The regulated European Web

In a fascinating essay (titled “I’m So Bored with the USA” on his own site, but “Damn the Constitution: Europe must take back the Web” at The Register, Bill Thompson paints an attractive picture of how a regulated web could be a really good thing.

“The first [belief] is the idea that the Internet is somehow outside or above the real world and its national boundaries. If I phone someone in Nigeria and suggest a money-laundering fraud then it is obvious to all that I am breaking the law in two countries, not in ‘phonespace’. Nobody has ever suggested that the content of the telephone network -all those voice calls -should be somehow privileged and treated as outside the normal world.”

Once you legally establish that “cyberspace” is actually firmly rooted in the physical world, and can be mapped within conventional national boundaries, all sorts of things become possible. Not least of which is the application of European social democratic laws instead of American free-trade (so long as we control it) libertarianism.

(I’ve been reading Will Hutton’s book The Stakeholding Society lately, and his ideas fit nicely alongside Thompson’s thesis. I’ve never really read much politics or economic before, but this book is making me regret that gap in my knowledge. I’ll have to write more about this some other time…)

Copyright and free stuff

Two interesting articles on how free music (à la Napster) and free books (à la Baen) are good for the artists who have produced the works.

Janis Ian on music:

“I have no objection to Greene et al trying to protect the record labels, who are the ones fomenting this hysteria. RIAA is funded by them. NARAS is supported by them. However, I object violently to the pretense that they are in any way doing this for our benefit.”

Eric Flint on books:

“Between the January-June 2000 reporting period and the period one year later, the sales for that title-which had now been out for two years, remember, long past the time when it should have been selling very much-were suddenly almost 250% higher. (239%, to be precise: 1904 compared to 795.)”

Bait-and-switch War

“Where were you, and your civilisation, when my friend became depressed? When people began to die 20 years ago, in the war that you supported. Where was your civilisation when women were raped and tortured, when kids were kept from school, when libraries were burned down?”

(Quote from an interesting and powerfully emotive interview with Nelofer Pazira, star of the film Kandahar.)

This is why I call this a “bait-and-switch” war. We sent forces there to hunt down alleged criminals. This was in itself a bad idea. What’s worse, though, is trying to retro-fit this new motivation for being there: that we must “liberate” the Afghani people.

In my more cynical moments, I can’t help wondering if this was the real original reason for attacking Afganistan. Before September 11, President Bush surely must have known about the state of the Taliban government in Afghanistan. He must have known that they were relatively weak. This is information the CIA and allied intelligence agencies collect and collate as a matter of course. However, he had no immediate reason to use this knowledge.

Then, when September 11 happened. Bush needed to do something. He knew that he’d not easily find the masterminds behind the attacks. But suddenly his knowledge of the Taliban’s position is useful. He can move in his forces under the guise of tracking down Osama Bin Laden, but with the hidden purpose of toppling the Taliban. What a glorious media victory that could be! What right-thinking Westerner does not want to see such an oppresive regime being overthrown?

Never mind the fact that the terrorists still haven’t been found. And there is enough righteous anger in America to blind the masses to the bombing of innocents. With this war, President Bush will gain two fantastically useful political goals: he will gain massive public support for acting so “decisively”, and he can choose a more US-friendly government for Afghanistan when he’s done.

And if the rest of the world is unhappy about his actions, why should he care? He hasn’t shown any consideration in the past (Kyoto, Strategic Missile Defense, Bioweapons), and see how well he’s doing now!

This is exactly why the attacks of September 11 happened in the first place.

Advanced weapons do not equate to good foreign policy

I haven’t been watching much news on TV lately. The endless rallying cries of western imperialism depress me. The relentless bait-and-switch propaganda makes me think that in times of crisis the media give up on critically questioning the government. (And I consider myself naive for having believed that they ever did.) And the continuous parade of utter stupidity just makes me downright angry.

Consider a program that was on the Discovery Channel yesterday evening. It was a supposedly in-depth look at how Western (i.e. US) forces are tackling the war on Afghanistan. (Yes, I meant to say “on” rather than “in”.) It featured an interview with John Gresham, a military researcher. I don’t have an exact quote, but what he said went something along these lines:

“These new smart missiles can target any point in the world, and they’re accurate to a within thirteen meters. Imagine what would happen if we could have placed a bomb right in the sleeping quarters of a Saddam Hussain, a Hitler, a Pol Pot ( names a series of other renowned figures). Don’t you think that would have an effect on their foreign policy?”

Bear in mind that I wasn’t paying huge amounts of attention to this show, and I’ve just taken his quote out of context. But–hello?

First of all, it’s all very well and good to feed in a set of co-ordinates, and watch the missile go boom right on top of them. But what happens if you’ve got the wrong coordinates by accident? What if your intelligence is wrong? The bomb may be smart, but it can’t tell the difference between a bunker and a school.

And secondly, what if terrorists had the ability to detonate a bomb in the middle of any city, at any time. Don’t you think that would affect our foreign policy? Oh, wait–they do have that ability. And it has affected our foreign policy. It’s caused us to go to war. So how can anyone think that holding foreign leaders to ransom for their good behaviour is a way of ensuring peace?

What a muppet.