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I haven’t updated the blog in a long while because I’ve been traipsing about the globe – but I’ll tell you about that in another post. I’ve spent some time thinking about McCain’s choice for VP, Sarah Palin, a woman who was mayor of a town of 6000 people before becoming governor of Alaska in 2006 – a pick completely out of left field. She established a reputation for bucking the Republican establishment in Alaska; indeed, she can plausibly be described as a reformer, something which undoubtedly appealed to McCain.

I don’t mean the title of this post to be derogatory – not ‘What the hell is he thinking?’ but, rather, ‘What really made him pick Palin?’ The more I think about it, the more I see a very risky, yet possibly extremely shrewd, nuanced choice for VP.

First, let’s examine her positions (all this is obtained from The Atlantic blogs). She’s pro-life. She supports drilling in ANWAR but understands the importance of energy independence. She is a lifelong member of the NRA. She is a fiscal conservative. She is an evangelical. She opposes gay marriage, but vetoed an anti-gay bill that crossed her desk. She is known to support creationism. Nobody knows anything about what she thinks of Iraq, Afghanistan, the crisis in Georgia, or any other foreign policy issue. We don’t know anything about her position on stem cell research, AIDS policy or immigration reform. We can glean that she has more respect for the constitution than Bush or Cheney, since she vetoed the anti-gay bill because it was unconstitutional.

Also, she is a woman. Which may appeal to disgruntled Hillary voters. Or not. The overwhelming focus on cable news this morning was on whether or not they might now consider voting for McCain, with a woman on the ticket. This is beside the point – if Hillary voters go for McCain because of the female veep, that’s a bonus but should not be expected. Why would Hillary voters, many of whom are presumably fairly liberal, vote for a woman who has established strong conservative credentials? In particular, a woman who is pro-life? I can’t see that happening.

There are two main benefits for McCain to choose Palin, insofar as his own campaign is concerned:

1. She consolidates and energises the conservative base that remains suspicious of McCain. This is especially important because of the enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans this year. It also undercuts some of the reasons for voting for Bob Barr in nominally red states that may vote for Obama because of vote splitting between him and McCain.

2. She reinforces his image as a reformer and maverick. He can point to her record as governor and say ‘Obama talks about change, but Palin has actually accomplished change’.

That’s all well and good, but what does it do to the Obama campaign? Her lack of any serious experience (even more so than Obama) is a major weakness, and they can’t even point to good judgement as a substitute for experience (à la Joe Biden’s speech on Wednesday) because there’s no record there. Of course, by pointing this out, Obama’s campaign risks inviting comparisons to his records, so they need to tread carefully.

I think there’s a trap here for Obama: they can criticise her positions, her Christianism, her rather extreme views, but by doing so they also publicise them, thus energising and enthusing the conservative base that handed the election over to Bush in 2000 and 2004. That’s not to say that she’ll get McCain enough votes to win the election, but it does bridge the enthusiasm gap. Moreover, the experience issue is a problem because McCain-Palin can point to her experience as a reformer in Alaska whenever someone in the Obama camp tries to bring up her lack of experience.

So, possibly a shrewd choice. That’s if she survives the rigours of the campaign trail, which is not at all clear. From what I’ve been reading, it’s doubtful she’s even been fully vetted, having come fresh with a minor scandal about inappropriately influencing the firing of a public official. In fact, I think the risks definitely outweigh the benefits, because I fully expect her to make a major gaffe of some type that will affect the McCain campaign during the campaign. (Fallows explains why very convincingly.) She also full of electoral liabilities, which doubtless Obama will exploit to the fullest.

None of this addresses the actual merits of the pick, of which there are virtually none. To paraphrase another blogger, if McCain dies of melanoma in office, can you imagine her staring down Vladimir Putin? I give Andrew the last word:

Think about what the Palin pick really says about how McCain views this campaign and how he views his potential responsibilities in national security.

