The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Vox populi

Welcome back. We were dark today to protest two flawed legislative proposals, the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

The administration today hinted at a threat to veto SOPA, while several senators have withdrawn support for PIPA in response to the blackout protests around the Internet:

Co-sponsors who say they can no longer support their own legislation include Senators Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican, and Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. Republican Representatives Ben Quayle of Arizona, Lee Terry of Nebraska, and Dennis Ross of Florida also said they would withdraw their backing of the House bill.

Rubio said he switched his position on the Senate measure, the Protect IP Act, after examining opponents’ contention that it would present a “potentially unreasonable expansion of the federal government’s power to impact the Internet,” according to a posting today on Facebook. Blunt said in a statement today he is withdrawing as a co-sponsor of the Senate bill.

The Washington Monthly explains the administration's volte face on SOPA:

The White House didn’t issue a veto threat, per se, but the administration’s chief technology officials concluded, “We will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” The statement added that any proposed legislation “must not tamper with the technical architecture of the Internet.” The White House’s position left SOPA and PIPA, at least in their current form, effectively dead.

The state of play in the Senate is a little different — a PIPA vote is likely next Tuesday — but even in the upper chamber, the bill is quickly losing friends. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) announced his opposition yesterday, and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a former co-sponsor of PIPA, is also now against it.

The President did, however, shut down the Keystone XL pipeline (at least for now).

So, in all, this was a pretty good day for the people.

Update: Via Coding Horror, Mozilla Foundation Chair Mitchell Baker has a great description of why PIPA and SOPA are so awful.

Church of Kopimism

To counter SOPA, a Swedish group has gotten official recognition as a religion on the idea of Holy Information:

The church, which holds CTRL+C and CTRL+V (shortcuts for copy and paste) as sacred symbols, does not directly promote illegal file sharing, focusing instead on the open distribution of knowledge to all.

It was founded by 19-year-old philosophy student and leader Isak Gerson. He hopes that file-sharing will now be given religious protection.

"For the Church of Kopimism, information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore copying is central for the organisation and its members," he said in a statement.

I can't wait to see which angels help them decipher their silicon tablets...

Wikipedia joins SOPA protest; Twitter boss scoffs

The largest encyclopedia ever assembled will go offline tomorrow to protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act, currently working its way through Congress's collective bowels. From Wikipedia's public statement:

[T]he Wikimedia Foundation is asked to allocate resources and assist the community in blacking out the project globally for 24 hours starting at 05:00 UTC on January 18, 2012, or at another time as determined by the Wikimedia Foundation. This should be carried out while respecting technical limitations of the underlying software, and should specifically prevent editing wherever possible. Provisions for emergency access to the site should be included in the blackout software. In order to assist our readers and the community at large to educate themselves about SOPA and PIPA, these articles and those closely related to them will remain accessible for reading purposes if possible. Wikipedians are urged to work with WMF staff to develop effective messaging for the "blackout screens" that directs readers to suitable online resources. Sister projects, such as the German and Italian Wikipedias and Wikimedia Commons, have indicated an intention to support the same principles with banners on those sites, and the support of other projects is welcome and appreciated.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is unimpressed: " 'That's just silly. Closing a global business in reaction to single-issue national politics is foolish,' Costolo [said]."

For what it's worth, my U.S. Senators are split: Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) claims to be opposed to it, while Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) is a co-sponsor of the Senate's version. Neither has any material on his website about it. I have written to Senator Durbin and to Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) for comment.

Hooking up, American-style

Rumors abound that American Airlines has two suitors, one we knew about and one we didn't. Since filing for bankruptcy in November, industry analysts have wondered with whom they would merge, twice-spurned USAirways the most obvious choice.

The new rumors, however, have Delta puttin' the moves on, which, if consummated, would make Delmerican (Amelta?) the world's largest airline and put the oneworld alliance in existential peril:

Since I'm generally bullish on the airline alliances (and competition between them), I'd tend to think the US Airways/oneworld route would be better for competition, and thus better for travellers. But the real question is what American government regulators and anti-trust authorities think about the whole idea. A Delta-American merger would produce a company that would control a huge chunk of domestic market—29.6%, double the share of its next biggest competitor, Southwest Airlines.

Another issue is whether Delta's supposed interest in acquiring American is serious or simply an effort to cause problems for US Airways and oneworld. It's hard to imagine that Delta's executives aren't aware of the regulatory problems a merger with American might face. Whatever happens, this struggle will be interesting to watch.

