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.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

CopWatch L.A.

In today's police state/surveillance society, it's good to see someone turning the tables on the so-called forces of law and order.

Thanks to Erica for finding the article.

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Bottled water - more evil companies

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Monday, May 28, 2007

More praise for Morford

Though we don't always agree with him, the San Francisco Chronicle's resident lefty columnist Mark Morford is certainly on a roll these days. Check out this and this, too.

Well said on both counts, my man, well said!

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Hardly the season...

... but here's a nice IP cautionary tale I found. This is also pretty good. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Really stupid idea from a right-wing think tank No. 8593860193

The internet – or the bits I waste my time on, anyway – seems to be abuzz with people tearing Mark Helprin's piece about the need for perpetual copyright to shreds. Helprin's an author who works for the Claremont Institute, so is presumably no stranger to trying to undermine freedom and the rule of law in the name of freedom and the rule of law. Even by those standards, though, this all seems a bit sad. His point is that, while the US constitution may say you have to limit the length of copyright, the "real genius" of it is that you can get round it by just extending copyrights every time they're about to expire (I'm not making this up).

There have been some great explanations of why his proposal is so idiotic, and Lessig's even set up a wiki so that we can all have a go. It's thus entirely superfluous for me to add my two cents, but I thought I might anyway.

The argument is a variation on the standard theme used by everyone pushing for more rights, about how this stuff is actually property and you have to respect property, damnit. His own take on this is that the limited time of copyright laws amounts to governmental expropriation, and this is the image from which his argument, if you can call it that, gets most of its force:

Once the state has dipped its enormous beak into the stream of your wealth and possessions they are allowed to flow from one generation to the next. Though they may be divided and diminished by inflation, imperfect investment, a proliferation of descendants and the government taking its share, they are not simply expropriated.
That is, unless you own a copyright.

This is obviously ludicrous. The state isn't confiscating your copyright, it's stopped recognising it. The difference becomes comically obvious when you imagine the state trying something similar with physical property – Rupert Murdoch dies and seventy years later the state doesn't confiscate all his physical assets, it just declares a free-for-all on them. Whilst there's a school of thought that says this would all be good clean anarchist fun – I have visions of at least one of Britain's major newspapers being commandeered by some crazy Dadaist art movement and weeks passing before their subscribers notice the difference - it's a very different proposition to all News International's British holdings being absorbed into the government and Sky One becoming BBC 12 (or wherever it is we're up to now).

Similarly, if the government was actually to expropriate copyright after it expired - that is to say if it still recognised the copyrights and kept them for itself - things would look rather different, with the government in control of the copyright of every artistic work written before the twentieth century. Not to say it would have been all bad: depending on how you work the scheme, this could even have put the British government in the happy position of being able to block the recent Pride and Prejudice film, and might also have been our best shot at extinguishing the blot on the cultural landscape that was Mel Gibson's Hamlet.

My film prejudices aside, the point here is the same one that everyone seems doomed to have to keep making to bone-heads like Helprin who hear the word “property” in debates about “intellectual property” and get all over-excited: Property rights in ideas is essentially very different to property you can break your foot on. Forget this and you're apt to look like a moron.

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

If you're after getting the honey...

Remember this little item from last month? The San Francisco Chronicle's Mark Morford does. Spot on!

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Cranking up the right wing noise machine... again

While not a particular fan of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D - San Francisco), due mainly to her abject political cowardice in failing to drive forward the impeachment of the most corrupt and criminal members of arguably the most corrupt and criminal presidential administration of all-time, Information Landmine nevertheless finds her treatment by the GOP's noise machine to be a prime example of why the Republicans are entirely unworthy of office. Especially considering the irony of statements like that of Representative Adam Putnam (R - Florida):

"[A]ll of us in leadership, all of us in public service have an obligation to conduct ourselves in a way that brings honor and credit to the Houses and our voters."

A worthy sentiment. But does anyone remember Newt Gingrich? Dick Armey (probably the most aptly-named GOP politician ever)? Tom DeLay? As if those guys brought any sort of credit or honour to Congress and the country alike.

