argument that details your misunderstanding and mischaracterization of the theory of evolution. Your central point, which you stated as, “physicality itself points to the fact that there is an Intelligent Creator” I did in fact address prior (this is still the first cause argument – http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CI/CI200.html); however, I will address it once more in further detail.

The obvious question here is why does that point to an “Intelligent Creator”? It appears from your writing that your justification is that the universe could not have “poofed” into existence. Ironically, creationism is the only one asserting such a thing — there is no scientific theory (theory: a hypothesis significantly supported by evidence) that states as such. While the origin of matter is unknown to science, assuming that it requires a start is assuming too much as it is.

It is also worth noting that despite the difficulty you have understanding it, organic material emerging from inorganic matter has been observed in a laboratory setting on multiple occasions based on the Miller-Urey experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miller_experiment). Arguing its impossibility while not even understanding the very basics of, for example, evolution, is unreasonable. If you would like an explanation of how amino acids can develop into organic material subject to evolutionary principles, this video should be a good introduction on how such a thing could arise (though be aware that the process of the very first life on Earth developed is as yet unclear — the point is a method with a scientific basis that is entirely within the realm of reasonable possibility that you have outright dismissed) – http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=U6QYDdgP9eg

If you are assuming all things require a beginning, but a god does not, that is called special pleading (http://www.fallacyfiles.org/specplea.html). You replace the word “existence” with “physicality” to exempt your notion of god as “spiritual”. Physicality is merely the opposing forces between masses, arguing semantics of the word “physical” is meaningless. Aside from that, you add the word “Intelligent” to the beginning. All you’ve suggested is that the universe must have been spurred into existence from a spiritual plane. That does not offer any suggestion of intelligence, that is only your own assumption. It could, given you stated and quote, “Knowledge of purely spiritual existence is beyond us.” Therefor, we cannot make assumptions as to the spiritual realm, if it exists. It could be absolutely anything, then, that spurred the universe. It could have been an e-mail that disrupted the spirit realm and brought forth the singularity. As you said, it’s beyond us.

On a side note, you requested evidence of evolution. This is a perfectly valid request that should be asked (though I would definitely suggest researching on your own, given the wealth of information available). I will do my best to expand, despite not having a background in biology (so naturally I will provide sources).

First, a general definition of the theory of evolution.
The theory of evolution is the change in the frequency of alleles over time. It suggests that mutations in the genes of the offspring of an organism are positive, negative or neutral as dictated by the environment (natural selection). These mutations are passed down to future off-spring. The positive traits aid survival and thus are more likely to be passed down.

The basic evidence we hear argued about is the fossil record. The fossil record of the modern whale dating back to terrestrial mammals is very detailed (http://www.talkorigins.org/features/whales/). It includes slow dissipation of the legs and the shifting of facial features from terrestrial benefits to those aiding in the aquatic environment.

The evidence is much more than simply, the fossils themselves, though. The location of the fossils in the strata correlate the time of transition so accurately to the point that it can be determined how deep bones of a specific fossil in a region should be before even digging (http://evolution-facts.org/Ev-V2/2evlch17a.htm). This is the source of the common statement that convincing evidence against evolution would be the fossil of a bunny in the pre-cambrian.

Biologists, however, typically contend that the strongest evidence for evolution is in DNA. One such piece of evidence from the DNA come from Endogenous Retrovirii. ERVs incorporate themselves directly into the genes of the host and are always passed down, so that once it is contracted, all subsequent offspring will carry it in a specific location among millions of placements in the genomes. All verifications correlate to evolutionary predictions (http://wiki.cotch.net/wiki.phtml?title=Endogenous_retroviruses).

Another aspect of the DNA that supports evolution are vestiges. These are attributes in the DNA of an organism that are no longer active due to a mutation. Such an example are teeth in fowl, such as the chicken. This is due to the evolution of avians from reptiles. Another vestige can be found in the aforementioned whales, which have the DNA for feet despite being aquatic (this vestige also appears in fossils) (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/section2.html#atavisms_ex1).

