Thursday, December 17, 2009

Subsidised journalism

The main obstacle to independent journalism in Maldives was the state control during the previous regime. People yelled left and right to give media freedom and to remove the influence by the state. Now that media has somewhat been freed, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) is saying they can't be too free! They claim they need financial support from the state via subsidies to keep the government accountable. They claim that their independence will not be compromised if the subsidy were allocated by the state, rather than the government (forgetting to mention that the government is a subset of the state). Hmm, makes one wonder, who is going to make the state accountable then?

Of course, its not for the love of money they are doing it, it is only for the social good "to protect and preserve independent journalism in the country". If not, its doomsday and "would have an adverse effect on this burgeoning democracy".

President of MJA said "We have 300,000 people [in the Maldives] and that’s not enough of a market for fully private enterprise". I wonder where he has been living all these years. It is the fully private enterprise that gives us the pen, pencil, paper, computers, phones, contractors, engineers, architects, lawyers etc. Sure, lots of them studies on scholarships, but the services they provide are available in the realm of private enterprise, and don't rely on state subsidies. Maybe the contractors, engineers, architects, lawyers, teachers and others should ask for subsidies. They are a vital part of a functioning society.

This guy proposes to give subsidies based on circulation, and this guy's newspaper (Haveeru) is the most circulated. Maybe just coincidence? He also goes on to state that fully privatising media ownership would consolidate control in the hands of a few wealthy individuals. Well it already is. Maybe he should concentrate on abolishing the high fees charged for licensing by TAM, which the MJA itself criticises. That will be more beneficial for the upstarts, and prevents consolidation in the hands of the wealthy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Secret anti-counterfeiting trade agreement

The world over, politicians are trying to control how people live their lives. These politicians are backed by powerful corporations, lobby groups, vocal minority and sometimes the majority. Corporations want to control people economically to the detriment of economic freedom of the people. Vocal minority wants to control the rest to the detriment of the civil liberties, while the majority plays the number game of denying basic rights to the minority because they are few in number.

The powerful countries are now exporting their own system of laws via the international organizations. Currently, the heavyweights such as US, Japan and EU are negotiating a new Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) behind closed doors, away from public scrutiny. The contents of the agreements are kept under wraps, only available to the corporations and sponsored politicians. They refuse to release the details of the agreement, which in time will be forced upon the rest of the world. In fact, US Trade representative Ron Kirk is quoted to have said that the parties will be walking away from the negotiations if the content is made public.

Whats more, the EU council has res refused to release the documents when asked by FFII. A good analysis of the leaked documents can be found here.

In broad terms, its a treaty designed to give even more power to the powerful corporations in the developed countries. Hollywood will be the world copyright police. The big pharmaceuticals will be the world patent czar on medicine. The big software companies will become the lord of software patents. It proposes "criminal measures against infringements without motivation for financial gain", which seems to be a direct attack on the open-source software developers.

So did the people world over elect the supposed representatives to suppress our freedoms? Whatever happened to the role of the government to protect life, liberty and property? Is there legitimacy to a government and their policies that do nothing to protect the fundamental liberties of the people?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Fatally flawed freemarket


Above is the BBC survey results. Click on the image to reach the BBC article.
Wikipedia defines freemarket as:
A free market is a market without economic intervention and regulation by government except to regulate against force or fraud. The terminology is used by economists and in popular culture. A free market requires protection of property rights, but no regulation, no subsidization, no single monetary system, and no governmental monopolies. It is the opposite of a controlled market, where the government regulates prices or how property is used.
The following are probably true for the above survey:

- The software (Excel or some statistical software) used to collect and analyse the data ran on an operating system (Windows, OSX or Linux) powered by powerful hardware. All of these were supplied to BBC via capitalism.

- The BBC site is powered by Apache webserver running on Linux operating system [1]. All of these are Free software, provided to them by an almost laissez-faire industry of Free and Open Source[2] software.

- The hardware and software that you are using to access this site and BBC site are provided to you by freemarket.

Given that there is no industry in the world where there is no regulation, the computer industry (both software and hardware) is probably the least regulated industry of all. It is also probably the only industry where the products (hardware and software) becomes cheaper while quality and features improve day by day, despite the massive devaluation of currency by central banks.

However, this industry is also coming under attack from regulations and also powerful corporations seeking special privileges in the form of patents, draconian copyrights, stupid internet regulations and others. All of these stifle innovation and reduce competition in the industry.

So maybe, just maybe, the deregulated nature of the computer industry is what makes it highly competitive and innovative, which results in better and cheaper products.

Not to mention that BBC itself is funded by mandatory TV licensing fees taken from the public! Whether you watch BBC or not is irrelevant, if you own a TV, you must pay BBC.[3]

[1] Technically, Linux is just the kernel, but the word 'Linux' is also used to refer to various distros.

[2] Yes, Free and Open Source software are very much a free-market phenomenon. The profit in this industry is largely non-monetary, though most software companies have jumped on the open-source mantra. It is clearly laissez-faire, because anyone can start a FOSS software project to scratch their own itch. There is absolutely no artificial barrier to entry, no prior permission or license from government, no restriction on price or features or what you can call your software, no regulatory requirement to meet a standard (infact, its all self-regulated via de-facto and other voluntary standards as set by IETF, IEEE, W3C, OSI and others).

[3] Yes BBC does produce good quality documentaries, and news coverage is very good.

Monday, November 23, 2009

I want my rights, but I wont give yours

The recent bill to outlaw places of worship for non-Muslims infringes on the fundamental rights of a large portion of the expatriate population in Maldives. It goes to show the lack of tolerance and respect for people who do not think the same as we do.

We are ok to invite them with job offers because we derive an economic benefit.

We are ok to invite them to our beautiful islands because we derive an economic benefit.

We are ok to sell them alcohol because we derive an economic benefit.
We are ok to go to their countries for our holidays and medical treatments because we are benefiting.

We are ok to watch their TV and movies and subject ourselves to the cultural/religious influence because we like the entertainment.

We are ok to study in their medium and their universities and pass in their exams because it betters ourselves.

But when it comes to their fundamental rights, we are not ok because we don't like it. We come up with all sorts of excuses of cultural/religious disharmony, etc etc. Is harmony achieved by denying the rights of people? Those who support the ban are probably the ones who would first yell 'freedom of religion' if and when non-Muslims wield much power over their rights. Or do they not believe that freedom of religion is a fundamental right?

We have thrown away the tyranny by dictator and replaced it with tyranny by majority.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Freemarket or Corporatocracy?

Recently, the famed econometrician John Perkins was interviwed on DemocracyNow!. The interview was about his new book. Also he talks about his previous book titled "Confessions of an Economic Hitman".

