Melancholy Elephants by Spider Robinson
Sep 08, 2003
"Artists have been deluding themselves for centuries with the notion that they create. In fact they do nothing of the sort. They discover. Inherent in the nature of reality are a number of combinations of musical tones that will be perceived as pleasing by a human central nervous system. For millennia we have been discovering them, implicit in the universe—and telling ourselves that we `created' them. To create implies infinite possibility, to discover implies finite possibility....

" `Ars longa, vita brevis est,' " she said at last. "There's been comfort of a kind in that for thousands of years. But art is long, not infinite. `The Magic goes away.' One day we will use it up—unless we can learn to recycle it like any other finite resource."

An argument against copyright extension in the form of short sci-fi story.

IRS Can't Even Get Tax Law Right
Sep 03, 2003

Follow-up to my ignorance should be a defense claim: The IRS can't even get tax law right!

IRS employees at tax help centers gave correct answers to just 57 percent of tax law questions asked by Treasury Department investigators posing as taxpayers....

The IRS disputed the calculations, but agreed the agency needed to improve its record. Henry O. Lamar, commissioner for the division overseeing individual tax returns, said the accuracy rate is closer to 67 percent when the results are recalculated to exclude instances when taxpayers were referred to other publications or could not get any help.

"We recognize that an accuracy rate of 67 percent for tax law service is inadequate," he said.

What is a Mere Mortal supposed to do?

Ignorance of the Law should be an excuse
Aug 29, 2003

It is commonly said that "Ignorance of the law is no excuse."

The reason why this is so is that when that precept was first formulated, common sense and the law had a lot in common. That meant that when faced with a choice of doing something, you could consult your common sense and use it to decide whether to do something, and odds are, that would tell you if it were legal.

In this era, you could literally spend the rest of your life reading laws that you are theoretically being held to at the federal, state, county, township, city, and if you like, international level. Even lawyers can only specialize on a small aspect of a particular level of law. Common sense and the law are no longer so intimately related that we can use one to reliably determine the other.

Therefore, ignorance of the law should be accepted as an excuse. There is no plausible way anyone can be expected to know all the laws applying to them, and it's getting worse. Holding people responsible for things they can't even guess at is not Justice.

I'd turn this into an essay, but really, what else is there to say?

Patent Protest
Aug 29, 2003

A Patent Protest is going on, with several sites shutting down. I'd shut down in sympathy, except A: "shutting down" this site is non-trivial and B: it wouldn't really do any good anyhow, since it's not like people are using this site for anything important. Still, I sympathize.

"Software Patent" is an oxymoron.

Arnold Schwarzenegger and California TV
Aug 28, 2003

Something interesting went by on my TiVo email newsletter:

Talk about a Total Recall of a WishList™ search! Arnold Schwarzenegger’s decision to run for governor of California in a recall election scheduled for Oct. 7 is wreaking havoc on local TV listings. Recently the Sci Fi channel became the second cable network in two days to take his movies off air, pulling an entire night of scheduled Schwarzenegger films. The cable networks are taking the steps proactively, since under current law they are technically exempt from FCC rules requiring broadcasters to give equal air time to all candidates, free of charge, if they air entertainment content featuring a political rival. (Meaning if Arnie’s films air on broadcast TV, all of the 134 other opponents in California's recall election race could demand equal time—FREE!) To fill the programming hole and perhaps to prove that truth is indeed stranger and, in fact, more ironic than even Hollywood fiction, Sci Fi offered golden state viewers a slate of California-themed disaster movies instead.

134 * 2 = 268, which is eleven days and four hours. So one 2-hour Arnold movie, accidentally aired on a station that isn't exempt, could easily cost that station an entire week without even all of the candidates demanding their time. Heads would rolls for that blunder, I'm sure!

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