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December 13, 2000

Every time I’ve started to form an opinion about our ongoing election process, there’s been an unexpected court ruling that changes the nature of the conflict, so, given the cryptic nature of the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision or declaration or remand or whatever it was, I’ll limit myself to a brief comment. Much of the commentary has noted that there is no way, now, for Florida to conduct a recount and have it completed by December 12. Congress is allowed to challenge electors who are chosen after that date, which is six days before December 18, when the electors vote. (The eighteenth being the first Monday after the second Wednesday of December. Seriously, that’s how the date is determined.) However, the votes cast by the electors are not counted until January 6, which means that a recount could be completed after the electors vote but still potentially change the results of the election.

That sounds farfetched, I know, but this actually happened in 1960 when a recount overturned Hawaii’s election results after the electors had voted. Congress then needed to decide which set of electoral votes from Hawaii to accept as valid, but an affidavit from Hawaii’s Republican Governor endorsed the newer results, even though it meant that Democrat John Kennedy won in his state.

Given the uncertainty hovering around the Florida vote and that the Governor of Florida is George Bush’s brother, it seems unlikely that things will move as amiably in the current election. But it also seemed unlikely that the Florida Supreme Court would call for a recount, or that the U.S. Supreme Court would then overturn that ruling. So who can say what will happen? #

Collective Conscience vs. the Destruction of Humanity

The November issue of JOHO includes the usual interesting writing as well as links to the Action Item comic strip and Arnold Kling’s essay about the Collective Conscience. The latter is a response to Bill Joy’s concern that we have made it too easy to destroy humanity by failing to consider the implications of technology as we develop it. Mr Joy recommends restrictions on certain areas of scientific inquiry, and Mr Kling develops some metaphors to help illustrate the magnitude of those recommendations. (Example: Imagine that God has declared that humanity would be annihilated if anyone on Earth sends unsolicited commercial e-mail.)

Based on the lessons of these metaphors, Mr Kling proposes that some of the dangers of unrestricted knowledge can be reduced by a semi-organized ethics task force modeled after the Internet Engineering Task Forces and the World Chess Federation.

Now, imagine that everyone in the world is given an “ethics rating” that is analogous to a chess rating. Maybe 2500 would be the highest, and 0 would be the lowest. Your rating would affect how you could use various technologies. “Ethical grandmasters” would be allowed to do advanced research in biotechnology and robotics.

To get a rating in one possible system, you would ask ten colleagues to rate you and their ratings would be averaged. If you can’t find ten people to rate you, then the remaining ratings are assumed to be zero. When giving someone a rating, you cannot give them a score higher than your own. Thus, to be considered an ethical person you must know people who (a) consider you an ethical person and (b) are themselves considered ethical people. The neat thing about the system is that the people with the most influence are also the most ethical, making them the least likely to abuse their power. #


Also at JOHO is a discussion of web metaphysics which gets into a lot of very neat concepts that I don’t feel confident I can summarize accurately.

In Salon recently are articles discussing the nature of violence in film (when is it art and when is it just a cheap thrill?) and the commercialization of fandom. The latter brings to mind my own thoughts about fanfiction which I really should sort through one of these days, but it’s actually about one group of fans who organized to protect themselves from the companies who tend to sue fan sites for violating copyrights but have since started suing other fans for (possibly) violating their copyrights. #