News Notes 25-02-2012

Three stories making the news this week – Apple’s China woes have a silver lining, the continuing problems of News International and a climate science story that slipped right under the radar – the so called “Fakegate” affair.


Apple and Microsoft

Two interlinked stories in the news this week concerning the former rivals in the so-called desktop computer wars of the 1990’s; a struggle from which Microsoft emerged victorious. It’s the reason why today, despite its status as the world’s richest IT company (nay the richest company of any kind), an Apple computer on a corporate desktop is a rarity indeed. Things have changed greatly since the 90’s of course; Microsoft’s failure to truly get to the grips with the internet led to its crown as the world’s most influential IT firm being lost first to Google and now, arguably, to Apple. But Apple’s re-birth as a major force in the industry had nothing to do with the corporate desktop market; you are still just as likely to find a machine built by HP running Microsoft Windows on your office desk. No, instead Apple re-focused its business onto home entertainment with iTunes, the iPod, the iPhone and lately and most successfully – the iPad. It is the phenomenal growth of Apple’s business in China that is the true bedrock of its current status as the world’s most valuable company – $500bn market capitalisation, and on an unstoppable rise to becoming the world’s first $1tn company.

I’ve previously documented (here and here) Apple’s woes in China concerning the use of the trademark iPad and the trademark’s owners, Chinese screen makers Proview. There is no dispute that Proview owns the brand-name, but plenty of argument in the Chinese courts over Apple’s right to use it in China. This now seems to be swinging decisively in Apple’s favour as it emerges that Proview are in deep financial trouble and their attempts to sue Apple in the Chinese courts for $1bn+ are now seen as little more than a desperate attempt to skin some cash from the Cupertino Cult ahead of its critical iPad v3 launch (the machine is manufactured in China). Proview are arguing that the sale of the iPad trademark to Apple for $36k in 2010 by its Taipei subsidiary was never approved by the main management board and is therefore invalid. The Chinese courts however, don’t seem to agree. Proview’s attempt to have Apple’s products taken off the shelves in China and have an export ban imposed appear now to have failed, with the Chinese authorities expressing hope that the matter will now be swiftly settled out of court; no doubt with one eye to the fact that Apple’s products are astonishingly popular in China – any attempt to rob the Chinese fanbois of their beloved “fondleslabs” would most likely lead to a riot.

Interesting then to read that Microsoft have recently announced that it intends to develop a version of its ubiquitous MsOffice suite for iPad. This is an important move, since previous implementations of Office for the Mac desktop gave it an unexpected shot in the arm in the early noughties, and briefly rescued its reputation as a machine on which serious work can be done. Not that the iPad is ever going to seen as a serious business computer or that it even needs MsOffice. Nonetheless it is a recognition by the “Evil Empire” of the success of the iPad and of its own failure to make any serious dent in the hand-held and tablet market – they clearly want a slice of those ever growing Chinese sales themselves, and this looks like the only way that they are going to get it.

Interesting times, as they say.


News International

Another bad week for the troubled Newspaper group, as the arrests of former and current Sun employees continue and revelations emerge of a deliberate policy of deleting incriminating emails. The Metropolitan Police’s Eleveden investigation into corrupt payments to public officials continues to generate beads of sweat on the brows of News Group’s senior management. Notwithstanding the imminent publication of the Sun on Sunday as a successor to the News of the Screws, I continue to believe that what we have learned to date from Weeting (the police investigation into phone hacking) and Eleveden, plus the hearings of the Leveson inquiry have already thrown so much mud at News International that it is fatally damaged as a brand and is living on borrowed time. I believe that once the court hearings have taken place and the Leveson inquiry has concluded that the company will be broken up and it’s titles either sold off, or set up as a new company. Rupert Murdoch’s declarations of faith in the Sun and his decision to allow bailed employees back to work will have done little to quieten concerns among the staff that the end game is close. A break up of the company is naturally deeply un-groovy news to any NI employees, but with the potential harm to News Corp in the US that could be caused by a proven case of bribery abroad the commercial logic (at least in Murdochs eyes) may be unstoppable.

