Archive for June, 2005

In case there’s a by-election somewhere soon

swan-romanian.jpg (15K)

Swamped! Swamped, I tell you!

Yes, I know the actual estimate is 430,000, but 570,000 is appearing in all the headlines – Reuters, the Sun and so on.

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Saving you the bother

A visual summary of President Bush’s latest encouraging speech to the American people, held in front of a balanced, representative sample of soldiers told to be quiet and Republican staffers:

bush-bragg-911.gif (164K)

Just thought I’d save you a bit of time.

For the full, unedited version:

  1. Say “Thank you and good evening”;
  2. Watch the above for ten minutes;
  3. Say “May God bless you all”.

Alternatively, watch any of his previous speeches on Iraq. Or click the Press Conference Response Generator a few times.

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Bad or not bad?

Getting away from minor aspects of copyright legislation in an entirely different country, some more important things are currently happening – for example, the ID cards bill has gone to a second reading. The Guardian tries to put a brave spin on things by beginning the article:

The government’s Commons majority was more than halved to 31 last night when leftwing MPs joined Tories, Liberal Democrats and other critics of Charles Clarke’s ID card bill to make clear that they want it radically improved – or dropped.

but the fact is that the vote still went the government’s way, and, let’s face it, there won’t be any significant concessions. There will be a cap of some sort on the cost to the purchaser, but that doesn’t change either the real cost (which will be paid, but just in a different way) or the basic problems with the whole idea, which would still exist if they paid you to have one. Oh, and a few bits of the enormous amount of information to be stored on the system will be dropped, the ones which don’t make much difference.

I’m not completely pessimistic about the final vote, though; there is some indication that MPs are less inclined to accept the evidenceless Clarke-Blair drivel about terrorism and fraud and crime and swan-eating, the LSE have put the boot in, Unison have put the boot in, and yesterday the information commissioner Richard Thomas put both boots firmly in:

“The extensive personal information retained on the proposed national identity register and the requirement on individuals to keep notifying changes is excessive and disproportionate.” …

… He claimed the government was planning to create an unnecessary data trail of when a card is checked against the national identity register. “This will show who checked it and when … thus building up a picture of an individual’s card use and a detailed picture from this of how they live their lives.

“The creation of this detailed data trail of individuals’ activities is particularly worrying and cannot be viewed in isolation of other initiatives which serve to build a detailed picture of people’s lives, such as CCTV surveillance (with automatic facial recognition), use of automatic number plate recognition recording vehicle movements for law enforcement and congestion charging, and the proposals to introduce satellite tracking of vehicles for road use charging.” …

… “If we are to have an identity card, the information commissioner would like it to be a tool to assist individuals to demonstrate their identity when they find it useful,” he said. “It should be a tool within the individual’s control.

“The information commissioner is concerned about the way in which demands will grow for individuals to prove their identity. The broad purposes permit function creep into unforeseen and perhaps unacceptable areas of private life”. But he did not give any examples of how this might occur.

Other systems of checks are perfectly feasible, such as a local card reader and biometric reader verifying identity, removing the need for central records to be kept…

… The aim should be for people “to reliably identify themselves rather than one which enhances its ability to identify and record what its citizens do in their lives“. (Guardian)

The spectacle of Mr Clarke blustering about reports being “partisan” is quite comic, if also quite reminiscent of American tactics, which is not such an amusing idea. I’m fairly sure nobody is going to believe him in any case.

I’ve criticised over-concentration on the price issue in the past but it seems like it’s been quite a useful lead-in. A momentum does seem to building and it does seem possible that it will get to the stage where TV and papers will really jump on the bandwagon and opinion will swing away from “ooh, handy, it’ll save space in my wallet” / “nothing to hide nothing to fear” towards “something dodgy about this whole thing”, at which point the game is up. Until the next time.

