The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'eu'
Polls have opened in Britain's membership referendum; despite heavy rain (and in some areas, flooding), attendance is reportedly high, which is probably a factor in the rising fortunes of Remain in polls and on the betting markets (though there are rumours that part of the latter is manipulation by hedge funds). Having said that, the result is still very much up in the air; the closest to a confident statement anybody has made about it is that it will be close, though a recent poll has predicted a 51%-49% victory for Remain; a victory in name, but not really a victory.
In my opinion, there are three ways this could turn out:
Leave could prevail. In the short term, there would be much uncertainty; the pound would take a hit and there'd be a near-term economic downturn. Perhaps Prime Minister Boris Johnson, his Brexit gamble having served its purpose, would fudge some kind of reconciliation with the EU, or perhaps the UK would still be out. All those Leavers who were looking forward to an end of the effects of globalisation and a return to jobs for life and old-fashioned community values would be in for what Milton Friedman might have called a short sharp shock; the new Britain, afloat on the high seas of international finance, would have to compete on some basis, and being a gateway to the European Union (which, for all its problems, is a huge economy) would no longer be that basis, so it'd come down to low wages, lax regulations and/or tax-haven-style opacity. A permanently low pound (and the absence of any automatic rights for British citizens to look for work abroad) would ensure the first point; the other two could come as political necessity, as governments, needing to attract business, cut everything from human rights to environmental regulations. So, post-Brexit Britain would look not so much as a cozy worker's utopia in vintage bunting as a dirty sweatshop and equally dirty tax haven, whoring out both its historic reputation and its captive population. (As one might expect, Russia's oligarchs expect a bonanza after Britain votes to leave the EU; the depressed pound will let them snap up more prime London property, and the receding threat of transparency rules will make London a very comfortable environment for the wealthy and corrupt; for the rest of us, not so much.)
(That is only considering what would happen in the UK itself. In Europe proper, Britain leaving would embolden its own anti-EU fringe elements, the Marine Le Pens and Alternativen für Deutschland and the don't-call-us-Nazis sticking their noses into the tents of government all over the Nordic countries. Once, say, France or Germany left, the EU would effectively be finished as a significant entity. So border posts go up, cooperation gives way to competition and mistrust, and soon armies are being built up, just in case the neighbours try something. Meanwhile, on the Eastern fringe, Russia jockeys for control over the Baltic states. Poland decides, for perfectly understandable reasons, that it needs a nuclear arsenal, then Germany (hemmed in between nuclear France and nuclear Poland) decides it needs one too. Finland starts preparing for another bitter winter war. And around Europe, nationalist parties are on the rise, and skinheads are attacking foreigners, liberals, gays, and anybody outside a narrow view of their country's national identity. The old post-WW2 world of Interrail and EasyJet, of Erasmus scholarships and weekenders at Berghain and complaints about drunken English stag parties, will seem like a long-lost golden age, and the future will look like the millennia-old killing field. In this world, even if you did manage to get an EU passport before the door slammed shut, Europe won't be a welcoming place to go.)
Remain could, narrowly, win. 51-49, 53-47, or similar. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief for a moment, given that the UK is not crashing out of the EU. The Brexit faction, being reasonable people, realise that the people have spoken and accept their vanquishment graciously, dissolving and going away. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage audition as presenters for the next reboot of Top Gear. Britain's bout of anti-European mania is over, as the nation looks to embrace a progressive, inclusive vision beyond its borders.
Who are we kidding? Almost half the population will have voted to leave the EU; the right-wing press are still around and still despise the EU and the progressive impositions it makes. There would be calls of fraud, demands for a recount, perhaps even allegations that MI5/Mossad/the Masons tampered with ballots. (It's likely that Russian election observers would obligingly provide “evidence” of electoral fraud, as they did in Scotland.) Even if the conspiracy theories didn't get beyond the jet-fuel/steel-beams credibility threshold, Little England's low-intensity war against the EU would continue for another generation. UKIP would get MEPs elected, who would take up seats in Brussels and behave like carbon monoxide molecules in its bloodstream, taking up space and blocking its operation. Tory politicians (and perhaps Labour ones) would find that pandering to Europhobia is politically profitable. The conflict would flare up from time to time, and might again drag Britain towards the edge of the abyss.
