Quotulatiousness

July 23, 2014

The partisan reasons for institutionalized crony capitalism

Filed under: Business, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:38

There’s capitalism and there’s crony capitalism: they share a name, but they’re very different creatures. Crony capitalism thrives when government controls a large share of the economy, because then the politicians and bureaucrats have more goodies to share with their “capitalist” cronies. The bigger the slice of the pie controlled by political leaders and unelected regulators, the better the situation for the favoured companies — and that usually means the biggest of the big corporations. In the US government, one of the best examples of institutionalized crony capitalism is the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im): it exists to allow big corporations like Boeing to sell their products to foreign buyers at highly favourable interest rates, with the taxpayer picking up the risks and the American corporation creaming off the excess profits.

This system works so well — for the businesses being subsidized and the politicians who control the process — that it’s difficult to see it being stopped any time soon. Ex-Im’s enabling legislation is due to be re-authorized later this summer, so this is one of those brief chances to stop it. The problem is that it isn’t just Republicans who support it (because “what’s good for General Motors Boeing is good for America”), but also Democrats … sometimes the very same Democrats who make a lot of speeches about the evils of Wall Street. Jonah Goldberg explains why:

The Left’s anti-big-business populism is very different. It doesn’t want to cut the government’s incestuous relationship with big business; it simply wants to bring business to heel. Big business should do what Washington tells it to do, and when it does, it will get treats. When it doesn’t, it will get the newspaper to the nose. But big business will never be let off its leash, if the Left has its way.

“[Senator Elizabeth] Warren doesn’t have a problem with big banks or corporations,” the Federalist’s David Harsanyi writes. “She has a problem with banks and corporations that make profits in ways that she finds morally intolerable. She is an opponent of dynamism, not cronyism.”

This has always been the central idea behind progressive economics. Bureaucrats and other planners need — or at least want — ever more power to decide how economic resources are arranged and allocated. That doesn’t mean they’re socialists, it just means that corporations need to follow their lead. Indeed, good “corporate citizenship” means acquiescing to the priorities of progressive state planners and whatever their latest idea of “public–private partnerships” might be. The one constant in such partnerships is that business is always the junior partner.

This was the vision behind Woodrow Wilson’s “war socialism,” FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, Bill Clinton’s “Third Way,” and virtually all of Barack Obama’s economic policies. What is Obamacare but an attempt to turn the entire health-care industry into Washington’s well-fed lapdog?

What’s amazing is that people are still capable of shock when it turns out that a policy of treating businesses like dependent lapdogs yields businesses that try to have the government’s lap all to themselves.

July 19, 2014

UPS capitulates, but FedEx will fight

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:21

Scott Greenfield on an interesting attempt by the US government to get private delivery firms to act as an unpaid arm of law enforcement:

    In the future, everyone will be a cop for 15 minutes.
    – Apologies to Andy Warhol

And if you don’t fulfill your duty, the government will indict you. United Parcel Service decided it was a better business move to pay off the government, at a price tag of $40 million. Federal Express refused. The government has now indicted FedEx for its refusal to capitulate.

[...]

The indictment relates to internet “pharmacies,” that ship drugs to people who may have no prescription and without having been treated by a physician. Not all internet pharmacies are evil, and not all prescriptions filled are wrongful, but the government nonetheless demands that delivery companies be not only its eyes and ears, but its arms and legs, in this battle of its war against crime. If only corporate America would faithfully serve its master, it would make law enforcement’s job so much easier.

The indictment is the typical slinging together of vague back-end anecdotes which, when the salient details are studiously omitted, create the disturbing appearance of complicity, if not exactly wrong-doing. After all, shouldn’t a delivery company know that it’s being used by criminals? Because it’s their responsibility to spy on packages, or see into the hearts of recipients, or know each back office deal of their customers?

Ironically, it’s not that FedEx wants to deliver contraband, but that the government refused to cooperate.

H/T to Amy Alkon for the link.

July 15, 2014

The economic side of Net Neutrality

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:41

In Forbes, Tim Worstall ignores the slogans to follow the money in the Net Neutrality argument:

The FCC is having a busy time of it as their cogitations into the rules about net neutrality become the second most commented upon in the organisation’s history (second only to Janet Jackson’s nip-slip which gives us a good idea of the priorities of the citizenry). The various internet content giants, the Googles, Facebooks and so on of this world, are arguing very loudly that strict net neutrality should be the standard. We could, of course attribute this to all in those organisations being fully up with the hippy dippy idea that information just wants to be free. Apart from the obvious point that Zuckerberg, for one, is a little too young to have absorbed that along with the patchouli oil we’d probably do better to examine the underlying economics of what’s going on to work out why people are taking the positions they are.

