Out of Focus
Friday, October 08, 2004
  I get very frustrated at the way the current hostage crises are dealt with. Perhaps frustration is not a politically correct emotion at a time like this, but it's what I feel. Nothing honest happens in these circumstances, blame gets handed around like cocaine on a cheap makeup mirror and everyone gets a dose.

Let's take a look at the family statement, or perhaps at the government's reaction to Mr. Bigley's kidnapping, for example. None of this is helpful. The family are only saying what they have to to get him freed, irrespective of the cost to the effort against terrorism, and the government is saying the only thing it can in response. Of course it's disgusted - what other emotion could possibly be appropriate in reponse to this? But that emotion is not what informs their decisions.

This evening, I saw Bigley's family saying that the terrorists had "proven their committment". What does that mean? It means, "well done, you're getting your point across. Whatever you're currently doing works". Of course they're trying to say whatever needs to be said to get Bigley freed (and unfortunately it's failed), but let's think about this from the point of view of Tony Blair for a second. He's desperate to prevent this from happening again. Forget for a minute the plight of this individual and consider the role of a politician who speaks for his country : he has to make sure that the terrorists realise that they will never get what they want through these means. That's the only way to dissuade them from doing this over and over again. Kenneth Bigley's family, by seeking to placate the terrorists by giving them small victories, by speaking in their favour and standing against the UK government and leadership, are playing into their hands by giving them the recognition and success they seek.

Do I not feel for Mr. Bigley's family? Of course I do, what happened is tragic, but there are greater things at stake at the moment, and their submissive pleas and conciliatory statements on television are seen by the terrorists as a success of sorts. Their actions may have marginally increased Mr. Bigley's chances of survival (and ultimately failed), but in doing what they have, they have endangered countless other foreigners working in Iraq.

Ultimately, only governments and representative international agencies are competent to act in such circumstances, because only they are able to trade off the benefit in the short term and the cost in the long term of such measures. It is perfectly understandable that the family should have pleaded for Mr. Bigley's life, but the public way in which it was done was counterproductive to the overall mission in Iraq.

Our willingness to weep, cry and plead in public is viewed by these people as the chink in the armour of the West, and the more we make that apparent, the more they will seek to exploit it. The BBC claims that these are sophisiticated attacks. I disagree. These are playground bullies who have found the weak spot in their victim. While I wish we had never attacked Iraq, given where we are now, it is time for us to realise that courage, determination and a degree of deliberate ruthlessness are required for us to prevail in the coming storm, distasteful as it may be.

w I don't like that we were all lied to about why we went to war. But that's marginal at this point. I knew I was being lied to at the time so I guess what I'm most pissed off about is that there were enough gullible people around at the time to think that the reasons being given were adequate to justify the actions that were then taken. But given where we stand, I am utterly 100% behind Tony Blair's stand on not negotiating with terrorists under these circumstances, and while I understand their pain, I cannot respect Mr. Bigley's son's attitude in blaming the government for this execution. The blame lies solely with the terrorists, and that is where this anger deserves to be directed.  

Tuesday, June 10, 2003
  I'm beginning to think the current leaders in the West Bank and Israel would throw peace back up even if it were forced down their throats. CNN.com reports, along with probably every other news source in the world, that Israel fired rockets on a car containing a Hamas political leader, then eight hours later fired some more rockets on a car containing some people they say (but provide no evidence to support) contained men that had lobbed home-made rockets in the direction of Israel. Asked about the attack's impact on the peace process, the source said that Israel has not agreed to a unilateral cease-fire and that the strike will have the "same impact as the murder of five Israeli soldiers" -- referring to four soldiers killed Sunday in Gaza and one killed near the West Bank town of Hebron. No it won't, you moron. In the eyes of the Palestinians, there's a big difference between Hamas militants attacking an occupying force, without even the backing of the Palestinian authorities, and helicopter gunships, sponsored and acting on behalf of the state of Israel, firing high-tech rockets that kill a woman and a bodyguard, injure 14 people critically and another 9 lightly.

