Thursday, December 13, 2012

U.N. vaguely votes to vaguely censor the Internet

ITU has made the first vote of the U.N. countries on whether or not the governments want to make the Internet more regulated and censored. If you click at the link, you will see that the answer is a worrisome "Yes".

How was the outcome determined? It was determined according to the "temperature in the room": I kid you not. That's how Mohamed Nasser al-Ghanim, director general of the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, explained the outcome. Pretty much because of global warming, totalitarian opinions gained the upper hand in the U.N. In this way, the director breached several promises he previously made.

But we don't need censorship in Czechia: the temperature outside is –7 °C, well below the temperature in Dubai. The temperature they experience in the rooms of Dubai is just a local temperature.

Of course, I have been previously worried about this summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Even if there were a formal vote, it's pretty likely that the authoritarians would win, so while the "vote by temperature" highlights the emotional and not-really-credible nature of the gathering, it doesn't change much about the actual outcome.

The Western countries have voted against the censorship and so far, we are being told that they won't be "obliged" to introduce the measures. I hope as well as guess that political parties that would want to introduce such measures would lose lots of voters. Even if there is a more specific pro-censorship vote in Dubai on Friday, it's rather likely that the U.S. and its soulmates will find a wording explaining why they will ignore the vote, anyway. A coalition of web companies urged the West to refuse any decisions of this kind.

The host country, UAE, has already banned postings that would insult the rulers or organize protests. They're rich but it's clearly a different world than ours. So far.

It wasn't any anomaly that the authoritarian majority in the United Nations showed up. Most of the member states are authoritarian countries of a sort, proud to have an official ideology and undisputed leaders. Think about China, Russia, as well as Africa and the Middle East. And Latin America isn't too much better. You end up with a majority.

In the real world, those countries don't represent a majority of the "life and traffic on Earth". Their total GDP is lower than the GDP of the West. Just the U.S. ($15 trillion) and the EU ($16 trillion) already represent more than one-half of the world's GDP ($60 trillion). And if there were a world war between the pro-censorhip and anti-censorship bloc, the free world would handily beat the censors.

But one of the very points of the U.N. and its institutions is that it's trying to prevent wars and impose a completely different system of power than one that would be dictated by force. All of us may sometimes feel happy about such an idealistic viewpoint. However, in the long run, it's really counterproductive. In the long run, many countries (and corporations, and so on) become stronger for a good reason – because they're doing something well.

The system in which "one vote is as strong as any other vote", neglecting not only the GDP but even the population count of countries, is deficient. One way of seeing the deficiency is to imagine an evil billionaire in the West. It would be rather easy for him to buy the delegates from the world's 100 poorest countries. Maybe a millionaire could be enough. It's just wrong if there's a risk that decisions supported by the world's 100 poorest countries are marginally enough to dictate policies to the West. It may sound politically correct to imagine that the poor nations have so much influence; but I think it's more accurate to imagine that it's the influence of an evil millionaire or billionaire who bought their deputies. There's nothing good about the power given to the poor because it's approximately the same thing as the power of the corrupt. Of course, the true "movers" are the current politicians of the not-quite-democratic countries but it could be someone else, too.

Wars are bad for numerous reasons – they kill people, make others suffer and cry, they destroy lots of properties. But there are also positive aspects of wars. Wars are a representation of the "natural selection" applied to the societies and even social ideas. It's plausible that some wars were needed and important for some advances of the mankind to materialize.

That's why I believe – and I have always believed – that truly functional votes must inevitably take the power into account. A functional vote is approximately equal to the difference "war minus all of its destructive consequences". It's a staged virtual war that doesn't kill anyone but that decides in a similar way as a war would decide. The elections in democratic countries aren't too far from this description and that's why they have kind of worked to make the West a better place throughout the 20th century (with some major exceptions, but let's not talk about it now).

Now, of course that I am not suggesting that the countries' votes in the U.N. should be weighted by their number of tanks and missiles. Not at all. We may use more peaceful, more constructive measures of the weight. But some relationship of the vote to "some kind of power" is probably needed.