Boiling “net neutrality” down to its essence the argument is about whether the people who own the connections to the customer, the broadband and mobile airtime providers, can treat different internet traffic differently. Should we force them to be neutral (thus the “neutrality” part) and treat all traffic exactly the same? Or should they be allowed to speed up some traffic, slow down other, in order to prioritise certain services over others?

We can (and many do) argue that we the consumers are paying for this bandwidth so it’s up to us to decide and we might well decide that they cannot. Others might (and they do) argue that certain services require very much more of that bandwidth than others, further, require a much higher level of service, and it would be economically efficient to charge for that greater volume and quality. For example, none of us would mind all that much if there was a random second or two delay in the arrival of a gmail message but we’d be very annoyed if there were random such delays in the arrival of a YouTube packet. Netflix would be almost unusable if streaming were subject to such delays. So it might indeed make sense to prioritise such traffic and slow down other to make room for it.

You can balance these arguments as you wish: there’s not really a “correct” answer to this, it’s a matter of opinion. But why are the content giants all arguing for net neutrality? What’s their reasoning?

As you’d expect, it all comes down to the money. Who pays more for what under a truly “neutral” model and who pays more under other models. The big players want to funnel off as much of the available profit to themselves as possible, while others would prefer the big players reduced to the status of regulated water company: carrying all traffic at the same rate (which then allows the profits to go to other players).

July 14, 2014

When unions took over the public sector

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:09

Dmitri Melhorn says the union movement is missing an opportunity to be more relevant in the private sector, because public sector unions don’t help poorer workers (because public sector union members are middle class professionals, not working class):

Progressive hostility to [Harris v. Quinn], however, is shortsighted. Harris and decisions like it have the potential to revitalize progressive politics by restoring the relevance and political potency that labor held in the early-to-mid-20th century. The great labor leaders of that era — AFL-CIO President George Meany, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the like — agreed with the majority in Harris: it was both impractical and inadvisable to afford public employees compulsory collective bargaining rights.

Roosevelt said that collective bargaining and public workers’ right to strike would be “unthinkable and intolerable.” Meany said it would be “impossible.” In the view of these leaders, civil service laws from the Progressive Era of the 1890s to 1920s had made government jobs good and safe. Labor and progressives, therefore, needed to focus on blue-collar workers’ need to fight collectively for basic safety, dignity and living wages. Through this focus, the United States saw historic gains in the well-being of workers and the country’s middle class.

That labor heyday lasted through the 1950s, but starting in the late 1960s labor lost ground. Public-sector unions grew rapidly, but private-sector unions shrank. By 2012, public-sector workers had union membership rates more than five times higher than rates among private-sector workers.

Essentially, the public-sector unions sucked up all the oxygen. Talented labor organizers opted to work with government workers: their members were relatively prosperous and well connected, so they were easy and lucrative to organize. As explained in Jake Rosenfeld’s book What Unions No Longer Do from earlier this year, this shift to public-sector unions meant that unions no longer fought primarily for the working poor. Instead, much of their muscle was devoted to improving the status of middle-class professionals.

July 12, 2014

Sriracha factory dispute – “THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF NOW, NOT LATER!!!!!”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Business, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

Sriracha rooster sauceSriracha fans were relieved when the Huy Fong plant in California was allowed to re-open after a farcical ‘elf-and-safety’ shakedown (original story here). Reason‘s Zenon Evans has more on the behind-the-scenes bullshit that triggered the near-national panic among hot sauce consumers:

The public just got some new insight into one of the last year’s spiciest (and fishiest) political kerfuffles: the push by the city council of Irwindale, California to shut down Huy Fong Foods, the makers of Sriracha hot sauce. The tireless freedom-of-information requesters at MuckRock yesterday published internal council documents, revealing theatrically furious communication among the local government officials and a desire to exploit regulations to force the company into submission.

[...]

The newly revealed memos and emails show that some members of government were actually “happy to report the scent of chilies” emanating when production began in 2012, but, a year later Ortiz and Councilman David Fuentes, who also lived near the factory (and also ultimately recused himself from the matter), saw a total shutdown as the first and only appropriate course of action.

