31 May 2005

Weekday Update

Sadly, all of the following items are actual, real, no-kidding "news" from today's papers. Perhaps my presentation of them seems a bit out of SNL, but none of them are made up.

  • Tweedledum and Tweedledee are fighting over aircraft subsidies. The US is claiming that Europe's Airbus subsidies are anticompetitive and violate various trade treaties; the EU says the US is a pot calling the kettle black. The US says that the EU violated an implicit agreement to "quietly reflect" on what appear to be substantial climbdowns by going to the press, so it's going to sue. The EU says that the lawsuit will be "manifestly expensive and (involve) quite destructive litigation"—so, naturally enough, it's countersuing. Meanwhile, the two companies continue to concentrate on developing economically inefficient transportation systems instead of maintaining the existing ones or reevaluating actual needs.
  • There has been a great deal of controversy of late over US courts using foreign sources of law to inform their own decisions. Fortunately, it hasn't gotten to the worst case as of yet: We're not relying on foreign dictionaries. Of course, in France, relying on a foreign dictionary is virtually illegal. Really.

    All advertising that carries English words or phrases, must also, by law, include the French equivalent in a footnote. Even the Nike motto "Just Do It!" was marked by an asterisk that referred to the French translation, "Allez-y!," at the bottom of every ad.

    This both explains a great deal about the French… and makes the current difficulties in producing a new "officially sanctioned" dictionary that much more entertaining. Or entertaining for someone of solid German and Ashkenazim ancestry, anyway.

    While anyone is now free to publish a dictionary in France, the academy's evolving opus remains the registry of what is officially French. The academy is the recognized authority on neologisms, particularly those coined to replace persistent Anglicisms in the language, like courriel for e-mail. Its decisions are followed by the government in official correspondence, and the media are encouraged to do the same.

    Perhaps, though, this is no more ridiculous than firing the prime minister for losing a plebiscite he was bound to lose. The US Constitution is short for a reason: It is a Constitution for expounding upon, not a detailed codification. Some day, the politicians in Europe are going to figure out that "modelling themselves on us" means understanding the model in the first place. Of course, one must also remember that true democracy is a relatively recent phenomenon in Europe: Even in England, "majority rule" wasn't even in the vocabulary until the mid-19th century, and hasn't been a continuous reality outside of England (and perhaps Sweden and Denmark) for more than 60 consecutive years or so at any time since. All of which leads back to the dictionary question in France, and what it implies.

  • On the other hand, at least in Japan some courts are starting to realize that easy access to computerized information can go too far.

    Legal experts said it was a landmark ruling that expanded the judicial interpretation of privacy to cover basic personal data, in addition to personal values such as thought and belief, and sets the precedent for handling personal information in the digital age. The court also said that as it is up to each individual to decide whether to prioritize convenience or privacy, "for residents who prefer privacy, convenience is not an appropriate administrative purpose."

    (fake paragraphing eliminated for clarity) What is most interesting is that it's not just a few "crackpots" who prefer privacy to convenience. According to that same article, 830,000 people in Yokohama (24% of those whose data would otherwise be available in the database) have chosen not to participate in this particular data exchange. Significantly, this isn't even as intrusive a database system as the US credit-reporting system.

I suppose I'll sign off here and wait for the Court to mess up the rest of the day.