Monday, July 31, 2006

Reconfiguring the West

Anthony Eden"Those who misinterpret the past are condemned to bungle the present." —The Economist on Anthony Eden's actions in provoking the Suez crisis

How can 'terrorism' be condemned while war crimes go without rebuke?

"[In Gaza] as in Lebanon, the intention is to force civilians to turn on the militias by inflicting as much pain and suffering as the Israeli government thinks it can get away with. What is this if it is not terrorism? It is certainly a war crime. So let's hear no more hypocritical utterances about the evils of terrorism from Bush and Blair. Not until they are able to speak with genuine moral authority by condemning all forms of illegal violence, irrespective of who commits them." —David Clark

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Millions of children to be fingerprinted from 2009


EU governments are cooking up plans to fingerprint children as young as six (via Open Rights Group):

'This is a sea change,' said Ben Hayes, spokesman for Statewatch. 'We are going from fingerprinting criminals to universal fingerprinting without any real debate. In the long term everyone's fingerprints will be stored on a central database. You have to ask what will be the costs to a person's privacy.'

Ban on political ads is least worst option

Jan CreamerLike Nick Cohen, I am bemused that an animal rights charity is trying to overturn the UK ban on political advertising in the naive view that it will not lead to the wholesale corruption of our political system. Just like the US, politicians would be bought left, right and centre as they were forced to raise millions of pounds to fight TV attack ads:

'Why can't I have my say?' [litigant Jan Creamer] wailed to me. She may do soon and the screaming voices her case could unleash may bawl out one of the better parts of our culture.

Nor am I sure that the right to buy expensive media advertising is quite equivalent to the right to freedom of expression. Nobody is stopping the publication of political articles and websites.

Blair sings along to Cliff's copyright campaign

Cliff RichardIt seems that Cliff Richard wanted something in return for lending his £3m Barbados villa to the Blairs for the last three summers:

In the midst of such high-profile issues as the liberalisation of the Post Office and public apathy to elections, Blair “addressed concerns” about copyright laws “whereby Cliff Richard and the Rolling Stones only receive 50 years’ protection compared with 70 years in the rest of Europe”, according to one member’s detailed written record.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The neocons will fade away

"The United Kingdom has minimal real power in the world; but we have attracted (though we should not exaggerate this) a little useful influence, based more on respect than awe. Respect will be more difficult to rebuild because, while America has made herself feared, we have been making ourselves contemptible." —Matthew Parris

Friday, July 28, 2006

Go Republicans!

Jesus' General has sent a supportive letter to the chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Here is an excerpt:

Your colleagues expect you to be out there in front touting all the good work the Republican caucus has accomplished, things like turning a woman's final moments into a circus, working closely with lobbyists to bring free-market principles to the legislative process, and ensuring that trivial matters like the rebuilding of hurricane-ravaged cities don't get in the way of the important work of passing laws against flag burning.

Unfortunately, you are also in the midst of a re-election campaign, and the public is more likely to view your party's accomplishments as evidence that you're corrupt and insane than to see them as reasons for sending you back to Washington.

Ken wants cycle licence plates

Ken LivingstoneLondon Mayor Ken Livingstone wants bicycles to be registered and to sport licence plates. I can see that will do wonders for his campaign to increase cycling in the capital.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Talk of World War 3 is ignorant and offensive

"If you look at the policies of the Bush White House they involve precisely the things that are not needed to fight a world war. The White House has cut taxes (especially for the rich). Far from bringing in the draft, it is focused on a smaller and leaner military. It must be said the Democrats are not much better. But then fewer people on the left tend to spout off about a third world war. So next time the phrase 'World War Three' gets mentioned by a politician or a pundit, any journalist who doesn't bring them up on what this actually means is guilty of lazily letting them off the hook. And so is every reader or viewer who swallows it." —Paul Harris

Headline of the week

Is the Home Secretary a big, fat liar?
John Reid

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Data mashing lab

For mash get Smash!The Royal Society yesterday hosted a Department for Transport meeting to look at the value (or otherwise) or a cross-government data mashing lab. This would explore ways in which to encourage the opening up of government data resources (like public transport schedules, maps and a vast range of other information) and support innovation around them.

Rufus Pollock made some extensive notes. My own feeling was that it would be valuable to have a cross-governmental body which facilitated access to government data and issued Calls For Proposals for prototype tools and systems that demonstrated the value of access to that data. A government/industry/R&D forum would also be useful. I think though the Lab would constrain thinking too heavily if it restricted the field of work to systems it thought were useful, or if it tried to build production systems that crowded out private sector innovation.

