Notes On The News
by Gwydion M Williams
Election Round-Up [Iceland, India, South Africa, Mongolia]
Sri Lankan Tragedy [End of the Tamil Tigers]
Gold and Soil [Chinese Economy]
North Korea Ignores the United Nations
Let It Run, Let It Ruin [Prospects for Britain under Cameron]
Who Is Society? [Thatcher’s Legacy]
Guttenberg Prospects [e-books]
Election Round-Up [Iceland, India, South Africa, Mongolia]
Iceland saw the predictable defeat of the center-right parties that allowed the banks to expand foolishly and gamble away billions. It now has a government composed of Social Democrats and Left-Greens. The Social Democrats want to take Iceland into the European Union: the Left-Greens are against this. The matter is expected to be settled by a referendum, with polls indicating that Iceland will join. [A]
In the Republic of India, the unexpected victory by the Congress Party seems to reflect a wish for coherent government at a time of global uncertainty. The left-wing Third Front lost seats, and so did the Hindu nationalist BJP. Congress remains the only party that can really unite the country.
In South Africa, the ANC won a clear victory. The break-away party of supporters of the previous President ended up being seen as a clique that represented mostly Shona, but not the majority of Shona. Meantime the mostly-Zulu Inkata Party lost ground, with the ANC now led by Mr Zuni who is a Zulu. The main opposition is the Democratic Alliance, whose power is based on the whites and the mixed-race Cape Coloureds. The ANC continues to be a party that almost all South Africans could see as their party.
In Thailand, the government has successfully consolidated itself and has avoided an election it would be likely to lose. World opinion made it clear that it was happy to see the military massacre demonstrators in this particular instance, where the ousted ‘red’ faction was less friendly to Globalisation. Of course Globalisation is in practice SubAmericanisation, a subordination to the interests of the USA
In Mongolia, the Democratic Party candidate has just won the Presidential election.[B] They claimed to have been cheated of victory at the recent general election. Outside observers said no, they dominate the capital but the rest of the country supported the Mongolian Communists, who allowed multi-party elections in 1990.[C] The current government is a coalition, and I assume the Democratic Party will now dominate it. One issue is a huge copper and gold mining deal with global mining corporation Rio Tinto.[E] Experience in Africa suggests such deals are a formula for political chaos, struggles to control revenues under foreign control.
I commented last month that Moldova resembled Mongolia, with ex-Communist parties winning multi-party elections and opposition parties encouraging riots in the capital, where they have majority support. Moldova has gone quiet for now.
Multi-party elections are a formula for chaos if it isn’t accepted that you live with a result you don’t like. President Kennedy was almost certainly elected by fraud in 1960, with dirty dealing in both Chicago and Texas. But Nixon accepted defeat, waited and got elected later on. And was driven out of office in the wake of the USA pulling out of Vietnam, probably not having done anything more than most US Presidents have done.
Nepal in Flux
Last year’s elections in Nepal saw the Maoists emerge as the biggest party, but lacking an electoral majority. They took power in coalition with the centre-left Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and the Nepali Congress, on the understanding that some of their fighters would be merged into the existing Nepali Army.
This agreement was broken. That was the core of the dispute:
“The premier’s Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists) accused the army chief of disobeying their instructions not to recruit 2,800 fresh troops, amid a dispute about the integration of 19,000 former Maoist combatants – now being held in United Nations camps – into the security forces.
“Nepal’s 100,000-man army is highly suspicious of its former adversaries, the Maoist rebels, while the Maoists accuse the army of refusing to accept the supremacy of the civilian government. However, both the Maoists’ political allies and their opponents, as well as foreign countries backing the peace process, had warned that to sack the army chief could precipitate a return to hostilities by the former adversaries.
“President Yadav, who has links to the opposition Nepali Congress Party, refused to approve the sacking, or to recognise the man named by the Maoists as the new army chief, Gen Kul Bahadur Khadka, who was Gen Katawal’s second-in-command.” [D]
What happened next was that the Maoist premier quit – it was that or resume the civil war, I assume. After some negotiations, a new government was formed that is built around the centre-left Communist Party of Nepal and the Nepali Congress. Its majority is slim, but it should benefit from a strong Congress government in India.
Sri Lankan Tragedy [End of the Tamil Tigers]
Multi-party elections are inherently polarising. A single party has an interest in including everyone, maybe on an unequal basis, but still included. Competitive elections can reward parties that play to one ethnic or religious group, making them think that they are being cheated.
