June 27, 2005

My friend the "anarchist"

A few days ago I wrote about Bill C-60, the legislation tabled recently in Parliament to reform Canada's Copyright Act.

Amos wrote an e-mail to a group of friends, exhorting us to take up our pens and keyboards (and blogs) against the proposed amendments which favour rights holders over creators and users. With Amos' permission (thanks, Amos!), I thought it would be interesting to share what he wrote. Please take the time to read sobersecondthought's first "guest blogger" and to consider Amos' important call to action.

I went to a digital copyright event hosted by Ottawa U a couple months ago. M.P. Marlene Catterall (chair of the copyright reform committee) was there and it was extremely depressing to see her response to the large number of creators, academics (who are by their nature, creators), and general public in the room. She was defensive and ignorant. She claimed the whole forum was a sham because there were no industry people there to argue the "other side". When I pointed out that the opinions of the panel and audience (who had opportunity to comment and question from microphones) were *all* "seeking balance, as copyright was intended" and that she would have to hear from anarchists to balance out the controls sought by industry, she replied (to me and the university professors, etc around me) "I thought you guys were the anarchists!" before promptly running in the other direction. People laughed, but it was obvious to many that this wasn't a light joke. This was the heart of the matter.

I hope that if you'd like your freedoms to extend into the digital age, that you take up the fight against the nasty parts of this bill. This is unbalancing copyright law in favour of the rights holder, and removing from the creator and the public. I'm getting out the paper and a pen for this one. The thought of having people with the computer savvy of my mother making laws affecting how people use technology in all sorts of ways that they cannot comprehend is very scary. I understand the goals of giving rights holders *some* controls over their property, but this goes too far. The only part of C-60 that seems to have a clue is the bit about removing responsibility for content from ISPs and providing for a "Notice and Notice" system for rights holders to indirectly contact the offending customer of the ISP.

Note: Amos' text is presented "as is", with the exception that I cut off the salutations and such at the beginning and end of his correspondence.

In further e-mails back and forth on the subject of posting his material here, Amos also provided a link to the webcast of the discussion he was at:

This is the webcast site of the panel discussion I was referring to. Unfortunately it doesn't capture the off-camera anarchist comments that I was referring to (which were made during a "mingle" afterwards) but it gives you a good idea of what MP Catterall was presented with and it captures the comments from the audience (including mine).

University of Ottawa copyright panel discussion link: http://www.uottawa.ca/copyright/webcast.html

Posted by anatole at 11:55 PM | Comments (2)

Too easy

Stephen Harper is hopping mad -- again. In fact, he's been hopping mad so darn much recently you'd think he was a card-carrying member of the Incensed Macropod Party.

Last time I went on about Harper I was encouraged to become a Conservative strategist. But I just can't help myself -- it's too easy. Rick Mercer agrees, noting on his blog:

The National Citizen's coalition has a letter to the Editor in today's Globe and Mail claiming I'm a liberal shill. I'm not a Liberal, I'm just lazy and the Tories make it so dammed easy. Maybe if they would just stop dousing themselves with gas and waving matches around for five minutes I could focus on corruption and greed in the Liberal Party.

So what happened this time? Those dastardly Liberals managed to get their budget passed with the assistance of the (Conservative shudder!) NDP and (Conservative gasp!) Bloc Quebecois. In what must have seemed like a scene from this episode of the West Wing, Liberals assembled sneakily on the Hill, preparing to take a gamble on a vote brought about through a little-used Parliamentary procedure.

So what did Stephen Harper have to say on being outmaneuvered?

"When push comes to shove the Liberals will make any deal with anybody. And it doesn't matter whether it's with the socialists or with the separatists or any bunch of crooks they can find."

Politics Rule #7: Whenever possible, avoid referring to former and/or potential allies as crooks.

