Monday, October 22, 2012

Not Under God

Today I came across a meme on Facebook, published by ForAmerica, which stated "One Nation Under God", accompanied by the instructions to "Like" the post if you agreed. At the time of this writing the post already had over 200,000 "Likes", over 6,800 "Comments" and over 37,800 "Shares". I am sure many of their hearts were in the right place, but liking memes like this foster an uncritical acceptance of ideas without promoting a thorough understanding. I love the idea of America but, like a human body which sometimes becomes infected by viruses which are detrimental to it, some of the ideas which have managed to flourish in this country are poisonous to its survival. "One Nation Under God" could be equated perhaps to the common cold, a nagging idea which undermines our immunity to larger, uglier and more dangerous ideas.

According to federal census data published in 2008, 30% of Americans are classified as not believing in God. Many of those were humanists or undeclared, but some had the guts to call themselves Atheists. The language of "god" in our society of man, effectively excludes some men from our society.

If there is truly a separation of church and state, and we are truly all equal under the law, then we should change the language of the land to reflect that fact. If you look at the history you will see that adding "Under God" to the pledge is a hold over from the paranoid era of McCarthyism, when that language was added to the oath in a fleeting attempt to weed out communists. (As if an oath had the power to do this.) The pledge itself dates back only to the late 19th century, as a magazine ad to help sell flags to children.

A free people do not need an oath of allegiance. It is incumbent upon the laws and lawmakers to earn that allegiance. A free people maintain their allegiance because their allegiance ensures their freedom. It is no coincidence that as our freedoms continue to erode under the law, that the call to repeat oaths of allegiance through song and speech is increasingly relied upon to maintain our union.

This country was founded on the theory of limited government, instilled to with the power ONLY to defend its people from force and fraud, and to adjudicate legal disputes. Once the government of this country got into the business of taking money and resources from some people in order to redistribute that money and resources to other people, the land of our founders was dead...or at least in a coma.

Get the government out of the business of picking winners and losers. Get the government out of paying for special interests, or being paid by them to skew the laws. Restore government of the people, for the people, by the people - Rather than this current government of the government, for the government and its friends, by the highest bidder. Wake up! The people of the United States of America are like employee owners. We should need no oath. This is our land. That should be enough. I don't need an oath to love my country, and neither should you.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Remembering 9-10 2001

 Remembering 9-10 2001

On Monday, September 10, 2001 I reported to Grand Jury selection on Centre Street in NYC. They were convening multiple Grand Juries, mostly for morning sessions and two for afternoons. They mentioned to us that there would be some days when we would get out early. Most of the people there wanted to get on the morning sessions, so that they could go to work in the afternoons. Along with a handful of others, I volunteered for the afternoon session.

After selection was over I decided to walk home. I lived in Chelsea at the time, so this meant walking across town and up Hudson Street, which would eventually take me up Eighth Avenue. But first I went down to J&R Music to have a look around. This put me directly across town from the World Trade Center, so I decided to walk past it on my way home. On the way home I paused beneath the great buildings and recalled the times I had been inside.

The first visit I think happened during grade school. I have vague memories of a chaperoned trip to Windows on the World. When I approached college graduation my mother took me back there. The clouds were low in the sky that day, obscuring our view of the city below. Around the same time I went to a Borders Bookstore in the basement of the twin towers to interview for a job, only to eventually get turned down. I was very disappointed.

During sophomore year of college I stayed in a dorm room with a perfect picture window view of the twin towers. I spent countless hours staring out at the buildings, remembering watching westerns on WPIX-TV during weekends at my father’s house. Station identifications would show the towers, and then superimpose the number eleven over the towers, alongside with the station logo. That year in my college dorm room I felt like I was in my father’s living room, but looking at the towers live. I watch the blinking lights on the roof as if they were sheep, waiting for them to blink in unison. Then every morning when I woke up I would watch them again.

