Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The best media organization in the world (soon)





The current situation

Within the world of journalism, a strong criticism has emerged which gained traction since George W. Bush's presidency. Most of the news outlets, the "mainstream media" as it's often referred to, is accused of complacency with the powerful. As was described by Cenk Uygur after he left MSNBC, this is how things work: the political Establishment offers interviews to news organizations and in exchange for this "access" to themselves, they expect journalists to always present them in a favorable way. If a journalist dares to challenge the Establishment, this behavior will be punished by depriving the news organization of access, thereby condemning it to lose the interest of its audience... or more simply, the dissenting journalist will be kicked out so he learns to ask only the questions that the politicians want to hear.

In this bleak media landscape where journalists betray the trust of their audience and fail to stand up to their role as a counter-power, a few people still stand up to the powerful, question everything, and report stories that matter to help defending democracy, human beings rights, and civil liberties. Some of these remaining heroes take big risks. Powerful corporations may try to ruin their lives by drowning them in years of unending prosecutions. Some of them are targeted by governments and end up in a jail or in a coffin. Some of them need to seek asylum in a foreign embassy and their human being rights of movement are impeached by self-proclaimed democracies.


A few good men ...and woman

Among the remaining few good people, it is surprising (or maybe it isn't) to find that some of them are regular guests on Amy Goodman's pro-peace DemocracyNow program.

Glenn Greenwald has been a journalist for The Guardian where he used to focus on abuses of power by the political and financial elite, and how the well-connected enjoy exemptions from the law. This angle led to the writing of the book "With liberty and justice for some" which he discusses in the company of Noam Chomsky in the following video. Glenn Greenwald is also the journalist who has been reporting since June 6th, 2013 on the leaks by Edward Snowden about the American outreaching spying programs: PRISM, MAINWAY, XKeyScore, Upstream, Echelon, etc.



Jeremy Scahill came to the public's attention as war reporter who wrote "Blackwater: the rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army" in which he denounced the crimes of American mercenaries that made up to half of all the American forces deployed in Iraq. The revelations in his book led to his witness account at a congressional hearing on the crimes committed by Blackwater. More recently, his journalistic investigations led him to Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, which are the theater of operation of drones' strikes, signature strikes, and other war crimes perpetrated by the United States Government, including the targeted assassination of American citizens including a 16 year old. These accounts have been gathered in his latest book and the matching eponymous documentary: "Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield" which he discusses in the following video.



Laura Poitras is the one of the 3 personalities whom I know least about. A documentary producer, she dedicated some of her work to the exposure of the USA's security agencies (NSA, DHS) who abuse their power for intruding citizens' private life, though not suspect of any crime, and gathering massive amounts of private information in violation of the 1st and 4th amendment of the USA's constitution. The only occasions that I really heard about Poitras before the leaks by Edward Snowden were her cooperation with Julian Assange, founder of wikilkeaks, and another cooperation with Jacob Appelbaum, creator and leader of the Tor Project (which I discussed in that article). Since I am not familiar with Poitras' work, I'll propose you a lecture by Jacob Appelbaum instead, which I found fascinating.



Winter is coming

Anyway... here's the big news: Greenwald, Scahill and Poitras will join efforts together in a new media organization financed by Ebay founder Pierre Omidyar who allocated 250 million dollars for this new project.

For people interested in no-nonsense journalism, this is amazing news. 3 heavyweights of truth-telling and standing up to the Establishment joining forces is the promise of meaningful news. The name of this organization is not yet known, and nor is the time that it will start publishing though I hope it will have stories to tell before the end of the year.


Conclusion

I am very enthusiastic about this coming media organization that starts with the big street creds from these courageous journalists.

And in this article, you've been exposed to names of prominent journalists and activists whose work I highly respect and who are connected to other respectable journalists and activists.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The 2nd most important man in France's modern history




Introduction

What I call "modern history" when talking about France is the period since the beginning of WW2. Undoubtedly, the most important man who influenced the destiny of France since that time was the general Charles De Gaulle. who played a key role in winning WW2 and later became president and exerted a somewhat dictatorial power in the conduct of affairs. Regardless of what he achieved and how we may judge it with today's standards, De Gaulle is very famous of course.

