The recent case here in New Zealand of the FBI seeing extradition for Kim Dotcom, inventor of Megaupload, has some very concerning implications. The question I keep coming back to is why is the FBI doing this? So far the answers I’ve seen outlined online and considered just don’t quite fit.

So Megaupload is a file sharing site, just like Egnyte, Rapid Share, 4Shared, MediaFire, DropBox and many more too numerous to name. Pretty much everyone has been frustrated by trying to send a file to someone else via email. Sites like Megaupload solve this problem for users; you upload your file and get a unique link which you email to whoever you want to share that file with. Simple, easy, innovative problem solving stuff. And most uses of Megaupload were probably legal and legitimate. However, undoubtedly some files uploaded were not legally owned by the persons uploading them. This is apparently where the problem lies.

Megaupload were restricted from seeing the files uploaded by their users just as your email provider is restricted from looking at the content of your emails. So how could they be supposed to prevent all illegal file sharing? Furthermore, Megaupload offered access to members of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to it’s servers, allowing MPAA members to delete any links to files they deemed to breach their copyright. This is something Megaupload did not legally have to do, but they did it to try to contain or curb copyright violation on their site.

The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) exempts internet service providers and other intermediaries from being held liable for third party behaviour. So google cannot be sued because websites which can be found via a google search contain copyrighted material. This seems reasonable, and when you think about it the internet would not be free without such an exemption. It’s kinda like saying the provider of your home phone line cannot be held liable if you use your phone to plan a crime. And why on earth should they? If they were liable every time someone used a telephone to plan a crime there would be no providers of phone lines. End of story. If internet service providers were held liable every time a user used their service for illegal purposes, then there would quickly be no internet service providers.

YouTube was sued by Viacom Inc in March 2007. Viacom asserted that YouTube was making copyrighted material available on it’s site. Viacom lost that case in 2010, with the court deciding YouTube was protected by the safe harbour of the DMCA. The case of Megaupload seems extraordinarily similar. It seems the US Government will lose.

The scary thing is that Kim Dotcom’s business has been shut down, without a trial being held, without evidence being presented and decided upon in a court of law. The US Government decides they don’t like what you’re doing, and your business and income ceases to exist. Overnight. And unless you have very deep (and hidden) pockets, with little to no recourse for you. You don’t even have to be a resident of the United States, Kim Dotcom isn’t and he’s currently in New Zealand on the other side of the world. So the United States Government can essentially take down websites which are the creations of, and provide a living for anyone, anywhere in the world. That’s really scary!

The United States likes to hold itself up as the “land of the free” and a champion for democracy. Yet Kim Dotcom has had his business shut down, his assets frozen, and been thrown in jail facing extradition to the United States, all before a trial can be held. And it seems that the charges of copyright infringement will not hold up.

The charges of racketeering and money laundering are probably subsequent to obtaining money illegally after breach of copyright, thus it seems the copyright charges are central.

So if Viacom lost to YouTube, and the US Government knows this, then why chase Kim Dotcom for the same losing charge in New Zealand? Why expend all this time, effort and money (of the New Zealand taxpayers too dammit!) when it seems they’re flogging a losing duck? (to mix metaphors)

I strongly suspect it has something to do with files held in Megauploads servers. The immediate effect of this notice being served on Megaupload was the taking down of the site. Those files are no longer accessible. What was in them? Something that may have embarrassed the United States Government?

That’s the only theory I’ve come up with so far which makes sense.

In the middle of all this is Kim Dotcom and his family. My sympathy lies with them, and I hope he manages to fight this successfully and restore his business. He deserves no less.

I’d like to see the unbridled power of the United States Government curbed, and I’d like to know we’re safe from them down here in New Zealand.

Minimum Wage and Unemployment

November 20, 2011

Hypothesis:
An increase in minimum wage will result in an increase in unemployment.

Data:
NZ Statistics Website provides data on unemployment rates in New Zealand.
ACE Pay provides historic data for employers on minimum wage rates with dates of change.

Method:
Minimum wage rates are indicated on the graph of unemployment.

Results:
Unemployment decreased for the first five increases in minimum wage from the period of 2000 to 2004. In 2005, 2006 and 2007 unemployment was relatively steady while minimum wage increased in each of these years. In 2008 and 2009 unemployment increased strongly while minimum wage increased.

