Quotulatiousness

November 4, 2013

Law, the military, and the media

Filed under: Britain, Law, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:23

Sir Humphrey debunks a recent story in the Telegraph which makes a big deal about the British military hiring more lawyers at the same time as they are disbanding front-line units:

The Forces have always needed effective legal support, and arguably the tiny number of military lawyers provides an utterly vital capability. Its not just about the provision of support to people who understand the arcane intricacies of a military law system which is very complex, and very different to our normal law — though this is extremely important. It’s about the provision of people who bring a vital advisory role to Commanders on the ground, and the wider MOD.

[...]

Similarly, once the direct fighting is over, UK troops often find themselves operating in a very strange environment — one only has to look at Iraq in the aftermath of the initial war fighting phase to realise that its not a clear cut place to operate. The advice offered by in theatre legal personnel can often make a huge difference in helping commanders understand their freedom to operate, and what genuine constraints may affect them. For instance, on a single tour in Iraq, units may have found themselves conducting everything from searches, checking for IEDS, detaining known individuals through deliberate operations, and then engaging in combat — quite possibly in the same day. The requirement for modern troops to adapt very quickly to all manner of situations places a huge burden on them — it is important that they get the best possible guidance to know they are acting correctly. Certainly in this authors experience on both TELIC and HERRICK, the LEGAD advice was often one of the most critical parts of any potential operation.

The same lawyers provide vital services back home — in the Royal Navy for instance, there are a range of in house experts on the Law of the Sea, international maritime disputes and territorial waters and the like. This may sound questionable, but when the RN is daily conducting counter piracy and counter narcotics operations across the globe, or sailing in possible maritime flashpoints where different nations have very different interpretations of maritime boundaries, having a good legal understanding on hand of the art of the possible is absolutely vital.

September 19, 2013

Latest online piracy study shows the problem is Hollywood

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

Techdirt‘s Mike Masnick shows that the data in the most recent study of online piracy (funded by NBC Universal) clearly shows that the real reason for piracy is Hollywood’s unwillingness or inability to learn:

While we already discussed the MPAA’s questionable new study trying to pin the blame for infringement on Google, MPAA member NBC Universal has released its “Digital Piracy Universe” study as well. This study was done by NetNames, the company formerly known as Envisional, which basically released a very similar study two and a half years ago. Matt Schruers, over at CCIA, does a nice job explaining some of the more questionable aspects of the methodology. However, we’d like to focus on something a bit more basic: the study’s own numbers don’t seem to support what NBC Universal seems to think it does. More specifically, as we noted with the last study, the results actually suggest piracy is Hollywood’s own damn fault. This isn’t just our interpretation either. The guy who wrote both studies, David Price, basically said the same thing right before SOPA died (he argued that the bills were a bad idea).

Once again, it’s not difficult to see why the problem is Hollywood’s with one simple chart:

Online piracy and Netflix

Basically, in the US, where Netflix has come up with a model that many people find to be reasonably priced and convenient enough, the rate of things like BitTorrent usage falls in comparison.

September 10, 2013

China’s historical model for naval strategy

Filed under: China, History, Middle East, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

At The Diplomat, James Holmes explains the odd fact that China is a “good citizen” in their coalition work with other countries fighting piracy away from home, but bullies its neighbours in the waters closer to home:

The analogy is the doctrine of “no peace beyond the line” practiced in late Renaissance Europe. To recap: in a nifty bit of collective doublethink, European rulers struck up a compact whereby nations could remain at peace in Europe, avoiding the hardships of direct conflict, while assailing each other mercilessly beyond a mythical boundary separating Europe from the Americas. In practice this meant they raided each other’s shipping and outposts in the greater Caribbean Sea and its Atlantic approaches.

It feels as though an inverse dynamic is at work in the Indo-Pacific theater. Naval powers cooperate westward of the line traced by the Malay Peninsula, Strait of Malacca, and Indonesian archipelago. Suspicions pockmarked by occasional confrontation predominate east of the South China Sea rim, a physical — rather than imaginary — line dividing over there from home ground.