If you’d rather get this information from a more knowledgeable source, and in video form no less, here are some videos:
http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=i1fGkFuHIu0&feature=PlayList&p=0FB1F085BD950D0F&index=0&playnext=1
http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=rX_WH1bq5HQ&feature=related

And by all means, investigate these things yourself. The more sources the better.

June 10, 2008

A Letter to Canada Free Press

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 9:13 am

This is an e-mail I wrote in response to the article Logical Proof of the Existence of a Divine Creator, Why Atheism is Not Logically Sound. Given I am a Canadian with knowledge in the area of logic and religious argument, I felt compelled to speak in favour of Canadian atheists.

Dear Sirs and Madams of Canada Free Press,

I write to you out of concern of your site’s integrity having such a piece appear on your site. I will get to the problems shortly; however, a particular issue I have is that if the writer had replaced atheism with a particular religion instead, it would have been considered horribly inappropriate and offensive. This double standard needs to cease.

Personally, however, I would not have a problem with a sound, tactful argument against the position of atheism, which this article is not. It rehashes tired logical fallacies that have been repeated and refuted ad nauseum for centuries. Despite it being a lengthy article, he essentially repeats three fallacies over and over: The first cause argument, an argument from incredulity, and an argument from authority.

The first cause argument (also known as the cosmological argument) is that anything that exists must have been created by someone — a “design” must have a designer. The fallacy here is very simple in that it’s just an infinite regression; by that logic, the designer requires a designer requires a designer, etc.
Detailed background information: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/cosmological-argument/

Argument from incredulity is that you don’t know and/or cannot imagine how something could have happened, so “God did it”. While the creation of the first matter is something unresolved in science, arguing that “God did it” raises more questions than answers and is also subject to the same complications of the first cause argument.
Further detail: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_incredulity

Argument from authority is to refer to someone in an authoritative position and take their opinion as justification, in this case Anthony Flew. Though one man’s opinion means nothing at face value, Flew didn’t even write the majority of the book in question (source: http://richardcarrier.blogspot.com/2007/12/craig-annoyed.html). The main point though is not philosophical position, but evidentiary argument, which none is provided.
More information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_authority

It is clear from the article that not only does the writer (and given it was published, editors) have a severe lacking, ironically, in rational thought, but also in scientific knowledge. The following paragraph pretty much epitomizes this,

“The central point of the atheist, that all somehow came about randomly through evolution, does not help them either. While a separate column will deal with the scientific arguments for creationism and evolution, the topic is not germane here. Going back to the example of a set of encyclopedias, a set of Britannicas does not write itself, not from one massive ink blot and not starting out as dots, which form letters, which align into perfect phrases, paragraphs, books and sets. In fact, it’s even more incredulous to say that they aligned so perfectly, step by step and dot by dot than it is to say that all appeared at once. Yet that’s what the atheist contends when he chalks up life’s existence to gradual and detailed formation with no Creator at the helm.”

1 – Evolution explains the diversity of life after it is in place. This is not speculative, nor is it debated in the scientific community. If a scientist could give any evidence at all directly contradicting the theory of evolution, he would win a Nobel prize in at least one field. In simple terms, alleles (part of the genome) in offspring have mutations. These mutations may be good, bad or neutral depending on the environment and can be passed down to offspring if they have them. If a mutation is good, then it is more likely the organism will survive and reproduce, thereby passing down the mutation. That’s the essence of evolution.

The analogy of encyclopaedias is broken in that encyclopaedias are not living and do not reproduce, evolution is mostly non-random (the only part of evolution that could be described as “random” are the mutations, which are then filtered by the non-random process of natural selection; that is, however well that mutation affects the organism’s ability to survive in the environment).

