Brian Micklethwait's Blog
In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.Home
Brian Micklethwait on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
Carolyn Mohr on The ups and downs of English
Michael Jennings on Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
priscila on The ups and downs of English
Simon Gibbs on Wedding photography (4): Preparations
6000 on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Darren on Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Michael Jennings on Wedding photography (2): Signs
MarkR on Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
MNB Achari on Google Nexus 4 photos
Most recent entries
- Pictures from Georgia and Warsaw
- Cats without tails are not scary
- Big Things blocked by the trees of Southwark Park
- Wedding photography (4): Preparations
- Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
- Reflections on a strange coincidence involving an Android app and a malfunctioning bus stop sign
- Feynman Diagrams on the Feynman van
- Rothko Toast
- Wedding photography (3): Technology as sculpture
- And another posting from my smartphone
- Posted from my new smartphone
- Google Nexus 4 photos
- Wedding photography (2): Signs
- Wedding photography (1): The superbness of the weather
- A Fleet Street lunch
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Category archive: Intellectual property
At his talk chez moi on Friday Feb 22nd (see below) on How globalisation has made the world less rather than more homogenised, Michael Jennings intends to show us some photos. Indeed, he will be dropping by earlier in the week to make sure that the relevant technology can be guaranteed to work properly on the night. This may also require some creativity with the seating.
Here, in the meantime, are a few photos that he has emailed to me, together with commentary. Enjoy.
This is in Sukhomi, Abkhazia, a breakaway non-recognised state that is de jure part of Georgia (and is supported by Russia). Mango is a fashion label that grew out of a stall in the Ramblas market in Barcelona, and is now to globalised retail what the sub-prime market is to home ownership.
An interesting phenomenon occurs when there is a market for a particular international business, and that international business does not operate in that particular market for whatever reason: because the market is too small, too distant, too poor, too corrupt, or there are political problems. Clones of the business will often spring up. These can be particularly entertaining in places where there is no trademark law, trademark law is weak, or where it can be legally difficult to pursue claims from the owner of the trademark. This burger place in northern Cyprus in no way resembles Burger King. Obviously.
One of the most extreme cases in which this phenomenon occurred was in South Africa under apartheid. Many international companies boycotted the country, which in some ways was a modern country with a sizeable middle class, economy and legal system. (In various other ways, it wasn’t and isn’t.) South Africa in 1990 was therefore full of quite good clones of international businesses, that until then were constrained as to where they could operate, but faces competition only from one another at home. Post 1990, the international businesses that they were clones of entered South Africa in a big way, and the South Africans themselves were subsequently able to compete in the wider world. The South African clones weren’t good enough or rich enough to compete in the home markets of the major internationals, and have subsequently expanded into countries that are poorly served by the internationals for a variety of reason - this means Africa, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Asia, parts of the Middle East. Politically dubious markets of questionable legitimacy a lot the time. One often finds South Africans and Russians side by side.
One could write an entire book about fake Apple Stores. The ones in China (this one is in Tianjin) are the most awesome. The entire story of international brands in China is itself fascinating. Everyone is there, because of the perceived size and importance of the market. Yet the country is far more chaotic, far more unstable, far more corrupt, for more authoritarian, has weaker copyright and patent laws and a weaker rule of law in general than many of the markets these companies would generally consider operating in.
India is more problematic in some ways: bureaucratic beyond words, and culturally difficult in ways that make foreign business models work less well, or at least require a lot more adaptation. (Imagine you are McDonald’s, and you are told that you are not permitted to use either beef nor pork in the food you sell). There have historically been limits on foreign investment. Supermarkets are only now in the process of being legalised. Very large companies can find entry to the Indian market - car makers or mobile phone companies. Medium sized companies - which is where most of the interesting stuff happens - find it much harder.
It’s going to be an interesting evening.
So far, for me, one of the most impressive or a great many impressive things to be found in Steven Pinkers new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, is his description of The Enlightenment. (I mentioned this huge volume, in passing, in my latest Samizdata posting, and at greater length in an earlier posting.)
So. The Enlightenment. This is a word I have heard all my life. But what did it, does it, mean? It is assumed that all educated people know what The Enlightenment means, and that it was and is a noble and fine thing, and why it was and is a noble and fine thing. But why, exactly? I guess that, until now, I was not educated.
What makes Pinker’s exposition of the ideas behind The Enlightenment so excellent is that he explains how the scientific project at the heart of The Enlightenment was joined at the hip to a new moral vision of mankind. This was not merely a couple of vaguely benevolent quests, for scientific truth on the one hand, and for moral excellence on the other. For, as Pinker asks, why did the quest for scientific truth necessarily imply a quest for moral improvement (as we now regard it), for greater “humanity” in our treatment of other humans? Pinker answers this question.