A non-Renaissance European, Clausewitz, helps explain why seafaring powers can police the Gulf of Aden in harmony while feuding over the law of the sea in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It’s because the mission is apolitical. Counterpiracy is the overriding priority for the nations that have dispatched vessels to the waters off Somalia. Few if any of them have cross-cutting interests or motives that might disrupt the enterprise. It’s easy to work together when the partners bring little baggage to the venture.

[...]

You see where I’m going with this. The expedition to the Gulf of Aden is an easy case. It proves a trivial result, namely that rivals can collaborate for mutual gain when they have the same interests in an endeavor. Now plant yourself in East Asia and survey the strategic terrain within the perimeter separating the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. China views the South China Sea, to name one contested expanse, not as a commons but as offshore territory. Indeed, Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty” there.

Such pretensions grate on Southeast Asian states, while the United States hopes to rally coalitions and partnerships to oversee the commons. But if Beijing is serious about the near seas’ constituting “blue national soil” — and our Chinese friends are nothing if not sincere — then outsiders policing these waters must look like invaders. How else would you regard foreign constables or armies roaming your soil — even for praiseworthy reasons — without so much as a by-your-leave?

South China Sea claims

July 25, 2013

Hard times for Somalia’s pirates

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:56

Strategy Page on the plight of a number of kidnapped ship crews in the hands of Somali pirates and the hard times those pirates are facing themselves:

Somalia is a sad place and one of the saddest tragedies ever is being played out where pirates in the north are holding 40 sailors and several ramshackle ships that no one will pay a ransom for. These are seagoing fishing boats and small freighters owned by small operators with no insurance to cover ransoms and not enough cash, or inclination, to pay what the pirates demand. The negotiators (who work for the pirates) have explained all this to the pirate chiefs, who are facing hard times themselves and stubbornly refuse to face the fact that they will never get anything for these 40 sailors and their ramshackle ships (one of which recently sank at anchor). Just killing the remaining prisoners (some held for three years) and sinking the ships risks retribution from the anti-piracy patrol off shore. Countries the prisoners are from have been pressured to pay ransom, but all of them adhere to the “no negotiating with terrorists” code. There is growing pressure on the pirates to simply release the unwanted prisoners on “humanitarian grounds” and at least get some good press out of this mess. That’s a bitter solution for the pirates, who have not captured a ship that could be ransomed in over a year. Several pirate gangs have disbanded and those still around have shrunk and cut the payroll considerably.

The big time piracy is largely out of business because warship patrols and better security aboard large ships passing Somalia has made it nearly impossible to seize these vessels. Holding ships for ransom only worked initially because Somalia, a state without a government since 1991, provided small ports on the coast of East Africa where pirates could bring the merchant ships they had captured, and keep them there, safe from rescue attempts, until a ransom could be negotiated.

[...]

Pirates usually function on the margins of society, trying to get a cut of the good life in situations where there aren’t many options. This is usually in areas where state control is weakest or absent, in failing and “flailed” states (a flailing state is something like Nigeria, Indonesia, or the Philippines, where the government is managing to just barely keep things together, unlike a failed state such as Somalia, where there isn’t any government at all).

The solution to piracy is essentially on land, where you go into uncontrolled areas and institute some law and order and remove the pirate safe havens. This has been the best approach since the Romans eliminated piracy in the Mediterranean over 2,000 years ago. Trying to tackle piracy just on the maritime end can reduce the incidence of piracy but can’t eliminate it. In the modern world the “land” solution often can’t be implemented. Who wants to put enough troops into Somalia to eliminate piracy? And flailing states are likely to be very sensitive about their sovereignty if you offer to help them control marginal areas.

A new industry has developed that attempts to “pirate proof” ships operating off Somalia. The most successful (and most expensive) technique is to put a small number of armed guards on each ship. That, and warship patrols, has greatly reduced piracy off East Africa (Somalia). But off West Africa (especially the Gulf of Guinea) the piracy threat is growing because pirates have found ways to get more valuables off ships before security forces (police, coast guard, or navy) can show up.