“I just received notice that the odor at this place is very strong. We must proceed with SHUT DOWN immediately,” demanded Ortiz in an email, despite the fact that he had previously applauded how much safer that part of town had become since the $80 million business moved in.

Fuentes was even more adamant. “THIS PROBLEM NEEDS TO BE TAKEN CARE OF NOW, NOT LATER!!!!!,” he emailed his fellow council members in October. Notably, he also suggested that “if we need to shut them down for non compliance, then let’s do what we have to do.”

Although it’s not clear exactly what Fuentes meant by “non compliance” or if the council made moves based on his plot, the city did sue Huy Fong and got a judge to order a partial shutdown in November, even though that the judge acknowledged a “lack of credible evidence” regarding the health risk claims. Likewise, California’s health regulators stepped in and changed their own food rules in December as they demanded a 30-day hold on operations, which created fear of a national Sriracha shortage.

July 11, 2014

The lawless hellhole that is post-legalization Colorado

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:24

Just as sensible people were predicting, the once peaceful and scenic state of Colorado is now a smoking hole in the ground, infested with twitchy-eyed, machete-wielding savages. (Oh, wait, no … that’s Edmonton):

[Colorado Governor John] Hickenlooper sounds cautiously optimistic, and there are good reasons for that. Possession and consumption of cannabis have been legal in Colorado and Washington since the end of 2012. In Colorado, so has home cultivation of up to six plants and noncommercial transfers of up to an ounce at a time. Since the beginning of this year, anyone 21 or older has been able to walk into a store in Colorado and walk out with a bag of buds, a vape pen loaded with cannabis oil, or a marijuana-infused snack. And for years in Washington as well as Colorado, such products have been readily available to anyone with a doctor’s recommendation, which critics say is so easy to get that the system amounts to legalization in disguise. Despite all this pot tolerance, the sky has not fallen.

A study released yesterday by Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division supports Hickenlooper’s impression that legalization has not had much of an effect on the prevalence of cannabis consumption. The authors, Miles Light and three other analysts at the Marijuana Policy Group, note that the percentages of Coloradans reporting past-month and past-year consumption of marijuana in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) rose between 2002 and 2010, mirroring a national trend. But consumption fell a bit in Colorado after 2010 while continuing to rise in the rest of the country. That is striking because Colorado’s medical marijuana industry began to take off in the second half of 2009 after the legal standing of dispensaries became more secure.

Another surprising finding is that marijuana use during this period was less common in Colorado than in the country as a whole. Based on NSDUH data from 2010 and 2011, 12 percent of Coloradans 21 or older were past-year users, compared to a national figure of 16 percent. But among those past-year users, daily use was more common in Colorado: 23 percent of them reported consuming marijuana 26 to 31 times a month, compared to a national rate of 17 percent. It’s not clear to what extent Colorado’s medical marijuana system is responsible for this difference in patterns of use.

[...]

Hickenlooper did not mention crime rates, but some opponents of legalization warned that cash-heavy cannabusinesses would invite robberies, leading to an increase in violence. Instead the frequency of burglaries and robberies at dispensaries has declined since they began serving recreational consumers in January. FBI data indicate that the overall crime rate in Denver, the center of Colorado’s marijuana industry, was 10 percent lower in the first five months of this year than in the same period of 2013.

Although the prospect of more money for the government to spend has always struck me as a pretty weak argument for legalization, Hickenlooper is happy to have tax revenue from the newly legal marijuana industry. So far there has not been much: just $15.3 million from the recreational sector in the first five months of 2014 ($23.6 million if you include medical sales), although monthly revenue rose steadily during that period. The economic activity associated with the new industry, including not just marijuana sales but various ancillary goods and services, is bound to be much more significant than the tax revenue. And although Hickenlooper says he does not want Colorado to be known for its cannabis, legalization (along with abundant snow) may have something to do with the record numbers of tourists the state is seeing. It seems clear, in any case, that legalization has not hurt Colorado’s economy, which Hickenlooper accurately describes as “thriving.”

Another benefit of legalization that can be measured in money is law enforcement savings, which various sources put somewhere between $12 million and $60 million a year in Colorado. Those estimates do not include the human costs associated with treating people like criminals for growing, selling, and consuming an arbitrarily proscribed plant. Prior to legalization police in Colorado were arresting 10,000 pot smokers a year. Today those criminals are customers of legitimate businesses, which are replacing the “corrupt system of gangsters” decried by Hickenlooper.

