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.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Yes, indeed

Remember the points raised about the US media in this post? It looks like somebody else gets it, too.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Right wing romanticism

I'm reading Joseph Schumpeter's Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, which is actually very well written and thus fairly easy going. As befits something that people are always busily trotting out to explain why huge monopolies aren't a problem, why anti-trust cases are unnecessary and why intellectual property policy needs to be so restrictive, it's also quite difficult to get a hold of: well over twenty quid for most copies you'll see.

The thing the book is mostly remembered for is it's promotion of the inventive entrepreneur and of dynamic markets more generally: the point being that classical economic competition in terms of reducing margins is really far less important than competition through innovation, which hits your competitors at the heart of their business rather than nibbling away at the edges (imagine you're selling candles and I've just invented the light-bulb): Creative Destruction is the term, much beloved of conservatives.

What no-one tells you is that the man comes off as a bit of a nutter: Schumpeter's constant romanticising about that better class of men (and he seems to assume they are men) who drive capitalism sometimes makes him seem like a more erudite version of Ayn Rand. Innovation, for Schumpeter, is located squarely in the individual entrepreneur and, more than that, it sometimes seems to be a sort of biological given: there's a better class of person whose higher mental powers allow him to innovate, or some such. Now the debate about nature vs. nurture in human creativity is a big one, and where you stand on it doesn't really matter. What is important is that he doesn't really offer any argument on either side, he just plumps for the idea that some people are more equal than others and leaves it at that.

If all this sounds a bit too fascist, it's should be pointed out that this is a big part of why Schumpeter (having rejected Marx out of hand in the first section) sees socialism succeeding - big business eventually gets so bureaucratized that there's no room left for these thrilling creative types and capitalism thus kills the goose that lays the golden egg. In case I seem too mocking, I actually think there's quite a lot to some of these ideas - not the innovative ubermensch, but the idea that big business kills off creativity. This is why the standard method of innovation in things like biotech seems to consist mainly of big business finding smaller, more dynamic companies to buy up - it seems to be hard for people to innovate within large organisations.

Apart from his romanticism, the big flaw for me seems to be that Schumpeter's doesn't really give much scope to the possibility of harmful innovation, or at least the government shouldn't be regulating it - the market will be better at sorting that sort of thing out than a lot of stuffy judges and bureaucrats seems to be his angle. He, of course, wasn't living in the age of Enron's marvelous new innovations in accountancy, but you'd think that a lot of the more outlandish schemes of the 19th Century American robber barons would have given him pause for thought. Maybe it all just seemed so dashing that he couldn't bring himself to condemn it...

Monday, March 26, 2007

"Reality has a well-known liberal bias..."

It sounds like something from the Colbert Report, but as far as anyone can tell, Conservapedia is not actually a brilliantly conceived bit of satire, it's an online encyclopedia founded on the reasoning that Wikipedia is controlled by a cabal of hyper-liberal editors. Why exactly people continue to read this left-wing nonsense is unclear (Conservapedia's very clear about the idea that they represent the opinion of the majority), possibly the conspiracy extends to the Google page-ranking system as well.

This is maybe the greatest and craziest product of the myth of the liberal media yet: not content with taking over the mass media, those clever lefties have somehow managed to co-ordinate a conspiracy of hundreds of thousands of contributors in different countries, and get millions of people to read it.

Also, today's fact of the day is excellent:

"You probably did not learn about the Great Flood in school, or view Michelangelo's painting of it in art class. Surprised that Michelangelo accepted the Great Flood? 60% of Americans today accept that the Great Flood occurred."

It may also surprise you to know that Michelangelo did NOT believe in evolution.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The SCUD missile of the IP wars

Over the years, many technological and legal instruments have been employed in the "War On Copyright Piracy". But this effort from 1992 absolutely, positively takes the biscuit! Thanks to our friend J-Rack for bringing it to Information Landmine's attention.

Feel an odd compulsion to consume, consume, consume?

You may just be the victim of new levels of psychological warfare against the consumer by the forces of commerce.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Nothing is sacred in the chase for profit

One of Scotland's most significant historical battlefields, the site where the nation won its then-independence, is about to be permanently desecrated merely for the sake of a road-building company's profits.

What was Drummer Dave saying about The Golden Age of Greed (tm)?

More Intellectual Property follies

Can a date on the calendar be Intellectual Property? A case from the files of history.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A cheque in the post, perhaps?

