Thursday, May 15, 2008
Charlie Angus asks some good questions on copyright
Charlie Angus, (NDP), put two good questions on copyright to the Minister for Industry Jim Prentice in the House today.
And "balancing consumer & industry rights" is not an answer. The minister would describe any copyright bill that way. If the eventual bill does hose consumers, I suspect that Mr. Prentice will still describe it as "balanced".
I never did get any reply to the letter I sent Mr. Prentice's office or to the e-mail I sent. Not even a canned response.
The Conservatives are shooting themselves in the foot on this one. We have good reason to fear a bad copyright bill. The government is getting plenty of pressure to enact a DMCA type law to mirror the fiasco they have south of the border and they've given no indication that I'm aware of that they're not going to do that.
If Mr. Prentice isn't planning on introducing a DMCA type law to hose us with, there's an easy way to reassure us. Stand up in the house and announce that while the bill isn't being introduced yet, it will unequivocally protect our right to backup our media, time-shift media (i.e. record a TV show), and device-shift our media, (i.e. play music you bought on a CD on your iPod). Also make it clear that it will be entirely legal to circumvent technical measures put in by producers that try to limit these legal rights by technical means. If you want a complete recipe for your bill, take a look at Michael Geist's proposal, or go to Fair Copyright for Canada.
It's not that hard to say, and until Mr. Prentice does this I hope Mr. Angus keeps attacking him in the house.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I'm not a member of the conservative party and I don't feel inclined to "push the party line". So I'm sticking myself in the non-partisan camp.
Kelowna Life and Arts Festival
I ended up missing most of the Friday night Latin dance because of it, but it was worth it. My buddy Dave Siebring is in a fire spinning group called Kinshira. (They've got a Facebook group and there's some photos on Flickr and SmugMug, but I don't know if they've got an official website). They had a choreographed routine and it was pretty sweet. I've seen fire poi before, but I didn't know you could actually juggle balls of fire...
I ended up the night at Doc Willoughby's listening to a "Talk Rock" performance by T.O.F.U. I'd been told it would be slam poetry and apparently they've got roots in that, but this has about as much resemblance to poetry as I know it as a Chris Rock performance has to public speaking. I didn't really know what to expect, (poetry in a bar?), but it was great. If they're going to be in your area, go see them. You won't regret it.
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Posting is publishing...
The article notes his age, but I think that's actually irrelevant. We have Youth Criminal Justice Act to deal with criminal offenses by teenagers and to take their age into account when sentencing. Now whether or not a crime has been committed is an entirely different question.
Still, I don't think a lot of people clue into the fact that posting something on the internet is essentially publication. (Not that personation necessarily requires publication, but this is where I'm going with it). Prior to the internet it was expensive and difficult to publish with wide circulation. The fact that it's all but free now hardly changes the law or the ethics of the situation.
Why is joking about communism "okay"?
The man commenting on it was from an outside company doing some maintenance work and he was an immigrant from the the Slovakia side of the former Czechoslovakia. He'd assumed the shirt was a joke, (the fake cyrilic lettering and "Fernie" being obvious clues), but we got to talking about the Soviet Union, the communist governments in the former Soviet satellite states, Che Guevara and of course the incredibly bloody history of the communist revolutions.
I asked him if he'd been offended by the shirt and he said he hadn't, but I'm still a bit bothered by the whole thing. This man was very friendly, but I was wearing a shirt that makes light of the human suffering that he knew a lot more about than the average Canadian.
Why is it considered acceptable to wear a shirt like that that makes light of the bloody consequences of the socialist revolution? Why is it not considered unbelievably bad taste? I'm guessing that a shirt with a swastika and text reading "National Socialist Republic of Fernie, BC - Join the Revolution" would be considered pretty offensive. Of course it should be offensive. The nazi's killed 11 million people. (Six million Jews, 5 million others including Poles, Gypsies & homosexuals), but the estimates of murders by the Soviets under Stalin go as high as 60 million people. Oh, but that's communism, not nazism so it's hilarious right?
My "communist party" shirt from Threadless, (thanks Caleb, I still love it), raises the same questions. Replace Lenin & his fellow travelers with Hitler & his henchman and swap the hammer & cycle with a swastika and I wouldn't be getting the same compliments for having an "awesome" shirt.