Not to be outdone, Conservative deputy leader Peter MacKay "described his foes as a menage a trois between separatists, socialists and power-hungry Liberals" (from the Globe and Mail) before delivering this line, which will no doubt work very nicely as part of the Liberals next election campaign:

"We have to start thinking that Hannibal Lecter is running the government and they'll do anything they have to do to win."

Politics Rule #12: It is considered poor form to refer to the Right Honourable Prime Minister and/or his political party and/or government as a homicidal cannibal.

To put the icing on the cake, as the Conservatives often do, MP John Reynolds claimed the Liberals were jumping "in bed with the devil" (i.e. the Bloc).

Does all of this sound familiar? It sure does. The Conservative line, with Mr. Harper leading the rant, is sounding awfully tired. It is a continuous barrage of negativity with no positive vision for the country in sight.

To make matters worse, the Conservatives sound not only intellectually spent but also disingenuous. Accusing the Liberals of making a deal with the Bloc/separatists/devil? I wonder who else had a deal with the Bloc recently. Hmmm. I wonder who claimed a "unified opposition" after the Liberals survived their first major confidence vote on the budget. The Conservatives must be wishing Canadians had a much shorter memory, kind of like they must have been wishing for same-sex marriage to be an effective wedge issue.

Paul Martin, sensing weakness, finally plucked up the courage (and the convenience, let's face it) to forge ahead with the same-sex marriage bill. With the budget already passed, there is every reason to believe that same-sex marriage will soon be law across all of Canada, since the bill has the support of the Bloc and the NDP. Summer is in da House.

Source for quotes: Globe and Mail

Posted by anatole at 02:12 AM | Comments (2)

Sunset crossing

Ottawa sunset
Cyclists cross the locks by the Chateau Laurier as the sun sets behind the Museum of Civilization and Alexandra Bridge. The cool of the evening was a nice break after another hot and smoggy day.
Ottawa [view large]

Ottawa sunset
Ottawa [view large]

Posted by anatole at 01:06 AM | Comments (0)

Building Big Brother

On the subject of Shanghai, joining the mind-boggling number of cranes is an equally mind-boggling number of surveillance cameras -- 200,000, with another that many expected to be added within the next five years. No fooling around on construction sites, I take it.

Kudos to Vancouver for ditching a plan to install similar cameras (numbering less than 30, however) on the basis of U.K. evidence that they don't actually accomplish anything (neither safety nor feelings of safety).

Source: Globe and Mail

Posted by anatole at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2005

Copywrong

Critics are charging that Bill C-60, the bill just tabled in Parliament to reform Canada's Copyright Act for our digital age, does much more to protect copyright holders (note: not necessarily creators) than to protect the fair use of copyrighted material (it's of course not much of a compliment to say that it's slightly better than the DMCA in the U.S.). I'm inclined to agree, although I have yet to review the text of the bill itself -- I have been relying on the news and third party analysis for now, but they seem consistent with the expectations set by the government on this. Plus it's not hard to guess which way this leans when the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) -- think "mini-me" to the RIAA -- effectively declares success.

Jack Kapica has a fairly long piece on this in the Globe and Mail, and the frequently quoted Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at Ottawa U., has a lot to say on the subject. Other perennial resources on this general topic (not C-60 necessarily) include the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Creative Commons, and Lawrence Lessig (nothing on C-60 yet, surprisingly, although he has a recent blog entry on the aforementioned Prof. Geist).

More to follow from myself and/or Amos, who is even better with his copyrights than he is with an axe -- and that's saying something.

Posted by anatole at 12:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2005

You learn a new thing every day.

Here are a few of the things I learned over the past week or so:

  • Apparently one third of the world's cranes are currently in the city of Shanghai.
  • Home improvement starts with an axe (hi, Amos!).
  • A newborn baby's stomach is the size of a chickpea (!)
  • Somebody is in big, big trouble.
  • According to promoter Michael Cohl, who played a key role in bringing together the Canadian Live8, artists consider a concert in Barrie to be a "Toronto gig". Right.

