John Gordon Ross

A Man for All Reasons

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IIPA Special 301

May 20th, 2009 · No Comments

The IIPA Special 301 for 2009 is out and as unpleasant and boorish a document as you are likely to come across this year. The IIPA is a vast business coalition-cum-lobby masquerading as guardian of authors’ rights, which every year produces a list of countries which according to its lights “deny adequate and effective protection of intellectual property rights or deny fair and equitable market access to U.S. persons who rely on intellectual property protection pursuant to Section 182 of the Trade Act of 1974,”

(Note that “U.S.,” for the IIPA (iInternational Intellectual Property Alliance) is an entirely North American affair, which could not give two figs for the copyrights of Europeans or Asians. In other words, the first word in its very name is a lie. This is indicative)

The Special 301 groups “offending” countries in a “Watch List” of 25 and a “Priority Watch” list of 13 (Argentina, Brunei, Canada (yes, Canada!), Chile, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, and Thailand). The Watch List includes much of Western Europe, including Spain,

The Special 301 is breathtaking in its distorsion of language and truth. Its basic premise is that copyright breach is theft, which is nonsense, or piracy, which is at least more in line with popular language use. It uses words like “illegal,” with a totally cynical disregard for the law, and the phrase “unauthorized download” (unauthorized by whom?) as though it were on the same level as paedophilia. Indeed it actually says “criminal revenue in 2004 for IPR theft was $512 billion, while for drug trafficking it was $322 billion,” with the evident implication that copyright offences are more dastardly than drug smuggling.

The IIPA has this to say about Spain, specifically:

In 2009, IIPA recommends that Spain stay on the Watch List, and that USTR conduct an out-of-cycle review in summer 2009. See Spain first appeared on USTR’s Special 301 Watch List from 1989 through 1994. In IIPA’s 1994 Special 301 filing, the business software industry hoped that Spain’s implementation of the EU Software Directive would improve enforcement efforts. After some initial success in obtaining raids on end-users after that legislation was enacted, action by the courts had slowed to the point where it became clear that renewed attention to the problem was required. In 1998, IIPA recommended that Spain be placed on the Special 301 Watch List, primarily due to continuing high levels of piracy and losses experienced by the software industries. On May 1, 1998, Ambassador Barshefsky placed Spain on the Special 301 list of Other Observations. While noting the high levels of business software piracy in Spain, the Ambassador added, “The United States is concerned that judicial proceedings are frequently delayed and that penalties assessed against infringers are inadequate to serve as a deterrent against piracy.” However, in 1999 IIPA recommended that Spain be placed on the Special 301 Watch List due to one of the highest levels of piracy of business software in Europe. USTR agreed and elevated Spain to the Watch List for the first time since 1994. In 2000, IIPA again recommended that Spain remain on the Watch List for one of the highest levels of piracy for business software in the
European Union. USTR agreed, and kept Spain on the Watch List in 2000. Though IIPA did not make any formal recommendation for Spain in 2002, it did note certain copyright issues in its Special 301 cover letter to USTR that year. In 2004, IIPA recommended that Spain be returned to the Watch List, citing the country’s high piracy rates and the dominance of pirated material in street markets. In both 2005 and 2006, IIPA highlighted copyright concerns in Spain in the Special Mention section of its Special 301 Report. In 2007, IIPA recommended that Spain be added to the Special 301 Watch List but USTR chose not to do so. In 2008, IIPA recommended that Spain be added to the Special 301 Watch List; USTR placed Spain on the Watch List in April 2008.

If that you think that sounds like the IIPA has it in for Spain, you’re probably right. The “action by the courts” which slowed did so precisely because no Spanish legislation prohibits copyright infringement – p2p, for example, is entirely legal in Spain. This may change, and profiting from someone else’s copyright is quite a different kettle of fish (but even that is not a “crime” just because a US pressure group says it is). But in Spain, many police forces have given up on chasing street sellers with “pirate” CDs, because they are unable to prosecute successfully. This is simply the state of the law.

It is to be hoped that Spain will not allow itself to be buillied by this kind of thuggishness, but I am afraid the IIPA will get its way in time. But from me – bog off, IIPA.

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John McIntyre Available

April 30th, 2009 · 2 Comments

The Internet‘s most prominent prescriptivist, John McIntyre, has been elbowed out of his position presiding the copy desk at the Baltimore Sun. I might be imagining things, but his last post at his blog You Don’t Say was actually put up by a colleague, which smacks to me of “you’ve got ten minutes to clear your desk out before the security guys escort you out of the building.”* His obliged departure is a blow to all right-thinking Net denizens with an interest in the English language, for his affability, intelligence, humour and tolerance of other viewpoints made that blog exemplary, and it is to be hoped that he will resume blogging as he promises to do sooner rather than later. At least, as soon as possible after he treats himself to a well-earned extended vacation somewhere more amenable than Baltimore.

