Saturday, July 30, 2005

Irish all the way!

Your Inner European is Irish!

Sprited and boisterous!

You drink everyone under the table.

Amazingly, I got Irish without even choosing the probable "Irish" answer to the question "Your idea of a great night out is...", which would be "Drinking beer in a cozy pub with your friends".

Though if I change my food selection to the other answer I was strongly considering, I become French.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

B-16 and HP 6...

Well folks, word has been out for over a week now that the "Pope opposes Harry Potter novels" and the "Pope criticizes Harry Potter". Some of my friends -- non-Catholic themselves -- seem to be concerned I might be disobeying Pope Benedict's "commands" by reading the newest Harry Potter book. I appreciate their concern.

However, I think we can all agree that the media don't always get the story straight. In fact, even Catholic media outlets can sometimes get news stories on their own Church wrong!

At the most, it could be argued that Cardinal Ratzinger was writing about the need to be cautious with the Harry Potter books. Nothing in his 2 letters gives any sense that he is condemning the books, labeling them as inherently evil, or even outright opposing them entirely. When you read the letter, all you can be certain of is that Ratzinger expressed some caution and concern about Harry Potter because the stories can be subtle seductions that could lead the soul astray before it has properly grown to a certain level of maturity.

And honestly, I agree with this! A child not developed enough and/or not receiving guidance from his parents on the issue could possibly be led away from his/her faith into witchcraft somewhere down the line. But many other things could lead people astray as well, alcohol for example. Yet this doesn't necessarily mean that the thing is inherently evil, but rather simply that it needs a proper balance (in the case of Potter, an understanding that it is fantasy; in the case of beer, a sense of moderation). It's true that fantasy novels may have fair influence on future Wiccans, especially those involving wizards and/or witches (for example, a study showed the majority of American Wiccans cite LOTR as their favorite childhood book), but for every Wiccan there are probably 20 times as many (or more) other people who turned out non-Wiccan.

Getting back to Ratzinger's letters then, probably the most important fact is that these letters were written 2 years before the man even became Pope, which means they carry no papal authority whatsoever!

Here's some further and more in-depth clarification for you guys, and anyone else who's interested and open-minded...

Pre-16 On Hary Potter (Jimmy Akin)

Vatican Radio On Pre-16 Potter Brouhaha (Jimmy Akin)

By the way, I've started Harry Potter 6 and I'm loving it!

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ethics of Replicating Music, Books, Movies, Software, Etc.

I came accross a very interesting post from Dave Armstrong's weblog Cor ad cor loquitur: "On the Ethics of Replication of Music, Books, Movies, Software, Etc." It's opened my eyes to some things I never considered before. Perhaps it will for you as well. And if it doesn't, well, I hope you'll say why, or what's wrong with it . . .


The following is based on an actual dialogue I had with an atheist friend, two years ago, over the ethics of replication. The original context was a discussion of software. It then branched out into a larger discussion. I've added a few clarifying additions here and there.


Is it "stealing" to buy a used record or CD? I don't think so. Is it stealing to rent a video at Blockbuster rather than buy one or go to the theatre? No. Or to tape something off the TV rather than buying the video for $29.95? Or to buy a used book rather than a new one? No to all, in my opinion. I think the ethics depends (largely, but not solely) on whether someone was going to buy a product in the first place. People are taping things on VCR's and tape recorders and now on CD's from the Internet all the time (I use Napster -- which is perfectly legal and determined by courts to not be a violation of copyright law --, for $9.95 a month). If this is massively immoral and unethical, then why do VCR's and tape recorders and CD burners exist in the first place?

The ethics of software is confusing because most of these things are available for free at some point. Two years ago, I needed Word 97 in order to send in the manuscript of my first book. I couldn't afford to buy it new and I wouldn't have, anyway. So is borrowing it from someone else who wanted to enable me to be able to send in my manuscript "stealing"? I don't see that it is. Now, it's true that (like most people) I didn't read the license or whatever. I just knew that I wasn't able to buy the software, so that Microsoft wasn't being deprived of my contribution to their profits. I acknowledge that there is some room for discussion here but I'm not convinced that any of this is "stealing," given the fact that everyone is reproducing stuff all the time, whether audio, video, or software. I think it is a hard case to make, that no one can make a tape of a record or of a show on TV. What are we supposed to do with VCR's and DVD player / recorders, and tape recorders and (now) iPods?

The only sense I can make of this is whether a person would have, and was able to, buy something in the first place. I was not able to, so Microsoft was not deprived of anything by my in effect) borrowing the software from someone else. I don't believe I have "stolen" anything, per the above reasoning (and much more, below). I do think it's confusing and that the reasoning behind reproduction is tangled and confused. Maybe you'll convince me that I must go spend the money to buy Word 97. I would be very interested in your reply to this, as [a mutual friend] never adequately answered my counter-reply when we talked about this years ago. He said it was wrong to tape albums from someone else. I said that it wasn't wrong to tape an album from the [local] library. They rent them out to do just that (someone bought those records; they weren't stolen). And I argued that it wasn't wrong to tape a show off the TV or buy a used book or record. As far as I know, [our mutual friend] does all that stuff. He borrows videotapes from me. So I wasn't convinced by his reasoning at all. It may be that it is a different argument with software.

I would like to hear your reasoning. If you argue strictly from what the license says, that might seem clear-cut, but my argument hinges on the ethics of other people using or reproducing what someone else has bought, and how that works ethically, with software, as well as with music and video and written materials.

