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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Isn’t it intriguing,  that in a country that has largely been run by white protestant men [with the odd exception i.e. JFK, a white catholic man] for the last 232 years – and many more no doubt preceding the establishment of the United States of America in 1776, that this current election has as two out of the three main candidates a black man and a white woman?

And people are skeptical, that the third candidate, the classical model white protestant man has a good chance of winning.

It’s taken 88 years from when the nineteenth amendment gave women the vote at a federal level, guaranteed by the protection of the US Constitution. There is finally a credible female candidate that holds some possibility of taking her party’s nomination and going on to the White House

African-Americans have had to wait a shorter period, just a mere 43 years after the Voting Rights Act in 1965 gave them factually equal access to the ballot box in contrast to what they had enjoyed only as a mere theoretical right. There is now a Black candidate who has  a critical mass of political support.

Obama, outside of his ethnicity, is  changing, almost redefining, the heartland of the American political process in the course of his candidacy. With that comes an even stronger chance, especially given his recent hot streak, that he will find himself occupying the Oval Office next year.

In some ways though, its a tragedy, that one historical triumph, will see the postponement of another historical first. We can either have the opposite gender or the opposite skin colour in the White House. But the conspiracy of history has been such that they have both emerged at the same time to challenge for the same office.

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The focus in American politics at the moment is on the big primaries in Texas and Ohio. They could change the face of the Democratic primary and decide who enters the White House after George Bush is removed from power.

Yet, on a day where Obama swept through Hawaii and Wisconsin, much to James’ joy and other’s chagrin, its a political story of a different stripe that is the most hopeful in my eyes.

That is the decision of Prof. Lawrence Lessig to form an exploratory committee to see whether he should run for a seat in the US House of Representatives.

I firmly hope that he’ll decide to run. American technology law and American intellectual property law define the global agenda. They set the standards which all countries eventually find themselves compelled to follow. And its time that this agenda was set by people able to understand the issues at stake.

Lessig is one of the few at the cutting edge of the blend between technology and law. He is one of the few who understands the impact of the digital age. He is one of the few who appreciates how ancient many laws have become in a world where everyone can create as well as consume.

He gets this because he’s forging the ideas that are taking their place.

Lessig is the brain behind Creative Commons which provides free tools that let authors, scientists, artists, and educators mark their creative work with the freedoms they want it to carry.

Creative Commons tries to turn the idea of the public domain in Copyright on its head. The default position becomes to permit people to take works released under a CC licence and use it in a manner that would be forbidden under the “All Rights Reserved” model of copyright law that has become so entrenched in our society.

This is to counter what Creative Commons considers to be a dominant and restrictive permission culture. In the words of Lessig it is “a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past”.

Lessig maintains that modern culture is dominated by traditional content distributors in order to maintain and strengthen their monopolies on cultural products such as popular music and popular cinema, and that Creative Commons can provide alternatives to these restrictions.

Most importantly Lessig is able to plug all this technical knowledge and single issue reform movement centred on copyright and see how and where it fits in both the philosophy of law and how law works in practice. Go watch the TED Talk he delivered on “How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law“.

The icing on the cake? Lessig is the drafter of Obama’s technology policy, and there is strong commitment from the Obama campaign to see it implemented.

The revolutionary thought that in 2009, not only Congress but the White House might understand technology and technology related issues, is not as alien as it first seemed.

Blind JusticeJustice might well cry – this is just dastardly.

On the 15th of February, the California Northern District Court in San Francisco issued a permanent injunction against Dynadot, a Domain Name Registrar, to compel it to delete http://www.wikileaks.org from its list of URLs.

The order was granted Ex Parte with only limited notice – Counsel for wikileaks were given only a few hours notice by email – and in the end were unable to make any representations to the judge.

Furthermore they were required to prevent any ability to transfer the domain and to disclose all the information that they possessed about the domain name, including who it was registered too and all further information that they possessed about anyone who had accessed the management control panel on Dynadot to manage the domain.