I do realise that I used the word “seem(s)” three times in the above paragraph, though. Plenty of Blairbots would quite happily vote in the Public Torture With Hot Irons Of All Blairbots Act if Mr Tony said to do it, and as the glowing poker entered their nether regions would be concentrating on that junior ministerial post that might possibly result (perhaps even with specially modified seat to accommodate the colostomy bag). A bill that’s simply expensive, useless and wrong isn’t going to tax the loyalty gland much.

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betamax fallout

A couple of further things occur to me relating to the Grokster decision. Firstly, a direct example from my own experience. I use a superb program called Audio Hijack. This allows me to record the audio output from any program in AIFF format, which can then be converted into something evil like MP3 for more convenient copyright breach use. I mostly use this to record streaming radio so that I can listen to it at my convenience, which is perfectly legal (it’s called “time shifting” when applied to TV). I don’t actually share these files, not that I would mind, but they’re not easily searchable and I’m too lazy to tag them properly with all of the appropriate artists and so on. Clearly, though, Audio Hijack could be used to breach copyright. Like home taping, recording streaming audio kills music.

Here is the logo for the software from its site.

audio-hijack.jpg (14K)

Do you think that that might be used in court to indicate that Rogue Amoeba (the authors) had an intention of promoting copyright infringement?

Uh huh.

Secondly, it’s a mistake to think that a US Supreme Court decision necessarily means the death of global technology etc (note sarcasm: this decision itself doesn’t really mean the death of anything apart perhaps Grokster, it’s the direction that it represents that’s the problem). America Is Not The World, as you would know if you listened to more Morrissey. Forgive me for implying otherwise, oh Steven Patrick. We do, in Europe, have a lot of legislators who are very keen to ape every piece of corporate-friendly innovation-crushing that comes out of the States, so it may not help us either, but it doesn’t have direct relevance, and outside of the States many countries and companies just won’t care.

It may mean that companies restrict themselves from producing products that might get them sued in the US, but probably, given that the US is not by any means the only market for gadgets and software these days, it will just mean that they make things which they don’t release there, something that already happens quite a bit, much to Gizmodo‘s annoyance. It’ll be a bit of a kick in the teeth for general innovation given that the US does have a lot of people who research and produce this sort of thing, but it’ll hurt Americans more than anyone else – much of the world will shrug and say “yeah, whatever” and stock up on pre-ban iPod clones to be smuggled back into the US by tourists.

And if you think that’s ridiculous imagine what will happen if Trusted Computing becomes mandatory, which a lot of people… well, lawyers and corporate scum… would like to see happen. After all, you can bet that other governments aren’t going to legislate for a scheme which enables US corporations to control their computers. And where is it that chips are made these days? Clue: it’s not Washington.

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betamax goes whoops

Substantial non-infringing uses now not enough.

The US Supreme Court has ruled that file-sharing companies are to blame for what users do with their software. (BBC)

Actually, this doesn’t precisely cover it. The decision involved an element of intent to promote copyright breach…

In a decision announced by Justice David H. Souter, the Court said: “We hold that one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement, is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties” — that is, computer users using free downloading software. (SCOTUSblog)

So if you promote the fact that your system could be used for copyright breach you are responsible for that copyright breach. Of course, exactly what constitutes “clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement” in this context is pretty significant. The case has gone back to the lower courts so we shall have to see how that pans out – not looking terribly good for Grokster at the moment.

I don’t really care about the company being sued right now though; this individual case is not really the point. It’s about the potential for suing anyone in the future for producing a technology that could maybe at some point be used for copyright breach. This isn’t even lost on the mainstream press – Arik Hesseldahl in Forbes notes:

will they change the rules in such a way that smart new products and services lead to a lawsuit before they have even a realistic chance of getting off the ground? That’s not going to help anyone, least of all the media companies suing Grokster and Streamcast. If anything, they need more market-driven incentives to offer their music and movies and other content in consumer-friendly digital formats. Giving them carte blanche to sue the creator of the next iPod certainly isn’t the answer.