July 10, 2014

If this lawsuit succeeds, they’re going after the Black Watch next

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:12

The Tilted Kilt restaurant chain is suing a golf course for some kind of trademark infringement. Timothy Geigner tries to make sense of the “claims”:

The club in question is the Kilted Caddy Club, a golf course that provides female caddies in kilts for some of their golf tournaments, because nothing helps a man concentrate on sinking that twenty-foot sloped birdie putt like a nice pair of legs. The Tilted Kilt franchise, in case you aren’t aware, provides bar/restaurants in which scantily-clad women in kilts and low-cut button-down shirts serve you sub-par food while the worst music you can imagine plays around you and your fellow degenerate friends. In other words, we’re dealing with two quality organizations here. Well, apparently one side of this equation got their kilts in a bunch to the point of filing a very silly trademark claim.

    The Tempe, Ariz.-based Tilted Kilt, which has nearly 100 locations nationwide including one at Broadway at the Beach, says in court documents that the caddy club is copying its distinctive and trademarked “uniforms,” thereby, confusing consumers into thinking the two businesses are related. The Tilted Kilt has asked a judge for a permanent injunction against the Kilted Caddy Club’s use of its name and tantalizing tartan uniforms, as well as unspecified monetary damages.

Now, let’s start off with the obvious problem: the two companies aren’t in the same line of business. One is a golf course (that of course has a clubhouse bar and food, but meh), the other is a bar/restaurant. They aren’t competing against one another. That should probably be enough to toss this thing out already. Add to that the fact that the two uniforms aren’t really all that similar beyond incorporating a bastardization of a traditional Scottish kilt, and it’s all the more difficult to see this going anywhere.

July 9, 2014

Justin Raimondo reviews new biography of the Koch family

Filed under: Business, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:46

The archvillains of capitalism, Charles and David Koch, are the subjects of a recent book by Mother Jones writer Daniel Schulman. Justin Raimondo reviews Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty.

According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Koch brothers are responsible for global warming and much else that’s wrong with the world. This is part of a strategy to demonize Charles and David Koch — the principals behind the country’s largest privately-held company — and make them the issue come Election Day. There’s a big problem with this strategy, however: a recent poll shows that most of Reid’s own constituents haven’t the slightest idea who the Brothers Koch are.

Daniel Schulman’s much anticipated book, the first biography of the Koch family, may help voters bridge the knowledge gap — but Democrats are going to be disappointed if they think it will help their smear campaign. Indeed, it is likely to do the opposite. It’s hard to write a biography of someone you hate, and Schulman, a writer for Mother Jones, clearly came to admire his subjects.

The story starts with Fred Koch, a son of Dutch immigrants who settled in the “poor but plucky” town of Quanah, east of the Texas panhandle. Ambitious, single-minded, and tough as nails, Fred made his fortune helping Joe Stalin extract oil from the Russian steppes — learning in the process that the rosy picture of a “workers’ paradise” drawn by the likes of Walter Durante was the exact opposite of the truth.

Driven to seek overseas markets by an onslaught of patent-infringement lawsuits from a Rockefeller-connected oil consortium, Fred Koch arrived in Russia in 1930 and “found it a land of hunger, misery, and terror,” as he would later recall. When he left that autumn, his Soviet minder — who had spent the whole time capitalist-baiting him — bid adieu with this warning: “I’ll see you in the United States sooner than you think.” What Fred had seen in Stalin’s Russia set him on a course that landed him in the ranks of the John Birch Society.

Robert Welch, the society’s founder, recruited him early on: Fred was at the 1958 meeting where Welch first laid out his plan to fight the Communist menace and roll back the New Deal. The John Birch Society was a hybrid of Old Right libertarian economics and the McCarthyite paranoia of the 1950s, and Fred — by this time a tycoon — relentlessly lectured his four sons on the evils of collectivism and the value of hard work. He had no intention of raising a brood of “country-club bums” who would coast along on the family fortune. The 1950s were almost over before he bought the kids a television, and even then they had little time to watch it.

July 5, 2014

The mystic art of going viral – The Putter

Filed under: Britain, Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:02

This is Collosal posted a lovely little video a few days ago, showing how one small century-old firm in Sheffield still “puts-together” scissors in the old way:

It’s been a popular video. It’s been a very popular video. In fact, it went viral.