Peace requires one or more parties that can bridge the various gaps. Congress has so far done this for the Republic of India. In Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, the majority Sinhalese supported parties that asserted their dominance at the expense of the Tamils. Sinhalese are nearly three quarters of the population, but Tamils had regional majorities in the north and east. The logic was for them to go for either autonomy or independence – but there have been very few successful independence movements since World War Two that were not also anti-colonial. Everyone knew that the borders of the former colonies were a bit arbitrary, and decided that the best hope for peace was to work within them.
The Tamil Tigers ignored this. Several times the Sri Lankan government agreed cease fires and was ready to concede a lot of autonomy. Had already reversed a lot of the original discrimination (itself a heritage of British rule). But the Tamil Tigers stuck to the very improbable goal of independence.
Demands for a cease fire were not reasonable. It had been tried before and failed. Abraham Lincoln was rightly dismissive of called for an unspecified ‘peace’ in his war on the Confederacy. He noted that while both sides would have sooner got what they wanted without war, each side preferred war to settling on terms that other side might have found tolerable. The South would not stay in the USA when the Federal Government was controlled by an Abolitionist, even though Lincoln accepted that he had no power to abolish slavery in states that were part of the union. The North was ready to live with slavery, and did happily go along with segregation and White Power after the war ended. What the North would not accept was separatism.
It was much the same in Sri Lanka: the majority would not see a portion of their island go independent and the dominant section of the Tamils would accept nothing less. It’s also not as if the Tamils were tolerant: they drove out their own Muslim minority in 1991.
Sri Lanka might also have been much better off if its British rulers had merged it with British India. The same is true of Burma, at one time linked. But the British Empire became positively mischievous in its last few decades, intentionally trying to divide its subjects. Successfully splitting British India in Pakistan and the Republic of India, with East Pakistan later becoming Bangladesh after a civil war arising from an election that split the two halves between two rival parliamentary parties. Unity of the whole Indian subcontinent might have been the best solution, but seems very unlikely. Further fragmentation would be a very bad idea.
China doing fine
“Zhang Hao first heard about China’s 1989 student democracy movement when he was in high school. But now that he is a university student himself he is eager to declare that his views are worlds apart from the generation who gathered in Tiananmen Square to demand democracy.
“At 25 the second-year graduate student at Beijing Sports University is worried about his future, but he believes the Communist party is taking China in the right direction. ‘Our generation thinks that ours is a government which helps us raise our heads and grow up,’ he says.
“‘We are not like them,’ Mr Zhang declares of the students who grabbed the world’s attention in 1989. ‘I can understand that they wanted to pursue freedom and democracy, but I think they were partly misled. They knew nothing.’..
“His view is very much that of the political establishment, but some civil rights and freedom of speech activists agree. Zhou Shuguang, a 28-year-old university drop-out who is one of China’s best-known bloggers, says to him the 1989 student leaders’ speeches feel like over-emotional grandstanding. ‘They were brought up in a socialist tradition, and that’s what they knew.’
“Today’s students view themselves as more mature in their approach to politics, the outside world and China’s future.
“‘In 1989, the door had just opened a little bit, and they had no reliable information about the reality in the west, they were led by an idea of democracy,’ says Mr Zhang. ‘Look how much more access to information we have. Many people have been abroad to study, and we can read about everything online.'”[G]
Successful multi-party systems usually grow within an agreed political structure. Britain had an agreed multi-party system from 1688, but the majority of adult males had no vote until 1885. They also began by supporting existing political parties, except in Ireland where the first steps were taken towards eventual separation.
In China, the system is successful and dynamic:
“For the last two decades, the party’s mission had been to ‘maintain the brain but change the content’, suggested Anne-Marie Brady, associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Experts have been called in to study political change overseas, culling lessons from New Labour and French and German socialists – and using Gorbachev’s reforms as an example of what not to do.
“‘That learning from the west has been brought back into China and used to maintain and enhance the strength of the current political system,’ Brady said.
“The government has modernised its techniques as well as its cadres.
“It is now an assiduous user of opinion polling and sophisticated spin techniques, showing greater responsiveness to public opinion. Unlike its models overseas, it does not require votes: but it needs at least tacit support.
“Allowing people more space to challenge the status quo may, in fact, help to perpetuate the system, providing outlets for frustration and dissent – as long as there are no attempts to organise independently; what the party fears most are alternative power structures.