In his Hitman book, he describes himself as an 'Economic Hitman (EHM)'. These EHMs were hired to lure third-world countries into huge loans that they would never be able to repay. They went in to pursuade the third world leaders of the benifits of huge infrastructure projects. The projects were then financed by the international financial institutions such as World Bank or IMF. Obviously, the loans comes with conditions so that the contracts itself is awarded to American or European corporations. Not that IMF/WB don't give productive loans and good advice sometimes, they sure do.

It is no wonder then that these corporations make immense profits from the loans given to the recipient countries. Developed countries tax their citizens and give this money to the financial institutions, who in turn funnel this money to the powerful corporations in the developed countries. The third world country is then forever put in debt.

I sometimes wonder why some people condemn these problems as a problem of free-market capitalism. As far as I can see, it is these powerful governments who fund these institutions. Only with their backing and funding (taxed from their own citizens), can these institutions survive. The corporations have influential lobbyists making sure this money is funnelled into their coffers via 'aid'. This is pure corporatocracy. Social welfare for the politically connected!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The powers of the military

A recent article on DO, which towards the end states that
"...the military is ready to confront and solve any terrorism activities within the country, affirmed the Vice-Chief of MNDF"
Are they really ready to confront any terrorist activities. If so what kind of powers do the military have in combating such activities. Do we know what the capacities and limits of the military/police are when it comes to combating them?

Do they have broad powers to spy on citizens in the name of fighting the terrorists? Are they allowed to torture them? Maybe they are labeled 'enemy combatants' and denied due process. The activities of the military need to be put in the open and discussed at the Majlis level. There powers should be clearly defined and limited. Or are they just 'state secrets' to serve the greater good?

Talking of state secrets, it was not long ago that there was massive outrage about the discovery of the NSA's dragnet domestic surveillance program in USA. The Bush administration's use of the 'state secret' privilege to thwart the lawsuit against ATT caused much uproar seems to be forgotten. The current Obama admin is using the exact same methods to block the investigation of not only the illegal spying, but also torture and rendition too.

I am not sure whether it is even illegal to spy on citizens here in Maldives. For all we know, it might have been occurring for as long as we remember.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Talk about talent!

One of the best storytelling I have seen.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Freedom -- go to hell



Some people take it to the streets to protest against liberty and freedom. They apparently abhor the 'western' liberalism and democracy. Liberal I mean in the classical sense.

But I wonder, is it not the evil western liberal values of freedom of expression and freedom to peaceful protest that allows them to stand there holding the banner in the first place?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

A global what?

It didn't come as a surprise to me to hear that corporations such as Microsoft are advocating for a global patent system, where one of their senior lawyers stated:
In today’s world of universal connectivity, global business and collaborative innovation, it is time for a world patent that is derived from a single patent application, examined and prosecuted by a single examining authority and litigated before a single judicial body.
...and controlled by a single party such as Microsoft!

By its very nature, patents are controversial, especially the software patents which is relevant to software developers such as Microsoft. Patents have become a means to control the small and individual player's innovation. Software patents are more like mathematics.

Is it because, Microsoft is facing possible fines related to a patent infringement in their Word product? Or is it because they are facing stiff competition from Free software, and feels the need to threaten them to get more market share.

Reasons aside, I think Microsoft should work on getting their (as in US patent system) house in order before they export it to the rest of the world via World Intellectual Property Organisation. But wait, that's not going to happen; the US system is beyond repair. With everything getting patented left and right, one cannot write a program that doesn't infringe on a patent. Just recently, Google received a patent on the design of their homepage. Google wasn't even close to being first in minimal clean homepage design. Even if they were first, why should they get a monopoly? Maybe Maldivian architects should patent their architectural designs now, and engineers follow suit with structural designs (claiming rightfully that design patents are granted in some countries).

Otherwise they won't innovate and produce nice efficient designs, would they?

Gotta go clean up my desktop and patent my innovative-super-clean-minimal-user-friendly desktop.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Breaking the monopolies 2

In an earlier post, I wrote in support of the government's decision to break the fish oligopoly in this country. The reason being that, such legislations are only in the interest of selected parties at the expense of the general public. Unfortunately, like everywhere in most of the world, Maldives fares no better at making sure that politicians are able to pick winners and losers.

Now its time to break the other duopolies in this country, ie the ISP and telecom providers. The two ISPs, namely Dhiraagu and ROL, provide poor and expensive packages (infact webhosting is 100 times more expensive as Dhivehi Observer noted). Everyone is well aware of the reduction in prices of Dhiraagu when Wataniya came into competition. We can still take a step further and allow complete competition in the marketplace for Internet and telecommunication service providers. Infact, this is how it should be in every industry. No artificial and restrictive barriers to entry should be placed (like some proposed in another industry). After all, we don't legislate how many construction companies, design firms, clothing shops, computer sellers, web development companies should be there. So why should it be any different for these services? Competition will enhance consumer choice and also reduce prices.

Upcoming startups does not necessarily have to provide universal coverage. Some might infact do. Others might specialise in niche markets or provide speciality services such as VoIP. The technological barrier to entry is quite low with dropping prices of server and network gear, and the abundance of numerous open-source software stacks which are available for free. Plus, the established providers may not innovate or explore the new emerging technologies in the areas of wireless communications, let alone the established technologies of webhosting.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

On freedom of the mind

Couple of nights ago, I saw few minutes of talk on the 'Islaamee Dhiriulhun' program. There were three young guests on the show with the host asking them questions. One of the guests was talking about the Maldivian culture and its relation to Islam. He goes on to mention that all Maldivians were Muslim and that we should should try to minimize the cultural influences of the West. The other guest mentioned that Islamic golden era produced many great scientists and philosophers.

That got me thinking. Are we still in the days of make-believe where Maldives is a 100% Muslim country? Do they not know that there are many atheists, Christian and sects among Maldivians? Whose interest is it serving when politicians and public figures lie when they say Maldives is a 100% Muslim country?

Or is it because it is defined that all Maldivians are Muslims? This begs the question, are we Muslim by definition? Or are we Muslims by belief? I am a Muslim not because some constitution defines it. I am Muslim because of what I believe. As being a Muslim is all about belief and submission, how could one override the meaning of Muslim to say someone could be Muslim even if that person does not submit to God?

Everyone should have the right to believe what they want. The freedom of the mind is the most important freedom. Things such as freedom of speech and press, that our politicians fancily talk about, can only be realized with freedom of thought. Anyone who suppresses people's freedom of thought (be it for national, cultural or religious reasons etc), is a person who wants to control people's lives.

