We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

New uses for copyright law

Much as I like to jeer at the Guardian, sometimes it does a good deed in bringing sinister developments to the public’s attention. For instance:

Revealed: How copyright law is being misused to remove material from the internet

As soon as the DMCA takedown request had been filed, Google de-listed the entire thread. All 126 posts are now not discoverable when a user searches Google for BuildTeam – or any other terms. The search company told Mumsnet it could make a counterclaim, if it was certain no infringement had taken place, but since the site couldn’t verify that its users weren’t actually posting copyrighted material, it would have opened it up to further legal pressure.

In fact, no copyright infringement had occurred at all. Instead, something weirder had happened. At some point after Narey posted her comments on Mumsnet, someone had copied the entire text of one of her posts and pasted it, verbatim, to a spammy blog titled “Home Improvement Tips and Tricks”. The post, headlined “Buildteam interior designers” was backdated to September 14 2015, three months before Narey had written it, and was signed by a “Douglas Bush” of South Bend, Indiana. The website was registered to someone quite different, though: Muhammed Ashraf, from Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Quite why Douglas Bush or Muhammed Ashraf would be reviewing a builder based in Clapham is not explained in “his” post. BuildTeam says it has no idea why Narey’s review was reposted, but that it had nothing to do with it. “At no material times have we any knowledge of why this false DCMA take down was filed, nor have we contracted any reputation management firms, or any individual or a group to take such action on our behalf. Finally, and in conjunction to the above, we have never spoken with a ‘Douglas Bush,’ or a ‘Muhammed Ashraf.’”

Whoever sent the takedown request, Mumsnet was forced to make a choice: either leave the post up, and accept being delisted; fight the delisting and open themselves up to the same legal threats made against Google; or delete the post themselves, and ask the post to be relisted on the search engine.

“Although we understood the user’s argument that something odd had happened, we weren’t in a position to explain what – our hope was that by zapping one post we might ensure that the thread remained listed.”

Mumsnet deleted the post, and asked Google to reinstate the thread, but a month later, they received final word from the search firm: “‘Google has decided not to take action based on our policies concerning content removal and reinstatement’ which (it turned out) meant that they had delisted the entire thread”.

Interesting though it might be to read about BuildTeam meeting the Streisand Effect, I do not assume they are in the wrong. But someone has found a clever new way to censor comment on the web. I can see this strategy might prove popular. How could it be fought? A related question, also unrelated to this particular case: how can companies protect themselves against dishonest bad reviews?

A meeting of minds

Famous actor Mel Gibson said, “Fucking Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”, but give him a break, he was drunk at the time. And he was sorry afterwards, like he always is.

Famous director Ken Loach was presumably sober and certainly unapologetic when he said, “If there has been a rise [in anti-semitism] I am not surprised. In fact, it is perfectly understandable because Israel feeds feelings of anti-Semitism.”

What a wonderful coming-together this ceremony yesterday must have been:

Cannes 2016: Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake wins Palme d’Or

Accepting the festival’s top prize from actor Mel Gibson, Loach said: “We must give a message of hope, we must say another world is possible.

“The world we live in is at a dangerous point right now. We are in the grip of a dangerous project of austerity driven by ideas that we call neo-liberalism that have brought us to near catastrophe.”

Gibson to present, Loach to receive this prize: the judges’ choice at the world’s leading film festival.

“We should all know by now”

Bernard Thompson, in a piece for the pro-independence Scottish website Newsnet.scot, makes the case for repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act of 2012: Offensive Behaviour: the case for the SNP repealing their own act.

He writes,

Opponents of the Act – none more so than the campaign group Fans Against Criminalisation – have been vociferous in their condemnation of the legislation.

And they have been joined by a host of academics and media figures. Human rights group Liberty have expressed concern that: “the broadly framed offences in this Act will unnecessarily sweep up individuals exercising their right to free speech who have no intention to commit or incite a criminal offence and in the event do not do so.”

And

The Act does not simply ban “the singing of sectarian songs” but also: – “other behaviour that a reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive…

“…behaviour [that] would be likely to incite public disorder”, even if ‘persons likely to be incited to public disorder are not present or are not present in sufficient numbers’.”

