Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

It's tragedy, indeed!

With the swarthy and sinisterly-bearded Uncle Petie presently off to join the Salafist mili... er, vacation in Morocco, it falls to yours truly to report the disturbing news that the Great British public is led by a man who not only enjoys both the records and actual company of Sir Cliff Richard but also that of '70s white disco kings the Bee Gees. Or, more specifically, Bee Gee Robin Gibb, who has so generously - if controversially - donated the use of his mansion in Florida for the Blair family's annual Christmas holiday abroad.

Politicians get freebies all the time and, rightly or wrongly, little is made of it in most cases. So what is particularly controversial about this latest perk of New Labour's electoral success? Curiously, like Sir Cliff, Gibb is also a fierce campaigner for copyright extension, a cause which the Prime Minister himself has championed both in Parliament and in his dealings with the European Union. But of course this must all be mere coincidence. After all, the man who initially came to power on a platform of ending the sleaze of the John Major era wouldn't stoop to accepting gifts from lobbyists. Would he?

Is nothing safe from the Christian Taleban?

Apparently not. Now even the Grand Canyon is a religious battleground for America's Christian right and its allies within the Bush Administration.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Let the betting begin...

Am about to commence my first bit of international travel without first shaving off my beard. Have never been searched at an airport in my life before, including one time as a teenager, when, after going out rabbit hunting the day before, I carelessly walked through Heathrow and got on a plane with about 15 soft-headed .22 bullets in my pocket, I'm a little curious to see what happens now that I've got facial hair. Anyone want to have a guess... ?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Happy Holidays from Information Landmine

The mighty Information Landmine wishes all of its readers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Chaunnukah, Cool Yule, Happenin' Kwaanza or just good old festive time, whatever tradition you may follow and whatever you may be doing in its observance this year.

Keep on rockin' in the free (or not-so-free, depending on your perspective) world!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Spin doctors say the darndest things (especially when full of seasonal cheer)!

Sitting in a Tyneside pub the other evening with a rather "well-lubricated" acquaintance who is, respectively, a local council official, New Labour activist and self-described Blairite loyalist spin doctor, Information Landmine was shocked - yes, shocked, we tell you! - to be regaled with the tale of how a local constituency party in the North East of England allegedly organized a chug-a-lug beer-drinking contest as a campaign fundraiser during one of the last two general elections.

While the exact constituency and election cycle in which this grand event was said to have occurred escapes us due to both the world-class level of inebriation of our informant and, frankly, our own somewhat lower but nevertheless impressive degree of "seasonal goodwill", it was alleged that no less than the Prime Minister himself, the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair MP and the modern day Machiavelli and ex-porn writer Alastair Campbell were not only present but were indeed (according to our source) visibly delighted by the spectacle of various toadies and party lackeys trying and failing to down a yard glass of fizzy lager in a single go and subsequently regurgitating vast amounts of foam as a result. Oh, how the as-yet-unindicted war criminals themselves were said to have roared with laughter at the proletarian jollity of it all!

If the existence and nature of this fundraising event is true - and, although possibly exaggerated by our source, it is not the kind of thing that such a loyal and experienced party activist would appear to have reason to simply invent - there is a certain irony about the public stance and policies of Her Majesty's Government on the hot-button issues of anti-social behaviour and binge drinking. An irony that we here at Information Landmine find amusing and disturbing but, sadly, not the least bit surprising.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Vitamin C

In 1953, at the height of the U.S.A.'s Polio epedemic a small town G.P. named Fred R. Klenner used ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to treat the disease. Klenner successfully treated not only Polio, but since the early 40's had used vitamin C megadosing to treat gum disease, pneumonia, chickenpox, mumps, herpes simplex, influenza and more. In spite of his tremendous results at a time of great suffering and loss of life, widespread publication of his results were suppressed and his practices were never widely implemented, although many doctors, including one Dr. Abraham Hoffer confirmed his method. Hoffer completely cured all those patients to whom he prescribed Klenners treatment. A vaccine was created two years later by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1955, though much doubt has been cast over the effectiveness of the Salk vaccine.