When I turned seventeen my father told me that I was a man, and that I didn’t need him around anymore. He moved out to the Midwest to look after his ailing parents. But pretty soon our contact became sporadic. For a period of two and a half years, while I was in college, I didn’t even know how to contact him. I remember thinking then how foolish it seemed. This was the age when I needed him most. I wanted his advice but had only his memory. The towers carried me through some of those lonely nights when I struggled with the responsibility of becoming my own man without my father’s guidance.

My father did eventually find his way back into my life during in the late-mid 1990’s. My mother was throwing a summer party at her house on Long island. My girlfriend and I headed out there together. When I turned the corner into the backyard my father was standing there.

By the summer of 2001, my mother was ready to sell her house and move to the city full-time. My father came out from Ohio to help her close out the place, and pick up a few of his things which he had been storing in her basement. I was single then, and happy to hang out with my mother and a father with whom I seldom spent enough time. As we drove out to dinner on one of those nights, WCBS radio disclosed CIA reports of chatter regarding an attack on New York City. We talked about it briefly, before turning our attention back to the more pressing issue of closing up the house. We also discussed my impending jury service in just a few weeks.

Eleven years ago today, standing in the shadow of the twin towers, I considered going up to the observation deck to look out on my city. But it had been a long day. I was tired, and I had a nervous feeling that I had to go home. I looked up at the north tower and told myself that I had a whole month of grand jury duty ahead of me, and there would be plenty of time to go up to the observation deck later.

Of course, I was wrong…

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day and the Cruel Irony of Obamacare

We call this very date “Independence Day” and join to celebrate it on an annual basis. For many it may come simply as a welcome day off from work. For others it signals the opportunity to commence a gathering over common interests. The gathering may vary greatly in the disparate corners of our union; from ball games with friends to family barbeques, from awed appreciation of fireworks to concerts, and any manner of preoccupation in between. There is nothing wrong with this. It is in fact a carrying out of the very rights and freedoms which our forefathers fought to ensure. However, somewhere within the recesses of our minds, every one of us should carry some acknowledgement of the momentous resonance of this day.

Today is not about a war. At it its core, neither is it is not about a victory. Our celebration of the anniversary of July 4, 1776 is about Liberty. Today is about a people who stood up to declare their sovereignty over ownership of their own land, to conduct commerce for their own good, and to make judgment for themselves as to the best counsel for their own individual minds, bodies and souls. After centuries of kings and emperors and their ilk eschewing the virtues of collectivism, The United States of America was the first nation on Earth to firmly set into law the virtues of individualism. Remember this any time somebody talks to you about the common good. With the presumed rare exception of criminals who employ force or fraud against their fellow man, the only common good can come when all men of virtue are considered free.

It is not belief which is deemed by society as immoral of unethical, but actions which are legislated by government as illegal. Government, in its effort to prevent force or fraud by any individual or group against any other individual or group, is justified in telling its citizenry what actions it will consider, as taken by that citizenry, to be illegal. However, government is never justified in imposing force or fraud against those citizens who seek to live in accord with the laws of the land. Once government begins creating regulations which employ force or fraud against its citizenry, the legitimacy of that government becomes suspect.

Any discrimination by government regarding laws, lawmaking, rights or regulations, is an affront to liberty; whether it is by gender, ethnic background, philosophy or religion, gender preference, intellectual or physical ability, body type, asset holding or productive ability, or any other conceivable manner in which government might attempt to say that one individual or group of individuals holds dominion over another individual or group of individuals. In the free market of ideas individuals have the right to believe whatever they want with regards to discrimination, so long as they do not act to bring about bodily harm or to cause any other infringement upon the rights of their fellow citizens. The government does not have this right. After all, the term “government service” did not spring forth from the head of Zeus on a wave of foam. As with most phrases it was born of purpose, to connote the intention of its specific aspect. Government exists for the sole purpose of serving the people, not the other way around. Legitimate government must be, at all times, absolute in defending the inalienable rights of its citizens.

