DocBug Exclusive: A message from Bug Anger
My fellow Americans,
In announcing his support for amending the US Constitution to ban gay marriage, President Bush declared that "The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution."
His words may sound convincing, but do not be deceived by his half-truths. Yes, for almost two millennia marriage has been defined as one man and one woman. Or maybe it was a man and a couple of women if the first one is infertile. And there's something about up to four wives but only if you can afford it... but I digress. Yes my friends, the important bit is the man/woman thing, and we can be confident on that point. But there is another aspect of marriage, equally founded in our traditions, that our president has conveniently left out. It shocks me that this fundamental part of our tradition, honed through millennia of human experience to promote the welfare of children and the stability of society, could warrant no mention from our Head of State.
As anyone born between 300 A.D. and 1960 could tell you, marriage is the union between one man and one woman of the same religious background and cultural values. The reason for this tradition is obvious and scientifically proven: children need the stability of one religious upbringing, one morality, and one set of holidays. Thousands of years of experience has shown that so-called "multicultural" households lead to confusion, experimentalism, and a Creole of ideas that rips at the basic fabric of our society. Is it any wonder that almost all modern religions have strong taboos against marrying outside of the faith?
Over the past two centuries, activist judges have chipped away at this ancient institution, leading to such modern vulgarities as Daddy's Catholic Roommate, Guess Who's Coming to Seder, and Heather Has Two Languages. Now the gates of opportunity have been opened by the magical words "Constitutional amendment," but we must act quickly, while we still have a president who feels that America's "commitment of freedom... does not require the redefinition of one of our most basic social institutions." It is a rare president that would place our cause above the twin institutions of freedom and tolerance, and rarer still that such a president remains in office for long.
— Bug Anger
The British newspaper The Observer yesterday published a story entitled "Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us." It's the sort of sensationalism you'd expect from the title, full of conspiracies and secret reports and the end of the world by 2020. Unfortunately, their story seems to be getting more coverage than the more complete story that came out in Fortune Magazine after the Pentagon supplied them with a copy of the unclassified "secret report" that The Observer gushes about.
At least in the US, the Global Climate change debate is too often framed by Chicken Littles like The Observer and ostriches like our own president. The reality is that there is a growing consensus among scientists that global warming is real, is largely attributable to human activities, and will continue over the next century. However, there are also a lot of unknowns, and the "Abrupt Climate Change" scenario described in the cited report is one that has been highlighted in recent years by the US National Academy of Sciences and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
We don't know how likely an abrupt climate change is, but the Pentagon report describes its own worst-case scenario as unlikely. Chicken Littles can come out of their fallout shelters and wipe off the 10,000 SPF sunscreen. However, our nation's leaders need to stop sticking their heads in the sand about these potential dangers. A footlocker-sized nuke going off in New York is unlikely, but it's a big concern in Washington and rightly so. A repeat of the 1918 flu pandemic in the next few years is also unlikely, but boy am I glad the CDC is on the case. Homeland security is all about evaluating threats and doing what's necessary to limit our risk. That's a lesson every large company knows, and a lesson the Pentagon has always taken to heart. Now if we could just get our president to wise up.
Nice article on echo chambers by Dave Weinberger over at Salon. A few key quotes:
Conversations iterate differences within agreement... The fact that conversations start from a base agreement is not a weakness of conversations. In fact, it's a requirement.
No, if you want to see a real echo chamber, open up your daily newspaper or turn on your TV. There you'll find a narrow, self-reinforcing set of views. The fact that these media explicitly present themselves as a forum for objective truth, open to all ideas, makes them far more pernicious than some site designed to let people examine the 8,000 ways Hillary is a bitch or to let fans rage about how much better Spike was on "Buffy" than he'll ever be on "Angel."
We are at a dangerous time in the Internet's history. There are forces that want to turn it into a place where ideas, images and thoughts can be as carefully screened as callers to a radio talk show. The "echo chamber" meme is not only ill-formed, but it also plays into the hands of those who are ready to misconstrue the Net in order to control it. We'd all be better off if we stopped repeating it and let its sound fade.