These concerns may have been irrelevant in the history of the U.N. because the organizations has rarely voted about anything that mattered and even when it voted, everyone knew that the votes couldn't have been enforced. But one may actually interpret the lack of enforcement as the consequence of the voting structure that doesn't reflect the actual power. The dominant enforcement forces won't be eager to enforce decisions that are made by "significantly different" collections of nations and ideologies than theirs.

Of course, the alignment of the power and the voting rights isn't a sufficient condition for the U.N.-wide decisions to be enforced. There must still be someone who does the job. I am not sure whether I would favor lots of international laws that may be decided by an international organization. Most likely, the answer is No. One of the reasons why I say No is that it's a healthy situation when different countries have different policies – so that they may compete.

On one hand, we may be annoyed that human rights – as we understand them – are violated in many countries. People are being beheaded in Syria. On the other hand, we don't want to promote the idea of "universal human rights and judicial standards in the whole world" because such an arrangement could outlaw many principles we consider dear. We could easily be the losing side. So it's always better when the good principles are allowed to operate – perhaps at a tiny fraction of the Earth's land only – because when this modest condition is satisfied, we don't have to be worried too much about the good ideas' and good principles' extinction. And to safely avoid extinction is a more important and more justified goal than the desire to dominate the world.

Czech GDP beats the Greek one

Eurostat showed that for the first time, in 2011, the Czech GDP per capita was higher than the Greek one (as well as the Portugal one, old news). Czechs are at 80% of the EU average while the Greeks are at 79% of the EU average.

So if their GDP per capita is lower, you could expect lower pensions etc., too. However, the average monthly pension in Greece is EUR 1600; the average monthly pension in Czechia is below 400, more than 4 times lower than the Greek one! We are worried about our fiscal sustainability but you may see that something is still qualitatively worse in Greece.

Presidential candidate (a forecaster, a former prime minister, and the centrist founder of the modern social democracy in Czechia) Miloš Zeman whom I kind of support got to the top of polls again, half a percent ahead of Jan Fischer. This commercial is kind of touching and his daughter is attractive, indeed. He says:
I am not hugging the trees in order to extract energy from them. I am just sometimes caressing the bark of such a tree that looks beautiful to me. I am not preparing my opinions at the moment when I am giving an interview or writing a book. They have to be clear to me a long time earlier. Our politics is grey and boring and people are already tired of ripoffs and scandals. But there's an act that is better than to curse the darkness: to light at least one candle. Who doesn't believe in himself shouldn't enter politics at all. To make fun out of other people is only possible if you can make fun of yourself, too. My worst vice is trustfulness but maybe it's my best virtue, too. I have always lived so that I didn't have to be ashamed of myself, and so that my daughter Kateřina didn't have to be ashamed of me. Each president should work for the future. And the future is also kids.
I guess that the office at the end could be his daughter's because she, unlike Zeman, has already worked at the Prague Castle. ;-)

To compare, here's Jan Fischer's ad (he is a technocratic ex-prime minister and a banker in some international semi-public banks):

His words:
The state of our political scene is unacceptable for most citizens. What's necessary is to profoundly change the operation of our politics. If I will be elected the Czech president, I will use all tools to change the operation of the public life and the political culture. I will struggle to return politeness, professionalism, and respect to citizens to politics. I will do my maximum to strengthen the economy, the rule of law. I will care about the polite and responsible behavior of the politicians and the defense of the national interests. We have democracy. Let's behave according to the meaning of the word. Let's not change democracy. Let's change politics. And let's do the first step together. In January.
It's OK but you see that it's much more general, populist, full of clichés, it says nothing about his specifics, his character, and so on. He doesn't have much to show about his character. It seems clear to me that the people who are generally dissatisfied with the politicians will tend to vote for Fischer as a "lesser evil". People who sometimes expect special people among politicians and view them positively are more likely to vote for Zeman.

Both Zeman and Fischer have been members of the communist party. However, Fischer was a member in the 1980s, clearly motivated by his own career. Zeman was only a communist party member for a few months around the Prague Spring when the membership indicated that one is actually anti-totalitarian and pro-freedom, kind of.

