Saturday, 28 August 2004

Die Wende in New York?

Jonah Langenbeck, the blogger behind Spastic Robot, posted an noteworthy article an hour ago: "A Wende for Our Times; NYC, the GOP and hundreds of thousands of techno-protestors."

The Bruce Sterling short story "Deep Eddy" is about the events surrounding a massive cataclysmic event called a Wende in Dόsseldorf in the year 2035. Sterling's Wende is a massive confluence of various protests, electronic disturbances and random anarchic actions that combine to create an event so chaotic that it crashes every system in the urban infrastructure that it occurs within. It starts with small plans by numerous and varied groups of activists, artists, and other assorted troublemakers who then multiply into a heterogeneous body of critical mass. Sterling describes the Wende as, "rumor, boosted by electronic and digital media, in a feedback-loop with crowd dynamics and modern mass transportation. A non-linear networking phenomena". […]

In German wende literally means "climactic period", "turning point", "rebound", "reversal" and about 14 other things related to a period of sweeping change. In the common German parlance die Wende describes the era surrounding the falling of the Berlin Wall and the period preceding reunification. It was a time of anarchic jubilation and intense political uprising, which led to massive transformative social changes. Die Wende was all about the multitude coming together to fight against a repressive political apparatus that had miserably failed the citizenry both in a moral and economic sense. […]

That this event will be anything less than similar to Sterling's description of the Wende is doubtful. At the very least a very large number of protestors will participate in one of the most varied, vocal and interesting political protests in American history. At the most extreme, the massive disturbance will awaken a number of American citizens to what the Bush administration is really up to and set off a sequence of events that will alter our political landscape.

(Links added) Via BoingBoing

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Thursday, 26 August 2004

Olympic-sized trouble

The International Olympic Committee claims that President Bush has violated its trademark rules by using Olympic trademarks in his campaign messages. I have not seen the accused TV ad, but a still image at the Minneapolis Star Tribune site clearly shows a caption visible during at least some of the commercial: "Approved by President Bush and paid for by Bush Cheney '04, Inc." Says the Tribune: "The TV ad doesn't feature the five Olympic rings -- one of the world's most recognizable images -- but an announcer tells viewers that at "this Olympics, there will be two more free nations," referring to the U.S.- led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq."

The mainstream American press also reports that the Iraqi soccer team is furious at being made pawns. The LA Times (free reg.) headline: "Iraq Olympians Say Bush Is Not on Their Team." The team made its feelings public a few days ago in a Sports Illustrated interview. Since then, the world press has picked up this story, too. The reader comments at Al Jezeera are as interesting as the journalists' coverage.

This post would hardly be complete without an unauthorized link to the official Athens 2004 Olympics site. Oh...and a deep link to its asinine hyperlink policy, which I am trying to violate in as many ways as possible. I have not followed the press or blog coverage of this issue very closely, but I will make a brief comment anyway. Rule #1 in the policy is, "Use the term ATHENS 2004 only, and no other term as the text referent" (emphasis original). This rule seems specifically designed to avoid the type of Googlehacking that branded President Bush a "miserable failure."

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Thursday, 19 August 2004

MGM v. Grokster affirmed

Right now I have nothing to add to what is being said on the 9th Circuit's affirmation [pdf] of MGM v. Grokster — except to recommend Ernest's comments, then Derek's Leftovers and Frank's link collection.

...And then let's raise our voices with a collective WOOHOO!!!

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Wednesday, 18 August 2004

John Gilmore interview with GrepLaw

Today GrepLaw published an interesting interview with John Gilmore, the self-described "entrepreneur and civil libertarian."

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Sunday, 15 August 2004

Doom 3 parodies 419

Id Software makes a rather funny nod to the infamous 419/Nigerian scams in Doom 3. A Register reader writes:

419 scam alive and well in 2145 :) The guys at id software have included a spam 419 e-mail from Nigeria in Doom3. Brilliant take-off, and can be found if you kill a poor scientist at the beginning of Alpha Labs Sector 4, nick his PDA and go through his inbox. Could be the best way ever of alerting the gaming public about the lads from Lagos.
Regards David

Via Furdlog

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Saturday, 14 August 2004

Empiricism and Public Policy

I have long been a critic of public policy of any ideological persuasion that ignores (or worse, misrepresents) empirical data. My friends will vouch that I have changed my views a handful of times — sometimes quite radically — when presented with solid evidence that I was wrong. Unfortunately, criticism on these grounds directed at anyone currently in power is too easily portrayed as partisan screeding. Just look at the Bush apologists' response to the ever-growing cadre of critics. I admit, however, looking back at some of my own comments in recent months (e.g., 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) that I have focused perhaps too much on President Bush, because he is a convenient target. (Never mind that he has painted that target on himself a dozen times over.)

