Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Copyright violation, expenses claims, crooks and statistics.

"Copyright violation" otherwise known as "sharing" is the new frontier in equality of opportunity. Throughout human history groups of people in positions of power and in possession of wealth have used their power and wealth to keep control over their power and wealth.

Of course Apple don't want people to be able to modify their iPhones (see today's New York Times) because it sets them free from Apple's control over their invented market for iPhone apps.

Of course it is easy to point out the inconsistencies in the arguments of heroes like Pirate Bay but fundamentally there is something solid behind what they and many similars are doing. The issue is that when it costs nothing to provide someone with a copy of some digital information, how is it that you justify charging for it? How do you justify charging for something that costs nothing?

Of course credit where its due. Give unto Ceasar etc.

Of course it is right that music makers and all creative and productive people who are making the world a better place get rewarded for their creative and productive output. It is harder to see why Elton or Sting or Mick or Simon need my £ 1 pound per iTune download, when they are sitting on pots of money between £175 and £300 million each.

Meanwhile in the UK, elected members of parliament are being shamed into paying back money for thousands of pounds of questionable expense claim items one as much as £41,709. It isn't just one party. Pretty much across the board every elected MP in the UK parliament is having to pay back something... here are some leading conservative members of parliament with questionable expense claims. All of this only came to light because of new freedom of information legislation. Organisations like the Campaign for Freedom of Information kept pointing out that UK MPs had created legislation that forces disclosure of information by public authorities but then had excluded themselves from its remit - And we had to ask the question: on what grounds were they excluded? Freedom of information really gets to the heart of the matter here. Making information free has the effect of levelling the playing field between the poor and disenfranchised on the one hand and the rich and powerful on the other. In a way, what is known as "copyright violation" is really just another kind of freeing up of information, and the outcome of this kind of sharing of information points in the same direction as other kinds of freedom of information.

Stephen Fry is absolutely right that over claiming in the grey area of expense claims is not as important as so much else - not as important as who we're dropping bombs on or selling arms to, or what countries we are invading. However just because most people fiddle their expenses as long as they can get away with it, doesn't make it right. I don't expect politicians to behave any better than other citizens, but I don't think they should be allowed to behave any worse either.

As the Bernard Madoff saga continues to rumble on today the latest is that in the months leading up to his arrest he managed to squirrel away about $12 billion. Something for his family to fall back on after the shit had hit the fan I expect. Madoff was only able to get away with his massive frauds by virtue of his entitlement to keep information away from others.

This guardian article makes it clear that people in the higher echelons of society all have their snouts in the trough. BBC presenters, just as much as politicians. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that given the opportunity to make your own life better at the expense of others, most people will take it. Bankers like Madoff (and there have been several similar cases in recent weeks) are probably only different in that they have more opportunity to make bigger gains at the expense of others, than BBC presenters and politicians.

When times are good, people don't care so much - we all just get on with it. But in tough economic times like the ones we are going through, the selfishness of the affluent people starts to look rather more selfish than it otherwise would.

Less than two months has passed since Sir Fred Goodwin had one of his houses attacked. For those who didn't follow that, Sir Fred is the ex-boss of Royal Bank of Scotland who after managing to incur such enormous losses for his bank that they needed a government bailout, rewarded himself with a huge pension - something around $1.5 million dollars a year (which, since the bailout, is coming out of public money).

Tom Utley in the Daily Mail fails to understand that Fry's point is that lying in the service of warmongering is a worse thing to do than lying about an expense claim. I agree. This does not mean that fiddling your expense claims is ok. It just means that it is not as big a deal as lying in the service of taking our country to war.

I agree with Tom that a lie is a lie - a big lie or a small lie is still a lie. If it is a lie about WMD or a lie about how much rent you're paying its still a lie. However the consequences of a lie maybe that the UK goes to war, or the consequences maybe that Freda Bloggs MP bags a few extra thousand pounds of tax payer money. My thought would be (and I think this was Fry's point as well) that some lies are consequential and some lies are inconsequential. A similar point was made about Bill Clinton lying about not having sex with M.L. Some lies matter (more) and some lies don't (matter as much).

To reiterate my theme: throughout human history groups of people in positions of power and in possession of wealth have used their power and wealth to keep control over their power and wealth. Chief Executive pay, which has been rising steadily over the past decade, compared to everybody else, is just another example.

Meanwhile this is the state of the world...
According to Worldometers realtime statistics regarding the state of the world - you can check their sources -

  • in about 45 years the oil is going to run out, but we're going to have coal and gas for quite a while longer.

  • So far this year (as @ May 13, 2009) almost 17 million abortions, almost 3 million people have died from cancer.

  • So far this year (as @ May 13, 2009) 390,000 people have committed suicide.

  • Right now there are over a billion people with no access to safe drinking water.
These are just a few of the stats that caught my attention... visit the worldometers link above for more interesting statistics. I've no idea how accurate these numbers are, but I have no particular reason to doubt them.

So here is my question: What is important and what is not?


Chris Kent said...

What is important to the BBC is that they they make the news interesting. They want people to watch the news everyday. This means that like all the other media, they are looking for new stories all the time. The result is that we get a very distorted view of what is important in the world and what isn't. If the news was only about starving children in Africa 256 days a year, everybody would give up watching the news. It's the human condition. I think we'd rather hear about how some baby ducks have been saved from a ledge, instead of the latest bomb going off in Iraq. It's sad but true - most of the time we don't want to hear about the really important stuff.

Andrew said...

Thanks for responding Chris. It's nice to know someone is reading my razor sharp analyses of current events! ;-)

And a very interesting point that you make. One of the priorities of news organisations is make "the news" sufficiently interesting that people can be bothered to turn it on. And it's interesting to consider what kind of impact this has on what gets reported and how it gets reported.

I saw the rescuing of baby ducks story on too today. 8-) I liked it. 8-)

Andrew said...

Found this today, which I think contributes something to the discussion of MPs expenses:

Evan Davis on the MP's expense claims issue

Andrew said...

Oh, and here is the summary version of the MP's over-zealous claims.


Andrew said...

MP Anthony Steen at least has the balls to say out loud what many of his MP pals are thinking quietly to themselves. "What right does the public have to interfere with my private life?" Anthony Steen row - see today's BBC news web siteFrom his point of view, the fact that it is being paid for with public money, is irrelevant. So of course is livelihood of the entire civil service and local administration workers (currently about 20% of the UK workforce are "public sector"). As is the livelihood of everyone living on benefit and claiming housing benefit.

From Mr. Steen's point of view, the fact that he has managed to play the system better than those others entitles him to everything he gets. 8-)

Andrew said...

At least the whole MP expenses scandal is giving people something to laugh about... here is more from Evan Davis on today program today, not being able to control his laughter in response to an MP's justification for the necessity of his expense claim for his duck house.

Andrew said...

Sorry to keep going on about this, but there is so much to this story. Here is a clip from Question Time which mentions someone who was sacked by MPs for previously doing their job too well in vetted MPs expenses. . The independent reported how Ms Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, lost her job back in 2001