These freedoms are what we are born with, not what we obtain from the State. Each individual is sovereign over that individual's mind. No one, not even the State, has sovereignty over one's mind.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Will the real engineer please stand up!

As I mentioned in a prevoius post, various regulations are being proposed and enacted in relation to the building design sector.

One of these recent regulations that has come into effect is the National Building Professional Accreditation Regulation(NBPAR), which is available for download (direct pdf link).

Basically, the regulation proposes to 'accredit' professionals (architects, engineers, surveyors etc) who works in the design sector. The accreditation being that, certain selected professionals get special privileges, such as being allowed to undertake the design of larger projects, or special treatment during normal government approval process.

Normally, if a client wants to design his house or any building, he hires an architect or engineer. There are registered architects and engineers who are allowed to sign the relevant municipal documents, which is based on having a certain level of academic qualification. This regulation is fine and good. Having completed the design, the client (or on his behalf the designer) submits the drawings to the municipality, which then checks (for municipal, planning and structural compliance) and gives a building permit. This process usually takes about two months.

The currently active NBPAR regulation creates a category of engineers called 'Professional Engineers'. These PEs have magic stamps bearing their names. When these PEs stamp their drawings, the municipality do not check the drawings for structural compliance, and the approval is given after municipal and planning checks. Hence the process is very much expedited. The idea being that, these PEs are experienced enough that no further structural check is required by the authorities.

Which is fine and dandy, until one looks at the criteria for being eligible to become a PE. In Category A1 - Accredit Professional Engineer, the experience requirement given on page 23 states that:
The experience required for registration of an applicant shall be either one of the following requirements.
a) a minimum of 3 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings out of which a minimum of 2 years of working experience as a structural checker in a relevant government authority OR

b) a minimum of 4 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings out of which a minimum of 3 years of working experience under a certified professional engineer registered in this Regulation, subject to the Registrar’s approval OR

c) a minimum of 7 years of structural engineering design experience relevant to building work across an appropriate range of buildings subject to the Registrar’s approval.

Note: Under the Experience requirement for the registration of professional engineers, clause (c) is only applicable for the year 2009.
Item (a) is a clause put in to give PE status to existing civil/structural engineers who are working at municipality or construction ministry.

Item (b) is not applicapable as this enforcement of this regulation has just started this year. There is NO one who has 6 months (let alone 3 years) working under a PE.

Item (c) applies to most new engineers, but states 7 years, which is an overly long duration AND it applies to year 2009 only. This means any engineer whose experience reaches 7 years in 2010 or thereafter is not eligible! He has to go back to either (a) or (b).

And no, (b) just does not work in the real world. What it says is that one has to work under a PE for 3 years atleast. I know in developed countries charter-ship and the like are given after working under chartered engineers. But here in Maldives, there are very few opportunities, and the industry is very young. Fresh engineers will not get opportunities to work for existing PEs, and the PEs wont be able to hire that many new engineers as well. Most of the new engineers will have to freelance (as they currently do). Hence (b) cannot produce more PEs.

Hence, anyone who currently qualifies for PE (be it via a, b or c) gets the PE status and very few if any new PEs will be produced. And the PE are given special privilages during checks by authority, and hence they are able to grab more clients. The new graduates won't get the chance, as they don't have these privileges.

It is sad that these regulations are actually benefitting the ones who already have a competitive advantage due to experience and reputation. Some notable engineers have raised issue with using the world 'professional'. They say, it has a specific meaning in the world industry and what we are doing is diluting that name. This I agree. But we have a much bigger problem with the regulation, which unfortunately these prominent engineers are oblivious to, since they themselves qualify for PE. Currently about five or six engineers have taken the magic stamp.

More and more engineers are taking the magic stamp, and it will be even more difficult to revert this regulation. Some PEs now agree that the regulation is biased in their favour, though not enough to work to revert or atleast ammend the regulation.

--------------
Disclaimer:
I personally do qualify for PE status, but so far I have not taken the magic stamp. However, lot of people are asking me "Are you a PE?", and gives funny looks when I say I have not applied. I try to explain the reason why. Obviously, the clients prefer PEs as they can get drawings approved quicker. But if this continues for too long, I might have no choice but do as the saying says:
If you can't beat them, join them!

Monday, July 13, 2009

on liberty and freedom

The recent ban of Airtel has resulted in a bit of a backlash towards MoIA and Adhaalath party. Lots of people have been condemning the ban.

Most of the objections have been due to the fact that Airtel is quite popular among the Maldivians and is being used by a lot of people. It is far cheaper and has more channels than the local cable providers. As such, the religious reasons given could be just an excuse to disguise the behind the scene lobby efforts by the existing cable providers.

But the funny thing is, there will be no public revolt when the government blocks a website, or bans something used by a few people. A ban is a ban, whether it is of a popular item or not. As such, the real question is, do we really want the government telling us what can and cannot be used by us? Have we already given up our liberty and freedom, so that some of them can be given back to us piece by piece by the state? Or are we born free with freedom of thought and expression?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Protective tariffs and taxes

A journalist Jameel who owns a local print newspaper and farmer Fareed who grows watermelon for a living were talking in a local cafe' about their life and work. They were joined by mutual friend Mohamed who sells music CDs at a local corner shop.

Jameel: Fareed, how is your farming business? I hope it will be good since Ramazan is near.

Fareed: Not too bad, but I am finding fewer and fewer buyers each day. Last ramazan was worse than the previous one. Not sure if this ramazan will be any better.

Mohamed: How so? People still do eat watermelons, especially during ramazan!

F: The imported watermelons are eating into my revenue. They are cheaper than the ones I grow.

J: I am having some problems too. Few people are buying my newspaper, despite more marketing and improved content. All they want to do is surf the net and maybe read some news here and there in blogs. It is putting mine and other newspapers out of business. I have an online version of my paper too, but people link to me without permission!

M: Same here. Not many people buy the CDs now. They would rather download from iTunes or over torrent. But I am not standing still! I am doing something about it!

F & J: Doing what?

M: I am proposing a bill via my MP to put a tax on internet traffic. That way people who use more bandwidth will be taxed more, part of which will be used to subsidize the CDs. It will prevent businesses from bankrupting and causing unemployment.

J: Thats interesting. I could use a similar tax. A tax on blogs and news aggregators. In addition, I am going to propose linking without permission as copyright infringement.

F: You guys are brilliant! I can use your ideas to propose high import taxes on watermelons. And chilli, lemon and mangoes too, because I am actually growing those too.

Jameel and Mohamed didn't appear too happy.

J: Fareed, but that will increase my living costs. And I eat a lot of chilli too!.

M: Yeah thats not fair Fareed.