- Remain could win decisively, with at least 60%. Perhaps Leave's figure would be as low as the Crazification Factor, the 25% or so of the population who either are actual swivel-eyed lunatics or merely willing to unbridle their id and howl at the moon in the privacy of the polling booth and the internet comment forum, though that's not necessary. In any case, Remain would have a clear majority. The opportunists on the Leave side, having exhausted its usefulness, would jump ship and not look back, and however hard the hardcore and their backers in the tabloids bloviated about the evils of Europe, they'd be dismissed as yesterday's cranks. (Today's cranks would, of course, find some other, more topical, issue to latch onto.) This is the only scenario that could be considered an unambiguous victory for Remain.
I'm hoping for the third scenario. It could still happen, though, if polls are to be believed, is unlikely. If the polls are to be believed, the second scenario is the most likely, which means that things will fester on, albeit in a less acute state. Though recent history has shown that polls aren't what they used to be; perhaps we're entering a chaotic period of history, where assumptions no longer hold. In any case, we'll probably know between 2am and 7am.
Britain's tantrum about whether to remain a member of the EU has been burbling on malevolently, like some kind of grotesque pantomime. The Leave side has been advancing spectacularly, given largely a free ride by the right-leaning tabloids, and has emerged from the depths of absurdity to within grasp of victory. Leave has been fronted mainly by a disingenuous Boris Johnson, using all his Oxford debating society skills, Telegraph editorial experience and classically-educated raconteurial eloquence to posit an argument he is on record as not believing in, buttressed by a Gish Gallop of trivially debunkable urban legends and outright untruths about overbearing EU regulations. it is clear that for him, the prize is not the UK, free at last of the tethers of Brussels and sailing the high seas like a mighty Elizabethan galleon, once again regaining its world-spanning empire due to the innate British genius for free trade, but Boris Johnson moving into 10 Downing St., perhaps even before the next general election. To his right is Nigel Farage, the affable (if you're an older white Englishman, at least) reactionary, pint in hand, telling it like it is and pouring scorn on left-wing metropolitan-elite bullshit, from global warming and finite natural resources to ladies in the workplace and smoking being harmful.
The past week started as a victory lap for the Leave campaign, buoyed by polls giving them a commanding 6-10% lead over Remain (also likely to be inflated by the asymmetry of engagement between the two sides; it is hard to imagine someone who loves the EU with the passion with which the hardcore Europhobes despise it). Remain seemed to be flailing desperately, the chancellor even resorting to threatening voters with punitive tax hikes if Leave won. Leave, meanwhile, stopped pretending that their argument is about bloodless economic calculation and got to the real (red) meat of the argument: the Bloody Foreigners. A poster was produced, showing vast queues of brown-skinned, scarily Islamic-looking refugees befouling England's green and pleasant land with their presence, its framing (wittingly or otherwise) lifted from a Nazi propaganda film from the 1940s. Then there was the flotilla: Farage (the champion of the British fisherman, who sat on the EU Fisheries Committee but declined to attend most of the meetings) leading a group of fishing boats up the Thames in protest, with a counterprotest led by Bob Geldof.
And then there was the murder.
Jo Cox, a Labour MP and human rights campaigner, had been on the Remain flotilla. The following day, she was back in her seat in northern England, holding an electoral surgery, when a man stabbed and shot her, shouting “Britain first”. She did not survive, and became the first sitting British politician murdered since Spencer Perceval in 1812. The right-wing pro-Leave press moved swiftly to disavow any suggestion that the murder was in any way political, let alone connected to an interpretation of their side's arguments, trying to spin the killer as a random lunatic, as likely to have been motivated by, say, the ghost of Freddie Mercury talking to him through his toaster as anything else. That interpretation was not helped when he was found to have had connections with neo-Nazi groups (including Britain First, if a photograph of him at one of their events is authentic), nor when, in court, he gave his name as “Death To Traitors Freedom For Britain” (though Louise Mensch, that reliably south-pointing compass of the British Torysphere, did make a heroic attempt to claim his words as semantically meaningless gibberish, or in her words, “wibble wibble I'm a hatstand”).
By now, pretty much everyone has conceded that the murder was politically motivated, which leaves Leave with the bind of trying to dissociate themselves from extremists further up the continuum of xenophobic opinion from them; meanwhile, polls show that some voters have started deserting Leave (though not in droves; the two sides are now polling neck and neck). Perhaps they're asking themselves about some of the people they've discovered themselves sharing a side in the debate with.
It's three days until the referendum itself, and the result is still very much up in the air. Polling suggests that Leave still have the edge, while the betting markets predict a Remain victory. If Britain votes to leave the EU, it will, in my opinion, be a catastrophically bad decision for reasons too numerous to go into here. If Remain ekes out a narrow victory, though, the sense of relief will be tinged by the awareness that, were it not for the brutal murder of a fundamentally decent human being, our ancestral hatred of the Frogs and Krauts and fear of a brown-skinned Other would almost certainly have shifted it to Leave. And it does make one wonder what proportion of the 40%+ of the population expected to vote Leave would agree with Mr. Death To Traitors Freedom For Britain that Jo Cox, MP was, if not a traitor to Britain, part of an enemy elite hostile to the “silent majority”.