March 11, 2013

Chris Kluwe on the PR disaster that was the SimCity 5 launch

Filed under: Business, Gaming — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

In addition to his “day job” as the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, and his public advocacy role in pushing for same-sex marriage, Chris Kluwe is also a gamer. In this latter persona, he was invited to review the new SimCity 5 release from EA games on behalf of PC Gamer. Business Insider had to bleep out a fair bit of raw Kluwe-ism in the aftermath:

Hi. I’m Chris. I’ve been playing SimCity ever since the Super Nintendo version, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the franchise (SimCity 3000 is my favorite). Thus, when PC Gamer came to me and said “Hey Chris! We want you to play the new SimCity 5 with us in our Celebrity SimCity region,” I wasted no time in responding with a resounding “Hell yeah!”

I mean, what could go wrong?

(Other than the inevitable giant lizards, meteor showers, and poor sewage planning that happen in every SimCity game)

[. . .]

At the time of writing this piece, SimCity 5 has been active for almost 62 hours. Of those 62 hours, I’ve been able to log in for around ten. Of those ten, four consisted of massive latency issues and corrupted games, so (quick calculation here), I’ve had access to the actual game for maybe 10 percent of the time I’ve had it. EA’s servers are, to put it bluntly, utterly bug[redacted], and there’s no option to play the game offline.

Therein lies the heart of my problem. SimCity is, at its heart, a single player game. Having access to other players’ cities is cool, but I want to build MY city, and I don’t want some [redacted], totally unnecessary “always on” DRM to keep me from playing the game (full disclosure: PC Gamer was kind enough to provide me with a download code for the game, so you can only imagine my rage levels if I had actually put money into EA’s pockets for this “experience”).

And now the math:

Sadly, EA seems to have failed to do some very simple math. Let’s look at an example. We’ll assume that for an amazingly successful game like SimCity, about 20,000 people will end up pirating it (those who have the technical knowhow and Internet savvy to find a working crack). I have 160,000 Twitter followers, of whom around 50,000 follow me for gaming. I just told those 50,000 people NOT to buy SimCity because EA cannot handle its s***, and the game is unplayable. We’ll say half those people listen to me and haven’t bought the game already. Soooo, carrying the pi, we see that EA is already out 5,000 more sales than if they had just created a normal, single player offline capable game with multiplayer components.

(Don’t forget, “always on” DRM also screws over people who don’t have access to Internet for large periods of time, like rural areas and travelers. More lost sales!)

In addition to the bad PR of a terrible launch experience, EA is also reportedly refusing to process refunds to purchasers despite having made this an explicit promise in their pre-release information package.

February 23, 2013

QotD: “Cultural Sovereignty” (aka piracy)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:52

Canada originally became one of the most wire-cabled countries in the world because of the insatiable and inviolable addiction of English-speaking Canadians to American programming. To salvage a television industry in Canada, the regulators approved the acquisition of American programming by Canadian channels, which would simulcast them with the networks by or for which they were produced. The Canadian channels were authorized to sell and insert their own advertising on those American programs. This practice, outright piracy in fact, was justified by Canadian media executives as an exercise in “cultural sovereignty” when they appeared before U.S. congressional committees.

Conrad Black, “Opening up the must-carry spectrum”, National Post, 2013-02-23

January 30, 2013

“The only people [DRM] annoys are the ones who have [acquired] legal copies”

Filed under: Business, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:12

At Techdirt, Glyn Moody explains why the attempt to add DRM to the HTML5 standard is doomed to failure:

You would have thought by now that people would understand that DRM is not only a bad idea, but totally unnecessary: Apple dropped DRM from music downloads in 2009 and seems to be making ends meet. Despite these obvious truths, the stupidity that is DRM continues to spread. Here, for example, is a particularly stupid example of DRM stupidity, as revealed by Manu Sporny:

    A few days ago, a new proposal was put forward in the HTML Working Group (HTML WG) by Microsoft, Netflix, and Google to take DRM in HTML5 to the next stage of standardization at W3C.