We can offer all sort of examples of behaviour that might offend a “reasonable person” but, for brevity, we may note that the Act banned Frankie Boyle (or recordings of his material) from being played wherever a tenuous connection to a football match could be established. Not so rugby matches.

In defending the Act, after someone wearing a tee-shirt supportive of Palestine drew police attention, SNP MSP John Mason even went so far as to say that wearing a Yes badge should be considered unacceptable while watching football.

“We should all know by now expressing political views is no longer acceptable at football matches.”

Mr Mason was apparently not questioned on whether wearing a poppy could be considered to be expressing a political view, and we can only speculate as to how objecting to a poppy might be viewed.

When reading that quote from John Mason MSP the old cliché about the “Nanny State” came alive again.

“Wherever this is”

The Shadow Europe minister, Pat Glass, has had a bad day. According to “Politics Home”:

A Labour MP has apologised after branding a voter a “horrible racist” while campaigning for Britain to stay in the European Union.

Pat Glass, the Shadow Europe Minister, also said she was “never coming back” to Sawley in Derbyshire, after an exchange with a member of the public about immigration.

According to BBC Radio Derby, the unnamed voter had referred to a Polish family living in the town as “scroungers”.

Ms Glass told the station: “The very first person I come to was a horrible racist. I’m never coming back to wherever this is.”

Following criticism of her remarks, the MP said: “The comments I made were inappropriate and I regret them. Concerns about immigration are entirely valid and it’s important that politicians engage with them.

“I apologise to the people living in Sawley for any offence I have caused.”

The row has echoes of Gordon Brown infamously being caught during the 2010 election campaign branding Gillian Duffy a “bigoted woman” after she challenged him on immigration from Eastern Europe.

Echoes of Gordon Brown’s encounter with Gillian Duffy it might have, but this was not a case of an “open mic”. Ms Glass did not have Gordon Brown’s excuse: like Emily Thornberry, she chose to say what she did to a mass audience. [Later edit: Commenter Cal has pointed out that accounts differ on that point. She may have thought the interview was over. But as Cal also says, it’s revealing that she felt free to express herself in those terms to BBC reporters.]

I would guess that the insult to Sawley, and by extension to all those places like Sawley that parliamentarians never visit except when a vote draws near, is a bigger vote loser than insulting one man. She made it clear that the stops on her campaign trail mean so little to her that she could not even be bothered to remember their names. Anyone who has been embarrassed by forgetting a name might have some sympathy with that, until Ms Glass compounds the offence by making it clear that she regards her presence in such a place as a privilege that can be withdrawn as a punishment.

Cryptography is good

Stack Exchange is a site, or a collection of sites, where people post questions on various subjects, other people post answers and yet others vote on whether they like both the questions and the answers. High-voted posts “float to the top of the heap”. Here is a post from the “Information Security” stack exchange that recently “trended” as one of the most popular questions overall: How to explain that “Cryptography is good” to non-techie friends. And here are extracts from the two topmost answers in terms of votes:

“If lack of encryption allows FBI to catch terrorists, then lack of encryption allows criminals to loot your emails and plunder your bank account.”

The rational point here is that technology is morally neutral. Encryption does not work differently depending on whether the attacker is morally right and the defender morally wrong, or vice versa.

and

I would take their argument and replace “cryptography” with “locks and keys on our houses” and see if they still agree:

If more terrorists and criminals would be caught by not having locks and keys on our houses, I would not blame warrantless searches by government and companies in our homes.

I know little of cryptography, but those arguments seem good to me.

A Tale of the Sea

This anecdote was sent to me by a correspondent – NS.

*

I chanced to be speaking to a chaplain who works with a mission to seafarers in a British port, and had the following tale from him.

One of the seamen he knows is a guy – let us call him John Smith – who is fine provided he remembers to take his meds but not so fine if he forgets. On a working ship, daily life is structured and John reliably remembers to take his meds, and if he did not, the captain would look into it, or John would be given medical evacuation. However the control regime is different in port.

Recently, John’s ship was sent to port for several months awaiting a new cargo or scrapping. Presently the chaplain was summoned by port security. When you are asked to the main security point, things are serious. When they offer you a cup of tea, things are really serious. Security told him that John had clearly not been taking his meds, was doing things that were not dangerous in themselves but “violated security protocols”, so they’d have to act in a way that they would prefer to avoid, unless the chaplain could make something better happen.