It should go without saying that I'm not about to start wearing swastika t-shirts obviously, but this is the internet after all, so I'd best be clear.
But I do think that people should be more aware of the evils of communism and stop giving it and it's leaders a pass because we in the west seem to have a soft spot for socialism. These men were murderers, (Karl Marx excepted). We shouldn't ignore that just because their ideology sounded nice and some people wish that it had worked out.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
Am I a conservative?
I went out for dinner with my parents the other night and my Dad told me about an article he'd read in Atlantic Monthly about John McCain and conservatism.
The article is really worth reading, but a quick summary is that a true conservative in the tradition of Edmund Burke favours incremental change while respecting long standing customs and institutions and also balancing individual freedom and social order.
So yes, conservative does frequently describe much of my default political sentiment. I generally don't favour rapid change. What's interesting about this definition of conservative is that it's not synonymous with right-wing. As the article suggested it's a temperament as much as anything.
(Note - whenever I use the word conservative in this post, I'm going to mean this definition of the word, it's too much of a hassle to say "Burkean conservative" all the time and I may not even be using the word Burkean correctly)
The article also pointed out that the bulk of the Republican party isn't even remotely conservative. It's as activist as the progressive left but with a different set of policies. Indeed, I'd argue that depending on your opinion as to what counts as "progress", you could simply call this mass of Republicans "progressives".
But this isn't true of the Conservative party in Canada. Of course the Conservative is the default home of the progressive right-wing as I'm going to call them in this post, but if you look at what Stephen Harper has actually done it's quite conservative in the sense of the word I described above.
This is why I find the "Stephen Harper has a hidden agenda" crowd so annoying. Initially the claim was that he'd wreck havoc on Canada with a George Bush agenda as soon as he got elected. Then when that didn't happen the claim became that he'd do it as soon as he had a majority. But the whole idea doesn't hold any water because as a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper is demonstrably a conservative. His government has been marked by small & incremental change. Fundamentally, the Conservative party is not the same as the Republican party, that's just a useful political smear by opposition parties. (And you really get too angry at them for using it if the public buys into it). The US doesn't have a political party that corresponds with our Conservatives. And it's too bad for them.
I find it important to note that Burke supported the ending of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and the emancipation of Catholics. To be a conservative does not mean that you automatically support the status quo. In fact you favour liberty, but you a wary of the dangers posed by rapid or revolutionary change. The best argument I can think of right now to support this view is the different reactions to the miseries of the working class created by the industrial revolution. The Marxist response ultimately led to more oppression in the form of Soviet Communism. The more gradual and non-revolutionary changes that took place in England produced a much better result.
New Music - Aradhna
Their music is available on iTunes.
It's definitely worth having a listen...
I added the cover art for the album I bought. I definitely like this album.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
A conservative view of unions: Part 2 - Strikes
The power to strike is an important power that unions have. It's not their only one, but it's almost certainly their most effective, so anyone who believes that unions are necessary should believe in the right to strike.
Although just as I don't believe unions are universally positive, I don't believe in an unrestricted right to strike.
I'm going to assume that virtually everyone agrees that essential services should not have the right to strike. The police should not have the power to refuse to work and thus hold the public hostage to their demands. This breaks down on the definition of "essential service", but in principle the idea is sound.
Given that, workers always have a right to refuse to work, but at some point I believe the employer has the moral right to hire other people. Here's an extremely ridiculous example of such a situation. The union demands that the owners give the company to the employees and refuses any compromise. I only give this admittedly ludicrous scenario to illustrate that at some point an employer has a moral right to hire other employees. So we need laws to govern strikes as well as some way to impose an agreement or binding arbitration if a labour dispute gets out of hand.
But what is the purpose of a strike? This also came up in the discussion on WMTC that I referred to in my last post. I'd said that the purpose of any strike was to inflict harm on the employer as a way of convincing the employer to accede to the union's demands, (by demonstrating the monetary value of their work), and that strikes should only inflict harm on the employer. L-girl disagreed and said that strikes were supposed "to be inconvenient for as many people as possible", presumably in order to maximize pressure on the employer.
