From reading about the BlogHer Conference, it looks like it was a great success. Though "specifically cultivating the female blogging community", it was open to men too, and I even considered going to it. Sadly, I didn't, since it was on the other end of the country from me, so it'd require a day on a plane there, and another day on a plane back.
Note, despite my lack of cheerleading views of blog-evangelism, I've enjoyed blogger conferences, mostly by the simple expedient of ignoring the Big Heads and talking to struggling writers. And from afar, this particular conference looked notable for being low on overweening egos.
I don't believe in any sort of biological determinism of thought (i.e. "women's way of knowing"). But all the ways in which we divide up the world express themselves, and the "on-the-verge" sensibility is an interesting contrast to earlier blog conferences (close enough in status to be talking the same language overall, but removed enough from the top power structure to know things are not all they've promoted to be).
It's a pretty good example of how "diversity" can work, and provide insights that get buried from conference organizers with other focuses.
Brilliant. Just brilliant. And so true.
"There is a growing epidemic in the cyberworld. a scourge which causes more suffering with each passing day. as blogging has exploded and, under the stewardship of the veterans, the form has matured more and more bloggers are finding themselves disillusioned, dissatisfied, taking long breaks, and in many cases simply closing up shop. this debilitating scourge ebbs and flows but there is hardly a blogger among us who has not felt it's dark touch. we're speaking, of course, about blog depression."
I especially like the part "Know When To Fold Em - hey, if it's not for you, then close up shop. Call it quits. Let it go. No shame in that."
(hat tip: Shelley Powers)
"In the decision, the Court wrote a perfunctory analysis that is surprising in its brevity, and in how favorable toward NCSF and Nitke the facts as found are. The end result is just announced without any explanation or elaboration, unlike the same panel's very thoughtful and scholarly decision in 2003, which rejected most of the Government's motion to dismiss.
In our favor, the Court found that (1) NCSF and its members, including Barbara Nitke were genuinely at risk of prosecution under the CDA; (2) that their fear of prosecution was well-founded, and based on a reasonable interpretation of the law; and (3) that the SLAPS prong of the test for obscenity (that the material lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific social value") is inherently subjective, and does not afford significant protection to artists or writers because of that subjectivity.
Just to stress that last prong--although we have not won to date, we have gotten three federal judges to disavow one of the three prongs of Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 12 (1973).
The loss was founded on two cursory holdings:
(1) that the amount of speech we showed to be impacted by the CDA--over 1,000 pieces by 150+ artists--was not "substantial" enough to show the overbreadth of the CDA--that is, that the statute reaches a significant body of protected speech as well as the unprotected obscenity it permissibly bans. It is true that the Supreme Court's decision in Broadrick v. Oklahoma, creating overbreadth doctrine, says that the speech impacted should be "substantial" but that language has not been interpreted previously in such a mathematical, quantification required manner previously.
(2) that the variance of local community standards that we showed was insufficient--indeed, the Court noted, our expert found that in most communities there are no pre-existing, readily ascertainable community standards, but that there are some "hard conservative" areas where prosecutions are brought, and some "hard liberal" areas. (Our expert, Jeffrey J. Douglas, submitted a several hundred page empirical survey substantiating this). The Court, presuming that such standards had to be ascertainable, referred to Douglas's survey as failing to provide the requisite data; rather, he found that the factual basis for Miller was incorrect. The Court declined to follow the facts. Miller, in short requires us to prove a counter-factual point--such as that water flows up. We showed the opposite.
Notably, the factual record in this case has undercut two of the three bases for the standard announced in Miller."
The court agreed that NCSF members and Barbara Nitke are genuinely at risk of prosecution under the CDA and that their speech has in fact been inhibited. According to the decision: "Nitke's fear that the CDA will be enforced against her is actual and well-founded. She has submitted objective evidence to substantiate the claim that she has been deterred from exercising her free-speech rights, and this fear is based on a reasonable interpretation of the CDA... NCSF has submitted objective evidence that one of its member organizations, TES, has been deterred from exercising its free-speech rights and that this deterrence is based on a well- founded fear that the CDA would be enforced against it."