By contrast, the 2nd most important man who defined France's history is virtually unknown of French people themselves. Even among the older generations who might recognize his name, hardly anyone knows much about him. How is it possible? Shouldn't the 2nd most important man be also a president of the French Republic? Let's have a look!


Jacques Foccart

Jacques Foccart's political history starts during WW2 around the age of 30. After contacting the Resistance in 1942, he created provincial organizations affilitated to the Resistance and became the leader of this movement in 4 French provinces including some provinces of Normandy which would be the stage for D-Day. He also joined the secret services of The Free France which was based in London and where he met Charles De Gaulle.

From this position of leadership and his involvement in the secret services, he naturally joined the French secret services upon the liberation of Paris.

At the end of WW2, the political situation in France and in the world was peculiar. USSR was trying to extend its influence in France through the French Communist Party, labor unions, terrorist organizations, and press propaganda. Conversely, the USA were showering money on the French politicians and the French economy to develop a capitalist society, financing alternate labor unions to counter USSR's influence on workers, right wing newspapers, and organizing sleeper cells (Gladio networks) to become a new Resistance in the hypothesis of a future Soviet invasion of Europe. The USA were also trying to influence France's politics and get to control it via a puppet president, but De Gaulle wouldn't let them and worked hard to keep France independent. Simultaneously, decolonization had started all over the world, creating a threat for France's geopolitical influence and its future economic prospects, especially in the domain of oil.

Foccart pursued a political career within De Gaulle' party, and in the 1950's was put in charge of African Affairs. Effectively, he acquired the nickname of "Mr Africa". With his experience of secret services' Realpolitik and his personal attachment to Africa, he established bonds of confidence, corruption, mutual agreements, etc. with the leaders of many countries and created a situation of domination of France over these countries, allowing France to weigh in on national politics of West African nations. This is what was later called "Françafrique" (Francafrica). With these special relations, Foccart established a relation of dependency towards France, and beyond the purely economic aspects, it also offered France benefits like the sharing of secret services, intelligence and diplomatic resources.

Despite his involvement in politics, Foccart maintained a strong bond with French secret services and would often participate in exercises, especially shooting, whether it was for maintaining his skill or establishing relationships with the agents. This can only have had positive effects in the coordination of efforts to keep the USA from overturning governments in Africa. In particular, the USA were interested in nations with oil resources like Saharan countries (Libya, Algeria, Niger) and mid-Africa coastline countries (Gabon, Cameroon, Ivory Coast).

Inside of France, loyalists to Charles De Gaulle feared that any remotely left-wing organization would be somehow affiliated to the communist cause and would try to undermine De Gaulle' power and the right-wing independent conduct of France. Nationalism ran high. Foccart, along with Charles Pasqua and Alexandre Sanguinetti created a non-profit organization named "Service d'Action Civique" (Civic Action Service) abbreviated SAC with the aim of inconditionally supporting De Gaulle's politics. In practice, the SAC recruited strong and violent men with a nationalist sensibility among militants, police, military police, and criminals. The SAC acted as a militia, militant support group, and informal security service. In this regard, they looked similar to groups of skinheads who nowadays follow the political meetings of far-right political parties. But the SAC had a public front that skinheads don't have and which gave it an air of respectability. Members would assault left-wing organizations, kidnap them, and beat them to deter or punish any action seen as negative. A theory still remains that the SAC was separated in 2 groups, one being in charge of the respectable tasks and the other one in charge of dirty jobs. The SAC lived until 1981 when it was dissolved after the murder of one of its members and all of his family: the Auriol massacre (French wikipedia article).

Though he left office in 1974 to be replaced by his assistant (on whom we can guess he still held influence), I think Foccart kept good connections with the following presidents (Giscard d'Estaing, Mitterrand and Chirac) as well as African leaders and his influence continued almost until his death in 1997.


Conclusion

You discovered a little-known but highly important figure of France's modern history. Yay! \o/

You were reminded of long-forgotten history lessons! Yay again! \o/

In some aspects, Jacques Foccart appears as a French counterpart to Henry Kissinger, though he was more secretive than the American war criminal (yes! I view Kissinger as a war criminal) who enjoyed public praise and celebrity.