However, there may be some good news in at least one camp from the reports that Rupert Murdoch has expressed his support for Scottish Independence and is clearly trying to cosy up to Alex Salmond. The SNP leader, whilst I dislike his politics, is no fool – I’ve commented previously that Murdoch has many times in the past indentified that aligning a newspaper to a political cause that feels itself to be underrepresented in the mainstream media is a powerful marketing tool for a publishing company, and he may well have the SNP voter base in his sights. He’s been there before, of course. The Scottish edition of the Sun was, for a while at least, a pro-independence paper and he may be about to do the same again, either with the Sun or maybe with a new title.

Alex Salmond (and indeed the rest of us) will no doubt have great difficulty believing that Murdoch has suddenly become a Scottish nationalist, but that need not be a problem. He wasn’t a socialist either, but that never stopped him from backing Australian Labour leader Gough Whitlam in 1970’s and British Labour leader Tony Blair in the 2000’s. Murdoch doesn’t seriously believe that the SNP are going to win a referendum (at least not yet), he can read a poll as well as anyone else can – but that isn’t the point. His only concern will be “can I sell more newspapers that way ?”, and I suspect the answer may well be “yes, you can”. Wait until the current court cases have run their course and the future of News International is resolved and I predict that supporters of Scottish Nationalism will acquire a strong newspaper supporter. Whether they want it from Murdoch is, of course, a different matter – but then the average Labour supporter didn’t seem to mind that much when the Sun switched to their side in the late 1990’s.

Definitely a story to watch over the next few months.

Fakegate

You may have seen a story spread across much of the mainstream media recently concerning the right-wing US think-tank, The Heartland Institute. It appeared that several critical documents belonging to Heartland, including what appeared to be a high-level strategy document from a board meeting, had been leaked and seemed to reveal an agenda to spread disinformation about global warming and detailing some of its supposed funding sources. Some might say, of course, that the revelation that Heartland campaigns against the theory of man-made global warming is as about as profound as the idea that bears sh*t in the woods; anyone who follows the subject knows who they are and what they stand for. The anonymous leak, passed to pro AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) website DeSmogBlog, had supposedly originated with a disgruntled insider.

However, right from the off the blogosphere smelt a rat and began to question not only the story of how the leak came about, but also the authenticity of the alleged strategy document. This was immediately confirmed by Heartland who stated that while some of the internal documents were genuine, the incriminating “strategy” paper was a crude fake and the story of a disgruntled insider was also false – the other documents had been obtained by a blagger who had impersonated one of their board members. So far so good you might say – blagging, whilst illegal, is nonetheless a tool of the journalistic trade and can, in the right circumstances, be justified.

Within days however, stories began to circulate on the blogosphere about who the leaker really was and seemed to back up Heartland’s account. Eventually, with his name openly being mentioned on the net, the “leaker” was forced to reveal himself – a scientist named Dr Peter Gleick who works for an environmentalist think-tank called the Pacific Institute. He also changed his story, claiming that the faked strategy document had been sent to him anonymously and his subsequent blagging of Heartland had been so that he could verify the contents. This situation is all the worse for the fact that Gleick himself had previously gone on record as strongly supporting “integrity” in scientific matters – he was a signatory of this document published in Science magazine in 2010. Even Gleick’s subsequent apology and suspension from the Pacific Institute are not the end of the affair, the blogosphere is abuzz with speculation that he has yet to make a full disclosure and some have openly accused him of being the true author of the faked “strategy” document; he is now facing legal action from Heartland Institute. Amazingly, even after all these revelations, there are still some such as George Monbiot in the Guardian who are trying to make him into some kind of hero – which surely speaks volumes for what some people regard as “integrity” in science.

My own view is frankly “a curse on both their houses”. I have little love for either side in the AGW debate; with such overt politicisation of climate science is it any wonder that ordinary people are at a loss to know what to believe anymore. Only when climate science is prised out of the hands of political activists of both left and right can we ever hope to have a balanced view of this important subject and begin, slowly but surely, to restore our faith in the climate science community.

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