With respect, I think strikes with such a purpose are unethical. How can a union justify inflicting harm on a third party that is not inflicting harm on the union members? The employer has the power to agree to union demands. Third parties and the public do not, and inflicting harm on someone who lacks the power to give you what you're asking in the hope that they'll put pressure on someone who does have that power is just plain wrong.
The implication of my stance is that strikes or at the very least full strikes should not be conducted on monopolies. To quote my earlier comment:
If Burger King workers go on strike and someone wants a burger they go to Wendy's or White Spot and while Burger King suffers the public is only slightly inconvenienced. If Ford workers go on strike for a better contract, car buyers can go with Honda.In the case of a monopoly, it is impossible to strike without harming third parties, so I don't think strikes should be allowed, but as the National Post pointed out when they argued in their masthead editorial against declaring the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service , the solution is to avoid having monopolies in the first place.
Of course a strike isn't the only tool a union has at it's disposal. A few years ago, the toll collectors on the Coquihalla highway were negotiating for better pay and rather than strike or shutdown the highway they simply stopped collecting tolls and waved drivers through. Drivers weren't harmed in any way, but the lost revenue was a strong argument for the union.
A conservative view of unions...
The initial post was on the TTC strike in Toronto which led to a general discussion on unions. After my comment, L-girl who describes herself as a progressive said that she found it "refreshing" that a conservative would say that unions are necessary. The implication being that it's unusual for conservatives to think this.
So that's the starting point of this post. It may be a rambling one, but it's my blog. :)
My original statement was this:
Unions are necessary if only for the threat that workers could unionize. If unions went the way of the dodo, employees in Canada for be fine only very, very briefly. Their are definitely employers who would treat employees with respect even without the threat of strikes or unions. But they'd be driven out of business by the less ethical who would be able to undercut them. (And guess who everyone would have to work for then?)That's still a good summary of what I think. Unions are necessary.
This is not to say that unions are universally good or that I like everything about BC labour laws. I think that in some respects our labour laws are far too pro-union.
For example, the rules governing how a company can become unionized. It should be very simple. If most employees vote for a union then unionize, if most employees don't, then don't unionize. (And the criteria for employees getting rid of their union should be the same). And obviously it has to be a secret ballot.
But that isn't what the law says in BC.
Businesses can be unionized simply by getting a majority of employees to sign a card supporting the union. Think about this for a moment. You "win the election" simply by getting the majority to sign a card. The possibilities for abuse are obvious. Firstly, to vote against the union you need to do so by telling the union promoter that you don't want a union. Secondly, one can easily see a worker signing a card just to make the organizer go away. Would that be a fair way to elect a government? No secret ballot there either. Turn it around for a moment. Would it be a good idea if management could get rid of a union by approaching employees one at a time and asking them to sign an "anti-union card"?
The purpose of these union cards should simply be to act as a petition. If you get enough signatures, then you have a secret ballot vote on unionization. (The names on the "petition" stay between the labour board and the union of course, the employer has no need to know).
But again, that's not what the law in BC says, but if you say that we need to change this law, thus making it harder for unions to sign up new businesses you are portrayed as anti-union.
There are also unjust restrictions on how an employer can argue against a union. An employer can't say to their employees that a union is not in their interest and then explain why. That qualifies as "creating a hostile environment", and if the employer is deemed to have created such a thing, the labour board can impose a union without having any vote by the employees at all. Again, how fair is that for the employees? They can only be told the advantages of unionization. Their employer can't tell them the disadvantages.
The other problem I have with unions is forced membership. Once a business is unionized, no employee can refuse to join the union without losing their job. Again, how fair is that? I remember something my great-Aunt Helen said about unions. She was a teacher and she believed that it was ethically wrong to strike. (I don't agree, but it's a legitimate stance). I'm not sure how she felt about joining a union, but unions have pretty severe penalties for members who refuse to join a strike. Ultimately such people can lose their jobs. She now has a school named in her honour, but today's labour laws would require her to choose between her ethics and her job. That's just not right.
Now on a practical level I can see why the labour enforces membership on all employees at a unionized business. The dirty tricks an unethical employer could employ without such a law are rather obvious. But we should not lose sight of the fact that the labour code enforces an injustice, even if it is necessary to do so.
I haven't got to what I think of strikes yet, but it's after noon and I want to go outside. I'll get around to posting that part later...