The Plaintiffs, now widely recognised to be Bank Julius Baer – a bank that seems to have a list of celebrity clients and based in the Cayman Islands – was trying to prevent public access to certain documents hosted on Wikileaks that were leaked by one Rudolph Elmer, former Chief Operating Officer of the Bank. [Further Information about the underlying documents here]

I want to raise two points about the method that was chosen to shut down access to the Wikileaks.org site.

The broader points about the constitutionality of that decision, especially given America’s entrenched freedom of speech provisions, and their legal inability to exercise any jurisdiction over Wikileaks itself as an essentially stateless entity are issues I’m not qualified to comment on.

The first is that its rather pointless. As Wikileaks was quite aware that it would be subject to local censorship, it has a deluge of different locations worldwide that makes it accessible globally, even if one site is shut down. At this moment, Wikipedia lists:

  • https://wikileaks.cx
  • http://wikileaks.org.uk
  • http://wikileaks.org.au
  • http://wikileaks.cn
  • http://wikileaks.in
  • http://wikileaks.org.nz
  • as alternates to the .org site. Something tells me you’ll still be able to view all the content on Wikileaks for a good long time.

    In addition deleting the DNS entry only gets you so far – it seems BJB’s lawyers couldn’t work around the fact that an IP address is different from the DNS look up – and so you can still access wikileaks.org at http://88.80.13.160.

    Now I’m not too up on American Procedure but courts granting futile remedies ex-parte is pretty frowned upon regardless of the jurisdiction. In fact futility is a prime ground to refuse a remedy. As it should be. Courts shouldn’t be helping parties achieve nothing by forcing the other party to do work.

    My second point is that the internet has a particular resistive property – the harder you push against it, the harder it pushes back and the more publicity a cause raises.

    I doubt Bank Julius Baer wanted to be on the front page of Slashdot – yet that is where they found themselves. In addition they found themselves mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian. Mentioned because of their dubious action and the prominent allegation of money laundering and tax evasion.

    Furthermore, people like me, individuals who never looked at Wikileaks before and who hadn’t heard of Bank Julius Baer before, have now heard of them both. And found, if the blogosphere reaction can be treated as representative, that the behaviour of the Court was both idiotic and futile.

    Bank Julius Baer has found itself in the limelight far more then it would have liked. More people have found and read the information they are trying to suppress as a result of their behaviour.

    As a result of their folly, I took the time to look at the leaked documents by their Ex-CEO. As a result of their folly, I investigated the surrounding links on Wikileaks and discovered a lot of interesting documents that I’ve never seen before. As a result of their folly, I’m writing a blog post and telling even more people.

    capitolA thoroughly enjoyable Saturday morning, with two sharp combative moots.

    I’m glad we emerged  safely on the other side with our dignity firmly interact.

    I don’t recall feeling that we lost any points, or that the judges were against us overall, and we presented a well thought out and coherent case.

    A coherent case was not as common as it should have been.

    There were definitely moments where the high quality of the other side shone through and bought a small hint of fear; but it never lasted. That last inch of polish, which experience has let us have, always helped us bridge these ripostes

    Overall though, we comfortably managed (so our invigilator tells me) to beat the other teams in the regional round and we’ve upheld the University’s long history of making it to the Washington round.

    Which means that I get a free trip to Washington.

    For the last few weeks I’ve felt in a funk when I’m at home. All those things that used to grab my interest, the fun things to do at home, now seem dull.

    Computer games are dull.

    I still enjoy firing up Civilisation IV for a little while, but my own lack of ability, and disinterest in improving at what is just a game, doesn’t motivate me to keep playing.

    The internet, seems vast and dull. A vortex into which time is exchanged for random information that doesn’t prove particularly interesting. An endless spiders web that goes no where.

    MSN is a diversion, a time filler for wasting time.

    I hate wasting time.

    Especially when I’m not enjoying wasting it.