Think about what it says about the sincerity of McCain’s own central criticism of Obama these past two months in foreign affairs.

Think about how he picked a woman to be a heartbeat away from a war presidency who hadn’t even thought much, by her own admission, about the Iraq war as late as 2007.

Think about how he made this decision barely knowing the woman.

Think about how the key factor in this decision was not who could defend this country were something dreadful happen to McCain in office but how to tread as much on Obama’s convention bounce and use women’s equality as a wedge issue among Democrats because it might secure a few points here or there. Oh, and everyone would be surprised. And even Rove would be annoyed.

This is his sense of honor and judgment. This is his sense of responsibility and service.

Here’s the real slogan the McCain campaign should now adopt:

Putting. Country. Last.

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They say you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead. I don’t really care what they say. The world is better for the passing of this bigoted, racist, homophobic monster. It’s just a shame he did not live to see Barack Obama elected president.

A new link in my blogroll – this is Terrance’s page. Be sure to check it out!

More letters!

The new copyright law is (supposedly) going to be introduced either this week or next. Really. Finally. Admittedly, after multiple delays and now news that Prentice’s staff are scrubbing his Wikipedia entry, this whole affair is turning into a complete farce. Nonetheless, last week I sent letters to the prime minister and the industry minister again. Here they are – you’ll note the increased level of crankiness from the last letters I sent.

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To the PM:

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

My name is David Puglielli and I am a PhD student at Queen’s University in Kingston studying astronomy. I am writing to you to express my dissatisfaction with the process that is being used to formulate a new copyright law. This process lacks transparency and public input and therefore undermines your government’s attempts to increase accountability. I am not addressing the substance of the legislation in this letter; my concern is that the views of millions of ordinary Canadians will not be adequately addressed because of the lack of public input.

I have two questions. First: Why does industry minister refuse to abide by the new Conservative treaty ratification process, which involves tabling international treaties at least 21 days before introducing legislation designed to ratify them? The industry minister has indicated that this legislation is designed to comply with the WIPO internet treaties, and should therefore be subject to the ratification process to which your government has committed.

Second: Why does the industry minister refuse to hold a public consultation on copyright reform before drafting new legislation? Doesn’t he need to know what ordinary Canadians think before introducing such legislation? Copyright reform is a complex topic with many angles that can only be properly addressed with a formal consultation. Such an approach is better than introducing the legislation and only soliciting public input when the bill is in committee.

The initial delay of the legislation in December indicated that many Canadians are worried that their views are not being heard and that the legislation fails to strike the proper balance between consumer rights and the wishes of corporate lobby groups. Your government needs to take this opportunity to launch a formal consultation on the matter before new legislation is introduced. The summer might be a good time to conduct such a consultation.

There is a broad perception that this legislation is being drafted to satisfy American demands for a more stringent copyright regime in a way that addresses the concerns of major entertainment companies but not Canadian consumers. Up until this time, I have been generally impressed with your government’s handling of major policy issues and have considered switching my affiliation to the Conservatives. However, if new legislation overreaches against the interests of consumers, I will be forced to conclude that you cannot be trusted to represent the interests of ordinary Canadians against outside lobbying pressure, especially given your government’s apparent unwillingness to consult the broader public. In my view, this destroys your claim to be more accountable than your predecessors were. It will also destroy any chance that I would consider voting Conservative in a subsequent federal election. If you are willing to be pushed around on this issue, on what other issues will you be pushed around?

I hope that you will consider formally consulting Canadians before introducing this legislation.

Sincerely
David Puglielli

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To the industry minister:

Dear Industry Minister Prentice,

My name is David Puglielli and I am an astronomy graduate student at Queen’s University in Kingston. I am writing to express my concern over the lack of transparency in the process used to draft copyright reform legislation. I speak as a consumer and computer geek who feels that his views are not being heard by your government.