F: But in my farming island, there is no shop where I can buy music CDs or newspaper. I love music, but my only choice is downloading from iTunes. I have to read news and watch videos on the internet especially on youtube. So my internet traffic is quite high.

M: But I am doing this to protect jobs.

F: Me too.

J: Come to think of it, I also use a lot of internet traffic in my newspaper business. I don't download any music. So I don't think its fair to tax us.

F: Maybe these taxes are not a good thing then.

J: I think so too.

M: I agree.

Thus ended the arguments about protective taxes. One would think that such stupid laws don't float around in the political sphere. But no, there are people who are seriously suggesting to bar linking and paraphrasing to copyrighted material and taxing internet.

Such laws only serves the interest of the lobby groups at the expense of everyone else. These laws invade the privacy and freedoms of individuals. It is sad to see that everywhere, the laws are more about controlling every aspect of our lives from what you wear, what you eat, where you go, what you read and what you believe.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The party maslahathu

Today you often here on TV, the politicians frequently say something along the lines of
"Parliament members should work in the interest of the public rather than the party"
Or in dhivehi
"Party ge maslahathu kurinaaruvaa rayyithun ge maslahathaaigen masakkai kurun"
You will see politicians congratulating themselves for promoting citizens' interests rather than party interests. This begs the question--If their party interest is not the same as the citizens' interest, isnt there something wrong with their parties? Are they not admitting themselves that their party has an interest different from the citizens?

This brings us to the question, what do these parties stand for? What are their philosophical, ideological or pragmatic approach to addressing the economic, social, cultural and host of other issues that need to be addressed. Everyone agrees what the problems are (drugs, child abuse, etc.), but the differences comes in HOW to tackle those issues. It is not sufficient for the parliamentarians to say they will work in the interest of the public. They have to explain HOW.

The answer to the question of how is not that clear cut. It depends on the party's or person's political, religious, economic and social orientations. It depends on what they really stand for. Is party X the defenders of democracy at all cost? Or do they firmly believe in establishing Sharia Law? Or do they stand for liberty and freedom?

I stand for liberty and freedom. What do you stand for?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Breaking the monopolies

When you go around in Male' shopping for a jeans, or anything for that matter, you get to decide from where you want to buy it. You can decide whether you want to buy from the local corner shop, or you want to buy from the supermarket where the product comes in good packaging. A perfume X available for 100/- at the supermarket might be available at 95/- at the local corner shop. There is healthy competition.

Suppose one day, the government decides that it is in the interest of everyone that the government decide who sells perfume. The idea being that, the right to sell perfume will be given to selected 4 or 5 parties, hoping that the public don't have to worry about fake products and low quality perfume. Do you think such state granted monopolies will actually improve quality, reduce price or benefit the public in general at all?

Well, such a thing was done in the land of Elvisdam. A similar thing has been ongoing right here in Maldives, the exclusive right to export tuna had been granted to selected companies. What right does the state have to give away the country's resources to selected parties? Does that really improve the conditions of fisherman or the small entrepreneur?

Fortunately, the news has come that the current government is atleast thinking of abolishing the state granted monopolies. These monopolies are one of the main reasons for the troubles faced by the fishermen. Some parliamentarians, during their campaign, promised to solve the problems of fishermen. But what everyone had in mind was more subsidies in fuel, ice and loans. Such subsidies hurt in the long run, and make the fishermen dependent, rather than independent and self sufficient.

Ofcourse, the question remains of how to actually abolish the monopolies. They too have made massive investments, and there should be appropriate compensation. There will be jobs lost and many other problems in the short term, but it is the sour but right medicine that we have to take.

In addition, in the recent news conference held by the employment ministry, it was stated that the exclusive monopolies given to so called 'expatriate workers importing agencies' need to be broken. That's right, state should grant no monopolies here too.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Is scarcity a monetary phenomena?

A fellow blogger posted an article titled "Change the Rules of the game or Game itself?", where he mentioned the The Venus Project, and made claims in relation to the lowering of prices of mangoes such as:
For once, if we take the money out the equation, there are plenty of mangoes there a lot of people could eat instead of letting it rot in the market.
This is a bold claim to make. Is scarcity really just a monetary phenomena? If there was no money, there won't be any scarcity?I think not.

Taking money out of the equation does not remove the scarcity of the mangoes or any good for that matter. There is no infinite supply of land for mango trees, nor an infinite supply of farmers to grow them, nor an infinite number of traders and vehicles to bring the produce to the consumers, etc. Simply saying removing money out of the equation does not remove this scarcity.

Laws of supply and demand is the reality whether we like it or not. Whether money is involved or not. In barter as well, you would give up something more valuable in exchange for something that is more scarce. Money is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. Remove money, we are back to barter, and the problems of scarcity will remain.

Even assuming that the Earth has enough natural resources for the world population (as the Venus Project claims), it takes time, energy, skill, tools, machinery to make the resources to a consumable form. As such, it will always be a matter of trade off between where to put more time and energy to say growing mangoes or other tasks.

At a cursory glance, the Venus Project appears to advocate a central authority to control every aspect of our life in the name of humanity. It states:
Considerable amounts of energy would also be saved by eliminating the duplication of competitive products such as tools, eating utensils, pots, pans and vacuum cleaners. Choice is good. But instead of hundreds of different manufacturing plants and all the paperwork and personnel required to turn out similar products, only a few of the highest quality would be needed to serve the entire population.
Is it not the competition that drives innovation and creativity? What is the incentive to make the single highest quality product? Such central-planning never works.

And it is not even self consistent. Here it says (emphasis mine):
Overpopulation, energy shortages, global warming, environmental pollution, water scarcity, economic catastrophe, the spread of uncontrollable disease, and the technological displacement of people by machines threaten each of us.
While here it states:
With the advent of future developments in science and technology, we will assign more and more decision making to machines.
Ofcourse, there will be lots of benefit to come from the renewable energy research and others that they propose to do, but as a social system I have my reservations. And thats just after a cursory look at their website. I think there will be a lot more to dig out, or am I way out of line here? Just one question remains.

Who controls the code running on these machines?

Friday, May 8, 2009

The copyright debate

There is an ongoing online debate about copyrights on The Economist. The basic premise is that the existing copyright laws do more harm than good. Supporting the premise is Professor William Fisher of Harvard. Opposing the premise is Professor Justin Huges of Cardozo Law School, NY.

Although the debate is US-centric, the arguments and counter-arguments are very much relevant to our tiny country as we formulate modern intellectual property laws. Not that being modern is necessarily good.

Some Maldivians do think that copyright is an everlasting, overreaching right to do whatever you want with your works. They sometimes confuse copyright, patents and trademarks which are completely different things. We have to consider the costs to the society as a whole that results in overly broad copyrights, patents and trademarks.