“When public outrage becomes widespread and dangerous – over tainted baby milk, for example – authorities often seek to assuage it before stamping it out. Bloggers may be allowed to have their say before the shutters come down. Official heads may roll. New initiatives may be announced.
“The demands of Chinese citizens have carved out greater – albeit variable – space to criticise lower-ranking officials or hold them to account, engage in public affairs, debate ideas and take part in an emerging civil society.
“Yet lawyers, activists and dissident intellectuals are routinely harassed and threatened. Even parents who lost their children in the Sichuan earthquake have been bullied and detained for protesting about shoddily built schools.
“‘If [people] don’t touch the line, they can do a lot of things. But there is a line there,’ said Hope.
“She’s a softly spoken, thoughtful young woman, who chooses to meet in an artsy cafe near one of the country’s top universities, where as many as two-thirds of her classmates are party members.
“Like others, she asks to be identified only by her English nickname. But she is candid about her initial hesitation when invited to join, and her ultimate decision to do so.
“‘It’s easy to be a critic, but then maybe you can’t change society. You can do more inside the system than without,’ she said.”[H]
Indeed, it’s far from obvious that a multi-party system gives more power to ordinary people than the Chinese system. Lots of Britons feel excluded, and their feelings get manipulated. I find it very odd that the MPs expenses scandal suddenly broke at a time when MPs needed to consider if financial institutions needed to be tamed. A few thousand quid gained by bending expense rules suddenly seems more significant than billions squandered over decades.
China meantime seems content with what it has:
“It is hard to generalise about what a diverse nation of 1.3 billion people without freedom of expression really think; and impossible to know what they might believe without government censorship and propaganda.
“But the Asian Barometer study of political attitudes, the most comprehensive to date, came up with some surprising findings. In mainland China, 53.8% believed a democratic system was preferable.
“Then came the kicker. Asked how democratic it is now, on a scale of one to 10, the Chinese placed their nation at 7.22 – third in Asia and well ahead of Japan, the Philippines and South Korea.
“‘Chinese political culture makes people understand democracy in a different way, and this gives the regime much manipulating space,’ concluded Dr Tianjin Shi.
“To the confusion of some western observers, Hu’s speech to the last party congress used the D-word more than 60 times.
“‘They would like to talk about democracy with Chinese characteristics. My problem is that no one really can offer a definition of what that is,’ said Dr Yawei Liu of the Carter Centre’s China Programme, which works with Chinese officials to improve elections and civic education.
“‘If you look at civic activism, what’s taking place in cyberspace and what’s going on in 600,000 villages in China [with grassroots elections] they all seem to indicate there’s still a push from the top and most importantly from the bottom to expand political reform … The problem is how grassroots efforts could be elevated to a higher level and whether the leadership has the wisdom and courage to move forward with an agenda.’
“Since the mushrooming and then suppression of the Tiananmen democracy protests amid a split between reformists and conservatives, China’s leaders have concluded that cracks at the top can only lead to disaster.
“Maintaining consensus – at least in public – has been central to their operation. If anyone is pushing for major reform, it is not evident.
“Hundreds of millions in China already go to the polls to choose low-level representatives. But efforts to promote and expand village elections – widely lauded in the 1990s – appear to have stalled.
“Recent experiments, such as the use of deliberative democracy in setting budgets and awarding a greater say in the selection of local party secretaries, offer clues to possible routes towards or alternatives to a multi-party system. Yet so far, they stand alone.” [H]
Western commentators find this baffling, only because they assume that their system is natural and the normal end-point. It isn’t. Britain’s multi-party system arose because Britain’s civil war ended in a compromise rather than with one party crushing the rest. Other countries copied Britain’s example, and found it maybe a way to cope with their own divisions. But those countries also didn’t need to catch up with the rest of the world in the way China does.
Gold and Soil [Chinese Economy]
China has kept control of an immense social shift, the movement of tens of millions of workers from the impoverished west of their country to the more prosperous east. The downturn has pushed some of them back, but this too seems to be under control:
“Until a week ago, Liu Xiao was part of the Pearl river delta’s army: one of the thousands of workers streaming along a Shenzhen road, gulping down breakfast, texting, lighting a final cigarette, teasing friends and swapping gossip – rushing rushing rushing to the factory for another shift making bras, computers and plastic toys for the world.
“Today she waits patiently at the railway station across town. This region was the motor of China’s economic boom, but plummeting exports have forced it to slow and millions of those who kept it running have given up and gone home. Liu Xiao is one of the latest to return to the countryside: in her case to a village of just 200 people a 10-hour ride – and a world away – from Shenzhen.