Wikipedia Celebrates 750 Years Of American Independence

Founding Fathers, Patriots, Mr. T. Honored

W. at root of Lebanese crisis

"Bush's animating idea has been that the peoples of the Middle East can be bombed into democracy and terrorised into moderation. It has proved one of the great lethal mistakes of his abominable presidency — and the peoples of Israel and Lebanon are paying the price." —Jonathan Freedland

Reid promises electronic border controls

John ReidJohn Reid's latest Home Office "crackdown" includes several privacy-invasive measures:

  • Introducing ID cards for foreign nationals from 2008
  • Electronically tracking all those entering and leaving the UK via passport checks and aeroplane/ship passenger lists
  • A "trusted traveller" programme at airports

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis commented that the crackdown was "another reshuffling of the decks."

News show feud boils over into open warfare

Falafel manFox News host Bill O'Reilly is attacking a rival who makes continuous references to a sexual harassment case O'Reilly settled out of court in 2004:

Legal documents in the harrassment case included a transcript of a telephone call O'Reilly had made to his producer, Andrea Mackris, in which he described a sexual fantasy involving a shower and a loofah. But at one point he forgot the word "loofah", referring instead to "the falafel thing". Olbermann now has only to mention "falafel" on his show to heap more derision on his rival.

Jesus' General has been covering this story in the vicious way that "fair and balanced" O'Reilly deserves since 2004.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Cost of passports leaps 29%

David Davis"The Home Secretary likes to brag about customer satisfaction with the UK Passport Agency. This first instalment of the plastic poll tax that is the ID card system will completely undermine that." —David Davis MP

A fat profit on your home is not a human right

Monopoly houses"It is remarkable how taxes related to property acquisition and inheritance provoke such moral outrage in middle-class circles. Uncomplainingly, we hand over 17.5 per cent in VAT every time we buy a car, a pair of trousers or eat a hot dinner in a pub; yet we scream blue murder when asked to pay a mere 1 per cent stamp duty on a £200,000 flat. Nothing, it seems, must be allowed to get between a British homeowner and his human right to make a fat, tax-free profit on his house — and, for that matter, on his granny’s house." —Ross Clark

Two gentlemen of St Petersburg

If Shakespeare (or David Aaronovitch) wrote Bush and Blair's asides

King Giorgio: But sweet Antonio, in what old box in dusty dungeon entombed are those poor creatures that were once held to be my politenesses? You have a gift, not two days since, bestowed upon this your tardy and undeserving friend. A sweater, was it not?

Duke Antonio of England: Of Burberry, coz. This spring the generous lambs first leapt the swards of Oxfordshire that — summer-shorn — rendered up this item of men’s charcoal knitwear.
And the Lady Cherie, with dressers three, made expedition to Harrods Palace,
and there requested a long sleeve, ribb’ed crew neck, striped horizontal all about,
with fully fashioned cuffs and waistband. Doth suit you, sirrah?

Giorgio: Like unto a second skin. Nay better, for the first hath no embroidered G. For Giorgio.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Doha trade talks collapse

Peter MandelsonThe Doha round of WTO trade talks appear to have collapsed due to intransigence on the parts of the US and EU. This is a disgraceful two-fingers to the developing world by rich nations who evidently have decided they have screwed all they can out of the globalisation process.

While I do not trust a word EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson says, he commented:

"We risk weakening the multilateral trading system at a time when we urgently need to top up international confidence, not further damage it, and do what we can to stabilise the world, not create additional tension and uncertainty. Let's be clear, as well as an economic cost, there is a huge political cost of failure."

Back Afghan opium legalisation, Tories urge Cameron

"We're pouring gas on the flames of the violence with this eradication campaign. By alienating the locals we're playing into a sophisticated political plan on the part of al-Qaida and the Taliban to destabilise southern Afghanistan. The political naivety of the international community in doing this is mind-boggling." —Afghanistan aid worker

The Lesson of July 21

"Democracies cannot completely stop terrorism. Weapons are cheap and our societies are too trusting. But if absolute victory will always be beyond our reach, justice is not. Democracies can capture the terrorists and disrupt their plots if they apply the lessons of July 21. Those that cultivate public cooperation with professional policing will succeed. Those who want to watch movies on torture inherit the wind." —Darius Rejali (via Daily Dish)

Gin palace

The Queen Mother"The Queen Mother was a devoted drinker. That's not to say she was an alcoholic, it was just that she loved social drinking and her life was very social." —former equerry Colin Burgess

Fantasy war

"Israel's dream of wiping out Hizbullah is a fantasy. There is no long-term alternative to a balanced, international, diplomatic attempt to bring peace. The talking cure might be slow, but it is the only one there is." —Jackie Ashley

