Rapidly downhill

Monday, July 10, 2006

Best before...

Sweden is a monarchy, ruled by an all-powerful "statsminister" (PM henceforth) with near-godlike powers. After an election the votes are counted, and then the Social Democrat party claims to have won and rules supported by one or two other parties that give them the critical mass of seats in the national assembly.
Social Democrat PM:s tend to stay in power for one to five decades and are replaced only after death, just like the old soviet bosses. They share some other traits as well - a tendency to avoid listening to the people, a habit of giving themselves bigger raises and higher wages than Joe Average could dream about, and a measure of arrogance that is quite staggering.
Swedish political parties are set up to keep the great unwashed from ever climbing the ladder to the higher reaches, while power positions are inherited or otherwise distributed by strange and secretive means. Mostly, the PM simply places all his homies on whatever positions he thinks they may be able to cope with, regardless of suitability to task. No swedish minister is ever a specialist in his field, they are like LEGO blocks and can be swapped and interchanged without incident, since all real power resides with the PM anyway. Thus, a tax minister may find himself an agricultural minister when he returns from a two-month vacation. If he has made some kind of really heinous mistake he may be put in charge of Education, which is the swedish equivalent of Siberia.
This way of governing does not let new blood in, and it keeps the MP:s heads in the thin, rarefied air of high altitudes. Lack of oxygen apparently clouds judgement, as we can see when these political cronies stumble over their own feet and lie about their everyday activities to the press.

I hereby present a humble suggestion: give all politicians elected to any non-local position a tattoo with a sell-by-date. Make sure that they can only stay in parliament a maximum of three four-year terms (or as a minister two terms). If you can't process your agenda in 12 years, chances are you will never get it done. Also, if the politician in question is the son or daughter of a previous MP, the final term is voided regardless of position.
There are plenty of benefits to be had from this. The removal of "old families" would bring in new talent, fresh views (from people less than sixty years old) and above all contemporary values. It would give people with non-broiler backgrounds a chance to shape the politics, since politician would no longer be a life-time occupation. It should NEVER have been allowed to become a lifetime occupation in the first place, and the sooner we stop it the better.
An old argument against rules like these is "politicians with a sell-by-date are easier to bribe than lifers", to which I respond "Horsepucky!". I don't know if the current politicians are on the take, some evidence suggests it, but I know for a fact that they do NOT represent the opinion of the people in a lot of questions.
Also, there should be a basic "sanity and ethics" test, checking things like "is it OK to give yourself a 12% raise and double your staff in a recession?" or "if a foreign head of state says 'give me my political opponent who is seeking asylum, and I almost promise not to throw him to my crocodiles this weekend', should you agree?". A test with a dozen questions like that would exclude more current MP:s than you think. No joke.
We need change, and we need it soon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Was your voice heard?

Ronald Dworkin is a man of precise words. In his essay "the Right to ridicule" in New York Review of Books he writes "Free speech is a condition of legitimate government. Laws and policies are not legitimate unless they have been adopted through a democratic process, and a process is not democratic if government has prevented anyone from expressing his convictions
about what those laws and policies should be."
That is a direct quote. The man is right.
So let us think, for a moment, about some laws we have recently been encumbered with, or that are being passed right now with a minimum of fuss. The "Media industry" is busy trying to pass laws making DRM technology mandatory in all appliances that can play sound or video. That means, in essence, that they can shut down your stuff remotely if they think you are breaking some of their rules. They can make your VCR or T*Vo stop recording certain shows.
These are the same people who think you deserve to get your computer hacked if you buy their records. Do you really trust them?
What appliances in your home can play music? The radio in the kitchen, sure. The TV, the livingroom stereo. The cell phone? How much do they cost together? What will you do when S*NY decides to void your telephone because your home-made ringtone sounds too much like someones Big Hit? How tightly integrated is your car entertainment system with the other car internals?

Another angle: software patents. In essence, they mean you cannot write software unless you work for a Major Corporation that has licenses or patents to use as barter material. That means innovation goes down the toilet.
It is not news that the computer business has stagnated instead of matured. Look at the innovation rate in the early 80:s compared to the early 00:s; there were dozens of computer makers and hundreds of platforms. The "Sinclair" series of computers went from primitive black and white units with 1 KB of RAM and no sound, to a system with twin drives, multitasking, networking, a proper colour monitor and 128KB of memory in five years.
What has happened in the current PC business in the past five years? Nothing that can compare to that, for sure. The only area where there is real innovation seems to be virus production. Why? Possibly because it is unregulated? When private software writing is outlawed, guess what the bored hackers will focus on?

