May 6, 2011

CRTC: broadband decision now in government’s hands

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:16

Michael Geist sums up the CRTC’s universal service decision:

The CRTC issued its universal service decision this week, which included analysis of funding mechanisms for broadband access, broadband speed targets, and whether there should be a requirement to provide broadband access as part of any basic service objective. Consumers groups and many observers were left disappointed. The CRTC declined to establish new funding mechanisms (relying on market forces) or changes to basic service and hit on a target of 5 Mbps download speed (actual not advertised) to be universally available by the end of 2015. Critics argued this left consumers on their own and suggested that the targets were underwhelming, particularly when contrasted with other countries.

While I sympathize with the frustration over the CRTC’s decision to essentially make broadband a “watching brief,” I wonder why Canadians should expect the CRTC to lead on broadband targets and funding. Universal access to globally competitive broadband (in terms of speed, pricing, and consumer choice) is a perhaps the most important digital policy issue Canada faces and it should not be viewed through a narrow telecom regulatory lens.

Chris Selley on those new “orange posts”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

The new NDP youth wing gets lots of fun poked at it (some of it here), but Chris Selley has hopes that they may force the House of Commons to revisit the worst aspects of parliamentary behaviour:

Look. It’s easy, and frankly appropriate, to laugh at the gaggle of orange poteaux — “posts,” as Quebecers call cipher candidates — soon heading to Ottawa to take their seats as New Democrat MPs (and to move into their very first apartments!). But whatever their shortcomings, it’s safe to assume they’re full to bursting with idealism and self-esteem. Many of them aren’t long out of high school. Try to bully them and by God, they’ll probably call the police.

There’s 57 new NDP MPs from Quebec — almost 20% of the House of Commons. They have a real opportunity to make a difference in the way Parliament conducts its business. Jack Layton himself has said he intends to officially oppose the government in a more dignified manner. And it’s hard to think of anyone in a better position to hold him to his word than, say, a 21-year-old student with $600,000 or so coming to him over the next four years, representing a riding he’s barely visited (if at all) and constituents who didn’t (and don’t, and may never) really give a damn who he is.

The complaints of ex-MPs detailed in the Samara report go far beyond Question Period. One ex-parliamentarian said he profoundly regretted toeing the party line on an emotional issue — almost certainly same-sex marriage, although it’s not specified — and recalled colleagues weeping as they voted against their consciences. Another tells of being tasked, very early in his career, with delivering a speech on the mountain pine beetle infestation in British Columbia, which he knew absolutely nothing about, on 20 minutes’ notice.

One of the weaknesses of our system is that there are not stronger supports for MPs voting freely rather than following the direction of the party whips. The constituents are not being represented if their MP is not allowed to vote in line with their preferences but instead has to subordinate their concerns to that of the party. SSM and the long gun registry are recent examples where the outcome was dictated by party leaders refusing to allow their MPs to vote freely.

It’s good that MPs recognize, at least in hindsight, that partisanship fries their brains and makes them act like monkeys. But hindsight isn’t good enough. Unless MPs grow some … uh, courage, when it actually matters — refusing orders to act foolishly or speechify on subjects they know nothing about, or to waste hours filling chairs on “house duty” when they could be out doing something useful, or to vote against their own or their constituents’ beliefs — this is never going to change.

“Reasoning is a non-violent weapon given to us by evolution to help us get our way”

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Remember that old saw about it being impossible to reason someone out of an opinion they were never reasoned into? Ian Leslie looks at a new paper about the function of reasoning:

This is a widespread habit, of course, and one we might notice in ourselves in other contexts. Whether it’s relationships or politics or the workplace, we have a tendency to start off with we want and then reason backwards towards it; to cloak our true motivations or prejudices in the guise of reason. It’s been shown again and again in studies that we have a very strong ‘confirmation bias’; once we have an idea about the world we like (Obama is un-American, my girlfriend is cheating on me, the world is or isn’t getting warmer) we pick up on evidence we think supports our hypothesis and ruthlessly disregard evidence that undermines it, even without realising we’re doing so.

[. . .]

We tend to think of reason as an abstract, truth-seeking method that gets contaminated by our desires and motivations. But the paper argues it’s the other way around — that reasoning is a non-violent weapon given to us by evolution to help us get our way. Its capacity to help us get to the truth about things is a by-product, albeit a hugely important one. In many ways, reasoning does as much to screw us up as it does to help us. The paper’s authors, Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, put it like this:

The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things.

H/T to Tim Harford for the link.

The “orphan works” gap in US copyright law

Filed under: Law, Media, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:30

Nicole Ciandella writes about so-called “orphan works” under current US copyright law:

Jazz enthusiasts rejoiced when the National Jazz Museum in Harlem purchased the famous Savory Collection last year, but unless Congress fixes a gaping hole in U.S. copyright laws, few people will actually hear the prized recordings.

William Savory was an audio engineer who developed his own method of recording live audio performances in the late 1930s. Up until World War II, most live performances were recorded on 78 rpm records that could capture only about three minutes of music. But Savory used 12- and 16-inch aluminum discs, which enabled him to create and store high quality recordings of longer performances. His collection includes a six-minute version of Coleman Hawkins performing “Body and Soul” in the spring of 1940 and a recording of Billie Holliday singing a rubato-tempo version of “Strange Fruit” in a nightclub only a month after her original version was released.

While he was alive, Savory kept his recordings mostly to himself. He died in 2004. His son, who inherited the recordings, finally agreed last year to sell the whole Savory Collection to the National Jazz Museum.

Museum spokespeople say the museum is eager to share the songs with the public online, but because of the recordings’ murky copyright status, that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. The performances Savory recorded are now considered “orphan works” — in other words, their copyright owners are unknown and cannot be tracked down. The museum can’t obtain permission to disseminate the recordings; and if the museum were to go ahead without permission, it would risk being hit with a copyright infringement lawsuit, meaning potentially hefty civil penalties.

Rookie NDP MPs already triggering change in parliamentary procedure

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:19

From an email conversation with Jon, my former virtual landlord:

In other news, you heard about the proposal to change parliamentary procedures to accommodate the new Diaper Dippers? MPs will now be able to vote with —

  • Aye
  • Nay
  • Like OMG, whatever.

I want to be a teenage MP — it’s like winning a lottery! I take it that these kids will get their $150K+ annual salary whether they attend parliament or not, correct? Or is an MP’s pay based on some sort of performance criteria?

I can’t believe I just asked that.


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