Judging Foccart's record by today's standards seems a difficult and unfair task because it's hard to understand the ambiance, the zeitgeist of the post-WW2, decolonizing, Cold War world. In some aspects, Foccart certainly wasn't a pure and innocent soul, but his methods sound somewhat adequate to the boiling situation of the world he was living in.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Rant: Cherry-flavored yogurts





When you want to buy an assortment of fruit-flavored yogurts, you ALWAYS get some cherry-flavored ones. But when you ask around: nobody likes these. Not everybody hates these but nobody really loves them. So why do we still have them? Is there some kind of secret deal between cherries producers and yogurts producers?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Roswell Crash uncovered: Project Mogul






The myth

Almost everybody has already heard about the Roswell crash. A rather prominent TV series was even created, elaborating on the myth. According to the myth, a spacecraft of extra-terrestrial origin crashed on Earth on July 7th 1947, near Roswell, New Mexico. Allegedly, this spacecraft transported at least one extra-terrestrial life form with a humanoid body.

After the body and debris were taken away by the US Army, various beliefs estimate that these have been studied in order to help the USA gain advanced military capabilities through the reverse-engineering of alien technologies.


Reasons to doubt the myth and accounts of it

After the Roswell incident happened in 1947, the early days of the Cold War, the story went silent for 30 years. It only resurfaced in the media following the publication of the book "The Roswell Incident" by Charles Berlitz and William Moore in 1980. The whole story and the book therefore resulted from interviews that took place 30 years after the facts.

As a general subject, UFOs have generated a wide interest from the public for decades but no substantial evidence has ever been uncovered supporting the reality of visits to Earth by extra-terrestrial lifeforms. Conversely, the vast majority (~95%) of UFO reports have been explained by pareidolia and erroneous identifications of celestial objects, the Moon and Venus being the most frequently misidentified objects. While it sounds shocking that people could mistake the Moon for a spacecraft, it seems that particular weather conditions can affect the size, color or shape of it. I intend to cover this subject in more detail in another article about the Project Blue Book.

In 1995, a film entitled "alien autopsy" surfaced on television about an alleged autopsy of the alien victim of the crash. As often with hoaxes, the video appeared to have a very poor image quality. It was released by Ray Santili. Since Santili's job was already a job as a producer, this should have raised eyebrows as to the film's legitimacy. In 2006, Santili finally admitted that the film was a staged reconstruction. He however insisted that this was the re-creation of a now lost documentary of military origin that he had watched in 1992 and that some of the frames of his staged movie are taken from the original document. It seems impossible to prove or disprove Santili's claims but there are reason to disbelieve them, like the profit motive of keeping the myth alive and the oddity of losing material of which existence could be so important that it could modify globally the perception that mankind has of its place in the universe and the scientific prospects of interstellar travel and biology's interests into evolutionary convergence in the shape, structure and function of alien bodies compared with human bodies.

Hoaxed movie: however hoaxed, some scenes can be too graphic for sensible audience


The reality

The real story behind the Roswell crash is a top secret project now declassified called Project Mogul. It consisted in an array of high-altitude balloons equipped with microphones probing pressure waves in order to detect Russian nuclear explosions tests and assess USSR's progress in the development of a nuclear weapons program.

The crash of one of Project Mogul's balloons was determined to be what was later called the Roswell crash.


Conclusion

While it is always interesting to see a myth being exposed and the truth being unraveled, there is a more interesting aspect to this story. This aspect is the whole construction of a myth from a rather mundane event... even though the army's protection of the crash site may have been a source of suspicion that largely contributed to the birth of this myth.

On a smaller scale, this story can be paralleled by personal biases and the construction of superstitions. When confronted with unusual events, we may construct inaccurate intellectual representations of the causes of these events and come to believe in the association of these events with supernatural beliefs. Imagine a child kicking a tree and subsequently being hit by the fall of a fruit on his head! It would be possible for the child to represent the tree as a conscious being voluntarily dropping a fruit on his head as a retaliation for the kick it received. How many of such erroneous intellectual constructions have entered our society's beliefs or tales?