You know that this peace plan cannot exist without the backing of the Palestinian people, you know that these people feel oppressed by Israeli occupation, you know that attacking them in such a way will make it harder for them to constrain Hamas voluntarily, and you know that by doing this you merely provoke further attacks upon yourselves by groups over which Abu Mazen has little or no control, especially when you undermine his ability to stop violence by firing rockets all over the place.

What makes it all the more sickening is that the move was probably designed to shore up support for the plan in Israel by demonstrating that the government hadn't gone soft on the occupation of the West Bank, so as to quell criticism of the destruction of uninhabited settlements. Palestinians lives as currency in Israeli politics. I don't like Hamas, I don't like any of the terrorist groups, but for crying out loud Israel, what do you think you're doing? This doesn't fall within my definition of self-defence anymore, especially when you intentionally damage any chances the peace plan had in the first place.

And Washington's criticism of the acts was barely voiced at all.Fleischer said phone calls have been made to the Israeli and Palestinian sides by the National Security Council and State Department expressing the president's concern. Oh good, telephone calls - well that'll patch things up then won't it? 

Saturday, June 07, 2003
  We're on the brink of peace, but some groups are trying to save the war. This is the impression given by certain radical groups involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But you'd be wrong to think the resistance to peace was merely on the Palestinian side, Jewish Settlers aren't any happier at being a bargaining chip in the compromise. How on earth can there be a viable Palestinian state when it's peppered with settlements?

The conventional wisdom is that the settlements are being kept as bargaining chips for negotiation. Makes you wonder how it feels to be an Israeli settler, but then again, they accepted the Faustian deal presented to them - they were paid to settle on this land, and as far back as the 1980s, the UN was publishing opinion after opinion, based on the votes of its members, that this was illegal, and an obstruction to a peaceful settlement. It is hard to disagree, even today.

Apparently, a large number of Israelis are against the brutality of the occupation, but frankly who cares? These voices are powerless, ignored and their opinions tempered by underlying loyalties. Kill one Israeli at a bus stop, and they'll turn a blind eye (or defend in argument) the destruction of dozens of homes and the killing of however many Palestinians, children, women or otherwise. The armchair politicians who so regularly pass judgement on this issue seem completely incapable of understanding how having your house bulldozed, when it's the only place you have to live, can so change your life that you might resort to extreme measures.

On the other hand, the Palestinian militants are no more clued-in. They want Israel to not exist. Well that's constructive. Luckily, there seems to be some hope that the Palestinians aren't going to accept Hamas's obstinate attitude towards the talks. It all depends on whether the chance at peace looks credible.

The Palestinians believe the Israelis want their land - given the settlement activity and occupation over so long a period, they have a right to believe this, all the evidence points towards it, even if Israel generally denies this as an objective. Actions speak louder than words. As soon as they are given a reason to doubt the integrity of Israel's promises, Palestinians will assume the chance was missed. Without the people in the streets behind the plan, Hamas and Jihad cannot be controlled, because only public opinion can do that. If it looks like a real chance for peace is here - not even Hamas will want to be responsible for prolonging the conflict, because the Palestinian people will never forgive that. So far, the only person in the entire debacle who can honestly say he has never taken actions that led to the death of others is Abu Mazen, and people say he's a weakling. Let's hope he proves them wrong. 