A minor blow has been struck against the Zuckerberg Doctrine, the principle that users of social websites must identify themselves by their legal “wallet names”, presenting one identity to everyone from employers to gaming buddies to credit-rating agencies and advertisers (especially those): Germany's Data Protection Commissioner has ruled that users have a right to use pseudonyms, and in prohibiting this in its terms of service, Facebook is in violation of Germany's strict privacy laws. Facebook, however, has asserted that this law is not valid, as its European operations are based in Ireland, which has a more libertarian legal regime.
A short guide to lazy EU journalism, in the vein of Britain's tabloids:
1. Not sure how the EU works or what institutions are involved? –> Just write “Brussels”.
2. Germany is generally seen as important in EU politics and journalists know how to frame it: If Germany is active in a certain policy domain just write something about “German dominance” and if you work for British newspaper add some subtle references to the war. If Germany is passive in a given policy area just write that Germany abandons the EU and it clearly adopted a unilateral strategy, if you work for a British newspaper you could add something about the war.
9. Use “EU bureaucrats” or “Brussels bureaucrats” as often as possible. A more experienced lazy journalist would simply refer to ‘Eurocrats‘. (Thanks Gawain) Useful adjectives in this context include “unelected”, “unaccountable”, “corrupt”, “highly-paid”, “highly-pensioned”, “lazy”. This list is not exhaustive and be adapted to your journalistic needs.
This week, the European parliament will vote on extending the copyright term for sound recordings to 70 years, a vote made possible by Denmark dropping its opposition. The extension, if it passes (which is likely), will do for the next 20 or so years until valuable corporate monopoly rights are once again threatened by the encroachment of the public domain. And so on, at least until the powers that be judge that the metaphor of "intellectual property" as a natural right is sufficiently embedded in the public consciousness that they can dispense with the increasingly flimsy pretense of copyright being a limited, short-term trade-off for the public good, and scrap the expiry of copyrights once and for all.
Meanwhile, here is a very insightful article setting out exactly why copyright law as we know it is broken; i.e., that powerful vested interests have hijacked the regulatory mechanisms, and subverted a compromise for the public good into being purely about reinforcing private benefit:
Here’s a slightly absurd example: make it so that in Britain, only the Royal Shakespeare Company can perform Shakespeare. They would be granted exclusive rights in perpetuity to perform Shakespeare. They would do fantastically out of it. They could charge through the nose, and make bucket loads, because there would be no other way of seeing Shakespeare being performed.
There is no public good being served here except in a secondary fashion (the company would be taxed and those taxes could be used to provide public services etc.). Indeed, a great deal of public harm is being done because a culture where only one theatre company are allowed to perform Shakespeare is a much worse off culture. What if someone wants to come along and do a radically different interpretation of the same play? Like, oh, set Romeo and Juliet in New York City and replace the houses of Montague and Capulet with two teenage street gangs roughly based on Italian Catholics and Jews. Or perhaps replace them with the Israelis and Palestinians (West Bank Story). Or perhaps some new interesting technology like cinema or radio happens and you want to adapt it to the new technology.
Two German engineers has found a way around the EU's ban on incandescent lightbulbs: by selling them as "heatballs", heating devices which just happen to emit light:
Rotthaeuser studied EU legislation and realised that because the inefficient old bulbs produce more warmth than light -- he calculated heat makes up 95 percent of their output, and light just 5 percent -- they could be sold legally as heaters.
On their website, the two engineers describe the heatballs as "action art" and as "resistance against legislation which is implemented without recourse to democratic and parliamentary processes."There is a market there; a small demographic of people who prefer incandescent lightbulbs and another one of people willing to spend money for the joy of spiting the leftists, greens and other politically-correct do-gooders.
Economically, things are pretty grim in Iceland. The country's beset by crippling debts, prices are rising and foreign currency is being rationed; public opinion has turned against the free-wheeling capitalists who caused the crisis, and support for joining the EU is dropping as EU members (particularly Britain and the Netherlands) hold Iceland's feet to the fire over bank debts.