After all, this is exactly what Web users have been crying out for: “just give us DRM for the Web, and our lives will be complete….”

[. . .]

That clearly implies that when people are not sharing their own content with family and friends, then they are indeed adversaries:

    This “user is not an adversary” text can be found in the first question about use cases. It insinuates that people that listen to radio and watch movies online are potential adversaries. As a business owner, I think that’s a terrible way to frame your customers.

    Thinking of the people that are using the technology that you’re specifying as “adversaries” is also largely wrong. 99.999% of people using DRM-based systems to view content are doing it legally. The folks that are pirating content are not sitting down and viewing the DRM stream, they have acquired a non-DRM stream from somewhere else, like Mega or The Pirate Bay, and are watching that.

This is the fundamental reason why DRM is doomed and should be discarded: the only people it annoys are the ones who have tried to support creators by acquiring legal copies. How stupid is that?

Pirates_vs_Paying_Customers_full

January 24, 2013

Pirate attacks down off Somali coast, but rising in the Gulf of Guinea

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:23

Strategy Page counts the number of attacks by pirates in two hotspots around Africa:

Piracy attacks were down last year, returning to 2007 levels. The greatest reductions occurred off Somalia, where more effective anti-pirate patrols and escort operations made it very difficult for the pirates to even get close to merchant ships. When pirates did close in, the crews were better equipped and trained to get away. Many ships now carry some armed guards when off Somalia, who can shoot back (much more accurately) if the pirates get too close. No ship with armed guards has been taken.

Last year there were 75 pirate attacks on large ships off Somalia, compared to 237 in 2011. Last year pirates took 14 ships, compared to 28 in 2011. It’s been more than six months since pirates have taken a ship off Somalia and several large pirate gangs have simply gone out of business. Others have switched to smuggling people from Africa to Yemen. That business is booming.

There has been more piracy off the west coast of Africa, where there were 58 incidents last year. Most of this has been taking place in the Gulf of Guinea where the pirates have become bolder and are hijacking ships (which they mainly take only long enough to steal the cargo). This is not a new trend (it has long been common in Asia) but it is new for West Africa.

January 19, 2013

Which is preferable: pirates or bandits?

Filed under: Government, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:56

Tim Harford gives a history lesson while answering the question of which is better:

Consider two different types of bandit, suggested Olson: the roving bandit, who wanders around pillaging wherever he can; and the stationary bandit, who builds a castle and settles down to exploit a particular area. At first glance, one might think that a stationary bandit is the greater curse, because he’s always around. But not so: roving bandits are more dangerous because they have no reason to hold back. A roving bandit will take everything and leave you dead. The stationary bandit wants to come back and take more next week, and so will ensure you have the resources to keep going about your business.

Because you have everything to fear from the roving bandit, you are likely to take your own steps to avoid him — to hide, to place locks and alarms on everything, or to hire a group of seven samurai to protect you. Meanwhile, anticipating your counter-measures, the roving bandit will also spend resources on his counter-counter-measures. The cost of such arms races can be vast.

[. . .]

Besley and his colleagues reckon that costs of between $900m and $3.6bn were incurred in 2010 as a result either of pirate attacks, or efforts to deter or evade such attacks. Meanwhile the pirates took home just $120m over the same period. Now that $120m does seem to have had some beneficial effects on the pirates’ home ports, according to Anja Shortland, an economist at Brunel University. But piracy is an expensive way to get $120m into the hands of anybody.

There are signs that Somali piracy is on the wane, at least for now. But Somalia remains the poster child for a failed state. And a good working definition of a failed state is one that lacks a decent, long-lived stationary bandit. After all, once a stationary bandit feels secure in his tenure (“long live the king!”) he may do more than show restraint in his plunder: he may begin to invest in the prosperity of the region he dominates, building bridges, establishing a police force and drawing up laws. To maintain his power base he will have to hand out favours and ensure that prosperity is reasonably widespread.

