Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Wikipedia is doing the right thing on SOPA and PIPA

Today, with the closure of one of the internet's richest resources. the English-speaking world stands greatly impoverished. In protest against two proposed bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate (the 'Stop Online Piracy Act' (SOPA) and the 'Protect IP Act' (PIPA) respectively), the English-language version of Wikipedia has taken itself offline for 24 hours. [That includes the Wikipedia links in this post, lest ye take the open internet for granted — ed.]

The provisions put forward in SOPA and PIPA enable the closing down and harassment of websites (not even necessarily located in the US) on the flimsiest of pretences: government censorship masquerading as copyright protection. But what exactly makes the laws so odious? There are four key, objectionable provisions, all of which are ripe for manipulation by rent-seeking parties (summarised from this link):

1. The Anti-Circumvention Provision, allowing the US government to close sites who offer advise on merely circumventing censorship mechanisms;

2. The “Vigilante” Provision, which would grant immunity from prosecution to internet service providers who pre-emptively block potentially offending sites, leaving them inherently vulnerable to pressures from a host of interested parties;

3. The Corporate Right of Action, enabling copyright holders to obtain an unopposed court order which would cut off foreign websites from payment processors and advertisers;

4. Expanded Attorney General Powers: therein giving the Attorney General the power to block any domain name and have their results barred from search engines: they would effectively cease to exist.

You don't need to be a rabid libertarian to realise both SOPA and PIPA are anathema to a society which readily proclaims its commitment to spreading liberal democracy; an integral part of which is the freedom of expression. After all, western nations have waged war purportedly in support of 'freedom' and regularly (this time rightly) criticise those nations which continually suppress freedom of expression online.

On their own turf however, governments seem evermore reluctant to allow the internet to remain the vital bastion of freedom that it is. Away from the stifling proclamations of state broadcasters and the mass media, the internet has revolutionised Joe Bloggs's ability to think independently: little wonder it is increasingly browbeaten from governments worldwide.

Economic consequences must considered too. If a website is to avoid being picked-off by the keen-eyed legal-sharpshooters that would undoubtedly thrive with the passing of these laws, they would have to employ an army of workers to constantly micromanage their site's content: one slip-up and it's potentially 'Game Over'. Who would want to invest in company stifled in a quagmire of draconian legislation, able to be shut down with the hit of 'Enter'? The internet's position as a motor of modern innovation would be seriously jeopardised.



An interview with David Mamet on Israel and Zionism

David Mamet likes to rile people. The playwright who brought street talk from the alleys of Chicago to Broadway, and upset theater-goers with plays about sexual harassment and white-black relations in America, has assumed a new public persona: that of a neoconservative fighter who is out to shatter the "dogma" of the liberal left and defends Israel aggressively.

In his new book, "The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture," published last June, Mamet describes his late political conversion to conservatism and launches a scathing attack on the value system and way of life of those on the left.

"The Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all," he writes. As he sees it, "The Liberal West would like the citizens of Israel to take the only course which would bring about the end of the disturbing 'cycle of violence' ... That course is abandoning their homes and their country ... Is this desire anti-Semitism? You bet your life it is."

In the book, Mamet excoriates the left-wing milieu that was his first political home with the same outspokenness with which the characters in his plays and films speak. Clearly, he is still a master at infuriating the public. "The Secret Knowledge" was vilified upon its publication. The late, uber-journalist Christopher Hitchens, who was himself often criticized for his political zigzags, blasted the book in The New York Times. He described Mamet as "one-dimensional," sloppy about checking his facts and prone to make shallow arguments. "Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating," he observed.

Unfazed, Mamet gave interviews in which he continued to play his self-cast part. Asked by a New York Times reporter whether he wasn't worried about alienating the very people who bought tickets for his plays, he replied, "I've been alienating my public since I was 20-years-old ... of course I'm alienating the public! That's what they pay me for."

A correspondent for the Financial Times was offended at Mamet's characterization of the British establishment as a gang of anti-Semites. "I'm not going to mention names because of your horrendous libel laws, but there are famous dramatists and novelists over there whose works are full of anti-Semitic filth," Mamet said. When the interviewer mentioned Sarah Palin, Mamet snapped, "I am crazy about her." Last month, in an article in The Wall Street Journal about the Iranian nuclear threat, Mamet likened the West's attitude toward Israel to the sacrifice of Isaac, to the ancient rite of sacrificing the beloved son in order to appease the wrath of the gods....