So, who passes these laws that take away our choices and limit our views? Who, exactly, decided that people in general should not be allowed to broadcast radio? Who took that voice away from the public? Who really thinks software patents are a good idea? Why is any company allowed to own more than one radio station or newspaper or TV station? How come it is illegal to give a friend a mixtape with your favourites, even when no-one profits from it?

Was your voice heard when these laws were passed? Did anyone ask your opinion?
Hold the politicians accountable. The big corporations may ... hm ... furnish them with campaign money, but it is still a question of votes in the end. Write the politicians and tell them your opinion. Tell them that unless they start working for YOU, instead of the BIZ, your votes will go to someone else. Anyone. Michael M*ore. A houseplant. A local bum who lives in a cardboard box. Anyone who is not taking money to diminish your choices and take away your rights.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The choice of a new generation

According to a swedish news corporation - idg - the British Phono Industry claims the music on the music sale site "allofmp3" is illegal, since the site uses the MP3 format instead of a DRM format. The brits would like the russians to cease and desist.
This leads to a number of reactions, from the lowly guffaw ("yeah, try stopping them") to the acidic ("If I have an actual receipt there is no way in hell I can be prosecuted for illegal copying!") but after a few moments the lingering reaction is cold fury. The assholes expose themselves once again, and we can all take in the puckered view.
This proves, once again, that the organisations that enforce and lobby for the music biz are not in any way the consumers friend. They are here to rip you a new one, and to steal your money if possible, and you can count on anything they say to be slanted for the benefit of the biz. Make no mistake. This little statement about non-DRM-tech actually speaks volumes.
MP3 is the format of choice for consumers. It plays in a huge variety of players, from solid state USB drives to CD-players to car stereos. It is portable and "good enough" for non-hi-fi everyday use. It gives the customer excellent choice.
The music industry does not want the customer to have these options. They would like you to pay $25 for Britneys latest, playable in the house stereo, and another $25 for a version that plays in the car. And another that plays at work, if possible.
DRM is all about limiting your options, which is why it is stupid and has to go away. If you pay for a record, you should be able to copy it to tape, MP3, magnetic wire or whatever to play in your car. The biz is ready to fight you tooth and nail, including dragging you into court, for the important principle that you should not be allowed to use your own property the way you choose.
This is why it is important for the biz to blacken the "MP3" name all the time. After all, as Adolf H taught us, if you repeat your lies often enough people end up believing them. Unless people actually make a reality check and fĂ­gure out that you are a crook, of course.
And we have figured out that the industry is run by crooks. Even before S*NY deliberately infected their paying customers computers with a root kit, it was pretty obvious who the bad guys were.
Anyone buying S*NY products now really should have his head examined. How anyone can choose to support them is beyond my comprehension. Why give money to a company that actually tries to hurt its customers?
Give it to the EFF instead, and buy chinese "Brand-X" hardware when you need something. The EFF is on your side, and fights the good fight. Help them if you can.
The bands that are still attached to S*NY probably have sound-alike bands out there that you can choose instead. Check the "R*AA-radar" site for clues to this. Remember that any band choosing to remain with this company thinks you deserve to have your computer hacked. Do you really want to boost their sales?

Monday, July 03, 2006

How not to give an order

The swedish chief justice keeps denying that he violated swedish law by directly ordering a prosecutor to shut down The Pir*te Bay. He never ever gave anyone any orders, he says.
This may actually be true. A swedish TV program pieced together the puzzle and presented this chain of events;
A powerful lobbying group in america called something like "the Morally Penniless Assh*les of America" leaned on the White Building and said "This will not do. We only made 18 billion dollars last week, and it could have been 18.0001 billion.".
The brave men in the White Building immediately leaned on the swedish govt saying roughly "You will be on our blacklist and the WTO will shun you like rabid dogs.", which is probably not an actual fact since the trade organization is not really a copyright forum. Of course, no swedish government rep knows this.
The not-so-brave (see "spineless" in wikipedia for photos) swedish reps said "Oh fiddlesticks!" and called the CJ.
The CJ made sure that his personal pitbull DA had NO other computer cases on his desk, apart from an investigation into the site mentioned above. He had already investigated the site, and come to the conclusion that no law had been broken, and he had reported these findings.
The DA was then told to make a Maximum Effort to make sure that copyright infringements were dealt with sternly. The yanks are upset, and this needs to be done within a month or two.

Conclusion from the CJ:s side? He did not give an order.

To an outsider, it looks a little like giving someone a picture of a man, his home address, his planned movements for next week and the key to his apartment and the instructions "Go beat up some random guy that you have a file on.".

Amazingly, no-one has really questioned this behaviour.
That might be connected to the general elections in september, but no-one is admitting it.