Monthly Archives: March 2002

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Would you want to host Davos?

Stephane Perron writes from Whistler, Canada (lucky person), wondering whether the community should want to host the World Economic Forum. The message is provoked, I’d guess, from the persistent rumours that Canada is pushing hard to hold the Forum’s Annual Meeting in 2004 (in 2003, it will return to Davos).

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to the question. At the moment, I believe the protests against the symbols of globalisation have matured. In Barcelona a week ago, for example, large protests that coincided with a European Union summit were peaceful and effective. Similarly, in New York in February, when the Forum held this year’s Annual Meeting, the protests caused no disruption. In both cases, however, a large police presence was mustered, which might be just about tolerable in New York or Barcelona. It would undoubtedly be vastly more disruptive in a small mountain community. And there is no way of knowing if the more extreme anti-capitalist protestors — intent on violence, rather than argument — will manage to reinsert themselves into the anti-globalisation movement.

On the other hand, I think the Forum’s Annual Meeting is a wonderful thing. It has, at a basic level, a strong commercial and political impact on its venue. Protocol generally demands, for instance, that all the political leaders who wing into Davos have a bilateral with their Swiss counterparts. More alluringly, it brings a pretty exciting crowd to the mountains. My heart doesn’t beat faster at the sight of massed CEOs, but the thinkers and artists gathered by the Forum are a very special group. I’d like to think the people of Whistler would find that interesting.

Incidentally, if I had to guess whether the Forum will leave Davos again, I’d bet on it following an IMF/World Bank kind of schedule: two years at home (Davos) and then one year somewhere else.

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More on Google

Google last night apparently restored Xenu.net to its site. Congratulations both to Google and, I believe, to the hundreds, if not thousands of weblogs who were up in arms over this act of censorship. Of the major media sites, only CNN seems to have picked up a Reuters story — and the CNN piece (discovered, needless to say, through Google’s own news search) ran after the weblog storm.  

The definitive reporting on the Google-Scientology dispute (see below) that I’ve found is on Microcontent News. The author, John Hiler, was originally going to take a tough line on Google, but he reckons they would have risked the business by taking on the Church of Scientology and effectively challenging the DMCA. “Deleting information from the Google Cache would be like stealing holy icons out of the Vatican. Google is well aware of this perception — but of course, needs to balance this with its own fiduciary responsibilities.”

 

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Stifling free speech

There are so many weblogs writing about technology and Internet issues that I usually stick to my home ground of global affairs. But Dave Winer highlights two recent developments where our worlds collide. First, he singles out the bizarre decision of Google to delete a Norwegian site critical of Scientology because the Scientologists claim the site violates their copyright. Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), ISPs can be held liable for copyright violations. Responding to the Scientologists claim absolves Google of any liability.

First, as Dave details, a Norwegian site is not subject to the provisions of an American law. Nor, it seems, does it contain much in the way of copyright violation. That’s disturbing enough. I’m equally perturbed by Google’s action. There’s a great tradition in both the US and Britain (I’m less familiar with other jurisdictions) of media sticking up for their right to publish. It can, of course, mean going to court to defend that right, and Google, a young, stretched company, may have quailed at the extremely deep pockets of the Scientologists. But there’s a very important principle that Google should have quickly understood needed defending. Google, run by Eric Schmidt who I believe has the global perspective to understand these issues (not true of all technology CEOs), should have told the Church of Scientology to get stuffed. I am certain that many, many supporters of free speech would have helped this action.

Dave also highlights a bill introduced in the US Senate to require all computers to incorporate digital rights management. As Dave, a profoundly good programmer, says, it’s reminiscent of when the Indiana state legislature tried to pass a law decreeing that pi equals three.

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Down in Monterrey

The UN conference on development financing, running in Monterrey, Mexico this week, looks like being an unanticipated success. As I noted last week, president Bush’s announcement of a $5 billion increase in development aid (spread over three years) gave a boost to the conference, when squabbling about money was expected to be the focus.

Now it seems that Bush “mis-spoke” and that the aid increase will be double last week’s announcement. Oxfam policy director Justin Forsyth, who is generally not reluctant to criticise the great powers, reckons this is “a major step in the right direction”.

And US Treasury secretary Paul O’Neill, a frequent critic of “wasted” aid money, said in Monterrey that the US will consult with its international partners on how it dispenses its aid. All good news.

Less enlightening is a New York Times “analysis” from Monterrey, with the headline Globalization Proves Disappointing. As discussed in Davos Newbies passim, there are many valid criticisms of how globalisation has taken place, and there is much to do to improve many of the mechanisms of the global economy. But I don’t understand how the Times could dignify its brief, quote-filled snapshot with the term “analysis”.

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How big?

Yesterday morning, I heard a radio report about an iceberg the size of Cyprus that had broken off from Antarctica. Today’s Guardian calls it the size of Wales. Radio 4′s Today Programme decided to determine just how big the iceberg really is. Its conclusion is that Cambridgeshire is about right, but Cyprus is several times bigger. Shouldn’t it be a simple matter for reporters to get size right?

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The right thing

In the end, against expectations, South African president Thabo Mbeki did the right thing. It’s conceivable that the Commonwealth could have suspended Zimbabwe on the two votes of Australian prime minister John Howard and Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. But it really needed Mbeki’s assent to make the point.

How much difference will it make? Even from London, the Commonwealth’s sway sometimes seems pretty feeble. But Mugabe’s isolation from the leaders that really count in Africa will, eventually, tell. It’s sad, but we can expect that things will get worse for the people in Zimbabwe before they get better. The first step in improvement, however, came with the decisive rejection by the global community — Africa included — of the election result.

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Still plenty to discover

A team of explorers is uncovering Peru’s new Machu Picchu, high in the Andes. The ancient city of Corihuayrachina may have been the last bastion of Inca resistance against invading conquistadors. It’s easy to think that there are no major discoveries of this nature left, but the adventurous can still turn up surprises.