Strange Bedfellows

Because this blog is hosted at MIT, I really can’t join the blogroll, but I gave them money, and I urge you to consider it.


Also see Glenn Greenwald make excuses for Obama’s apparent unwillingness to get behind this: Obama, telecoms and the Beltway system.

BTW, here’s Reuters’ presentation of the spin that’s going to be placed on this shameful bill: Courts to review phone co. suits under spy bill (pdf)

Under the bipartisan legislation, a court could dismiss a suit if there is written certification that the White House asked a phone company to participate in a warrantless surveillance program President George W. Bush began shortly after the September 11 attacks, the congressional sources said.

Hah! Shoot the trial balloon down now!!

Later: more from Glenn Greenwald – George Bush’s latest powers, courtesy of the Democratic Congress; and from the House Majority leader’s website, the current draft legislation (H.R. 6304) (local copy)

Stirring the Pot

Not that it’s news, but it’s interesting to see it all put together like this: Digital TV foreshadows erosion of Internet rights

[…] The entertainment lobby (my shorthand to avoid spewing the alphabet soup of movie, TV, and music trade groups), having failed to get the feds to impose a tax on videotapes and recordable discs, or to hold Internet providers liable for copyrighted content transferred through their networks, or (so far) to add a piracy tax to every broadband user’s monthly bill, is using the most powerful weapon yet devised: “Standards.”

I put that in quotes to differentiate it from true standards. Analog television, for example, works because standards and regulations ensure the interoperation of transmitters and receivers. These standards take the public good into account. The move toward digital television, which will be complete in February 2009, is attended by standards and regulations constructed to ensure interoperability and to guard the public good as well. No broadcaster can arrange that a digital TV signal require a non-standard receiver, for example, one that bills your credit card every time you watch a popular show on an over-the-air (OTA) digital channel. As a matter of practice, most cable companies pass local broadcasters’ HD channels to their basic cable subscribers.

The very characteristic that makes digital TV look so good is the one that makes it so vulnerable to restriction and manipulation: A TV broadcast is no longer a signal, it’s a bitstream, one that has far fewer points of origination than the Internet and is therefore easier to control. Digital TV is rapidly heading for precisely the sort of lockdown that entertainment and broadcast lobbies desire for the Internet, and to the extent that they can be used as video players and recorders, our PCs, Macs, and notebooks.

NYTimes Editorial On Current FISA Shenanigans

With a challenge to the apparent Democratic nominee: Mr. Bush v. the Bill of Rights

In the waning months of his tenure, President Bush and his allies are once again trying to scare Congress into expanding the president’s powers to spy on Americans without a court order.

[…] Lawsuits against those companies are the best hope of finding out the extent of Mr. Bush’s lawless spying. But Democratic leaders in Congress are reported to have agreed to a phony compromise drafted by Senator Christopher Bond, the Republican vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

Under the so-called compromise, the question of immunity would be decided by a federal district court — a concession by Mr. Bond, who originally wanted the FISA court, which meets in secret and is unsuited to the task, to decide. What is unacceptable, though, is that the district court would be instructed to decide based solely on whether the Bush administration certifies that the companies were told the spying was legal. If the aim is to allow a court hearing on the president’s spying, the lawsuits should be allowed to proceed — and the courts should be able to resolve them the way they resolve every other case. Republicans, who complain about judges making laws from the bench, should not be making judicial decisions from Capitol Hill.

[…] There are clear differences between the candidates. Senator John McCain, who is sounding more like Mr. Bush every day, believes the president has the power to eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.

Senator Barack Obama opposes immunity and voted against the temporary expansion of FISA. We hope he will show strong leadership this time. He might even take time off from the campaign to vote against the disturbing deal brewing in the back rooms of Congress.

I know what I hope will happen, but I also know what I expect will happen, and they aren’t the same thing. I seriously doubt that Obama, despite being essentially the leader of the Democratic Party, is going to expend political capital on this — and that failure is going to make it difficult to believe that there really is any difference between those who push poor policies and those who bemoan poor policy but are complicit in its passage and implementation anyway. In fact, only one of these is actually an honest approach, and that’s going to be increasingly problematic for the Democratic Party if they don’t get out of this pattern.