Regular readers of Information Landmine may recall the item we did on the American Enterprise Institute's efforts to bri... er, provide "incentives" for scientists and commentators willing to publicly cast doubt on the now-widely-accepted hypotheses of the effects of climate change.

Have they finally found some willing marks?

Friday, March 16, 2007

A new brand of law enforcement

Who couldn't love this story?

Speed trap nets Florida drivers

Associated Press

ORLANDO, FLA. -- There was no pot of gold behind the dancing roadside leprechaun, only speeding tickets.

Dozens of drivers in the Orlando area found out the hard way Thursday after passing an Orange County sheriff's deputy dressed as a leprechaun and warning drivers to slow down. A laser detector clocked cars above his sign reading "Watch your speed or it will cost you your pot of gold," and several officers on motorcycles chased those who didn't heed the advice.

Deputy Richard Lockman said police had been giving out about a ticket a minute since 8 a.m. He was dressed in a green leprechaun outfit with a hat, tight white knickers and a fake red beard.

Lockman did the same thing with a Christmas elf outfit in December. Speeders complained that being stopped by a deputy in costume was entrapment.

"I think that's just ridiculous," Lockman said. "The elf didn't force anybody to speed."

Now, if only Ken Livingstone would hire Shane MacGowan to enforce the Congestion Charge for a day...

Becoming the media

Is "old" media dead? These people certainly seem to think so.

Wall Street vs. the world

Good to see that somebody else gets it, too. But there are so many ordinary people nowadays who've bought into the whole "you-too-can-get-rich-by-playing-the-markets-like-a-Wall-Street-mover-and-shaker", it's difficult to see many people looking past the dollar signs in their eyes to actually do anything like disinvestment when there's a potential buck to be made.

Gordon Gecko is still out there in most of the suburbs of America and the bottom line for most is the dream of a big dividend rather than an honest acknowledgement that many investments are unethical and probably ultimately ruinous for both country and planet alike.

Sadly, it seems that for most people it's all about the Benjamins these days.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And more...

... here.

Tail still wagging dog

And once again, we see who calls the shots on US foreign policy as far as the increasingly out-of-control events in the Middle East are concerned.

Of course, often overlooked by many of those who - justifiably, in this writer's opinion - criticize the disproportionate influence cast by the pro-Israeli lobby is how the aforementioned Zionist element would not pack such a punch were it not for its interests corresponding nicely with those of US defense contractors and oil companies keen on keeping the profits flowing and the shareholders happy.

But, to quote The Great Oz, "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!" After all, there's a War On Terror to be won (apparently).

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The conservative punditocracy: setting new (low) standards for US public discourse

First Ann Coulter's "schoolyard taunting" of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards makes the news, and now draft-dodging drug-abuser Rush Limbaugh puts forth his characteristically-uninformed views on the subject of global climate change. Though perhaps it's no surprise that the latter doesn't believe in the phenomenon of global warming, accustomed as he is to sitting in a room that's constantly re-filling with hot air. The famous "frog-in-a-pan-of-boiling-water" effect, perhaps?

What does seem abundantly clear, now more than ever, is that conservative commentators are determined to set the bar of US public discourse at a subterranean depth of both civility and intelligence, to the detriment of the country and principles that they so loudly profess to love and defend at the exclusion of those of any other political creed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Patent Medicine

Steve's sent me a Green Party article about generics in India, reprinted here for all your benefits:



GREEN Party Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has launched a bid to defend access to affordable generic life-saving drugs from a drug company’s interpretation of world trade rules.

Dr Lucas has joined forces with four other MEPs from a range of parties across the EU to table a Written Declaration calling on drug company Novartis to drop a legal bid to block the production of cheap life-saving drugs in India.

The Written Declaration – the European Parliament’s equivalent of an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons – calls on Novartis to drop its appeal against India’s decision to reject its application for a patent on cancer drug Gleevac. The declaration will become the official policy of the parliament if it attracts the signature of half of its members.

Dr Lucas said: “India produces affordable medicines that are vital to many across the developing world: over half the medicines used for AIDS treatments in developing countries come from India.

If Novartis is successful, a source of affordable life-saving drugs will dry up – condemning millions of the world’s poorest to premature, preventable deaths.

“Novartis simply has no business standing in the way of people’s right to access the medicines they need for survival. International law must put people before profits – the lives of millions of people are at stake!’

At the centre of Novartis case is the World Trade Organisation’s agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property – or TRIPS – which required India to begin granting patents on drugs in 2005.