Conclusion:
Minimum wage has increased for each year for which data was found from 2000 to 2009. Up to 2007 unemployment decreased, thereafter it strongly increased. There seems to be no direct relationship between an increase in minimum wage and the rate of unemployment in New Zealand.

There is a common myth, repeated so often that most people seem to believe it, that any increase in minimum wage rates would result in an increase in unemployment. This seems to very clearly not be correct. The rate of unemployment is more likely a result of economic strength of the country. If the economy is expanding unemployment will reduce, and if the economy contracts unemployment will increase. This possible relationship would be the next set of data to look at.

Resources:
http://www.acepay.co.nz/minwage.htm
http://www.stats.govt.nz

“Occupy Wall Street”

October 23, 2011

I’m following the OWS movement with interest. Mostly, so far, with reading responses on various blogs because the small town I live in is way to small to have any protest. It’s full of retired people and holiday homes anyway.

I concerned that the focus is on corporate greed and the gap between rich and poor, without adequate analysis of WHY this is so. Because these are outcomes of how our economy works, they are symptoms of the illness and not the root cause of the illness. And if you don’t understand the cause then you’ll be unlikely to find an adequate cure.

I’m completely in agreement that the gap between rich and poor is something which is unjust and unsustainable. It’s undemocratic. When the gap gets too large, and the unemployment rate too high, this is destabilising for society. A stable society is a less violent society, and generally a better place to be. So social stability is a desirable thing to aim for. Currently, we are seeing a trend towards less stability.

I think that OWS may be just the start of something bigger. And I have a glimmer of hope that something better eventually may be built from the ashes, unfortunately in order to make ashes you’ll have to have fire. It may not be pretty at the bottom of the curve.

I hope that we can understand that the structure of the monetary system itself is the root cause of our huge gap between rich and poor. I don’t think it’s the ONLY cause, but I think that it is such a major factor that without change of this system any other change is just tinkering around the edges.

We need an interest free monetary system where money is not based upon debt, but productivity. I wonder if this is being discussed and considered by those involved in OWS?

I wonder also as the movement grows, whose voices will be heard? Will this again be taken over by white guys? I see many women and POC involved at this stage, and some of their voices are being heard. The Arab Spring also seemed to have a large proportion of women involved. Are their voices part of the new structures too?

*thanks to Jen Corbett for using creative commons licence on Flickr

Monetary Systems

August 18, 2010

alternative monetary systems

There are viable alternatives to our current monetary system. They’ve been used in the past, and they can be revived for our benefit again. But the rewriting of history and our collective amnesia does not allow us a positive view of these systems. Let’s have a look.

First, let’s start with a brief simplified explanation of what our monetary system is and the structural biases inherent in it.

Our monetary system is based upon debt. For us to have growth, we must grow our debt. The creation of more debt creates more money in circulation. Is it any wonder then that we are seeing a “credit crunch”? Another giant burst bubble?

When you go to your bank for a loan or mortgage, the bank creates the money out of “thin air” to lend to you. They are not passing on depositors money to you, the Federal reserve 9:1 ratio allows them to create your mortgage amount with keystrokes, digitally putting the funds into your account. Only 1/10 of the funds needs to be actual money actually held by the bank in reserve.

The money you are given is now in circulation and has added to the growth of your country.

When you pay the money back the principal cancels out the amount created, but the interest you pay is now all the banks income and creates it’s profits. The interest you pay must be money found from somewhere in circulation, you have to work to earn it.

When the total amount of interest payable to all the banks by all the people who owe money to them, is greater than the total productivity of those people, then you have a musical chairs situation. There is only so much money to go around to find to pay that interest, those who cannot get their hands on enough to pay what they owe will go bankrupt. The music stops and there is not enough chairs.

The fact that interest can compound creates even more of a problem. If you have enough money for yourself that you can allow some to sit aside and earn interest, then you will get more money. If however you do not have enough money sitting around and you need more than you have to provide the necessities of life (a home is the biggest one) then you will have to borrow and pay interest. Those who have more than they need will get more, those who do not have enough for their needs will end up with less. Thus the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This has been the pattern in many western countries for a long time. If we don’t change this system it will only get worse.

So that’s how our existing monetary system works, and the two main biases inherent in it, interest and debt, create the problems that we have.

