Rights and Privileges

July 28, 2008

One thing that I find fascinating about “copyright” is what it actually means to have this “right to copy”.

Though we tend not to think of it like this, really, it does not give the owner of the copyright the right to duplicate and publish this work; it gives the owner of the copyright the “right” to prevent other people from duplicating and publishing this work. It is a “right” that gives the owner the ability to control the actions of other people, to prevent them from having access to information.

And really, in the American understanding, it is not a “right” in the same way that there are rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The Constution establishes copyright by saying that Congress shall have the power

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

Copyright is, according to the Constitution, not a natural right; it is created by the government, a privilege really, which limits the rights of everyone besides the owner of each copyright. It is created because it is thought that, by limiting everyone’s rights, “authors and inventors” can be encouraged to produce more so that the “progress of science and useful arts” can be promoted.

But the goal of copyright is not to guarantee the prosperity of authors or inventors – it is to promote the progress of science and useful arts. If we could promote the arts and sciences without limiting the rights of everyone besides the individual authors and inventors (and, really, since more than one person owns an exclusive copyright, everyone’s rights are limited by copyright), we ought to do so. And Congress does not even have the power, let alone a mandate, to make copyright any more powerful than necessary to “promote the sciences and useful arts”.

In fact, it seems to me that the way copyright is implemented currently is somewhat unconstitutional. Not only because it is in effect not “limited”, as the clause says it must be (though Lawrence Lessig lost the Supreme Court case in which he made that argument), but because it isn’t doing what it is supposed to do – copyright as it is now stifles, not encourages, innovation.

Of course it would be pretty much impossible to make that argument in a court, since one could always say that how copyright currently is implemented does in fact promote the arts and sciences, but that doesn’t make it not true.

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Major Colvin

July 25, 2008

Last night, I finished watching season 3 of The Wire. The Wire, which portrays various aspects of life in Baltimore, Maryland, is definitely one of the best television shows I’ve ever watched, possibly the best; it has an unfortunate number of sex scenes and general vulgarity, but it’s also extremely well written, well acted, and manages to pretty much completely immerse the viewer.

One element of the season I just watched, which focused on city politics (while also, as in previous seasons, including the drug trade, police work, and general mayhem). There is one character, a police officer, Major “Bunny” Colvin, who decides to essentially legalize drugs in certain sections of the city. Without informing his superior officers, he tells his subordinates to crack down on all drug trafficking everywhere except the free zones, nicknamed “Hamsterdam”, where they will ignore everything except violence (so, drugs, prostitution, etc, are all OK there).

This doesn’t go over well when people find out about it, as you might imagine. But, should it have? What exactly is wrong with legalizing drugs, anyway?

Consider – if it was somehow proven that, by making murder legal, we would actually reduce the murder rate, would we even consider legalizing murder? I don’t think so. But that’s because we see murder as inherently wrong – it deprives another human being of their right to life. Nothing can justify legalizing it – even a reduction in death. Because as it is now, we see the victims of murder and try to seek justice for them, but if murder were legal, we would just be giving up on those who were chosen to die.

But drugs are not the same thing. Whether or not doing drugs is immoral, it doesn’t harm anyone else for the drug addict to use them. That means we don’t have to make this great stand against drug use regardless of the costs. If legalizing drugs reduces drug use or makes it less dangerous or reduce the power of drug traffickers (since if it’s legal, it can be legally imported), we should go ahead and do it. It’s a prudential decision, really. Not like illegalizing murder – which every society has to do if it wants to at all resemble a just one.


Game Review: Portal

July 21, 2008

So, a few weeks ago (actually, five or six weeks ago… the summer is passing by rather quickly), I was at a friend’s house and ended up playing the game Portal all the way through. It’s only an hour, maybe two, long. Quite a fun game, even if it’s not Free Software.

Anyway, the gameplay of Portal is quick fun. I like the first-person-puzzle-game aspect of it – combining FPSs and geometry problems is quite brilliant. And the storyline is quite compelling and well presented. It manages to show the world of Aperture Science, GlaDOS, the portal gun, and the deadly neurotoxin in an extremely believable manner. But what struck me most was how it presents a rather complete world in such a short period of time. Like I said, the game’s only an hour long.

Now, Portal is not really autonomous – it is tied in with Half-Life (also a rather good game; I haven’t played Half-Life 2), and Aperture Science is presented as a rival company to Black Mesa, the location of the experiment-gone-wrong in Half-Life. However, the idea of a stand-alone story containing a stand-alone world that could be presented in a short period of time in a reasonably complete manner intrigued me. Portal comes close – really, if you ignore the references to Black Mesa, it basically succeeds.

This is, of course, a form of mythopoeia, but I’ve never heard a word to refer to this particular subset. There is, however, one that basically fits the bill – “microcosm”. A miniature world. As I’m using it, it basically means a fantasy world that is simple enough that its nature can be conveyed in something about the length of a short story. Fairy tales often fall into this category; Sleeping Beauty (my favorite fairy tale), for example, gives you a world of good and evil fairies who have the power to control the lives of mortals. That’s really all you need. Everything else is assumed to be the same as in the real world – even if Sleeping Beauty isn’t set in the real world.

The short story I recently finished writing (but haven’t finished revising, so I haven’t posted it yet) is this kind of story. It basically wants to get across the idea of – a giant spiral ramp, good guys at the top, bad at the bottom, and they fight battles in the middle. The middle is empty. That’s the microcosm “On The Staircase” takes place in. There’s a story to go with it, of course, about one inhabitant of the staircase – but the world is just as important as the story.