I got my first Astroturf political spam comment today on my post on California mental illness legislation. The brief comment links to a press release signed by IPRWire founder and staunch Edwards Supporter Hans Schnauber, better known as The Butterfly Guy. Schnauber made the news in 1996 for registering domain names of big companies and then posting Web pages about how awful those companies have been for butterfly habitat.
The Kerry screed itself takes the well-known story of how Kerry discovered only last year that his grandfather was actually Jewish, and how he had taken his own life in 1921, probably due to financial difficulties. It then goes on to make the completely unfounded assertion that "According to sources, including The Boston Globe, Chicago Sun-Times, and Fox News, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts has a family history of severe mental illness" and asks the ominous question "Will the American people vote for a candidate with a family history of mental illness and clinical depression?" Of course, the release doesn't actually cite the news stories to which it refers, but given a a NetNews post by the author we can guess it refers to the original Boston Globe article and the Sun-Times and Fox News pick-ups, none of which ever mention the possibility of mental illness.
A little web-searching reveals that Hans is hyping the press release on NetNews, posting under the name "Day Bird Loft (firstname.lastname@example.org)" (see this post where "Loft" signs his post as "Hans", and note that pigeons.ws points to the same base scripted website as iprwire.net). But in spite of hyping his story in numerous news groups (sometimes even replying to his own message), I've yet to see a response taking him to task for his self-promotion. Given that the NetNews is usually quite aware of spammers, I have to assume he's gotten away with it for four days (a lifetime on the Net) because his posts are mostly hand-crafted, point to an official-sounding press account (most people don't know PRWeb is a for-hire press-release wire service), and because he actually defends himself in the threads he posts to. I probably wouldn't have investigated it either had his comment not been so clearly generated by a spam-bot that got tripped by keywords out of context.
What's the moral of this story? Just another warning of what we already knew:
Update: Hans comments that he didn't use a spam-bot, just "plain old fashion tech creativity." It's that kind of personal touch that's missing so often from spam in this day of automation — I'm glad to see some craftsmen still put a little of themselves in their work.
From a purely strategic standpoint though, I have to wonder about the choice of mental illness as the hook for this smear campaign. The best whisper campaigns say out loud what people are already wondering. It doesn't have to be true: Gore was an honest man but could be painted as dishonest because of his association with Clinton. (Of course, it helps even more if the rumor has truth to it, as was the case with Clinton.) But I haven't seen anything in Kerry to make me think insanity; it just doesn't connect emotionally. The story would have stuck much better to Dean I expect — people were much more willing to think he was unhinged, and there were already a lot more forces trying to spin him that way. Perhaps when the nomination is over Hans will explain his reasoning and we'll be able to do a post-mortum on his one-man campaign.
These are lovely (pictures from SF, from Ephemera).
So is this (from Electrolite).
Jim Griffin (former head of technology for Geffen Records) tells The Register that Wi-fi will be the death-knell for DRM/content control (I buy that) and that the solution will be flat-fee models (I'm not so sure yet, but haven't looked at the particulars). Best quote:
By promising to play nice, and building DRM and TCPA technologies, the computer industry is simply making come-hither noises that the rights holders want to hear.
"When I was 14, I told girls I loved them to sleep with them too. It was a fiction. Steve Jobs just leaves a little money on the table," he says. "These theoretical notions of control run headlong into the real historical experience."
There's been lots of talk about Howard Dean's use of the Internet, but honestly his campaign is just now entering the phase that interests me the most. As expected, Dean has stopped actively campaigning, though he still encourages supporters to vote for him and send delegates to the convention to help set the party's platform. More importantly, he hopes to turn his loose-knit community of supporters into a grassroots movement:
[W]e will convert Dean for America into a new grassroots organization, and I hope you stay involved. We are determined to keep this entire organization vibrant. There are a lot of ways to make change. We are leaving one track, but we are going on another track that will take back America for ordinary people again.