I wrote to you in December after it became clear that a new law was about to be introduced that would mimic the badly flawed approach of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in the United States. Now, the rumours are that a modified version of the bill is about to be introduced – one that fails to adequately address the misgivings that many Canadians have about the DMCA’s approach.

I object to this bill on the grounds that your government has failed to conduct a proper public consultation on the issue of copyright reform, and you have failed to table the WIPO Internet treaties 21 days before ratifying legislation is introduced, as the new treaty ratification process requires. Your government swept to power on a promise of increasing accountability; yet, by failing to consult the public on this legislation, that promise is being undermined. Your government needs to consult with all stakeholders in this debate. This includes content creators, scientists, innovators, all members of the Canadian business community, and the millions of Canadian consumers who will be directly affected by this legislation and who, in my view, have not had their voices heard.

There is a strong feeling that your government has allowed itself to be bullied into drafting overly restrictive copyright legislation by outside pressure – primarily, large entertainment conglomerates (which tend not to be Canadian), without accounting for the needs of ordinary Canadians. The needs of ordinary Canadians are nicely outlined by Michael Geist’s fair copyright principles, which are appended. These principles are entirely consistent with your government’s desire to strengthen the intellectual property protections provided to Canadian content creators.

You can remedy the lack of accountability in this process by launching a public consultation process to take place over the summer, before introducing any legislation. It is critical that the process of drafting this legislation bring to light the problems inherent in the DMCA’s overreaching approach, and it is critical that ordinary Canadians have a say in how this legislation is drafted. Failing that, I would hope that your government gives the Industry Committee adequate time to study the matter and hear from witnesses representing all stakeholders. Do not fast track this legislation.

I view this issue as a cardinal test of your government’s willingness to listen to all Canadians and resist outside pressure to enact bad legislation. Your government has claimed to be accountable to Canadians. This legislation will test just how committed your government is to accountability, and when the next election arrives, I will remember how the Conservative government dealt with the issue.

Sincerely
David Puglielli

Here are the fair copyright principles, as explained by Michael Geist. Source: http://www.michaelgeist.ca/content/view/2572/125/. Reproduced under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Canada License, which permits copying and transmitting this work provided it is attributed to the author.

Take the Copyright Pledge. All Members of Parliament should be comfortable with the principle that they will not “introduce, support, or endorse any copyright bill that, either directly or indirectly, undermines or weakens the Copyright Act’s fair dealing provision.” Fair dealing, which forms a crucial part of the copyright balance, is critically important for education and free speech and deserves full support from politicians regardless of party affiliation.

Anti-circumvention provisions should be directly linked to copyright infringement. The anti-circumvention provisions have been by far the most controversial element of the proposed reforms. The experience in the United States, where anti-circumvention provisions effectively trump fair use rights, provides the paradigm example of what not do to. It should only be a violation of the law to circumvent a technological protection measure (TPM) if the underlying purpose is to infringe copyright. Circumvention should be permitted to access a work for fair dealing or private copying purposes. This approach – which is similar (though not identical) to the failed Bill C-60 – would allow Canada to implement the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Internet treaties and avoid some of the negative “unintended consequences” that have arisen under the U.S. law.

No ban on devices that can be used to circumvent a TPM. Canada should not ban devices that can be used to circumvent a TPM. The reason is obvious – if Canadians cannot access the tools necessary to exercise their user rights under the Copyright Act, those rights are effectively extinguished in the digital world. If organizations are permitted to use TPMs to lock down content in a manner that threatens fair dealing, Canadians should have the right to access and use technologies that restores the copyright balance.

Expand the fair dealing provision by establishing “flexible fair dealing.” Led by the United States, several countries around the world have established fair use provisions within their copyright laws (Israel being the most recent). The Supreme Court of Canada has already ruled that Canada’s fair dealing provision must be interpreted in a broad and liberal manner. Yet the law currently includes a limited number of categories (research, private study, criticism, news reporting) that renders everyday activities such as recording television programs acts of infringement. The ideal remedy is to address other categories such as parody, time shifting, and format shifting by making the current list of fair dealing categories illustrative rather than exhaustive.

