Anti-semitism on the rise in Europe?

There have been recent press reports about an unreleased report on anti-semitism in Europe claiming it is on the rise. I'm not sure it every went away.

On that note, you may have been on the receiving end of a rant from me about lazy thinking with regard to the state of Israel. In particular, I always strongly and rigorously anyone who uses comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany. This kind of comparison is not only intellectually lazy, it is dangerous ground that puts you in the anti-semite, nationalist camp.

The simplest way to demolish this kind of argument is that, of course, Israel may well be doing horrible things but there is no systematic attempt to wipe out an entire race of people. But it's the thinking behind such statements that is truly scary.

During a recent discussion on Plastic, someone mentioned this great article from a Dutch anti-racist organisation. It's a fantastic piece that goes through some of the key pieces of lazily argued beliefs that are commonly held by otherwise sensitive, anti-racist left-wing people. Well worth a read!

Put it back in the ground!

"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely once they have exchausted all other alternatives." - Abba Eban

The great news is that ERA have abandoned the Jabiluka mine in possibly the most incredible environmental win in Australia since the Franklin campaign. Absolutely incredible!

In case you don't know about it, in 1991 Energy Resources Australia bought the Jabiluka uranium mine from Pancontinental. They immediately set about trying to develop the mine, to enormous popular opposition amongst Australians and particularly the native traditional owners of the land. The Jabiluka mining lease is inside the Kakadu World Heritage National Park, one of the most beautiful yet fragile regions in the world.

A massive and highly popular campaign swung into action, with possibly one of the most recognisable and extensively-used logos ever used in a political campaign. Rallies, benefits and a huge blockade of the remote mine showed the massive popular opposition to the mine.

Of course Australia's government never caved to the opposition. The mine has closed due to low uranium prices and the high cost of defying the popular opposition to the project. This just goes to show the power of secondary lobbying and boycotts in these kinds of campaigns.

I wasn't enormously involved in the campaign (apart from some silly fines in 1999), but it's hard to put into words how proud I feel that we've won. It's a great day for the environment movement. Congratulations to all those who were involved.

Free State Project: Amerikkka's lead plumbing?

The Free State Project is an interesting idea run by a bunch of no-government, libertarian, gun freak nutjobs. The plan is to get 20,000 people who share their paranoid world-view to move to one sparsely-populated state, tipping the balance of voters in their direction. Interesting idea, pity about the people pushing it.

The idea is to repeal all those big-government, freedom-infringing laws in the state and re-draft the state constitution in a libertarian frame. Of course, the thing they forget is that most of the bad, freedom-sapping legislation in the USA is imposed by the federal government. So of course the only laws they'll really be able to influence are evil things like welfare, keeping AK-47s out of your neighbour's hands and taxes to pay for terrible things like schools and roads.

If successful, and that's pretty doubtful, the next step is of course to secede from the US. That's just not gonna happen. Any smart federalist would, I imagine, be planning to gently up the number of troops garrisoned in New Hampshire, the libertarian nutjobs' choice of state to invade.

But anyway, my point in all this is that it could be very interesting if it succeeded, even only partially. This is the kinda thing that could well bring the whole empire crashing down, as the wealthy middle classes start resenting more and more the taxes they think go to pay spongers on welfare but are actually funding US military terror and massive subsidies to the rich. If enough middle class yankees got interested in this kinda idea, and it started looking like there might be the chance of success, you can bet the US government will end up with troops out on the streets. Freedom-loving (read: gun nut) Yanks get kinda uppity about that sort of intervention.

Could be interesting. Then again, it could well end in a whole heap of squabbling over tactics, the hard-line libertarians ("my right to bear child porn") versus the pragmatists. Either way, loads of fun for all!

When will Carr make his move?

Recently there's been speculation about Bob Carr making the move to Federal politics in Australia. But when will he make his move?

He'll let Crean stumble through the next election, handing another victory to Howard and biding his time in NSW. When Howard passes the baton to Costello after the next election, he'll make his move. Costello will be wildly unpopular, of course, given his sneakiness and his general smarminess, though he is actually a very intelligent man but then so was John Hewson.

Carr is a sneaky, slimy and incredibly efficient political player. He really knows how to think strategically, shaft the right people and grease the way when he needs to get through. He's also good at identifying hatchet-men to take on his dirty work, Costa being the current (contrast with Howard's Wilson Tuckey and fall-guy Reith), while remaining clean himself.

In short, the NSW Right can and will be the place where the next Labor Prime Minister emerges. Sad but true. At least we'll know what to expect: economic "rational"ism, greenwashing, lip-service to liberty, tough-on-crime etc etc

Poor Pauline

Today started rather inauspiciously. Yawn. Bash alarm off. Crawl out of bed. Grunt at girlfriend. Remember it's a weekday and (ugh) I have to go to work.

Then when I got to work, one of my colleagues mentions that Pauline's been sent down. Suddenly the clouds parted, the sun came out and the angels sang. What a glorious day!

If there is a Bob, she'll be sharing a cell with a big half-aboriginal, half-tongan woman named Bruce. With a bad temper. And an irrational fear of redheads.

Actually it'd probably do to have a cellmate with a brain larger than a dim sim. Doesn't take much to run rings around Australia's sourest white whine.

Now let's just hope it spells the end to One Notion.