When in doubt about something, when we don't know for sure, we should not jump to conclusions. We can build ideas to try and understand what we don't know, and preferably we should build ideas that can be repeatedly tested and confirmed. But if we don't know, we must admit we don't know.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Thermae Romae (2012) ★★★★★





The Plot:

In the year 128 AD in Hadrian's Roman Empire, architect Lucius Modestus is an architect who builds only unimaginative bathhouses. All the swimming pools or public baths that he builds have characteristics that have already been seen more often than not, while other architects are building ambitious and innovative new projects. But someday, while relaxing in one of these public baths, Lucius is swallowed by a whirlpool only to come back to the surface in a modern day, 21st century public bath in Japan. There he meets a young Japanese woman and discovers the refinements of modern era bathing. His discoveries will make him a genius of the Roman empire but his travels back and forth between his time and ours seem to always lead him to the same young woman, a manga artist whose career is as bad as Lucius' before his travels. Are their fates linked and how can they help each other?



My verdict:

Being an adaptation of the eponymous manga, Thermae Romae harbors a form of absurd humor that is often associated with manga and can be reminiscent of City Hunter. The historical aspects of Rome and the mystery behind Lucius' travels keep the movie from falling in the infamous B-movies category and keep it fresh. The acting is excellent and the 2 main actors are charming (but be careful! Aya Ueto also played in baaaad movies like Azumi 2: Death or Love). The strongest point of this movie is really how imaginative its story is. For most people, it will deserve 4 stars but for people like me who have been fans of mangas for years, the final verdict will be 5 stars. Way to go, Japan!

On the subject of availability, I also need to mention that I saw this movie while travelling by plane and the best I could find was a Japanese (original) version with English subtitles. I don't know if any translated version exists or if the subtitles have been created for other languages.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Content and Context



Everything you do on the Internet is recorded and analyzed by the NSA. If any special services ever take an interest into you, even by accident, they can pull the record of all your online activities of the past several years.

Software solutions like Palantir are already in use, which allow services (CIA, FBI, NSA, DHS, DoD, etc.) to connect to many databases and profile you, build a tree of your acquaintances, find out which websites you visited, what you bought online or in supermarkets with your credit card, where your car plates have been recorded by traffic cameras and at which date and time, etc. For info: NSA currently intercepts about 2 billion emails every day and the center they're building in Utah will give them a highly increased capacity.

So maybe you would like to protect your privacy, as is guaranteed by many countries' constitutions, despite USA's disregard for its own constitution. This article is aimed at explaining the 2 aspects of privacy online: content and context.


Content

Content is exactly what it means. It's the content of your emails. It's the video streams you receive from YouTube or the content of web pages that you browse. It's what you say and what your friends say when you're talking on Skype. In order to protect your content when you are connected to the internet, the only way is called ciphering.

I discussed it a bit in my article about Certificate Authorities (CA) and when you're connected to a website with the site address starting with HTTPS, then you can consider that ciphering is activated for that site. Not for the other sites. But for this one, yes.

Ciphering is about using a code that makes your data unintelligible except for yourself and the people you let in on the secret code. If you're not familiar with Cryptography, here's an easy 2000 years old example: in a given message (eg. the word "secret") replace any letter by the letter that is 3 positions further in the alphabet. "A" becomes "D", "B" becomes "E", etc.
S => V
E => H
C => F
R => U
E => H
T => W

The word "secret" has become "vhfuhw" which is not intelligible and you need to know how my cipher works (if I shared the secret with you) in order to get back to the original message.

From what we've discovered about the NSA's spying program over the past 4 months, ciphering is the way to go. The NSA's spying can be summed up in these 2 manners of spying:

  • picking up all of the "open" content from everybody (bad for privacy)
  • cracking codes of targeted suspects (the only legitimate use of spying)
This leaves some room for privacy for "normal" people who choose to use ciphering and are not suspect of anything.



Context

Context is everything other than content. If you remember the news of 4 months ago, Verizon provides NSA every day with "meta data" of all the phone calls received and emitted by everybody. Meta data is context. It includes (but is not limited to):

  • Caller SIM card number
  • Caller name
  • Caller home address
  • Caller geographic location at the time of the call
  • Caller's successive locations during the call if moving
  • Time of the call
  • duration of the call
  • Receiver SIM card number
  • Receiver name
  • Receiver home address
  • Receiver location at the time of the call

The context of 1 single call is not very relevant most of the time. But if you have the context for all the calls a person makes and receives over several months, you can draw a map of this person's network of relations, figure out that person's interests if she makes calls to specific sorts of shops or professional practitioners. Many calls to a doctor or even a medical specialist could hint at the kind of health problems this person may have. If the person repeatedly makes phone calls or sends texts to another person late at night, it can suggest a romantic relationship. Based on the time information and successive locations during the call, it's possible to figure out if you're a fast walker or fast driver, which allows for guesses about your personality. Your locations may also show if you use public transports. If you call from luxury shopping malls or from low-price supermarkets, it hints at your personal income and lifestyle. Then when comparing this inferred lifestyle to the lifestyle  of your network of relations, more can be guessed about your socio-cultural environment.