"The Israelis would be foolish to think they are dealing with nothing but a bunch of mad fanatics. Hezbollah in Lebanon is a state in all but name: it has its territory, army, civil service and economic and educational systems." —a former Iranian diplomat

The west's moral erosion has undermined the war on terror

Lord GOldsmith'Last Tuesday the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, delivered a shamefully complacent speech about Britain's proud record in upholding international law, notably in Iraq and Afghanistan. "We in the United Kingdom," he said, "take great care to ensure that we comply with the rule of law ... We take legitimacy very seriously." Operationally, on the battlefield, this is true. But it seems astonishing that any member of a government that has joined with the US in inflicting frightful damage on western legitimacy should dare to speak in such terms. Goldsmith added: "International law cannot be a substitute for morality or political judgment." True enough. Blair, with the help of his attorney, has driven a coach and horses through all three.' —Max Hastings on attorney-general Lord Goldsmith

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The land that time forgot

Albania flag"There is also a divide between north and south Albania. The north is called Gheg, the south Tosk. Gheg is tough, uncouth, aggressive; the south, educated, civilised, Italianate. It’s a bit like England."—AA Gill

Who backs immediate ceasefire?


(Thanks, Steve!)

Could this be the beginning of the end of tabloid government?

"The huge mainframe computers sold to gullible ministers and laundered through the 'Office of Government Commerce' have never worked as promised. In most cases billions of pounds have gone up in unaudited smoke… E-government was the application of technology to an insoluble problem, the straightening by government of Kant’s crooked timber of mankind." —Simon Jenkins

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The bright side of the Internet

Emily Bell"The facility with which people can overcome social awkwardness online - whether breaking the ice with a potential partner, or making verbal contact when you cannot speak, or arguing with passion or humour about issues with people you have never met but feel you know - militates against the naysayers of online communication. There are multiple benefits to mediating relationships through a keyboard and screen. None of these positives should be forgotten when the bleaker stories of teenagers communing in suicide chatrooms or paedophiles lurking in social networks get greater prominence in the headlines." —Emily Bell, editor-in-chief, Guardian Unlimited

Friday, July 21, 2006

Police bill government on mergers

"The payment of this sum will ensure that front line policing in Sussex does not suffer as the result of the misconceived attempt by the former home secretary to enforce a particular way forward against the wishes of the authority, Sussex Police and the communities we have the honour to serve." —letter accompanying bill for £1m from Sussex police to the Home Office

Stem-Cell Science Vetoed

President Bush executed his first veto since entering office on a bill supporting stem-cell research. What do you think?

"Maybe Bush would pass the bill if, instead of research, the stem cells would be used for torture." —Susan Faden, Systems Analyst

"If God wanted to cure or treat diseases affecting 100 million people, he would've put a sane person in the Oval Office." —Ray Kiley, Bar Back

'Ello 'ello 'ello

"These sessions are about the Prime Minister answering questions on behalf of the Government. I know that he does not like being interrogated, but with the way things are going at Scotland Yard, he had better get used to it. For the purposes of the tape, Mr. Speaker, I am interviewing the Prime Minister." —David Cameron MP, at this week's Prime Minister's Questions

Reid under fire over Home Office 'failures'

Edward Leigh"The Home Office has a substantial back catalogue of examples of poor management and stumbling projects, but it has crowned it with two astonishing failures

"It has failed in its obligation to present to parliament properly audited financial accounts. And, secondly, it has failed in its duty to protect the public - by releasing from prison a large number of foreign nationals, many imprisoned for ghastly offences, without giving any consideration to whether they should be deported.

"The significance of these failures can hardly be overstated. Together they constitute a severe indictment of the way in which the Home Office has been run and demonstrate the inability of its leadership to act in a unified and coordinated way on its fundamental responsibilities - and perhaps even to understand them properly." —Edward Leigh MP, chairman, Public Accounts Committee

Wizards of OS 4, Berlin, 14-17 Sep

WOS4WOS4 is shaping up to be a spectacular conference in Berlin in September, with confirmed speakers including Larry Lessig, Yochai Benkler and the Brazilian government's head of digital culture. There are also two free-music club nights :) If you book soon you should be able to get a pretty cheap train or airfare through one of the low-cost airlines and find reasonably-priced accommodation.

Get your mitts off my bits

The Open Rights Group has some lovely new badges, and a great slogan — "Protect your bits. Support ORG." Or as Owen Blacker puts it: "Get your mitts off my bits" :)

Protect your bits. Support ORG.