Well, the answer to the first question is “yes, if the media corps have anything to do with it” because they’re not interested in innovation. That’s not what they do. They sit on their pretty much guaranteed (and massive) profit and don’t take risks; there are shareholders to satisfy, after all. If somebody else innovates and it becomes successful they might try to buy them out or jump on the bandwagon, but if innovation threatens that guaranteed income they squash it and that’s that. Name one actual innovation in the way that people listen to, receive, enjoy or otherwise interact with media products that has come out or been actively supported by of any of them now that they have reached behemoth proportions. Even Sony, which is actually an electronics corporation as well so has more ability to innovate in this area, has its electronics legal and publishing side hacking at its electronics side’s hamstrings with a big jagged knife, as I have written about extensively in the past.

My own opinion differs somewhat from Mr Hesseldahl’s in that I consider the companies don’t need or deserve “market-driven incentives”, they need to be kicked repeatedly with large heavy boots until they either expire in a pool of cash or crawl limply away, never to set foot in this town again. But that’s just me.

I’m not familiar enough with the details of Grokster to say whether they have shown “clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement” in my opinion, but my opinion doesn’t matter; it’s what sort of behaviour the courts consider to satisfy this rather vague phrase that counts. I have this feeling that in the future the following arguments may be used, better worded of course, by media corp lawyers in future cases and be accepted:

  1. “Company X advertised themselves as a file sharing service”
  2. “Everybody knows that file sharing is all about copyright infringement”
  3. “Therefore, company X was trying to foster infringement”

which could also be used to kill Bittorrent… or:

  1. “Product Y allows people to store music that is not DRM protected, and they advertise this”
  2. “Such music frequently infringes copyright” (the “MP3s are piracy” argument – yes, I’ve seen many people who think that “MP3″ means “illegally obtained music” rather than it just being a file format)
  3. “Therefore, this is a clear expression of intent to foster infringement by the makers of product Y”

which kills devices that play music that’s not DRM-encoded, i.e. the use of which isn’t fully approved by the publisher. Don’t you start backing up your CDs y’all, and don’t you dare use Linux.

I should also point out that if Sony-Universal can be weakened, it can be weakened again – this is clearly the direction in which legislation is going.

But I suppose it could have been worse. They could have just said “if users do anything that a corporation doesn’t like with your software, then it’s your ass”.


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voter profiling EXTREME

It’s coming to something where somebody can expect to use this level of profiling, and still be an acceptable candidate.

Bloomberg Mimics Bush in Re-election Effort

Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign has already spent more than $15 million, more than three times the amount spent by his four Democratic rivals combined. That is far ahead of his spending at this point in the 2001 race, when he smashed records for a New York City campaign by spending $74 million, more than three times the previous record, even after accounting for inflation…

…He has spent more than $5 million on his voter database, which is being developed by his pollster, Doug Schoen, a former adviser to Mr. Clinton. That amount is roughly as much as Mr. Bush’s campaign spent for a national voter list last year.

Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Bloomberg’s 2001 campaign used a voter list that was sophisticated by the standards of the time, but technology has improved. “It’s the difference between going from X-ray machines to M.R.I.’s,” Mr. Cunningham said.

Mr. Cunningham would not share specifics about what personal information the list includes, but Jerry Skurnick, whose company, Prime New York, collects voter data, said the possibilities were nearly endless.

“They could conceivably identify somebody with a child in the public schools for specific mailings about Bloomberg and education,” Mr. Skurnick said. “Or, if they find somebody who’s contributed to environmental groups, make phone calls and do mailings about what Bloomberg has done on recycling.”

I’m sorry, but that would just give me the shivers, even though it’s undoubtedly being exaggerated in this instance. Data protection, anyone?

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ha ha ha ha

(not my photos of course)

ha ha tents man in chair
no loo for you  bad idea

More Glastonbury wetness

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discrimination good

Apparently the Co-Op Bank, which has an explicit pro-human-rights, anti-discrimination policy, has told one-man-and-his-dog Jesus bigots Christian Voice to piss off (BBC, Guardian, Times).