However, there are plans to utilise Iceland's geographical advantages to make the country the world's server farm. It makes sense; server facilities use increasingly vast amounts of electricity, both for powering servers and cooling them. Iceland, however, has a cold climate (providing for natural cooling), and more electricity than it knows what to do with (thanks to geothermal energy), all generated with negligible carbon emissions, and is conveniently located in the middle of the North Atlantic, within easy reach of both North America and Europe.
Iceland has been busying itself laying fibre optic cables to connect the country with North America and Europe. The cables coming in provide a capacity of more than five terabits/sec - all with server farms in mind.
Travelling down this pipe, data sited in Iceland is just 17 milliseconds from London.
The Independent looks at the Tories' new allies in Brussels, or, in particular, the other prospective members of the new right-wing group they're setting up because the standard centre-right is not strident enough:
It is expected to include the Belgian Lijst Dedecker party, some of whose politicians are former members of the far-right Vlaams Belang part, whose candidates backed a statement saying: "We urgently need global chemotherapy against Islam to save civilisation", and used campaigning material featuring an ape with the words "I have not forgotten my roots ... have you?"
The Tories are also in talks with the Dutch Christian Union, which includes the SGP, a Calvinist party which believes the Bible means that women should not stand for parliament but have a "nurturing role" at home. Mr Cameron's party is also wooing the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party, several of whose MPs marched in Riga with veterans of the Latvian SS in March.
The 25 Tories will be the biggest national team in the new group. Its other prominent members will be the Polish Law and Justice Party, which has 15 MEPs, and the Czech Civic Democrats, which has nine. The Polish party, headed by the controversial Kaczynski twins, is anti-gay, and banned gay-rights processions. In talks on EU voting power, it demanded that Poland's losses at the hands of Hitler be added to its current population so it would have more clout.Noted by their absence are the other right-wing British parties, i.e., the UKIP (which is essentially the voice of Daily Mail-reading Britain) and the BNP (who are disadvantaged by being fascists with a high profile in Britain, unlike the Latvian Freedom and Fatherland party). The Tories are also trying to block the Italian Northern League from joining, though are in a quandary: they need MEPs from at least 7 EU states for the group to officially exist, and there are too few parties which aren't either happy in a mainstream group or on the wrong side of politics; so the Tories are walking a tightrope, having to pick parties with right-wing populist appeal who aren't obviously unpalatable. Which, in the age of the internet, may be harder to get away with.
The EU election results are in. It is, of course, a disastrous result for New Labour, with them winning only 11 seats, finishing third behind a single-issue minor party.
Britain also lurched sharply to the right. Everyone is, of course, talking about the BNP, a party which strenuously denies being fascist or racist with one breath and then talks about kicking dark-skinned people out of Britain with the next. They got two MEPs up. Though as attention-grabbing as neo-Nazis and those of that ilk are, the real news is elsewhere; the UKIP (a right-wing populist party currently focussed on pulling Britain out of the EU, though whose MEPs have in the past railed against womens' rights; they're like the BNP minus the overt racism and fascism) came second, winning 13 seats. First, of course, were the Tories, who, whilst paying lip service to centrism in Britain, have allied themselves with the right-wing fringe in the EU, having left the centre-right European People's Party and joined a new fringe-right bloc. The 24 Tory MEPs just elected will ally themselves with right-wing hardliners such as Poland's rabidly illiberal Law and Justice Party and Latvia's Fatherland and Freedom Party. The Greens, meanwhile, only scored two seats and a whisker more votes than the BNP, and the traditional leftist parties seem to have vanished into thin air.
If the UKIP are going to be the New Tory Britain's opposition party, they'll have to come up with some policies other than pulling Britain out of the EU and kicking all the Polish plumbers out. Such as, perhaps, bringing back the death penalty, national service or public flogging.
Good news for British traditionalists today; the EU has abandoned its effort to make Britain go metric. Britain had been given an exemption from the requirement to standardise on metric measurements in 1995, though this was due to expire this year, with miles and pints to be banished from view. Though, with a fierce display of tutting, the Daily Mail-reading little-Englanders gave Johnny Foreigner what for, and he fled with his tail between his legs, leaving Britain to its ancient systems of measurement in perpetuity.
Those aghast at the surrender of modernity to tradition for its own sake, though, need not despair; the law still requires metric measurements to be displayed alongside the traditional ones, and the traditional measurements are defined in terms of the metric ones (a pint, for example, is legally set at 568ml; cursory inspection of a pint glass at any pub will demonstrate this).
Another British tradition, however, was not so lucky; the EU has voted to abolish Britain's right to opt out of the EU's maximum working-hour limits. The Tories, employer groups and the New Labour nomenklatura are, of course, outraged (though the Labour rank and file are, by all accounts, quite pleased), predicting a collapse of productivity and the surrender of the Calvinist work ethic that made Britain great. However, given that the maximum EU working limits prescribe a 48-hour week, averaged over some nine weeks, this doesn't hold water, unless one is running a Dickensian sweatshop.