My politics

I was asked recently to write a statement of my values and beliefs. These are hard to capture in a few paragraphs :) but here is the result. Any comments and thoughts welcome…

I am deeply committed to human rights in the information age. Hard-won rights such as to privacy, to a fair trial and to a secret ballot are all being challenged by thoughtless legislation and technical systems that sweep up huge amounts of personal data. I have spent a significant amount of time working with NGOs over the last decade to publicise and campaign on issues such as Internet surveillance, ID cards, copyright enforcement technology and electronic voting, all of which will have a very significant effect on the shape of 21st century Britain.

I believe in a society where everyone has the ability to take decisions on the matters most important to them. Massive devolution of power, a fairer voting system and a strong written constitution are vital steps towards this situation. I am sceptical of both an over-mighty state and the unequal bargaining power of big business.

Governments should act strategically not tactically. For example, to win the "war on terror", the UK would do best to promote multi-ethnic dialogue and support the rule of international law rather than ever-tighten the rights of minority (and majority) groups and engage in dangerous tabloid rhetoric about the "problems" of human rights conventions. The narcotics trade would do much less damage to UK citizens and states such as Afghanistan and Colombia if prohibition were replaced with education and medical treatment.

I feel very strongly that the painful lessons learnt about human dignity and autonomy during the bloody wars of the 20th century are being forgotten in a race to the bottom between the UK and US. I remain optimistic that NGOs, parliamentarians and those of good conscience can have a powerful influence in reversing this trend.

Or in one sentence: I am suspicous of power in all of its forms. Does this make me an anarcho-capitalist?!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Keeping resentment burning

"Sadly, nations and individuals tend, by moving only when forced and never quite far enough, to keep resentments burning which, by going the extra mile, it lies within their power to extinguish." —Matthew Parris on Israel

Neocons and their big guns

Big Brother is watching you!"To be a neoconservative is to thrill to the sound of gunfire" —Gene Healy

"At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible." —George Orwell

NHS sets up electronic record taskforce

The NHS has set up a new taskforce to sort out the problems with its national healthcare record database:

The Taskforce will identify and look at the concerns of patients and the clinical profession about the creation of the summary care record. It will resolve issues in ways that are practical and benefits patients and the NHS. In conjunction with NHS Connecting for Health, it will draw up an agreed plan for the implementation of the nationally available summary record. At the end of November it will report to Ministers

Members include the heads of the BMA, RCGP and RCN.

The new world disorder

Vladimir Putin
"Henry Kissinger has suggested that the geopolitics of Asia in the 21st century could resemble those of Europe in the 19th century, with great powers jockeying for position, using war as the continuation of politics by other means. But it could be worse. It could be that kind of great-power rivalry on a world scale, plus terrorists. And corporations. And transnational religious communities. And international NGOs. No moral equivalence is suggested between these very different kinds of actor, but what they all have in common is that they don't fit neatly into a world order of states." —Timothy Garton Ash

Essential UK summerwear

Swimming trunks"[Blacks] has high hopes for boardwear - which refers to wetsuits, rather than girth-reducing, status-enhancing suits for the director class." —Julia Finch

"As Europe and the US swelters in a long hot summer, dress-down codes and the impact of global warming mean that it may be flip-flops that keep the world moving." —The Guardian

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Miliband unveils carbon swipe-card plan

David MilibandAppallingly smug environment secretary David Miliband has plans to introduce personal carbon rationing:

Under the proposals, consumers would carry bank cards that record their personal carbon usage. Those who use more energy - with big cars and foreign holidays - would have to buy more carbon points, while those who consume less - those without cars, or people with solar power - would be able to sell their carbon points.

Unless this scheme was introduced very carefully, it would turn into a central register of where and when UK citizens used carbon — every time you buy a holiday, some petrol, or some fuel, it would be logged, a la the National Identity Register. You can guess how careful new Labour will be to prevent the creation of yet another Big Brother database.

Yo! The new language of diplomacy

Yo! MTV raps"We could dispense with tiresome old canards such as “we note with deep concern” or “take the gravest exception” to a hostile act, and replace them with something altogether more explicit such as “We is close to squeezing the trigger”, a popular rap expression, or even “you have dissed us and that is well out of order”. It would be quicker to say that Her Majesty’s Government is “cool with that” rather than expressing “the warmest approval”, or viewing it “with appreciation”, if only because it would slot easily into a text message and look better in a snappy headline." —Magnus Linklater

Tories atone for rail privatisation

British Rail poster"The railway is like a restaurant in which the kitchen is run by a different company from the dining room, while a lawyer controls the swing doors." —Simon Jenkins

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Public meeting on RIPA consultations

We've finally sorted out the details of the eighth Scrambling for Safety meeting on the Home Office access to keys and communications data code of practice consultations. It is being held from 2-5pm on Monday 14 August 2006, at the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, South Wing, UCL, Gower St, London WC1 [campus map].