...context can tell a lot about you, and so far I've only discussed the context of phone calls. The context of your internet browsing is also gathered by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and availed to the NSA. Since they know all the websites you browsed (even if you used the "privacy mode" of your browser), they can know which journalistic organizations you take your news from, which is a strong indication of your political leanings. Your personal interests will also be clearly visible and reveal everything about you. If you watch porn online, then it will be clear whether you like men or women, and if you're into any kind of fetish. If you browse computer websites, a clear pattern should emerge suggesting your level of proficiency with each operating system, each programming language, and each computer-related subject (databases, security, reverse-engineering, cracking, etc.). If you like guns, football, fashion, cooking, TV series, anything... it will appear clearly from the websites and pages listed as your history... This is context.

Currently, the best way of hiding online context is Tor



About Tor


Tor has been created for the very purpose of protecting context. Here's how it works and why it's built like that.

You don't want your ISP to know which website you're connecting to. So instead, you have to connect via some other remote computer. Your ISP will know that you are using Tor but they won't know which website you're browsing from your metadata and they won't be able to read your content because it's ciphered (encrypted).

If there was a single computer between you and the website you want to browse, then that computer will know your context and will be able to associate your identity to the websites you want to access. So, there needs to be at least 2 remote computers between you and your destination website.

The third computer is a necessary extra layer of security. When you access a web page via Tor, the final computer connecting to your website will have knowledge of the data exchanged with the website. And you cannot know who is operating this final computer (aka "exit node"). Let's imagine that Tor used only 2 computers between you and the internet! If the exit node is controlled by the NSA, they will know the identity of the 1st computer and they can check with your ISP if your computer connected to that 1st computer. But when you add the 3rd layer, even if it is compromised by NSA, they will not be able to establish a link between the 1st and 2nd computer and therefore they can't link the content back to you.

Final point: the group of 3 computers via which you connect to the internet will change every 10 minutes.

The people in charge of Tor propose 2 separate ways of using Tor: the simple way and the hard way. The simple way is called "Tor Browser Bundle" and you can find it on the download page of the Tor project website. It's a standalone program that can even run from a USB memory stick.

Late addition: Tor is efficient, as revealed by the following article from The Guardian.


Conclusion

If you come across technical articles about NSA's internet eavesdropping, you should keep in mind the separation of content and context. It will be helpful for understanding how things work. And if you decide to use solutions like Tor, you must keep in mind that both context and content need to be secured since compromising one could compromise the other.

If you care about privacy, you may want to give Tor a try. Undoubtedly, Tor users are still a minority but as the network grows, it becomes safer and safer. Also, I have not discussed the reasons for using Tor and only mentioned concerns for privacy. Some people use it to circumvent the repression by their government (peace or human rights activists in authoritarian states). And some other people use it for hiding criminal activities. This is a complex discussion in and of itself so I won't cover it here.

I hope this was informative.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

W3C gave in to corruption and will poison the future




The web works well

The web works. It works well and if you're reading this, it works well for you.

  • Are you using a desktop computer, a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone? I don't know.
  • Are you using Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Unix? I don't know.
  • Are you using Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, or another browser? I don't know.
  • Are you using ADSL, Cable, Fiber Optics, 3G, GPRS? I don't know.
  • Is your processor from Intel, AMD, Qualcomm, or other? I don't know.


The reason the web works well regardless of your choices of hardware and software is because we define standards and norms. 15 years ago, when Microsoft had established its monopoly over web browsers, it stopped caring about standards and the Internet started rotting. Web programmers stopped following the standards and started developing web pages that would only comply with Microsoft's rules. Consequence: websites were non-standard and displayed correctly in IE alone. Meanwhile, the good browsers that spent efforts on following the standards looked bad because they rendered websites exactly like websites were coded: poorly!