In fact, my own computer was put together by a friend of mine. It was his old computer. I assume it had some programs in it already, like Windows 98 and so forth. Does that mean I had to delete Windows 98, go buy it, and re-install it? It was already bought! It's like buying a used car. I can't afford a new car and I couldn't afford a new computer. I'm only a "starving writer." My friend was nice enough to donate his old one, and that was for the purpose of my website, which offers over 500 web pages free of charge to the public. I've written twelve books, and that is the only for-profit part of what I do. This is the problem I have with this reasoning. It becomes a reductio ad absurdum, because the logical chain seems to have no end, and winds up being absurd if applied consistently.

I think that a legitimate, non-relativistic ethical argument can be made on these matters: that it is not stealing. That's what I believe. It may be that you can convince me otherwise if you can offer a cogent reply to my questions above. I respect the fact that you are taking a position on this, and I'm sure you have thought it through, because I see that you are a conscientious thinker.

. . .

When . . . stealing happens (in particular instances) is what remains to be solved here, as well as what "make use of wrongfully" means. E.g., say that a US spy had "stolen" Nazi plans to construct a nuclear bomb. Would that truly be stealing or would it have been completely ethically justified? For that matter, would an individual knocking off Hitler be a murderer?

My friend then asked whether I disagreed with "the concept of intellectual property rights."

No (I'm an author and purveyor of ideas myself; I certainly accept this notion); rather, I am confused as to what constitutes "stealing" by any standard definition, given the massive reproductive resources available today: VCR's, tape recorders, downloads of music from the Internet, used records and books, used cars, etc. It's not so much that I am asserting a point of view definitely, as you are, but that I am confused about this and would like to see it clarified. Obviously, I am not convinced at all that what I did was stealing, or I wouldn't have done it. I would like to think that I am a principled person, especially in matters of ethics, and Christians have all sorts of guidelines as to what is moral and ethical and what is not. If I am convinced by your reasoning, I will go and buy the software as soon as I am able.

My argument was essentially one of analogy: since all these things occur, how does one determine when their uses constitute stealing, and where does one draw the line? I pretty much assume the things you assert. My problem arises from difficulty of application of what is assumed by most parties, in a world where sharing of all these things occurs regularly and routinely, and where loans and gift-giving are not regarded by most human beings as unethical or immoral activities. Actually it is both an analogical argument and an argumentum ad absurdum, simultaneously.


These are only some excerpts from the blog post, and the best points/arguments are not necessarily included (especially some of the later analogous comparisons, such as libraries and video rental stores). If your heart desires it, you can read the rest here, as well as the continuing dialogue folks are having in Dave's comment box. If I have time, I'll try to extract what I think are the best points and put them in the comment box here...if I have time.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Leaving town for Brats and Beer...

Actually, I'm going to Milwaukee to visit some long lost relatives and learn more about my family genealogy, as well as meet my sister Stefanie's boyfriend for the first time. It should be a fun little excursion. We're leaving Friday morning and we may see the Wallflowers that night at Milwaukee's Summerfest. We should get back late Sunday, but we're also going to squeeze in a visit to the Miller brewery before we leave. (I'm not sure whether I'll actually get around to having a brat yet.)

On another note, I'm writing this to let everyone know that I probably won't be blogging any new posts here for a while. I've been commissioned for quite some time now to design a website and I really need to buckle down and finish it up. On top of that, I have 2 distance learning courses (Philosophy of the Human Person and Nature of Love) that I have to focus more on. Lastly, it's summer time and I just want to be outside more! Of course, I'm sure I'll still be reading and commenting on others' blogs.

That being said, just for fun, here are some of my recent favorites from my "Fact or Crap" flip calendar (note: these are all "fact", not "crap"):

Yogurt was developed before the days of the refigerator as a way to preserve the benefits of milk.

It is thought that yogurt was invented and used before recorded history. An unrefrigerated cultured yogurt can be eaten safely for several days, and the bacteria promote good intestinal health. Genghis Khan's army ate yogurt as a staple of its diet. In modern times yogurt is refrigerated to keep it safe for weeks at a time.

Shel Silverstein wrote articles for Playboy magazine before becoming a children's author.

For nearly two decades, Shel Silverstein worked as a contributor to Playboy, where several of his cartoons were also published. Later he went on to write the best-selling books A Light in the Attic and The Giving Tree. Silverstein earned a Grammy for Best Country Song for the lyrics he wrote for Johnny Cash's 1969 hit "A Boy Named Sue."

Nearly a quarter of all mammals can fly.

Bats are the largest species (there are 985) of mammal, making up 23% of all known mammals by species. Bats can be found in all climates except extreme desert and polar regions. The smallest bat is the bumblebee bat of Thailand; the largest, the flying fox, has a six-foot wingspan.

Etiquette dictates that it is improper to use the term congratulations when greeting a bride.

While it is perfectly acceptable to say "Congratulations" to a groom, it goes against the rule of etiquette to use the greetings "Congratulations" or "Good luck" with a bride. If you need something proper to say, try "Best wishes."

And this last one I already knew, but it's a good one so I'll post it anyways (plus we just celebrated Independence Day):

Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826.

Ironically enough, the only presidents to have signed the Declaration of Independence both died on its 50th anniversary. Having supported each other in helping create the famous document, they feuded for many years afterward. Adams, seven years Jefferson's senior, had once proclaimed that he would outlive Jefferson. It is said that Adam's last words were "Thomas Jefferson survives," though Jefferson had died a few hours earlier.

Alright then, adios folks!