I would particularly suggest further knowledge in this area:
Excellent series of videos – http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=GpNeGuuuvTY
Wikipedia entry is very thorough and well-sourced – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution
I’d also suggest the entry on its factual nature and the scientific terminology of “theory” as opposed to its colloquial usage – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution_as_theory_and_fact

2 – Here (and repeatedly throughout the article) the writer calls everything in the universe “perfect”. The planets in “perfect orbit” the universe “perfectly tuned for life”. The planets are on elliptical orbits, for one. There are a massive amount of stars and planets, and within our view can only find life here, showing a distinct lack of precision in the universe’s ability to support life. We as humans are subject to thousands of virii, bacteria and parasites that under an evolutionary viewpoint are logical progressions would under a creationist viewpoint support a malevolant creator, and so forth.

3 – The writer continually summizes “the atheist” viewpoint under an all-encompassing scientific umbrella, though without scientific knowledge. Atheism is merely one who is without theism — does not accept, given the amount of evidence available, the notion of a god. An atheist need not know the answer to anything to be an atheist, just be without a belief in a god or gods.

I will digress at this point as this letter is long enough as it is. I would hope in the future that you have a bit more of a thorough process of editing for your materials because it is difficult to be as wrong as the writer is in this article. I can expand further if requested, but I hope it is clear at this point the problems with this piece.

Thank you for your time,
Derek Hamilton

May 23, 2008

My Values

Filed under: Life, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 11:03 pm

Religions have the ability to assert themselves without evidence, coherency or logic, yet be declared as absolutely true. By this reasoning, then, all something needs to be granted the respectability of religion is to be presented in writing. So, I am here to present my own religion of sorts — a complete, workable set of rules to be followed.

Personal Rules of Conduct

  1. Acceptance of a hypothesis requires evidence to the extent that its factuality is beyond a reasonable doubt, and is further subject to investigation and disregard should contradictory evidence be offered.
  2. Decisions must always be made with a backing of sound logic.
  3. Opinions, if offered, must also be offered logically and with evidence suiting the situation.
  4. Respect of any belief is not requisite, and is always subject to criticism, providing such criticism fits the bounds of this doctrine.
  5. Opinions must be offered without solicitation.
  6. Respect of a person is granted up until the point of ignorance as defined by this doctrine.
  7. Lying is applicable only if it offers protection against unreasonable judgment or persecution as defined by the rules of this doctrine.
  8. Pride is positive up until the point it opposes good will.
  9. The use of investigation for the progression or this doctrine and all other achievements regarding the advancement of knowledge, technology and the furtherment of humankind is explicitly encouraged.
  10. Faith–acceptance of a hypothesis without evidence–is ultimately harmful and should be considered as such.
  11. Irrationality–disregard of logic–is ultimately harmful and should be considered as such.
  12. This doctrine–aside from this single element–is now, always and forever subject to scrutiny and modification for the betterment of all.

Parameters of logic

  1. Logic under no circumstances can be disregarded or overridden, even in the hypothetical event of a logical conclusion of disregard of logic to improve happiness or other positive means.
  2. It is logically permissable to presume others do not desire pain, anguish, suffering, or death unless explicitly stated to reach a logically sound task that is not self-referrential.
  3. Proof is not requisite to acceptance of a hypothesis or theory, only reasonably adaquate evidence.

If you believe in a religion, please present why your rules of living are more practical, moral or reasonable than the ones you see here. By my own doctrine, this is something that should be encouraged. Perhaps we I can improve my own rules (sorry you’re so stuck in place).

May 19, 2008

To Beat a Dead Horse

Filed under: Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , — Zurahn @ 8:16 pm

I’m getting a bit thematic in my blog posts, but it’s merely a reflection or what currently occupies my mind, and right now, it’s the societal impact of religion.

