Sunday, January 28, 2007

Trademarks and Copyrights

There are lots of things we look at and are familiar with whose significance is unclear. Take for instance the ubiquitous c with a circle drawn around it or (c) or ©, the copyright sign. Or how about the R with a circle around it, or ®, the registered trade mark sign. Or the superscripted TM or ™, the trademark sign. (And I don't know what's the difference between a trademark and a registered trademark.)

I hold a healthy distaste for commercialism in religion in general and in Evangelical Christianity in particular. I've whined about that long and loud elsewhere. This Sunday I was watching the Christian Education minister of my church give a presentation that ended with recommendations for several helpful resources that the church will provide to families AT COST. I've no gripe with my church for offering what looked to be a quality, professional set of materials guaranteed to...

idunno, guaranteed to do everything humanly possible to...

well, you know, make your kids, uh...

you know, turn out right.

Hmmmm. I've always had a distrust for Christian Education professionals, too. But I digress.

There on the three huge projection screens at the front of the church were beautiful PowerPoint slides of the helpful resources the church recommended and would provide to families at cost. The price seemed reasonable, too. Of course, the price did seem to be more than that of mere paper and ink. It was roughly the cost of a trade paperback book.

I didn't think much bad about that until I saw OneWord.

I don't remember TheWord that was projected on the PowerPoint slide, but it was one of those TwoWord concatenations with the first letter capitalized and AnotherLetter inside was capitalized, too. This is annoying, but I'm innured to this SortOfKitsch.

But riding at the end of TheWord were two little subscripted capitals: TM. YouKnow™ it was trademarked.

At that point, my mind left church. I started thinking about intellectual property law. Intellectual property law exists in three modes: trade secrets, copyrights, and trademarks.

If you own intellectual property, you must "stake your claim" by indicating your ownership via placing a copyright notice or trademark on your work. And you must insist that everyone else mark that thing similarly. This is just complying with the law of the land. When you open the hymnal (remember what those looked like) or see the last slide on the PowerPoint display with a Copyright notice, it is there at the insistence of the copyright holder.

No doubt, the ™ I saw at church had been placed up there at the insistence of the people that my church was buying these resources from.

It is their right. It is the law of the land.

But Why?

The trademark exists to do only one thing: it asserts the right of the trademark holder to sue someone who misuses the trademark. It gives the trademark holder the right to sue. The right to sue. To sue.

There is a book that was written so long ago that no copyrights on it are possible. It was a compilation of several authors, one of whom a tentmaker who said this:

Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?

Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?

Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.

I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?

But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.

Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?

Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

Now, given the aforementioned. We can draw some reasonable inferences. The Bible forbids two Christians from suing one another. However, it does not forbid a Christian from bringing suit against a non-believer to assert his rights. Nor does it forbid a Christian from defending himself in court against suits brought by non-believers.

Obviously, the purveyors of trademarked or copyrighted materials who insist that their marks appear on PowerPoint slides or in hymnbooks or church bulletins cannot be sure that the people they want the right to sue are Christians or not. Perhaps these vendors believe that any customer who'd violate a copyright is a non-Christian.

Conversely, it seems more likely to me that the vendors themselves are not Christians and thus free to bring suit against anyone.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Time Of Second Dreaming

My son is wise beyond his years. He showed me a quote by William Shakespear: The very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

This quote has stuck with me and I've tried to unpack its meaning. For one thing, I think of myself and my ambitions. I've noticed that there are times of my life when I've been more ambitious and less. And I've been reflecting upon the dreams I dreamed as a teenager. I think that my substance today is the product (as in multiplication) of my ambition times my dreams.

I've enjoyed a modicum of financial success. I'm comfortably middle class, and I've made more money than my father. That's what I had to have. I had vague dreams of being rich, but I never put a lot of effort to that end. Let's say someone dreams of being a millionaire and his ambition is 10%, then maybe he'll end up with $100 grand.

Dreams set the course of our futures. But merely setting the course does not suffice. Something has to power our lives and that is ambition. I've seen dreams and ambitions wax and wane over the years. And I think of that thing I went through called Midlife Crisis.

When a man goes through Midlife Crisis, he realizes there are some dreams that will never come true. Or perhaps, if he's ambitious enough, he realizes he's achieved his dreams and he's restless about what to do next. Some wig out, buy a red Corvette and a blond spouse-upgrade. What's going on?

I think Midlife Crisis is the time of Second Dreaming. You look at your teenaged dreams, and what you've accomplished at the midpoint of your life, and you start dreaming a mid-course correction. I did this several years ago and what came out of that time was a recollection of my interest in philosophy. I had been quite good at it and quite interested in it in college, but in grad school and in work afterwards, I left the philosophy alone and concentrated upon geekish and professional considerations. And I also started writing then.