Good.

That makes for a rather short entry, doesn’t it? Oh, okay, I’ll elaborate a bit – there’s a wider issue involved here that has been annoying me recently as well.

The organisation, Christian Voice, received a letter from the Co-op Bank earlier this month giving it 30 days to find a new bank because of its homophobic views. The bank prides itself on its ‘ethnical policies’. (sic – bit of an unfortunate typo there)

“It has come to our attention that Christian Voice is engaged in discriminatory pronouncements, based on the grounds of sexual orientation,” the letter said. “This public stance is incompatible with the position of the Co-operative Bank, which publicly supports diversity, in all its forms, for our staff, customers and other stakeholders.” (Times)

Predictably enough the nutjobs (or nutjob – apparently, CV is pretty much all Stephen Green) complain about “discrimination”:

“The Co-op bank, for all its fine words, is discriminating against us on the grounds of conscience and religion” (CV press release)

Couple of problems here. Firstly, it’s not discrimination on the grounds of conscience or religion, it’s discrimination on the grounds that you are nasty homophobic fuckers. Your conscience and religion have nothing to do with it; either could be different and if you were still nasty homophobic fuckers you would still be out. This is not the United States, the “woe is us, poor persecuted Christians” thing does not work here, and neither does pretending that Christianity is intrinsically the same as hating gay people.

If the Co-Op Bank had indeed thrown out CV purely because they were Christians, that would have been a bad thing, but given that I imagine that there are other Christian organisations banking with the Co-Op who coincidentally aren’t rabidly homophobic, that doesn’t appear to be the case. In fact the Co-Op stated this quite explicitly according to CV themselves:

Paul Monaghan, ‘Head of Sustainable Development’ at the Co-operative Bank, rang Stephen Green to tell him that anyone who regarded homosexual acts as sinful had no place banking with the Co-op at all. “You must have slipped through the net,” he said, “Your website is full of blatant homophobia.” Mr Monaghan went on: “The Co-operative Bank has no problem with gay people at all. We have been actively present at the Manchester Gay Pride march and Cardiff Mardi Gras and want to be present at every gay event.” (CV press release)

But that’s all quite obvious and you don’t need me to tell you. I’m just shaking my fist a bit and going “grr, lying bastard, who does he take us for”. Ignore me.

My wider point is that there’s an element in the response – and I’ve noticed other hate groups such as the BNP trying the same tactic – which rests on the idea that all discrimination is equally bad, thus saying simply “this is discrimination” is meant to be a criticism. This sounds like childish nonsense, I know, but there are people who really believe this, and will try to argue that, for instance, if you discriminate against neo-Nazis it’s as bad as you discriminating against black people, because it’s wrong to discriminate. No. Really. These people exist, at least on the internet; I’ve argued (briefly) with at least two in the past week.

My response when I can be bothered tends to go along the lines of:

  • “Discrimination” in a modern social context means “unfair discrimination”, treating some people worse than others for no good reason, usually based on their membership of a particular group (Wikipedia calls this “invidious discrimination”).
  • It is not the simple act of treating one person differently to another.
  • Because somebody treats you differently, does not automatically mean that you are suffering discrimination in the above sense, i.e. the bad sense.
  • Society discriminates against many groups such as murderers, rapists and so on for rational reasons and that’s generally thought of as okay.
  • Surely you’re not so dim as to not have realised that “unfair” is the sense in which “discrimination” is generally meant.

I have to say that I rarely can be bothered; there aren’t enough people who are dim enough not to have realised to make it worth engaging in lengthy public debate on the matter. The phenomenon mainly irritates me because it’s taking advantage of an abbreviation. It’s purely a linguistic trick, and if the tactic did start to take off, we might have to start expanding “discrimination” to “unfair discrimination” or “invidious discrimination” which would be annoying, even if “invidious” is a good word.