While I understand the general causes that would lead one to find comfort in the concept of religion (no one understands the fear of death more than I), but I cannot grasps the idea of submitting one’s own mind to such blatantly utter nonsense.  I don’t know what to call it — laugable, bizarre or just plain scary.

It is, quite literally, a claim of knowledge of something with no facts (faith is not faith if there is a reason or evidence), and it is such a weird claim beyond that.  Some super-intelligent, super-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing man created and watches everything.  How is that not MADNESS?

So, in the case that anyone religious actually reads this, how in the world can you possibly justify such an absurdity?

And before you answer, here are my template responses to the answers repeated ad nauseum that are logically fallacious:
-Pascal’s Wager.  This is that there’s no risk.  Simply, given there are more possibilities than religion X and no afterlife, this is flawed.  This aside from the instance of Christianity that requires FAITH, which if you’re doing it as a safety net, is not faith.

-Nature.  That nature is too spectacular and wondrous not to have had a creator.  Aside from much of nature having been described biologically in terms of its development, the jump to the conclusion that there is a deity that created everything is baseless.

-Personal moment.  That you felt something special in you that was a god speaking to you.  People of ALL faiths claim this, and is no argument in favour of any specific religion.  Additionally, not only is this not empirical, not testable, and not reliable, situations considered by some to be “spiritual” can be demonstrated and recreated naturally, anyway.

-Religious text.  Unless a religious text offers some kind of knowledge that wasn’t available during its period of authorship, such as quantum theory in the Qu’ran, then it holds weight.  Otherwise, the inconsistent realities of such text are evidence of nothing.

-Scientific gaps.  Arguing that science cannot explain something does nothing to argue in favour of a deity, which is unrelated.  Not only is the claim of the gap likely false, it is irrelevant.  For example, if the theory of general relativity were proven inaccurate, it does not prove anything other than the theory’s own inadequacies.  If a question doesn’t have an answer, that only means the question doesn’t have an answer.

-First cause.  Claiming anything in existence requires a creator only leads to a logical infinite loop requiring the creator to have a creator to have a creator.  This not even factoring in the incorrect assumption to begin with.

I can’t imagine any of these are taken seriously by more than a very small minority, so what then does it leave for the rest of the 80% of Canadians and Americans that are religious?  Europe isn’t quite that high, but there are significant numbers there, and moreso throughout the world.  What is it?  Social pressure?  Can that circumvent rational thought?  It shouldn’t even require rational thought — simple connection of “invisible friends aren’t real” should be enough to raise the question.

I really need a reason to think religion isn’t a mental illness.  Give me a reason.  Oh, that’s right, religion ignores reason.

March 25, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 5

Filed under: Computers, Movies, Philosophy, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 4:15 am

“If we don’t get a chance to ask the question, then we really haven’t taken the opportunity that I think the Internet offers. And I think you risk closing off some new possibilities by holding onto an old rule, and the old rule was: Any copy other than the one delivered by the producer is illegitimate–it is pirate. And, in fact, the practice has often been that culture is shared, that we make mixed tapes and we show movies to each other and we make it part of our own lives. That’s in fact been the vitality of pop culture. And so we’d be denying the fact that pop culture, while in some way is owned by its producers, the very reason why it matters is it’s owned by the people who consume it.”
-Tarleton Gillespie, assistant professor, Department of Communication, Cornell University

This is a quote from a recent BBC podcast series about piracy. This is a fundamental reason why, perhaps not why it has begun, but why it will never stop, and why it is so hard to convince people of it being so wrong. The rules aren’t clear because you can’t make them clear, and if you can’t make them clear, you can’t get people to agree with enforcing them. Another issue brought up in the podcast was in reference to books, which is an excellent case-study. How often are books pirated? People sell used books for pennies, people share books, there are public libraries, and nobody seems to read anymore. And yet, through all of that, there is a seemingly endless stream of literature. Why? That’s up to interpretation. The podcast mentioned a drop in price wiping out pirated copies, but I would suggest the product is properly placed in the market. Packaging, quality control and pricing meet the place where it is more reasonable to purchase books you want than to get lesser copies through lesser means for lesser cost. But the option exists, and in fact, helps the market.