Blogger Matt Yglesias argues that an American/USAirways merger would be more patriotic, and "would give the United States three really big global carriers—United, Delta, and US/American—with the merged entity ideally joining the OneWorld alliance so we'd have strong representation in each of the three major global airline alliances." And it would keep Chicago one of aviation's world capitals, since a merger with Delta would encourage shutting either O'Hare or Delta's nearby hub in Detroit.

With this many rumors circulating, I expect we'll hear something definitive relatively soon.

EFF represents defendants in time zone case

Reader Curtis Manwaring alerted me this morning to movement in the copyright infringement case against Arthur David Olson, late of the Posix time zone database. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has taken up Olson's (and Paul Eggerts') defense, and yesterday threatened a motion for Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff's attorney if they don't withdraw the case within 21 days:

If there were ever a pleading that invited Rule 11 sanctions, Plaintiff Astrolabe, Inc.'s Complaint is it. ... Astrolabe's frivolous and unfounded Complaint has already caused harm, and not only to Mr. Olson and Dr. Eggert. ... Perhaps realizing the folly of filing such a Complaint, Astrolabe has not yet served Defendants. Yet Astrolabe refuses to voluntarily dismiss its baseless Complaint, and thus the threat of full-blown copyright litigation looms, to the detriment of Defendants and the public interest in obtaining accurate time zone information on the Internet.

Astrolabe's Complaint illustrates the harm that frivolous claims of copyright infringement can cause to a public, collaboratively maintained factual resource. Under Rule 11, the Court should remedy this abuse of the legal system and deter future abuses by striking the Complaint and awarding defendants their costs and attorney fees.

I predicted this motion back in October. I can't wait to see how Astrolabe and their attorney respond.

And then this happened (PMQs part II)

After having a good rant about Labour Party leader Ed Milliband asking one of the stupidest and most poorly-timed questions I've ever heard during Question Time, I returned to my DVR, and watched him...sit down. Which was odd. Because throughout this Parliament, the Leader of the Opposition has gotten five questions at a time, as a way of making up for the Liberal Democrats giving up their two questions during the previous Parliament. (Trust me—the Labour Party gets five, and he only asked three.)

And then we get to this exchange, fourteen minutes in, which...well, here are Milliband's fourth and fifth questions:

Edward Miliband: I want to ask the Prime Minister about Scotland. We on this side of the House believe that the United Kingdom benefits the people of Scotland and the people of the rest of the United Kingdom in equal measure. We are stronger together and weaker apart. Does he agree that we must make the case for the Union—not simply a case against separatism, but the positive case about the shared benefits to us all of Scotland’s part in the United Kingdom: the shared economic interests, the shared institutions such as the NHS, the defence forces and the BBC, and above all the shared values we hold together?

The Prime Minister: I am happy to say that this is an area where the right hon. Gentleman and I will be in 100% agreement. I passionately believe in the future of our United Kingdom, and passionately believe that we are stronger together than we would be by breaking apart. Frankly, I am sad that we are even having this debate, because I support the United Kingdom so strongly, but we have to respect the fact that Scotland voted for a separatist party in the Scottish parliamentary elections, so the first thing that it is right to do is make clear the legal position about a referendum, which is what my right hon. Friend the Scottish Secretary has been doing. We have made the offer to devolve the power to hold that referendum so that it can be made in Scotland and held in Scotland. Frankly, I look forward to having the debate, because I think that too many in the Scottish National party have been happy to talk about the process but, do not want to talk about the substance. I sometimes feel when I listen to them that it is not a referendum they want, but a “neverendum”. Let us have the debate, and let us keep our country together.