MoveOn.org started five years ago as an online petition against President Clinton's impeachment and now has over two million members. Dean already boasts over a quarter of that number (no doubt with significant overlap), but Deaniacs are even more self-empowered and decentralized than MoveOn members. That makes it a harder ship to steer, and Dean now needs to shift from head of a campaign to first motivating voice in a community of equals. If he can manage that (starting, perhaps, by rejoining with his old campaign manager Joe Trippi) then the movement might yet demonstrate the Internet-age decentralized politics that we breathless techno-pundits continue to predict.
From the SF Chronicle:
And no question became so clear, so obvious, as the one being asked by same-sex-marriage advocates around the world: What, really, is so wrong about this? What is the horrible threat about two adults who love each other so intensely, so purely, that they're willing to commit to a lifetime of being together and sleeping together and arguing over who controls the remote? And what government body dares to claim a right to legislate against it?
In short, to the neocon Right, a nation that allows gays to marry is a nation with no boundaries and no condoms and where all sorts of illicit disgusting behaviors will soon be legal and be forced upon them, a horrific tribal wasteland full of leeches and flying bugs and scary sex acts they only read about in chat rooms and their beloved "Left Behind" series of cute apocalypse-porn books.
You know, just like how giving blacks the right to own their own land meant we had to give the same rights to house plants and power tools, or how granting women the right to vote meant it was a slippery slope until we gave suffrage to feral cats and sea slugs and rusty hubcaps.
Just as there are two kinds of marriage, religious and civil, there seem to be two kinds of fears out there. The societal fear is of moral decay — if we teach our children that homosexuality is OK then they'll think rape, torture and masturbation is OK too. Leaving aside the lack of evidence for any such link, this kind of moral debate belongs in our churches and social centers, not our courts and congress. Then there's the legal slippery slope fear — if the courts protect gay marriage then they might protect things like polygamy. I'm no constitutional lawyer, but that one strikes me as a poor reading what's happening. The state cases that have been coming forward have not been ruling that homosexuality is OK, nor that homosexuals are a protected class. What they have been ruling is that if I, as a man, have the government-granted right to marry Jane in a civil marriage then so does Susan. That's what equal protection means. This argument doesn't apply to polygamy: I don't have the right to marry two people, and neither does Susan. Ditto for bestiality and anything else that keeps you awake at night.
As for the SF Gate article, I have to admit I'm pretty proud to be living within the Greater San Francisco Liberal Bubble myself right now...
Docbug Exclusive — Noted military historian and strategist Ann "kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" Coulter will be following up on the success of her analysis of Silver Star recipient and triple-amputee Max Cleland with biographies of other war heros, unnamed sources revealed1.
Coulter, who last week presented her expert testimony that the decorated Vietnam veteran deserved no respect for his service because he lost his limbs "in an accident during a routine noncombat mission where he was about to drink beer with friends," will soon reveal her insights on other honored veterans, including The Cowardliness of Douglas MacArthur, Congressional Medal of Honor Winners: Traitors in Our Midst, and John Wayne: Pansy.
1 Hey, if Drudge can use them, why can't I?
The security risks from this code appear to be low. Microsoft do appear to be checking for buffer overruns in the obvious places. The amount of networking code here is small enough for Microsoft to easily check for any vulnerabilities that might be revealed: it's the big applications that pose more of a risk. This code is also nearly four years old: any obvious problems should be patched by now.
Microsoft's fears that this code will be pirated by its competitors also seem largely unfounded. With application code this would be a risk, but it's hard to see Microsoft's operating system competitors taking advantage of it. Neither Apple nor Linux are in a much of position to steal code and get away with it, even if it was useful to them.
In short, there is nothing really surprising in this leak. Microsoft does not steal open-source code. Their older code is flaky, their modern code excellent. Their programmers are skilled and enthusiastic. Problems are generally due to a trade-off of current quality against vast hardware, software and backward compatibility.