See earlier post. Also Targeting Steny Hoyer for his contempt for the rule of law; also Comcast’s efforts to protect members of Congress who, in turn, protect Comcast

The Internet and Innovation

Sex Trade Monitors a Key Figure’s Woes

Books have Amazon, and classified advertisements have Craigslist. Prostitutes have The Erotic Review.

In a little-known success story, TheEroticReview.com has come to dominate the country’s prostitution scene, which is increasingly migrating from the street corner to the Internet.

But now the site’s founder, David Elms, is in jail awaiting trial in Los Angeles in a case unrelated to the site, leaving the fate of his influential underground world uncertain. In dozens of conversations and in postings on the Internet in recent weeks, prostitutes have expressed concern that if The Erotic Review goes offline it could hurt business. But in the same breath, many are rejoicing about the potential downfall of Mr. Elms.

[…] The Web site, which is still in operation, allows visitors to rank their experiences with prostitutes on a scale of 1 to 10, as well as to leave comments. It gets 500,000 to 1 million unique visitors each month, according to companies that track Web traffic.

“He is the most influential man in the prostitution business in America,” said Jason Itzler, the former head of NY Confidential, an escort ring. Mr. Itzler was released from prison last year after serving 30 months for the attempted promotion of prostitution.

See also Amazon.com for prostitutes (a metaphor that I’m sure Jeff Bezos is not thrilled with)

A Familiar Name In A Familiar Context

Who’s surprised that PSU’s MP3 watchdog president. Graham Spanier, has a new mission: The Pentagon Enlists Social Scientists to Study Security Issues

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

[…] Although the Pentagon regularly finances science and engineering research, systematic support for the social sciences and humanities has been rare. Minerva is the first systematic effort in this area since the Vietnam War, said Thomas G. Mahnken, deputy assistant secretary of defense for policy planning, whose office will be overseeing the project.

But if the uncustomary push to engage the nation’s evolutionary psychologists, demographers, sociologists, historians and anthropologists in security research — as well as the prospect of new financial support in lean times — has generated excitement among some scholars, it has also aroused opposition from others, who worry that the Defense Department and the academy are getting too cozy.

[…] “I am all in favor of having lots of researchers trying to figure out why terrorists want to kill Americans,” said Hugh Gusterson, an anthropologist at George Mason University. “But how can you make sure you get a broad spectrum of opinion and find the best people? On both counts, I don’t think the Pentagon is the way to go.”

[…] In January Mr. Berdahl and a small group of senior scholars and university administrators met in Washington with Defense Department officials. Also there was Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State University and the association’s chairman. He said the scholars helped refine the guidelines, advising that the research be open and unclassified.

As for the issue of Pentagon financing, Mr. Spanier said, “Peer review is a good idea, but there are many different ways to do that.” He added, “We have pledged to go back and recommend individuals who could help in that process.”

“The beauty of Minerva,” Mr. Spanier said, “is that it provides a lot of opportunity for people in the social sciences and humanities to solve national-security-related questions.”

[…] To Mr. Spanier of Penn State, the answer to scholars who oppose Pentagon financing is simple: “Those who don’t want to do their research in the context of Department of Defense funding shouldn’t apply.”

Much later: the death of Paula Lloyd — Anthropologist’s war death reverberates (pdf)

Augh!

I was hoping that Glenn Greenwald was getting bad information over the weekend, but it looks like, once again, the Congressional Democrats have no spine when it comes to FISA-overreaching by this Administration> Apparently, telcom company amnesty is now going to be given on a showing that the President said that what he asked them to do was legal: Congress Nears Deal on Surveillance Bill.

Just think of the precedent — whatever the President says is legal *is* legal? The end of a government of laws, not men, apparently.

See also Steny Hoyer’s Offices Lied to Me Today.

Whew – Thank Goodness for WIPO

I mean, no telling what a 10 year old Scot might do to besmirch C. S. Lewis’ IP: Scots family embroiled in Narnia Internet dispute (pdf)

A Scottish family have become embroiled in an intellectual property dispute with the estate of the author C.S. Lewis after buying a Narnia Internet domain name for their 10-year-old son as a birthday present.

