God's law vs. human law

Various holy works set forth God's law, as the writer understands it. Some (like the Bible) claim to have been written directly by God, others by a prophet who set down God's words. The problem is, there are a lot of different holy works, each with a different set of laws attributed to God (or gods): The Jewish Bible, the Christian Bible (various versions), the Koran, the Vedas (Hinduism/Vedanta), the Sutras (Buddhism), the Book of Mormon, the writings of the Bab and Baha'u'llah (Baha'i). In a society with more than one religion, "God's law" is not a good basis for civil law. This probably applies even to a society with more than one sect of a "single religion" (like the Sunni, Shi'a and Sufi branches of Islam, or the Lutheran and Southern Baptist sects of Christianity).

Ultimately, I think the basis of law can be summed up in a single sentence: "Sin is cruelty and injustice; all else is peccadillo." (Star, in Glory Road by Robert A. Heinlein) [This is somewhat ironic, as "peccadillo" means "little sin".]

IMHO, human law should ban:

  • harming other people, deliberately or through carelessness

  • harming the property of other people

  • taking or using the property of other people without their consent (stealing, robbery)

  • lying to other people to get their property (fraud) or to a third party to get the third party to take away their property for you (perjury/false witness)

This can still cover a lot of ground. Pollution harms other people and makes their property dirty. False advertising is a form of fraud.

But laws about what people consentingly put in their own bodies (the "war on drugs"), what they do with other consenting people in bed ("sodomy"), etc. are simply attempts to enshrine the divine law in human law.

This is a mistake, especially in a pluralistic society like the US(*). God will enforce his own law: he doesn't need our help. If God disapproves of (for example) "sodomy"(+), He will punish it in his own way. Legislating against it is like writing laws requiring that objects fall at 1/2gt^2 when not supported in some way.

(*) Even if you ignore the small minorities of Buddhists, Hinduists, Baha'i, etc., and the large minority of atheists, the fact remains that the US has large populations of Roman Catholics, "mainstream" Protestants (Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalean, etc.), Evangelical Protestants (Southern Baptist, Pentacostal, etc.), Jews and Muslims. These various branches of monotheism have very different ideas of what God demands of us.

(+) As late as the mid-20th-century, most states Sodomy laws simply banned "the act against nature" without further defining it. All the canids use it to express dominance/submission, Black Swans, Penguins, some Dolphins, various apes, Elephants, lions, dragonflies, fruit flies, even bedbugs practice it in some form. Calling this "unnatural" or "against nature" is just plain silly.
Source: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexual_behavior_in_animals

Thoughts on Israel/Palestine

This is a difficult issue. Various people discussing it make it more difficult by looking at only part of the history, ignoring everything that doesn't suit their point of view.

Example: A column in the Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2009, by Eric Rosenman, titled A Right to Build. Rosenman points out (correctly IMHO) that the relevant League of Nations Mandate, allocating Israel as a homeland for the Jews, is still in effect. Under that Mandate, it would be perfectly legal for Israel to build settlements anywhere in the so-called West Bank -- perhaps even in what is now Jordan, since the original Mandate granted the whole of Palestine (now comprising Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan) as a Jewish homeland.

But this analysis ignores the Oslo accords and other agreements between the government of Israel and the PLO/Palestinian Authority. Under those agreements, Israel ceded parts of what might otherwise be the Jewish Homeland to the Palestinians, in return for a cessation of hostilities.

While there have been numerous violations of that cessation, I think those treaties are still in effect unless/until publicly repudiated by Israel. And those treaties make the "West Bank" part of "Palestine". Israel has no business building "settlements" or any other use of the land for the benefit of Israelis on land that they have ceded to another country, even one like "Palestine" where the peace is uneasy at best.

Later on I'll attempt an ab initio analysis of the situation. It's not really all that complicated, even though I'm by no means a scholar of the history of the region.

Favorite quotes

"Some people are offense kleptomaniacs - anytime they see an offense that's not nailed down, they take it." -- sig line in alt.callahans. Unfortunately, Google Groups doesn't seem to index .sigs.

I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the Republic which it established, promising freedom and justice to all. -- sig line of Tim Merrigan, and I used it for a while. It was created jointly by Tim, Rita, Lee and I sitting around our house one day, and none of us knows who contributed which parts.

On propaganda

This doesn't quite rise to the level of a "law", but it's good advice:

Don't be taken in by your own propaganda.

Hitler believed what he said about the "invincible Third Reich" and the "Communist Menace", so he attacked the Soviet Union even after concluding a non-aggression pact with Stalin. Of course, he got bogged down in the Russian winter, just like Napoleon. This made the job of the US and our allies much easier.

GWB believed his propaganda about what a cinch invading Iraq would be, so he refused to listen to generals when they wanted to do something arcane, like plan how many troops and how much support would be required. The result is the mess we are in.