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From the New Labour thinktanks comes…

Frank Field in the Mirror

HOME for yob families kicked out of council estates should be a steel container “underneath a motorway flyover”.

The radical plan, based on a scheme already working in Holland, was demanded yesterday by a group of senior MPs.

Former Welfare Minister Frank Field is pushing for tough action to throw unruly tenants – responsible for social ills including noise, assaults and vandalism – off estates.

Yes, I shit you not – the proposal is to send ASBOed families off to live in a steel container in the middle of nowhere. Because that will help things.

Now, there are two major theories about this:

  1. Frank Field is just acting as a spoiler for potential future policy; by promoting this extreme right-wing bullshit he is preparing the grounds for a more moderate but still fascist New Labour policy in the future. Stretching the boundaries. “This is too extreme? Okay, let’s compromise on them just being sent to camps.”

  2. Frank Field is being used to test out the public response to such a measure. His statement and the press reaction are a little focus group, for free.

If they were actually interested in putting this forward, some more major politician would have said it, so we can dismiss the “New Labour are wanting to do this immediately” aspect. But let’s face it, this wouldn’t have come out of Old Labour – it’s definitely got the Party Approved stamp.

Something just occurred to me: I don’t actually need to defend the idea that it would be a really bad thing to send people to live in steel boxes without trial, do I? I know that I seem to be being monitored by facists but I always thought they were the sort who’d disagree with whatever New Labour said.

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and I’ll charge you for the bullet

Oh, okay, I might just rant a little bit.

It’s not just the unashamed greed on display here that is fucking unbelievable, it’s that they truly expect anyone outside of their little cigar-smoking top-hat circle to accept their “There Is No Alternative” bullshit. (Mind you, it’s worked so many times in the past, they could be right.)

Rail passengers could face congestion charge-style price hikes at rush hour to combat rising passenger numbers.

The Association of Train Operating Companies (Atoc) proposed “rail peak pricing” to combat a forecast rise in travellers of at least 28% in 10 years.

Atoc said the government’s road charging plan could prompt such a move by forcing more people on to trains…

…An Atoc future strategy document published on Monday said: “Any rail service which is a practicable alternative for people using the car on a high-charge road journey will need its own peak pricing system.”

This is an amazing way of trying to make “it’s going to be more expensive to use cars in rush hour soon, so we’ll be able to get away with charging more for the train” sound like an unavoidable necessity rather than yet another example of the over-funded incompetent bastards not only running off with the family silver but now coming back and charging us fifty quid to use a spoon. Per mouthful.

Atoc Director General George Muir told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme: “In the next 10 years the objective will be to run as many trains as we sensibly can, and as long trains as we can, to carry the maximum capacity.

Like fuck. The objective is to make as much money as possible. You and the people you represent have no interest in providing a service. This is such an obvious point. How can you possibly say the above on live radio without the entire rest of the studio laughing? Do you have a mute for them?

“But there will come a point, and we are not far from that point, where we have reached capacity, and at that particular time if road use pricing then comes in it clearly has a knock-on effect on the pricing of other modes.”

No, it doesn’t “have a knock-on effect”. There is nothing pre-ordained or required about it, however much you try to express it in such terms. What it means that you think you’ll be able to raise your already ridiculously inflated prices even more, even after over six billion pounds of public subsidy to your “private industry”, without even having to improve service.

Oh, and you can fuck off with this as well:

The strategy document – entitled Looking Forward: Contribution to Railway Strategy – also said scrapping under-used trains and stations could help operators handle growth.

Franchise requirements forcing operators to continue running these should be ditched, it said.

It was clear from day one that handing over the maintenance of a public service infrastructure to this collection of gangsters was a bad idea, but now they’re just laughing in our faces. First against the wall, Muir. You and your friends will be first against the wall. Don’t worry, there’s room, it’s a long wall.

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