And A Possible One

July 14, 2008

This post is, in a way, a sequel to my previous one (“Story Without a Moral“). In that post I said that Orbivm is not meant to have any preset philosophical interpretation; still, I thought it might be interesting to examine one “theory” of Orbis Terrarvm philosophy.

This idea is, one might say, that of “anti-Pelagianism”. Now, Pelagianism was an ancient Christian heresy that said humans could save themselves – they did not need God’s grace or the Resurrection (Christ was just setting a good example for the rest of us). How does this apply to Orbivm? Well, since there is no Christ and no Resurrection in Orbivm, then if Pelagianism is not true then mankind cannot be saved, since he cannot save himself. And I think this is backed up by examples from the history of Orbivm (is that a result of my skewing the history to support this interpretation? maybe).

Basically, it’s clear that the residents of Orbivm can be virtuous in different ways. But they cannot save themselves; this is why all heroes of campaigns are in the end flawed. Caius Regilius goes back to the front to fight a battle he knows is hopeless; Alfhelm lets his wife get killed and loses his kingdom; Vaniyera is consumed by his hatred for humanity in a way that eventually leads to his death; Sparxus thinks that he found freedom, but his “freedom” consists of the ability to kill who he wants to. And it goes on.

Basically, in the end, I don’t think any of the heroes of Orbivm campaigns has reached happiness or salvation or anything like that. And if none of the heroes of the campaigns manage it, how could anyone?

Of course, this poses a problem for those who would like to interpret Orbivm in light of Christianity (which of course is the only reason you would be talking in terms of Pelagianism at all)… namely, if the menn of Orbivm cannot save themselves, how are they to be saved? It seems to me there are two possibilities. One, that there is some sort of salvific event late in the history of Orbivm, after all events outlined in the histories. The problem with this is, what could such an event possibly be? Two, that, even if the menn are fallen and there is no salvific event in history, God could still redeem them without any informed consent on their part (their desire to do good being enough). This latter possibility is of course not really Christian, but it might be that a constructed world can’t really be Christian, since it seems stupid to try to write your own version of the Resurrection story (you couldn’t possibly do it justice – I don’t think Aslan really succeeds in Chronicles of Narnia, if you couldn’t tell), and without some form of Crucifixion and Resurrection it’s not really a Christian universe.

Which means, I suppose, that it’s not really a possible universe. Oh well. I guess the best we can do is to stay somewhat vague on the idea to make sure it’s not explicitly non-Christian, even if it’s not explicitly Christian. Which is what we’re doing so far.


Story without a Moral

July 8, 2008

Since I’m busy doing a site redesign (read: I finally got myself ftp access to the server after much procrastination) for the Orbivm forums, and since we’ve been discussing the naming of the different MP eras on said forums and what the logic should be behind those names, I’ve been reminded of this topic which I thought about a while ago but never, if I recall correctly, made a post about.

The concept of metanarratives is a simple one – put as concisely as possible, a metanarrative answers the question, what is the moral of the story of history? What gets complicated is applying metanarratives to mythopoeic fiction. I have said before that the world of the Orbis Terrarvm is meant to have no preset philosophical interpretation. But it often gets difficult to craft a fictional world that doesn’t have a metanarrative.

I mean, look at Middle Earth – the metanarrative is obvious. It’s one of decay, coupled with occasional redemptions that never bring the world back up to its original glory. As the final words of the Silmarillion say,

Here ends The Valaquenta. If it has passed from the high and beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred; and if any change shall come and the Marring be amended, Manwë and Varda may know; but they have not revealed it, and it is not declared in the dooms of Mandos.

That’s Middle Earth. The Orbis Terrarvm is different. It’s a collaboration, many of the contributors have (extremely) varying views on religion, history, etc, and so it’s obviously better to avoid a clearly religious metanarrative like that of Middle Earth. Well, really, what we want is a world where such a narrative would be plausible, but not the only option – just like in this world the Christian understanding of history is not the only plausible one (even if it is, IMO, the true one).

So, when outlining the broad strokes of our fictional history, we have to be careful. The names we choose for the eras have a lot of importance…


Done! (July)

July 3, 2008

After four days, and an estimated 4,000 LEGO bricks, I have finished building the castle. It is two feet by two feet, the walls are eight inches tall, and the towers – one in each corner – are another eight inches tall. It weighs about twenty pounds. I will upload pictures to my Brickshelf gallery shortly.

Anyway, all this building has put me in an architectural mood. So for the month of July, I think, I should be the founder of a city, or the builder of a castle, or somesuch… my first thought was to be the king who reigned during the construction of the fortress of Halstead in 164 YW, but unfortunately he is unnamed in the Wesnoth Histories. Thus, I suppose, I ought to be Haldric I, the founder of the royal city of Weldyn.

Haldric is, from the point of view of the elves, a lying traitor who left them to fight the orcs alone after promising his aid, leading to the deaths of thousands of elves. From the point of view of Wesnoth, though, he was a wise king who refused to endanger his kingdom to aid the elves when the elves were planning to betray him. Personally, I side with the elves (as you might expect, since I wrote the “Breaking of the Pact” not “The Rise of Wesnoth” – that was Shade), but i can see why Haldric would be considered a good king.

I’m not really a fan of the Haldric I portrait from TROW (in fact I was rather strongly critical of the artist who drew it), but it’s the official one, so… here ’tis.

Haldric the Great


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