Thursday, 31 January 2008

Copyright and Libraries

Interesting comparison from a Times columnist, money quote:

"Here is a thought experiment worth considering the next time that there is ill-considered talk about tightening copyright law. Battered and not properly loved, the public library is an outrageous attempt to encourage its infringement. These are taxpayer-funded institutions that buy books in large numbers and encourage people to share them, thereby denying repeat sales to book publishers who are fighting to deliver growth in a market that can be described as mature."

Cross my palm with silver . . . .

A Hollywood writer unloads:

Herro!

Japanzine does a 'best of' for their long-running agony-uncle Kazuhide: prease to looking!

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Random Facts On Wikipedia

Britain has more university graduates than any other country in the EU, the USA still has more graduates than China, and Russia has more graduates than Britain, France and Germany combined.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Sign Of The Times . . .

The US now has more choreographers than metal-casters,. Meanwhile, Chinese automobile manufacturing passed the eight million mark last year.

The Real Facts About The Sino-blogosphere

This post over at Mylaowai's blog amazed me. I meet a lot of people who've been to China (i.e., stayed in a hotel in Beijing for a week) and when asked what they thought about the political situation say things like 'nothing can stop the liberating power of the internet' and 'dictatorship cannot survive in the modern age' - well yes it can folks. I guess the first time I realised this was when I read this front cover China Daily piece (yeah, I used to read that rag, but it was soft, strong, and very absorbing let me tell you):

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Taipei yesterday to oppose moves toward independence in the island province.

Defying the hot weather, throngs of people held banners declaring their opposition to moves to change the island's "official name" from the "Republic of China" to "Taiwan" - a move supported by former "president" Lee Teng-hui.

The demonstration, which was joined by around 1,000 taxis and private cars, was also in response to a protest held by pro-independence forces at the weekend.

Banners displayed by marchers on the orderly and good natured anti-independence demonstration, which was joined by many passers-by, read: "Against Taiwan Independence", "I am Taiwanese and Chinese as well" and "Direct links for transport, post and trade between Taiwan and the mainland will lead Taiwan to prosperity".

Other marchers sent a very simple but clear message to those seeking to split Taiwan from its motherland, displaying the word "Chinese" on their T-shirts.

Responding to the pro-independence demonstration in Taipei on Saturday, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs' Office in Beijing dismissed the concept of "Taiwan independence".

The spokesman said the demonstration is one of the steps being taken by Taiwan pro-independence forces seeking the "gradual independence of Taiwan".

The demonstration, a move which intends to separate Taiwan from China, goes against the majority of Taiwan people's desire for peace, stability and development, said the spokesman.

"It has seriously damaged cross-Straits relations and gone against the primary interests of Taiwan people," he said.

"We believe that Taiwan compatriots will make a distinction between right and wrong and oppose pro-independence activities in any form," he added.

There are no forces that can prevent the final reunification of China, he noted.

"The so-called name-change that Lee Teng-hui called for was to separate Taiwan from China. But China will never break up," an angry demonstrator at the anti-independence demonstration was quoted as saying by Xinhua News Agency.

Ninety-two-year-old Xu Yue-li told Xinhua that she loves China and recognizes herself as Chinese.

"China is my mother and I firmly oppose the name change," she said.


The picture that accompanied the story, I hope the extras
they used were well paid.

Now, up until this point i had been telling myself that, like a lot of papers in the west, CD was just cherry picking the stories that matched with their position and not including those that disagreed with it, but this was a clear example of them making stuff up. I emailed a friend of mine who had covered the Taipei demos for Taiwan News newspaper and he sent me an email listing the following facts:

1) There had been a demonstration that day, but it had been a pro-independence one

2) The counter-demonstration organised by the KMT had had only a few hundred people at it, most of them old party members who still believe the old "We're going to liberate the mainland" line

3) The CD piece was therefore total bollocks and the details listed in it had been made up

From that moment on I started to view CD not as a source of (however biased) information, but as a kind of infotainment amusing only for the extravagance of the lies that they thought they could get away with. After reading Mylaowai's piece I'm going to extend the same view to the (unblocked) Chinese blogosphere as well.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Sometimes you want to go where nobody knows your name . . .