  So far, the only evidence found to indicate there might have been something more dangerous in Iraq than a rusty and inaccurate scud are a couple of innocuous-looking mobile laboratories. So much for Tony Blair's vaunted 45-minute Iraqi WMD reaction capability - one of several misleading or downright incorrect statements the British were misled by during the foreplay that preceded "Shock and Awe". But now...Analysts said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.This according to the New York Times. A rush to judgement? Ya' don' say. But then since when has the "Alliance of the Willing" ever had more than a cavalier (or should I say cowboy?) approach to the facts? I'm sure by now people have realized that arguments only seem important until the bombs start to drop. Besides, how can voters argue in an informed manner for or against a war (and the USA going to war should be seen as a huge event, which in many ways it is not), when they're given conclusions based on facts that are kept secret? 
  An American 23-year old was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on the weekend of the 15th March 2003. Rachel Corrie wrote a series of emails to her family and friends regarding what she witnessed while she was in the occupied territories. If you can read this and it doesn't make you sick to your gut, then you need help. On the other hand, if you're for the other side of the argument, you'll probably just dismiss it as flag-waving peacenik naive ignorance. But would you dismiss it so easily if you didn't have the opposite opinion? Time to examine your own biases. Put yourself in someone else's shoes and wonder at the horror these people have to live, day in, day out. Having to meet someone else's mysterious standards to be allowed to go to work, and then being denied the right to return home. This is a sickness that has to end, and the evil lies not on one side, but on both. The people that are suffering, however, are not the cause of the problem. 
Friday, June 06, 2003
  I have no sympathy at all for the four morons who got caught sharing millions of files on their local campus network, I have the same absence of a shadow of a care for the other four who temporarily benefited from the misguided protection of their ISP, but ended up having their name revealed after all. You break the law, you face the music.

Blurryness abounds in the arguments used by the ISP and the file-sharing "community" that are used to justify the practice of first stealing the music, and then saying thieves should be allowed to conceal their identity from their accusers.

Take, for example, Mike Lamb, "Chief Privacy Officer" (what?) for AT&T, who uttered, The court should not open the door for anyone who makes a mere allegation of copyright infringement to gain complete access to private subscriber information without due process of law. Such extraordinary disclosure obligations should be construed narrowly to afford subscribers the opportunity to challenge the requested disclosure. The process of law is to take the person to court and give them a chance to defend themselves - this presumption of a "right to anonymity" when surfing the net is exactly that: a presumption. A right you benefit from until the moment the process of law requires that the accused be named. How can the injured party seek damages in court if the alleged thief is allowed to remain so anonymous that they can't be accused in the first place? How many crimes are there where the identity of the accused can be legally concealed from the prosecution?

While the noble defenders of the rights of the little people hurl their worthy-sounding arguments around, the real issue lies hidden beneath the surface. Technology has broken the two-dimensional tradeoff between the special protections afforded to science and the useful arts (i.e. the right of an innovator to harvest value from his creations) and the right of society to benefit from those creations. That tradeoff was set by the expiry date on a patent or copyright. It was always the subject of debate, but now of course you don't have to wait for expiry, if it's digital you can copy it, and when someone tries to catch you, you can cry foul and have public interest groups rally around and protect you from your victim, the courts and the law.

What changed? People were suddenly able to do something they were previously unable to do. Why should this change the underlying equations regarding the rights of ownership of a piece of music? it didn't change the principles that say that if I make something, and you want to buy it from me, I get to choose at what price I am willing to give you the benefit of its use. You don't get to say, "I think that's worth 50c, so here's 50c and I'll have it, thank you very much". If I thought 50c was too little, I should be able to say, and enforce, "Not at that price".

It gets even worse when you start browsing through the teenage rantings on the internet: The juvenile arguments go something like, "If I take it, he doesn't lose possession of it because it's not a physical good, therefore it's not theft", demonstrating such a complete naivete regarding the value of service-related goods that you wonder if free speech doesn't come at too high a cost. If I consumed double the electricity that I do, there wouldn't be (at least in my part of the world) any shortages, or any extra cost to my provider, but that doesn't justify taking a crowbar to the meter in the basement.

They stole. They broke the law. They knew they were doing it. They got caught. Stop whining and take your punishment like a grown-up. Only they're kids, aren't they? 

Because I'd rather blame the lens than accept reality

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