December 27, 2012

Captives in longest hijack freed after nearly three years

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

The crew of the Iceberg 1 are now free, after enduring the longest pirate kidnapping in modern history:

How’s this for a seasonal tale to warm the hearts? After almost three years in captivity, the crew of the Iceberg 1, a cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, are home after finally being rescued.

For the benefit of those who haven’t followed the story — and there are probably plenty, as it’s had only scant coverage — the Iceberg 1 was captured back in March 2010, and has languished in pirate custody ever since.

As we reported back in the summer, the ship essentially fell between two stools. Its Dubai-based owner, who appears not to have been insured, refused to pay a ransom for it and simply went to ground, ignoring pleas for help from the hostages’ families.

Meanwhile, the governments representing the different sailors on board — six Indians, nine Yemenis, four Ghanaians, two Sudanese, two Pakistanis and one Filipino — were either unable or unwilling to mount a rescue attempt. So, too,was the multinational anti-piracy force, which generally prefers hijacked ships to be freed by ransom, on the basis that freeing sailors by force carries too much risk of casualties.

November 18, 2012

Avoiding Somali pirates

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:21

Strategy Page sums up the advice being provided to crews of merchant ships passing the Somali coast:

A decade of dealing with the Somali pirates has motivated merchant ships to adopt policies that make life very difficult for the pirates. To aid this process the NATO anti-piracy patrol emails advice to ships entering areas where pirates are active. The advice is based on experience with what works best to avoid getting captured by the pirates. If a vessel is captured, it costs the shipping companies (that own the vessel) millions of dollars, and it means the crew spends months (even a year or more) held captive on their own ship, often in squalid conditions. There is also the risk of injury, sickness or death, not to mention beatings and lack of medical care. So the crews have plenty of incentive to follow the advice.

The first item of advice is to keep a sharp lookout all the time. Radar will often reveal the larger mother ships, but the smaller speedboats carrying the pirate boarding party can only been seen by lookouts. If possible, supply these men with night-vision equipment. The pirates like to attack at night.

Stay away from unidentified ships, especially the small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships the pirates like to seize and use as mother ships. The pirates will not be able to deceive a determined identification attempt and the email advice gives plenty of tips on how to tell who is a pirate. If you identify a nearby ship as one seized by pirates, radio the anti-piracy patrol to check it out. Many mother ships are put out of action that way.

Avoid stopping at night, as this makes you a perfect target for pirate attack. When stopped at night use only the minimum number of navigation lights and otherwise keep the ship as dark as possible. If you must stop (usually outside a port) make sure the lookouts are alert and keep crew ready to quickly start the engines. Large ships can outrun and out maneuver pirates in their speed boats, but only if the larger ship is moving.

The anti-piracy patrol has also issued a list of things to look for when you see small wooden cargo ships and ocean going fishing ships and want to know if they have been taken over by pirates. The list describes the many telltale signs that these small ships have been turned into mother ships (and this reportable to the anti-piracy patrol).

September 24, 2012

US Navy works with Chinese Navy ship for anti-piracy exercise

Filed under: Africa, China, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:07

This is an unusual arrangement, but it makes sense in the larger picture:

The U.S. Navy and the Chinese Navy conducted their first joint anti-piracy drill. A Chinese frigate (the 4,000 ton Type 54A Yiyang) and an American destroyer (the 8,200 ton Burke class Churchill) carried out several training operations over five hours. This included joint use of communications as well as boarding and onboard search procedures. This was done in the Gulf of Aden, off Somalia.

While there was some PR angle to this, the crews of the two ships did get a useful look at how the other side operates. More to the point, it was a useful drill in the event that Chinese and American warships found themselves dealing with the same bunch of Somali pirates. Both sides will distribute what was learned throughout their respective fleets.

All this is part of a trend. China is becoming more inclined to work with ships from other nations patrolling the pirate infested waters off Somalia. Earlier this year, for example, China, India, and Japan agreed to have their warships off the Somali coast coordinate operations to more efficiently protect civilian ships in the area. Chinese and Indian warships have been operating independently off Somalia, while Japanese ships have been operating with Task Force 151. Most warships on anti-piracy duty belong to TF 151. Most of the remainder work with EUNFS (European Union Naval Force Somalia). But some nations continue to operate independently, more or less. In these cases there is always some communication, coordination, and sharing of information with TF 151 and EUNFS.