Admission is free but space is limited, so if you wish to attend please subscribe to the meeting mailing list. Please e-mail sfs8@fipr.org with requests for any other information.

The agenda is as follows:

1400WelcomeDr Ian Brown, UCL Computer Science
1405The Home Office consultationsSimon Watkin, Home Office
1420Government access to communications dataDr Richard Clayton, Cambridge University Computer Laboratory
1435Government access to decryption keysCaspar Bowden, ex-director, FIPR
1450Questions
1505Risks to safety and securityDr Brian Gladman, MoD and NATO (retired)
1520Errors of judgment and integrity in presenting computer-based evidenceDuncan Campbell, expert witness and investigative journalist
1545Parliamentary scrutiny of RIPA and its OrdersThe Earl of Erroll, House of Lords (crossbencher)
1600Questions
1615Compatibility with human rights lawProf. Douwe Korff, London Metropolitan University
1630Do the police need longer detention periods to investigate encrypted evidence?Prof. Ross Anderson, Cambridge University Computer Laboratory
1645The changing public mood on privacyLord Phillips of Sudbury, House of Lords (Liberal Democrat)
1655Questions and conclusionsSimon Davies, Privacy International and LSE
1700Close

Useful background information is at Privacy International's wiretap page and FIPR's "Surveillance and security" pages.

Blair's negative legacy

Frank Dobson"A legacy is supposed to involve handing down something valuable. A legacy also often gives the recipients a freedom of action previously denied them. But the way things have been going recently, the prime minister's legacy looks likely to fail on both counts, with him handing over more liabilities than assets and restricting the actions of his successors. A new New Labour concept - the negative legacy." —Frank Dobson MP

Justice means Sir Ian must go

Ian Blair"From the outset of the de Menezes inquiry — literally from the day of Mr de Menezes’s death — the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, has given an unmistakable impression of a lack of seriousness. Sir Ian wrote to the Home Office immediately after the killing to say he would not allow access to Stockwell station for IPCC staff. It is not a witch-hunt, but a response to a man lacking a sense of public duty, to demand that restitution to the de Menezes family start with Sir Ian’s dismissal." —Oliver Kamm

Monday, July 17, 2006

Fatty Pang looks back

Chris Patten"I think we did make things better for a lot of people in Hong Kong. We spent a lot on housing and childcare, on education and facilities for the disabled and the elderly. But there was a lot of huffing and puffing from the Chinese community. I was described as a sinner condemned for a thousand generations, a whore, a tango dancer. One local businessman put an advert in the paper offering money to get rid of me." —Lord Patten, last governor of Hong Kong

The Value of the Public Domain

IPPR has published a useful paper by Rufus Pollock on valuing the public domain and the effects of copyright law generally:

While those who promote stronger intellectual property rights point to the tangible benefits that these offer their businesses, the corresponding costs to the public domain and its users are invisible or ignored. This paper seeks to redress the imbalance and, in doing so, to spur a re-orientation of innovation and information policy. Our current paradigm represents a form of monomania in which monopoly rights, in the form of intellectual property, displace all else from our thinking on this subject. It binds us to a narrow, and erroneous, viewpoint in which innovation is central but access is peripheral. The system it has engendered is now so distorted that its social and commercial costs in several key areas have become large. It is therefore high time to restore balance, in particular by taking proper account of the public domain and open approaches to knowledge production. It is only by doing so that we will be able to take full advantage of the possibilities offered by this digital age.

US government told to take its hands off Internet

ICANNRespondents to a US government consultation have criticised the continuing US oversight of the Domain Name System, and the organisation (ICANN) that runs the DNS under contract (via A2K):

There was almost unanimous agreement that the area where ICANN had failed most was in realising the "private, bottom-up coordination" aspect of its role. The organisation remains too secretive and does not take into sufficient account the views and wishes of everyday internet users and companies, a very large number of comments pointed out.

Tireless journalist and ICANN investigator Kieren McCarthy is standing for election to the ICANN board, commenting: "ICANN has too often been used as a political football, but its real strength comes from the people that continue to work tirelessly and for little financial reward in order to maintain the culture that made the internet possible in the first place."

Grands projets not right for IT

GalileoThe Economist thinks that large-scale public IT projects like (positioning system) Galileo, (search engine) Quaero and a European Institute of Technology are not the way for the EU to fix its underinvestment in IT:

It may seem churlish to criticise projects that seek to catch up with the world's market leader when Europe is struggling to improve its use of IT. But in 20 years' time, Europe will be competing with India and China at least as much as with America. And the continent's real problems lie in such things as a lack of entrepreneurial spirit, weak links between universities, business and government, an underdeveloped venture-capital industry, a cumbersome patent process and red tape that ties small companies in knots. Systemic changes are needed, not a clutch of high-tech projects that will barely touch these bigger worries—and may end up wasting a lot of public money.

