Sunday, December 28, 2008


Intellectual Property

I've inserted this cartoon without permission of its author. It has copyright protection. If I were to publish it in an anthology of cartoons about the internet, it would be illegal. However, it is legal for me to use it under the "fair use doctrine" in order to illustrate a larger point. If one of the dogs looked like Elvis, I might be sued by the Presley estate (which was sold some years ago by Prisilla and AnnMarie). This is covered under laws pertaining to "privacy and publicity" rather than copyright. The situation concerning "intellectual property" is a mess and hardly conforms to the Founders' notions in the Constitution. In Thomas Jefferson's view, ideas themselves are not patentable. They must be reduced to practice. Jefferson did not see individuals as having an unalienable creator-given right to the fruits of their minds. That could only be granted by the State. Similarly, other property like land is not owned by an individual according to Jefferson. The sovereign or state grants property rights. Note the constitution:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

This is unusual for the Constitution in that the Congress is told what it must do and the REASON behind that obligation. We don't give a person exclusivity, because it's the RIGHT thing to do. We give it, because it is the PRACTICAL thing to do. It's good for progress. Currently, we are way beyond that principle in that we grant exclusivity to estates of creative people and thereby inhibit creative use of a product for additional generations. We often inhibit progress. Philosophically, it all hinges on what we think of, as a right to our ideas. Note that Jefferson and Franklin never patented their important inventions despite the fact that they would be granted exclusivity under today's standards. Many of today's patents would fail the test by being an obvious extension of a previous work. Unfortunately, in academia having a patent has become a badge of honor like publishing lots of papers. Since the cost of the patent is most often born by the institution, the "progress of science and the useful arts" is not necessarily a consideration. The morass is made worse by the fact that licenses and permissions are often difficult to obtain, because one cannot find the current owner of a copyright. With respect -Joel

A Different Kind of Game

My son-in-law put me on to this wonderfully new and different kind of sensory sight and sound game that appeals to our faculties of intellect, reason, and art all at the same time.

Please try it and perhaps we can discuss the philosophical aspects and figure out why the "shoot 'em up" types of video games are so much more popular.

Ira Glickstein

Sunday, December 21, 2008

CHRISTmas and CHanukah

"Put CHRIST back in Christmas and the "CH" back in Chanukah!"

My Chanukah lights, in the photo above, are a small minority among the Christmas lights that dominate the streets here in The Villages, Florida. A couple evenings ago our bicycle club staged our annual Christmas decoration night ride. Our headlights and taillights twinkled among the holiday lights as we "ooed" and "ahed" at some of the most extensive and colorful and artistic displays. Last evening a bunch of us from the neighborhood did a similar tour in our golf carts. Each event was followed by a party with food and drink and merry music.

Tonight many of us Jewish residents assembled at one of our town centers to light our Chanukah menorah that happily sits among the Christmas decorations. Then we went to TooJays Deli for a traditional Chanukah dinner.

When we first moved down here it was a bit jarring to see Christmas lights without any snow or even the possibility of snow. It just did not seem right. However, after five years, and while reading reports of blizzards of snow being endured by our relatives up north, it seems just right.

What Happened to the CHRIST in Christmas?
Some of the decorations feature a Christmas Cresh (Nativity Scene), a cross, and/or a notice that "Christ is the reason for the season". Many are tasteful riots of twinkling lights with no obvious religious connotation. A few are garish wastes of electricity, jammed with blow-up cartoon characters and large gift boxes.

Winter Solstice
Of course I know we are actually celebrating the ancient, pre-Christian "rebirth of the Sun" - the time in the northern hemisphere when the Sun reverses the gradual lengthening of the night and starts the gradual lengthening of the day. The pagans lighted fires to encourage the Sun to begin to rise higher in the sky, and reverse its descent into the coldest depths of winter. They celebrated their joy when, in response to their prayers they thought, the Sun rose higher.

The date we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Savior is probably not the actual date of His birth. It was moved to this season to co-opt the Roman holiday of the "rebirth of the Sun".

Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday now celebrated all out of proportion to its importance due to its proximity to Christmas. Another case of co-opting an existing holiday!

What Happened to the "CH" in Chanukah?
The word "Chanukah" means "dedication". I take care to pronounce the "CH" with the gutteral sound like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or in the German "achtung".

You have seen it spelled "Hanukkah" by (nearly) all the major media and pronouced Hon-uh-kuh (with the "Hon" as on "honk").