The TRIPS agreement, however, includes pro-public health safeguards that countries can implement, and India has merely included some of these in its patent law. The Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health, signed by governments in 2001, reinforced the right of countries to use these safeguards.

Dr Lucas said: “This case matters because it goes to the heart of whether drug patenting laws should prioritise the need of millions or the faceless multinational drug companies.

“If Novartis is successful it, and other drug giants, will make a lot more money by exercising monopoly control on medicines while millions will be left without any drugs at all.”

The Written Declaration, which is co-sponsored by Dr Lucas, Luisa Morgantini, Johann Van Hecke, Kader Arif and Pierre Schapira, has been tabled following a hearing in the European Parliament at which MEPs, campaigners from Medicins Sans Frontiers and Oxfam and representatives of Novartis discussed the implications of the case.

The five MEPs have also written to Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella demanding he drop the case.

In September 2005 the European Parliament adopted a resolution recognising India’s crucial role in supplying affordable medicines to patients in developing countries. It called on the EU ‘To support India in further implementing its intellectual property laws in a manner that will avoid barriers to the production, marketing and export of essential medicines’.

Dr Lucas added: “This Written Declaration isn’t just about potentially saving the lives of millions – it is about giving MEPs an opportunity to assert the pro-poor position they adopted in 2005.

“I acknowledge the importance of patent rights – but they must not go against the needs of millions of people who desperately need access to affordable drugs.”


Note to Editors:

The Written Declaration is available in full at:

The letter to Novartis CEO Daniel Vasella is available to download from

Both documents are also available on request from Ben on either number below.

Medecins Sans Frontiers have organised a petition calling on Novartis to drop the case. So far, it has attracted over 250,000 signatures. Read – or sign – it at:

It's at about this point that someone at the Times starts yelling that R&D has to be paid for, and that you have to give drugs companies an ability to discriminate in pricing so that they can recoup their R&D expenditure: can't have those parasitic generics companies sucking the blood out of Novartis' veins, even if it does help keep blood in the veins of those who wouldn't have access to the drugs otherwise. More to the point, they say, you won't get research directed at the important life-saving medicines if those are the ones you don't enforce patents on. Perverse as it sounds, then, the useful medicines are the ones that have to be most securely under control of Big Pharma, because they're the ones we really want to provide incentives for.

This argument sounds instinctively plausible, but rests on some pretty fishy assumptions about the ecology of drug production for the developing world. Big pharmaceuticals companies make most of their money selling drugs in the west - the developing world market is not going to make a huge dent in their revenues. More to the point, they know this, and so direct most of their research towards such useful products as viagra and Listerene. Basically, there's a huge market failure in terms of production of really useful drugs. As a result, you get the nautral response to a market failure: governments and charities step in to give funding to research, which then gets turned over to pharmaceuticals companies for development and production. Government then buys the drugs back off the companies.

Now this is a sweet little earner if you're a pharmaceuticals company - get paid to sell people research that they paid for - but less good for everyone else. Obviously pharma companies need to be involved in the production process (you can't just look at the research and knock up HIV medication in your back yard), but having them this closely integrated all through the production process seems basically counterproductive. For anyone interested in this sort of thing (you know, world health crises, the difference between life and death for millions...), there are a few really interesting proposals (loosely modeled on the idea of Open Source) being knocked around. Ironcially enough, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been looking quite hard at them, and are big sponsors. Or maybe that's not ironic - if anyone should know about the monopoly problems in the IP system...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tragedy, Farce and Outrage: Bush be thine name!

Now more than ever, one has to wonder how exactly the Bush Administration can be taken seriously by anyone in its claim to be waging a global "War On Terror". The latest disclosure to drive a stake through the heart of any such misguided assertion is that W. and co. have apparently been channelling US taxpayers' money to Al Qaeda militants in Iraq in order to shore up their fight against Shia militias allied to Iran.

The fact that such a policy has been implemented while such insurgents are also busy killing US soldiers with roadside bombs and the like doesn't seem to have raised strong enough concerns within the Administration to have prevented it from happening anyway.

Of course, Republican administrations seem to have a nasty habit of illicitly funding Osama bin Laden and his merry band of jihadists, but one would have hoped that such a policy would at least have ended after the events of 11 September 2001, or indeed after such atrocities as the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. But it appears such hopes would have been misplaced in the hands of the worst president in US history.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A new level of absurdity in Intellectual Property claims

The NFL, it seems, feels it owns the right to the concept of "The Big Game".

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