What exists now is an environment where everything is free. The Internet is the theory of communism as yet uncorrupted by power, and in a communist society, you can accept that you are all equal, or you can leave. You can’t keep hording things to yourself, and you most certainly will not be tolerated taking things away from everyone else.

When we look at piracy from a logical perception, there are instances where things can certainly get negative, and in a general sense, wrong. Someone did make this, and through their only means, released it as a commercial product. Without their effort, this product would not exist, yet someone is using it without permission.

The problem is the rarity of these instances among the vague strokes of licensing, a culture of sharing, and simple fair usage. Yet my evaluation means nothing. If there’s something to learn from the example of books, it’s that the issue forces change, regardless of authority. If your product is digital, you’re going to have to meet the public, which is on the whole rejecting that very market to which you appeal. So you can be like these digital pioneers,

CBC released it’s television series, “Canada’s Next Prime Minister” for free on bitTorrent
http://torrentfreak.com/cbc-bittorrent-tv-080319/

Radiohead released its latest album ahead of time, online, for free. Oh, and it released as the #1 album.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/10/arts/music/10radio.html?_r=1&ref=music&oref=slogin

And of course, The Revolution Movie, which released in theatres asking the audience to pay afterwards, whatever they thought it was worth, if even nothing. Did I mention the average viewer paid more than the standard ticket fee?
http://www.revoloutionmovie.com/

I’ve given you the information, and some opinions in there, too, so you can make a fairly well informed decision. My last judgment? Well, while there are some dark spots, and you may want to avoid downloading music if you’re a college student, I wouldn’t worry too much about the morality of it all, because, in time, you simply won’t have to.

March 16, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 4

Filed under: Computers — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 3:46 am

Having covered multimedia, it’s time to focus on an area of digital piracy that is strangely overlooked, which is software. Let’s look at the reasons for piracy, and see how software works out:
-Cost
-Time
-Reliability
-DRM

Obviously, if you download something without paying, it’s cheaper than if you paid. The problem here is that there’s a free version of practically everything, so if you download Nero 7 without a license instead of DeepBurner, well, you’re just not being efficient.

Actually obtaining software without a license is going to most likely be harder that going out and getting it yourself. It’s just not as big of a market, and the market is more splintered, so getting an unlicensed copy of a program can be quite difficult in most cases.

Reliability is most significant issue. If you’re going to spend money on a product, you want to be assured of its compatibility, which is almost impossible to do. This is where games factor in quite prominently, as they can be the most picky due to being among the most hardware intensive. Testing beforehand is more important on software than anywhere. If you can get a shareware version, that can be of benefit, but that’s not always available. Ultimately, pirated software is typically less reliable, but it’s also common enough that commercial software for whatever reason will completely fail to run.

Games are also most significant when it comes to DRM. Valve games, for example, require Steam in order to play your games, regardless of whether they were downloaded. Steam requires an Internet connection, and needs the Steam servers functional. All of things are pushing things much too far.

Software is difficult because of how expansive it is, and the case-by-case basis of the implications of downloading unlicensed versions. Typically, in all practicality, there should be a free version. Whether it’s OpenOffice for Microsoft Office, Paint.NET for Adobe Photoshop, IZArc for WinRAR, or even Ubuntu for Windows. While it’s not always perfect, there’s usually a good substitute.

Judgment: Medium-High objectionability. There may be the occasional instance that you need a license product to do something specific, or you can’t find something to buy anywhere, or whatever the issue. But for the most part, you should be able to find software for free. Games are a different beast, and I find the acts of Valve with Steam, and 2K Games with Bioshock utterly dispicable, there are cases of beautiful lack of intrusion, such as Ubisoft with my new copy of Chessmaster 11 (although there’s no demo available for it :(). I’d suggest console or boycott, but just use your best judgment here.