So, why do I and many Jewish websites spell it "Chanukah" while others spell it "Hanukkah"?

Because we are right and they are wrong! Here is the proof!

In Hebrew characters it is spelled: חֲנֻכָּה and, reading from right to left, the first letter חֲ is a "Chet" which has a gutteral, back of the throat, rumbling sound not represented by any single English character. As noted above, this has been represented in English as "Ch", based on the Scottish "loch". Unfortuantely, in English, "ch" is also sounded like the first syllable of "chime" or Christmas". In a misplaced effort to resolve the issue, some Jewish scholars spelled it "Kh" a combination not usually found in English. Others spelled it as a "Ḥ" (an "H" with a dot under it).

The "Kh" was not widely accepted and the "Ḥ" was often simplified to a plain "H", which is why you often see "Hanukkah" and hear it pronounced "Hon-uh-kuh".

Hebrew is normally written without vowels, but when vowels are provided, they take the form of marks under the letters. The line below the letter חֲ is pronounced "ah". That is represented as "a" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".

The next Hebrew letter is נֻ pronounced like "n" with a "oo" or "u" vowel under it. This is represented as "nu" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".

The letter that follows is כָּ pronounced like "k" with an "ah"vowel under it. Notice there is only a single כָּ in the Hebrew word, so there is absolutely no valid justification for the double "kk" in "Hanukkah". It is properly represented in "Chanukah". So, why do they put the extra "k" in the word? The only possible explanation is to get a total of exactly eight letters in the word so you can put one letter on each of the eight candles representing the eight days of the "miracle" in the story of this holiday. Note that "Chanukah" already has eight letters and does not "need" the extra, extraneous and disturbing "k".

The final letter is ה pronounced like "h" and properly represented in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".

In any case, Chanukah celebrates a great victory for religious freedom that was achieved ca. 165 BCE.

Considering the long history of the Jewish people as an often-persecuted minority religion, I think it is remarkable that I feel perfectly comfortable hanging Chanukah decorations in front of our house. We have received nothing but complements from our Christian neighbors.

The top photo, from left to right, shows:

1) A Chanukah menorah. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central candle is lighted, along with the candle on the far right. On the second night, the central candle plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.
2) A lighted Jewish star.
3) A second Chanukah Menorah consisting of lighted snowflakes supported by lighted candy canes. The candy canes represent the candles and the snowflakes (with six points like a Jewish star) represent the flames. The candy canes are always lighted. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central snowflake is lighted, along with the snowflake on the far right. On the second night, the central snowflake plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.

I also have a lighted poster hanging outside the garage with the word "שׁלּוּﬦ" in Hebrew along with the translation "PEACE" and transliteration "Shalom".

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Ira Glickstein

Monday, December 8, 2008

Creative Chaos

[from Joel] My wife got me to read what purported to be a funny piece from the BBC. It's a mildly amusing piece about self-imposed sloppy work environments. Being a slob myself, I appreciate the humor, but the author goes on a bit too long about it. It's entitled The brilliance of creative chaos or
"Are we able to think clearly when surrounded by mess because chaos is inherent in all our minds, even those of the great writers and thinkers", by Clive James.
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I think that there's an interesting philosophical point buried in the piece:

Perhaps it's trying to remind me that the best equipped pontificator is the one who is aware of his own propensities towards chaos. Unable to organise his own breakfast, he will be less ready to condemn officials who can't organise an efficient system for sending out student grants, or collecting private information onto a CD-ROM that won't be left on a train. But, even the most self-aware pontificator is still likely to expect too much of the world. Rarely will he be sufficiently amazed that society functions at all, considering some of the human material it has to work with.
My philosophical point is this. Plato wrote about an idealized state in The Republic and a more practical one in The Laws. Aristotle analyzed various constitutions. And so the trend continued through Cicero, Aurelius, Augustine, Locke, Marx, Hayek, etc. In the end, every proposal is drowned in the chaos of real world events. Nothing works out the way the philosophers suppose. Should we take our cue from Voltaire's Candide and simply cultivate our small garden while surrounded by chaos and forces beyond our control? Is stoicism the path for a philosopher of the real world?