Posted by anatole at 11:43 PM | Comments (0)

Mirror image

Reflection in lake, Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area, Adirondacks
Reflections in a beautiful lake on the last day of a wet three-day hike.
Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area, Adirondacks [view large]

Reflection in lake, Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area, Adirondacks
Pharoah Lake Wilderness Area, Adirondacks [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:29 AM | Comments (0)

Dear Paul ...

I sent a letter to the Prime Minister last week, when I read news stories hinting at a deal (not another one ...) between the Conservative Party and the Liberals to allow the budget bills -- with NDP add-on -- to pass while stalling the same-sex marriage bill until the fall.

Dear Prime Minister,

I am extremely disappointed to hear that the government is considering delaying the passage of the same sex marriage bill until the fall. Just a few weeks ago the government made a commitment that the House would sit, through the summer if necessary, until key pieces of legislation -- the budget and the same sex marriage bill -- were passed.

Courts in most of our provinces and territories have spoken. The Supreme Court has spoken, in the reference case put forward by the previous Liberal government. Today, newspapers across the country reported the military's first on-base same-sex marriage, with Major Steve Beler of the Canadian Forces Human Rights and Social Policy branch describing the marriage as a "non-issue": "As far as the Canadian Forces is concerned it's: 'Who cares?' We've moved well beyond that".

Same sex marriage is simply not the wedge issue that the Conservative Party would like it to be. I sincerely hope that you do not allow their stall tactics to win the day. This is not about a democratic deficit in the committee hearings for this legislation -- that is a smokescreen. This is about rights (including religious rights, which are already adequately protected in the legislation) and about doing the right thing -- a courageous, progressive thing. Canada has an opportunity to be among a small handful of countries that have changed their laws to recognize that same-sex partners have a right to marry.

Please do not trade away this legislation for passage of the budget bills. There is nothing meaningful to be gained in delaying this cornerstone piece of legislation, and much to be gained by showing the conviction required to pass it. There is no question that the legislation has the support to pass (more so than the budget legislation), and if it were in fact passed before the budget, there would be no reason for Liberal MPs to vote against the budget as a means of forestalling passage of the same-sex marriage bill.

I sincerely hope that news reports of a deal with the Conservatives are premature. Please pass this legislation before the House retires for the summer -- Canada is ready.

Sincerely,

Anatole Papadopoulos

The letter wasn't received very well. That is to say, it wasn't received at all. I received an error message from a PCO mail server saying the message couldn't be delivered. I sent it again, this time cc'ing Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and House Leader Tony Valeri. The e-mail went through to them but bounced from the PM's address again. Why can't I e-mail the Prime Minister at the PM address (pm@pm.gc.ca)? I tried again, attaching the original message, and got yet another bounce, this time with a message from my own outgoing mail server saying that my attachment (the original e-mail) had caused some consternation.

I was beginning to think that my e-mail was being rejected by some sort of "I can't hear you lalalalalalalala" sort of filter, but my fourth attempt appears to have succeeded.

Posted by anatole at 12:06 AM | Comments (3)

June 11, 2005

This and that.

Just a miscellaneous collection of interesting news bits and interesting material from fellow bloggers:

  • Ottawa may or may not play host to a Live8 concert on July 2. Early speculation centred on Parliament Hill both literally (as a venue, using the infrastructure from the Canada Day festivities) and figuratively (with politicians debating support for the event). But federal officials nixed the Parliament Hill idea today for reasons of security and a feeling that taxpayer money would better be spent directly on relief efforts. (A friend of mine also noted that it would have been somewhat odd for the federal government to fund an event calling on it to step up to the plate, so to speak. The other concerts are mostly privately funded, although public venues are being used and some fees are being waived.). Discussions about a Live8 concert somewhere in Canada continue.