To be clear, rights are not entitlements. An individual is entitled to work towards the virtue of his own happiness, by the production of his own effort, unencumbered by taxes and levies forced upon him against his will for the sole purpose of apportioning the fruits of his labors to those who cannot or will not engage in equivalent labors. The Declaration of Independence, (along with The Constitution of the United States of America, The Articles of Confederation, and the Bill of Rights) guarantees the right to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all citizens of the United States of America. One of the operative phrases, “The pursuit of happiness” is often misinterpreted as meaning that citizens have the right to be happy, while in fact when taken literally, the right actually guaranteed is to pursue happiness. There is nothing in any of those four original documents that says that citizens have the right to have happiness redistributed to them by government. It is your right by your own effort, and your own effort alone, which the founders sought to guarantee as a means towards the achievement of your own happiness. The nature of existence, and of the free market, will set obstacles against us which we, each to his own stead and by his own ability, may work to overcome. But it becomes a shot against the bow of Liberty when we work to legislate obstacles against each other, and thus against ourselves.

Anyone who knows anything about the law knows that it works largely by precedent. And the precedents we set now may become the thorns in our sides tomorrow. An old family friend, Edward Cline, recently published an article for the website which discusses the precedents set by Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts’ decision regarding the Affordable Care Act (Aka. “Obamacare”.) Besides laying out the issues regarding ACA, the article also points out some the fundamental philosophical errors which gird the loins of the entrenched altruistic tendencies in government that have plagued liberty since even before our nation’s birth. The injustice of bearing witness to this scourge against the spirit of our union, so close to our celebration of the anniversary of its birth, compelled me to comment. What I wrote there spoke to the impending doom implicit in the decision of Justice Roberts regarding freedom and the sovereignty of the peoples of this nation. Having already posted my comment, prior to the above more thorough consideration of the subject, I decided to share my original comment once again on my own blog. The full text is included in the following paragraph:

Nationalism without liberty is statism. And when the state mandates force upon its citizens there is no liberty, for there are no longer any citizens. Citizens dominated by the will of the state are subjects in service of empire. Such a transgression can only be levied against a free people if the government is willing to engage is fraud, and if the people are uncritical enough in their thinking to accept it. As government always makes law with the power of the gun as the implied threat of enforcement, there is only one logical progression available in a nation which willfully chooses to defraud its citizenry and refuses to represent their voice…Let us hope that there is yet the time and the will for reason to prevail.

I’ll wrap up with four quotes, by the twentieth century philosopher Ayn Rand, which seem to sum up nicely the crux of the position expounded above.

  • “Do not ever say that the desire to "do good" by force is a good motive. Neither power-lust nor stupidity are good motives.”
  • ” Government "help" to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off.”
  • ” Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”
  • ” It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Some Thoughts on Copyrights

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me if I would mind his reposting something I had written. He had posted a link to his blog on a social networking site, at which location a dialogue had opened up. He then wanted to include a portion of our conversation as follow-up on his blog. I was happy to oblige, but the prospect did get me thinking about copyrights. My primary concern was that I be able to reproduce my own ideas in my own work, if such an eventuality should come to pass, at some time in the future. The social networking site was a semi-public forum, so I assumed my rights to my created content were minimal, but I didn’t really know for sure. The subject seemed worthy of further investigation.

What are your rights to reproduction once you have expressed a thought on the internet? Does where you write an idea have any impact on your rights to the thought you have expressed? How can you protect yourself and your right to re-use your own ideas in places other than where you first posted them, even if that first post was on someone else’s forum?

I will start by pointing out that I am not a copyright attorney, have no legal qualifications in this regard, and if you have any serious legal claim regarding a copyright infringement you should consult a certified professional attorney who has passed the bar exam in your state.