With respect -Joel

Thursday, December 4, 2008

James Hansen favors Carbon Tax

I'm surprised and pleased that I agree with the Director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), James Hansen, on the need for a Carbon Tax. IMHO, Hansen has gone overboard in his dire predictions regarding human-caused Global Warming. GISS, his agency, has come in for some criticism here for what appears to be some bias in Global Warming data.

Nevertheless he is right on this one!

My support for a punitive Carbon Tax goes back many years and is well documented on this Blog: (July 2007, May, October, and November 2008).

An Opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal brought Hansen's statement to my attention. (The chart above is from Hansen's June 2008 presentation.)

With gasoline at $2 or less, and the memory of $4 and more clearly in mind, NOW is the right time to impose a $1/gallon carbon tax.

Hansen calls his proposal "Tax and 100% dividend" because it will apply equally to all forms of sequestered carbon (coal, oil, natural gas) and all of it will be returned, equally per-capita, to everyone with a Social Security number.

Other than collecting and distributing the carbon tax dividend, the government will have no role in using these revenues to select the specific alternative energy solution that will arise. By making carbon-based energy relatively more expensive, the carbon tax will spur consumers to conserve energy and also to select products that utilize alternative, non-taxed, energy. The tax will thus put an umbrella over researchers and corporations working on all sorts of alternative energy without imposing the heavy (and politicaly motivated) hand of government "experts" to tip the balance in favor of any one.

The proposed carbon tax will be revenue-neutral, returning money to the people. The tax will also be ultra-progressive since it returns the money equally per-capita while the rich will be paying most of the tax because they use more energy and products that require energy to produce and transport.

Here are some direct quotes from Hansen's remarks:

Tax and 100% dividend can drive innovation and economic growth with a snowballing effect. Carbon emissions will plummet far faster than in top-down or Manhattan projects. A clean environment that supports all life on the planet can be restored.

... Principles must be crystal clear and adhered to rigorously. A tax on coal, oil and gas is simple. It can be collected at the first point of sale within the country or at the last (e.g., at the gas pump), but it can be collected easily and reliably. You cannot hide coal in your purse; it travels in railroad cars that are easy to spot.

“Cap” [and trade of carbon credits] ... may do as much harm as good. ...

The entire carbon tax should be returned to the public, with a monthly deposit ...

A carbon tax will raise energy prices, but lower and middle income people, especially, will find ways to reduce carbon emissions so as to come out ahead. Product demand will spur economic activity and innovation. The rate of infrastructure replacement, thus economic activity, can be modulated by how fast the carbon tax rate increases. Effects will permeate society. Food requiring lots of carbon emissions to produce and transport will become more expensive and vice versa – it is likely, e.g., that the UK will stop importing and exporting 15,000 tons of waffles each year. There will be a
growing price incentive for life style changes needed for sustainable living.

The present political approach is to set carbon emission reduction goals for 2025 or 2050. The politicians do not expect the goals to be reached, and they define escape hatches that guarantee they will not. They expect to be retired or become lobbyists before the day of reckoning. The goals are mainly for bragging rights: “mine is bigger than yours!”

The worst thing about the present inadequate political approach is that it will generate public backlash. Taxes will increase, with no apparent benefit. The reaction would likely delay effective emission reductions, so as to practically guarantee that climate would pass tipping points with devastating consequences for nature and humanity.

Carbon tax and 100% dividend, on the contrary, will be a breath of fresh air, a boon and boom for the economy. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefitting most, with profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses. Incidentally, it will yield strong incentive for aliens to become legal; otherwise they receive no dividend while paying the same carbon tax rate as everyone.

Special interests and their lobbyists in alligator shoes will fight carbon tax and 100% dividend tooth and nail. They want to determine who gets your tax money in the usual Washington way, Congress allocating money program-by-program, substituting their judgment for that of the market place. The lobbyists can afford the shoes. Helping Washington figure out how to spend your money is a very lucrative business.

But we can save the planet and alligators by making sure that not one thin dime of the carbon tax is siphoned off by lobbyists for their clients – 100% must be returned to citizens as dividend. Make this your motto: “100% or fight! No alligator shoes!”

Check the position of your congresspersons. If they spout things like “global warming is the greatest hoax in the history of the universe”, check the shoes of the people who visit them or have dinner with them. Changes in Congress are needed if we want our children and grandchildren to win this one.

Because of great benefits to the nation, humanity and nature, this approach soon would be adopted by other nations, providing an obvious path toward international agreements. (Jim Hansen)

Ira Glickstein