Flash on the web

The new iPad really has me excited. If you’re sort of “meh” about the specs, I encourage you to take a look at the video Apple has produced. There you can see people handling it and using it and that makes a big difference. I think I “get” what Apple had in mind for this product, and I am beyond psyched about it.

One thing that did concern me was the fact that Flash will not be supported on it. Flash is an Adobe product and it’s used all over the web, but it occurred to me that I didn’t know how much Flash I used in my usual browsing. I downloaded a plug-in that blocks Flash content but allows you to download it if you feel like it.

What a revelation! As it turns out, most of the Flash that I run across consists of ads. Pages load much faster without them, and there is a lot less distractions and annoying things when Flash is blocked. In short, I barely notice the absence of Flash really isn’t a big deal for me in my usual browsing routine. Granted, I never use Hulu, I can definitely understand people’s consternation over not being able to see their TV shows.

So is this a fatal flaw? I don’t think so. There are other, better ways to display video content on the web. H264 encoding and HTML5 have the potential to unseat Flash. Google is supporting both of these formats on Youtube and Vimeo is using HTML5 in limited quantities as well. Right now, limitations in playback seem to browser based. Between those two open standards and Apple’s refusal to use Flash (supposedly for battery reasons although there are plenty of conspiracy theories around), I wonder how long Adobe will be able to maintain people’s enthusiasm for Flash. With all of the iPods, iPhones, and now iPads not using it, that’s a lot of the mobile market. Time will tell. In the meantime, I heartily suggest using a Flash blocker for speedier internet access. I’m using a Safari plug-in called “clicktoflash.” You can get it here.

Free speech

I keep hearing outrage, gnashing of teeth, etc. over the recent Citizens United ruling. I’ve been questioning people as to why they support what I see as an obvious restriction of free speech and the answers seem to boil down to one of the following:

1) Corporations are bad and you can’t trust them.

2) Corporations have too much money.

3) Corporations are not people!

4) People are mindless lemmings that will do whatever ads tell them to do.

Keep in mind that the law in question applied to not only what we consider the typical corporations, but also non-profits (more on this later), grassroots organizations, and essentially any grouping of people. So, perhaps there are some “bad” corporations, but surely there are groups that deserve and need to be heard close to an election too!

Points 2 and 4 are related. It is argued that because some corporations have “unlimited money” that they also have unlimited power over the voters. Why people think that Exxon or Chase have Svengali-like powers is beyond me. Ads can present information, they can never coerce, so why the fear of their ads? Ah, because people are stupid of course. Sorry, I don’t subscribe to this train of thought. Ads will, on the whole, either reinforce people’s priors or they will give them something to rail against. If an ad presents information that changes someone’s mind then surely it was useful and should have been aired.

As to the corporations are not people bit, I think that it relates to point #1. Organizations are groups of people. Those people want to get their point across, that’s what free speech is all about.

Even if those 4 things were true, they still do not provide us with an adequate reason to limit free speech. To see why, we only have to look at the basis of this case. A US district court ruled that ads for a movie about Hillary Clinton violated the McCain-Feingold act because they aired within 60 days of an election. Think about that. Whatever you may think about Ms. Clinton, what does it say about our country when you cannot advertise a film that is critical of a politician? What does it say about the state of political discourse when you cannot get a group of people together with a common cause and then let people know about it within 60 days of an election? That’s what this law was about, that’s why I am glad it was struck down.

And what I can’t help but wonder is why the people that scream about this decision are seemingly happy that organizations like the ACLU or AFL-CIO are also muzzled. Don’t you want to hear what they have to say about the candidates? Don’t you want others to hear that too? This is what it really comes down to, you cannot limit free speech of a particular group without limiting many others. Hence the language of the 1st amendment :

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The founding fathers got it right by not referring to individuals, groups, etc. They knew that any limitation on political speech was harmful. If you want freedom of speech, you have to extend it to everyone, no matter how they group themselves. The alternative is to muzzle yourself as well. Free speech for everyone!

If you’re living high on that cheap credit hog…

… don’t look for cure from the hair of the dog.

That’s one of the many gems in the best, and possibly funniest, econ video I’ve seen in a while. A former prof. of mine collaborated on “Fear the Boom and Bust.” It’s an amazing rap on two competing economic viewpoints. They are also the two that seem most appropriate to the current economic situation. I give “mad props” to them for bringing up concepts like how time and interest coordinate prices, C+I+G=Y, the circular flow of money, and even sticky wages. Some of my favorite moments actually occur before the song starts. “Freddie! Party at the Fed!” The “General Theory…” in place of Gideon’s Bible was a nice touch too. Watch it and learn:-)

My take on the latest supreme court ruling

It’s best summarized by Timothy Lee.

“So I’m not thrilled at the idea of Fortune 500 companies spending a ton of money on bogus “issue ads.” But I think the dangers of such ads are frequently exaggerated. I’m far more worried about preserving the right of organizations like the ACLU to spread their message. And I don’t see any plausible way to stop the former without seriously restricting the latter. So I’m glad to see the Supreme Court take the words of the First Amendment — “Congress shall make no law” — literally.”

This ruling doesn’t change the rules about corporate contributions to campaigns, it only addresses the ability of corporations to run political ads within a certain amount of time before an election. “But corporations aren’t people! They shouldn’t hav the same rights as a person.” No, but they are a group of people. I find it odd that so many people support our right to free speech and our right to assemble but oppose our right to free speech when we assemble (HT Warren Meyer).