I found that picture of Pinker here.
Whenever I scan in a great gob of verbiage from a book into this blog, I warn readers that the posting may disappear without warning, in the event of the slightest objection from the author, or from the publisher, or from anyone else connected with upholding the intellectual property in question. There is no way that me reproducing this relatively tiny fragment of Pinker’s huge book will damage its sales, quite the reverse. But, if those charged with overseeing such things inform me that, in their view, a line has been crossed by this posting, a line they consider worth defending, this excerpt (from Chapter 4, “The Humanitarian Revolution”, pp. 216-221 of my Penguin paper edition) will immediately vanish.
In other words, if, having read the above, you decide that you will be wanting to read what follows, best to do that now.
Bringing people and ideas together, of course, does not determine how those ideas will evolve. The rise of the Republic of Letters and the cosmopolitan city cannot, by themselves, explain why a humanitarian ethics arose in the 18th century, rather than ever-more-ingenious rationales for torture, slavery, despotism, and war.
My own view is that the two developments really are linked. When a large enough community of free, rational agents confers on how a society should run its affairs, steered by logical consistency and feedback from the world, their consensus will veer in certain directions. Just as we don’t have to explain why molecular biologists discovered that DNA has four bases - given that they were doing their biology properly, and given that DNA really does have four bases, in the long run they could hardly have discovered anything else - we may not have to explain why enlightened thinkers would eventually argue against African slavery, cruel punishments, despotic monarchs, and the execution of witches and heretics. With enough scrutiny by disinterested, rational, and informed thinkers, these practices cannot be justified indefinitely. The universe of ideas, in which one idea entails others, is itself an exogenous force, and once a community of thinkers enters that universe, they will be forced in certain directions regardless of their material surroundings. I think this process of moral discovery was a significant cause of the Humanitarian Revolution.
I am prepared to take this line of explanation a step further. The reason so many violent institutions succumbed within so short a span of time was that the arguments that slew them belong to a coherent philosophy that emerged during the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment. The ideas of thinkers like Hobbes, Spinoza, Descartes, Locke, David Hume, Mary Astell, Kant, Beccaria, Smith, Mary Wollstonecraft, Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and John Stuart Mill coalesced into a worldview that we can call Enlightenment humanism. (It is also sometimes called classical liberalism, though since the 1960s the word liberalism has acquired other meanings as well.) Here is a potted account of this philosophy - a rough but more or less coherent composite of the views of these Enlightenment thinkers.
It begins with skepticism. The history of human folly, and our own susceptibility to illusions and fallacies, tell us that men and women are fallible. One therefore ought to seek good reasons believing something. Faith, revelation, tradition, dogma, authority, the ecstatic glow of subjective certainty - all are recipes for error, and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge.
Is there anything we can be certain of? Descartes gave as good an answer as any: our own consciousness. I know that I am conscious, by the very fact of wondering what I can know, and I can also know that my consciousness comprises several kinds of experience. These include the perception of an external world and of other people, and various pleasures and pains, both sensual (such as food, comfort, and sex) and spiritual (such as love, knowledge, and an appreciation of beauty).
We are also committed to reason. If we are asking a question, evaluating possible answers, and trying to persuade others of the value of those answers, then we are reasoning, and therefore have tacitly signed on to the validity of reason. We are also committed to whatever conclusions follow from the careful application of reason, such as the theorems of mathematics and logic.
Though we cannot logically prove anything about the physical world, we are entitled to have confidence in certain beliefs about it. The application of reason and observation to discover tentative generalizations about the world is what we call science. The progress of science, with its dazzling success at explaining and manipulating the world, shows that knowledge of the universe is possible, albeit always probabilistic and subject to revision. Science is thus a paradigm for how we ought to gain knowledge - not the particular methods or institutions of science but its value system, namely to seek to explain the world, to evaluate candidate explanations objectively, and to be cognizant of the tentativeness and uncertainty of our understanding at any time.
The indispensability of reason does not imply that individual people are always rational or are unswayed by passion and illusion. It only means that people are capable of reason, and that a community of people who choose to perfect this faculty and to exercise it openly and fairly can collectively reason their way to sounder conclusions in the long run. As Lincoln observed, you can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.
Among the beliefs about the world of which we can be highly confident is that other people are conscious in the same way that we are. Other people are made of the same stuff, seek the same kinds of goals, and react with external signs of pleasure and pain to the kinds of events that cause pain and pleasure in each of us.