The same thing happens with negative propaganda. Once you label Iraq, Iran, and North Korea the "axis of evil", that pretty much leaves out any chance of negotiating a modus vivendi with any of them. We invaded Iraq, but that leaves us short of resources to do much about the other two. So we now face a nuclear-armed North Korea, and Iran that will soon have nuclear weapons, and an Iraq that is in worse shape than before we ousted Saddam Hussein, as awful as he was. As for "axis of evil", the normal use of the term "axis" in international politics is a group of allies. Yet Iran and Iraq have been enemies since at least the mid-20th century, and N. Korea's only connection with either is to sell them weapons to get money to feed its starving people.

Oh, and speaking of believing your own propaganda, if your government and economic system cannot even feed your own people in this age of plenty, you must be doing something wrong. Kim Jong-il please take note.

Some thoughts on copyright and intellectual property

How Intellectual Property is handled depends on the available technology. Before the invention of the printing press, there was no concept of IP, except for "trade secrets".

"Copyright" was unheard of. Bards went from place to place, singing the songs they made up (and the ones they heard from other bards). A given town or castle would see an outside entertainer perhaps once or twice a year, so it didn't really matter if another bard copied your song -- or put his own spin on it (a "derivative work").

Similarly for patents. THere was only one way to keep hold of a piece of IP: keep it a secret and never tell anybody except close family members and other people you trust completely. That happened with forceps for breach births: one obstetrician invented it, and told nobody except his family. It might have been lost except that one person blabbed the secret. And without modern IP law, there was nothing to keep everybody else from making and using them.

And of course until Gutenberg, the only way to make copies of something was for somebody to take a quill and write it -- by hand -- on parchment, vellum, or papyrus. Copying a documents was expensive, especially since it could only be done by the (relatively small) literate class.

Then came the printing press, and you could make lots of copies -- once you did the work of setting the type. And it became possible to make *money* off those copies, so it an exclusive right to copy became a good thing for those who created a story, poem, essay, etching, etc.

Then came the mimeograph (stencil duplicator) and spirit duplicator (aka Ditto, but Ditto® is a brand name). And anybody with a typewriter and a few $100 to spend on a duplicator could make copies, for not much more than the cost of the paper to print it on.

And then came the Xerox and other photocopiers, and copies became cheaper yet. And enforcing copyright became a problem. When anybody can make a copy for not much money, the temptation to just copy what you need instead of paying for the whole book started cutting into publishers' profits. And the advent of the tape recorder -- and especially the portable cassette recorder -- created the same problem for music publishers.

Now this trend is reaching its logical conclusion: once something is recorded in digital form, the cost of making copies is essentially $0. It's just disk space (and if your disk gets full, you buy another 500GB for $100 (or less). In the past, I've found an MP3 takes about 1MB per minute of music, so that works out to about about $.01 per *hour*. And almost everybody has a computer of some sort these days. If you don't, the public library does -- and if the library won't let you burn DVDs, there's always a cyber cafe.

Moving your music (or movie) to an CD or DVD for portability is a little more expensive, but CD-Rs are a dime or less, while DVD-Rs are about a quarter. The "jewel box" costs more than the CD/DVD inside it.

In short, the advance of technology made copyright desirable, but it may now make it impractical. Unless...

If Moore's Law continues to hold, it is possible that we will develop systems that can actually recognize a copyright work, in the same way that a human being can -- even if somebody has edited it into a new form, or changed it to cover up a watermark. What then? Will Congress try to require that file-sharing sites and software deploy such a system to protect copyright? Would such a requirement be effective? Would it be acceptable to people?

I don't know. I'm not a prophet (though I think I might have become one if I'd dared).

Gold's Laws

These are fairly straightforward, but to my surprise a lot of people seem to lose track of them.

Gold's (first) Law: "Sauce for the Goose"
Applies to interpersonal relations and especially to international relations.  If it's OK for "us" to do it, then it should be OK for "them" to do it.  And vice-versa: If "they" shouldn't do it, "we" shouldn't do it either.

Commentary: To pretend otherwise is to say that "we" have the right to make rules for others, presumably because "we" are more powerful than "they" are.  In other words: might makes right.  This is the position of a bully, and is morally indefensible.

This is one of those "Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarden" things.  It should be too obvious to need repeating.  But somehow everybody seems to think "I am/we are an exception."

Gold's Second Law
Applies to writing and other literary endeavors.  If you spend 20,000 words on a sex scene, that's 20,000 words you haven't spent on the plot.  Put two of them in a 100,000 word novel, and you have a 60,000 word novel plus two sex scenes.  The resulting book is going to be thin on plot.
Commentary: Unsatisfied sexual tension can arouse the reader more than the best explicit description.  My favorite examples are in the Anita Blake books by Laurell Hamilton.  Book 4, The Lunatic Cafe. has a scene where Anita and Richard are "making out" but have agreed not to "go all the way".  The tension between them is very strong.  Compare with the scene in book 6, The Killing Dance, where she finally goes to bed with Jean Claude.  Yes, there's some nice sex there, but all the tension is dissipated.  The scene is far less exciting, IMHO.