August 30, 2012

Piracy’s latest hotspot

Filed under: Africa, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

We’re all aware of the piracy problems along the east coast of Africa, but the west coast is also experiencing a resurgence of pirates:

Piracy has been making a comeback in the last decade. This was initially because Somalia, a state without a government, provided small ports on the coast of East Africa where pirates could bring the merchant ships they had captured, and keep them there, safe from rescue attempts, until a ransom could be negotiated. Now, off West Africa, pirates have come up with another angle. These pirates, believed to be only one well-organized gang at the moment, target small oil tankers operating in the Gulf of Guinea (where Nigeria and its neighbors have oil fields). The pirates quickly board and seize control of a tanker at night. The crew is locked up in an internal space and the tracking devices are disabled. Then the tanker is taken to rendezvous with another tanker, which takes the oil from the hijacked tanker, along with the pirates and their other loot and makes for a port where oil brokers willing to buy stolen oil (at a steep discount) take the pirated cargo, pay the pirates and perhaps tip the pirates off on another small tanker that could be hit.

The hijacked tanker was stripped of portable items of value and then set adrift, where it would soon be found and the crew released. Normally, pirates attack merchant ships anchored near the coast grab all the valuable portables and take off. This is considered armed robbery, although some pirates will kidnap a few of the ships officers and hold them for ransom. But this requires a good hideout and more resources. The pirates who steal oil cargoes require even more technical organization and connections. But because the payoff is so high (millions of dollars for a stolen oil tanker cargo), a growing number of skilled gangsters are being attracted to the business.

All this is something of a piracy revival. Piracy hit a trough from the late nineteenth century into the later twentieth. That was because the Great Powers had pretty much divided up the whole planet, and then policed it. Piracy began to revive in a modest way beginning in the 1970s, with the collapse of many post-colonial regimes.

May 30, 2012

New in the battle against Somali pirates: private convoys

Filed under: Africa, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

At the BBC News site, Martin Plaut reports on the latest attempt to quell piracy off the shores of Somalia:

Off the pirate-infested waters of Somalia, a new force is taking shape.

The private company Typhon is preparing to operate alongside the world’s navies, offering protection to cargo vessels sailing around the Horn of Africa.

But unlike other private security firms which put guards on board other people’s ships, it will offer vessels of its own.

The chief executive of Typhon, Anthony Sharpe, says the plan is to rendezvous with cargo ships which sign up for their protection and form them into a convoy.

The company says it will establish what it is describing as an exclusion zone of one kilometre around the ships.

The company is buying three boats, which are currently being fitted out in Singapore.

Each of its craft will have up to 40 security officers, drawn from former British Royal Marines, as well as a crew of 20.

The ships will be fitted with machine guns and the staff will have rifles.

April 20, 2012

Reason.tv: Too Much Copyright

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:45

“This disconnect between the public’s view of copyright and fair use and what should and should not be prosecuted, versus the ‘copyright maximist’ view of the law, is our generation’s Prohibition,” says Ben Huh, CEO and founder of Cheezburger and a loud voice in the recent backlash to SOPA and PIPA, two congressional bills aimed at curbing internet piracy.

Copyright exists to “promote the useful arts” according to the Constitution. But is it still doing that? And should the government protect so-called “intellectual property” in the same way it protects other forms of property? Reason.tv posed these questions to Ben Huh, as well as a professor and a movie studio representative.

Tom Bell, a law professor specializing in property law, has serious reservations about attempts by groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to equate property and copyright through ad campaigns admonishing viewers with messages like, “You wouldn’t steal a car. Downloading pirated movies is stealing.”

“As soon as we start using [the word] ‘copyright’ for ‘property,’ we start taking less seriously our property rights for things like cars and houses,” says Bell. “When you steal a candy bar or a car, you’ve left somebody without something to eat or something to drive.”

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