Whenever I suggest the use of supplemental Vitamin C I'm invariably met with umming and arring, followed by a string of misconceptions about the supposed negative side effects of ascorbic acid (Vit. C). What most people seem terribly concerned about is that vitamin C will give them diorrhea. This is an actual effect of a Vitamin C overdose, but that's it. It's the effect of an overdose, and a case of the runs is a very minor price to pay when compared to the physiological effects of commonly used, and commonly overdosed drugs like Ibuprofen. The magic number of 1000mg has been ascribed universally as the maximum daily dose; but this safe number takes no account of any of the factors governing an individuals capacity, or need to utilise ascorbic acid. If you're ill, if you smoke, if you excersise vitamin C is depleted. It's very easy to ascertain how much vitamin C you require, just keep taking it and once you've taken as much as your body can utilise you'll excrete it. It's not that terrifying a prospect, and unless you take an enormous dose all in one go your guts will give you ample warning to stop your ingestion long before you need to go running to the toilet.
Other fears of vitamin c overdosing include such myths as causing kidney stones, thickening of the carotid artery (an indicator of coronary artery disease) or that taking Vitamin C whilst pregnant can cause Vitamin C deficient babies at risk of scurvy. According to doctor Klenners paper, "In using vitamin C as an antibiotic no factor of toxicity need be considered. To confirm this observation 200 consecutive hospital patients were given ascorbic acid, 500 to 1000 mg. every four to six hours, for five to ten days. One volunteer received 100,000 mg. in a 12-day period. It must be remembered that 90 per cent of these patients did not have a virus infection to assist in destroying the vitamin. In no instance did examination of the blood or urine indicate any toxic reaction, and at no time were there any clinical manifestations of a reaction to the drug."
All tests that have shown negative results have since been refuted many times over and shown to have been based on flawed experiments, yet the myths about supposed negative effects of non-toxic nutrients persist. The question is who propogates them, and why? Not surprisingly it's in the interests of many politicians and drug companies to maintain a stranglehold on medical treatments, and that means regulating nutrients as drugs.
You may also want to trace it all back to the origin of the stonewalling against Vitamin C.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bad reasons for copyright protection

It's apparently obligatory for press reports about copyright to carry a final paragraph about how all piracy is conducted by organized criminals, probably at the behest of some terrorist matstermind. It's conventional, though not required, for them to quote an industry official saying that "Peopole think it's just some Del-boy types, but it's actually a serious business." Now this may or may not be so, but what really gets me is that the people using this argument seem to think it's a reason to increase copyright protection, when any sensible person can see it's exactly the opposite.

Like drugs, prostitution and every other sort of consensual crime, IP piracy is a good business for criminals to get into because it's illegal: if you legislate for prohibition, you create a market for Al Capone types. The more you enforce the law, the more serious the criminals who engage in it have to be - the Del-boy types can't keep up. If we're really worried that bin Laden's paying for his operations by flogging pirated copies of Legally Blonde II, then the quickest way to deal with that would be to legalise DVD copying. But I presume that wasn't what they meant.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Do votes cast electronically become Intellectual Property?

Diebold seems to think so.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Defining "Globalization"

Someone on a social networking site recently asked me to define "Globalization". I thought I'd re-post my answer here in order to promote discussion:

Globalization is the sum of the collective processes and/or phenomena (which may be called globalizations) responsible for the ongoing breakdown or dilution of legal, commercial, cultural, traditional and/or linguistic barriers between nations, countries and regions. It is primarily driven by and/or enabled by revolutions in transport and communications technology.

On the surface, it sounds very positive. Who could be against breaking down barriers between nations, countries and regions? But the devil, as ever, is in the
details. The key question in examining how globalization is currently being managed is the one posed by the late British political economist Susan Strange: 'Qui
"Who benefits?"

The breaking down of barriers between nations, countries and regions hasn't been accompanied by a breaking down of barriers between people. Or at least not most
people. Indeed, quite the opposite is occuring. Goods and services may flow more freely and cheaply across international borders and around the globe but much of the world's population is more restricted than ever before in terms of freedom of movement. More and more, it is a world of haves and have nots. Of businessmen, tourists and untouchables.

Example: less than 30 years ago, an unskilled foreign labourer could come to the UK and get a permit to live and work in Britain. Now, that is no longer possible without an EU passport or marriage to a British subject. Other countries are also imposing new legal or even physical restrictions (e.g., the new wall across the Rio Grande) against the freedom of movement for human beings. In many instances, a washing machine or a stuffed toy has more of a legal right to cross frontiers than does a migrant worker.

Again, the relevant question is: 'Qui bono?' "Who

And is it any wonder that there should be a cultural backlash against this amongst various groups of people in various parts of the globe?