*No, I was right (at least, if you believe the kind of unreliable news source John would mistrust). According to the blog dcrtv, those canned (it was a bloodbath, apparently) were told to “leave the building immediately.”

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You are not true

April 5th, 2009 · No Comments

I think this proves once again that no amount of endeavour is as creatively fruitful as plain old getting it wrong. I found it on a forum, posted by someone from an Eastern European capital, who was evidently trying to say to another poster, “You’re wrong.” But isn’t that “You are not true” (the original in bold, as well) both more plaintive and more beautiful?

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Bare-bones HTML or CMS?

March 18th, 2009 · No Comments

On a Google Group for owners of websites of a particular kind, someone asked whether he should convert his site from HTML to a CMS. He was given a lot of good advice, of which the following is more or less my contribution:

“Actually, I’m inclined to agree with D***** and T** – don’t go down the CMS road. Not immediately, at least, and especially not with [The Site in Question]. Because, essentially, IF IT AIN’T BROKE… Register another domain name instead, set it up and get it off the ground, then think about migrating (yes, that is a transitive verb, nowadays) [The Site in Question] when you have a better idea about what is involved.

“That said…
“You ask>>What are the pluses and minuses of evolving (or is it devolving) to a CMS? John says ‘you’ll find it very rewarding and it opens up a whole heap of new opportunities’ – but what are the rewards and opportunities?<<

“Um, you aren’t confusing CMS and CSS, are you? I’m sure you aren’t, it’s just that your original post started off talking about CSS then drifted towards CMS. Just in case, you very definitely should adopt CSS for heaps of reasons including easier integration of your advertising, and it would not be a bad idea at all to drop the use of tables, sooner or later you’ll probably have to.

“That out of the way, the essential purposes of a CMS are these:

“i) Obviously, though people get distracted by the possibilities, the main point of a CMS is content management. If you have a lot of pages, things start getting mixed up. If you are a terribly together sort of person, you may be able to cope with it all in your head. D***** can, T** can, I’m not and I can’t, I simply couldn’t manage without a CMS. In this sense, not having a CMS is like not having a mobile phone – sure, you can live without it, but do you choose to? Because once you have got used to it, it will seem like insanity to forego it. And as T**** points out, the mentioned sites have been around successfully for eons on the Internet time scale, I really can’t see anyone being able to start from scratch on that basis today (though however you do it, content management is necessarily subsidiary to actual content).

“ii) Work-flow management. Obviously, most essential when you have contributions from other people, but it makes things easier even if you don’t. Yes, you can do everything off-line and upload, but it’s clumsy and time-wasting. For example, you can make site-wide changes using Dreamweaver or FrontPage, but it takes forever. And the way we non-pro’s (and even pro’s) do things tends to be change one-thing-at-a-time, step-by-step, because otherwise you can’t tell where things go wrong. So when you do this site-wide, you have to do it over and over again, and you can take hours to do something off-line that you could sort out in twenty minutes on-line.

“iii) User management. If you don’t have a "community," you may not need this, but the Web 3.0 is here (and even T** has his forums and needs to manage his users). Users need to have different levels of privileges, rights, whatever. One of the most effective examples of user management I know is on, a classical guitar forum, where the more users participate, the more they are given access to site resources (which are first-rate),
in other words, there are incentives to participate.

“As I say, those are the basic functions of a CMS, but you get more, such as:

“iv) Feeds, to and from the site. Feeds from a site give it Internet presence, feeds to it give it content. For example, I don’t particularly want my personal blog to be a tremendous Internet success, but it does have to have some content for anyone who is interested in me and/or my professional services. So I keep a number of feed-powered pages like this one: – they give me reliably relevant, free content, but won’t attract the kind of casual surfer I really don’t need. It’s just a bonus that it makes it easy for me to find something to post about if the mood takes me. There is a heck of a lot more you can do with feeds, and there are entire sites built of practically nothing else – is an example. And as I say, outgoing feeds create a presence – makes very efficient use of them.

“v) Media management. Images, photos, for example, are better handled by a GID library – the bare jpg or gif is never revealed, so it’s harder to filch. This is one of my areas of profound ignorance, though, so I’ll say no more.

“vi) Mashups. The possibilities here are close to infinite. You can, for example, do Google map-based things in HTML alone, but you have to set up each page separately, it’s far easier to do this (not that this really merits being called a "mashup"): .