UPDATE: a friend writes:

Some folks seem confused about how some parts of the US became successful. Largely these were accidents. Europe would do better for itself if it focused on innovation rather than on replication, let market forces pick the winners, and didn't waste limited R&D funds on duplicative projects like Galileo.

The US Government did not set out "to invent the Internet". Instead, it made consistent investments through NSF and (D)ARPA into a wide range of emerging technologies — with a willingness to fund high risk, high payoff projects (mostly university R&D projects) at modest levels. A US issue at present is that NSF funding for computing/communications is low by historic standards (inflation adjusted) and the current DARPA practice appears to be to avoid any high-risk/high-payoff projects.

Airbus did not really take on Boeing. Airbus took on, and defeated, McDonnell-Douglas's commercial aircraft division, who made the DC-9 and DC-10, for example. There is some economic basis for believing that there is only room globally for about 2 large commercial aircraft manufacturers — at least these days.

Silicon Valley was largely an accident. It certainly was not planned centrally by either the US or California governments. The critical ingredients for any of the high-tech areas of the US have been the same (favourable tax climate for high-risk/high-reward investments; first tier universities with solid programmes across the spectrum in business, liberal arts, science, and engineering; investment bankers with enough capital to make some mistakes; labour laws that do not hinder hiring or firing). These have been the key properties not only of Silicon Valley, but also of Research Triangle Park (in NC), the Route-128 corridor (in Mass Bay area), and Austin (in TX).

One should be more impressed (and worried for the USA) if the EU would setup a (civilian) equivalent to ARPA, gave it consistent funding, a charter to fund the best proposals regardless of nationality, and used ARPA's model of having solid researchers rotate through as the program managers. Similarly, if the EU wants to be more competitive, countries will change their tax treatment of startup companies, stock options, and IPOs. Finally, the continent would need to make significant changes to labour laws — removing barriers to terminating staff, reducing payroll taxes, and putting unions within some consistent/predictable regulatory framework.

It seems unlikely that the EU will choose to travel the path that leads towards success in technology innovation. Selected countries, possibly the UK, might well do well in future — entirely on the basis of national decisions about policy and law. Cambridge seems just short of the critical mass needed to take off as a high technology area. It has some interesting startups, but does not seem to have critical mass just yet. I don't see anything similar to Cambridge in France or Germany.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

MI5 has secret dossiers on one in 160 adults

MI5"I don't believe there are 272,000 people in this country who are subversive or potentially subversive. It suggests to me that there are files being held for not very good reasons. We want the security services to be effective. We don't want them going down blind alleys and wasting their resources on people who are no threat to the country." —Norman Baker MP

Torture in the Age of Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth IProf. Lisa Jardine sees parallels between the torture of suspicious foreigners by Elizabeth I's security services and today's terrorist-driven hysteria (thanks, Dave!):

It was not until the end of the seventeenth century, by a slow process, during and after the English Civil Wars, that the civil liberties fatally undermined during the Age of Elizabeth began gradually to be restored. It took until the nineteenth century for the individual human rights we take for granted to become fully enshrined in law.

The process by which people who are alleged to have committed offences against the state are brought to court, so that the allegations against them can be properly examined, has been honed over centuries. Once dismantled, due process of the law will take centuries to rebuild.

Another Putin gem

Lord Levy's tennis partner"There are also other questions. Questions, let's say, about the fight against corruption. We'd be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord Levy." — Vladimir Putin, responding to criticism from the UK ambassador over Russian democracy

Police DNA database 'is spiralling out of control'

DNANothing to hide, nothing to fear from the national DNA database? It turns out that the company that processes samples for the Home Office is keeping copies, along with detailed personal information (via FIPR). And the Home Office has allowed 20 research projects to use the database. How will the 3 million people on the database, including 50,000 children, respond?

"Britain's DNA database is spiralling out of control. Thousands of innocent people, including children and victims of crime, are taking part in controversial genetic research without their knowledge or consent." —Dr Helen Wallace, deputy director of GeneWatch

Daydreaming of mountainous waves

PuppyIt doesn't seem like only 24 hours since I was bodyboarding in Biarritz, but I'm still daydreaming of floating on the mountainous waves. Well, they seemed that way to me ;) Very tiring to get out beyond the breaking surf, but worth it when you eventually catch one of the 10-feet monsters and race all the way back to the sand. I can understand why surfers get so spiritual about their sport.

This was my first trip to the French Basque country. Biarritz itself had grandeur without being faded (although lacking the nightlife of San Sebastian). Some of the beaches we passed on the journey, at Hendaye and St Jean de Luz, looked pretty spectacular. We were also lucky to catch the Bastille Day fireworks from the grand plage on Friday.