Is there a better way? Yes, and it’s easy! However, expect legal obstacles, because laws are written to protect the powerful and alternative monetary systems undermine that power like no other method.

Money originally was a medium of exchange. We need to return to that idea and move away from viewing money itself as the end and not the means.

There are three main structural aspects to an alternative monetary system for it to work better for us and to avoid the problems we now have.

1. Interest cannot be allowed. No one can loan their capital to another and require interest to be paid on that capital. And before you respond with “where will anyone get loans from then? That can’t work!” read point number 2.

2. Periodically, every several months to a year, all the money in circulation must be devalued. It must all be returned to an exchange and new money issued. The money you get back needs to be a value about 5% less than the money you hand into the exchange. This structural requirement is biased to money being circulated more freely.

Our current system encourages hoarding of money; when we enter a recession or depression there is not enough money circulating for the needs of business because it is being hoarded. Hoarding is encouraged by compound interest. If your money regularly devalued there would be no point in saving it up and every point in using it to purchase the means to increase your comfort or production or material wealth.

There will still be some people who accumulate some money and have no desire to spend it straight away. These people may loan it to others who have an immediate need of capital, at no interest. The lender is assured that it will be returned in full at agreed payment dates by the borrower, and the lender thereby avoids the periodic devaluation. The borrower gets the capital they need, and has to pay it back, but does not have the burden of interest or compounding interest. Only what is borrowed need be repaid.

3. The creation of new money in circulation needs to be tied to production instead of debt. If a community at any level (small to country wide) produces more, then the amount of money produced to circulate in that community should increase. In this way we encourage growth by increased production, not increased debt.

There are several contemporary examples of alternative monetary systems in use at this time. There are many historical examples, the middle ages from about 1100 to 1300 was prolific with them and they worked very well indeed. They worked so well at distributing wealth more evenly that they undermined the status of the aristocracy, who felt under threat, and therefore they were outlawed.

I am convinced by long and careful reading and thought that the reason for our current economic ills has it’s basis in our monetary system, and our allowance of corporate power. If we can change our monetary system and remove some power from corporations over people we may be able to build a better world.

Further reading (and watching):
The excellent “Money as Debt” on YouTube explains how our monetary system works.
“Life Inc.”, by Douglas Rushkoff.
“Interest and Inflation Free Money”, by Margrit Kennedy.
Read about alternative monetary systems both contemporary or historical here.

Women Are Not Logical?

April 30, 2010

I actually had an old guy tell me that recently. He seems to be still living in a Harry Enfield type of 1950’s world.

His evidence? Women make up almost none of the world’s top 100 chess players. Chess is a game of logic and strategy. Therefore men are better at logic and strategy and women are lacking in this area.

To add insult to injury he added that women are better bridge players than men. Bridge requires cunning and manipulation. Therefore women are cunning and manipulative.

He told me this a the local club as we were having a drink after a nice game of bowls. He told me this in an almost confrontational manner. I thought he was actually quite rude, but like a person who jumps a queue right in front of you it seemed to be difficult to believe he could be that rude at the time. Or was it that a queue jumper would be called out more quickly and insulting women for simply being female is an acceptable sport?

So I looked up women and chess online to see what explanations I could find, to look into this further. I discovered that there are many and varied reasons for women not being represented amongst top chess players in proportion to their numbers in the population.

Chess is not seen as a female game to play. At least not competitively. Parents, teachers, friends and family may think a girl who wants to play chess at a high level as odd.

If girls do show promise as competitive chess players they must invest a lot of time into the game with many trips away from home for competition. What parent would let their teenage daughter go away from home repeatedly for competition with a group of teenage boys and chaperoned most likely by a man they don’t know? Seriously? If the girl is still keen she’s up against some very heavy resistance right there. She also may feel somewhat uncomfortable with the situation.

These seemed to be the most logical explanations I found for the dearth of women amongst the worlds top chess players.

If we follow the old guy’s logic then we must also conclude that people with brown skin in my country; Maori and PI mostly, are less capable academically because ¬†proportional to their numbers in our population they achieve less high school passes than Pakeha. To say such a stupid thing is obviously racist, and uses the same faulty logic.

I must use logic to do what I do professionally. I have a science degree. When this was pointed out to him he replied with a very patronising “I’m sure you think so dear”. Oh well. I guess I’ll just realise I’m actually not logical enough to do what I do and leave it alone.