“vii) Web services. These let you tap into someone else’s database and use it for your own. Most hotel reservation setups offer some kind of web services, for example, so you could display hotels on a map, and what is important, do it in context. Bear in mind that php is not the most web-service-suited language if this is the way you want to go, though – Java seems to be the favourite, so (at a guess) OpenCMS might be the best CMS to go with, but don’t take my word for it because I don’t really know.

“viii) i18n (cutesy but accepted way of writing quot;internationalization"). This is essentially like content management but with the problems multiplied exponentially. If you have two languages, it isn’t twice as complicated, it’s
four times, and so on, and if you are mixing human and machine translations, it gets unreal, a nightmare imagined by Terry Pratchett.

“ix) Automatic banner / content rotation, automated messages, automated link checking, automated newsletters, and too many other automated things to list.

“x) Much easier SEO.

“Finally, this shouldn’t be your primary consideration if you are deciding what to do with a single website, but:

“x) Personal development. Many of us do some business setting up sites for other people, and if Dreamweaver or FrontPage is where your web skills stop, you’re just not in the game. ”

Your comments are welcome.

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The Translator’s Lament

March 13th, 2009 · No Comments

Or “5000 Words,” by Sharon Neeman, bless her. So, so true – if you don’t identify with it a hundred per cent, you’re not a real translator. Found via Beyond Words.

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Hitler, Grammar Nazis and a Job Application

February 23rd, 2009 · No Comments

Found via Grammar Blog and You Don’t Say, among other sources:

And if you enjoyed that, you’ll like this:

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Linguistics for Lazy People

February 18th, 2009 · No Comments

Seems like it is whenever I have most things to do that I find seriously fun things to distract me. Nothing new about that, it happens to all freelancers. But just at the moment, I have toothache and laughing is quite painful. And a Language Hat post has introduced me to Speculative Grammarian, “the premier scholarly journal featuring research in the neglected field of satirical linguistics,” and it is fabulous (but my mandibula feels as if it is being used as a punchbag). SpecGram’s humour mostly lies in its apparent earnestness, but it is beautifully creative, for example, having invented the field of Langualogy, with its own academic department “comprised of former eminent scholars in the field of Linguistics who have realized that “linguistics” would be the study of “lingues”, and that’s just dumb.” Or its book review of Linguistics for Lazy People, “not an attempt to reach out to people who are lazy, but nonetheless have an interest in learning about linguistic science—David Crystal has certainly already written a book for them. Rather, this is a practical book for lazy people who want to learn how to use the fruits of linguistics to enhance their laziness.” Techniques to this end include using “the passive voice to avoid taking responsibility for things you really don’t want to be responsible for.”

I can’t go on, this is wrecking my face, and bloggers’ honour would in any case prevent me discussing the article Language Hat has singled out in great depth, but believe me it’s funny. I’ll just mention that it deals with Shigudo, “a language with only one verb, meaning “do”, only one preposition, meaning.. uhh.. “preposition”?, no nouns (only pronouns), no adjectives, and the only productive class of words left is adverbs.” If you’re a real linguist or just a working stiff of a translator like me who wants to be distracted, you’ll find it worth your while to check it out.

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Terry Pratchett is UK’s Most Stolen Author

February 14th, 2009 · No Comments

A Times article last week included a less-than-scientific Top Ten of the UK’s most shoplifted books (and I’ve got most of them. The titles, I mean, not the shoplifted ones). It’s the kind of story that when you actually get to the list, it makes you think, “Oh yes, of course,” so I’ll leave the list for the bottom of this post. And, as the headline reads, my idol Terry Pratchett is the most shoplifted author, at number 3 (the top two being anonymously written reference works of a sort).

I’m really pleased for Terry Pratchett, not for his lost revenue, evidently, but for that kind of standing – in fact, only Neil Gaiman’s inclusion could have made me feel happier. And I was delighted to see how popular fiction is, albeit among the light-fingered literate: five of the ten are works of fiction. Even more pleasing are the absences of a) anything related with cooking, and b) anything derived from any kind of TV show.

The list, compiled by consultation with independent bookstores, is as follows:

1. London Street Atlas
by Geographers’ A-Z Map Co.

2. Ordnance Survey maps:
Exmoor Explorer Map
by Ordnance Survey.

3. The Colour of Magic
by Terry Pratchett.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
by J.K. Rowling.

5. Great Britain – a Lonely Planet Country Guide
by David Else.

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy: 50th Anniversary Edition
by J.R.R. Tolkien.