Part 5 will bring general conclusions to the issue of piracy.

March 7, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 3

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 8:58 am

Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 1
Piracy – Morality and Logic – Part 2

In Part 2, I detailed the ambiguity regarding the licensing of digital media, citing the user’s difficulty in discerning what is legal. As per that vein, last week, Nine Inch Nails released its newest album on bitTorrent as well as available to listen on their site.

This is a particularly central tennet to the debate regarding music downloads, as their are more outlets to capture and distribute music than any other medium.

There are five key points to address when determining the ethical ramifications of downloading music on the Internet:
-Who released it, and what license
-Honus of knowledge
-Internet amnesty
-The industry
-The representatives

Who released it is very important, perhaps on an ethical level, more than with what license. The licenses are not written by the artists and are not really with the intent of protecting the artist, but rather the recording label. If the album is released freely by the artist, it is irrelevant ethically whether the “license” permits listening on an MP3 playing or using it in a personal video. Perhaps I’m speaking out of line, but I’d find it hard to imagine that anyone releasing their music would be the ones to impose those restrictions.

But in terms of license, the transferrence of license must be permitted in some way with all possessions, or else it’s not a possession at all, and you’re no longer buying, but leasing. Assuming that you are not leasing music, but purchasing, someone then must have purchased the song that is available on peer-to-peer, and must thereby by transferrable. It is the user’s right to give away HIS license to that song. This leads into the next section…

The honus of knowledge. Is the user then the one who should be required to determine whether a download available for free from wherever is in fact licensed as such? In terms of the analogy of someone giving away a song, would the user downloading be required then to assure that the user on the other end, who has just released his license, no longer listen to the song? Is it up to the user, if he does not know who a band is, to find out whether he would, would not or has released an album for free? If he is unable, is it then unethical to download? For most independents, this would be severely limiting, from a theoretical absolute position if everyone followed this rule.

The most convincing argument against the freedom of users to download based on the conception of presumed licensing is that the initiation of a download has the user copying the material, and not the licensee, as well as it being a copy, and not a transfer. However, this may become irrelevant once we address the question of whose law is it that one must follow? The residence of the user or that of the artist, if any at all? While one would naturally lean toward that of the user, it then must be asked how this protects the artist? If copyright protection is provided to protect the rights of the original creator, who then does it serve to ignore the laws by which that creator lives?

Even further on the law of the Internet, let’s try an example: An American artist records an album (and doesn’t release it freely on the Internet), then moves to Canada. A person in Canada and a different person in the United States downloads the same album. Do we apply the American law to both, Canadian to the Canadian, US to the US? American law cannot be applied to a Canadian if the act was perpetrated on Canadian soil (and vice-versa). Canadian law does not protect the artist in this case. Applying American law would be irreverent when the person in the same country as the artist is not subject to the same law. The only reasonable conclusion on the application of the law is that attempting to do so can only be considered an act of a party without the artist himself in mind, well intentioned or not.

The industry is created as a means of generating revenue, but offering a service to the public. The artists provide the service, the public pays for it, all is good. If either the customer doesn’t pay, or the service isn’t as advertised, then the system is broken. Also central to the entire idea of paying for a service is competition, and if there’s no competition, the reason to pay dissipates. We are seeing all three signs of a broken industry with music today. Your options for music (aside from our subject of downloads) if you do not own an iPod are CDs. This is a monopoly. Also referenced in Part 2 is the incredible limitations of modern license agreements, which is arguably not as advertised. This is no clearer than the Sony rootkit fiasco in which Sony music CDs automatically installed anti-piracy software without the user’s consent, and resulted in significant performance issues on the system — in lamens terms, it installed malware.