For example, on 9 Feb 2009, Dhivehi Observer published an article titled Intellectual property and copyright law urgently needed in Maldives, states that:
For example, in recent years several special recipes for fish have been available in the market, like Faiy Mirus, Mas Mirus and so on. These are recipes that many of us tried for the very first time. Most people don’t even know who came up with the recipe but today several companies and individuals are selling the same product. One wonders what would happen to the first people had they been allowed to register the trademark and patent the recipe. Of course, others could sell similar products but not in the same name.
Are we to really allow trademarks on generic names and phrases such as "Mas Mirus", "Faiy Mirus" which Maldivians have used for long long time. Are we to allow patents on recipes which are modifications of recipes used by our previous generations? Are we forgetting that these recipes are also derivatives, and patenting them will restrict the recipes to selected few for the coming generations. And these few will be lobbyists benefiting at the cost of the society.

Overly broad copyrights and patents come at a huge cost to the society. It is no wonder that modern 'intellectual property' laws are allowing companies like Google to get sole access to millions of books and as one blogger put it, privatisation of the English language.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some questions for parliamentary candidates

Having watched some of the TVM 'debates', I wonder how will the candidates fair if they are asked some real political questions. Questions about issues that this country is facing, instead of giving them an easy ride by asking stupid questions. This way, the public can know what kind of policy stand their candidates favour.

Here are some questions, that I think are more relevant to the real world. Feel free to suggest more.

1. Do you agree that the current government's plans of privatisation of key sectors such as energy, health, education, utilities etc, will result in better and cheaper services for the public? How do you think standard of living, income disparity and poverty will change if such economic policies are adopted?

2. Maldives is currently facing proliferation of various religious sects, other religions and atheism. Should the state impose (by law) a certain sect of Islam? If so which sect, and how do we decide which sect? Or should the state allow anyone to practice their own selected sect of Islam, or allow complete freedom to choose one's own religion/sect?

3. Should the state have the right to monitor (internet, phones and other activities) of individuals in the hope of controlling 'social ills' such as religious extremism, other religions, homosexuality, pedophilia, drugs etc?

4. Do you consider the current drug laws sufficient? If not would you advocate more towards decriminalisation/rehabilitation or stricter criminal punishment?

5. If and when a tax system is introduced, should there be higher taxes with more government role in the society, or low taxes with less role for the government in the society?

I think such questions will reveal what the candidates really stand for and what their thoughts are (if they have thought of these problems at all) on these matters. It will help you in deciding who to vote for based on whether the candidates agree with you on what you think how these issues should be addressed.

Any suggestions/improvements are welcome.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

(Architects vs Engineers) vs The Public

Suppose one day that a legislation was put forward in Maldives that states the following:

1. Only physicians who have work experience of 10 years or more are allowed treat patients of certain selected medical conditions such as hypertension(high bp) and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol). It is illegal for all other physicians to treat such a patient.

2. It is illegal for a doctor to compete with another doctor by offering lower price for his services. (Assume for a moment that doctor's fees are not controlled in Maldives).

What would such a legislation do to the general public? Most of the patients will then have to go to those 10yr experience doctors (lets call them super-doctors, which are few in number), if they want treatment for common conditions. The price they charge is not controlled, and the patient will have to pay whatever fee that the super-doctors demand. Meanwhile, perfectly capable physicians will not be able to offer their service.

As for the other doctors (opthal, paeds, gyn etc), they are not allowed to compete on price. If one gynaecologist is offering service at 100/- per patient, another gynaecologist cannot offer the same service for a lower price, because that would be illegal!

One might think that such a legislation will never be attempted. Well such a regulation is being proposed not in the health sector, but the building design sector. The "National Building Designers Registration (NBDR) Regulation 2009" hopes to do just that. Though currently in draft stage and opened for public comment by Ministry of Housing Transport and Environment, the regulation proposes such things.

It categorises architects and engineers so that only certain super-architects and super-engineers can design projects of certain size, types and heights. With few architects and engineers practicing, such regulations will give an enormous competitive advantage to the super-architects and super-engineers. Not because they are more capable, but because the others are regulated out of the market. And this doesn't stop here, the plan is to extend this to other professions in the sector such as Building Services, Quantity Surveying etc.

Secondly, under "Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics" clause 11.2 states:
11.2 A member shall not compete with another member by means of a reduction of fees or by any other inducement to any person
Member means a registered practitioner in the building design sector. The public is denied to shop around for a cheaper and better services!!! Such a regulation will definitely be favorable to someone in the design sector, but it is definitely not in the interest of the public.

Unfortunately, this might be the case for other regulations being hectically proposed. The interest of the general public is left out, while the interest of the interest groups are pushed.

Disclaimer:
I happen to be someone who will benefit from such a regulation. But my "Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics" says that this is just plain wrong :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A conversation with a blogger

I am posting a copy of a post by another blogger and my comments and follow ups for archiving here, in case the original blogger decides to delete the posts.

On Tuesday April 21 2009, person non grata posted an article titled Democratic Deism:
Keeping Maldives a Muslim state is being decried by some as a prejudice against the minority of the country. The fact that the vast majority (some would say 100%) of the country's populace are Muslims obviously weighs in on developing the laws and regulations of the country. Questioning this practice is questioning the prudence of democracy itself.

Consider Switzerland, which is one of the world's most revered direct democracies. It is a nation renowned for its tolerance and neutrality. Yet, every now and then the majority exercise their right to rescind that of the minority. A very real example of this is the referendum to ban minarets in Switzerland.

In the same vein, the Maldivian people have a right to refuse the building of churches in the country. They also have the right to ban the public practice of any deistic/theistic beliefs of their choosing. To deny them these rights is to deny them democracy.
My comment for that post:
Is this a troll? Anyway I will bite.

Democracy is a fancy name for tyranny-by-majority, especially if it goes unchecked. But whether it is a democracy or a republic (which by the way is what I personally would prefer), there has to be protection of life, liberty and property of individuals. The problem with the Maldives constitution is that it doesnt protect the civil liberties of people. It gives draconian powers to the Majlis, where the rights of citizens can be revoked at the stroke of a vote by the majority.

Just imagine if you are on the receiving end of the stick. Right now religious sects are proliferating in Maldives, and there is hard crackdown. But such acts will only exacerbate the problems. As a Muslim I do not want the state to dictate and coerce me into following a particular sect of Islam. It used to be that all Maldivians should follow the Shafiee mazhab (not you btw :), but now that the people at MoIA is mostly Wahhabi, do you want Wahhabism to be mandated? Or Shafiee mazhab to be mandated? It should be left to the individual and the state should have no say on that. Similarly, if the Dots want to pray in separate mosque, so be it. State should not coerce them to pray at selected mosques. It is the same as asking the moderate muslims to pray at a church. Same applies to other religions. If someone wants to follow different religion state should allow it. Do you want to see the day if for example there is Christian majority in Majlis, and they amend the constitution to force Christianity upon us? I certainly don't. But sadly, Maldivians will gladly agree to enforce a sect or religion as long as it is his/her sect/religion.