The staff at Ernest Wright and Son Limited have been overwhelmed with interest from people who saw the video and decided they wanted a pair of hand-made scissors. A member of one of my mailing lists says he just got this response from the company about his order (placed before the video went online):

Dear Madam or Sir,

Firstly, may we thank you VERY MUCH for ordering a pair (or more) of our Hand-made in Sheffield England, Ernest Wright and Son Limited scissors.

Secondly, may I please take a moment to explain our current situation.

As you doubtless know, Shaun Bloodworth’s film “The Putter” was uploaded to the internet on Monday 23rdJune. We had been very much looking forward to seeing this film, if purely as an educational exercise documenting the immense skills of the ‘putter-togetherer’.

What we might not have expected was that Shaun’s own amazing skill, coupled with the gorgeous sound work from The Black Dog (wow!), would make such a beautiful and sensory-encompassing experience of something we just see our Cliff and Eric do every day.

And what we REALLY didn’t expect was for this film to go ‘viral’! This was not a ‘commercial launch’ by any means at all; so much as Shaun merely uploading the film for us back here in the factory to see. The power of the internet is truly an incredible and awesome thing.

This has rather caught us at an ‘interesting’ time. We have not been doing particularly well for a number of years as a business and have worryingly dwindled in size. Recently we actually had to make further redundancies and at a few times have thought that the end was truly nigh for Ernest Wright’s altogether. Cheap scissors are ubiquitous; no-one seems (seemed!) particularly interested in how scissors are made any more, and hardly anyone understood paying the price for a good pair – regardless of how we have ever tried to explain it. (Enter Shaun and “The Putter” – and what a benefit, hopefully, to us all!)

There are now just the five of us here in our little business:

Cliff and Eric are our putter-togetherers, although Cliff does the vast majority of the putting whilst Eric is also a skilled hand-grinder and finisher. Eric’s hands are actually those seen working the ‘insider’ machine in The Putter, linishing the inside of the bows (handles) with sparks flying in either direction. These two are both working through retirement years now – purely helping me to keep something we feel is so important, alive.

It would be remiss of me not to mention Ian, who eventually only retired last autumn (2013). All three can be seen here together by the way in a 2012 BBC documentary – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IitTC4PqcOI

These chaps have never earned too much – and there honestly hasn’t been too much to earn for a while. But they work hard; so very, very hard. And until around about this Tuesday, they had incredibly little appreciation for their life’s devotion to their craft. I am genuinely so touched that they are finally getting a mention, they so thoroughly deserve it.

We also now have young Jamie and Ryan, who are ‘the young blood’ apprentices and have been with us for around two years now. They began by learning tapping, grinding, then linishing, and are now slowly learning the full art of putting-together themselves – although not at all yet commercially. Practice will one day hopefully make them perfect.

Finally I am the managing director, van driver, salesman, go-fetcher and hopelessly-part-time receptionist. Ernest Wright was my great-grandfather, who formed the company in 1902. I took over when my father almost decided to close the business in 2012, and have since made it my mission in life to save these skills and their type – particularly in Sheffield, the hometown I am so very proud of.

So. Basically after a very long spell of quiet, since around Tuesday morning this week we have been suddenly inundated. With (gratefully) telephone calls, emails, tweets, views, messages, letters and (very gratefully) individual orders. I am honestly struggling to keep up at the moment. The telephone system has crashed and my inbox cannot download fast enough.

Regardless my aim is this: everyone who has ordered a pair of Cliff and Eric’s wonderful-handiwork scissors will receive them; as speedily and safely as is possible.

Ironically Cliff had gone off a well-earned holiday on Monday, and will be sitting in a deck chair in Filey or somewhere for the next week yet – hopefully wondering why on earth he is being asked for an autograph! He knows nothing about his new-found ‘internet popularity’, although he will be completely shy and modest about it as always when he finds out. Only Shaun’s down-to-earth and inconspicuous approach led him to be even filmed in the first place. Regardless I’m sure he will be pleased he can “learn some more” and get cracking with his hammer upon his return.

