Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Three Cases Of Ridiculous Self-delusion On The Internet — And What We Can Learn

The trouble with being impulsive and not considering the consequences of your actions due to selfishness, greed, or adherence to conspiracy theories/extreme ideologies is that they can have massive real-world consequences, particularly if they happen on the internet.

The sense of moral rectitude and imperative that often drives bad decisions can begin with an idea you have that you're so attached to that no amount of evidence or efforts at persuasion are going to make you change your mind about it. Being attached to the idea is your first problem. The flaws in your idea are the next.

Whether you've convinced yourself that you're a highly skilled, divinely guided fresco restorer, as Cecilia Gimenez was when she "restored" Ecce Homo, or that you need to educate people about the value of exercising your right to carry guns in public, as two well-meaning gun owners did in Portland, Oregon, if the real-world consequences don't pan out as intended, there's a good chance that you're not only wrong, you're deluded and in need of intervention.

Let's look at this year's most recent howlers, and as we laugh at the stupidity demonstrated by the people involved, let's be careful not to follow in their footsteps by doing something equally ill-advised.

National Newspapers of Ireland Want To License Linking

National Newspapers of Ireland ("NNI") released a statement last week that said,

NNI made a submission to the effect that our view of existing legislation is that the display and transmission of links does constitute an infringement of copyright and our existing copyright law should not be amended in the manner discussed in the Consultation Paper.

You read it right: the display and transmission of links infringes copyright, as far as they are concerned. Do those dinosaurs not know how the internet works? It's like charging a toll for the patch of road outside my door and making people pay each time they go back and forth on it. First of all, they don't own the internet and secondly, good luck with enforcing that. The plan is to charge aggregators and search engines or anyone who puts adverts or otherwise monetises links to websites with the attendant snippets. Since their 4th January statement, they've revised their position:

For commercial use: NLI does not require a licence from any organisation which only displays or transmits links to newspaper content. A licence is required when there is other reproduction of the newspaper content, such as display of PDFs or text extracts.

They're not doing themselves any favours with such a stance and a blog like mine would be liable for a fee for "displaying" their "text extracts." This is what fair use is for, people. If you have to pay to quote or cite a passage, you'll go elsewhere for your sources. The real thing that's going on here is that they're not able to work out a way to raise their income. Well, that's not my problem and since the internet is global, good luck with enforcing that license.

Of course, they're not the only ones. As EFF has been reporting, the newspapers' licensing authorities across Europe have been trying the same thing. Ireland is just jumping on the bandwagon. The correct response is to drop them from the search engines to teach them a lesson. If they can't adapt to the new realities created by the internet, too bad. Seriously, I've got no time for this nonsense. They need to find a way to make money without trying to take over the internet. That way madness lies.

Lesson learned: don't push your luck where content is concerned. Leverage and encourage sharing instead of turning your website into a toll road.


European Commission taken to court over India-EU trade pact

One of the main themes of the last year was sneaky secret treaties. The EU and US came away from the defeat of ACTA bruised and bloodied... and more determined than ever to keep the terms of the discussions secret. In other words, they hadn't learned a thing. According to Europolitics,

The case (T-93/11) concerns 17 documents related to the ongoing EU-India FTA negotiations. According to CEO, the Commission shared all these documents in full with corporate lobby groups, such as BusinessEurope. But when asked for the same documents, CEO only received censored versions, the EU executive arguing that public disclosure of these documents would negatively affect relations with India. The Commission referred to Article 4.1(a) of Regulation (EC) 1049/2011, which states that “the institutions shall refuse access to a document where disclosure would undermine the protection of international relations”.

That sounds all well and good but the EU can't claim to be transparent when we, the people who pay their salaries, aren't in the loop of what they're up to and we know it's bad because the people on the other end are kicking off and all the precedents are bad. ACTA is a prime example of how letting us into the loop could have solved a lot of problems by giving us a say in the matter. "Don't you worry your pretty little heads about it" isn't reassuring us any more. It just serves to convince us that they're up to something. Again.

Court cases notwithstanding, the Indian Government reports,

the EU’s chief negotiator [is] scheduled to visit New Delhi this week, amid positive signals emanating from the 27-nation bloc.