7. Faces
by Martina Cole.

8. Secrets
by Jacqueline Wilson.

9. The Oxford English Dictionary
by Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson (editors).

10. The Official Highway Code
by the Department for Transport and the Driving Standards Agency.

Found through WordOrigins.

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Street Sign Silliness

February 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Punctuation purists led by John Richards, founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society, are up in arms over Birmingham City Council’s decision to omit apostrophes from street signs. Reactions have run from the usual indignation to outright horror. Apostrophe Abuse ironizes about it cleverly, calling Birmingham “the city where apostrophes arent welcome,” while Apostrophe Catastrophes goes so far as to call it a “travesty” (actually, I think they mean “outrage”).

Personally, I think it matters not a jot whether Birmingham City Council uses apostrophes or not, in the same way as it is unimportant whether ‘St’ needs a stop after it or not. I can see the pro-apostrophe campaigners enjoying themselves hugely, though, and am all in favour of a bit of fun, even at the expense of a few otherwise innocent councillors whose only crime is to have regional accents.

But where were the punctuation purists when banks and high-street shops and other businesses decided to drop apostrophes? Barclays (and all the other banks), Selfridges (and all the other chains), and so on. Who gave them permission? And who then decided that just because ‘they’ wanted to stop using their apostrophes, we had to respect their decision?

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The End of Civilization As We Know It

February 1st, 2009 · 2 Comments

Over at You Don’t Say,* the blog of Baltimore Sun copy editor John McIntyre, there has been a discussion going on about Wikipedia. I must point out that the Wikipediaphobes have not, quite, said that the online encyclopaedia will bring about the End of Civilization etc. as the title of this post would suggest. On the other hand, they do feel themselves at liberty to put words into the mouths of the Wikipedia defenders, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t do the same (if you’ve ever done any proper debating, you know the trick – you haven’t got an answer so you make up your own question and answer that instead. Politicians and Tory voters do it all the time).

If you are interested in the great Wikipedia battle, you’ll find the original posts and comment threads at I Said, Get Mitty, Wikipediaphilia, Crisis of authority and McIntyre is having a cow about Wikipedia. I won’t describe the arguments in detail, but John McIntyre has added a summary, which he gives the title Wiki-wacky. He structures it as a dialogue between the (True) Believers and the Skeptics. The Believers expound their silly circular arguments which the Skeptics refute soundly, or what would be definitively to anyone sensible, i.e., with the same opinions as Mr McIntyre. He calls it light-hearted. I call it snide. And please note at this stage that JM’s list of the threads involved excludes the one on Crisis of authority.

The whole thing was triggered by an everyday gripe by Mr McIntyre (first post), that Wikipedia contained errors, lots of them. Nothing really surprising about that, but it provoked some comments, mostly along the lines of “Yes, but…” In his second post, John began to get testy (he enjoys describing himself as ‘curmudgeonly,’ it goes with the tweed jacket image he likes to project), apparently seeing the whole Wikipedia concept as an attack on his life’s work as an editor, if not all editors. I dropped a couple of comments in at that stage, to the effect that the Wikpedia entry about JM himself looked believable, that Wikipedia was not a traditional encyclopedia and shouldn’t be judged as if it were, and that however imperfect it might be it was jolly useful.

Escalation came with John’s post on Crisis of authority, in which he really lost his rag. We were treated to declamations like “The very idea of authority is being challenged,” “there are gunslingers walking the streets at will,” and “the Internet: political subversion, religious controversy, all conducted with vicious personal attacks on one’s opponents. No copyright — anyone could steal anything.” You get the idea. As I say, JM has chosen to forget that this thread was part of the discussion. I think it’s the most important part.

For his penultimate post on the subject, JM chose to relax and take a more sardonic tone, dropping the references to authority or lack of it, making a joke comparing Wikipedia with sewage (is this what passes for urbane humour in Baltimore?), and inventing the term “Wikipediaphiliac” to describe the Wikipedia defenders (as I have pointed out over there, I think there is something disparaging about the suffix chosen, and “Wikipediaphile” would have been a better choice. But, hey, John’s the editor, he knows what he wants to say and how).

Now, I’m not a True Believer in Wikipedia, however much easier JM finds it to deal with me if I am, but I do think that, on the whole, the world is a better place with Wikipedia than it was without it, and would be if Wikipedia were in some way “regulated.” Your thoughts on the matter are most welcome.

*I run the You Don’t Say feed, because it is intelligent and entertaining and because it is declaredly prescriptivist, and the descriptivists might otherwise be over-represented on the Language Stuff page.

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