Edward Miliband: May I agree with the Prime Minister? This is not a fight about process between the Westminster Government and the Scottish Government, or between the British Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister. The way to tackle this issue is to have immediate cross-party talks in Scotland about the timing of the referendum, the nature of the single-question referendum and the vital involvement of the Electoral Commission. Does the Prime Minister also agree with me that we need as soon as possible, as he said, to get beyond process and have that discussion about the substantive issues? This is a momentous decision that our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we get it wrong, so we need a serious, thoughtful and inclusive debate about the choices and the benefits to Scotland of staying in the United Kingdom. On this important issue, the people of our country deserve nothing less than that serious debate about the benefits of the United Kingdom.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman is right on those three points. On the process of negotiation, which is very important now, particularly given that the SNP has come out and made more clear what it wants to do, I am very happy for the UK Government and the Westminster Parliament to speak directly to the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and let us come to a conclusion about the best time and the best way to hold the referendum. But it must be clear, it must be legal, it must be decisive and it must be fair. Those are the absolute keys. I absolutely agree with the right hon. Gentleman: as soon as those process questions are settled, we need to get on to the substance. [ Interruption. ] The only point I would make about the timing—[ Interruption. ] As SNP Members, who cannot seem to keep quiet, are so keen to leave the United Kingdom, I do not quite understand why they want to put off putting the question for so long.


Let us imagine for a moment the President and Speaker Boehner taking time out from slugging one another to choreograph so nicely a joint address about anything. This set-piece required both Milliband and Prime Minister Cameron to agree on it, and required Speaker John Bercow to agree (since he controls the order of questions). I'm not sure how to reconcile the earlier exchange I mentioned with this one, except to say, everyone seems to agree on the existential issues.

For more on the likelihood of Scotland's independence, here are The Economist and The Guardian.

Two left feet, and he can still walk into it

Just catching up on my connection with the outside world this evening, I played back yesterday's questions to the Prime Minister, and within three minutes banged hand to forehead as Ed Milliband disappointed the entire Labour Party one more time within seconds of opening his mouth. From the official record:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): May I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Captain Tom Jennings from the Royal Marines, Squadron Leader Anthony Downing from the Royal Air Force, Private John King from 1st Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, and Rifleman Sachin Limbu from 1st Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles? All of them showed enormous courage and bravery. They have made sacrifices on our behalf, and our deepest condolences go to their families and friends.

In the autumn statement the Chancellor said that train fares would rise by only 1% above inflation. Can the Prime Minister therefore explain why rail companies this month on some of the busiest commuter routes have increased their fares by up to 11%?

The Prime Minister: The power to do that was given to them by the last Labour Government.

Look, one doesn't need to be an expert in British politics to know the following:

  • A six percentage-point rise in rail fares does not seem to be the most weighty issue of the day in the United Kingdom;
  • If it were truly significant, but one might have a perception coming to it cold that it's a somewhat trivial issue, one might expect the Leader of the Opposition to, you know, work up to it;
  • Given that the Leader of the Opposition has as much time as he wants to ask questions during PMQs, he certainly had time to segue between, you know, mourning the deaths of four British soldiers and a complaint that trains cost more; and
  • Wait, did he go from acknowledging the deaths of the brave men who have made sacrifices on the country's behalf and a £10 hike in the fare to Milton Keynes without as much as a "Mr. Speaker, as you will no doubt be aware..." ?
  • Harriet Harman is sitting right next to him and doesn't kick him in the fork for scoring an own-goal within the first three minutes?
  • Doesn't this guy have staff that can say, "Ed, our lot passed that one, best leave it alone?"
  • ...

Sorry, I degenerated into a rant there. It's just that I am naturally inclined towards the left, and the Labour Party represents the left in the UK, and I think the Conservative Party is dead wrong about how to get the UK out of recession...and my guy is up there squandering his opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about...well, anything other than rail fares.

It gets worse. A few minutes later we hear this exchange:

The Prime Minister: It is time for the Leader of the Opposition to listen to his shadow Defence Secretary, who wrote very candidly over Christmas: “There is a difference between populism and popularity”— and that difference is called credibility. Time to have some, I think.

Edward Miliband: Instead of his pre-prepared lines, the right hon. Gentleman should get his facts right about his own policy.

"Pre-prepared lines"? My forehead hurts from where my desk just rose up to meet it.

Look, I'm not a UK voter, I'm just a fan. But please, Labour Party, please, I beg you, please get this guy away from microphones. I'm sorry Harriet Harman doesn't want the job, because as boring as she may seem on TV, she's actually a foot smarter than her boss. I'm beginning to think the party took a collective step back the moment someone asked for a volunteer while Milliband was too stupid to realize what was going on and so stayed put. (Think about that for a moment, it will come to you.)

Oh well. The Lib Dems may bolt the coalition in a few months and give Labour another chance. Or not. It's possible we have this clown until the next election, whereupon I hope his own large intestine reaches up to strangle him so Labour actually have another chance at Number 10 in my lifetime.