Leo Lewis totally nails the fin de siecle excess of expat boozing in this brilliant piece. Does the recent market crash mark the end of such revelry? Almost certainly not, but it might mark the point when the pinnacle of such partying changes from Roppongi to the Bund.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Saipanocidal

An incredibly bile-filled report on life in the US dependent territory of Saipan, I have no way of knowing how much of this is true, but it makes for interesting reading all the same. The sweat-shop conditions for Asian imigrant labourers are not news to me, the various misdeeds of certain section of the male US mainland immigrant population are standard for the poorer parts of Asia (although the Hillblom case still shocked), the high level of corruption was quite surprising:

That candidate, late in the 2001 election, was shown to have paid a prospective voter $550 by check drawn on his campaign organization. A photocopy of the check was published in one of the two Saipan newspapers – not the one owned by his sponsor and former employer. The candidate's spokesman answered the charges. Unable to deny the allegations of vote-buying, the spokesman defended the practice – claiming the payments were an "accommodation" and that such payments are made out of the kindness of the candidate's heart. They represent "the island way." (He actually said that. You can't make this stuff up.) At least one other payment was disclosed later, also drawn on the candidate's campaign organization and similarly defended. Vote-buying, therefore, is openly argued to constitute acceptable conduct. And where did this candidate's money to buy votes come from? From the garment interests, of course. Because garment workers are paid nearly slave wages, the factory owners are able to amass enormous capital both to pay off United States Congressmen to maintain the CNMI's political status quo and to buy votes for their local candidate.

Bronowski: 100 Years

Last week marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of Jacob Bronowski, as a student I took a science/philosophy class in which his masterpiece, 'The Ascent Of Man', featured largely. This piece has always stayed with me:

Is what we call logical thinking learned?

The number one rant that a lot of expats have about their Chinese collegues is that they seem to operate according to a different kind of logic. Well, according to this very interesting Colbert Report interview with Malcolm Gladwell, maybe they do.

Government Singapore-style?

Read an interesting piece in the Taipei Times this morning comparing the politics and economies of Singapore and Taiwan. I was struck by how both of these places represent in their own way a possible path for development for other Asian countries, especially mainland China.

Will China develop into a one-party state with all the trappings of democracy - the kind of state that Timothy Garton-Ash described as a 'demokratura' (democracy + Soviet-style nomenklatura)? Or will it follow the Taiwanese path and become a far freer state with a developed economy, but without the political and ethnic unity which Singapore enjoys - at least on the surface.

There is also Hong Kong, political unstable due to broken promises on the part of the central government, but with economic growth and power which is still a striking contrast to anyone who visits from the developed world, let alone from mainland China.

The things which can be found in all of these places are high levels of materialism (Singapore's Five C's being perhaps the most famous example), high levels of growth (at least by western standards) and a yearning (at least within 30% of the population) for strong, even dictatorial, leadership.

Of course, China is large enough to contain all of these models and more in one single (tolerably) unitary state, and probably will do.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Herschel Smith Lecture: Moral Rights

The FOARP attended a lecture the other day given by a visiting Canadian professor on the question of moral rights in copyrighted works - my impression? At least in the UK the issues surrounding moral rights are something that sounds alright but are actually worth very little, as the small amount of case law that it has produced shows. I guess it keeps the academics on their toes, and in less business-oriented jurisdictions (like France) might get people quite exercised, but that's what the English Channel is there for!

Prisoners in Freedom City

Should anyone be in any doubt as to the nature of the Chinese government, should anyone think that the fact that communist economic policy has been abandoned in China means that the tools of communist oppression have been thrown aside as well, please watch this video:

Friday, 18 January 2008

James Fallows on China's $1.58 trillion dollar question

As someone to whom the whole currency issue has always been somewhat obscure, I can't recommend enough James Fallows' latest article in The Atlantic. In his article, Fallows shows that the biggest question in US-China relations is not that of getting China to adjust the value of its currency, but that of China's ever growing dollar reserves (now valued at 1.58 trillion US dollars) and the use to which they are put.

Quite simply, it seems strange in the extreme for a country which has difficulty in feeding and clothing its own people to be investing more than a billion US dollars per day in the United States. The money for these investments is skimmed from the profits made by exporters to the United States and other countries that deal in dollars by forcing the banks in which US dollars are exchanged for RMB to sell the dollars made from such exchanges to the central bank. This money is then invested in various US assets, creating a cycle whereby dollars paid for Chinese imports are shipped back to the US to be invested in American treasury bonds, shares in US companies etc.