Establish a legal safe harbour for Internet intermediaries supported by a “notice and notice” takedown system. The creation of a legal safe harbour that protects Internet intermediaries from liability for the actions of their users is critically important to foster a robust and vibrant online world. Indeed, without such protections, intermediaries (which include Internet service providers, search engines, video sites, blog hosts, and individual bloggers) frequently remove legitimate content in the face of legal threats. Canadian law should include an explicit safe harbour that insulates intermediaries from liability where they follow a prescribed model that balances the interests of users and content owners. The ideal Canadian approach would be a “notice and notice” system that has been used successfully for many years on an informal basis.

Modernize the backup copy provision. As part of the 1988 copyright reform, Canadian copyright law was amended to allow for the making of backup copies of computer programs. In 1988, backing up digital data meant backing up software programs. Today, digital data includes CDs, DVDs, and video games. All of these products suffer from the same frailties as software programs, namely the ease with which hard drives become corrupted or CDs and DVDs scratched and non-functional. From a policy perspective, the issue is the same – ensuring that consumers have a simple way to protect their investment. “Modernizing” copyright law should include bringing this provision into the 21st century by expanding the right to make a backup copy to all digital consumer products.

Rationalize the statutory damages provision. Canada is one of the only countries in the world to have a statutory damages provision within its copyright legislation. It creates the prospect of massive liability – up to $20,000 per infringement – without any evidence of actual loss. This system may have been designed for commercial-scale infringement, but its primary use today is found in the U.S. where statutory damages led to the massive liability for one peer-to-peer file sharing defendant and leaves many defendants with little option but settlement. Before Canada faces similar developments, we should amend the statutory damages provision by clarifying that it only applies in cases of commercial gain.

Include actual distribution in the making available right. The new bill will likely include a “making available” provision that will grant copyright holders the exclusive right to make their works available. While there is reason to believe that Canadian law already features a making available right, any new provision should require actual distribution, which ensures that liability only flows from real harm.

It’s occurred to me over the past couple of years (probably because I read it somewhere) that Al-Qaeda’s strength comes from the support it enjoys from many Muslims in the Middle East, and that, unlike Al-Qaeda’s members and core supporters, much of that support rests on Al-Qaeda’s claims about ‘western infidels’, claims which tend to be reinforced by U.S. foreign policy, especially over the past seven years. In other words, while Al-Qaeda’s strongest supporters genuinely hate the western world and want to see it vanish, most of the support it enjoys is ‘conditional’ – in the sense that, if U.S. foreign policy changed to undercut Al-Qaeda’s argument (by, for example, getting out of Iraq as soon as possible), much of that support would weaken or vanish entirely. When that support vanishes, it delegitimizes and marginalizes Al-Qaeda (and related groups), making it more difficult for them to recruit and raise funds.

In fact, support for Al-Qaeda has plummeting (really plummeting, not just declining). Andrew Sullivan links to pieces by Lawrence Wright and Fareed Zakaria discussing the drop in support for Al-Qaeda in the Muslim world:

The Simon Fraser study notes that the decline in terrorism appears to be caused by many factors, among them successful counterterrorism operations in dozens of countries and infighting among terror groups. But the most significant, in the study’s view, is the “extraordinary drop in support for Islamist terror organizations in the Muslim world over the past five years.” These are largely self-inflicted wounds. The more people are exposed to the jihadists’ tactics and world view, the less they support them.

From the Zakaria piece. Yes, I know I’m quoting a piece from its quote in another blog. (Zakaria is discussing a study out of Simon Fraser University which deserves, but has not gotten, major play in the press. I strongly recommend reading it.)