I have been a Robert Cringely fan for nearly as long. Two days ago he published a column ("Fred Nold's Legacy") that really struck a cord. The best part is, he based it on an episode from 22 ago that continues to haunt us today, in ways we scarcely understand.

Cringely tells the story of the Department of Justice's commissioning of a study on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines by two Hoover Institution economists, Michael Block and Fred Nold. When the DoJ realized their report would criticize the Guidelines instead of rubberstamping them, it pulled the plug and implemented revisions that went against the weight of the evidence.

It is one thing to make what turns out to have been a mistake and another thing altogether to make what you have reason to believe will be a mistake. Why would the DoJ, having good reason to believe that the new sentencing guidelines would create the very prison explosion we've seen in the last 20 years, go ahead with the new guidelines? My view is that they went ahead because they were more interested in punishment than deterrence. They went ahead because they didn't perceive those in prison as being constituents. They went ahead because it enabled the building of larger organizations with more power. They went ahead because the idea of a society with less crime is itself a threat to the prestige of those in law enforcement.

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Friday, 13 August 2004

Fellowship of the Rings

The Telegraph takes on the cerealogists with "The Fellowship of the Rings," an article by David Harrison. The subject is John Lundberg and his merry men, who make a nice living off the looniest among us — and the advertisers who prey on them.

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Why I love Bob Park

Bob who, you say? That is a shame.

Bob Park is a University of Maryland physicst, publicist of the American Physical Society, and author of Voodoo Science: The Road From Foolishness to Fraud. In addition to being one of the clearest thinkers on the politics of science it has ever been my pleasure to read, he is also one of the best sarcastic writers alive today.

Take, for example, the current edition of What's New, his weekly APS newsletter. In one article, he takes humorous bites at topics as wide-ranging as the thermodynamics diet, astrobots, computer disks missing on paper, lazy monkeys, and newks.

(If you have trouble following item #2, I suggest reading the 7 Feb. 2003 issue — published in the wake of the Columbia tragedy. The man has no fear.)

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Wednesday, 11 August 2004

Gillmor interview in Wired

Wired published Xeni Jardin's interesting interview with veteran journalist Dan Gillmor. The occassion? The publication of Gillmor's new book, We the Media.

Among the highlights:

I'm worried, because the forces of centralization are winning almost all of the legal and political fights so far. Note the state attorneys general letter to the P2P folks — full of misinformation and bizarre interpretations of reality, but part of the copyright cartel's war on all forms of media it can't control.

The problem, as Lawrence Lessig and others have noted, is that absolute control is contrary to what users/customers must have — for example, to retain both some level of freedom and the ability to create new works that quote from older works. I hope this comes out right in the end, but I'm not counting on it at the moment.

Technology will be impossible to fully control, but bad laws can make it dangerous to use.

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Tuesday, 10 August 2004

CBO releases report: "Copyright Issues in Digital Media"

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report today which analyzes digital copyright issues from an economic perspective: "Copyright Issues in Digital Media." (Via C|Net)

I have not had time to read the whole thing yet. Having only skimmed the summary and the first few sections, it seems that it could provide a good starting point for debates over new legislation. It is not as heavily laden with economic or legal terms as other analyses have been.

Oh, yeah...and I like the frame it created for the debate. From the summary:

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C|Net asks: Are blogs worth the hype?

C|Net asks, "Are blogs worth the hype?" The news service features a debate on the niche bloggers are claiming to fill. It also serves up links to lots of recent articles on blogging.

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Thursday, 5 August 2004

Who invented aliens?

For $4, Google answered this question:

While talking about films, someone jokingly said that they thought that America 'invented' aliens for the sake of US films. The conversation drifted then on to who did 'invent' aliens? Rather, my question is, what are the earliest recorded popular references to the concept of aliens? If the response is that there is some obscure reference in 10,000BC in some ancient manuscript, when did the notion of aliens become part of popular culture?

Via LawGeek

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FCC subjects VoIP to CALEA

The FCC acted this week on Uncle Fed's request that it subject VoIP providers to CALEA, the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act. Last month, the FBI asked the Commission to exercise its authority to extend the group of technologies to which the act applies to include VoIP — in other words, to expand the reach of cheap and easy "wiretapping" for Uncle Fed and other law enforcement agencies. (Well, not literally "wiretapping," as I explained in detail a few months ago: "Wiretapping & VoIP.")