“For a year and a half she worked 11-hour days checking hard drive casings with no music or chat permitted, but found satisfaction in spotting hairline cracks and other errors. Home was a dormitory shared with seven other girls, crowded but renao (lively and chaotic).
“‘There were lots of rules, like no cooking and not being loud, but you get used to it,’ she says. ‘It was harmonious, not like other dormitories where everyone quarrels.’
“Production began to slow late last year and workers drifted away. Without overtime Liu Xiao’s wages slipped from 2,500 yuan (£240) a month to 800 yuan, barely covering living costs, and leaving nothing for visits to internet cafes or for the shopping trips she had learned to enjoy.
“Millions abandoned the city at Chinese new year in late January and a steady trickle continues. When rumours spread that Liu Xiao’s factory would soon go bankrupt, as thousands across the manufacturing region have done, she handed in her notice…
“Three decades after Deng’s economic reforms began, China can seem like two nations. There are the sky-scraping neon-lit cities such as Shenzhen and then there is the countryside, still home to most of the population and richer by far than it was, but falling ever further behind the urban world. Average incomes in cities are now more than three times those of the countryside.” [J]
Actually it was Mao who first took steps to narrow the gap, whereas Deng let it widen. But though China’s east did better, the west was doing well. With no rival political parties to be a focus for discontent, most people see their problems as purely personal:
“Liu Xiao smiles. She’s more confident these days – city life has changed her. It’s not just her smart clothes and pink mobile phone. Working with others has knocked the edges off her temper, made her smoother, she thinks.
“But Miaoquan hasn’t changed at all, she says with a note of disbelief. There’s still nothing much to do here, just watch TV or help with chores.
“On the wall, beside a huge, brightly coloured poster of Mao Zedong and other communist leaders, an old-fashioned clock ticks away the seconds as Liu Xiao fidgets in the front room.
“A sharp expulsion of breath. She wanders to the doorway and gazes out, across the empty fields. ‘I’ve been here half an hour. I’m already bored’.” [J]
“Ms Huang was not born in a farming family, so she has found the adjustment to rural life particularly difficult. [She had returned to her husband’s home village after meeting him as a migrant worker.]
“She has gone from making clothing for export to becoming a housewife and rice farmer.
“‘I never thought I’d have to do this after getting married,’ she says.
“‘Farming is so taxing. I’m not used to it.
“‘Everything is new to me. Even cooking three meals a day. Before, I would just go to the canteen when I was hungry.'” [K]
If you know the last 60 years of Chinese history, you might recall that Mao’s fast-track development included both rural enterprises and the idea of having everyone eat in canteens rather than cooking at home. Rural enterprises are generally accepted as the basis of China’s surge forward in the 1980s, and even included rural steel works that were not so very different from the experiments of the Great Leap Forward. The Western-style republic that Mao overthrew had some small amount of growth in the coastal cities, but let the rural hinterland decay. Mao’s rule doubled the population and tripled the economy, and Deng was wise to build on that heritage. And ordinary Chinese seem to know it:
“Millions of former migrant workers have returned to their ancestral villages after the country’s economic miracle fizzled.
“At least 20 million factory workers in China lost their jobs in the space of a few months in 2009,
“Several high-profile protests, mostly over unpaid wages, led to predictions of rampant social unrest throughout the country.
“They never happened.
“Mr Bu does not hold the government responsible for his predicament – neither in Beijing nor in Washington.
“‘The Beijing government should give us more support and help,’ he says. ‘But I know they are trying.
“‘For example, they are trying to boost domestic consumption, in order to create more jobs.’
“But though he does not blame US policy makers, he nevertheless feels that the economic slowdown in the US is having an impact in China.
“‘It’s the US consumer who has stopped buying,’ he says. ‘Look at the effect it has had on China. The impact has been widespread.'”[K]
The Chinese government unblocked the BBC’s English-language sites at the time of the Tibetan riots. The BBC was puzzled: I assumed at the time that it was because the BBC was grossly biased against China and this would be noticed. As far as I know, any Chinese who can read English can still check and confirm that it is indeed a global downturn in which China is doing quite well. Their biggest problem is a huge dollar reserve that is sinking in value. Even this may be being solved in part:
“China has quietly almost doubled its gold reserves to become the world’s fifth-biggest holder of the precious metal, it emerged on Friday, in a move that signals the revival of bullion after years of fading importance…
“China had 1,054 tonnes of gold, up from 600 tonnes in 2003…
“The increase in China’s gold reserves has come primarily from domestic production and refining. However, the news raises questions about the future of Beijing’s foreign reserves policy.