The W3C (WorldWide Web Consortium) is the organization that has been overseeing the establishment of web standards. If you're not familiar with the subject, let's say they're the people who created HTML, CSS (style sheets) and all the standards that make the web work well. Up until recently, transparency and interoperability were key to making the web a healthy environment where internet users could (if they so wanted) scrutinize the content of web pages and reveal shady practices like websites spying on your browsing history, stealing information from your cookies, uploading viruses to your computer, etc.


DRMs and corruption


I mentioned this in an article about video games: DRMs are the software equivalent of locks. DRMs are bad for many reasons. 1st reason is: all of them get cracked. Not most of them. ALL of them! Then there are other considerations about freedom and duping consumers. I won't go into all the details. Let's just make a quick mention of digital content that depends on a platform like iTunes or Steam. You think that you bought songs on iTunes or bought video games on Steam? you're wrong. These songs and these video games don't belong to you. You don't own them. When you die, there's no property of this content that can be passed on to your next of kin. When you want to sell them, you can't because you don't own them. And when (not "if") the companies managing these services will go bankrupt or when they simply decide to shutdown the servers, you have no legal recourse because you were only paying for a service and you didn't own the content. Damn! I should write a full article about DRMs...

So... what do you do when you're a company doing bad things or selling evil products? Lobbying, corruption, and if needed: litigation. Many companies love DRMs because it takes power away from consumers and puts it all in corporate hands. Then it's your job to make sure you remain in a leading position of the market so that you control this power.

DRM lobbies have been pressing the W3C for years in order to integrate DRMs in the web standards, so they can have black boxes of shady software doing whatever they please on your computer while you have no way to scrutinize what they're actually doing. And they recently succeeded. Will they watch you and listen to you and analyze what you say while you watch a video on your computer? of course they will, but you'll have to wait until the DRM is cracked before someone will get a chance to prove it. And if you look at legal terms of services (TOS) nowadays, more and more of them force you to waive your rights of legal action. So you can't sue them.


What's the predictable future? Where will DRMs lead the web?

A de-standardization of the web is an obvious future. While HTML5 was intended as a standard format in which to include videos (with already quite a few formats, some of them free and some of them proprietary), we'll probably see more video providers forcing you to use their black box in order to access their videos.

Also (even though it partially relates to videos): advertisement. In 2013, it's easy and convenient to remove most of the unwanted ads through plugins like Ghostery or Adblock, while allowing some decent advertisement on the websites of our choice. But with black boxes, you get the final product displayed on your screen and you don't have the freedom to chose what gets filtered or not.

From time to time, you copy pictures or photos from the web in order to send them to your friends or reuse them on your website, for whichever purpose? In the future, that will be difficult unless you're a skilled computer user because content will be full of software locks preventing you.

Software taking over your webcam and microphone to assess your environment or outright spy on your private life? Sure! The black box comes with TOS mentioning that you grant them access to your hardware. And anyway... who reads the 5 pages of agreement when it's so easy to just click the button "I accept" at the bottom? Hardly anyone already reads the 200 characters licenses for Facebook apps or Smartphone apps. A wallpaper requesting to access your list of contacts and your hardware? it's outrageous but nobody reads the TOS so of course companies do it.


Conclusion

The W3C just removed control of your web browser from your hands and gave it to private third-parties.

DRMs are costly (and you'll be charged for them) and ineffective to prevent piracy while they do create problems for honest consumers. Welcome to the future of the Internet!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The crazy copyright case of Guillaume Apollinaire



Introduction

Guillaume Apollinaire is a French author especially famous for his poetry, though the nature of his work is of little importance to this article.

In an earlier article, I brushed on copyright law which protects the copyright of creations for 50 or 70 years after the author's death, which is crazy considering the speed at which culture can be disseminated in the modern world.

Apollinaire's copyright case was probably one of the craziest and since this copyright expired only a couple of days ago on 29 September 2013, it is a very actual subject.


The story

France updated its copyright code from a protection of 50 years to a protection of 70 years and since Apollinaire died in November 1918, his creations should have entered the Public Domain (PD) on the 1st of January 1989, which followed the 70th anniversary of Apollinaire's death.