Now, I'm looking at my ambition, at my drive. I can coast or float, Or I can stomp on the gas pedal and crank the volume to 11. My decision really.

I speak of teenage dreams and midlife dreams as if they are the only times one dreams. I think this is not wise. We ought to periodically look at ourselves, where we are, who we are, what we have and decide whether we need more, less, or different. It's the difference between Big Up Front Design versus Incremental Deliveries.

I'm probably not making sense. It's late and I shall go to sleep.

Perchance to dream.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Love and Mercy

On our way home from church this morning my wife, Mary, and I had a conversation about love and mercy. She said she could better appreciate mercy given what I've been harping on about "giving the benefit of the doubt." This prompted a raised eyebrow.

That's love. Not mercy.

Let me give an example. In Dashiell Hammett's short novel "The Thin Man" Nick and Nora Charles are the married protagonists. Nick has married extremely well, but he has the reputation of being a lady's man. A former client's daughter has grown up with a crush on Nick and is now in her early 20s. At one point, Nora walks into the girl's bedroom and finds Nick on the bed hugging the girl. Looks bad, right? Turns out that Nick is not putting the moves on the girl. He's comforting her. Nora doesn't get all jealous and huffy. She extends Nick the benefit of the doubt. Nick is truly innocent of infidelity and Nora treats him as if he's innocent. This is love.

I have marveled at how much worse I treat those closest to me than I treat strangers. Why?

With strangers or recent acquaintances I know nothing about them. There's a whole ocean of doubt. Lacking a context within which to interpret their words and actions, I put the best possible spin thereon. This isn't anything special. It's just loving my neighbor. Simple Christianity 101.

I once described love as giving the other every benefit of every doubt. The person I was talking to asked me, "how is that different from being a doormat?" I replied, "what do you do when you run out of doubt?" If there is no doubt the other is mistreating you, love doesn't demand that you ignore it.

I can think of people that I've "given up on." I've no desire for relationship with them and I maintain only the minimum contact. In one case, I conversation is like walking through a mine field and I just don't want to blow off my foot again. I have "run out of doubt" where this person is concerned.

You'll recall that Mary and I were having this discussion on the way back from church. Our conversation reminded me that MERCY goes one step past LOVE. Love prompts me to cut the other some slack when they might not be guilty. Mercy goes past that. Mercy prompts me to cut the other some slack when they are certainly guilty.

Like after you run out of doubt?

I know I need mercy. If you ever meet someone who doesn't need mercy, he's not a Christian, no matter what he says.

And I know I should expect the same sort of mercy that I dispense. So when "give up on" people and shrug off further relationship, I'm not being merciful. In fact, my attitude is relatively harsh. And wrong. I desperately need mercy. I guess this means I no longer have the option to "give up on" people.

That's why conflicts with family members are so troubling. We naturally love our family. But we know our family members better than anyone else. Not much doubt. I have two uncles, one jolly and one bitter. The bitter one remembers some insult or injustice done to him as a child. I don't know what it is, and I suspect he's absolutely correct about it. But he won't forgive. And it's made him a bitter old man. He's "given up on" his siblings. I don't want to be that guy.

I think we do not naturally MERCY our families. Or maybe we need to be more intentional about how we MERCY family members. My parents are gone, but my siblings and my wife and my children all have the capacity to do something that makes me disgusted and grumpy, etc. And because I know them so well, I can realize there's no excuse. When there's no excuse, we're most strongly moved to "give up on" people and walk away. When there's no excuse, that's when we are called upon to MERCY the other.

My wife taught me something important coming home from church today.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Realism and Strong AI

I don't believe in Strong AI. But lots of other people do. If the term's unfamiliar, it goes like this: given the right computer hardware, and some mechanism for copying the programming of one's brain circuitry, one could load a person's consciousness and memories, what I call his soul, into a computer. Likewise, you could copy this programming into another brain, perhaps one in a cloned body. This is the stuff of science fiction and we've seen it in several popular SF stories.

This idea was picked up by mathematician Roger Penrose. But he added a spin to it I hadn't considered. If my "soul" is essentially a program, then it has the same ontological status as any other program. That's where some considerations by Alan Turing come into play. Turing was able to define a "space" where all computer programs that could possibly be written reside. Thus, we end up with a result that most Strong AI proponents would find revolting: a sort of metaphysics that defines a platonic realm where mathematical objects, including turing machines, or these Strong AI souls.

What got me thinking this way was something R.C. Sproul said today on the radio. He spoke of human pre-existance--another idea I do not believe in. And referred to a type of "realism" that teaches that before one is born, he exists "in the mind of God." This is another thing I don't believe, but it makes some sense.

This all fits into a Platonic metaphysic where mathematical objects like the theorem of Pythagoras and more complex things like turing machines, have a "real" existence in the mind of God. This also tends to fit with the theonimist stuff that Herman Dooyeweerd's notion of logos.