“Ahead of the G20 summit in London this month, China suggested global reliance on the US dollar as a reserve currency should be reduced.
“China has been diversifying away from the dollar since 2005, when it broke the renminbi’s peg to the US currency and officially marked it to a basket of currencies, but it still holds more than two-thirds in US dollar-denominated assets by most estimates.
“As its trade surplus and forex reserves ballooned in recent years, Beijing continued to buy huge amounts of US Treasury bonds while raising the proportion of purchases it allotted to other currencies and to gold.
“Since 1999, central banks in Europe have sold large amounts of gold, investing the proceeds into bonds. But in the past two years they have curtailed their sales significantly while central banks outside Europe became net buyers of bullion.” [L]
“China last year overtook South Africa as the world’s largest gold producer and is estimated to have produced 282 tonnes of gold. Some gold from state-owned producers goes directly into Beijing’s gold stockpile every year. Gold purchases from state-owned producers can be made secretly and at below-market prices, making them more attractive than international purchases.”[M]
Since a lot of China’s growing stock of gold comes from within their borders, what happened to all of the gold that Europe’s banks sold? Do the figures add up? At the very least, it shows the wisdom of ignoring fashions in economics and sticking to things that have been shown to work decade after decade. But if most of the sold gold hasn’t ended up in China, where is it?
Operations in modern finance are big enough that it would be ‘rational economics’ for a private agency to pay large bribes to experts to give the wrong advice. Of course a lot of those ‘experts’ are foolish enough to do it for free, once a consensus builds up. Similar people damaged US interests by foolish policies in Vietnam in the 1960s and in Iraq and Afghanistan in the twenty-hundreds. Conspiracies exist, but complete foolishness is much more common.
Meantime China need not fear a collapse of the global financial system. It would hurt everyone, but China less than most. With a currency that cannot be freely converted, they are immune to the sort of financial stampede that harmed the ‘Asian Tigers’ in 1997.
Britain, sadly, is the very reverse. Blair and Brown were believers in Thatcher’s policy of running down British industry and hoping to live off financial services. If those fail we will be a lot worse off. And as I mentioned last month, Brown also sold off a lot of Britain’s gold reserved, supposing that it was out-of-date and useless.
North Korea Ignores the United Nations
The USA designed the United Nations to be a system whereby the victors of World War Two would dominate the rest of the world. Five powers were given the right to veto anything they pleased, meaning that International Law could not be enforced on them
In the 1990s, the USA could have reformed this system almost any way they wanted. But the dominant outlook was the outlook of lawyers who flourished in a system that permits rules to be bent out of all recognition. Whereas Western Europe changed its views on topics like abortion and homosexuality by referendums or by votes of the elected representatives, in the USA this was largely done by judicial dictates using ludicrously stretched interpretations of some of the hazy generalities in the US constitution. They carried the same approach into international affairs, with ludicrous arguments that prisoners were not prisoners and torture was not torture. And after twisting the UN rules
Independence in such a world depends on having atom bombs. Iraq showed that it’s no use trying to follow the rules, the USA will lie about it. Being able to give Nagasaki a second atomic bombing is amoral but the sort of thing that the New World Order rewards. Where North Korea leads, others will be following. If Obama has an answer he shows no sign of it.
“A Somali minister has said the problem of piracy in the region is being made worse by the international community paying ransoms.
“Abdul Karis Osman Issa, public works minister in semi-autonomous Puntland, said investment should be directed at beefing up mainland security.
“He said the pirates are better financed and armed than the regional government.” [N]
I’m no expert on Somalia, but you don’t need to be to work out the likely results of rewarding crime. I said something similar last December, while also noting the context:
“Illegal fishing has been an issue. So has the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters. All of this has flourished in the general atmosphere of lawlessness that the USA has encouraged since the end of the Cold War. When the USA ignores existing international law when they see an advantage, what do they expect others to do?
“Though ransoms are for both crew and ship, no one would pay the sort of sums quoted for a few ordinary seamen, often from very poor backgrounds. It makes sense for any individual ship-owner to pay ransom, but of course the ransoms encourage more piracy. The classic clash between group interests and individual welfare, the sort of things that states and international organisations were created to handle. Offering a modest ransom for the crew and nothing for the ship would have made it an unprofitable enterprise: a few ships might have been blown up or sunk, but then the process would have ended. Instead they have fed it.”