You may wonder why I bother blogging about this seemingly irrelevant incident. I write about it because it is a small illustration of the idiotic and offensive attitudes women must face still today. It’s a small example of sexism alive and kicking and illustrates the kind of dumb attitudes and rude behaviour we all need to open our eyes to and publicly challenge if we are to move to a friendlier and more just society. I love Harry Enfield and I think this clip uses humour to illustrate my point nicely. Being on the receiving end of public rudeness however is not funny (okay, maybe a little in retrospect).

So if you see a woman on the receiving end of such stupid rudeness go to her aid. She’s probably feeling very uncomfortable and may only come up with the right words of reply several hours later. I think it’s a shared community effort that’s required to confront and eliminate such horrible attitudes.

Weird Advert

December 4, 2009

When I watched this advert for Method cleaning products, I initially had two responses.

My first response was ‘ick!’. Immediately after that my second response was ‘what dickhead thought this dumb ad was good to sell to their target market: women?’

Judging by many comments in the blogosphere about this advert, I’m not the only woman who thinks it’s icky. I’m not the only woman who will assiduously avoid Method products as a result of this ad. I’m exactly their target market and this ad turned me off buying their products. That’s not a good way to spend advertising revenue Method.

Surely the first thing advertisers need to do is to understand their target market. Talk to them. Find out what makes them laugh, find out what makes them buy. It seems that the boys (?) who put this one together did not get much further than thinking that this ad would push buttons of their target market. Exactly what reactions they expect from those pushed buttons does not seem to have been understood at all.

I have a sense of humour, really I do. I just don’t find this ad funny at all. I fail to see what is funny about a woman, naked, cowering in her bathtub trying to have a shower to get ready for work and having a bunch of male voices make sexually suggestive leering comments at her naked body. That’s not funny at all. Trying to make an abusive situation funny is not even clever black humour. It’s just lame (at best). There’s nothing funny about normalizing sexual harassment which is what happens when adverts like this appear in the public realm.

What do you think?

baby

This article in this mornings New Zealand Herald, and blog reply, misses an important point.

Michel Odent, a ‘childbirth specialist’ tells us that birth would be so much easier if men, both doctors and fathers, were not present during labour, with his focus on the presence or absence of fathers. We are told this is because labouring women sense the anxiety of their male partners and become nervous. This nervousness upsets hormones, and slows labour. While this seems logical, and if the men present are not helpful and supportive, then it surely could be a hindrance to labour. However, it is the focus on fathers presence that is problematic in both the original article and the blog reply.

The masculinisation of the birth environment is more about male doctors and specialists than fathers being present. The cesarean rate, which is relatively high in New Zealand, is more about the medicalisation of birth driven by a largely male dominated medical system. The usual story goes something like this: labouring woman enters hospital, monitoring equipment is strapped to her and she is left alone for some time. The use of monitoring equipment has been shown to increase cesarean rates. Monitoring equipment hinders movement and is not supportive of labour, it is unnecessarily intrusive. With pain relief, gas is followed by pethidine, followed by an epidural. By the time she has to push, when the epidural wears off, she has built up no natural reserves of endorphins to help cope with strong contractions. If the epidural has not worn off, she may be able to push enough to allow a forceps delivery. If not, a cesarean may be called for.

The very male environment and medicalisation of labour, as Odent says the ‘industrialisation of labour’ probably has a lot more to do with difficulties in childbirth than a father’s presence. For many women, the presence of a support person who knows their needs and wants and is able to speak for them when they are at in a very vulnerable position is to be encouraged (if that’s what the woman wants). To blame difficult labours on fathers being present seems somehow like an attempt to remove support for women in labour, and leave them further to the mercy of Odent’s ‘industraialised labour’.

The article even goes so far as to insinuate that it is all womens fault anyway, because they are the ones forcing men to attend during labour and birth, with Mary Newburn of the UK’s National Childbirth Trust stating “There’s such a feeling among women that ‘you got me into this, I have carried the baby for nine months and now I have to go through labour and birth, so the least you can do is be with me, and if you feel a bit squeamish, then tough’ “.

Further, we are told that men witnessing childbirth can ruin sexual attraction between couples and lead to divorce. Men may go of and play golf and computer games, to avoid their reality. This probably has more to do with the problems of a nuclear family than men’s presence during childbirth! And if that’s how men are behaving, they really need to put on some big boy pants and grow up.