We should be more respectful and tolerant of our fellow humans. I have written on these topics.

Sorry for the long comment.
On April 22 2009, a follow up titled Democratic Deism (a follow-up) was posted:
This is in reply to a few observations made by meekaaku in reply to the last post.

Come the day Christianity ousts Islam in Maldives, the public will have to accept it (this author certainly will). The mosques can be taken down and the Qurans in the libraries replaced with Bibles, but the people will have the right to practice their religions in seclusion (it is a belief system after all, so who can stop people from believing?).

This is the right Christians and people from other religions have. There are plenty of non-Muslims practicing their respective religions in private gatherings. This is not to say that they cannot work towards converting the majority of the country (oppressing these efforts would be tyrannous).

As liberties go, there are few greater than agreeing upon a common belief system which enables optimal communal performance. This liberty was served when the Special Majlis declared Maldives an Islamic state in the new constitution. Consider the consequences of having declared it a Christian state.

Keeping democracy in check is what MoIA and the rest of the government's gestapo-factions are already doing. The Majlis is ineffectual in holding the government accountable because it is constitutionally compromised. The current state of affairs in Maldives can already be summed up as tyrannous. Through this tyranny the government has started seeding the notions of theistic plurality.
My comment for this follow up:
"There are plenty of non-Muslims practicing their respective religions in private gatherings."

Maybe for expats, but for Maldivians it is illegal. Well by definition, you have to be a mulsim to be a citizen. Hence a maldivian practicing a different religion is by definition not a Maldivian! And yet the state lets them keep their passports and other benefits that a mulsim Maldivian gets. So why don't we just get rid of that requirement of being muslim to be a maldivian. Lets put a stop to this recursive definition.
-----

"This is not to say that they cannot work towards converting the majority of the country (oppressing these efforts would be tyrannous)."

And oppressed it is. No one can preach (let alone openly) another religion legally here.
---

"This liberty was served when the Special Majlis declared Maldives an Islamic state in the new constitution. Consider the consequences of having declared it a Christian state."

Liberty was served by denying the liberty to choose one's own religion?
----

"Keeping democracy in check is what MoIA and the rest of the government's gestapo-factions are already doing."

Keeping democracy in check by suppressing free speech, invading privacy and surveillance? Yeah, Big Brother is watching us.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The rights and liberty at Elvisdam - Part 2

(This is slightly related to my earlier post about Elvisdam.)

The people of Elvisdam lived a peaceful life. Elvians were generally peace loving and law abiding citizens. Over the years, people came to the king for favours and general routine things. Most of the services were available in the capital city of Elam where the king resides. Soon, as the kingdom prospered, the city of Elam became the central hub of the entire kingdom. Many Elvians from other cities came and settled in the city of Elam. As a result there was huge demand for residential and commercial properties in Elam.

Citizens of Elam saw the opportunity and started building their houses as multi-storey buildings. Some were for residential, while others were for commercial purposes. Ten to twenty years ago, there were no financing for such developments from the banks. Thus the citizens of Elam saved money over the years and built their homes. Nowadays, the banks do provide loans with interest for such developments.

As the demand for the properties increased, so did the rents. This is Economics 101. There were periods when rents fell slightly. However recently, the rents have kept increasing just like price of other items such as food, clothing etc.

As a result, very recently, a petition has been put forward to the king, asking for control of the rent in Elam. The premise being that, monthly rent, deposits and advance payments have gotten out of control and the king needs to do something about it.

However, such push button solutions will not work, especially when it tries to defy economics. History has shown that such price controls results in shortages. Now it is upto the king to decide what to do, and what button to push. There are several arguments against rent control or any other price control.

1. Liberty and freedom:
How is it ethical for me to dictate a price for your fruits of labour and investment? Suppose you were doing some other economic activity such as building contruction, fishing or ordinary corner shop. What right do the state have in dictating the price charged by the contractor, or the price that fisherman sell fish or the price that cornershop sells products. After all, the contractor, fisherman and shopowner have to pay their costs of living too. This is what I mentioned in my previous post about Elvisdam.)

. 2. Price control will result in shortages:
If for example the king decides to control the residential rent, and if this rent is below market price, the landowners will only build and rent out for commercial activities (such as shops, office, warehouse etc). This will result in a shortage of residential buildings. This is the same kind of shortage that occurs for some foreign currencies in Elvisdam.
If the king decides to control both residential and commercial rent, then landowners will have to select tenants based on some criteria other than price. It might result in landowners preferring to rent out to businesses instead of ordinary people, thinking that businesses are more likely to pay rent and big deposits.

3. The king is relieved of his duties:
If rent control is imposed, the king can say he has solved the housing problem with popular support from the public. But the real problem of inadequate educational, health and other facilities remain unsolved in the other cities. This is the main reason for the influx of people into the city of Elam.

4: Does nothing to reduce the cost of living:
Almost all elvians face the problem of increased cost of living, be it in Elam or other cities. The prices of food, fuel and clothing has risen, so has rent. Part of the problem is increased demand. The average income remained the same while the prices has gone up. Some have called for controlling the prices as well. But the real problem is inflation, which is not being addressed by the king, and unfortunately there is not much call for correcting inflation by addressing its root cause-Monetising the king's debt.

The king runs a debt country. Previous kings ran a deficit budget, meaning its expenditures were more than its income. Hence the king printed the money to make room for his extravagant spending. Like any other commodity, the money loses value as more is pumped into the economy. As long as such printing is going on, there will be no stop to inflation.

The current petition will gain popular support. It will also have significant opposition. This petition cuts to the heart a majority of people. But the sad part is, popular support was there for suppressing the freedom of the shell collectors in Elvisdam. Their fruits of labour were cartelised and extensive price controls were imposed. Only the few zone holders reap the benefit of the work of shell collectors. But they (the shell collectors) were a minority and lacked political backing, hence they have been deprived of their fundamental rights. Now it is happening to the powerful people, look how much it will be debated.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Majlis statistics

As the parliamentary elections nears, it is worth noting how our elected representatives have performed in their job. We all hear too often that the session has been canceled due to lack of quorum. Lets see how their attendance fares.

The table below gives some statistics about their attendance record for the period of March 2008 to 10 Nov 2008. Note that this does not include committee meetings.