I cannot honestly promise how long these scissors are going to take to get to you at the moment! we haven’t yet worked out how many of each type are even required. Then they take a little while to be made – but you might know that now! One thing we won’t do, because Cliff and Eric would refuse every time, is to ‘do a rush job’. Your scissors might not always look quite perfect either, but that’s not what we 100% care about. Every pair might have a tiny mark, a scratch, a blemish or even the odd hammer dent, but that is precisely because they are hand, and not machine, made. They are made to be used, not looked at, is our opinion. What we concentrate on more than anything is that they work. Perfectly, every time. I actually reckon you that you can see that in Cliff’s face though, I’ve seen that a thousand times off-camera too.

We are working on strict order-date basis. I am hoping to keep up with at least broadcast emails for the next week until we see how much of a potential flash-in-the-pan this may be. It would be sadly more ironical than anything if this great new interest hurt us rather than helped, so please give me some time to address this situation properly? Meantime we have managed to send out quite a lot of orders already but the previous held-stock is now very low and new orders are still arriving! The lads are certainly preparing to get busy – apart from poor oblivious Cliff in his deckchair at the moment of course.

If orders are going to take more than one month to arrive, I will try to let you know in the next week? I hope that’s ok, it is honestly the very best we can do for now!

If you would prefer a refund, of course I understand completely. Please email me by reply to nick.wright@ernestwright.co.ukwith the title just “REFUND” and at least your order number (usually 4 digits) in the text. I will then get to it as soon as I also can.

Meantime THANK YOU so much, both to old followers and many new friends, for this amazing and wonderful support. This might be our chance for once to shine again. I will try my level best to reciprocate as much as I possibly can.

Yours with kindest regards,

Nick.

Nick Wright
Director
Ernest Wright and Son Limited

www.ernestwright.co.uk

July 2, 2014

EU publishers want a totally different online model for content – where they can monetize everything

Filed under: Business, Europe, Law, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:19

Glyn Moody reports on the passionate desire of EU publishing organizations to get rid of as much free content as possible and replace it with an explicit licensing regime (with them holding all the rights, of course):

For too many years, the copyright industries fought hard against the changes being wrought by the rise of the Internet and the epochal shift from analog to digital. Somewhat belatedly, most of those working in these sectors have finally accepted that this is not a passing phase, but a new world that requires new thinking in their businesses, as in many other spheres. A recent attempt to codify that thinking can be found in a publication from the European Publishers Council (EPC). “Copyright Enabled on the Network” (pdf) — subtitled “From vision to reality: Copyright, technology and practical solutions enabling the media & publishing ecosystem” — that is refreshingly honest about the group’s aims:

    Since 1991, Members [of the EPC] have worked to review the impact of proposed European legislation on the press, and then express an opinion to legislators, politicians and opinion-formers with a view to influencing the content of final regulations. The objective has always been to encourage good law-making for the media industry.

The new report is part of that, and is equally frank about what lies at the heart of the EPC’s vision — licensing:

    A thread which runs through this paper is the proliferation of ‘direct to user’ licensing by publishers and other rights owners. Powered by ubiquitous data standards, to identify works and those who have rights in those works, licensing will continue to innovate exponentially so that eventually the cost of serving a licence is close to zero. The role of technology is to make this process seamless and effective from the user’s perspective, whether that user is the end consumer or another party in the digital content supply chain.

[...] the EPS vision includes being able to pin down every single “granular” part of a mash-up, so that the rights can be checked and — of course — licensed. Call it the NSA approach to copyright: total control through total surveillance.

Last year, when the National Post started demanding a paid license to quote any part of their articles (including stories they picked up from other sources), I stopped linking to their site. I suspect most Canadian bloggers did the same, as I see very few links to the newspaper now compared to before the change in their policy. It worked from their point of view: I’m certainly not sending any traffic to their site now, and there was never a chance of me being able to afford their $150 per 100 word licensing rate. Win-win, I guess. The EPS is hoping to avoid that scenario playing out in Europe by mandating that all content use the same kind of licensing, backed up by the power of the courts (and the kind of pervasive surveillance tactics the NSA and its Anglosphere partners have honed to a very fine edge).