At the end of the day it is the woman’s needs during labour that must be paramount. It is she after all who has to do the work (it’s called labour for a good reason). If she wants the support of the father, she should have it. If she wants the doctors to stop fussing and monitoring and actually help rather than hinder, they should.

This article is problematic in the insinuation that it is women (and to some degree, their partners) wanting fathers present during childbirth that has led to problems of masculinisation of the process. No where in this article is the issue of the male dominated and technology dominated medicalisation of childbirth given any weight or mention.

Facebook Feminist

October 18, 2009

The number one feminist group on facebook is ‘feminist’ with over 2,000 members. Because younger women are more likely to use facebook, it could be fair to say that this could prove to be a valuable platform for young women and men to discuss ideas on feminism, and a platform from which to organise. Except it’s not, and never will be.

The biggest problem feminist on facebook seems to have is trolls. Trolls who post ridiculous discussion topics as ‘women must obey and be told what to do and when to do it’ and ‘women don’t deserve rights’. This would be laughable and easily shrugged off for older more secure feminists, but it gets more than annoying when admins are very slow to remove such posts. Trolls repeatedly derail discussion topics, and if not directly abusive their posts are not removed by admins.

And this post by an admin: ‘petiti0n for mens equal rights as a feminist also looking out for womens rights’ really takes the cake.

So, apparently women need to look out for mens equal rights as well as fight their own battle for equality. Poor disadvantaged men. They really need our help.

Why does this bother me so? Because sites like feministe will not be the first port of call for young women beginning to think critically about issues affecting women. Facebook feminist group is way more likely. And that is sad.

Cotton Wool Kids

October 15, 2009

Zoo trip 044

Imagine a childrens’ playground on a Sunday afternoon. Parents, strollers, kids, climbing equipment, slides, and a large rock stack for climbing. Chaos.

When kids get to the rock stack (it’s big, like 15 meters high) the parents rush over and tell the kids that’s off limits. There are very few kids on the rock stack, the only ones seemingly allowed up there are older boys of at least 7 or 8. Parents are so afraid of kids falling and hurting themselves, they are totally overprotective and do not allow kids to explore their environment in a natural way.

Girls are generally not allowed on the rock stack, because it’s dirty. Girls are hovered over when they achieve any altitude, warned to ‘be careful’. Boys are allowed a little more leeway. A little.

If we were so stupid as a species that our offspring did not have an innate knowledge of how to remain safe at height (and around large bodies of water) we would be extinct. Kids if left to their own devices from a very young age will learn by appropriate stages how to manage such situations. If not allowed these learning experiences, one day Mum and Dad will not be there and kids will have accidents because they have not been able to learn how far they can safely go, yet they have the physical maturity to attempt more than they have learned to cope with.

I put this into practice with my son before he could walk (or crawl properly – he did a weird commando thing for ages). He showed me he was interested in helping me in the garden by cutting grass. So I gave him a knife, at 6 months of age. I simply gave him the handle, and said just once, the other end is sharp and could hurt you. I pressed it gently to his palm to illustrate, and left him to it. He cut the grass. He never cut himself. His dad came home early one day and saw him with the knife and totally flipped out, but by that time this had been going on for several days.

My point is, kids, and indeed babies, have an innate knowledge of their own physical safety that is strong. If allowed to learn at their own pace, they will grow stronger and more confident.

I put two caveats on this approach to raising physically confident kids; electricity and vehicles. Neither are a part of our evolutionary history. These are the things we need to be protective about.

Atheist Meme For The Day

October 13, 2009

DSCN2276

Atheism is not lonely. It is no more lonely to ponder on our neurons making up thoughts about the proteins communicating within our cellular structure, than it is to kneel inside a wooden structure with hands fervently clasped together and speak to an imaginary someone who never answers back.

As science reveals more of our biological processes I am enraptured with the simplicity and beauty of it. But just because it is beautiful and simple in its complexity and beauty, does not mean an omnipotent being had to create it.

Anyway, if your head cannot get around the concept that nature just is, how can you comprehend the idea of God? How did God come to be? Has he always existed? Like infinity? Why can it not be that matter and energy just have always existed then? Same concept of infinity it seems to me.