All data taken from the annual report of 2008 available at Majlis website.

Mar indicates March/April
Jun indicates June/July
Oct indicates Oct/Nov (upto 10th)
No.of sessions held/attended.
Mar Jun Aug Sep Oct Tot. %
Const. Member 18 26 18 14 10 86 %
Pres Zahiya Zareer / Ahmed Zahir 15 18 15 14 8 70 81.4
Ibrahim Saleem / Hussain Hilmy 14 21 12 2 0 49 57.0
Ahmed Shareef / Mohamed Saleem 17 23 14 14 10 78 90.7
Azima Shukoor / Lubna Mohamed 14 12 15 11 4 56 65.1
Hussain Hilmy / Moosa Nizar 8 21 15 14 8 66 76.7
Dhiyana Saeed / Ahmed Mahloof 14 15 15 12 8 64 74.4
Fathin Hameed / Abdul Rasheed 16 17 14 14 6 67 77.9
Mohamed Saleem / Rozaina Adam 18 26 15 12 8 79 91.9
Male' Ibrahim Ismail 18 22 9 5 9 63 73.3
Mohamed Shihab 18 25 18 14 8 83 96.5
HA Ibrahim Manik 9 18 14 13 6 60 69.8
Jaufar Easa Adam 12 24 13 10 7 66 76.7
HDh Ahmed Abdullah 14 14 17 14 7 66 76.7
Abdul Shukoor 18 13 0 4 9 44 51.2
Sh Mohamed Hussain 13 23 3 10 2 51 59.3
Ibrahim Waheed 12 19 18 7 5 61 70.9
N Abdulla Yameen 11 23 16 11 4 65 75.6
Ali Mohamed 18 26 18 12 8 82 95.3
R Ali Waheed 17 25 15 0 1 58 67.4
Ibrahim Shaheed Zaki 14 25 15 11 10 75 87.2
B Ahmed Thasmeen Ali 11 20 12 8 7 58 67.4
Abdul Rasheed Abdul Rahman 15 23 9 10 6 63 73.3
Lh Ahmed Mohamed 16 20 15 13 3 67 77.9
Mohamed Solih 12 22 18 12 3 67 77.9
K Ismail Abdul Hameed 16 24 10 10 4 64 74.4
Mariya Ahmed Didi 15 24 18 13 6 76 88.4
AA Ahmed Zubair 11 20 18 13 8 70 81.4
Hussain Mohamed 15 19 4 5 7 50 58.1
ADh Abdul Muhsin Abdullah 17 24 14 14 7 76 88.4
Abdul Rasheed Ali 15 14 15 3 2 49 57.0
V Ismail Shihab 9 20 16 8 6 59 68.6
Abdullah Shahid 7 17 11 11 8 54 62.8
M Ahmed Nazim 9 23 12 14 3 61 70.9
Aneesa Ahmed 17 25 17 13 10 82 95.3
F Ahmed Hamza 12 22 18 13 9 74 86.0
Abdul Gafoor Ibrahim 15 25 18 13 5 76 88.4
Dh Ahmed Shiyam Mohamed 5 5 6 8 4 28 32.6
Ahmed Nasheed 13 25 17 10 7 72 83.7
Th Hassan Afeef 18 23 18 13 9 81 94.2
Mohamed Shareef 16 26 18 14 8 82 95.3
L Ilyas Ibrahim 18 25 17 11 6 77 89.5
Moosa Manik 16 18 17 12 8 71 82.6
GA Abdullah Jabir 10 10 15 8 7 50 58.1
Mohamed Saleem 17 21 18 11 8 75 87.2
GDh Zahir Adam 9 17 10 8 3 47 54.7
Abbas Ibrahim 18 25 18 13 10 84 97.7
Gn Mohamed Ibrahim Didi 18 23 17 13 9 80 93.0
Abdullah Maseeh Mohamed 18 26 18 14 8 84 97.7
S Mohamed Aslam 12 25 14 10 4 65 75.6
Ibrahim Shareef 16 21 15 8 5 65 75.6
Legend
Above 90% attendance
Above the average 76% attendance
Below the average 76% attendance
Lowest attendance

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The crackdown begins

The arrest of 9 Maldivians near Pakistan has raised lot of criticism towards the government, the so called extremists, wahhabis and fellow Muslims. Various bloggers have called for numerous action, including some people calling upon the government to just do something, while others advocate the abolishment of Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Eventually, the government has vowed to monitor the activities of the Jihadis.

But one thing we as citizens have to keep in mind is whether we want to go down that slippery slope. When the police say they are going to monitor them, do we even know how they are going to go about it? Do they start by monitoring the activities of people with long beard? Do they randomly check the suspects on the road for possession of Jihadi material? Are they suspects just because they have a long beard? This kind of monitoring is an invasion of the privacy and freedom of the public, be it beardies or not. This kind of power is something that governments love, since they get the ability to control and police the citizens. Unfortunately, lot of Maldivians will gladly agree to have the habees checked, searched and monitored. Afterall, it won't affect the majority of these moderate Muslims right? And we have nothing to hide, so why be afraid?

Yes, there are many sects such as Sufis, Salafis etc. But cracking down on them just because they believe in different school is very wrong. We need to be tolerant and respectful of other views and beliefs. A hard crackdown is exactly the kind of thing that will make things worse. If some people want to pray separately, why can't we as a society let them? How is it justified to coerce them to pray at a place that they fundamentally believe is inappropriate? Is it not the same as forcing us the so called moderate Muslims to pray at a church? Similarly, we have to accept that there will be different schools within the same religion, and people with different religions and non-believers as well. Do we really have to crack down on them in the name of protecting national unity? Everyone should be free as long as they don't violate the rights of others.

But they are extremists and terrorists, some will say. Who defines extremism and terrorism? Are the journalists who stands for free speech and press extremists because they encourage views critical of the state? Are atheists extremist because they don't believe in God? Are Muslims terrorists because some Muslims engage in suicide bombings?

It used to be Jews and Gypsies in Germany when Hitler came to power. Communists in USA during the Cold War. Terrorists and Enemy Combatants in modern day USA. All these fancy names have one common purpose. It creates a common enemy that ordinary citizens will unite against and give up essential freedoms in the hopes of getting protection. History and even current events around the world can reveal how the state manipulate the fear. It starts with gradual erosion of the rights of the minority and sadly the majority never stands up for it. To paraphrase Martin Niemoller:
First they came for the Communists, I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, I didn't speak up, because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Politics of Fear

It is well known tactic of the politicians to jump on big disastrous events to establish more power over the general populace. Whether it be natural disasters or man-made ones, the power elite always have something ready at hand. This tactic of using politics of fear was well used by Hitler after the burning of the Reichstag. George Bush used the 9/11 attack to push through the US PATRIOT Act.