“Fixing” soccer games for fun and profit

Filed under: Business, Law, Soccer — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:49

Bill Barnwell discusses what we know (or what we’ve been told) about corruption in soccer matches all the way from Finland to Cameroon to the current World Cup fixtures in Brazil:

Late Monday night, FIFA’s worst nightmare began to break. The Cameroon Football Federation sent out an urgent press release announcing that they were investigating claims that several of Cameroon’s recent matches were fixed, most notably the country’s 4-0 loss to Croatia during the group stage of the World Cup. The allegations come from a story in German newspaper Der Spiegel, which reported that notable alleged Singaporean match fixer Wilson Raj Perumal told the paper in a pre-match Facebook chat that the African side would have a player sent off in the first half before losing 4-0. Both would later occur in the match. Perumal further alleged that the Cameroon team had “seven bad apples” and has been involved, to some extent, with fixing all three of its group stage matches before exiting the tournament.

Perumal has since issued a statement, via the co-authors of his biography, denying that he predicted the result.

Of course, allegations of fixed soccer matches aren’t anything new. What makes this so shocking and so meaningful is the idea that a World Cup match was fixed. It’s one thing for some third-division match under a rock in front of 40 people to be rigged. If a World Cup match can be manipulated with the globe watching, though, is there any match that can’t be fixed?

[...]

Perumal and an associate eventually found their way to Scandinavia, where they would fix matches at a number of clubs in Finland. Most notably, Perumal offered to invest more than a million Euros in struggling Finnish side Tampere United if they allowed him to invite several awful players from outside the country on the take to come play for the club. They took about half of the money and didn’t bother to play the players Perumal brought on; they’re also now banned from Finnish soccer. For some of his fixes, Perumal was actually able to issue instructions during matches to players on the pitch from the team bench.

Perumal suggests that he didn’t need influence over much of a team to fix a match, preferring to focus on the defense. “I prefer back-line players: the two central defenders, the last man stopper and the goalkeeper. If you can get three back-line players on your payroll then you can execute a fix because, when you want to lose, the attackers can’t help you,” he wrote.

[...]

As for Cameroon, well, it’s hard to say what will become of them. If there are seven players on the team who are proven to have fixed matches at the World Cup, their punishment will be severe, with permanent banishment from the sport a likely option. I’ll be intrigued to see what the investigation reveals, even if I’m very skeptical that an investigation conducted by the Cameroon FA and FIFA will be very thorough. They have little to gain from revealing their own corruption. I don’t know that Cameroon necessarily manipulated results during this World Cup, but I would be surprised if the entire tournament actually went untouched by match fixers. There’s simply too much to be gained and too little to stop it from occurring.

June 28, 2014

QotD: The dangers of self-publishing

Filed under: Business, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Call from the project manager on a big, glossy, high-end coffee-table book I recently proofread …

Project Manager: Oh. My. God! We can’t possibly implement all these changes! There’s just red EVERYwhere.

Me: They’re not changes, they’re corrections.

PM: But it’ll take days.

Me: Yes, and because there are so many I suggest you get someone to read it again.

PM: But we go to print on Friiiiiday *wail*

Me: Maybe the editor should look at it again then. Who’s the editor?

PM: The author. And me.

Me: No, who’s the E-D-I-T-O-R?

PM: No, seriously, the author and me.

Me: No frikkin’ kidding. (Okay, that was under my breath…)

Publish Cape Town, Facebook, 2014-06-26.

June 27, 2014

Indonesia’s SoldatenKaffee re-opens

Filed under: Asia, Business — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:27

After some minor redecoration, the Nazi-themed SoldatenKaffee has re-opened in Bandung:

Really, there is no reason you should be offended by the SoldatenKaffee, its owner insists.

True, this cafe in Bandung, Indonesia’s third largest city, features a portrait of Adolf Hitler over its fireplace. There are also giant Third Reich iron eagles bearing swastikas on the wall, next to Nazi posters. And yes, some of its customers are wearing military uniforms and Nazi armbands.

But this is definitely NOT a Nazi-themed place. Nope, not at all.

The owner wants to make this very clear, once for all.

A Nazi swastika insignia sign on the floor decorates the interior of the reopened SoldatenKaffee in Bandung city, western Java island on June 21, 2014. The Nazi-theme cafe in Indonesia that sparked international outrage and closed shop has reopened with its walls still bearing swastikas and a large painting of Adolf Hitler. AFP PHOTO / TIMUR MATAHARI

“We have a lot of customers from Europe and they don’t have a problem with the World War II theme, because it is seen here from a historical perspective,” the owner also said at the cafe’s reopening.

But somehow, the Hitler pictures, Hitler quotes on the wall and swastikas suggest otherwise. The fact that the cafe’s Facebook page is full of Nazi propaganda doesn’t help either.