The chaplain contacted the Port Health authority and was told, “Well, you know, a seaman has rights. If we get involved and the result is to say he’s unfit or whatever, he could sue for loss of earnings or whatever …”

He contacted the company that contracts John’s labour. “Oh well, we’d like to help but seamen these days have a lot of rights. If we get involved and it’s later ruled we did not respect all of them …”

He contacted the union rep, whose first words were “You do know John has rights, don’t you?” and who then pointed out that John’s ship “is not my flag state, so I can’t come aboard uninvited.”

The chaplain solved that one by saying pointedly, “I’m inviting you to come aboard with me.” So, with the union rep in more or less literal tow, the chaplain went aboard, and was told by the captain, “Do whatever you can and I’ll back you.” He had a long and sometimes very strange talk with John, at the end of which John swallowed his meds, whereupon a very hyper man swiftly became calmer.

This example was in the context of the chaplain’s explaining to me how much of his job these days was doing what none of the jobsworths dared to do, even when some of them were not such creeps as not even to want to help. As he put it, “Sometimes the one with no formal power is actually the only one with any remaining power to act.”

The de-ulsterisation of Ulster

When I was a child Northern Ireland was rarely off the front pages. That has changed, and thank God for that. Back in the ’90s, I did not expect the peace process to work. This just papers things over, I thought; it has done nothing to solve the fact that the two sides want incompatible things. But the years have gone by and that layer of paper appears to be holding up the whole house.

Why? I am happy it worked, but why has it worked?

Maybe the two sides stopped wanting incompatible things. Or to be accurate, one of them stopped caring so much and the other almost stopped caring at all. In 2011 I saw a few scattered reports about this survey that said 52% of Northern Irish Catholics in the sample wanted to remain in the UK. Given all the blood and ink spilled about that question the reaction to this was curiously muted. Sinn Fein, its raison d’être gone, continued to do pretty well in elections to the NI Assembly, local elections and EU elections.

Today’s Observer has another such story, equally little regarded. Malachi O’Doherty and his subeditor have done their best. They gave it a dramatic headline: “The nationalist identity crisis that could change Northern Ireland for ever”. Yet at time of writing it has a grand total of 54 comments while the umpteenth opinion piece in which a Labour guy with some connection to reality laments the unelectability of Corbyn has 3,882.

Yet Mr O’Doherty’s story records a development that no one would have dared predict twenty years ago:

The easy assumption about politics in Northern Ireland is that it is a contest between two ideas of sovereignty. Unionists see the place as British; nationalists see it as Irish. And the Good Friday Agreement, in effect the constitution – according, as it does, sovereignty rights to each – is the best interim solution to the old quarrel.

This election has signalled a change in the old model of two mirror-image communities at odds with each other
But one of these two blocks is not sticking to the old template. Nationalism – if we can even call it that any more – is diversifying. And the strongest evidence of that is the fact that in the assembly elections Sinn Féin has taken its first reversal in its traditional heartlands of Derry and West Belfast. The party was outflanked on the left by People Before Profit, an anti-austerity party that has also put economic policy before ending partition.

Not just on the left,

And Sinn Féin wasn’t the only nationalist party to suffer. The SDLP lost seats in both cities, too – and one of those, held by Fearghal McKinney, was fought over the question of whether abortion should be legalised. McKinney had allowed himself to be photographed beside strident anti-abortion campaigners – and paid for it.

The issue had risen to unexpected relevance with the prosecution of a young woman who had self-administered abortion pills. Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP are now caught in a dilemma over this issue and stand to lose voters whichever way they move. They can placate the conservative Catholics by holding fast to “pro-life” positions and lose the newly secular liberals; or they can go with them, as the Green party did to its advantage, and lose the religious.

Yet even among conservative Catholics who do want a united Ireland, some have put their moral causes before the constitutional question. In East Derry last week, a group of conservative Catholics campaigned for the DUP as the party most likely to resist abortion reform and the legalisation of same-sex marriage.

I am not trying to get anyone to cheer for the unionist or the nationalist side, just observing that a significant change has quietly taken place.