By the same reasoning, we can infer that people who are different from us in many superficial ways - their gender, their race, their culture - are like us in fundamental ways. As Shakespeare’s Shylock asks:
Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
The commonality of basic human responses across cultures has profound implications. One is that there is a universal human nature. It encompasses our common pleasures and pains, our common methods of reasoning, and our common vulnerability to folly (not least the desire for revenge). Human nature may be studied, just as anything else in the world may be. And our decisions on how to organize our lives can take the facts of human nature into account - including the discounting of our own intuitions when a scientific understanding casts them in doubt.
The other implication of our psychological commonality is that however much people differ, there can be, in principle, a meeting of the minds. I can appeal to your reason and try to persuade you, applying standards of logic and evidence that both of us are committed to by the very fact that we are both reasoning beings.
The universality of reason is a momentous realization, because it defines a place for morality. If I appeal to you to do something that affects me - to get off my foot, or not to stab me for the fun of it, or to save my child from drowning - then I can’t do it in a way that privileges my interests over yours if I want you to take me seriously (say, by retaining my right to stand on your foot, or to stab you, or to let your children drown). I have to state my case in a way that would force me to treat you in kind. I can’t act as if my interests are special just because I’m me and you’re not, any more than I can persuade you that the spot I am standing on is a special place in the universe just because I happen to be standing on it.
You and I ought to reach this moral understanding not just so we can have a logically consistent conversation but because mutual unselfishness is the only way we can simultaneously pursue our interests. You and I are both better off if we share our surpluses, rescue each other’s children when they get into trouble, and refrain from knifing each other than we would be if we hoarded our surpluses while they rotted, let each other’s children drown, and feuded incessantly. Granted, I might be a bit better off if I acted selfishly at your expense and you played the sucker, but the same is true for you with me, so if each of us tried for these advantages, we’d both end up worse off. Any neutral observer, and you and I if we could talk it over rationally, would have to conclude that the state we should aim for is the one where we both are unselfish.
Morality, then, is not a set of arbitrary regulations dictated by a vengeful deity and written down in a book; nor is it the custom of a particular culture or tribe. It is a consequence of the interchangeability of perspectives and the opportunity the world provides for positive-sum games. This foundation of morality may be seen in the many versions of the Golden Rule that have been discovered by the world’s major religions, and also in Spinoza’s Viewpoint of Eternity, Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Hobbes and Rousseau’s Social Contract, and Locke and Jefferson’s self-evident truth that all people are created equal.
From the factual knowledge that there is a universal human nature, and the moral principle that no person has grounds for privileging his or her interests over others’, we can deduce a great deal about how we ought to run our affairs. A government is a good thing to have, because in a state of anarchy people’s self-interest, self-deception, and fear of these shortcomings in others would lead to constant strife. People are better off abjuring violence, if everyone else agrees to do so, and vesting authority in a disinterested third party. But since that third party will consist of human beings, not angels, their power must be checked by the power of other people, to force them to govern with the consent of the governed. They may not use violence against their citizens beyond the minimum necessary to prevent greater violence. And they should foster arrangements that allow people to flourish from cooperation and voluntary exchange.
This line of reasoning may be called humanism because the value that it recognizes is the flourishing of humans, the only value that cannot be denied. I experience pleasures and pains, and pursue goals in service of them, so I cannot reasonably deny the right of other sentient agents to do the same.
If all this sounds banal and obvious, then you are a child of the Enlightenment, and have absorbed its humanist philosophy. As a matter of historical fact, there is nothing banal or obvious about it. Though not necessarily atheistic (it is compatible with a deism in which God is identified with the nature of the universe), Enlightenment humanism makes no use of scripture, Jesus, ritual, religious law, divine purpose, immortal souls, an afterlife, a messianic age, or a God who responds to individual people. It sweeps aside many secular sources of value as well, if they cannot be shown to be necessary for the enhancement of human flourishing. These include the prestige of the nation, race, or class; fetishized virtues such as manliness, dignity, heroism, glory, and honor; and other mystical forces, quests, destinies, dialectics, and struggles.
I would argue that Enlightenment humanism, whether invoked explicitly or implicitly, underlay the diverse humanitarian reforms of the 18th and 19th centuries. The philosophy was explicitly invoked in the design of the first liberal democracies, most transparently in the ‘self-evident truths’ in the American Declaration of Independence. Later it would spread to other parts of the world, blended with humanistic arguments that had arisen independently in those civilizations. And as we shall see in chapter 7, it regained momentum during the Rights Revolutions of the present era.
When I go out photographing, the process goes: that looks interesting, snap, forget about it and immediately on to the next one. Which means that I get all those nice surprises later, when browsing, that I keep going on about.