In April 2008, Mamet published an article in The Village Voice about his political turnabout and his shift to the conservative side. The editors titled the piece "Why I Am No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'" - "and all of a sudden, kaboom, half the country won't speak to me anymore. It was immediately embraced by the right, and it was a nice welcoming."

Blogs and magazines tried to figure out what had happened to the admired playwright, who was suddenly sounding like Fox News. Was it because of his age? The money he made from the theater and films? His anger at the so-so reviews? Or his growing support for Israel and his disappointment at the anti-Israel allegations voiced by the left?

"I met some conservatives for the first time in my life four years ago," Mamet relates. "I met them at the synagogue and the main thing that impressed me was their demeanor. They were all so friendly. I was used to the accepted norm for liberal American politics: 'Do you know what those swine did? You know what those sons of bitches did? We know they're fools, liars, charlatans.' People on the right don't talk that way, but they're characterized that way by the left. I was stunned by it."

That got you to reboot your politics?

"That got me to think: what exactly is a democracy, what is self-government, going back to the Constitution, thinking what those guys were actually trying to do and what they accomplished. The answer is, they accomplished a document which has kept a country of 330 million people together for 230 years. It's extraordinary and was done by an understanding of human nature. It's also profoundly influenced by the Torah, because that's what they all read. The New Testament was a vision, and the Old Testament was a guide. That's what America is founded on."

In "The Secret Knowledge," Mamet relates that two of the people who prompted him to rethink his politics were Rabbi Finley, whom he terms "a centrist," and the musician and photographer Endre Balogh, who is a member of the Ohr HaTorah congregation. They gave him the book "White Guilt," by the black conservative Shelby Steele, a fierce opponent of the "victimization" of the African-American community and of affirmative action plans for blacks, and a vocal supporter of Israel.

The book turned Mamet on. The next must-read book was "The Road to Serfdom," a 1944 work by the Austrian-British economist Friedrich Hayek, a Nobel laureate, who was a prophet of free-market capitalism and an enemy of government intervention and socialism. Hayek is revered by Margaret Thatcher and Benjamin Netanyahu. Mamet was even more enthusiastic. "Liberalism is like roulette addiction," he writes in "The Secret Knowledge."

From Rabbi Finley, Mamet learned that a political discussion needs to be conducted on the basis of mutual attentiveness and an examination of the facts. Finley went through the same process before him. He too grew up on the left and became disillusioned as an adult. When he was a child his family lived in a mixed neighborhood in Los Angeles and his parents insisted on staying there on principle, even after most of the whites had left. According to Finley, "Most of our conservatives used to be Democrats. And there's a very familiar trajectory." Above all, he notes, there is disappointment at "dogma and axioms, when a person presents a conclusion as an axiom." Liberals, he says, refuse to even listen to a conservative viewpoint. He styles himself a "moderate Republican."

Mamet, in contrast, makes no effort to portray himself as moderate. He was and remains outspoken. Two and a half years ago, he taught a writing seminar for graduate and undergraduate playwrights and screenwriters at the University of Texas in Austin. According to the participants, he called Muslims terrorists and Arabs pedophiles in the seminar. To students who took him to task he reportedly replied, "Why shouldn't we pick on Arabs? They blew up New York City." The students filed a complaint and asked the university to ban Mamet from the campus. He was supposed to return there a year after the event but, he says, he came down with the flu and did not show up. Mamet mentions the episode in "The Secret Knowledge" as a negative example of liberal education, which revolves around "aggressive identity politics," accusations and slanders. The students, he said, were "young Stalinists."

Much more HERE


An ignored 'disparity'

By Thomas Sowell

With all the talk about "disparities" in innumerable contexts, there is one very important disparity that gets remarkably little attention -- disparities in the ability to create wealth. People who are preoccupied, or even obsessed, with disparities in income are seldom interested much, or at all, in the disparities in the ability to create wealth, which are often the reasons for the disparities in income.

In a market economy, people pay us for benefiting them in some way -- whether we are sweeping their floors, selling them diamonds or anything in between. Disparities in our ability to create benefits for which others will pay us are huge, and the skills required can develop early -- or sometimes not at all.

