"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
Bottled water - more evil companies
Monday, May 28, 2007
More praise for Morford
Saturday, May 26, 2007
Hardly the season...
Thursday, May 24, 2007
Really stupid idea from a right-wing think tank No. 8593860193
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.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
If you're after getting the honey...
Cranking up the right wing noise machine... again
"[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.
Ayn Rand on the patent system
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
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."
Friday, May 04, 2007
Giuliani in weapons to Iran shock!
"[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.