This is despite talks having dragged on since 2007 over differences in what constitutes "opening up the markets." Basically the EU plans to plunder the country (again) but India is having none of that colonial nonsense. Chief beefs include procurement clauses with onerous requirements that allow the EU to take India to the international court if they don't permit EU corporations to effectively take ownership of India's infrastructure. We need to know what's going on there not just to have India's back but to protect ourselves from even more outsourcing of jobs. Corporate ethics consist of "make a profit" and that's it. That's why we need to keep an eye on this... and them.

Lesson learned: Don't expect people to trust you if you're secretive, particularly if those people pay your salary. Transparency builds public confidence. Secrecy breeds public contempt.


Tactical training CEO threatens to shoot people if gun control measures are enacted

Yes indeed, wild-eyed maniac, conspiracy theorist and right-wing wingnut James Yeager went ballistic over reports that the recent spate of mass shootings might result in presidential executive action that includes

  • requiring mandatory background checks for all gun purchases

  • establishing a national database to track weapons

  • strengthen mental health programs

  • make it more difficult for mentally ill people to get hold of weapons

Basically, the President intends to take a sensible approach to stem the tide of killings. None of this would result in mass confiscation of legally-held weapons from reasonable, law-abiding citizens or anything. The trouble is, right-wingers don't "do" reason and they don't believe in compromise so Yeager flipped out over the threat to the status quo. Liberal haven Raw Story reports,

The [c]onservative website Drudge Report soon was blaring the headline, “WHITE HOUSE THREATENS ‘EXECUTIVE ORDERS’ ON GUNS” — accompanied by photos of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.

Basically, right-wingers see guns as part of their culture in the same way that ballet dancers see frilly tutus as part of theirs. Any threat to take guns out of circulation or make them less easily available prompts a massive meltdown. They've lost the plot. I've been in conversations in which I openly laughed at people who stated that toting guns was a cultural issue (I call it willy-holding because they're insecure) and said it's "narcissistic and cowardly" to run and hide if you see someone walking down the street with a machinegun slung over their shoulder. I howled with derision at the guys who said they exercise their Second Amendment rights in order to battle the government if they get out of line.

Look, people, although it's true that you can take on the government if they show up at your house with a plastic machine gun bought from the bargain bin at Walmart, chances are they won't and there will be a smoking crater where your home used to be as they go all "shock and awe" on your neighbourhood. Disproportionate force is the usual MO of the US government so don't get any ideas that you can take them on by force of arms. You'll lose. If you take them on with a politically attractive candidate in an election and you're guaranteed to win, as the Democrats discovered in the last election when they reduced the numbers of Republicans in both Houses. This is why I advocate for the democratic process instead of trying to foment a civil war. My idea of rebellion looks something like this and is very effective if we get the numbers.

Well Yeager is not a rational man so he put a video up on YouTube in which he threatened to embark on a killing spree:

I’m not letting my country be ruled by a dictator. I’m not letting anybody take my guns! If it goes one inch further, I’m going to start killing people.”

As The Atlantic Wire noted last week, gun advocates can stop “freaking out” because President Obama cannot ban assault weapons or close the gun show loophole without Congress. He can take small steps like modernizing the background check system and limiting importation of assault rifles. To recap: if President Obama used executive action to limit gun imports, improve background checks and provide mental healthcare services BECAUSE of the recent spate of mass shootings, Yeager would go on a mass shooting spree.  Raw Story has the initial video and the follow-up in which Yeager muted his tone and asked for the viral video of his meltdown to be removed from wherever it's been posted because apparently it's property. No, it's news.

And Yeager has had his licence suspended. There's no word of the guns and what will happen to them but he can't operate his business without his permit. Apparently, he's very sorry. Really.

Too late, matey.

Lesson learned: Don't shoot your mouth off on the internet or you could lose your reputation and your livelihood. YouTube rant videos are not your property and once they go viral and there's no point trying to assert ownership rights over them. Once the cat is out of the bag, forget about putting it back in.


It's easy to laugh at these people and the fact that they're not paying attention to historical precedents and to common sense in general but we need to be aware that it could easily be one of us making waves on the world wide web. Mind you, if you think twice before you try to assert rights over what you either don't own or can't control, you're honest and open, and rant in private, not on YouTube, as a rule, you should be okay.

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