    I tried going back to FMG to see what I could find there. Sadly it was disappointing.

    Its become even more run down then when I was there, though there are the few interesting people that make the odd return worthwhile.

    Books bore me in a way that they have never done. Just the thought of picking up a book and reading leaves me cold. I have all these books on my shelf that I’m meant to read, but I shrug my shoulders and turn away.

    Movies seem tedious. The patience required, to sit from beginning to end, I don’t have that anymore. To sit there and be the subject of a barrage of stimulus.

    Similarly TV shows feel like too much work. This character wants that from this one, or pointless silly situation contrived to keep the jokes flowing.

    Who cares.

    Its a surprising change, and one that leaves me at a a loss. I don’t have any thing to occupy me during an evening at home that feels satisfying.

    Perversely I still like my evenings at home. I need them to recharge and take stock of the days that might have preceded it. I don’t think I could function without them.

    For the first time they’ve become a necessity rather than a pleasure. This is a change I’m going to need some time to deal with. In the mean time though, I’m left very much in the lurch.

    “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
    Dr Wayne Dayer

    There is a moment, when the voice in your head says  “I have no idea why, but for some reason I like you.”

    It’s that irrational moment when something about a person  zaps out and connects, and you know that there’s something more to this person, that this person is somehow different from the other people you’ve met that day.

    And, because life is what it is, things don’t work out smoothly. You never see them again, or you see them every 5 weeks randomly crossing some corridor.

    But that initial impression stays with you. And every time you meet (when those five weeks keep spinning their cycle) that initial impression conditions your reaction.

    You stop to talk to them randomly, when otherwise you wouldn’t, even though your class started  five minutes ago and your teacher is a stickler for punctuality.

    If your waiting for an exam to start, you look for them just to spend five minutes talking to them about what TV shows they’ve been watching during revision.

    You join them for a random coffee and find it was more enjoyable then you anticipated , and when you think about it in hindsight, was more fun than it should have been.

    That intuitive leap, that split second judgement of your brain, made without any conscious control, decides the rest of your interaction for a long time after it.

    It might be that nothing comes of your interaction at all. You don’t even end up friends, but you put in a lot more effort and endeavour because of that split second.

    Its something that’s happened to me a few times across this PCLL year as I’ve met various people. Some times its been right, and that little voice’s predictions have come true. Some times its been wrong. And in some instances, the jury is still out.

    It’s amazing how that small voice, in its split second judgement, can dictate what path events will follow. How this decision affects our interpretation of so much that comes afterwards. And it’s amazing, how our perception of something, can change it.

    Destruction of the Bamian Buddhas

    The ruling Taliban, mostly fundamentalist Sunni, ethnic Pashtuns, saw Hazaras as infidels, animals, other.

    They didn’t look the way Afghans should look and didn’t worship the way Muslims should worship.

    A Taliban saying about Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups went: “Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, and Hazaras to goristan,” the graveyard. And in fact, when the Buddhas fell, Taliban forces were besieging Hazarajat, burning down villages to render the region uninhabitable. As autumn began, the people of Hazarajat wondered if they’d survive winter.

    Then came September 11, a tragedy elsewhere that appeared to deliver salvation to the Hazara people.

    Afghanistan’s Hazara – National Geographic Magazine

    One thing that I didn’t know about Afghanistan, that came to the fore while watching the Kite Runner, is that its people are divided into two ethic groups, the Pashtuns and the Hazaras, an Asiatic ethnic group that form a minority in Afghanistan.

    This National Geographic article, explains the tremendous persecution that the Hazara  faced under the Taliban and looks at their situation now that the ostensibly democratic government has found itself into power in Kabul.

    Sadly it looks like not much has changed;  the exceptional opportunity offered by the overthrow of the Taliban, and the economic development of the country may not be enough to overcome the deep ethic and religious prejudices that divides the country.

    The article is a good read, and if you’ve just seen the Kite Runner, as I have, an extremely informative piece.