Still, the number of ex-communists among the candidates is painful. They also include Vladimír Dlouhý, another banker, and – when I count young soon to be communists greeting president Husák – Jana Bobošíková, too. But the communist-party membership isn't the main consideration I pay attention to.


  1. Lumo

    Can you please enlighten us on the new results on the Higgs from Alice and CMS? Are we looking at the real possibility of BSM charged particles?

  2. thejollygreenmanDec 13, 2012, 4:24:00 PM

    Hi Lubos,

    I can see your problem with the current set-up of the UN, allowing non-countries like Lesotho and Belgium to have the same voice as the USA and France. You do know that we can blame the Germans for the current sate of affairs. Hereto a link to very informative blog entry:-

    Just skim the article, do not take it literally, there is a tiny grain of truth in it.

  3. The “temperature of the room” refers to a vague sense of the average sentiment regarding the issue at hand. It has nothing to do with actual temperature.

    I don’t know how this metaphor originated.

  4. The temperature in the room down here in Florida gets very high, that is why I have air conditioning. Burn more fossil fuels, save the U.N. from itself.

  5. Dear Gene, be sure that I understand and understood ;-) it was a metaphor for the mood, that they didn't measure the temperature.

    However, the metaphor still holds in one respect, namely that votes about important equations – or something presented as those whenever it's convenient – should not be decided according to either temperature or the mood in the room.

  6. Hi Physics Junkie! You meant ATLAS, not Alice, right? Alice (the lead collision detector) will have trouble to get beyond the Standard Model.

    The new results from today seem to me as un-new and inconclusive as possible. First, I am confident that all the deviations in the Higgs width are errors, especially because they're not confirmed by both detectors.

    When it comes to the Higgs decay to 2 photons, the 2-sigma could have strengthened or weakened. A doubling of the data should strengthen the excess to 3 sigma if the excess were real, or lower them to 1.4 sigma if it were not real. The fact that it stayed at 2 sigma is the maximum incarnation of the statement that we don't know in which direction the arguments moved. They haven't moved at all. Much more data may be needed.

    I don't follow the precise calculation of the confidence level with which spin-2 or odd-parity Higgs is being ruled out because they've been ruled out for me from the beginning. I just find the unusual parity/spin of the particle to be so unmotivated, contradictory to models that can fully work, and therefore unlikely that the power of the experimental arguments to change my mind is negligible unless they would be extremely non-SM-like which they're clearly not.

    All the best


  7. Agreed tom burn more fossil fuels, wait, is that bad? Well not if you are hot, crank up the AC. I usually only use the AC when the house is too hot because the Heater was on too long.

    JRS Medical

  8. So this was one UN conference for nothing, I wonder how much it cost? The conference was organized in the United Arab Emirates, a country known for partly censoring the Internet, by the ITU, an organization that had little to do with the development of the Internet. If the votes should be weighted, then I believe they should be weighted in favor of those countries that had a hand in the development of the Internet. The original network was developed by DARPA within the US Department of Defense, the TCP/IP protocol was developed by Vinton Cerf and a few hackers in California while the ITU members were busy traveling to exotic locations to design their useless seven-layer protocol, and the www software layer was developed by a british computer scientist at CERN.

    I support this comment from Rabindra Jha, of India's telecommunications department: “India feels there should not be a regulation of the Internet. It should be self regulating. It remains self regulating, like the solar system. Nobody regulates day and night, nobody regulates the year and months. It comes automatically.”

  9. Hi Physics Junkie, I wrote a short article on the today's data...

  10. I thought you likely got it but that some of your readers likely didn’t.

    This ITU meeting was a waste of money; the probability of curtailing internet freedom in my country is zilch, thank God.

  11. Perhaps "If I will be elected the Czech president, I will use all tools to change
    the operation of the public life and the political culture." doesn't sound quite so sinister in the original Czech.

  12. Maybe.

    It's a scary sentence but the next sentences are about his desire to preserve democracy so maybe those reduce the shock caused by the sentence you quoted...