Seeing the world as a social scientist vs. as a nationalist

When mass protests against corruption and economic privation began erupting in Venezuela last year, followed by brutal police crackdowns and the disappearing and killing of protesters by government forces and government-backed militias, I naively thought the American Left might take an interest in the protesting side. After all, they were mainly young people upset at the system that was failing them, and the protests seemed to have evolved organically throughout large parts of the country. It didn’t seem to matter how the American Left had approved of Hugo Chávez, cautiously in pockets and enthusiastically in other pockets, for 15 years. After all, Chávez was dead, and it wouldn’t have lost them too much face to declare that his successor, Nicolás Maduro, had betrayed the revolution. Killing peaceful protesters is usually enough to establish bad guy status. Though Maduro was a Chávez disciple and largely continued his policies, it didn’t seem to be asking much to say that some kind of tide had turned.
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But no, where there was a reaction at all it was to point out that one of the major opposition figures, Leopoldo López, was alleged to have links with the CIA. (It is difficult to confidently pinpoint exactly what these links involved, but I am not disputing the major theme.) Thus the argument implicitly ran that what appeared to be an organic social movement was secretly being orchestrated or at least manipulated by the CIA and thus was not eligible for sympathy or support. López turned himself in to avoid being labeled as the mastermind and tarnishing the rest of the movement, and he remains incarcerated at present.
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Though my frustration with the Left continues, I should have been prepared for the disappointment. After all, this phenomenon has happened time and time again. Orwell began his essay “Notes on Nationalism” with
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Somewhere or other Byron makes use of the French word longeur, and remarks in passing that though in England we happen not to have the word, we have the thing in considerable profusion. In the same way, there is a habit of mind which is now so widespread that it affects our thinking on nearly every subject, but which has not yet been given a name. As the nearest existing equivalent I have chosen the word ‘nationalism’, but it will be seen in a moment that I am not using it in quite the ordinary sense, if only because the emotion I am speaking about does not always attach itself to what is called a nation — that is, a single race or a geographical area. It can attach itself to a church or a class, or it may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. …

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In this case, of course, the “nationalism” I refer to is loyalty and emotional attachment to the global “progressive” movement, many of whose goals I share. Because Chávez was considered (by many) to be part of this movement and Maduro is his handpicked successor, the attachment extends to the Venezuelan government of 2014–2015, i.e. the regime that is still causing economic disaster and beating, disappearing, and killing protesters.
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But why is it that so few people seem to be capable of nuance or complexity in politics? It is entirely possible for one to believe, for example, that Chávez did a lot of bad things while with the other hand doing a lot of good things. One can also believe that the CIA is generally up to no good and hence its support of López taints him while also believing that López might locally be considered a legitimate political leader who is preferable to Maduro. This mindset makes sense to me, and it’s not unfamiliar to most people in the US, where the majority of this blog’s readers reside. Take Thomas Jefferson. Most of us can agree that (a) Jefferson had a lot of good, important, insightful ideas about how governments should be run, and at the same time that (b) his advocacy of and personal involvement in the system of chattel slavery are completely despicable, especially given that he seemed in his more lucid moments to have known better. Why is applying this framework to current events and people so uncommon?Clearance Oakley sunglasses

This Month in IP Insanity (January 2015)

In keeping with my new monthly feature, here is this past month’s IP news:

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  1. We know Tom Petty won’t back down. He just won a lawsuit against Sam Smith for infringing Petty’s copyrights on the song “Stay With Me,” requiring Smith to give Petty royalties. This is the third time Petty has sued someone for copyright infringement over similar sounding songs. Perhaps it is because Petty’s music is so fundamental as a building block for Rock n’ Roll that everything starts sounding the same. Either way, looks like Tom Petty is okay with free fallin’, not so much free ridin’.
  2. Not quite a story on the intellectual property wars, but I find it relevant. A Harvard Ph.D student had a manuscript of complete gibberish (literally written with Random Text Generator) accepted in seventeen medical journals. Granted, they are lower-tier journals who spam out email solicitations, and he would have to pay $500 to “process” them, so this isn’t Nature or the New England Journal of Medicine. His paper is entitled “Cuckoo for cocoa puffs? The surgical and neoplastic role of cacao extract in breakfast cereals” and you can read the whole “paper” at the link. Reminds me of the heroic Sokal affair.
  3. Another offbeat story but I find it interesting, television producers no longer focus on the first season as a metric for deciding to produce future seasons. With more people cutting cords, binge watching on their own schedule, and simply waiting for word of mouth to rate shows they’ve “gotta see,” the real money is now in the second season.
  4. If you needed a new casebook study of what was once an innovative industry giant turning to rent-seeking and the political process once they lose their competitive edge, look no further than BlackBerry (formerly RIM). The company wants Congress to pass a law mandating that all app developers must develop a BlackBerry version to go with the more popular iOS and Android versions. Their argument? We should broaden the definition of “net neutrality” to “application neutrality,” meaning developers should be forced to produce for all platforms, no matter how irrelevant and obsolete, in the name of openness. Maybe BlackBerry forgot about the Open Source movement.
  5. As if they were trying to make it harder for me to begrudgingly root for them tomorrow, the Seattle Seahawks are trying to trademark the words “boom,” “go hawks,” and the number “12.”
  6. Taylor Swift, who is transforming me into a hater for her views on music, is trying to trademark “this sick beat” and other catchphrases from her 1989 album, like “Party Like It’s 1989.”  Do people say even that?
  7. Yet another trademark story, this time it’s the MPAA who forced a local Minneapolis brewer to stop selling “Rated R” beer. Apparently, as long as the beer contained the trademarked word ‘rated’ it would still be liable, according to the MPAA. Frankly I don’t really see how consumers are likely to be confused, deceived, or mistaken about the source of the goods or services. Does the MPAA even sell beer?
  8. Torrentfreak posted a link to a new art project out of Australia, Pirate Cinema, which livestreams a collage of videos that people are streaming simultaneously on Bittorent. If you want to try to watch 3 or 4 movies at the same time, try this.
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  10. A revealing natural experiment in Norway. From 2009-2014, Norwegians under 30 dramatically stopped illegally downloading music, from 80% of those surveyed saying they did download, to just 4%. Yet, in that same period, despite the collapse of music piracy (mostly due to legal streaming services), Norwegian music revenues increased just 1.5% in nominal terms (likely negative when including inflation). Maybe piracy isn’t the real problem in the media industries?
  11. Lastly, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the Pirate Bay is back. It’s apparent return will disrupt the innovation and competition that’s been going on between spinoffs and rivals like Kickass Torrents and isoHunt, the latter of which recently offered $100,000 to the old Pirate Bay’s most active contributors to boost its publicity. Also, apparently not all of the former TPB staff are happy about TPB’s return.
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This Month in IP Insanity

Partially because it’s too difficult to keep up with complete and snarky commentary every time there is a development or anecdote of intellectual property’s use and abuse, and partially because it seems more asinine and important when these anecdotes are collected together, I will start a monthly (maybe weekly in the future) list of IP developments. In this past month:nike air jordan 16

  1. Keurig automatic coffee machines copyrighted their coffee packets and implemented DRM software to ensure that no non-Keurig-licensed coffee packets can be used. In response, copyright hacktivists uploaded a video detailing a simple fix to trick the machine into accepting generic coffee, to some appropriate music.
  2. As part of an obvious ploy for protectionism, the Spanish government passed a new law requiring Google to pay domestic content producers to include their content (local news). Google announced it would cancel its Spanish news service. The rest of Europe, struggling to keep up with U.S. tech firm dominance, is paying close attention to the results. Speaking of which…
  3. This is from November, but important for its sheer ridiculousness: Taking a photo of the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris at night is a criminal violation of copyright. During the day, you’re good. Good thing international copyright law is becoming increasingly based off of the French conceptions of copyright…
  4. NASA recently emailed a wrench to the International Space Station. “Emailing,” means emailing the design for the wrench, which was fed into and printed from a 3D printer in the ISS. How long until consumers have 3D printers, and the copyrights and copyfights over the “blueprints” become the next legal arena?
  5. In the aftermath of the Sony hack attack, we find out that the company itself violates copyright while producing movies, and would face the same punishment as a pimply teenager downloading a few songs. The system works!
  6. Apple has recently patented a “pen-like device” indicating they may try to get into the note-taking business.
  7. We find out that Miley Cyrus’ famous “Party in the USA” was actually written by Jessie J, who was able to pay her bills for 3 years with the rights to those transcendent lyrics.
  8. The big kahuna, the galactic haven for filesharers, the Pirate Bay has been taken down after a raid by Swedish police. The actual domain remains online, with a pirate flag waving defiantly along with a clock counting the days since the raid. Of course when you take down one head of the Hydra, two more appear, though it’s anyone’s guess which ones are good and not malware-plagued. TPB themselves finally made a statement saying their future is uncertain, but their original task was accomplished, hopefully a new and better system can take its place. They opened up the source and made it freely available to all, so that millions of people can make their own “Open bay.”
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  10. And, what else is new, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show of 2014.
  11. If you’re a more legal minded court-follower, here’s a list of the top 10 major IP cases of 2014 from someone more qualified than me.

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