Archive for September, 2008

Another trillion dollar fraud

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

Glenn Greenwald’s September 20 piece on the decision processes leading to the Iraq invasion and the current bailout is right on:

I don’t pretend to know anywhere near enough — in terms of either raw information or expertise — in order to opine on the necessity or lack thereof of The Latest Plan in terms of whether the alternatives are worse. But what I do know is that an injustice so grave and extreme that it defies words is taking place; that the greatest beneficiaries are those who are most culpable; and that the same hopelessly broken and deeply rotted institutions and elite class that gave rise to all of this (and so much more) are the very ones that are — yet again — being blindly entrusted to solve this.

Of course the non-financial toll of the Terror War makes it a far greater tragedy, but the financial tab of each will be of the same order of magnitude — US$trillions.

Although the US$0.7 trillion number being cited is apparently made up, Barry Ritholtz’s guess that it could end up costing US$1.5 trillion is entirely plausible, given the systematic underestimation by politicians of wars and public works. Ritholtz’s upcoming book on bailouts will presumably have data on the misunderestimated (really) cost of bailouts. Watch his brief WSJ video interview or on his own blog.

Stop the bailout, which will only prolong the pain and . Instead take this “crisis” as an opportunity to eliminate all of the various politically imposed causes of expensive housing.

If the rent seeking dinosaurs of finance die I look forward to new mortgage products designed to hedge risk rather than play chicken with politicians (see beginning of post for how well that turns out). Incidentally, see a recent post on what current housing futures say.

25 years of GNU

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

The turns 25 on September 27. Not much to add beyond what I wrote on the Creative Commons blog. Watch the Freedom Fry video.

I do have some meta commentary…

The video, featuring British humorist , is very British. That is, Americans might wonder if there is any humor in it at all. I’m fine with that.

It’s great that the video is posted in Ogg Theora format and works seamlessly in my browser via Cortado, and download links are provided. However, HTML to copy & paste for direct inclusion in a blog post or other web page should also be provided, as is typical for sharing video. I haven’t tried making such yet, though I should and might.

Finally, there’s a hidden jab at some in the free software movement in my CC blog post:

One of the movements and projects directly inspired by GNU is Creative Commons. We’re still learning from the free software movement. On a practical level, all servers run by Creative Commons are powered by GNU/Linux and all of the software we develop is free software.

So please join us in wishing the GNU project a happy 25th birthday by spreading a happy birthday video from comedian Stephen Fry. The video, Freedom Fry, is released under a CC Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Emphasis added. The free culture/open content world lags the free software/open source world in many respects, one of those being an understanding of what freedoms are necessary. Some from the free software world have pushed Creative Commons to recognize that in many cases culture requires freedoms equivalent to those expected for free software/open source (that’s the first bolded link above), while some in the free software world (not necessarily the exact same people, but at least people associated with the same organizations) publish documents and videos under terms that do not grant those same freedoms (that’s the second bolded link above).

The Free Software Foundation has probably published documents under terms roughly equivalent to CC BY-ND probably before CC existed. Currently the footer of says:

Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

Does the FSF really want to reserve the right to use copyright to censor people who might publish derived versions of their texts? They probably are concerned that someone will alter their message so as to be misleading. Perhaps there was some rationale for this pre-web and pre-CC, but now there is not:

  • People can easily see canonical versions by going to (DNS also should obsolete much of trademark as well, but that’s for another post.)
  • CC licenses that permit derivatives include the following (see 3(b), 4(a), 4(b), and 4(c) for the actual language):
    • Licensor can specify a link to provide for attribution
    • Derivative works must state how they are altered
    • Licensor can demand that credit be removed from the derivative
    • Unfortunately, in some jurisdictions licensor could press “moral rights” to censor a derivative considered derogatory

So one can pre-clear the right to make adaptations and retain some legal mechanisms to club creators of adaptations (ordered from best practice to distasteful, according to me).

The Software Freedom Law Center does worse, publishing its website (also, see the SFLC post on 25 years of GNU) under CC BY-NC-ND. Do they really want to prohibit commercial use? SFLC (a super excellent organization, as is the FSF!) is dedicated to software freedom, but still it seems silly for them to publish non-software works under terms antithetical to the spirit of free software.

On a brighter note, the FSF is publishing promotional images for Freedom Fry under a free as in free software as applied to cultural works license (CC BY-SA), one of which has already been taken under those terms for use on Stephen Fry’s Wikipedia article. Ah, the power of free cultural works. :)

Do wish GNU a happy 25th birtday — watch and spread the video!

Google Chrome Comix PDF

Monday, September 1st, 2008

looks really interesting. Given that the web is the interesting platform, more web client innovation is welcome, especially in open source web clients (but let’s not forget the servers).

The way Google apparently has announced the project is also interesting. As of this writing is not live, but printed comics drawn by Scott McCloud describing the project have been mailed to journalists.

Philipp Lenssen scanned the comic book and posted it as a series of 38 images, each with its own page. Google had the foresight to give permission for this in advance by releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license, noted on the comic book’s back cover.

This is one rare case in which I find reading a PDF easier than web pages (page down has lower latency and requires less movement than clicking ‘next page’) so using sam2p and pdftk I made a PDF version of the comic book.

Note that although Creative Commons licenses containing the ‘No Derivatives’ term do not allow altering the license work, they do allow moving the otherwise unaltered work to a new format. (Ideally Google would have released the work under a more permissive license, but we’ll take what we can get.) Lenssen’s scanning and my PDFing are examples of such format shifting.