Right now the world is currently facing economic recession, and the powers that be are jumping at the opportunity to create something that gives the financial institutions more power. This time it is a common world currency and a Global Reserve System. All in the name of reforming the world financial system.

This will be the one of the things that will be discussed at the upcoming G20 summit to be held in London. With trillions in foreign currency reserves, China is also trying it's stake to gain more control over the US and EU influenced financial institutions such as IMF and World Bank. A UN panel of experts (headed by none other than 2001 Nobel laureate) advocates the creation of a new global currency and a new global reserve system to counter the boom-bust cycles that the world economies face.

Currently the dollar is considered the world reserve currency due to the US getting the upper hand after the WWII and the subsequent Bretton Woods agreement, which failed in 1971 resulting in the Nixon Shock. However, the dollar (including most other currencies), are created fiat without any backing by a real commodity such as gold. As such, the US Federal Reserve can print the money just out of thin air (the actual steps involve using a nice piece of paper called T-bills). This printing of money is what causes the real inflation, and the excessive amount of printed paper money and bank credit created this financial mess in the first place.

The creation of one global currency, another fiat one, will most likely not prevent the boom-bust cycle. It will only exacerbate the problem, and will give even more control to these institutions over our daily lives. Already, these financial institutions have so much control over our economies via the network of central banks, and a one world currency will empower them even more.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

EEZ licenses

Some of the Majlis members have called for the revocation of the fishing licenses given to the foreign companies for fishing in the Maldivian EEZ. Their demand is basically for immediate cancellation of those licenses.

One wonders whether these parliamentarians are actually honest in their call for solving the fisherman's problems. Considering the timing of these calls, could this be another stunt to garner the votes? Everyone agrees there are problems that need to be addressed, but apparently no one agrees on how to address them.

Talking of revoking the foreign companies' licenses, it is time for the public to call for revocation of the zone licenses that some of these vocal parliamentarians have. It is very likely that the foreign companies' licenses will be revoked only to be replaced with licenses for these selected Maldivian companies who already control the entire export of tuna stock. But you will never see them calling for revoking of their very own licenses.

As long as our fishermen are made to sell their catch to selected few zone holders, we will see no cease to the problems. The fishermen are denied their right to a just price, just like the shell collectors in Elvisdam.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The State vs. The People

The constant struggle between the rulers and the ruled have never stopped since the beginning of recorded human history. The rulers, whether it be kings or democratic states, try to impose rules that sometimes invades the personal liberty and freedom of individuals. Here in Maldives, it is by no means any different even after the overthrow of the 30 year old regime. The recent censorship of selected websites by the government illustrates how the state imposes rules and regulations at the expense of personal liberty. Like the author Eric Blair said,
"If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear"
Although I disagree with some of the things in the websites, I do defend their right to say it. In a country where we are just learning democracy, it is important to understand that if democracy goes unchecked, it will result in a dictatorship. After all, Adolf Hitler came to power via democratic means. Thus, we must not let ourselves be the frogs that gets slowly cooked in the ever heating pan. The real problem, in my opinion, is that the constitution itself does not impose limits on the power of the state. For example, the often quoted Article 16(a) states that (emphasis mine);
"This Constitution guarantees to all persons, in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam, the rights and freedoms contained within this Chapter, subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis in a manner that is not contrary to this Constitution. Any such law enacted by the People’s Majlis can limit the rights and freedoms to any extent only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."
In short, you have all these fundamental rights until the People's Majlis decides to revoke (to any extent) them by enacting a law passed by the majority. What kind of guarantee is that? What is meant by demonstrably justified, in a free democratic society? We all know that it is in these democratic societies that special interest groups and people with power come up with all sorts of demonstrably justified reasons to invade the personal liberty and freedom of individuals. Why should we give the People's Majlis so much power over our personal lives? You never know when a law will be passed that allows the state to monitor phone calls and internet traffic for terrorist threats, do you? It is not only in the totalitarian states that erosion of personal liberty takes place. The so called Land of the Free passed the PATRIOT ACT which gave the state overly broad surveillance powers and threw away the due process of law (Just 45 days after the 9/11 attacks). Just yesterday in Australia, the secret blacklist of banned websites was leaked. When such laws are passed, the state will create a common enemy. In USA during the Cold War, it was the Communists, today it is the Terrorists. For Hitler it was the Jews and Gypsies. Do you want this country to be such a nanny state, in the name of protecting us from the evils of such sites? Do we give up our liberty so that the state can protect us? I certainly won't.
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety. - Benjamin Franklin -

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Copyleft - All wrongs reversed.

As our country sails through the democratic high seas, new legislation and regulations will inevitably be put forward at the parliament. One of the things that is mostly called for are patents and copyrights. As citizens we need to be aware of what these actually mean, and how it affects our daily lives. One thing is certain, it will definitely have backing from special interest groups.

Copyright was originally intended to give the author of the said work exclusive right to make copies for a limited period. The purpose was to encourage authors (by giving economic incentive) to create works of art, without having the fear of someone else copying them. It is important to remember that copyright is not a natural right in the same category as right to life and liberty. It is a right granted by the society (via the state), to that particular individual or group. It has its scope and limits such as Fair Use.

For example in the US, copyrights were usually given for 20 to 30 years. However, like any legislation, extensive lobbying by special interest groups has extended the copyright period to more than 100 years at the expense of public interest.

When copyright legislation are proposed, one has to consider how far are we willing to go in the name of protecting the rights of authors. Do we really want draconian laws such as DMCA where you are not even allowed to make a copy of your legally bought DVD for backup purposes? Do we want laws that allow the ISP to become the copyright police by montoring our internet traffic, making the ISP answerable to the movie/music industry? Do you want to see the day where you won't be able to read your ebook twice?

Such days are not too far away. It is happening right now. For example, once a friend of mine gave me a dhivehi music video CD (could have been a dvd, don't remember now). The CD played only on cd players. When I tried to play it on the computer, the system crashed. It was made delibrately to crash the computer, and that was why my friend asked me to fix the problem. If such DMCA like laws are passed, you won't be allowed to circumvent that mechanism by using an alternative operating system or program. That would be illegal! It is my right that I can use whatever damn equipment to play the cd which I bought and paid for. The copyright holder does not have the right to dictate to me how I use it (since I am not copying).

These legislations are already in place for world enforcement such as WIPO TRIPS. We will have to wait and see how our MPs handle these. Wonder whether they will have any clue.

All contents of this article are copyleft symbol Copyleft. All wrongs reversed.