  • Over at funstuff.ca, my friend Nathan writes about the unbelievable market springing up around popular online role-playing games. Apparently there are World of Warcraft "gold farmers" who bring in more than US$20,000 per month. These "farmers" play the game endlessly, scoring tonnes of goodies that they sell on eBay and other fora. Players looking to get ahead without a slog are eager to buy. Check out Nathan's entry on this for some interesting -- and mind-boggling -- links.

  • Following up on some earlier entries (here, here, and here), the City of Ottawa is apparently set to partially re-expand its plastics recycling program. While I'm certainly not upset to hear that there's a further environmental benefit to rising oil prices, I'm still not sure the city is thinking about recycling as well as it could be. As I've noted before, good recycling behaviour can't simply be turned on and off, and the city has created confusion and frustration with its recycling program changes and unkept promises (the most recent wonder was recycling #1s and #2s only if they're bottle-shaped -- why, I do not know). Still, the article seems to suggest that the market has "reached a turning point" and will be sustainable even if oil prices drop again, and also that the City remains on the lookout for ways to bring the program fully back to where it was. So good news, all in all.

  • Silver lining? Not exactly, but after French and Dutch voters dealt successive blows to the EU constitution effort, it must have seemed like a breath of fresh air when "we'll just stay out here, actually, thanks" Switzerland voted, in one of the country's typical (and numerous) referenda, to join the European Union's passport-free Schengen zone.

  • Just when I was beginning to get desperate for a sign -- any sign -- that Nina Grewal was actually a real person and not some sort of Polkaroo figure, the Globe and Mail goes and publishes this article all about her. The choice quote from the article, winning for its demonstration of a complete lack of perspective: "Even Hillary stood behind Bill Clinton when things turned." (from "Manjit Dhillon, a Conservative organizer with the Fraser Valley's Indo-Canadian community and an executive in Conservative MP Randy White's Abbotsford riding"). The story also seems to suggest that Gurmant Grewal may be an offer-taping veteran -- sweet.

Posted by anatole at 10:30 PM | Comments (3)

What's great, blue(ish), and heron-y?

Great blue heron, Vancouver
Great blue heron in a marina near Stanley Park.
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

Great blue heron, Vancouver
A little further on, in Stanley Park, another heron wanders about in the rain ...
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

Great blue heron, Vancouver
... until I get a little bit too close. Sorry, heron!
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:13 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2005

Fools rush in.

Stephen Harper seems to be learning the hard way that while the early bird gets the worm, there is a certain form of over-eager, extra-early bird that ends up with squat.

Where Martin dithers, Harper has a tendency to jump in just a little too fast. First he lauded the budget while it was still being presented in the House by Ralph Goodale, only to have to engage in a delicate "I love the budget, I hate the budget" dance for the next few months. Then he came out all guns blazing after Martin's televised speech on the sponsorship scandal, only to have his unseemly eagerness gradually backfire as Martin's commitments found some traction.

To put it a different way: Where Martin is desperate to stay in power, Harper is desperate to attain it. Too desperate -- and it shows.

Harper's latest error was to jump too enthusiastically on Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal's "I've got it on tape!" bandwagon. Now, for reasons I don't need to explain (though I have to say that if the airport stories are true, it's pretty rich that Grewal taped the Liberals but didn't stop to think about airport surveillance -- genius!), this house is crumbling around him, and the poll numbers are slipping away. While these are fickle times and the momentum could shift again, clearly Harper is seeing an opportunity start to fade. The latest poll has his party running almost 15% behind the liberals and just 2% ahead of the NDP. In Ontario, the situation is even worse, and the NDP lead the Conservatives.

It's not clear if Harper will ever learn to control himself, but it may be too late already. He was sounding desperate in a different way today, putting the responsibility for bringing down the government on disgruntled Liberals and complaining about how he has trouble rallying even his own caucus.

Meanwhile, news stories are finally carrying some comments from fellow Conservative MP and purported potential floor-crosser Nina Grewal. It's kind of shameful that this is the first we hear from her. One news source described her as "breaking her two week silence", but quite frankly there wasn't even a "couldn't be reached for comment" in the stories of the past few weeks. I would be pleasantly surprised if it was deliberate silence on her part that kept her out of the papers. Incidentally, she has apparently said that she was not approached by the Liberals and did not participate in these talks.