On the way back I just had time to race around the Guggenheim's Russia exhibition. Fantastic show of 13th-20th century Russian art, from religious icons to Tsarist collections of European masterpieces to Soviet Realism communist propaganda. Does Putin have his own indoctrination style yet?! Many of the items were loaned from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, which I am now even more determined to visit.

My favourite piece from the museum's permanent collection is still Jeff Koon's kitsch yet friendly Puppy (above). Bilbao is looking plusher than ever, and is an amazing testament to what one high-profile cultural venue can do for a run-down industrial town. No wonder Abu Dhabi is keen to host the latest outpost of the Guggenheim empire…

W. vs. Putin on democracy in Russia

Vladimir Putin"I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion. I told him a lot of people in our country ... would hope that Russia would do the same thing. I fully understand, however, that there will be a Russian style of democracy." —George W. Bush

"I'll be honest with you: we, of course, would not want to have a democracy like in Iraq." —Vladimir Putin

Sleaze could finish Blair – and political parties too

"News that civil servants now think that Blair’s pet scheme of identity cards is technically unachievable has aroused little indignation. The government is said to be dreaming up a face-saving alternative. When billions are spent on an unworkable half-baked scheme to spare Blair’s blushes that will be a real scandal. But it will not shake Downing Street as the arrest of Levy has." —Michael Portillo

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Here come the bulls!

Just back from Fiestaland

Bulls on the rampage in Pamplona bullring
Also just finished ploughing my way through Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. Was it a deliberate literary ploy to capture the ennui of his characters' empty lives by boring his readers to tears?

The story only really picks up in the last few chapters where Jake & co. reach the fiesta, but then peters out. The dialogue that makes up the majority of the book is humdrum and largely tedious; little of the dramatic Basque landscape is captured in anything like the style of, say, Tom Wolfe.

Are all Hemingway's books this bad? Please save me the effort if you have been similarly disappointed by commenting below…

The Rapture is here

As always, Jesus' General has the best commentary on the current situation in the Middle East:

Thanks, Mr Blair, for bringing a Third World flavour to our politics

`Of course, in modern British administration, policies don’t hit the buffers: they run into the sand. Best to put it in a Home Office spokesman’s own words: “The timetable is very much secondary to the review the Home Secretary is carrying out. It is an incremental process and it will happen when the time is right.” Quite. RIP compulsory ID cards.´ —Matthew Parris

Friday, July 14, 2006

Loaded question of the week

Tommy Sheridan"So he was a champagne and cocaine socialist?" —question to witness in case of Tommy Sheridan, former leader of Scottish Socialist Party accused of participating in drug-fuelled orgy

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Jolly Bagman shocked by arrest

Lord LevyLord Levy, Tony Blair´s chief fundraiser, was shocked yesterday to be arrested by the police for questioning over the cash for coronets scandal. His spokesman said:

"Lord Levy has made it clear that he is ready at all times to co-operate with the police investigation. He therefore complied with a request to attend today at a police station where the police used their arrest powers, totally unnecessarily, apparently in order to gain access to documents that Lord Levy would quite willingly have provided without this device."

According to Levy´s tennis partner, the little people who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear from New Labour´s draconian legislation. But once the establishment gets involved, it is "totally unneccessary" for the police to arrest and take DNA swabs from suspects even when serious corruption charges are involved.

Perhaps his Lordship might think more carefully before voting for such powers in future? (That is, unless he is stripped of his peerage in disgrace).

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Ireland challenges data retention directive

Sadly, not because of its privacy problems. Digital Rights Ireland comments (via EDRi):

According to the Government, the measure should have been passed by unanimous agreement of all the member states - not by a majority voting procedure. We agree - the directive is clearly an attempt to deal with matters of criminal law that are reserved to the member states, and the fundamental rights of Irish citizens should not be set aside by the majority vote of other EU states. But we’re disappointed that the Government shows no interest in asserting the right to privacy of Irish citizens. The result is that the European Court of Justice, when it eventually deals with the case, will only be hearing about procedure - not privacy. We believe that a law which provides for state-sponsored spying on every citizen, at all times, must be judged on privacy grounds - and that when it is it will be found to violate fundamental rights.

