Thursday, December 23, 2004

Tim Dunlop, in an already much blogged piece, notes what one of his friends heard on a recent Congressional fact-finding trip to India:

They spoke to a lot of Indian government people and the message from them was very clear, and in a nutshell it was this: We don't much care about America. He said they were very polite but almost indifferent. Maybe matter-of-fact is a better description. The conversation went something like this:

We consider ourselves as in competition with China for leadership in the new century. That's our focus and frankly, you have made it very difficult for us to deal with you. ...

And so forth, with assorted comments on the hypocrisy and foolishness of most of our recent initiatives, particularly the war.

Well, if your hobby is handicapping this competition, here's good news for the Chinese side. Dubya's good friend Pooty-poot is now talking about letting the Chinese operate Russian oil fields, including some of those which were just seized from the apparently too independent Russian energy company, Yukos. (It's an interesting transaction, to say, the least, in which a shadowy group of hitherto unknown buyers placed the winning bid at a state-run auction, and then immediately flipped the oil fields to a state-run oil company). Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Chinese are also buying into Canadian oil exports, which right now are headed almost entirely towards the United States.

So, the Chinese are moving to secure energy resources. And if you're looking to the future, you have to wonder: will this be enough for China? Do new oil sources change the outlook for their already calamitous environmental situation? Will the government consider conservation? Do they even care? And what about Pauline Europe and India? Because with the Chinese buying oil off our doorstep, it looks that much less like the future's with us.

And as for us, as our blood and treasure spills on the sands of Iraq, in a war that is spreading the terrorism and instability it was meant to stanch (as Dunlop's Indians are quick to note), is it buying us as much as the Chinese are getting by writing checks?

For more on the future of the U.S., see John Quiggin's paper on our unsustainable trade deficit, which calmly notes that "During 2003 and 2004, private [overseas] investors have ceased accumulating U.S. government debt and have reduced investment in U.S. enterprises. It is only government intervention by foreign governments buying U.S. debt that is now sustaining the value of the dollar." Chief among these governments is, of course, the Chinese. As Quiggin details, it's not clear how long it makes sense for the governments in question to keep doing this, or how long they'll want to...

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

And another installment of New Frontiers in Litigation.

It's old hat for novelists to be sued for reusing plot points and characters from earlier fictional work. Sometimes it's old work -- as when the estate of Margaret Harris sued the author of a parody of Gone With the Wind, only to have the courts reaffirm for the umpteenth time that parody is fair use. Sometimes it's movies, or TV sitcom concepts. And every once in a blue moon, there's a book which is successful enough to attract this kind of attention.

Well, here's a new variation on the theme. The target is Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code", a book which didn't impress me at all. (If you want thought provoking historical fiction on the origins of Christianity, go read "The Dream of Scipio" by Iain Pears; if your tastes run more to religiously themed potboilers featuring secret histories of the church and supernatural fireworks, try The Apocalypse Door by James Macdonald). But it sure did make a whole lot of money. As a result of which, the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", an earlier book which similarly had the early Christian church hiding the marriage of Jesus.

But what's new here is that "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" was at least presented not as fiction, but as the result of its' authors research into actual fact. And, at least judging from the initial press account, there isn't yet any allegation that the text of Brown's novel was cadged from "Holy Blood" (which is what got a whole bunch of historians in trouble not too long ago). What Brown's supposed to have stolen is plot points and characters. The plot points are the "facts" that the research supposedly uncovered. The characters are the authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail", who were stunned and dismayed to discover that the new book's characters include people who spent large chunks of their lives researching the history of the early church -- just like them. Next up: the descendants of Huey Long sue the estate of Robert Penn Warren to get what's theirs for "All the King's Men."

Now, the usual rationale for these sorts of lawsuits is that the plot is the first author's original work. But it was reported in their own book as fact, not as something that they had made up. If they'd like to change their minds about that, I'm sure that there will be interest well beyond the courts.

To sum up, these folks believe two things. First, there is strong evidence that the early church covered up important events in the life of Jesus. And secondly, that anyone who talks about it has stolen their work, and owes them money. I guess we'll see soon if the courts in New Zealand let you assert copyright on a (purported) fact.

via BoingBoing.