Trade deficit wingnuts should take note: far from representing a great transfer of wealth across the Pacific to China which will somehow eventually leave the US bankrupt, trade with China creates a cycle whereby Chinese buy an ever-growing stake in the US economy with the very money that people in the US pay for those cheap Chinese imports. Running a trade deficit with another country cannot result in the country becoming bankrupt as it is impossible for a country to go bankrupt (foreigners require payment for the goods they export to the US, I guess they're funny like that), but it is possible for a large part of that country to become subject to at least a modicum of foreign control.

However, the day is fast approaching when people in China will realise that they are seeing only part of the money made from exports and will demand a greater share, or at least that not so much money is invested in country which the majority of Chinese people view with the darkest suspicion. Of course, there are sound economic reasons for the government to want to keep this money out of the Chinese economy, avoiding run-away inflation perhaps being the most important, but the pressure to diversify away from a weakening dollar may not long be resisted. In fact, as Fallows seems to note, there is a definite danger that both countries may loose out by delaying too long in re-adjusting their relationship: China in that it will become impossible to diversify away from the US without overly harming its investment there, the US in that as this cycle continues an increasing stake in the country's future will pass out of its hands. In fact a growing wariness on the part of the Chinese towards increasing their exposure to the US market is beginning to assert itself, as a recent piece on the Chinapolitics blog shows, money quote:

Well, well, just months after the completion of Citibank's acquisition of Guangdong Development Bank, the table has turned, and Citi is going to the Chinese begging for money. Once again, the State Council squashed the deal, further confirming our suspicion that deals above 1 billion USD (and possibly less) needs State Council approval. Well, are we surprised? No, not really. The reason is many. The most important perhaps is that Wen realized that such an acquisition would expose China too much to the badly damaged US financial sector.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Just incredible

No one should automatically take the often out-rageous examples of piracy in China that are reported in the media as indicative of the way the average Chinese business conducts itself, but sometimes you come across examples which are simply way too much. Here's a report from a recent edition of Time that simply takes the biscuit, money quote:

"In 2003 Timothy Demarais, vice president of the South Bend, Indiana-based industrial adhesive manufacturer, says he walked into the Canton Trade Fair in Guangzhou, China, and found that his company's product line — and his company's identity itself — had been knocked off by a Chinese firm called Hunan Magic Power, also known as Magpow. When Demarais attempted to have the imposter kicked out, he says, Hunan Magic Power chairman Yuan Hongwei produced documentation that he claimed showed his company had the right to use the trademark ABRO. He had even copied ABRO's labeling, including one sample card with a photo of a woman applying epoxy to a bicycle. The woman, it turned out, was Demarais' wife. After Demarais pulled out another photo of his wife from his wallet, the trade fair officials booted Hunan Magic Power. "How blatant can you be when you steal my wife's picture for your card?" asks Demarais."


Of course, there's been the usual mindless appeal to Chinese patriotism, after jumping bail in London and fleeing back to China, Yuan Hongwei made this statement:

"I most want to say thank you to all levels of the motherland's government and the people for the loving concern, help and support you gave me during my period of misfortune in London,"

On Chinese blogs, ABRO is increasingly being labeled the villain in the saga, and the company's Chinese attorneys have been called traitors. "Thanks to America and Britain, and with the help from the traitors, Chinese people were left in the dark and really thought Magic Power and Yuan Hongwei violated the law," reads one posting.


Another thing which stands out clearly from this case is that the (at least public) support that the foreign rights-holders received from central government counts for nothing if the local government is not on board also:

"The Chinese legal system has been very supportive of our case," Baranay says. "We've been tarred and feathered, but we're not going to abandon China. We sell in China and we manufacture some of our products in China." But despite government support at the national level, Baranay says local authorities in Yuan's home of Hunan haven't gone after him. "Good gracious, he employs people, he pays taxes — that's a powerful incentive to local people to turn a blind eye."

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Images Of 2007


Christmas in Lancing, a picture of mine that was featured on the Andrew Sullivan website.