I was also gratified to see this comment, based on a book I loved as a kid:
// TERRIBLE HORRIBLE NO GOOD VERY BAD HACK
Even in Australia...
For the past couple months yet another bad IP bill has been snaking it's way through Congress. HR-3261, aka the Database and Collections of Information Misappropriation Act (DCIMA), would allow database maintainers to sue anyone who copies facts from their database for a competing product. Even if those facts aren't protectable under copyright. Even if they were produced by someone else. Even if the database itself was produced by someone else and is only being maintained by the plaintiff. This was dubbed the WestLaw Protection Act back when it was floated before congress and the WIPO in 1996 and again in 1998, and it's still just a land-grab from a few database manufacturers like WestLaw (Thompson) and LexisNexis (Reed Elsevier). West's near-monopoly on publishing government-produced judicial decisions was always shakily based their copyright of the page numbers in the citations, a basis that was further eroded in a Court of Appeals ruling in 1999.
The bill outlaws making available a "quantitatively substantial part" of a database in a "time sensitive manner," but it leaves interpretation of how exactly what that means to the courts. This will undoubtable lead to the same "we'll let you know whether you're in violation after we sue you" nastiness we've already seen with the DMCA. It could also wind up being quite broad, assuming it's constitutional at all. For example, there's this bit:
5.(C) DISCRETE SECTIONS- The fact that a database is a subset of a database shall not preclude such subset from treatment as a database under this Act.
As I read it, that means even if you didn't copy a quantitatively substantial part of my entire database, like only 50 names from a list of 5 million, I can still nail you for copying a quantitatively substantial part of a sub-database such as the 100 names within a single 9-digit zipcode. There's also nothing saying whether once copied a fact can ever become "clean" again. For example, could Gracenote sue FreeDB because some FreeDB users submitted CD track information that originally came from Gracenote?
If this passes, it will be yet another tool for cutting off the free-flow of information — and in spite of the whining of a few database maintainers they have plenty of tools already. Expect Wal-Mart to use this to suppress price-comparison sites like FatWallet, just as they've tried to do using the DMCA. Expect companies like Gracenote and WestLaw to deliberately "poison the well" of available information so it's impossible to collect a competing database without being infected with infringing copied facts, just as WestLaw did with their copyright on page numbers for legal citations. Expect Clear Channel (owner of American Top 40 and controller of 60% of Rock radio programming) to sue independent DJs (all both of them) who have similar play lists, just as they use copyright law to shut down fan sites that post the Top-40 list now. Expect me to go hide under my desk until the smoke clears...
From a friend of mine living in Massachusetts:
I have gotten yet MORE calls today from out-of-state relatives who are members of conservative groups (seems to be mostly evangelical Christian groups) urging me to call and voice support for the constitutional ban on gay marriage later today/tomorrow.
ALL of them told me they had already called MA state house members to urge them to vote for the ban — before they called me!
BUT THE KICKER - at least one (and I suspect from context of our conversation, another as well) of my benighted relatives admitted that they had disengenously represented themselves as MASS RESIDENTS!
LawMeme has a nice side-by-side comparison of last week's oral argument in the MGM v. Grokster case and the 1983 Supreme Court oral arguments in the Sony v. Betamax case. Their conclusion: the arguments being used against Grokster are the same ones that lost when the content industry tried to kill the VCR 20 years ago.
Correction: As a commenter mentioned, the case was Sony v. Universal not Sony v. Betamax — Sony made Betamax, & was sued by Universal Studios.
Seen at the PalmSource Develper Conference: A "virtual sheep" to teach sheep-shearing (from New Zealand, natch). Run the Palm-based barcode-scanner "shears" in the right order and you gain points. Run it wrong and blood graphics splash on the screen. I want one!
