Friday, 27 May 2016

Honey, I Started A War - When Collateral Damage Hits Home

Giant stepping on the rest of us, by Wendy CockcroftIf there is anything more creepy than a Tony Blair fanboi, I honestly don't want to know. Anyone who can blithely dismiss the deaths of hundreds of thousands with "Which law was broken by Tony Blair, again?" or "Just an honest mistake" leaves me checking my neck for puncture marks, I'm telling you. I seem to be finding a lot of examples of giants in the playground lately. Let's take a look at some of them.

IPR almighty

The transmutation of trademarks, copyright, and patents from limited monopoly privilege to actual property rights is almost complete. Too late, many of us are waking up to the fact that we're becoming increasingly restricted in what we can or can't do with items we ostensibly own.

Hacking your own medical devices

Any competent programmer with access to either long-term or real-time glucose and insulin data could start creating customized apps and tools that make life easier for people with diabetes.
But that’s the problem: the data isn’t readily accessible. That’s why digital health activists like Dana Lewis, who has type 1 diabetes, are hacking into medical devices, to create tools that manufacturers won’t. - This Diabetes Activist Hacked Her Medical Device and Made an Artificial Pancreas, by Mark Mann for Motherboard

While I'm no Socialist, I am aware that capitalists behave very badly sometimes and in the pharmaceutical industry this is very prevalent. They know they've got us over a barrel so they can do pretty much what they want to. In this case a woman couldn't get the data she wanted from her device so she sorted out a solution herself. That she could is impressive. That she needed to is the problem; "the market" is not willing to address her needs and she can't afford to wait patiently until it is. While she doesn't seem to be experiencing adverse consequences just yet, the growing culture of idea real estate might possibly come knocking on her door one day.

Automated takedowns

The trouble with pretending that supplies of copies of copyrighted items can be constrained by gatekeeper entities who set the price at which they will be sold is that, in the era of the internet, making your own copies has never been easier. This is of course antithetical to the notion of a free market, in which supply and demand set the price, but I digress. The gatekeeper types insist on maintaining control of access to their content as a matter of principle; some of them even demand that we view adverts as a legal condition of experiencing their content. It shouldn't surprise us, then, that with chasing infringers being such a game of whack-a-mole they've had to seek out easier ways of stopping people sharing copyrighted content. There are two ways they do this:

  • DMCA takedown, where Google is asked to delist links and take videos off YouTube
  • Website seizure - where the alleged infringing website is seized by the authorities

Both of these methods have resulted in ridiculous situations where perfectly legal items have been taken offline (and sometimes restored after a counter-notice was issued or lawsuit filed) or income streams diverted on someone's say-so even though it never actually belonged to them. If you dare to complain about abuses, maximalists will blithely hand-wave it away as if it's no big deal. Of course it's no big deal; it's not their problem. And it's not the rule of law.


Maximalists love to hand-wave away the abuse of the takedown system and of litigation to effect censorship, i.e. to get rid of content certain people don't like. Whether it's a reaction video discussing other people's videos, the possible influence of terrorists, a complaint about cowboy builders, a prurient, eyebrow-waggling commentary on public figures's sexual shenanigans, a sex video, or horrible comments, if someone doesn't like it they'll claim copyright infringement and down it goes because the system is such that the item is first taken down, then reinstated if the counternotice is sufficiently persuasive. While ISPs, e.g. Automattic, fight back and double-check to ensure the demand isn't bogus, Google and YouTube roll over like good little doggies so kiss your freedom of speech goodbye on your way out of the proverbial door. Don't be surprised by this: copyright was originally instituted as an instrument of censorship, the idea being to control what was published and disseminated for political reasons. Is it any wonder that in a modern democracy, everybody and their dog now wants to be able to exercise the same degree of control over what is posted about them? The question, then, is, "Do you want to live in a culture of permission or don't you?" That's where we're headed.

Make no mistake, copyright fanbois are as insidious as they are disdainful of the public and of culture they don't or can't control. And since control is at the heart of the problem, expect things to get worse.