Farewell the plumèd troops and the big wars
That makes ambition virtue! Oh, farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th’ ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
The immortal Jove’s dead clamors counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello’s occupation’s gone.

Something they don’t want you to think about

Oh, they’ll report it. Every now and then, tucked away among “other news”. But not in any depth. The evasion is not conscious. Such a strange and disturbing story unsettles their deepest assumptions about humanity, about what is happening to the world. They would rather not think about it.

Link.

Sixty pages

Tom Peterkin of The Scotsman reports:

Revealed: what can happen when a Named Person reports on your children

The Named Person scheme is to be rolled out across Scotland in August but one father’s experience of the pilot rings alarm bells for its many opponents

The handwritten note on an official form read: “Mr Smith feels it is impossible to stop his youngest son from sucking his thumb as he needs it for comfort. Did not appear to take advice on board fully.”

The words, written by the two-year-old thumbsucker’s Named Person, sent a shiver down the spine of Andrew Smith [not his real name], a father-of-two young boys and a respected academic at one of Scotland’s leading universities.

Contained within a 60-page document that had been compiled about his family, the note referred to a blister which had appeared on the toddler’s thumb as a result of the childhood habit. It also suggested Smith contact his GP if the blister became “hot to touch or very red”.

Smith, whose name has been withheld to protect the identities of his children, grew more alarmed as he leafed through the document, the vast majority of which had been redacted.

The surviving extracts appeared to indicate that the minutiae of his family life had been recorded in painstaking detail for almost two years, under a Named Person scheme which has been introduced in his part of the country ahead of its final roll-out across all of Scotland in August. A separate note made by the Named Person charged with keeping an eye on the academic’s two little boys was concerned with nappy rash.

It says elsewhere in the story that someone – exactly who was redacted – had reported this man because his kid had a snotty nose. It is a standing joke how quickly you go from tut-tutting at that sight to sympathizing with the parent once you have children yourself. As one of the commenters to this story, “Badenoch”, says,

There is a lot in this act which gives control over a child and it contain some ‘deceptive’ language with words like ‘wellbeing’. What does that mean legally?

Excerpts from the act.

“the wellbeing of a child or young person is being or would be—promoted, safeguarded, supported, affected, or subject to an effect.

“assess the wellbeing of the child or young person by reference to the extent to which the child or young person is or, as the case may be, would be—Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, and Included.

If a child picking blackberries falls into a shallow burn and siblings, friends or parents laugh at the child’s misfortune. Has the child been placed in danger, poorly supervised, bullied and excluded? Or Has it been encouraged, active, nurtured and included? Who decides and once written down, and read by a third party, can it then change into something sinister ?

A Poem of Two Chancellors

Regular commenter Niall Kilmartin started writing this poem as part of the Erdogan poetry competition but found his thoughts turning in a different direction:

*

        A Poem of Two Chancellors

Though Erdogan is just the man to merit mocking poetry,
Another leader claims my pen, a graver cause is troubling me:
I write of Merkel’s acts because they do not cause me levity.
Oh Angela, was Adolf’s far-from-noble dream once also thine?
I doubt it, yet it’s you, not he, who makes your country Judenrein
(And these days PC tells the Jews it’s hate speech if they dare to whine).
“The best man for the job? Why, choose a woman!” – that’s a bitter joke
When calling doubters ‘Nazis’ is the means by which you meanly cloak
What kind of ‘refugees’ are brought by all this ‘kindness’ you invoke.
We know they’re really migrants since we see they mostly are young men.
We know young men commit most crimes in any group – it follows, then,
That their rate (high enough at home), must here be multiplied again.
Think you, if most of them don’t kill, it will not be like World War Two?
(When, as you know, most Germans did not personally kill a Jew;
When most are scared or hate-filled, acts of killing only need a few.)
Now each one missed by Hitler will be hissed or spoken of likewise
By migrants who care not if they are heard by one, percentage-wise
from that subgroup who won’t just talk but will make sure that that Jew dies.
At least I can be glad most Jews you rule can flee abroad (absurd
that they’ll be refugees for real – and so will be by you ignored).
A few new graves, attracting vandals hypocritically deplored,
Alone will then commemorate them, those canaries in the mine.
Oh Angela, was Adolf’s far-from-noble dream once also thine?
I doubt it, yet it’s you, not he, who makes your country Judenrein.

