14 October 2010

Forrest Gump Must Be In Charge

I'm not irascible; I'm permanently irasced.

  • One of those secrets that isn't really a secret, or even confined to mortgages: Sometimes mortgage financiers didn't follow the rules that they demand purchasers follow when they transferred mortgages from originator to servicer to whomever. Basically, what happened was this: Companies would engage in complex financial transactions, separating the original "mortgage" (a single-payment, or at most single-payment-plus-escrow-for-taxes/insurance, transaction) into multiple parts, each of which had a "servicer" and a "holder."

    Imagine, for a moment, going to the supermarket, and having to go through three cash registers on the way out — one for store-brand goods, one for national-brand goods, and one for the overall transaction... and the scans at each register must match, and be reconciled, before you can walk out the door with your groceries, with any error being resolved in the store's favor. You can apply for a refund later if you can produce documentation showing that the shelf price was different from the register price; you're probably screwed, though, if quantities are different, or if you can't decipher which item was which from the cryptic abbreviations on the receipt that you'll get only if you demand it.

    Now repeat every week.

    No, that's not an exaggeration. As an aside, it's not just mortgages; it's consumer debt in general, to my certain knowledge, and debt in general based on inference and experience. And people wonder why we had a financial crisis triggered by debt swaps and insurance-company investments.

    Ironically, this resembles the ancient teeth-to-tail argument over military forces that has been raging since the embryonic nation-state era (the eleventh century or so in the West, somewhat before that in China). It also ignores one critical bit of evidence: Without an exception that I've found, every extended declared war in the gunpowder era has been won by the established, professional force with the lower teeth-to-tail ratio in theater. That is, REMFs win wars; and there's little reason to believe that they don't win financial battles, too.

  • In the name of "efficiency," the Tory-led UK government is culling quangos — those hybrid national government/local government/private sector "agencies" responsible for administration of programs that cut across several different government departments' areas of responsibility. Sometimes, though, "efficiency" is inefficient; one of the quangos being cut is the one that collects public-lending-right payments and distributes them to authors. Remember, in most of the world libraries are not as "free" as the public libraries are in the US: Instead, there's a payment owed to the author each time a book is borrowed. The US experience with the CCC should be a cautionary tale for those proclaiming that the private sector can take this over and do it more efficiently than can the government (or a quasigovernmental agency) anyway: There is no more arrogant, less-accountable element in US publishing than the CCC. At least publishers and distributors are subject to audits... sort of like mortgage lenders. Further, the CCC also sticks its nose into areas that authors have explicitly told it not to, like acting as a conduit from foreign societies and extracting an administrative fee, even when the foreign publication was unauthorized in the first place. And, worse than the CCC, there's the ASCAP/BMI model lurking in the bushes with a couple of broken-off bottles available for persuasive effect.
  • NATO is changing, including backing a missile shield, acknowledging cyberwarfare as an explicit, significant threat, and even acknowledging historical US-EU tensions as reality. How relevant any of these acknowledgements will be to actual employment of NATO resources in a proactive, not just reactive, manner, though is another question... and I don't think anyone has even the glimmerings of an answer. Sadly, history demonstrates that NATO is a good reactive/defensive threat, but not very good at doing anything other than waiting around for something bad to happen to it, and I don't see that changing.
  • More Harry Potter copyright infringement news: Willy the Wizard must proceed to trial. Now, this is actually a civil procedure issue more than a copyright issue. Although the exact contours of summary judgment in England are slightly different (and worded more than slightly differently) than in the US, what the decision (linked in the IPKat's writeup) actually means is much less than it appears: That there were enough contested factual matters that a reasonable trier of fact could hypothetically find that Harry Potter infringed Willy the Wizard in at least one aspect justifying some judicial relief. Even though, as Professor Phillips states, "[the judge] expressed the view that it was improbable that the action would succeed," it still requires a trial.

    In US practice this would press both parties to the negotiating table to settle. In UK practice, not so much, primarily because "loser pays the winner's attorney's fees" is the default rule in the UK (rather than an exceptional case, as in the US)... and the standard of proof for copyright infringement is arguably somewhat higher in the UK than in the US. In short, there's little incentive for Ms Rowling's lawyers to settle, as all this decision says is that it wasn't an ironclad instance due to the legal presumption of access caused by the mere fact of publication of Willy the Wizard. All that Ms Rowling's lawyers will need to do to win this matter is rebut that presumption with facts at trial (under UK procedure, presumptions of this nature cannot be definitvely rebutted on summary judgment... unlike US practice, where they can).

  • I had a miserable experience casting my early ballot this afternoon. (And my US reader(s) had bloody well better be planning on voting. I care who you vote for, but I care much more that you do in the first place.) I do early voting because the partisan asshole who runs elections in this county moved my polling place to a noxious church. Thus, I went to the regular county government offices... only to have a big, stereotypically redneckish poster with "God Bless America" emblazoned with gold glitter on a flag staring me in the face as I requested my ballot. At least this time there's no abortion-rights question on the ballot... even if many races are being played as a "referendum" on the performance of that alleged Muslim at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

    And then there were the other problems, but those will be handled in writing via a direct complaint, as they're much too involved (and depend too much on actual legal authority) for a blawg entry. Not the least of those problems was the number of unopposed races in which the only candidate was a Heffalump, the same party as the partisan asshole who runs elections in this county. BTW, I'd say the same if they were Jackasses: I'm against unopposed elections, and particularly against the hostility toward so-called "third parties" that is prevalent here in flyover country.

  • Last, and far from least, put down your beverage and consider whether MGM would be better advised to sue these guys... or get an endorsement deal going, considering their need for the services in question. (HT: Professor R. Tushnet) Note that it has to be the film rightsholder, not the estate of the original author, because the line in question was improvised by the original actor in one of the films, so it's not a line "belonging to" that author.