One last issue I’ll touch on is US specific — the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). They’ve been on a massive anti-piracy legal crusade, primarily against college dorm students (which is a moronic idea legally given dorm students are on a SHARED network meaning it’s impossible to win if it makes it to court). While there’s a lot of rhetoric in the incessent web-flaming on the RIAA, there are unseemly practices, including one that single-handedly undermines their entire cause: They didn’t pay the artists.

Ok, that was the second-to-last thing. I’d be remisce not to mention that as a listener to a lot of Japanese music, it’s awfully difficult for me to acquire music through traditional means, and I most certainly would not have even heard any of it as such. I have actually looked on iTunes for the sake of seeing if I could find Hitomi Yaida or Younha, and did not have such luck. Importing costs $40 + shipping.

So my judgment? Well, when you have such significant international legal inconsistencies, tonnes of ways to get music that may or may not be properly licensed, and you’ve got companies pulling crap like this this and this, it’s a little hard to feeling as if you’re hurting the little guy by downloading some songs.

Judgment: No objectionability. That’s right, none. Do it, and may your conscience be clear. The industry’s a mess, and it’s not your job to clean it up — wait, sorry, it is. By not buying overpriced, malware infested, CDs that the record label gets 88% of the profits.

Part 4 investigates the seediness of downloading pirated software.

March 3, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 2

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 3:26 pm

A pretense that was not addressed in Part 1 of this series was that of the simple ambiguity of licensing. That is, what one is legally entitled to do with something for which he has paid. Most simply do not know, and presume it’s simply a matter of “If I bought it, I do what I want, but can’t give it to someone else.” In reality, things are extraordinarily complicated. I’ll also note that I am addressing simply downloading, and not distribution, which is murkier territory.

Firstly, legality depends on your country. A simple contrast is between the United States and Canada on the downloading of copywritten music. In the United States, it is in fact illegal to downloading copywritten materials (though prosecution and burden of proof is incredibly difficult), while in Canada downloading is permitted, as well as copying CDs (http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/sc_mrksv/cipo/cp/copy_gd_protect-e.html).

But morality is not legality, and this only covers you insofar as you ethically agree with the law. So where do we draw that line? This is the second point: There is no line. Follow the example, even in the United States, whether something even qualifies as protected by copywrite. Keeping with the music trend, it is not uncommon for some or all of an album to now be released with full distribution rights for free on the Internet, as seen by Weird Al Yankovich (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5482774).

Where things really get confusing is with regard to streaming public video sites such as Youtube. It is even more common for record labels to release music videos on Youtube. In less time than it would take to search out the song on a peer-to-peer client, I could rip the audio from that Youtube video and have the music in MP3 form. Would that be copyright infringement? Should the downloader even have to be the one to figure it out?

The same concepts pertain to television, as seen by the many NBC clips released by NBC itself. Would a video uploaded by NBC be legal and moral, but if someone downloaded the NBC clip itself and uploaded it, would it be illegal and immoral? What if it’s the same clip, but TiVO’d?

The last item, most mind twisting, is that once downloaded, if presumed entirely legal to have been distributed, what license then is given? Personal viewing? Personal and public viewing? Distribution rights? Selling rights? There are no license agreements for most digital media. In the case of Youtube, the site itself attempts to dictate licensing, but its own Terms of Service remain ambiguous at best. For example, “You agree not to alter or modify any part of the website”. What does this mean? Technically I’m modifying their site by increasing or decreasing my browser text size or applying a custom stylesheet.

Ultimately, Terms of Service, licensing agreements and the like are anti-social means of dismissing all liability with complete disregard for consumer rights. On an ethical level, the entire premisce of 10 pages of legal jargon as a means for determining what you can or cannot do, which in the case of CDs, can restrict even listening to it on your iPod (http://72.14.205.104/search?q=cache:www.copyright.gov/1201/2006/hearings/sonydrm-ext.pdf).

Trying to define ethics by the definition of the law and licensing agreements is clearly in poor judgment. Part 3 will address the music issue further.

