Posts belonging to Category Libertarianism

Libertarianism And Intellectual Property

I just read an interesting posting at concerning intellectual property and libertarianism.  The author goes over the basic types of intellectual property for the purpose of trying to make some observations about libertarian reaction to music file sharing.  I find myself torn on the subject of file sharing.  I think that rampant file sharing is theft, but at the same time I think that occasional sharing is actually good for the industry (for example, maybe I make a few files available to select friends of some artist that I found interesting in the hope that my friends would like them too; if I’m right, it’s possible that those friends will buy that artist’s music).  Is that an intellectually consistent position?  I don’t know.  And I don’t much care.  I want to see the artists get paid for their work, but there are probably other economic models that will come to pass after a while (which may see the big record labels go the way of the dinosaur).

But the mention of patents and software touched on one of my pet peeves.  I understand the reasons for patents, and I actually think some software patents are good (and I’ve even considered submitting for one through my company, although I haven’t had time to persue the process yet).  However, one of the first software patents that I learned about, and the most egregious example of the genre, was the one concerning the use of XOR for screen cursors.  In 1985, Autodesk was forced to pay $25,000 to license the XOR patent. 

To understand the absurdity of the patent, one must digress into computer geek land for a bit (or 8).  Bitwise XOR is an operation that can be used to “flip” all of the input bits so that the output is the “opposite” of the input.  XOR stands for eXclusive OR.  The easiest way to think of it is to remember the phrase, “one or the other but not both”.  Some examples:
     0 XOR 0 = 0
     0 XOR 1 = 1
     1 XOR 1 = 0
     10011001 XOR 11111111 = 01100110
     01100110 XOR 11111111 = 10011001

In the old DOS days, the cursor was simply the inverse of the character that the cursor was on (and each character was displayed in a single block on the screen).  Each character was composed of a set of pixels, with one bit representing one pixel (i.e black screen with green pixels).  If the bit representing the pixel was one, the pixel was on.  If it was zero, the pixel was off.

Since the bits represent the pixels, using XOR (with a mask of all ones) caused all the pixels that were off to come on and the pixels that were on to go off (see the last two examples above).  The simplicity of the operation was that it was the same operation to make the cursor blink on or off, and it was efficient, since the operation could be performed in hardware.

So why was this patent bad?  Because the operation was so simple it was something that any programmer would eventually come up with after a little thought.  In fact, it was almost a math exercise, which as noted in the Samizdata article could perhaps be thought of as a discovery, rather than an invention.

I think part of the problem is that the patent office doesn’t have the training in many cases to recognize the difference between a simple algorithmic technique and a truly novel and new idea.  The other thing that bothers me is how companies will suddenly “discover” that they had a patent on something important and try to blackmail the industry into paying for it (*cough* GIF *cough* Unisys *cough*).

He Said What?

Perry de Havilland skewers a misguided Democrat in this article at  It seems that someone actually made the proposition that libertarians would be better off with the Democratic party.  It boggles the mind that he could make such a statement.  The Democrats stand for just about everything that disgusts a libertarian:

  • Redistribution of wealth.
  • Affirmative action.
  • Gun control (and no, this guy still gets it wrong there; it’s not about enforcing existing laws, it’s about repealing them).
  • Socialized medicine.
  • Multiculturalism.
  • Giving up national sovereignty to international bodies.

I could probably name more, but those are all deal breakers.

This guy just doesn’t get it.  Don’t get me wrong—there’s a lot that I hate about the Republican party.  But I consider it to at least provide a little raw material to work with, as opposed to the Democratic party, which would have to be razed to the ground and rebuilt from scratch before I’d even consider it.

Contemplations On Politics

It looks like Kim du Toit’s been adding gunpowder to his Wheaties today.  I’ve been watching the sturm und drang over the libertarian question on his site as well as that of Mrs. du Toit.  I think the primary problem is that even most libertarians don’t know what it is.  There are a bunch of different subgroups who all claim that title for themselves.  To make things more fun, you also have the Libertarian Party to deal with.  I think Kim’s characterization of libertarianism as simply “anarcho-capitalism” is off the mark, but then they’re the ones that seem to get all the attention. 

Over the years I’ve played with a variety of forms of libertarianism.  There are some things that are appealing about anarcho-capitalism, but I just don’t see how it can be made to work.  Heck, the market can’t even restrain those damn vermin telemarketers.  That was one of the things that convinced me that a completely unregulated market was going too far.  But at the same time, I would like to see a lot of other regulations go away.  Government is a cure that is often worse than the disease, given the law of unintended consequences.  We must be careful of how we apply it and avoid using it willy-nilly for petty little things.

I think the final straw for me, though, was 9/11.  I’ve always been a supporter of a strong national defense, although I’ve been somewhat wary of some of the decisions that have been made in that arena (9mm pistols, V-22 Osprey, etc).  I’m in favor of any action that will make the United States safer at home, but I don’t ever want to see us trying to gain an empire.  All I want is to be left alone to live my life in peace.

So, I now find myself without a political home.  I find almost everything the Democrats stand for repugnant to my beliefs.  The Republican party has potential, but they tend to shoot themselves in the foot trying to out-socialist the Democrats (and don’t get me started on their religious fundamentalist fringe).  The Libertarian party lost me with their stand on the war.  The Greens are a bunch of socialist nutbags (green on the outside, red on the inside). 

In many ways, I think I’m a constitutionalist.  I’d like to see us uphold the Constitution as the Law Of The Land.  I don’t want to get too deep into this, but I’ve often wished we could bring back a few of the founders to examine our current federal government.  I’m sure they wouldn’t have much use for the DEA or BATF or any of the other alphabet soup agencies that plague our country (although I suspect that they would take one look at our government and run screaming from the room).  Having said that, though, I’m not interested in the Constitution Party either.  They’re just as bad as the others in using the government to regulate every aspect of the lives of other people.

Maybe I need to start a “Leave Me The Hell Alone” party.

Update:  I’ll probably take Kim up on his quest to get everyone to buy just one more gun this year, though, even if he doesn’t like libertarians. smile  But then, I’ve always had a soft spot for all those sad little guns I see at the gun show with no one to take them home.  It’s such a shame that so many of them don’t have good homes with owners who will take care of them.

Whose votes are they?

Just a quick thought on the issue of Libertarians taking votes from Republicans, which has been covered here, here, and here.

I’ve heard this from Republicans before, and it doesn’t move me very much.  In fact, this kind of argument strikes me as being arrogant in the extreme.  As if the Republicans think that the votes belong to them and were stolen somehow.  That’s utter crap.

I will admit that I’ve voted for Republicans in some instances to keep Democrats out of office, but my vote does not belong to the Republican party.  I’m merely using them to keep what I consider the bigger evil out of office.  However, if I consider the Republican candidate unacceptable and there’s no other alternative, I will not vote for anyone.

Republicans damn well better keep this in mind over the next two years.  I’m watching this Homeland Security bill with a gimlet eye.  I’m very suspicious of what may be included in the bill, since our representatives have a nasty habit of loading their favorite pet programs into these things.  I can only support this as a reorganization of existing agencies to provide better communication and information sharing.  I do not in any way support the expansion of any powers for these agencies.  I was appalled at the USA PATRIOT act (the very name of which is a masterpiece of Orwellian doublespeak).

Anyway, Republicans better get over this idea that they somehow own a certain set of votes or voters.

Libertarianism Explained

I can’t really add much to this.