Thoughts, brickbats, etc. to the usual address.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

People are the same all over

Moral hypocrisy and sexual deviance, it seems, are not just problems for our own conservative religious zealots like former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL), the Rev. Ted Haggard and others: even the Taliban, it appears, have "a thing" for fresh-faced young boys.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Speaking truth to power (even though power already knows what it's doing)

While one of the main strengths of the conservative movement is that it tends to remain (relatively) united throughout its political peaks and troughs, the same cannot be said of the left, which seems to fragment into splinter factions over the biggest and smallest issues alike. Regular or decaffe, anyone?

As a proud leftist, this can be frustrating, and little within the politics of the left has been as frustrating during the past six years as watching US Greens tear themselves apart over one-time Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader. As a member of both the Green Party of California and, on this side of the Atlantic, the Green Party of England & Wales, I believe that the Nader issue squandered the sense of momentum that the Greens had been building at grassroots level across the US and that the damage caused, if not permanent, may now take a decade or more to repair.

The Party - or at least a fair chunk of its membership - certainly made a bit of a mess of things during the Nader debacle. However, when the Greens get it right, they really get it right. And here, in the form of the latest media communiqué from the Green Party of California, is a prime example of why I'm still proud to be a Green:

Green Party of California

Friday, December 8, 2006

Green Party challengers urge soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to impeach Bush for ‘crimes against humanity,' note Pelosi's failure to support impeachment is betrayal of voters

SAN FRANCISCO (December 8, 2006) – The failure of soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) to call for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and members of his administration should be considered a "betrayal" of her oath of office, said two former Green Party congressional candidates today.

Pelosi, who has stated that impeachment is off the table, should "call George Bush before the U.S. Congress to be fully investigated for high crimes and misdemeanors, including crimes against humanity from Baghdad to Biloxi," said Krissy Keefer, who opposed Pelosi in November as the Green Party candidate in the 8th CD.

Not only did Keefer receive 7.5 percent of the vote running an anti-war campaign with virtually no budget against an incumbent, San Francisco voters also approved Measure J, which asks their representatives to impeach Bush and vice president Dick Cheney.

And, on Sunday, San Franciscans will be holding a giant "impeachment rally" at UN Plaza.

"The war in Iraq, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina and the erosion of the Constitution cannot be overlooked. We have the moral responsibility to impeach. Failing to impeach will increase the likelihood that we may get someone capable of such crimes again," Keefer said.

And, Carol Brouillet, the Green Party candidate for Congress in the nearby 14th CD (Palo Alto), said she believes Pelosi has a "duty and obligation to impeach the Bush Regime. Silence in the face of an avalanche of evidence of criminality would be a betrayal of their oath of office, the people of this country, and our hopes for the future.

"The Bush Administration has flagrantly violated our Constitution, trashed the Bill of Rights, launched illegal, immoral wars, lied about matters of utmost importance to the American people. These people are, truly, terrorists on an unprecedented scale. It is up to us, the people, to force our elected representatives to recognize and adhere to their duty and hold top officials accountable for their heinous crimes, that means impeachment," Brouillet added.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Good reason to pop open the bubbly

Satan has one more guest at the infernal BBQ this fine winter's evening.

Sometimes pictures really do say more than words

Friday, December 08, 2006

Location, location, location...

Has anyone else ever wondered why it is that so many land metaphors get used when people talk about intellectual property? Environmentalism for the public domain, enclosures of the mind, Lessig constant referring to the Causby’s ownership case… it seems a little bit like anyone worried about what you might call IP over-reach can’t help but analogise to territorial property. An interesting corollary of this is that those who are a bit more sanguine about strong IP rights tend to talk about patents, copyrights etc. in terms of mobile property, or at least intangible goods like financial instruments. Richard Epstein’s columns in the FT are pretty typical: patents, copyrights and trademarks are things you record on the books like stocks and shares, and it does no-one any good when governments mess with the system by changing the rules and introducing a whole load of uncertainty into the game.

Now this isn’t a hard and fast rule – Epstein actually used trespass law in his eBay case – but it’s a fairly good rule of thumb that if someone’s talking to you about IP in terms of territorial property, they’re trying to tell you that the system’s out of control. If they’re talking in terms of financial instruments, they’re saying everything’s just dandy except for those damn pirates. More broadly, IP sceptics tend to tell stories about static market problems where incumbents have too much control: their model of the IP company looks like a Ricardian landlord, sitting on a fixed asset and making everyone around them do the actual work while they collect ever-larger rents off the back of it (think Amazon and 1-click patents). IP-enthusiasts tell stories about dynamic markets where there’s strong competition in terms of innovation: their IP company is a Schumpeterian entrepreneur, busily engaged in some good ol' creative destruction so that they can maintain their very temporary advantage in the marketplace (think Xbox vs. Playstation3 vs. Wii and the worries about Sony losing its lead). So what’s going on here?