Finally, the pound's value has recently plummeted, to the point where a pound is rapidly approaching one euro. Which has caused some commentators to suggest that maybe Britain joining the euro is not such a bad idea. Which may be the case; certainly, the traditionalist argument for retaining the pound doesn't hold much water, given that the modern decimal pound is a dollar/euro-style decimal currency which replaced the ancient pound in 1971; the difference between it and, say, the Australian dollar (another currency hewn from pounds, shillings and pence at about the same time) is that Britain decided to name its new currency after the old one. Britain joining the euro would make things easier for those travelling to/from or trading with continental Europe (or, indeed, Ireland). The question which has most bearing on the pros and cons of the euro is whether Britain's monetary policy being fixed to the Eurozone would help or harm the British economy; this is a question I'm not qualified to answer.
Last year, the Gowers report, commissioned by the British government, rejected the recording industry's call to extend sound recording copyrights in Europe. Recently, however, the recording industry scored a coup, in putting a copyright-extension directive before the EU. Here is a petition against it, organised by the EFF and Open Rights Group:
Copyright is a bargain. In exchange for their investment in creating and distributing sound recordings to the public, copyright holders are granted a limited monopoly during which are allowed to control the use of those recordings. This includes the right to pursue anyone who uses their recordings without permission. But when this time is up, these works join Goethe, Hugo and Shakespeare in the proper place for all human culture – the public domain. In practice, because of repeated term extensions and the relatively short time in which sound recording techniques have been available, there are no public domain sound recordings.The idea of copyright as a bargain, a deliberately limited monopoly, is one which has largely been erased from the public consciousness, through the introduction of a new concept a few decades ago—the concept of "intellectual property". When one thinks of ideas as property, copyright seems not as an unnatural, and mercifully limited, restriction on the natural flow of culture, but as an injustice in the opposite direction—the only form of property which expires in a few decades—and the idea of perpetual copyright, towards which we have been moving with copyright-term-extension bills and harmonisation treaties every few decades, seems, for a moment, like a much-needed correction of an unjust oversight, rather than the greedy, neo-feudal abomination it is. Whoever came up with the term "intellectual property" is a powerful sorcerer indeed.
(via Boing Boing)
In what could be a blow to the cause of international xenophobes' solidarity, the far-right bloc in the EU parliament looks set to collapse after five Romanian nationalist MPs threatened to quit over remarks by Italian member Alessandra Mussolini. Ms. Mussolini (the grand-daughter of the Fascist leader) described the Romanian people as "habitual law-breakers", and perhaps more damagingly, claimed to see little difference between them and the Roma (Gypsies), a group which the Romanian nationalist group despise. Oops!
Politicians in France are alarmed at French teenagers adopting another unwelcome English habit, this time it's le binge-drinking. A committee of MPs, representing the constituencies of Burgundy and Champagne, no less, has proposed a solution: encouraging French teenagers to drink good French wine, and not those horrible Anglo-Saxon alcopops:
The report for the Parliamentary Economics Committee, drafted by Philippe Martin and Gérard Voisin, members of President Chirac's Union for a Popular Movement (UMP), said that the young were forgoing wine's "health benefits and tasting pleasure" with a desire for higher alcohol content. "To be French is to know wine," said the report. "Learning about healthy living starts from childhood and primary school."
"It is a sign of changing times, that families no longer fill the wine-glasses of 15-year-olds at Sunday lunch, but the teenager is far more likely to go out and get smashed," said an expert.
Under a new European Commission proposal, any web sites featuring moving images may soon be subject to the same regulations as broadcast television:
Ministers fear that the directive would hit not only successful sites such as YouTube but also amateur "video bloggers" who post material on their own sites. Personal websites would have to be licensed as a "television-like service".Didn't they introduce a law like this in Australia a few moral panics ago? What has been the experience there? Have web sites taken down video content because of it? Or is it tacitly recognised that the law is unworkable and that its purpose is to provide a new offence for which otherwise legitimate troublemakers can be prosecuted where expedient?
Have you ever wondered where all the money from European nationals' VAT goes? Well, some of it is spent on buying up surplus wine and distilling it into fuel and disinfectant, to prevent a glut that would drive wine prices down and paralyse the roadways of Europe with roadblocks of indignant French winemakers:
The Commission's announcement that it would spend €131 million to distil 430 million bottles of French wine and 371 million bottles of Italian wine into fuel was met with protests by French wine growers, who demanded that European taxpayers should buy 1.1 billion bottles of their produce.