What is really ridiculous is that conservatives I speak to often deride those on the left for being "angry and divisive". While I would argue that anyone on the left who isn't angry isn't paying attention, nevertheless the "angry and divisive" charges are just a teeny bit rich coming from a conservative movement that has used a.m. radio and the rolling news talkshow circuit to amp up the anger and divisiveness to an unprecedented level over the last 20 years in particular.

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Ayn Rand on the patent system

As a quick follow-up to my feelings on the essential romanticism of a lot of the supposedly hard-nosed individualist views of the right, I was interested to discover that Ayn Rand herself declared, in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal that "patents are the heart and core of property rights, and once they are destroyed, the destruction of all other property rights will follow automatically, as a brief postscript."

Apart from the fact that history had already proved her wrong on this point - quite a few European countries have gone without patent systems at one time or another without an accompanying class revolution (Switzerland, for example, had no patent system when Nestle was founded) - this bit of rhetorical posturing seems to me terribly revealing, given her claim to a Lockean view of property. This essentially holds that things become property when we mix our labour with them (an apple's mine if I pick it, etc.). Patents are presumably raised to pride of place in the property pantheon because we see them as bearing the stamp of their inventor's personality. Other property follows. The fact that property rights embody fundamental aspects of personality, and that you can trade these things against each other on a market means that the market in some sense becomes an arbiter of some value a bit more transcendental than price - it becomes a way of elevating those aspects of personality, and hence those individuals, that society values. This, at least, is what I took to be the message of film of The Fountainhead.

It's worth noting just how nutty this idea is, because I think it's the idea that underpins a lot of market fundamentalism, and intellectual property fundamentalism in particular: that we need super-strong rights to protect inventors, not because it's efficient, but because the market should pay them what their idea is worth (in the transcendental aspect-of-their-personality sense).

Monday, May 07, 2007

Transcript of GOP presidential primary debate

Click here for a transcript of last Thursday's MSNBC debate between the prospective Republican Party presidential hopefuls, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Equal parts hilarious and terrifying - for instance, several candidates admitted to creationist beliefs - it illustrates once again the absolute importance and necessity of keeping the GOP out of the White House when the 2008 US presidential election comes around.

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Ron Paul

This is the guy who makes the Republican debates worth watching, for me at least. He's basically a Libertarian who's running with the Republicans on a tax-cutting basis, and his answer to more or less everything (except, apparently, immigration and abortion) is to get rid of government and let the market deal with it. The difference is that he walks the walk on this policy, and understands that things like the military industrial complex also constitute a big intrusion of government into the economy. While I obviously don't agree with everything he says, the guy's been something of a hero of mine since he spoke on the House floor about the Eurodollar theory of the Iraq war. You can read the full speech here, but this pretty much gives you the flavour of it:

"Our whole economic system depends on continuing the current monetary arrangement, which means recycling the dollar is crucial. Currently, we borrow over $700 billion every year from our gracious benefactors, who work hard and take our paper for their goods. Then we borrow all the money we need to secure the empire (DOD budget $450 billion) plus more. The military might we enjoy becomes the 'backing' of our currency. There are no other countries that can challenge our military superiority, and therefore they have little choice but to accept the dollars we declare are today’s 'gold.' This is why countries that challenge the system-- like Iraq, Iran and Venezuela-- become targets of our plans for regime change."


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Friday, May 04, 2007

Giuliani in weapons to Iran shock!

GOP presidential aspirants held their first debate last night in California, and if ex-New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani proved anything at all, it's that he's no student of history.

"[T]he mayor led the GOP pack in claiming to represent Reagan philosophies on issues from domestic policy to foreign policy, as when he argued that the leadership of Iran 'has to look in an American president's eyes, and he has to see Ronald Reagan.'"

Information Landmine is sure the Iranian leadership are dancing with collective glee at the very prospect, although Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega would be well-advised to watch his back. Oliver North is probably back on Tehran's speed-dial already.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

If you only click one link on the web today...

... this should be the one.

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More on the visa olympics thing...

I'm really not sure what to make of some of this (government corruption or government stupidity?), but it seems to me that it's great being Visa. By paying for sponsorship, you ensure that not only do you get to process all the payments in the "cashless Olympics" but you steal a march on the opposition in John Reid's "spook arms race" more generally.

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