The subtitle makes it sound like left-wing conspiracy theory, but the author is Pulitzer-winning NYTimes journalist David Cay Johnston. Looks to be an interesting read:
Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich - and Cheat Everybody Else
(see also this interview with the author)
When I was a young MIT grad student back in 1994, I attended a big Media Lab symposium on the new Digital Information Superhighway. Mosaic had been out a little over a year, Netscape had been founded six months ago, and I was listening to Mickey Schulhof, President & CEO of Sony America, give us his vision of the future. The world he described was the standard pre-Web story: every home in America would have a set-top box (made by Sony) that decoded content for all us consumers. At the other end of the wire was a Sony office that handled billing and content delivery. The content was, of course, also produced by Sony, though they'd happily broker for non-Sony customers as well. He also made a strong point that they had no interest in managing the wires themselves, kindly ceding this part of the vision to competition.
Being a young grad student and having religiously read Wired Magazine for over a year, when it came time for Q&A I asked the obvious question: "In this world you describe, how will people get access to non-professionally produced content that can't afford the pricing structure Sony will require?" His answer: "I don't think people care about non-professional content."
As we all know, he was soon proven horribly wrong, but every time there's a new seismic shift in technology all the current monopolies scurry to try to put the Djini back in the bottle. The latest shifts for content is with portable and home-entertainment boxes, and it's in this context that I read the announcement that Disney has finally agreed to license Microsoft's Digital Rights Management software to "bring about a vibrant market for legitimate, high-quality entertainment delivered to new categories of end-user devices, such as personal media players and home media center PCs." In other words, the game is shifting again, and this time the Content Cartel isn't going to be caught with their pants down.
Now things get bloody, as if they weren't before. I suspect the only thing that frightens Disney more than P2P-traded Mickey Mouse fan-art is the idea of Microsoft stepping into the Sony role of Mickey Schulhof's vision. Microsoft, along with Apple and RealNetworks, have to walk the fine line between appeasing the Content Cartel and offering consumers enough control that they don't blow off DRM and proprietary standards entirely for systems with simple embedded Linux & MPEG. (See Jeffrey O'Brien's recent Wired article for a nice discussion.) I'm not sure who's gonna win this one, but as one of those people producing non-professional content, I sure hope Schulhof vision wasn't just late in coming.
Now you can calculate the retail-value of your privacy to the penny with Swipe's privacy calculator. (They also have a tool for seeing what info is being stored on the barcode on the back of your driver's license.)
The past few days I've been downloading streaming audio of lectures and talks given by interesting and intelligent people™, converting them to MP3 format and putting them on my iPod. The process is still a little slow — usually I stream the audio using RealPlayer and use Applescript and Wiretap to automatically capture to disk, then trim using Quicktime Pro and convert to MP3 using iTunes. However, I'm pleased with the end result.
I'm still looking for good sources of audio talks, and welcome suggestions & links. Here are the three I've most enjoyed so far:
Jane Black's Privacy Matters column in BusinessWeek this week takes a look at the privacy backlash against the MATRIX statewide database and similar programs:
BIRTH OF BIG BROTHER. There's no doubt that MATRIX raises privacy red flags, though after an extensive briefing by the Florida Law Enforcement Dept., which is spearheading the project, I believe that it's little more than an efficient way to query multiple databases.
The real furor over MATRIX demonstrates something much more important — and surprising: Privacy advocates have gained a lot of ground in the two years since September 11. And the pendulum is swinging back in their favor.
"The MATRIX is not whirring away at night to create a list of suspects that is placed on my desk every morning," says Zadra [chief of investigation at the Florida Law Enforcement]. "All it does is dynamically combine commercially available public data with state-owned data [such as driver's license information, sexual-predator records, and Corrections Dept. information] when queried. I can't imagine any citizen getting angry that we're using the best tools available to efficiently and effectively solve crimes."