(Quake in terror at that fearsome sense of entitlement. C'est tres formidable!)
Such "crisis distillations" are becoming increasingly common, with the commission spending about €500 million last year turning wine into petrol, and viticulturists now producing wine knowing that it will never be drunk. Nearly a quarter of all Spanish wine now ends up being used for industrial purposes.Much of the problem comes down to competition from wines from places like Australia and Chile, which are produced using more modern, mechanised techniques and are consequently cheaper and more consistent in quality. (Apparently, making wine in France is 50 times more labour-intensive than doing so in Australia.) The French winemakers are, understandably, having trouble competing with this, which faces them with a choice: make sacrifices and ruthlessly streamline to better compete or whine and demand that the government protects them. Of course, in fine dirigiste tradition, they chose the latter. Good thing that the former eastern-bloc nations have joined the EU, expanding its tax base to pay for all that wine.
(I wonder how much the price of oil would have to rise for turning surplus wine into fuel to become economically viable as a replacement.)
Scientists have found that the River Po in northern Italy is full of cocaine residue; or, more precisely, of benzoylecgonine, a chemical produced only by metabolising cocaine and eliminated in urine. According to this test, people around the Po valley consume one and a half metric tonnes of cocaine a year, three times as much as official estimates suggested.
In other related news: cocaine traces found at EU parliament.
The EU Parliament has thrown out a proposed software patent directive, by 648 to 14 (w00t!). The European Commission has said that it would not draw up or submit any new versions of the proposal. Which means that it is stone cold dead, for now at least; though as Cory Doctorow points out, there is too much monopoly rent waiting to be extracted for the pro-patent lobby to not try again.
(via bOING bOING)
I haven't been paying enough attention to France's rejection of the EU constitution to comment insightfully on it, but Momus has:
It seems to me that a very similar thing has happened to Europe that has happened in the US: the people voting Yes to the EU constitution have the same educated, urban profile as the people voting Democrat in the last US election. And in both cases they've been defeated and outnumbered by less tolerant, less affluent and educated, more anxious, irrational and xenophobic people from smaller towns and country areas. People who feel like outsiders to the political process are now, with splendid passive aggression, exacting their revenge by dealing it blows. In many cases these people are also outsiders to the process of wealth creation: strip away the blue coasts and the big cities and America loses the economic powerhouses which make it the world's predominant power. It's the same in Europe: the people now determining the shape of the continent are the insecure poor, unwilling to share their meagre income with Polish plumbers and Turkish bakers, but also unwilling to admit their economic dependence on the dynamic city folk and political elites they've just dealt a slap in the face.Perhaps this is a good thing for trans-Atlantic peace. Perhaps the red-state Americans and the French Non-sayers can realise that they have a lot in common, put aside their hatreds of each others' countries and unite in a big joyous pogrom of their respective inner-city liberal-cosmopolitanist elites, shortly before devolving into a new dark age of poverty, superstition and xenophobia.
Australia has come in in 41st place in Reporters Without Borders' annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index; which is below all EU members, several other Eastern European countries, South Africa and Hong Kong; in contrast, New Zealand ranked ninth, only slightly below the 8 nations sharing first place. Australia's dismal showing has to do partly with restricted press access to refugees, though chances are that media ownership concentration, defamation laws and attempts to force journalists to reveal their sources have also contributed.
The bottom of the list is held, predictably, by North Korea (at #167), with Cuba just above it. Saudi Arabia is at #159, three places ahead of China, while Singapore is at #147. Brazil, a popular recent poster child of the Third Way, languishes at #66. The US's arrest of journalists at anti-Bush protests and restrictions on journalistic visas have knocked it down to #22. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Israel is at #36 (shared with Bulgaria), except in the occupied territories, where it is at #115 (shared with Gabon), though ahead of the Palestinian Authority (#127, slightly better than Egypt and Somalia).
First place is shared by Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Some (potentially) good news on the software-patent front; after the forces of darkness pushed a draconian software patent proposal through the European Parliament, the Dutch government appears to be listening to the mass geek protests against this, and is considering ordering its minister to withdraw his vote, something that has never happened before in EU history. If this does go through, it would force the EU Parliament to reconsider the software patent directive (which was basically rushed through with intensive lobbying by software corporations). Chances are those same lobbyists will have their daggers out for it, so it remains to be seen who prevails.