February 24, 2008

Piracy – Morality and Rationale – Part 1

Filed under: Computers, Philosophy — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — Zurahn @ 8:08 am

Piracy is a big issue with the advent of the much clichéd Web 2.0. While there was for the longest time piracy related to computers, it seemed limited at first to computer software itself. Then it spread to music and videogames, then onto pretty much anything that could be digital.

Is it simply a matter of something being free? Is it convenience? A statement? More importantly, is it patently right or wrong? If I may be a little less than humble, I’d say in a description, you can summarize me into logical and ethical. Combine that with a serious dedication to computers, and I feel as though I’m in a good position to evaluate the ethical complications of piracy.

I’ll start with DVDs, that being, movie and television content sold as DVDs. Most are easily accessible off of bitTorrent. Let’s address the issues that lead to one choosing to download versus buy:
-It’s free
-There are no advertisements
-Can be done from home
-Easily transferrable
-Accessibility

Saying it’s free is more complex than the notion of not paying. No price means no risk — is there something you want to see, but aren’t sure if it’s worth a purchase? Suddenly, you can see it without purchasing it. There’s also no risk of damaging the disc, or receiving a faulty disc. While this option theoretically exists on television, timing is frustrating unless you have one of those expensive and controversial TiVO recorders, and leads into the next section,

Similarly, we’ve been dragged through this idiotic HD format wars endlessly, and for what will cost the consumer approximately twice the cost of a normal DVD for slightly improved quality, the option is to those who download, immediately available the upgrade should the viewer wish.

There are no advertisements. Even in DVD movies, where you have paid to own the content, you still must endure several previews that the DVD really doesn’t want you skipping, along with the nice extended 3D animation of the producer’s logo, and obnoxious, spoiler-filled video footage that leads into and plays in the background of the main menu. DVDs have become obnoxious as a delivery system.

Nothing more than a computer, Internet connection and time is required to watch. No movie stores, no rental returns or late fees. Download-watch-delete. You could even stream in some cases, with no delay.

And related to computers, there’s little difficulty in transferring the contents of the DVD. What do I mean? Backups, alternative viewing means, portable players, making clips, whatever. You have full access to do as you wish.

There are means to get some of these things, such as NetFlix, but that may be limited by bandwidth, area, and simply what is offered. And still, does not provide full versatility.

If you’re under the age of 18 (varies by location), there is little to argue on the matter. In Ontario, at least, you cannot rent without a credit card. You cannot rent or buy movies in which you do not meet the age restriction. If you are, for example, 17, you would by the law that in the US so scorns upon downloading copywritten movies, you would not be allowed to buy or rent a movie rated R.

What is ultimately striking about the concept of downloads of DVDs is that there is a genuine advantage in all areas for the method that does not cost the consumer. Yes, the creator should retain rights to his content and be compensated; however, the means of distribution is clearly flawed and is hurting the ones who actually pay.

So far this will have come off as rather slanted. There are more methods for viewing what is available on DVD that simply the DVDs themselves, but evaluate those means, and there are complications. Telvision does not provide many methods for being selective in channels. You need to get a giant load of channels, which in the case of modern television, is a giant load of crap. It’s the equivalent of the obnoxious console bundles that require you to buy all the games the retailers know nobody wants, just to get the system. Nobody should support that kind of methodology. Remove that and suddenly you’re into PC options, which I will address in another part.

When one desires change, it must be shown in purchasing habits — however, there is little choice for the consumer in this regard. There are DVDs, and in that, DVDs are the same. DRM’s that prevent back-ups, and barring that, user-agreements that forebode viewing for anyone other than yourself, and certainly not on anything other than a DVD player, advertisements that cannot be skipped, and so forth. For most, it’s DVDs or torrents, and it seems as though torrents are making a serious claim.

Judgment: Low objectionability until the movie industry (and western governments) get their act together.

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