Richard and Gillian Saville-Smith, who live in Edinburgh, paid 70 pounds ($140) to purchase the domain name Narnia.mobi from the internet registration company Fasthosts in 2006 so their son could have it as an email address.

They were asked to return the domain name to the C.S. Lewis company, owner of the author’s estate, but refused. The family then received a 128-page legal complaint filed with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in Switzerland.

Sadly, the article even includes famous last words in these sorts of disputes:

“If the WIPO decides in favor of the C.S. Lewis estate, that would be the end of it for us. However, I don’t expect they will, because their case is flimsy and we’ve done nothing wrong.”

OT: Thinking and Connectedness

In Praise of Being Cut Off

We were comfortable enough at the Commodore. You got used to the shelling. Some Beirut kids, it was said, could not sleep without the sounds of war because that was all they had known.

It was good to be cut off. As a journalist, that’s what you wanted to be: cut off, except for that telex line.

I became a journalist because I wanted to tell stories. To find stories you must give yourself to the moment. Time must weigh on you, its lulls, accelerations and silences. The life within, the deeper story, does not yield itself with ease.

[…] I worry about stories dying, replaced by stuff. Content for platforms does not a story make. Today, you arrive anywhere and surf the Net. Being “always on” is being always off, to something.

Related: In a Changing World of News, an Elegy for Copy Editors (pdf)

The copy editor’s job, to the extent possible under deadline, is to slow down, think things through, do the math and ask the irritating question. His or her main creative outlet, writing clever headlines, is problematic online, because allusive wordplay doesn’t necessarily generate Google hits. And Google makes everyone an expert, so the aging copy editor’s trivia-packed brain and synonym collection seem not to count for as much anymore.

The job hasn’t disappeared yet, but it is swiftly evolving, away from an emphasis on style and consistency, from making a physical object perfect the first time. The path to excellence is now through speed, agility and creativity in using multiple expressive outlets for information in all its shapes and sounds.

As newspapers lose money and readers, they have been shedding great swaths of expensive expertise. They have been forced to shrink or eliminate the multiply redundant levels of editing that distinguish their kind of journalism from what you find on TV, radio and much of the Web. Copy editors are being bought out or forced out; they are dying and not being replaced.

Exercising Market Power

Hey, Wal-mart does it — the myriad opportunities of technological mediation and careful design: Small Publishers Feel Power of Amazon’s ‘Buy’ Button

Amazon, the online retailing giant with a fast-rising share of the consumer book market, has adopted the literary equivalent of a nuclear option for rebellious publishers who balk at its demands.

[…] “The buy button is their weapon of choice and that’s how they impose market discipline,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, an American trade group that also briefly lost the buy icon, for titles sold from BackinPrint.com, a print-on-demand service for infrequently purchased works. “This is such a clear indication that once they have the clout they are willing to use it to the full extent that they can. It’s ugly with Amazon and will probably get uglier.”

Amazon is saying little about its tactics. But bloggers have been organizing letter-writing campaigns and petition drives accusing Amazon, which bills itself as “Earth’s most customer-centric company,” of transforming itself into the bully of the publishing industry.

MySpace and Advertising

Some work for News Corp ahead, and we’ve already seen some of their ideas: MySpace Might Have Friends, but It Wants Ad Money

In the fiscal year that ends in two weeks, the News Corporation unit that encompasses MySpace will miss its $1 billion revenue target. When the News Corporation announced the projected shortfall in April, several analysts downgraded the company, sending shares down 5 percent.

With an eye toward monetization, MySpace is being redesigned beginning Wednesday with a new home page, which will be less cluttered and more hospitable to advertising. (The home page will also feature a “splash page” for an ad about the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight.”) The redesign, to be done by early fall, will include a new navigation bar, search tool and video player.

The redesign is intended to address a problem of social networking sites, which is that many user pages have the aesthetic appeal of a 14-year-old’s high-school locker. But there are still many questions left about the advertising value of social networks.