What do you make of this, for instance:
I can just about remember thinking at the time that a very large number of snappers were taking a mysterious interest in what looked like a very unremarkable young man, including one snapper with very thin legs. And the young man was most definitely cooperating.
But now I ask again, as I asked myself when taking this snap, who is this young man?
My policy with any celebs I myself recognise is that if they are just wandering about making no effort to attract attenntion and probably hoping very much not to, then I will photo them, but will not shove them up on the internet, until a minimum of a few years later. If, on the other hand, they are out and about being photographed, they are totally fair game, and can be internetted within the hour.
Not that I did this to this guy. The photo was taken on March 30th of this year, on Westminster Bridge, and no sooner had I taken it than I forgot about it.
So anyway, who is this guy? Here’s a close-up that makes him a bit more recognisable, if you recognise him.
Are there already clever face-recognition procedures that would enable me to find out who he is, if he is anyone? If you are the kind of person who knows about such things, then please do this yourself, and tell me.
Last night I went along to that meeting that Simon Gibbs and Andy Janes flagged up in comments on the previous posting here, and am very glad to have done so. I will try to do a write-up of it for Samizdata (although I promise nothing). Meanwhile here are a couple of pictures I took:
On the left, the guest speaker at the meeting, Tom Burroughes. On the right, a snap of somewhat over half of those present, including Tom.
The picture on the left shows how good speaker photos can be, even in poor light. The picture on the right shows the usefulness of having a wider angle lens that I have hitherto had. However, only a rather small proportion of the rather few snaps I took came out well, which was a slight disappointment. The new camera is better for this kind of thing than the old one, but not as much of an improvement as I had been hoping.
Or maybe I am just getting used to it, and my standards have gone up.
Here’s another picture that works better with the new wider and more panoramic lens. It’s the venue of the meeting, the Rose & Crown, taken when I first got there:
Another for the Pubs Dwarfed by Modernity collection. Pubs in London are like Churches, in that they have a habit of surviving when all around them is replaced by higher rise modernity. (Of course, you no longer see the pubs that perish.)
I had been wandering around in Southwark beforehand, mostly snapping the Shard through random architectural and other junk in the foreground. As a result I found myself approaching the Rose & Crown from an unfamiliar and more interesting direction than usual.
Yesterday I walked over to Parliament to be part of the Rally Against Debt. I went because I feared it would be tiny, and because I hoped it might be huge.
In the event it was neither. The turnout was in the low hundreds, rather than the mere dozens I had feared or the thousands that I had, thinking about it now, hoped for. Photo it all close up and you could make it look quite big. Step back fifty yards, and it was cut down to its true size.
I’ll probably be doing a Samizdata posting about it along these lines, Real Soon Now. In the meantime, what with signs being a current preoccupation here, here are some of the signs as I managed to photo.
These big clutches of photos probably don’t work that well, judging by the comments, but I think this clutch may be different, because each little square gets the message across. You don’t have to click at all, to get the point, in fact you can get forty points without doing anything except running your eyes over it all.
I was impressed by how many hand-done signs there were.
Should I have been?
Are these signs merely of amateurism, and as such do they mean little?
Or do hand-done signs signify depth of feeling? And do they therefore count for more than the mass produced sort of signs, which by the way were also present in large numbers.
The one about the Che T-shirts was off message, as were several other signs that I spotted but did not include here. I include the Che sign because I really like it.
Bloggers, borrow at will. No need to mention me. The message is the thing, and anyway, it was the sign-makers who did the real work.
Many other photographers were also present.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon some more Men, ...
… which I could have sworn were the work of the same man, Anthony Gormley, as did these South Bank Men.
It was getting late, but on the plus side there was a sunset in progress. I had fun lining up these (I assumed) Gormley Men with some nearby Big London Things:
I returned a day or two later, earlier in the day. But it was gloomier.
When I returned more recently, I found I had lost all interest in lining these Men up with the Towers of Docklands. I had become interested in their immediate setting:
On closer inspection, they looked like the moulds from which the Gormley Men had emerged. But actually, they are not Gormleys. They are the work of Peter Burke. The official title of these Men is: Assembly.
And, I found myself wanting to photo them much closer up. This is because I came to see that, inside and under all that armour plating, there is a much more specifically human man than is presented by the Gormley Men. In particular, the face is much more detailed and less generalised, albeit the same every time.