Gurmant Grewal may be sleeping on the couch -- both at home and at the office.

Posted by anatole at 01:14 AM | Comments (2)

June 06, 2005

The customer is always ... hungry.

Last week, Air Canada was named best North American airline in a worldwide survey of more than 12 million passengers by U.K.-based research firm Skytrax (see full results).

This is funny, though not like "ha ha" funny. Here's why ...

I flew with Air Canada to Calgary last week for work. A little while into the flight, as usual, they started to circulate with the drink trolley. Immediately preceding it, however, was a flight attendant with another cart who asked if I wanted anything to eat. I was feeling peckish, so without thinking I asked for "something snacky" and ended up settling on some chips. Then a person in the row behind me ordered a sandwich.

"Huh," I thought to myself, "when did they start offering sandwiches for sale?"

This thought immediately had me backstepping logically to: "Huh, when did they start offering chips for sale?"

Suddenly alarmed, I got the flight attendant's attention and asked if there was going to be a meal on the flight.

Nope. New, month-old policy: no meal. On a four hour flight that clearly straddles the full range of reasonable dinner dining hours (even for me!).

So I bought a sandwich and fumed a little bit while some others behind me complained as well -- the woman sitting behind me claimed to have eaten a meal on another Air Canada flight just days before, but the flight attendant reiterated that the no-meals policy had been in place for a month. She eventually yielded that flights over four hours still had meals -- the passenger had flown to Vancouver -- although only until July 1 (the Air Canada website doesn't say anything about this upcoming change and pegs the breaking point at 4h30m).

So, the best airline in North America essentially no longer serves meals in North America. Not only that, but to buy food from the "onboard restaurant" -- with its "popular new innovative menu of reasonably priced items" (yay!) -- you have to have cash on you. And that's if they haven't run out of food, of course. The best airline, eh? I admit the competition isn't stiff, but come on!

Might as well be travelling on Via, where passengers have been munching on Pringles and lifeless ham-and-bread sandwiches for a few years now. Yes, the travelling options in Canada are exciting -- the synergistic fusion of high prices and poor service a true treat!

A lot of people came off the plane grumbling about the new-ish meal plan and the fact that the attendants were surly about it, to boot. It's hard to blame the attendants, given that they're in the front lines taking hits for management decisions, but this is a service industry. Either way, I think this will come back to bite Air Canada, in so much as anything can bite in our toothless skies.

All travellers want to pay lower air travel prices, but -- if you'll forgive the pun -- presumably not at all costs ("you won't believe the fare reductions you'll get on our new one-wing planes!"). I'm willing to bet that most customers would be willing to pay whatever marginal markup it takes to make meals a standard. I would like to believe Air Canada has done research proving this isn't the case, but, well, I don't. And it's not as though they've replaced the meal service with lower prices and an opportunity to pay extra for the same service.

This line of thinking leads to the model for Tango or Jazz or Cha-Cha or whatever the hell they were calling their no-frills sub-airline. You could choose to pay less for fewer services. Now, with their no-frills service being rolled up into their much-ballyhooed "simplified" 5-tiered pricing system, I can't choose to "pay up" to a hot meal. If you're at the back of the plane, you may not even get a sandwich -- even though higher fares apparently grant you a sandwich-and-snack credit (nobody told me this, of course, so I paid). Nor, according to their website, can you order a special meal on North American flights.

Anyway, back to the flight -- the final kicker was when the flight attendants came around at the end to pick up newspapers, garbage, and headsets. I noticed the headsets were going into the same bag as the garbage and, having had just about enough, said incredulously "You don't recycle those?!". The flight attendant replied: "No, they only cost 33 cents."

Posted by anatole at 12:31 AM | Comments (6)