Monday, July 10, 2006

FBI plans new Net-tapping push

The FBI has a back-up plan in case their attempts to extend wiretapping requirements to the Internet via FCC rulings fail. They have been showing industry representatives the text of a bill that would extend the Communications Assistance Law Enforcement Act to cover the "information services" that are currently excluded (thanks, Dave!):

Complicating the political outlook for the legislation is an ongoing debate over allegedly illegal surveillance by the National Security Administration--punctuated by several lawsuits challenging it on constitutional grounds and an unrelated proposal to force Internet service providers to record what Americans are doing online. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of last Friday's meeting, said the FBI viewed its CALEA expansion as a top congressional priority for 2007.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Blogzilla and the bulls


I'm off to Ernest Hemingway's favourite party, Pamplona's Fiesta de San Fermin. So apologies for the light blogging while I enjoy the encierros, pintxos and rioja of the Basque country for the next week…

The British, thank goodness, don't talk about their values

"Labour has done more than any government in the past 50 years to restrict liberty, to compromise freedom of movement, assembly and speech, to reduce due process, to bring about a state of total surveillance and to remove rights which were indeed guaranteed at Runnymede and in the Bill of Rights. The disconnect between what Labour says it believes and what it does is beyond satire." —Henry Porter

ID cards doomed, say officials

“Nobody expects this programme to work. It is basically on hold while ministers rethink their options. It’s impossible to imagine the full scheme being brought in before 2026.” —Home Office official (via FIPR)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lopsided treaty a threat to justice

Tony Blair"One sometimes wonders about the depth and quality of the Prime Minister's legal education." —Keith Patchett, emeritus professor of law, University of Wales

Reality-based politics

"My choice - and yours - is to join up with a reality-based community that trusts expertise, democratic processes, and established institutions and makes fact-based decisions (these days called liberals), or to join up with a community of relativistic mystics who are not open to reason or persuasion, distrust democracy, reject standards of behavior because they believe themselves to be inherently godly, and have no use for traditional democratic institutions. These tradition-despising relativistic mystics we call conservatives." —An Andrew Sullivan reader.

Friday, July 07, 2006

4.6m banking secrets passed to US

Privacy International has estimated that details of around 4.6 million UK banking transactions have been passed by SWIFT to the CIA. And the European Parliament has passed a resolution demanding to know the extent of the complicity of the Commission, European Central Bank and EU governments in the transfer of Europeans' personal information to the US (thanks, Dave!).

Death to gays!

It is hard to imagine a more shocking photo than this execution of two Iranian teenage boys convicted for their sexuality (via Daily Dish):
Gay teenagers hanged

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Canadian privacy is under assault

Jennifer Stoddart"The fundamental human right of privacy in Canada is under assault as never before. Unless the Government of Canada is quickly dissuaded from its present course by Parliamentary action and public insistence, we are on a path that may well lead to the permanent loss not only of privacy rights that we take for granted but also of important elements of freedom as we now know it." —Jennifer Stoddart, Privacy Commissioner of Canada (via Schneier)

A black flag hangs over Palestine


"It is not legitimate to cut off 750,000 people from electricity. It is not legitimate to call on 20,000 people to run from their homes and turn their towns into ghost towns. It is not legitimate to kidnap half a government and a quarter of a parliament. A state that takes such steps is no longer distinguishable from a terror organisation." —Gideon Levy (via The Guardian)

Pirate Party launches in France

Arrrr!Sweden's Pirate Party has launched in France, with a platform of radical copyright law reform. They are also active in the US, Italy and Belgium. Obviously their next step should be to run for the European parliament, where much objectionable IP legislation originates…

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Recording industry can't sue UK customers of Russian download site

All of MP3
Despite threats from the UK music industry to sue customers of Russian download site AllofMP3.com, it appears they would have no case under UK law (via Open Rights Group):

Matt didn’t explain how it was that UK users of AllofMP3.com could be liable under existing law, inasmuch that S22 of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act states “The copyright in a work is infringed by a person who, without the licence of the copyright owner, imports into the United Kingdom, otherwise than for his private and domestic use, an article which is, and which he knows or has reason to believe is, an infringing copy of the work”. Quite clearly the BPI would have a very difficult time indeed trying to enforce action against any individuals importing copyright material for their own private and domestic purposes. And they know it.

I ♥ Zurich


Spent a fun Monday evening in Zurich with some copyfighting friends. The best thing about the city is the diversion of the river into a swimming section with a bar and diving board. Jumping in from a bridge then floating downstream talking copyright was a new experience for me :)

Given the skiing possibilities, I think Zurich is only behind London, Hong Kong and New York in the favourite city stakes. Now if only the Thames was swimmable…

Bollocks to Blair

Bollocks to BlairCould I be fined £80 for offending someone in the "cross-section of the public" that read this blog?

POLICE issued two stallholders at a farming show with £80 fines for displaying T-shirts bearing the slogan “Bollocks to Blair”. Officers questioned staff on two stands at the Royal Norfolk Show after receiving a complaint, subsequently issuing two fixed-penalty notices of £80 for the offending garments.