Note how the camera, mine anyway, sometimes lies, especially when snapping sculpture, and especially when snapping sculpture close up. In situ the eye sees context and hence knows what is really going on. In situ, the eye darts hither and thither and makes sense of everything, provided only that there is sense to be made. But give the eye only a photo, and all its sees is the photo. So, here, it can turn the insides of the heads into heads in their own right. Or, it can turn a comprehensible three dimensional shape into a two dimensional abstract muddle.
My first reaction to these Men was that there is something very military about them, what with them being outside the old Woolwich Arsenal. And I still think that. To me (I have no idea what Peter Burke thinks he was doing) they suggest a reflection on how the military personality is shaped by its armour, by its uniform. But, on closer inspection, there are still human beings in there.
I do wonder, however, how well Burke and Gormley know each other, and what they each think of the other’s work. For real I mean, not in the form of the official art bollocks that they emit for public consumption.
Do any accusations of copying fly around, and if so in which direction?
Or, are they part of a “school”?
For some time now I have had a couple of nice bridge pictures clogging up my desktop, and I want to dump them here, note them, say how nice they are, and then forget about them.
First there is this very recent bridge, for a high speed railway:
And this one:
...which is an aqueduct.
I like a lot of things about both these bridges.
I like how plain concrete works in sun drenched places, the way it doesn’t in merely drenched places like the one I live in. I went to the south of France a few years back, and suddenly, concrete modernism was an evolved tradition rather than a totalitarian horror show imposed by people getting even with the human race for having been bullied by it at school, or whatever it was.
I like how both bridges are gun barrel straight, one because the trains are travelling as fast as airplanes and would crash if the bridge was not gun barrel straight, and the other because it is for transporting water, and that can’t work if the bridge goes up and down even a bit.
I like how they could build the train bridge during the dry season. How convenient. Just the one dry season, I trust.
And I especially like the aqueduct, which was built in 1939, for its unselfconscious functionality. If only all modernism worked so well.
The train bridge is “all rights reserved”, so if there’s a complaint it may have to disappear from here.
I saw this at Instapundit, but I have no idea whether they were aiming it particularly at me, or at people generally. I don’t know where I am with adverts any more.
Being a Z list blogger has its advantages as well as its humiliations. I can take the piss out of stuff like this, confident that only my readers will notice.
Just spotted another advert in the same spot, for something along the lines of credit rating UK. That suggests targetting to me. I.e. not a proper advert at all, just junk mail in among what I am trying to read. I really can’t see this “business model” (free verbiage plus non-adverts) going anywhere very fast. Note that it even drains the juice out of real adverts, because you no longer believe that any of them are real.
More on the whole paying-for-what-you-read thing by me here.
Yet more redirection
The Humpty Dumpty Learning Channel
Questions concerning the death of copyright protection on downloaded MP3s
I don’t usually approve of swear blogging but …
Big box computers versus laptops
One man’s intellectual theft is another man’s marketing
Unusual leg extension
Green cat copyrighted picture email vanishes
Sounds like a brothel with film star lookalikes
A horizon(tal) sunset slice
An after-echo of the creation of the world - Burgon recycles Milhaud
What’s up with this?
More recorded cricket chat and some further Oval hindsights
MP3 Haydn symphonies
Photo by me in a newspaper!
Picture charging advice please
How patent lawyers destroyed a mathematician
Gramophone are putting their back catalogue of articles online for free
Portable copiers and copying jokes
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
Freedom of information
Kings Cross gasometer sunset travels 6000 miles
Billion Monkey lady ticks four (make that five) boxes!
News Media Coalition versus Indian Premier League
Twickenham shop attacked by the Dark Side of The Force
Billion Monkey scrunched up in a ball!
Bookcase staircase many books electric book manybooks.net
The great DVD packaging clearout
The qualitative difference made by quantity
Thames Barrier photo first shown here - then used by UNESCO
Manhole cover cats and Angel of the North shelves?
“That’s not Minnie Mouse - that’s a cat with large ears”
Two items of Billion Monkey behaviour
Thomas Edison - from cheat to creator
The Joyce Hatto affair - no big deal
Not what it looks like
“It’s a shame that copyright was infringed in a thesis about copyright itself”
The Nanpu bridge approaches
The future of music
Michael Jennings on intellectual property
New York Times links - owned genes
Me and Alex talking Gilbert and Sullivan
The Pirates opens in New York
Man may not sit on Art bed and be photoed by Billion Monkey lady friend!
When everything is copyable
The Wealth of Networks
Skill and Post-Skill
On China Law Blog and on the reinforcing of prejudices
More IP violating: Barry Beelzebub on Freepost bricks and a still-legal wild boar hunt
The Billion Monkeys of Australia will continue to photograph oil refineries
Help the struggle against DRM!
Read-Write versus Read-Only