At first sight this might just look as though the cyber-hippies and the e-yuppies are just reverting to their traditional stereo-types (as laid down by Led Zeppelin) for the intellectual property argument – romantic stories about blissful landscapes being torn up by the Lord Sauron and his evil corporations from the sandal-wearing crowd, stories of technological progress, nine figure transactions and stock-market escapades from the cocaine set. While this undoubtedly has a grain of truth to it, I think there’s more we can say.

Essentially, the arguments of both sides involve claims that we should think about IP as a different sort of property - land for the sceptics, mobile property for the supporters. Because of the very different nature of these two sorts of property, governments have tended to take very different attitudes towards them. States are very involved with what people do with their land. Planning permission, pollution laws, forestry regulations – you might own your little bit of England, but you’re still very much answerable to the government about what you do with it. There’s also a consensus that certain types of land should be held in common, and are the more valuable for it: parks and the road system are the classic examples. By contrast the government tends to take a fairly hands-off attitude to what you do with your mobile property. Even where it has rules concerning the use of it (telecommunications devices, cars, guns) these tend to have as much to do with your use of some sort of territorial property (the radio spectrum, roads) or some other law of the land (murder). This essentially boils down along good old-fashioned state vs. market, public vs. private lines: should IP be regulated along the lines of land: with a mix of public and private ownership, and some fairly robust regulation limiting owners’ rights to their property (fair use, compulsory licensing etc.), or should it be largely in the private sphere, with governments doing little more than maintaining standards (through the protection of encryption technologies etc.)?

My feeling is that IP has aspects in common with both sorts of property. Without wanting to compile an exhaustive list, there are three lines of difference I think you could instantly draw up:

1) Can you manufacture it? At the risk of sounding obvious, the big thing that separates both IP and manufactured goods from land is that, in the majority of cases, it can be manufactured. The Nissan garage in Sunderland will today put out a whole load of cars and I’ll post this up. In both cases property that wasn’t there before will have come into being. With the exception of the odd island in the Middle East, land isn’t really susceptible to those sorts of processes (resources like oil and minerals are another interesting grey area, but I don’t want to complicate the discussion too much at the moment).

2) Is it fungible? Mobile property tends to be fungible: you can have more than one of it (technically, it’s interchangeable with other items in fulfilment of a contract). This is not the case for real estate and IP. If you’re buying a can of coke, you unlikely to be particular about which one. If you’re buying a plot of land or the rights to a book, you’re going to be very particular.

That’s pretty rough and ready, but you get the idea. People use different metaphors according to what they want to foreground. Stories of IP as mobile property highlight its manufacturing aspects: IP is something where you have to work to bring it into being, and people are more likely to do that work if they think they’re going to get broad rights in exercising the fruits of it. Stories of IP as landed property emphasise the fact that, because it occupies a unique position (i.e. isn’t fungible) and is under the control of a single company, it’s very possible that it’ll be used strategically: think Microsoft using/abusing their dominance in the operating systems market to dominate other spheres – by controlling the OS they control the access route to the majority of PC users. Windows might be valuable because a lot of work went into manufacturing it, but it’s more valuable because it’s sitting in that privileged spot on so many of the world’s PCs. This leads me on to point 3, which is, you’ll be pleased to hear, the point:

3) Where does it derive its value from (given the contentiousness of theories of value amongst economists through the ages, this is really worth a much longer discussion – if all readers could put their reservations on hold and just go with this for a second, I’d be very grateful)? Mobile property tends to derive its value as a function of its inputs – raw materials and labour. Territorial property derives its value partly from its composition (is the soil any good for agriculture?), but also from its position in relation to other bits of territory (is it in a nice neighbourhood?). IP, similarly, derives some of its value from content, but a lot of it from its relationship to other ideas (not all of them property). Windows is an obvious example here, but it really works for almost any sort of IP you can think of. Ska songs take some work to create, but derive a lot of their value from previous ska classics that have gone before, both because the new borrows from the old and because old ska songs helped to develop a market of ska-lovers out there. All the patents that Audi’s so proud of filing derive much of their value from their relationship to other patents, past and present, on other inventions (most obviously the internal combustion engine). At the risk of sounding a little wanky, you could say that the value of your IP depends largely upon where it’s sitting in the intellectual landscape. Man.

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