But exceptions were created for WW1 and WW2 as authorities estimated that cultural creations lost some potential of exploitation during the time of these conflicts. For this reason, the exact duration to the day of these 2 wars (14 years and 252 days in total) was added to the protection of creations.

Also, France has a special rule to extend the protection of creations by author who "died for their country" by a whopping 30 years. During WW1, Apollinaire was severely wounded to the head by a bomb at the beginning of 1916. But he didn't die from it. He recovered and went on living his life. However he died from the flu at the end of 1918 and for some obscure reason (lobbying, perhaps? or some symbolic reason), it has been alleged that his 1916 wound weakened him and played a fateful role in his death by flu.

For these reasons, Apolinnaire's creations received a total protection of 50 years + 30 years + 14 years and 252 days, which amounts to almost 95 years.


But that would be too simple

The special rules are European (for wars) and French (for people who died for their country). Therefore they don't apply to other countries. This means that in Canada where you'll find a lot of French speakers, Apollinaire's writings have become part of the PD a long time ago. And since it was part of PD in Canada, it was possible to copy Apollinaire's books to the Internet including Wikisource, the books repository of Wikipedia.

But these books, while legally possible to copy in Canada were illegal in France. From the interview of Lionel Maurel (in French language), which is the main source for this article, courts have decided to judge of websites' legality on the basis of checking whether these sites mostly address to a French audience or to the French-speaking audience of Canada, and some websites like Wikisource have decided to monitor the source of their online traffic in order to assess if the content was being used illegally (if mostly accessed from France) or legally.


Conclusion

Copyright protection is already crazy as it is, extending to 70 years after an author's death. But extra rules and laws make it a total mess that can reach more-than-crazy proportions.

I think we should really revise the Bern convention and change the laws to something like 30 years after the 1st publishing of a writing or maybe 15 years after an author's death.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Video games blamed again for kid violence




Introduction

A few months ago, I wrote an article about video games being good and discussed briefly how video games are the perfect scapegoat for people who are too lazy or too lame to face their responsibility. In the past few days, another event happened where video games were blamed but not just any video game! Minecraft was blamed and described as a zombie-slaying game by the lame dad. If you don't know Minecraft, let's say this description is as honest as saying Super Mario Bros is game about murdering turtles.


The story

A 9 year old kid went to school with an unloaded gun, a magazine with 6 bullets, a sledge hammer, and a steak knife. Luckily, nothing happened. Luckily? Well, I personally think this gives little credit to 9 yo kids. Of course, children are not mature or responsible enough to handle deadly tools or weapons on a daily basis, but I do feel the story gives children less credit than they deserve. In 2013, a lot of parents think their kids are helpless idiots who need a ride to the school 1 km away but things were different during my infancy and even more different during my parents infancy. So alright! kids shouldn't have weapons and I'm now drifting away from the subject, but still...

So, what was the father's excuse for his son picking up a firearm and bullets in the house as well as a sledgehammer? Video games! Oh riiiiiight! the cause is not him being a bad parent. Or he cannot admit that the cause is unknown to him. Nope! It has to be video games, of course.

If you don't know Minecraft, I will describe it in a second, but first I'll propose you the 1st video I watched about the game, and it also happens to be the tutorial video that was featured on the official website of the game, though it was recorded by an enthusiastic player rather than the game's creator.


Minecraft is an open world where you pick resources (wood, stone...) from nature and use them to build tools so you can create your very own place with a farm plot unless you want to build a castle, a glass house, or you want to live in a mine, etc. It does have some monsters coming out at night but these are essentially an excuse to keep you on edge while most of the game is truly about gathering resources, building, or exploring open landscapes and caves. In fact, you can hardly turn Minecraft into a combat game.

If you look around the internet, you'll find out that Minecraft is even used for teaching kids in 1st grade. Minecraft was also picked up by the American Museum of Natural History in New York as a support for science education. It was also selected by the Smithsonian for the temporary exhibition "The art of video games" that ran in September 2012.


Conclusion

Blaming video games will continue. And this father is a bad parent. Maybe not because his kid once did something dangerous (with or without realizing it), but simply because he is a hypocrite blaming innocents when all the evidence points to him failing at securing dangerous tools and weapons from his child.

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