Let It Run, Let It Ruin [Prospects for Britain under Cameron]
Though Brown and Blair have followed bad economic polities, Cameron would be worse. His main idea is to economise, cut state spending as much as he can get away with.
An individual in financial trouble should certainly cut back. For an enterprise it is less certain, and the long-term successes are survivors of a crisis who keep their essential core in being. But in the case of a state, the state absolutely should not cut back, this is like pouring water over a drowning man. The only case where cutbacks might be sensible would be where the money was taken as a rental from foreign economies and this is no longer possible.
Both Brown and Cameron seem agreed there should be as little new regulation as possible. The dogma is now Laissez-Fair, which could be translated as ‘Let It Run’. Letting things find their own level is one option open to a government, but it’s not a general fix. When it’s a private enterprise, someone who knows what they’re doing may loosen some areas and tighten others. Cut some spending and increase others. Thatcher’s idea – followed by all governments since Thatcher – has been to cut rather mindlessly, based on a belief that less government is better government.
It’s not true. The Mixed Economy that was created in the 1940s and which ran unchallenged to the 1970s gave Britain and the USA their best economic performance ever. The crisis in the 1970s was mostly about social shifts – the erasing of formal difference between working class and middle class, as well as between men’s roles and women’s roles. This shift has happened by a process of ‘Let It Run’, with governments claiming to be powerless. They were no more powerless than they chose to be, and pretending to lack power over the economy has produced the present mess.
Who Is Society? [Thatcher’s Legacy]
This magazine has previously drawn attention to Thatcher saying ‘there is no such thing as society’. Now I’ve found the original quote, as given by one of her supporters:
“Who is society? There is no such thing. There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business and people have got the entitlements too much in mind without the obligations, because there is no such thing as an entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.” [Q]
I can’t see how it’s unfair to summarise this as ‘there’s no such thing as society’, and it shown just how naive Thatcher actually was. People today ask ‘who am I’, but society is the framework that lets individuals ask such questions. Not all societies do this, but every advanced society does it. Most supply answers and safe outlets for anyone who gets preoccupied by it. Ours is supposedly centred on the rights of ‘The Individual’.
Who is ‘The Individual’? Who is Grantham? Who is Manchester United Football Club? As I’d see it, all of these things are socially defined – individuals are made in a social context and can to some degree remake it, but only if they understand it.
Thatcher was an effective team leader in a right-wing movement in which most of the thinking done elsewhere. She lost power because she neglected to take a few obvious moves to secure her base. You’re not a leader in Britain if your party wants you out. Whether the opposition is wise or foolish is secondary, almost certainly the leader will see it as foolish and very often they will be right. But someone smarter will know that power-politics includes keeping as wide a base as possible including many the leader will view as fools and often be correct to consider fools.
She also had the wrong grand strategy from the very start. She missed the chance to draw a line under the changes of the 1970s and preserve whatever was left of tradition. I’d assume she thought that ‘economic freedom’ was good for traditional values, if she thought about it at all. That’s not what’s happened in practice, of course.
Guttenberg Prospects [e-books]
An update on e-books. There are some new models of Amazon’s ‘Kindle’, but none yet available in the UK. They are waiting till they can get control of the download market. Meantime there are some free downloads, most notably Project Guttenberg. [P] There you can download out-of-copyright books for free. Current law prevents the provision of free copies of books still covered by copyright, even if they are long out of print and have no chance of being published again. I think Amazon are out to undermine it for anything where there is no author or heir claiming rights, but that’s not yet available in the UK.
You can download text from Project Guttenberg and then read it on your Sony e-book, no problem. Except that it downloads with lines as separate paragraphs, which are OK printed but can look very odd on a reader. So I found a way round, which I thought worth sharing.
Start by opening the text file using MS Word for Windows XP – that’s what I have, I’ve no idea whether it will work with other set-ups. Save the file under a different name, but still as text, say ‘yes’ when it warns about losing formatting. Then choose the advanced Edit function. Change ^p^p to ^m, that is two paragraph breaks to a page break, taking care of the real paragraph breaks. Then change ^p to a space, replacing ‘paragraphs’ that are actually lines of text. Finally change ^m back to ^p, restoring the original paragraphs.
(Chose ‘More’ and ‘Special’ under Find and Replace for more interesting replace options.)
[A] [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_parliamentary_election,_2009], [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iceland_and_the_European_Union]