Blog Articles 131–135

Lessig Blog, v2: Prosecutor as bully

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But all this shows is that if the government proved its case, some punishment was appropriate. So what was that appropriate punishment? Was Aaron a terrorist? Or a cracker trying to profit from stolen goods? Or was this something completely different?

Early on, and to its great credit, JSTOR figured “appropriate” out: They declined to pursue their own action against Aaron, and they asked the government to drop its. MIT, to its great shame, was not as clear, and so the prosecutor had the excuse he needed to continue his war against the “criminal” who we who loved him knew as Aaron.

Here is where we need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior. From the beginning, the government worked as hard as it could to characterize what Aaron did in the most extreme and absurd way. The “property” Aaron had “stolen,” we were told, was worth “millions of dollars” — with the hint, and then the suggestion, that his aim must have been to profit from his crime. But anyone who says that there is money to be made in a stash of ACADEMIC ARTICLES is either an idiot or a liar. It was clear what this was not, yet our government continued to push as if it had caught the 9/11 terrorists red-handed.

We need to ask these questions of much of our justice system. Disporportionality of justice (or at least the surrounding situation) seems to be a contributing factor in Swartz’s suicide; how many others are dead, or locked up with their families in tatters, because the U.S. culture of justice (both in official agencies and society at large) has forsaken balance?


While in the hospital, in the state of delirium, I suddenly realized that the ability to add numbers in parallel depends on the fact that addition is associative. (So, putting it simply, STL is the result of a bacterial infection.) In other words, I realized that a parallel reduction algorithm is associated with a semigroup structure type. That is the fundamental point: algorithms are defined on algebraic structures. It took me another couple of years to realize that you have to extend the notion of structure by adding complexity requirements to regular axioms. And than it took 15 years to make it work. (I am still not sure that I have been successful in getting the point across to anybody outside the small circle of my friends.) I believe that iterator theories are as central to Computer Science as theories of rings or Banach spaces are central to Mathematics. Every time I would look at an algorithm I would try to find a structure on which it is defined. So what I wanted to do was to describe algorithms generically. That’s what I like to do. I can spend a month working on a well known algorithm trying to find its generic representation. So far, I have been singularly unsuccessful in explaining to people that this is an important activity. But, somehow, the result of the activity - STL - became quite successful.

— Alexander Stepanov, in an interview on the origin and design of the C++ STL. This is a deeply profound way to approach programming and algorithm design, and is also at the heart of what the Haskell community has been doing for some time now. Seriously, if you’ve wondered why the Haskell library is riddled with Arrow, Category, Monoid, etc., it is to support exactly this mode of thought. A function declares exactly the type of data it requires, in terms of its necessary operations, and operates on any data matching that requirement. Incidently, this article combined with a lab discussion earlier in the week sparked the revelation that a lot of C++ template design patterns are an impenetrable implementation of type classes.

argparse4s 0.2.1

I pushed a new release of argparse4s today. It should reach Maven Central shortly.

Not much new:

  • Update argparse4j dependency version
  • Add support for Scala 2.10.0
  • Move to GitHub

Have fun!

Open source is not a set of rules…

Open source is not a set of rules waiting to be gamed by corporate lawyers and lobbyists. It’s the pragmatic embodiment of an ideal called software freedom, based on the understanding that the flexibility to use, study, improve and share software is the essential dynamic of the new meshed society.

— Simon Phipps in an article on the incompatibility of FRAND patent licenses and F/LOSS. Not the core point of the article at all, but I think this bit nicely captures the fundamental synergy and compatibility between free/libre and open source software.

Technology and law

That said, these were all (foreign) policy experts, not technologists. They all seemed to take it for granted that you could draw a line between “bad” products and acceptable / dual-use products. I tried to hold back from saying “every time you people try to come up with legal phrasings about what technologies are ok, you end up putting tools like mine on the wrong side of the line.” In retrospect, I should have said it more loudly.

— Tor project’s German Foreign Office trip report. There is a strong impedance mismatch between technology and law, that crops up everywhere from patents to copyright enforcement to law enforcement vs. dissent.