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.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The rights and liberty at Elvisdam

Once upon a time there was this remote little island called Elvisdam. The people of this island, aptly named Elvians, live a simple life. Shell collectors go to the beaches of the island and collect shells that come to the shore, and sell them to the locals or sell them to other islands such as Li Ansark, Pure-Oe and others. This is the main income source for the people of Elvisdam. Life was good.

One day the king Elvis decided that it is in the best interest of everyone that the king sells these shells to the lucrative markets of Pure-Oe, Li Ansark and others, making sure that the quality is good and the brand name of the people of Elvisdam is maintained. For this task, the king assigned his leutinent Lt. Icom F., making him an instant icon in the kingdom of Elvisdam. However, that meant it was against the law for Elvians to sell these shells to Pure-Oe directly. They will have to sell it to Lt. Icom, and at a price dictated by Lt. Icom. Some species of shells such as J. sackpik were definitely not allowed to be sold directly by the Elvians (to Pure-Oe ofcourse), while others such as Y. funtian were allowed.

Many Elvians thought this arrangement was good, until one day Lt. Icom was unable to meet the demands of the shell collectors. Being one man himself, there is only so much that Lt. Icom could buy in one day, even at his own dictated price. There were just too many shell collectors hoping to make a sale. Some shell collectors go as far as the edge of the reef to collect shells spending lot of time and energy, and they complain to the king that the price dictated by Lt. Icom is too low. At certain times Lt. Icom raises the buying prices of shells upon order from the king. At other times they buy shells from each shell collector based on a fixed quota per collector, hoping that all shell collectors get a chance.

As a solution to this problem, the king decided to allow others to sell the shells to Pure-Oe and others. However, this would come at a price for the Elvians; a steep one in fact. The king decided to divide the beaches of the island to zones. The North Beach, East Beach, South Beach and the West Beach, giving each zone to a different Elvian. The king gave monopoly control to the entire shell collection to selected individual Elvians who are the only ones who can sell the shells to the lucrative markets of Pure-Oe. All the shell collectors will have to sell their shells to one of these zone holders if they want to sell to Pure-Oe (they can sell to locals without restriction). It is not necessary that a North shell collector sell to the North zone holder; he can sell to the South zone holder if he can travel that far. One of these zones is given to Lt. Icom too. These zone holders do get massive land (for a very low rent) from the beach to build their packaging factories.

But the zone system did not solve the problem. The shell collectors were not satisfied. The average Elvian was not satisfied. There were always this struggle between the shell collectors and the zone holders about quota and buying price. Shell collectors demand to raise the buying prices and increase quota. But the zone holders have only a certain capacity. Yet the king won't allow anyone else to come and sell these shells to Pure-Oe. These struggles continue to this day.

It is a very sad state for the people of Elvisdam. They have been denied the right and liberty to sell their hard earned shells to the lucrative markets. They are forced to sell these shells to the king granted monopolies and at a price fixed price. Even then, people like Lt. Icom say he never make a profit and he gets money from the king (which by the way is hard earned money of the Elvians). No amount of price raises, quota increase or capacity increase will solve the inherent problem of the system. The only real solution is abolishing these monopolies.

(Update: It might not be a coincidence that one could spell Maldives from the same letters as Elvisdam. Or Icom F and Mifco etc.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Stellar software Stellarium

For those who are interested in sky observing, Stellarium is software worth having a look. Released under GPL and available for many platforms, it gives nice views of the sky (including star positions, planets, moon etc) as it will be when viewed from anywhere in the world. You can select the location by specifying latitude and longitude, or select a city from its built-in database.

This is not your average shareware software. This is completely free for personal, commercial and any other way you want to use it. It has no trial periods or limited functionality. No registration required. Just download/install/use. You can copy to as many machines as you want unlike most copyrighted software. Even the source code is available for free, hence its called Open Source Software.

For comparison of whats simulated and whats actual, the following picture shows how Stellarium shows the moon smiling on us on 1st Dec 2008 at 1900hrs when viewed from Male'.

Compare that to an actual photograph taken the same night about the same time. The exposure of the moon and planets are different because Stellarium cannot simulate the atmospheric light scattering (and the photographer's shaky hands!).

You can view other astronomical events of the past and the future. Just for the record, 20 Dec 2009 is the start of the Mars' retrograde motion (meaning Mars appear to reverse its direction of motion, until 10 March 2010), which you can view exactly how it is going to look from Earth as shown below. Good explanations available for anyone who care to read. No fear mongering please this time.

The planet Mars is centered on the screen. You can see the planet moving left relative to the stars (it is actually moving eastwards relative to the stars). The date is shown on the lower right of the video. Starting on 1st Nov 2009, the video shows Mars slowing down around 10 Dec 2009, and reversing the motion on 20 Dec 2009. Though the video shows until end of January 2010, this retrograde motion continues until 10 March 2010. You can also see the wobbly motion of the moon as well.