That said, it would seem to me that writing is writing, no matter where you do it. So your legal copy rights should remain the same on the internet as they would anywhere else in America. And since just about everything you post on the internet is time stamped, (I’m making allowance for the possibility that there is somewhere out there where it isn’t time stamped, even though I don’t know where that might be), the question of who wrote something first should be even easier to determine on the internet. The assumption here is that the person who can prove that they wrote something first, would logically be expected to be the first person to have written it, and therefore to holder of the legal right to that writing. The time stamp is essentially the digital equivalent of the classic concept of “The poor man’s copyright”, and practice of mailing your own work to yourself in order to establish copyright without having to pay for copyright protection. The so-called “Poor man’s copyright” is not an official form of protection, and most likely offers a cursory form of protection at best. The same could be assumed to be true of the digital time stamp. But at least something is better than nothing.

So what is the actual copyright law? The United States Copyright Office identifies that a “Copyright is a form of protection grounded in the U.S. Constitution and granted by law for original works of authorship fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Copyright covers both published and unpublished works.” The website of the US Copyright Office goes into fuller detail on the law in the FAQ page, one of the key points being “Your work is under copyright protection the moment it is created and fixed in a tangible form that it is perceptible either directly or with the aid of a machine or device.”

By this standard, any idea that you as an individual have written on a forum, which does not state otherwise in the legal agreement which you may have accepted in order to begin posting, and which can be identified as having been written by you and which can be fixed in time, belongs to you. (A lot of the big sites require that you check-off a legal agreement before you post anything. Copyrights establishing the website’s ability to edit or use your copy may very well constitute a portion of what you are agreeing to when you sign up. If you are concerned about your right to reproduce content, you may want to read the legalese more carefully.) It is worth mentioning however, that if you thought something but did not write it, or wrote something which was later expressed differently by someone else, you would not seem to be protected by copyright law. To be clear, the copyright law states that “Copyright protects original works of authorship, while a patent protects inventions or discoveries. Ideas and discoveries are not protected by the copyright law, although the way in which they are expressed may be.” So A patent remains an alternative in order to protect a discovery, but an idea is up for grabs once it has been revealed in public.

If you are responding to some big public forum which is owned and operated by a private company, you may have to sign away your rights before you post anything. But then what about social networking? If your friend posts a thought on his social networking page, or opens up a forum within a social network, and then you post some deep insightful response which subsequently gets everyone talking, what are your rights then?

Well, we’ve already established that ideas are not copyrightable, and that only the tangible expression of ideas can be copyrighted. And we can assume that most of your friends are not posting legalese copyright disclaimers on their social networking posts or forums. It would seem logical to me that once you have posted and item on someone else’s page you have granted them the right to reproduce or share your ideas. Certainly, given the proclivity of posts to go viral, you should be considering whether you are willing to stand by what you have said before you make a post. Regardless of your rights, the practical reality is that once it’s on the internet it’s hard to pull back.

What do the social networking sites have to say about copyright? A little blue link titled “Terms” led me to another link to the “Statement of Rights and Responsibilities” on one popular social networking website, where interesting insights into copy rights and protections were revealed. The website makes a statement guaranteeing your rights to your own content. It does claim the right to reproduce that content in conjunction with the “IP License”. (Some limited experience with programming leads me to believe that this is necessary in order to program the website.) The license ends if you delete your account or when you choose to delete the specific content. The website also lays out rules for respecting the rights of other social networkers, and threatens action for non-compliance. In other words, if you make a habit of ripping people off or in any other way abusing the rights of your fellow social networkers, the website is stating that it may take legal action against you.

I am a little leery of posting actual verbatim legalese from a social networking site on my blog. I can only assume that the potential for conflict exists. This was probably not the sexiest topic to cover on my return to blogging, but it seems like the right place to start anyway. How better to establish that I reserve the right to all content that I produce for this blog, and also that I reserve the right to delete any content which I deem inappropriate. I know this doesn’t constitute an official copyright agreement, but there I’ve said it. This is my blog, and I decide what stays or goes. I said it here. I said it now. Check the time stamp.