A recent national competition among high school students who create their own technological advances turned up an especially high share of such students winning recognition in the San Francisco Bay Area. A closer look showed that the great majority of these Bay Area students had Asian names.

Asian Americans are a substantial presence in this region but they are by no means a majority, much less such an overwhelming majority as they are among those winning high tech awards.

This pattern of disproportionate representation of particular groups among those with special skills and achievements is not confined to Asian Americans or even to the United States.

It is a phenomenon among particular racial, ethnic or other groups in countries around the world -- the Ibos in Nigeria, the Parsees in India, the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Germans in Brazil, Chinese in Malaysia, Lebanese in West Africa, Tamils in Sri Lanka. The list goes on and on.

Gross inequalities in skills and achievements have been the rule, not the exception, on every inhabited continent and for centuries on end. Yet our laws and government policies act as if any significant statistical difference between racial or ethnic groups in employment or income can only be a result of their being treated differently by others.

Nor is this simply an opinion. Businesses have been sued by the government when the representation of different groups among their employees differs substantially from their proportions in the population at large. But, no matter how the human race is broken down into its components -- whether by race, sex, geographic region or whatever -- glaring disparities in achievements have been the rule, not the exception.

Anyone who watches professional basketball games knows that the star players are by no means a representative sample of the population at large. The book "Human Accomplishment" by Charles Murray is a huge compendium of the top achievements around the world in the arts and sciences, as well as in sports and other fields.

Nowhere have these achievements been random or representative of the demographic proportions of the population of a country or of the world. Nor have they been the same from one century to the next. China was once far more advanced technologically than any country in Europe, but then it fell behind and more recently is gaining ground.

Most professional golfers who participate in PGA tournaments have never won a single tournament, but Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have each won dozens of tournaments.

Yet these and numerous other disparities in achievement are resolutely ignored by those whose shrill voices denounce disparities in rewards, as if these disparities are somehow suspicious at best and sinister at worst.

Higher achieving groups -- whether classes, races or whatever -- are often blamed for the failure of other groups to achieve. Politicians and intellectuals, especially, tend to conceive of social questions in terms that allow them to take on the role of being on the side of the angels against the forces of evil.

This can be a huge disservice to those individuals and groups who are lagging behind, for it leads them to focus on a sense of grievance and victimhood, rather than on how they can lift themselves up instead of trying to pull other people down.

Again, this is a worldwide phenomenon -- a sad commentary on the down side of the brotherhood of man.




NY: Voter fraud “a normal political tactic” in upstate city: "Michael LoPorto arrived at the Rensselaer County Courthouse in Troy, N.Y. on Tuesday for his trial, which accuses him of being part of a 'massive' voter fraud scheme. The former Democratic city councilman and popular local restaurant owner appeared jaunty and relaxed as he answered a series of questions from Fox News -- despite facing felony allegations that could send him to prison for seven years."

War on drugs keeps badly needed, perfectly legal medicine away from sick people: "Sick people, like those suffering from narcolepsy, are suffering from a manufacturing shortage of Adderall. That shortage was caused by the Drug Enforcement Agency, which controls and limits the supply of Adderall’s ingredients. Denying the obvious, the DEA falsely claims that there is no shortage, and that if there is one, it’s because manufacturers don’t want to make more of the drug, despite the fact that there is plenty of market for the drug."

The ability to fire people creates more and better jobs: "'I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.' By speaking the truth, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney committed the cardinal sin of politics. Look for him to be bludgeoned with this line for the next ten months. Here’s some more truth that sticks in the craw of progressive politicians and the mainstream media. The ability to fire people is absolutely essential to a properly functioning, and therefore growing, economy."

Why the state always fails: "Statists, by and large, have the best of intentions. Having an entity to assist us in our daily trials and tribulations is for them a great boon. It is madness for the statist to conceive of any other situation. But statists overlook a single, important truth about human nature that takes the wind out of their sails if they address it honestly. Statism requires the belief that man can be "improved;" molded into a perfect, replaceable piece of a larger machine. Human nature, for better and/or worse, cannot be changed. Neither can humans and their actions be precisely calculated. "Fairness" and "equality" are mental constructions of minds divorced from reality. The state is an insane attempt to calculate and command inherently chaotic humans and their innumerable individual interactions."



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