Knowledge of the Holocaust and the Nazi era is not widespread in Indonesia. Winda, who works in Jakarta but studied in Bandung, says she doesn’t really remember studying the topic at school and only heard about concentration camps after she left. “Perhaps the Holocaust was mentioned, but very briefly, we only heard about Adolf Hitler,” she says. “I think we were taught to dislike the Jews more than the Nazis.”

The owner may not understand why this is of such interest to the Western media, but he clearly knows that keeping that attention on his café is good for business.

June 24, 2014

Fairtrade loses the moral high ground

Filed under: Africa, Business, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:53

Following up on an article from earlier this month on Fairtrade’s business and ethical problems, Rossa Minogue talks to Professor Christopher Cramer who lead the investigation on which the report was based:

I ask Cramer if he was surprised by the study’s findings. ‘Yes and no’, he says. ‘[Fairtrade] perpetuated this fantasy of rural Africa being full of small, family farmers with roughly the same amount of land as each other. Unless there was an extraordinarily benign trickle-down effect, you wouldn’t really expect things to be much better [on Fairtrade farms]. But to find that the wages were worse and that most of the working conditions were worse, that did surprise me — and it’s a puzzle.’

The study’s findings were certainly disconcerting for Fairtrade’s supporters. They showed that farm labourers often make less on Fairtrade farms than non-Fairtrade farms, while many smallholders live in abject poverty. So, does Fairtrade benefit anyone in Third World agriculture? Cramer tells me that, during his four years of field research, his team realised that what Fairtrade defined as ‘smallholders’ covered everything from owners of farms of half a hectare to 130 hectares. The owners of bigger farms, he tells me, ‘are the ones who capture most of the direct benefits. They also tend to control the leadership of the cooperatives.’ So it seems that the larger farms, the ones that would presumably be doing alright anyway, are the only ones that reap the rewards of Fairtrade — a programme allegedly aimed at helping the poorest of the poor.

Cramer’s report is definitely a damning indictment of Fairtrade, which is why Fairtrade is doing all it can to smear its findings. When I wrote about Cramer’s findings a few weeks ago, I was informed that people who had tweeted my piece received direct tweets from Fairtrade UK, dismissing the article as sensationalist and untrue. Naturally, Cramer has borne the brunt of this hostility: ‘There was a legal threat made against us when [Fairtrade officials] saw the first draft of our press release’, he says. ‘They’ve also sent me hostile letters.’

[...]

In the West, people are often puzzled as to why rural Africans give up what is sometimes perceived to be a poor but idyllic existence in the countryside to live in the slums on the outskirts of cities. However, this puzzlement ignores the harsh realities of rural poverty. For many, moving to the city, where they can at least eke out a living, is the only rational choice. So what is the best path out of poverty for the farmhands of Africa?

‘That’s a big question. The focus must be on increasing agricultural productivity and that involves a lot of things, including infrastructure and investment. I don’t buy into the small-is-beautiful paradigm. My research shows that if you’re interested in driving up quality and enhancing productivity, as well as the lives and prospects of the poorest people, large-scale production has its advantages. Betting on the strong can also be betting on the weak.’

June 22, 2014

“Draw Play” Dave on how Minnesota got the Super Bowl in 2018

Filed under: Business, Football, Humour — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:20

I probably don’t need to say that the Super Bowl is a big ticket item … that much must be clear even to people who don’t have any conscious awareness of the NFL. Part of the push for a new football stadium in Minnesota was the hope that the new stadium would allow Minneapolis/St. Paul to bid on (and hope to win) the competition to host the Super Bowl in the newly completed stadium. The NFL being what it is, this meant a lot of “sweeteners” had to be offered to entice the league up to the deep freeze of Minnesota in the middle of winter. (Full disclosure: I’ve never been to Minnesota in winter, so maybe I’m just being swayed by pro-winter propaganda, but I believe it gets a tad cooler in the land of the ten thousand frozen lakes than it does in, say, Miami.)

“Draw Play” Dave Rappoccio admits he’s a bit late to this story, but I rather liked it anyway:

Click to see the full cartoon

Click to see the full cartoon

Again, older news that I never got to, but deserved a joke.

Has anyone actually looked up the requirements for cities to host the Super Bowl? The NFL is shameless in how is screws cities over and I can’t believe cities sign up for it.

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