There's goes the voice of reason

I used to be incredibly impressed by Claire Short's principled stance on issued of development and peace. She had the balls to put her cabinet post on the line over important issues.

But I always had the nagging suspicion that she was being used. Labour always seemed to roll her up whenever they had something of a leftie-friendly nature to announce. And whenever they were doing something incredibly dodgy, she was always allowed much more length on the leash to criticise the government's, her government's, policy. Any other front bencher would be raked over the coals for such forthright statements, yet she seemed to get away with it. I always assumed she was the token leftie on the New Labour cabinet.

So then came the big mother of all confrontations between Short and Blair over Iraq. She announced in quite plain terms that she would quit the government should the country go to war with Iraq without UN approval. When they called her bluff, she backed down and probably lost most of her support, certainly mine.

So now she's gone, when it's way too late to make any difference. It's sad to seee someone who clearly had her heart in the right place let the politics of expedience completely destroy her tactical good sense.

Apple miss the point

Looks like Apple and the music industry have worked out that the music industry is over. So they've mounted a rear-guard assault to try and claw it back. Let's go through the problems, shall we.

To start with, it's Mac-only so you've just cut out the majority of your market. Next, you have to use Apple's horrible borg-like iTunes: resistance is futile. Am I the only one who sees that Apple is actually more monopolistic than Microsoft, given half the chance?

Okay so they're techie problems I have with it, and to be expected from Apple. The real problem is that it sticks with the "I own this record" model of music. Sorry guys, it's not gonna work that way any more. We're used to it being free now, so you'll have to make it way convenient to get us to pay.

How about giving us access to every piece of music ever recorded? I'd pay for that. Hell, I'd pay the price of an album-a-month for that! And no, I don't mean just every piece of music that Britney has recorded.

Of course there's another big problem here: Apple won't ever get a cent from me ever again. Hell hath no fury like a fucked-over Evangelista. Remember the Newton!

An idea whose time has come?

Looks like I'm not the only one to come up with the idea of compulsory licensing to pay musicians. Fred von Lohmann is a senior staff attorney at the EFF and has this article talking about the issue.

Of course it took about three minutes for an idiot from Slashdot to call it Communism, because we all know that tax is wrong. That's why America has such a great public health system and doesn't have any poor people or beggars or homeless people.

The music "industry" is over

When you download mp3s, you're downloading

I've talked about it before and it seems to be in the final death spiral. That's right, the music "industry" is terminal.

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side." - Hunter S. Thompson

The BBC reports today that international record sales have slumped yet again. Hardly surprising considering how easy it is to get broadband Internet access and, from there, download everything you could possibly want without a cent going to record companies or artists.

It's also hardly surprising that people are going to the small amount of hassle involved in getting tooled up to download and play back mp3s. Once you're set up, you can avoid the extortionate prices (I saw CDs in Virgin last weekend for £16!) and you can skirt the artificial scarcity. Instead you get as much music as you can handle for a small investment in time and equipment.

Technology has evolved in recent years to cut out all need for the record companies. These days their only functions are preserving their own existence and promoting the next bubblegum pop band. Talented bands these days can easily record albums themselves using cheap equipment at home, with perhaps a little real studio time for the tricky bits and some producer magic. What need for a record company there? Music fans have proven themselves quite adept at getting their hands on the latest releases, so the distribution arm of record companies is no longer really necessary.

"We live in an age of music for people who don't like music. The record industry discovered some time ago that there aren't that many people who actually like music. For a lot of people, music's annoying, or at the very least they don't need it. They discovered if they could sell music to a lot of those people, they could sell a lot more records." - T Bone Burnett

The one thing missing from this post-record company future is a revenue stream for the artists. Some have suggested a virtual "tip jar" where music fans can give up their readies for an artist they appreciate. If everyone gave, say, a couple of quid for each album they enjoyed, artists could potentially earn more than they currently get from their usurious recording contracts. The problem is that only nice people will do it, and nice people clearly aren't in the majority. So instead, nice people end up subsidising the nasties and the artists go hungry and get pissed off with making music.

The solution

I can only see one way out of this problem, and it's far from perfect. We need a license fee for music listeners. Similar to the television license fee in the UK.

Anyone who wants to listen to music under the new model must pay an annual fee. For their fee, they no longer have to buy CDs but can instead listen to any piece of music they can get. Their player equipment will be required to report what they listen to, directed at some central agency. According to these stats, the revenues are doled out to the appropriate artists. A threshold for each listener ensures that a maximum number of plays per track per artist is recorded, with anything above it discarded. This cuts out the fraud aspect.

People can opt out of the system and continue to "own" pieces of plastic they buy in records shops. (Though these people present an enforcement problem, the same as people who claim not to own televisions in the UK.)

There are many problems with this system, but I really can't see a better way to solve the revenue-to-artists problem. Can you think of a better way?

Who runs it?

Way back in 1999 I suggested the record companies could save themselves by implementing just such a system. I think they've missed the boat now though. Artists wouldn't trust them to run such a system and can see that an artist-run system would, clearly, have big advantages for them. An artist-run system is also within reach, whereas getting the big 5 record companies to pull their fingers out and work together is about as likely as Fidel Castro joining the Tories.

I know I won't be shedding any tears for the record companies when they finally die. The artists, however, need a way to make a living.