An Al-Qaeda fanatic’s opinion won’t be changed by changes in U.S. foreign policy, and to him anything may be done to further Al-Qaeda’s goals – because that is the very nature of fundamentalism. That leads to tactics that most of the ‘conditional’ supporters of Al-Qaeda find repugnant, and eventually the indiscriminate murder of innocent civilians (in many cases, other Muslims) – which of course weakens support for such outfits. I still believe that a fundamental shift in U.S. foreign policy is the best long term policy to prevent Islamic terrorist organizations from becoming as powerful as Al-Qaeda has been, but in the meantime the terrorists seem to be doing a pretty good job of marginalizing themselves.

Update: Here’s some more from Andrew.

No, I’m not writing about HRC’s remarks Friday, I’m talking about the Eurovision Song Contest – that annual celebration of kitsch, glam and (mostly) pedestrian music in which 25 European performers from different countries go up on stage and perform so that the whole of Europe can choose the best song/voice/sex appeal/weird outfits/light show/weird dancing/ability to get their border countries to vote for them.

To those unfamiliar with the Eurovision process, here’s what happens: most European countries (43 this year) choose one singer/band to perform an original song that will go to the contest. There are two semifinal nights before the final, at which 25 countries are represented. Each performer gets three minutes on stage to perform, taking about two hours, and then viewers across Europe vote for who they think should win. They take 15 minutes to vote, 15 minutes to count the votes, and then spend 45 minutes describing how each of the 43 countries entered initially voted, giving points to the top ten performances: 1-8 points for places 10 through 3, 10 points for second, and 12 points for first. Country size doesn’t matter; 12 points from Malta is as good as 12 points from Germany.

Of course most of the music is… well, crap. It can usually be divided into one of three categories: bad europop, really bad europop, and pale imitation of really bad europop. Occasionally a completely off-the-beaten-track song shows up, such as Lordi’s death metal song from two years wihch won the competition for Finland. Much of the time the winner is a marginally decent song, usually a ballad or something that falls into the category of bad europop.

Usually however, the winner has more to do with inter-country politics: the Scandinavian countries vote for each other, the east European countries vote for each other, Portugal and Spain vote for each other, etc. So the winner is rarely the best song. In principle winning Eurovision can launch careers – in practice it rarely seems to do much for the winner outside his own country, unless they were already established. Celine Dion and Cliff Richard have won it when they were already established artists – only Abba and possibly Dana seem to have had their careers launched by Eurovision.

I watched this year’s Eurovision streamed live online, which began with a tedious Romanian ballad and ended with a tedious Norwegian pop song. Mixed in between was a 75 year old rapper from Croatia, a blind singer from Georgia, and a 16 year old from Armenia. Other notable performances: the Russian performance was forgettable but featured an ice rink on the middle of the stage. The Latvian group dressed up as pirates and sang a half-decent song about pirates, the Azeri group had some weird performance involving half the performers dressed as angels and the other half dressed as devils, and the Bosnian performance was just bizarre (but a pretty good song nonetheless). (You can watch the full program at eurovision.tv – the links above take you to the original videos for each song, but I recommend watching the whole performance to understand the full force of Eurovision.)

In the middle of all this came the one real bright spot of the night – a nattily dressed group from Denmark, singing a crisp pop song, with a crisp melody, crisp lyrics, crisp outfits and an overall crisp performance. A song vaguely reminiscent of Frank Sinatra/Peggy Lee style music but with a much more modern edge. The only song I’d probably want to listen to regularly. Of course, since they had the best song of the night, they only came in 14th.

The winner? Russia, with another boring song. The big loser? The UK, a result that says more about how the rest Europe dislikes the UK than about the song itself (it was certainly much better than the Russian entry).

I’ll stick to my music collection.

How do we perceive a rainbow? And does everyone perceive a rainbow in the same way? These seemingly simple questions can reveal some interesting features of the human brain. For instance, is the “striped” appearance of the rainbow—the seven distinct bands of color that we see—a construct of our higher mental processes, or do the mechanics of human

Very interesting article.

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