(There doesn't seem to be any such luck in Australia; the Dems have signed on for the US-Australian FTA (which, among other things, brings in the same software-patent regime that has worked so well in the US), and Labor seem to be running scared from being considered too "anti-American" to win the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers' vote (the Bush administration's insinuation that any Australia too hung up on its sovereignty may end up being thrown to the al-Qaeda wolves probably didn't help in this respect) that they'll be treading very carefully over anything that could be considered anti-American, and raising a stink about some obscure copyright issues that Norm and Sheryl of Nunawading couldn't give a toss about is probably too much risk for too little reward.)
Meanwhile, Guardian readers debate vital issues, such as whether Narnia and Middle Earth should be permitted to join the EU:
Everyone seems to be forgetting just how inefficient farmers Hobbits are. I can't see them agree to reasonable deal on CAP.
They're not ready for entry. The regulations on wardrobes alone should give them pause and the prospect of being overrun by asylum seekers from Sunderland will undoubtedly sway the vote in favour of 'No'.
Guardian readers would undoubtedly support The evil queen
It looks like Romania's bid to join the EU may be derailed by old ways still holding sway over remote rural regions; ways such as throwbacks to feudalism, Communism, the selling of children, and the ritual exhumation and staking of corpses to ward off undead:
Haunted by "strigoi" - the undead - villagers on the slopes of the Carpathian mountains exhume a corpse from the graveyard and drive a stake through its heart to banish the evil spirit. They burn the remains of the heart, mix the ashes with water from the local well and drink it, to complete the macabre ritual.
The regions of Transylvania and Wallachia were "haunted by ancestral ghosts, evil spirits, and vampires"; medieval beliefs that were "at odds with sophisticated EU rules on measuring fruit and the size of bananas".
Europe's preoccupations and debates, the paper said, were "totally out of tune with Romanian realities, where local barons make the law, enjoy privileges and export children to get favours from important people" in a "medieval fashion".
Judging by accounts from many sources, Romania sounds like a pretty bizarre place.
A PDF document showing the "EURion constellation"; this is a constellation of five 1mm circles found on European and British banknotes, and recognised by colour photocopiers. (The piece doesn't show exactly which five circles are the constellation, though if it's there, it shouldn't be too hard to find it.) I'm not sure whether the pattern used on US banknotes (and now recognised by commercial image-processing software) is the same or different, or what other anti-copying patterns are used on other currency. Though if each country had its own, it would use a lot of CPU cycles to detect. (via jwz's comments)
Czech Republic votes yes to EU membership by 77% margin, the latest in an unbroken line of yes votes. This only leaves the two easternmost Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, left to vote.
Poland votes Yes in EU referendum. The devoutly Catholic country is the largest by far of new member states, having more citizens than all the other applicants combined, and some are hoping that it will bolster the influence of conservative states in Europe, counteracting the influence of the perfidious Gaullists. Hopefully the process will work both ways and EU membership will liberalise Polish society, which is not the most tolerant of places.
Next up: the Czech republic, next weekend.
When the European Union recently sent a probe to Mars, they had to deal with a number of issues, such as which language to have the count-down in:
During the research period they realised that the rocket would actually be too heavy to get off the ground unless they got rid of that manual printed in all 37 European dialects. But in the end this week's launch was an enormous example of European cooperation and every country agreed on one thing: that it was their own scientists who had made the greatest contribution to this success. What's more, this milestone shows that Europe now rivals the US when it comes to space exploration.
But not everybody's enthusiastic about the exciting possibilities of space exploration:
This ought to be a mission to inspire our imaginations, but there are plenty of us on the left who are instinctively cynical about any sort of technological breakthrough. And this because underneath it all, there is a vague suspicion that all science is somehow vaguely rightwing. That everything from double physics on Thursday afternoons to man landing on the moon is the sort of nerdy boy's stuff that ought to be automatically sneered at by any self-respecting old leftie. Never mind that science has brought us the cure to countless diseases and clean water and warm homes and laserjet printers that work almost 50% of the time. The bottom line is that the kids who wanted chemistry sets for Christmas were not the ones wearing Rock Against Racism badges or going on the CND marches; indeed they could probably only see nuclear explosions as a fascinating cosmic phenomenon. So for generations on the British left there has been a lazy hostility to any major scientific achievement, whether it was cloning a sheep or keeping Margaret Thatcher's hair fixed in place.