Yesterday, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Declaratory Ruling [pdf] in which it concluded that broadband providers whose facilities can be used for VoIP should be subject to the surveillance rules that govern traditional phone service providers:

[T]he Commission tentatively concludes that CALEA applies to facilities-based providers of any type of broadband Internet access service — including wireline, cable modem, satellite, wireless, and powerline — and to managed or mediated Voice over Internet Protocol ("VoIP") services. These tentative conclusions are based on a Commission proposal that these services fall under CALEA as "a replacement for a substantial portion of the local telephone exchange service."

Now, it wants public comment on implementation:

The Commission seeks comment on telecommunications carriers' obligations under section 103 of CALEA and compliance solutions as they relate to broadband Internet access and VoIP. In particular, the Commission seeks comment on the feasibility of carriers relying on a trusted third party to manage their CALEA obligations and whether standards for packet-mode technologies are deficient and thus preclude carriers from relying on them as safe harbors for complying with CALEA.

The kicker? Broadband providers are expected to bear the full cost of this law government program:

With regard to costs, the Commission tentatively concludes that carriers are responsible for CALEA development and implementation costs for post-January 1, 1995 equipment and facilities; seeks comment on cost recovery issues for wireline, wireless and other carriers; and refers to the Federal-State Separations Joint Board cost recovery issues for carriers subject to Title II of the Communications Act.

The New York Times has coverage: "F.C.C. Supports Surveillance Rules on Internet Calls". See also Declan's column from last week, for background info: "FBI targets Net phoning."

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Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Quotable in the news

Rob Pegoraro, the Washington Post's "Fast Forward" columnist, has a great quote in last Sunday's column, "TiVo vs. the Broadcast Flag Wavers." Discussing the broadcast flag's unintended blurring of the copyright sphere into the patent sphere, he lamented that TiVo had to ask Uncle Fed for permission to build a feature into the next version of its flagship product. Rob writes:

Huh? Permission? Doesn't the government's involvement in consumer electronics stop with making sure that a gadget doesn't jam your neighbor's reception or electrocute you? Since when do the feds get to vote on product designs? [...] The answer is, since last November, when the FCC voted to require manufacturers to support the "broadcast flag" system by July 1 of next year..., which brings us to TiVo's vaguely Soviet predicament.

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Sunday, 1 August 2004

Jib Jab and the nature of parody

The first shots have been fired on both sides of the Jib Jab controversy. The usual suspects have already weighed in via their blogs (see, e.g., Ernest and Andrew.) I am not ready to give a full analysis, but one early remark irks me enough to respond right now.

Commenting to the EFF's letter [pdf], which outlined a fair use argument based on parody, Chris Cohen seemed to say this argument was disingenuous. The EFF's letter stated:

While your view of Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" as being predominantly about "the beauty of the American landscape" and "the disenfranchisement of the underclass" is interesting, most Americans think of the song as an iconic expression of the ideal of national unity. Jib Jab's parody addresses, among other things, the lack of national unity that characterizes our current political climate (ending with the optimistic hope that unity might be rediscovered). In short, "This Land" explores exactly the same themes as the Guthrie original, using the parodic device of contrast and juxtaposition to comment on the original.

Chris wrote: "Here's my beef with the parody argument though: it reeks of post hoc reasoning (after the fact) that I am inclined to think is a little over the top. What I mean is that I seriously doubt the JibJab guys were sitting around thinking this as they authored their video." Chris does not seem to understand that this is how the law works in every context, not just in copyright.

Any first year law student can recite a long list of legal conclusions are contingent upon a factual finding of what was in a person's head at a specified moment in the past. Most crimes have an intent element. Contracts are voidable if the parties were mistaken about what they agreed to. Identical actions have different legal consequences, depending on what neurons were firing. In IP, multiple damages are available if a wrongdoer acted willfully. Identical conduct, leading to identical injury, can lead to mere compensation or a jackpot windfall, if the plaintiff can "prove" — post hoc — what the defendant was thinking at a given moment in time.

Chris would have artists live inside MRI tubes on the off-chance that one of them must later prove the time and order that his neurons fired. Failing this (and a few decades' more research before we can map neuron activity to a specific articulation of intent), Chris's argument would negate the parody defense entirely.

What proof would satisfy Chris's objection? What if the Jib Jab brothers had written a letter stating their intent and mailed it to themselves before publishing their parody? Producing the unopened, postmarked envelope would solve part of this problem, but not the whole thing. (What if they lied in the letter?) Should we really require every artist to do this before writing every song? Sounds rather burdensome to me.

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