Monday, May 30, 2005

United in diversity?

So France is voting on whether or not they like the brave new Euro-constitution. Actually, they may be voting on whether they like the people who are telling them that they should like it. And it's not really a constitution as such, so much as a constitutional treaty. But they are voting anyway.

Depending on who you believe, it's either a way of streamlining the EU to cope with more members and of giving more power to the people, or it's something that will make no difference at all, or it's the next step to the United States of Europe. It's too Anglo-saxon, and it's too French.

There has been a little debate in the UK - but this mostly consists of the usual suspects making apparently mutually contradictory claims. There is only a little heat, and practically no light. Nobody seems to have actually read the treaty - and it's no wonder! It's huge, and immensely tedious.

The US constitution, also produced by committee, is clear (at least until judicial activists got at it) and concise. It deals with individual liberties, and limits the powers of the state.

The EU constitution is less clear, and much, much less concise. It provides less accountability than the US document, and does too little to limit the institutions' powers. It ignores the mind-numbing bureaucracy, and the attendant corruption at the heart of the institutions. And it's still going to be a giant playground for lawyers.

And here's the thing - there is no need for it!

The most important streamlining of the EU has already happened. And the stuff in the constitution won't come into effect for ages.

Europe as a collection of nation states, cooperating where it makes sense, does not need a constitution - or anything called a constitution. Or any other trappings of state.

We don't want or need a corrupt European political has-been posing as the President of Europe, appointed following some back-room horse-trading by Europe's political elite.

And there is no point at all in a common Foreign Minister as long as Britain sides with the US almost automatically and France opposes them on principle, or while the nations dither on Darfur, and Europe is as divided as it clearly is. If the Minister's job is to make policy, whose policy will it be? And if it is to provide a single voice to the spout agreed communiques that paper over the chasms between the members' selfish interests, what's the use?

The great and the good of the EU have been telling us for some time that we need the constitution - that the sky will fall if it is rejected. What nonsense!

If France, the Netherlands, the UK, and other sceptical electorates tell the EU's managing elite that this constitution is not what we want or need, that is exactly the chance they need to go away and think again.

It looks like France has done just that! Now maybe we can get back to sensible cooperation, without the "Ever Closer Union" nonsense?

(And hopefully without US-sponsored patents on software, as demanded by one of the latest and nuttiest draft directives from the EU - but that's a whole other rant.)

Monday, May 23, 2005

Fallen leaves

War and the Holocaust cast a long shadow in Berlin. This piece in the Jewish Museum is called Fallen Leaves. You approach it through a vast, empty chamber, filled only with metallic echoes. Walking across the fallen faces is an unsettling experience, and it feels as though, standing there, you are somehow involved.

For the victims of war and tyranny

This memorial in Berlin's Neue Wache (or "New" Guardhouse) has represented a number of things since its time as a memorial for the dead of the First World War. Its purpose changed during the Nazi regime, and again under the Communist East German state. Today it stands for all the victims of War and Tyranny (Den Opfern der Kriege und der Gewaltherrschaft).

Sometimes we are asked to consider whether perpretators can be victims too... We'll probably be confronting that one in Northern Ireland in a couple of years, if peace holds.

Memorial at the Reichstag for those sent to the Death Camps


The ruin of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church seems to serve as a symbol of Berlin's resolve to rebuild the city after the war and a constant reminder of the destruction of war, though I expect it stirs complex and varied feelings for some who see it.

The new "church tower" holds a World Shop that sells assorted new-age trinkets, including African spirit masks. Not what I'd expected to see in a church!

Inside the new church

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Who needs TV copy protection?

They say that film companies won't allow their material to be shown on Digital and High Definition TV unless the system is so locked-down and controlled that copies can't be made (or you can't skip the trailers and the ads, or your films expire automatically, or your cheap imported films won't play, or whatever anti-customer scam they dream up next).

Therefore, so they tell us, we need to build in controls over what we can do with the TVs and films we buy! Studios delayed the release of movies on DVD until they got what they wanted - so we have to give in over digital and high-definition content too!

But it's rubbish, and here's why!

DVD offered only small improvements over video. There was little real incentive at the time for consumers to move.

But the move to Digital TV will happen whether consumers like it or not -- because the analogue signal will be turned off in a couple of years. There will be no "video option" where the studios can stick with the safe, old system till they get what they want from the new one. If they don't move to digital they'll start losing money right away. Their whole TV revenue stream will dry up overnight!

Similarly, when consumers have HDTVs and broadcasters like the BBC are broadcasting sports, and their own news and drama (and celebrity house makeovers, I suppose) in stunning detail, viewers won't want low definition movies to buy or rent. There will be a huge market for the real, high-definition thing, which content suppliers won't want to ignore.

So in both cases, the studios are bluffing. Economics will force them to move to the new formats, whether they get their anti-consumer restrictions or not!It's just a matter of who blinks first - consumer advocates and legislators, or the content providers.

In the end, broadcast flags and the like only make it more difficult to copy video - not impossible. There WILL be copies, whatever technology is used. The "we have to stop piracy" argument is mostly bogus - an excuse to demand more control.

Studios won't long be able to resist the lure of selling their content to digital broadcasters when the analogue broadcasts have stopped.

And they can't afford to miss out on selling or renting their films ALL OVER AGAIN to broadcasters and consumers when HDTV finally arrives and people lose interest in low-resolution, indistinct, small-screen stuff, and demand crystal-clear, high-definition, surround-sound TV.

Any loss of revenue from limited copying by consumers is a cost of doing business, and large scale copying by pirates will continue to be a law enforcement matter. The sky will not collapse! We just need to call the studios' bluff!

Stand up for yourself! Disney won't!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

But it's sunny outside!

It's way too sunny for an AGM... but there's nothing else for it. I'm off to the Welly Park for tea, biscuits, and talk. Lots of talk - and probably more work to do, if I know anything about the way committees work... and I know way too much about the way committees work, believe me :-(

Just as long as nobody tries to save time with a 15 minute summary of a 5 minute report, like happened at one committee I seem to remember!

It could get like a friend's wedding, where there were speeches "from the floor". After a while (quite a long while, in fact) they requested that people keep their speeches down to two minutes. The only effect this seemed to have was that everyone included a three minute explanation of how quick they were going to be at the start of their rambling reminiscences. Except for the funny guy, of course, who spoke for 120 seconds exactly!

But that's life. And I've rambled on for long enough already, today. I think I'll pretend it's supposed to be ironic or something...