The EU is planning to launch its own navigation satellite system to rival the US military-controlled GPS network. The CESMs fear that the US' track record for throwing its weight around would extend to tactically distorting GPS results to punish trade rivals or such; some would argue that given that GPS is a US military facility, one which has only been opened to civilian access out of the goodness of their hearts (much like the original Internet), they have every right to use it; though, by the same logic, the Europeans (and the Chinese and Russians and whoever) have the right to launch their own networks. The Pentagon claims that this is a dreadful waste of resources given that they have GPS, though reserves the right to manipulate GPS accuracy for tactical reasons.
The ideal would be a unified global network controlled by a non-partisan body (the UN perhaps, or a multinational infrastructure cartel like the ones that lay submarine cables). Maybe in 50 years we'll reach that level.
Of course, this is all assuming that Galileo, the ESA's GPS alternative, gets off the ground. After the Iraq debacle, Britain is unlikely to support it for one (the Blair administration has been outspoken in condemning multipolarism, and given that Washington is unhappy with potential challenges to its supremacy, London probably won't hurry to pay its share of the Galileo bills, and may even attempt to scrap it); meanwhile, the system is mired in the usual Eurobureaucracy, with international squabbling over funding halting work. And if they wish to go ahead, they'd better hurry; the frequencies allocated to Galileo by the ITU will be forfeited if a satellite isn't launched by 2005.
Hungary votes yes to EU membership, with a large majority (albeit of a low turnout) assenting to joining the EU next year. Meanwhile, a pro-EU party wins the Maltese general election, confirming the island state's (non-binding) yes vote last month. Next stop: Lithuania, in around a month's time.
The EU's expansion gains steam: Former Yugoslav republic Slovenia votes yes to joining the EU, and by a landslide too. (89.61% voted for joining the EU, with 10.3% against.) This is a more dramatic result than the close majority in the Maltese referendum some weeks ago. Slovenes also voted for their country joining NATO, with a 2/3 majority. Next up: Cyprus (the Greek half) on Saturday, and then Hungary on the 12th of April.
Telephone tapping devices found in EU building, specifically the French and German offices. French newspaper Le Figaro blaims the Yanqui imperialists; though don't they have Echelon to do all that for them without an incriminating bugging device? Perhaps the bugs were intended to be found, as an intimidation ploy of some sort?
The expansion of the European Union moves on: Malta has voted yes to joining the EU. The tiny Mediterranean island was the first nation to have its EU accession referendum, and the yes case won, albeit narrowly, despite concerns over jobs and loss of sovereignty. The next test will be Slovenia's referendum on the 23rd.
The eastward expansion of the EU may have hit an obstacle, with an outspoken Euroskeptic winning the Czech presidency. Vaclav Klaus, a neo-Thatcherite and vehement critic of the EU, won the presidency by one vote, and his administration could strain relations with the EU ahead of the EU accession referendum.
Europe is divided over the question over whether a future EU constitution should mention "God". The Catholic Church has pushed for a constitution that establishes Europe's heritage as based in Christianity, which has been watered down to "God as the source of truth", to appease other monotheists (atheists and pantheists be damned). There is strong support for this in Italy and former Communist countries (such as vehemently Catholic Poland). Meanwhile, other nations are wary of violating the separation between church and state: (via 1.0)
In Poland, where the government installed a crucifix in its Parliament after the fall of communism, a reference to God in the constitution would serve as a tribute to the church's role in resisting the government during the country's years as a Soviet satellite.
In Spain, a reference to God evokes the years under General Francisco Franco, where coins were stamped with the dictator's profile, ringed by the words "Leader of Spain by the grace of God." "Religion is a private matter," said Ana Palacio, Spain's foreign minister who is also a member of the presidium. "Our identity is the fight for democracy, for human rights, for the separation between church and state," she said in an interview. "The only banner that we have is secularism."
I'd be inclined to agree with the Spanish. Organised religion lends itself to being a tool of repression and control; and supporting any one religious view (such as monotheism) implicitly disenfranchises those who don't share that belief; stating that values and morality come exclusively from religion equates secularism with amorality, atheism with nihilism.
Meanwhile, Poland's entry to the EU in 2004 is threatened by fears that the EU may challenge the country's ban on abortion. The left-wing and pro-european government fears that conservative Catholic groups may boost the "no" vote in the June referendum on joining the EU. The mainstream Catholic church, however, supports the "yes" case. Unlike Ireland and Malta, Poland does not have a clause in its EU treaty exempting its abortion ban from EU laws. (via Reenhead)
Britain is considering withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights; Blair must have been hanging around with George "Treaties? We don't need no steenkin' treaties" Bush for too long.
(To give them credit, they intend to re-sign the bits of the treaty they don't object to (i.e., all but the clause about freedom from torture or degrading treatment) almost immediately.) (via Leviathan)