Authoritarian governance

I've noted a disturbing increase in the number of incidents of people being arrested for behaving in subjectively offensive ways. From tweeting smack about blowing up an airport to making racist comments on Twitter to posting a video of a pug taught to raise its paw to "Seig Heil!" to wearing a t-shirt with an offensive slogan, people who behave in ways that some people find outrageous are having their collars felt by Plod. And that's not all: if you express political views that someone doesn't like, expect to find yourself under surveillance or even having the police show up at your door for writing blog posts that opposing parties don't agree with. Given that I regularly bash people I consider to be nutbuckets, expect to see me writing about that time Salford's finest showed up because I slagged off _________. And I will blog about it, should it happen; the consequences of giving in to state-sanctioned bullying are much worse than a night in the cells.

Chilling effects

Authoritarianism has a chilling effect on public discourse; feeling the fetid breath of the surveillance state on the back of her neck caused paralegal blogger Pamela Jones to close down Groklaw, a valuable resource in helping the layman to understand the intricacies of the legal process. It also makes people less open and more secretive. Online fort-building is a growing trend in response to all-pervasive surveillance; the more people try to stroll into your house so they can see what you're up to, the more likely you are to improve your home security. Meanwhile, authoritarians are responding to this with a paternalistic Daddy Knows Best attitude that only drives people further away.

Building up the walls and every day they're gettin' higher...

Authoritarians can't abide challenges to their authority. The easiest way to distract people from the fact that they're not particularly good at managing (narrow-mindedness sees to that) is to convince them there's a boogeyman to fear. One of the solutions they tend to propose is segregation or wall-building. With populations too racially mixed to allow segregation along racial or religious lines as a rule, some countries are resorting to trying to keep the boogeyman out with tiger-repelling rocks walls and fences while frantically denying their role in creating the crises that drive refugees and migrants their way.

They're oblivious to the harm they do

One of the most disturbing aspects of authoritarianism is they way they disregard every complaint we make about the consequences of their actions, as if we're not people in the same way that they are people. It explains why they're so gleefully eager to throw us to the ISDS wolves: them's the rules, people, and authoritarians love rules. And they can do anything they like, no matter what harm is done, and keep their consciences clear and their fan base loyal as long as no rules have been broken in the pursuit of their goals. This explains the fanboi mentality these people bring out in members of the public — who wouldn't want to be able to do the most heinous things and still be considered a hero who acted on the strength of his convictions? They're wannabes, aren't they? That must be it. Just look at this shocking post in The Atlantic. Men excitedly debated the best place to detonate an atomic bomb as if it were a municipal fireworks display. It's not a real party until somebody dies, right?

The cult of individualism and personality

A few decades ago, when I was a lass, there's not a snowflake's chance in hell that Donald Trump would have stood a chance at getting America's top job. Now he's within a stone's throw of the Oval Office. How in the world did that happen? I blame the Randian cult of individualism that has overtaken the West; by making a virtue of selfishness we've upended every ideal that made democracy possible. Result: the only candidate who's got any buzz is Trump. Every other candidate is reacting to him while he disdainfully swats them away when they fly too near. Even those members of his party who have fought for and won office (Trump has never won an official election) are trying to emulate his bombastic, confrontational attitude in the hope that some of his cachet will rub off on them. People who like Trump appreciate the fact that he speaks his mind, even though it's a bit of a mess in there. Why? In times like these when everyone's suspicious of the man next door and we're all afraid of an assortment of boogeymen we look for a strong protector. People like Trump promise to protect the faithful, so we promise to be faithful to them. The economic environment we're in now is a breeding ground for the likes of Trump. To be perfectly honest I believe that he and his ilk are too thick to wield power effectively so they'll end up delegating to the kind of people we should really be afraid of, but their rabid supporters will be too caught up in "My leader, right or wrong" to notice what's really going on until it's too late.


One of the reasons why I tend to sympathise with left-leaning groups is because they are concerned with the public good while the right has dispensed with that and gone on a mad power trip to God knows where. That said, I'm not particularly left or right wing, personally. I believe in the rule of law, not for the sake of the law or to protect privilege but to promote an orderly society. I've touched on but a few of the most egregious examples of uncaring giants stomping all over the playground, who then go on to complain about blood on their boots from the people they've trampled all over, with a view to promoting discussion of the issues. We do need to talk about this stuff, then we need to do something about it.


  1. I absolutely share your opinion, and you express it beautifully. A bas les dirigistes!

  2. Thank you, Komodo. Welcome to On t'Internet.