Friday, 4 January 2008

Youtube To Be Censored In China

When asked what is was like to live in China I usually paint such a negative picture that a lot of people ask me why I lived in China so long - I mean, why spend five-plus years of your life in a place where you were often far from happy? I suppose I must sometimes be guilty of painting an overly negative picture, but the truth is that most of what was positive about my stay there flowed from the people, both ordinary and extra-ordinary, that I met whilst I lived there. The negative stuff, on the other hand, flowed mainly from the political situation there, either directly or indirectly the government is the prime cause of most of the bad things you come across. The constant and asinine 'hello-ing' of foreigners, the ignorant contempt that many Chinese have for people from other countries, the simple-minded parroting of slogans like 'we will certainly liberate Taiwan', the corruption, the dis-respect that people have for the rights and happiness of strangers.

Sure, some of this comes from traditional Chinese culture, but the majority of it is inspired by government propaganda and by the complete lack of easily-accessible information as a counter-balance to this. Government censorship acts almost like a vice holding the people in place whilst they receive their Clockwork Orange-style brainwashing. Well, the screw on this vice is set to turn a notch tighter as the government outlines plans for blocking of websites which, in a typically Orwellian turn of phrase, allow the "broadcast of degenerate thinking".

Strange, this past week I've been thinking about whether I should go back or not after I'm finished here in London, I guess they just added another reason why I should stay away.

Lesson Of 2007

As I said in a recent email:

In a previous (and far more physically fit) life I had once thought that I might try out taking the test to be an officer in the British army. I crashed and burned of course, which, considering, was probably a good thing, but I'll never forget a piece of advice I was given: "When choosing a career to pursue you should never just focus on the nature of the job as this can change radically, you should look at the people and ask yourself whether they are really the kind of people you can stand to be with day-in-day-out, whether they are your kind of people".


Measured by this standard 2007 left me feeling a lot happier about my choice of career.

Discovery Of 2007



Has to be Def Poetry, the US HBO television program featuring some of the harshest, funniest and touching stuff I've seen in ages. The first one I saw of these had me searching Youtube until I think I must have seen every single one of them, but the next series should be soon and I'm certainly going to catch it. Here's Black Ice laying it down [Warning, explicit lyrics, definitely NSFW].

Images Of 2007



A picture of the half-finished Grand Lisboa casino in Macau, where I had the fortune to stay for a couple of days back at the end of last July thanks to this guy.

Images Of 2007


Some fool making a presentation on the Microsoft EC decision at the EIPIN conference back in December.

Images Of 2007


Yeah, I know, I'm starting the whole 'best of the year' thing somewhat late, but I don't see why I should even start until the year's done. Here's a picture of Lord Healey pinning a rosette on a retiring horse at a show organised by the American Saddlebred horse association back in September.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

EIPIN Issues: New Europeans


One of the surprising things about the conference was the almost complete lack of idealism about the European cause, in fact I was surprised to find that the average Frenchman or German is equally as skeptical about the European project as your average Brit. There was the same kind of speculation about what the exact point of the program was and apathy toward advancing that program as can be found in most European dealings nowadays.

The cause of this apathy? A certain confusion toward what exactly it is that Europeans have as common virtues other than being mainly white-skinned and reasonably well-off. A definite feeling that Europe has met an impasse where it can neither go forward nor go backwards. A tired sense of deja-vu when it comes to the old European arguments, although there were those who still felt it OK to pin this on the British fouling everything up, most recognise that a sense that we need to have a real re-think about what the European goals are is hardly a British phenomenon.

EIPIN Issues: Cross-Border Injunctions


Yes, 2006 saw the death of the Dutch 'spider in the web' preliminary injunctions against IP infringement in multiple jurisdictions involving multiple infringers directed from a central infringer in the Netherlands, now much morned (at least by Dutch lawyers). Obviously there's something wrong with one jurisdiction being able to pass cross-border preliminary injunctions when other jurisdictions cannot return the favour. Obviously also there is something incongrous about Judges in one country judging on the validity of IP held in another (although people seem much happier about judges deciding the validity of say, marriages made in another country).

All the same, the most depressing thing about this whole story is that all the possible solutions (the Community patent court, the European Patent court etc.) have all been shot down in the past year as well. Helmut Kohl famously said that "What belongs together should grow together", but it is all to plain that at the moment European legislators neither believe that Europe should grow together in this area nor are they sure that it even belongs together on this matter, and that's a disapointment.