*

These two lines made the poem for me:

A few new graves, attracting vandals hypocritically deplored,
Alone will then commemorate them, those canaries in the mine.

Over-fearful? I would be glad to think so. I usually do think so. But the quickest of internet searches throws up recent news stories like this one from Spiegel Online International, “Skepticism of German-Israeli Friendship Growing in Berlin”, and this one from Deutsche Welle (DW), “Immigrants Beyond the Law”. The latter story says that migrants from warzones such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are not particularly criminal but says, ‘It is a completely different story with immigrants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia though. “Activity quotas” for North Africans are no less than 40 percent.’ Wow. You would never guess from the strapline and first few paragraphs of the DW story that it contained such a statistic as that. Such evasion is typical and does much to increase mistrust.

Discussion point: Is the Klingon language copyrightable in US law? Should it be?

As linked to by two different posters at Instapundit and semi-reformed Trekkies everywhere, Paramount Pictures, in the course of a claim against the makers of a film set in the Star Trek universe, are claiming to own the copyright on the Klingon language. Thirty years ago linguist Marc Okrand was hired to take the snatches of made-up Klingon dialogue in the early Star Trek movies and flesh it out into a useable language. This he did. The idea took off and all sorts of people since then have learned Klingon to some degree for fun and intellectual stimulation.

A press release from the Language Creation Society says,

We firmly believe that conlangers should receive credit for their work. Specific works describing a conlang, such as the Klingon Dictionary, Living Language Dothraki, or Ithkuil website are creative works in their own right, entitled to full legal protection. So are works that are in a conlang, such as Klingon Hamlet, Esperanto poetry, Ithkuil music, and Verdurian stories.

However, a constructed language itself is not protected, and should not be. Copyright law is simply too blunt a tool for this.
Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation. The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.

We believe that everyone has the right to use any language — including conlangs — without having to ask anyone’s permission. We hope that our participation in this lawsuit will help to make this belief into legal precedent.

Marc Randazza’s diverting amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Language Creation society is here.

I’m not going to do it. I AM NOT going to do it. I am not going to say “Qapla’!”

Except I just did. You will have deduced that I am sympathetic to one side of the case. But there is another. Property rights matter. Why should a bunch of flakes and dilettantes reap what another sowed? Why shouldn’t they pay a fee, in person or under licence, for the privilege of using Klingon just as they pay, directly or indirectly, to use a computer program? Let’s discuss this like Klingons. Which need not necessarily mean with a bat’leth.

The brief era of freely commenting on British newspaper websites draws to a close

Bye bye, Telegraph comments. It was not always that nice knowing you but I shall miss you anyway. Er, I am right about Telegraph comments being abolished, aren’t I? Or have they disappeared for me alone due to my browser being full up or something?

For its part, the Guardian has drastically cut back on the number of articles open to comments, particularly in the section of the paper previously known as “Comment is Free”. The paper has run a dozen self-pitying articles by its columnists lamenting that their efforts to be “edgy”, “sassy” and “provocative” have worked and pleading for safe spaces where they can escape their readers. This piece by Joseph Reagle is a cut above the rest, but it is chiefly memorable for the most recommended reader comment by “Random Libertarian”. I am not this person, but feel I have a lot in common with them:

I’m not addressing this author in particular, but the whole Grauniad pushback against “abusive” comments.

Suggestion: Maybe you should stop writing abusive columns.

Don’t use a word deliberately chosen to portray climate-change skeptics as Nazis.

Don’t call people “rape apologists” when they question interpretations of statistics that show U.S. colleges to be more dangerous than war zones.

Don’t write stuff that assumes that all white people are racists, unless you can prove this to be true without Humpty Dumptying the meaning of the word.

Don’t write as if your political opponents are either eeeevil neoliberals or fat, pathetic dupes of the Murdoch media.

Try it. It might work

To comment on the Times requires passing a paywall, a moderator, and several years of your life.

The Daily Mail is the last, best hope for freedom to comment. But it gives you cancer.