Nobody has a problem with law enforcement using the best tools to solve crimes. Everybody has a problem with law enforcement using those tools to harass innocent citizens and suppress free expression of speech. It's because of this potential for abuse that we have things like the Fourth Amendment and laws preventing the CIA from spying on US citizens. The trouble with all these combined public/commercial database plans like MATRIX, CAPPS-2 and TIA is that commercial databases have no such protections — companies can and will do just about anything to gather information about us, and it's all perfectly legal. Why should I care whether it's the CIA or Master Card that is telling the government what breakfast cereal I eat?
Groklaw has a quick summary of SCO CEO Darl McBride's recent talk at Harvard.
SCO's arguments are from so far out on both legal and factual grounds the only question I have is whether they just lose their case or if there will be jail terms for any of their officers as well. As for the Linux community, SCO is a distraction, but hopefully it will also act like like an immunization made from an almost-dead virus — no real danger, but it prepares the body for a similar but more powerful attack later.
FusedSpace is hosting a design contest for "innovative ideas that, by means of existing technology, can change or improve our current relationship with physical public space or that can otherwise bring about innovations in the public domain." (Where by public domain they mean in the sense of common space, not in the intellectual property sense.) Props to Corante and Eric Nehrlich for the link.
As most of you have no doubt heard, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund sponsored contest for anti-Bush political ads called Bush In 30 Seconds. The winner was a very nice piece, IMO, called Child's Play, and MoveOn tried to purchase time to play it during the Superbowl halftime tomorrow. CBS refused, claiming they have a policy against airing advocacy ads. (Though apparently some advocacy ads, like the one that will liken the tobacco industry to a company that sells ice cream mixed with shards of glass, is OK.) MoveOn is running the ad on other stations, and is calling on viewers to switch channels to CNN at 8:10pm and 8:35pm EST to watch it — I have to wonder which sponsor CBS plans to saddle with the $1.6 million slots that get caught in these one-minute-boycott periods.
Of all the editorials and discussion on the subject, the bit that interests me most is this segment of Senator Richard Durbin's (D-Il) speech on the Senate floor a few days ago:
Now let's connect all the dots because there is something more direct and topical behind this CBS decision, from my point of view. These are the same executives at CBS who successfully lobbied this Congress to change the FCC rules on TV station ownership to their corporate advantage. The provision that was sneaked into the Omnibus appropriation bill that passed last week and has been signed by the President. It establishes a new ceiling of 39 percent as the maximum percentage of American TV viewers in a market that may be reached by TV stations owned by any one company. Remember that number, 39 percent.
Before the FCC adopted rules in June to raise the cap to 45 percent, the cap was limited to 35 percent. Upset at what the FCC had done, a strong majority in the House and Senate agreed to roll back the FCC rule and take it back down to 35 percent. Why is this important? The White House and the Republicans in this conference on this Omnibus appropriation bill, with no Democrats present, came up with a figure of 39 percent as the new cap--39 percent. What is so magic about 39 percent? Allow me to explain. This wasn't chosen at random; it wasn't a good-faith compromise. No, it just so happens that Viacom, which owns CBS, currently owns stations reaching 38.8 percent of American households, and Rupert Murdoch's news corporation, the owners of that "fair and balanced" Fox Network, owns stations reaching 37.8 percent.
Interesting. Interesting that the White House and Republican leaders in Congress pushed a provision in a spending bill in the dark of night, without Democrats present, that benefited two corporations when it came to their ownership of television stations--Fox, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, and now Viacom, CBS. Both entities currently violate the old FCC limitation. They needed this new language. They would have been forced to sell off stations if their Republican friends in Congress and the White House had not come through for them.
So the White House and the congressional Republicans give CBS a significant corporate favor and CBS rewards them by killing an ad critical of the Bush White House during the Super Bowl. Doesn't that sound like a perfect subject for a "60 Minutes" investigation? Oh, I forget. "60 Minutes" is a CBS program. I don't think we are going to hear about this on "60 Minutes." I don't think Mike Wallace and Lesley Stahl are going to be taking an undercover camera into the boardrooms of CBS to find out what is going on there.