John Wirenius, attorney for the plaintiffs, says, "We are disappointed that the court did not act on the uncontradicted evidence we presented that artists and citizens who are sexual minorities are disproportionately censored by the Government's ability to pick its own forum and standard for obscenity cases. The government brings obscenity cases where it knows it can get convictions."
To contribute to the expenses of the CDA lawsuit, go to: www.ncsfreedom.org/donations.htm. Every dollar goes directly to ensuring free speech on the Internet.
I need to be careful what I write about the case. So here's a collection of comments of interest (note, sigh, tedious disclaimer: inclusion of a comment below does not necessarily indicate my endorsement of the statement, as a matter of fact or law).
"In any case, given the Supreme Court precedent on this topic, it's not surprising the plaintiffs lost their challenge to the law, but what a way to lose! The court acknowledges that the named plaintiffs had proper standing to challenge the law because of their activities might be legitimately chilled. Yet, the court nevertheless rejects the challenge because the plaintiffs were unable to show substantial overbreadth, which the court wanted evidenced by:
* the total amount of speech implicated by the CDA
* the amount of protected speech inhibited by the CDA
* is there a reason that the online differing-standards issue is worse than faced by traditional pornographers?
This is entirely circular. It's the lack of reliable information about what will be considered obscene (and where) that creates the plaintiff's dilemma in the first place. ..."
"I can't fathom the kind of metric I would use to measure a "total amount" of chilled speech. How many people are intimidated into silence? Number of images not photographed? Size of Web sites never built? Megabytes of p0rn downloaded in secret? Someone help me out here."
Seth David Schoen:
"... the court ruled for the defendant (the United States) on the narrow ground that the plaintiffs had not met their burden of proof by submitting sufficient evidence"
"I haven't read the judgment myself, so let me just give some background on the community standards, which have haunted (regulation of) internet speech for almost a decade."
[Update: PDF of court decision]
Nitke versus Ashcroft is a case challenging Internet censorship law, involving issues of "community standards" and the Internet. I (Seth Finkelstein) am serving as an expert witness in the case.
Case lawyer John Wirenius' blog entry describes the decision:
"[On July 25, 2005], the three judge panel of the Southern District of New York issued a 25 page per curiam opinion finding against the plaintiffs--us, to be clear--in Nitke v. Ashcroft. The decision is a stunner--as much for what it doesn't say as for what it does. The Court found that Barbara and NCSF (through The Eulenspeigel Society) had been chilled in their speech and had censored themselves because of the statute allowing the Government to choose which venue any artist using the Internet may be prosecuted in, and applying that local community's standards to all art on the Internet. The Court also found that Barbara and NCSF could not rest easy on the obvious social value of their speech, because not all prosecutors and not all juries see social importance the same way. Then they found we had not produced enough evidence as to how many artists would be chilled, and how local community standards varied. Thus, we had not shown to what extent the standards varied from community to community, and how much speech was effected."
Case lawyer John Wirenius' material:
January 2005 Update: http://www.livejournal.com/users/jwirenius/2005/01/01/ http://wireniusreport.net/
NCSF's site: http://www.ncsfreedom.org/
Barbara Nitke: http://www.barbaranitke.com/
EFF is running a blog event:
"Blog for Freedom, July 19-26"
"We're holding a weeklong EFF15 Blog-a-thon where you're invited to blog about your personal experiences fighting for freedom online ..."
"We want to hear about your "click moment" -- the very first step you took to stand up for your digital rights ..."
For various reasons of multilayered irony, for myself, I'm reminded of an old "Wizard Of Id" comic strip:
[Panels - king, knight, talk to peasant]
King: How are you doing?
Peasant: I can't complain.
Knight: How so?
Peasant: It's forbidden.
[The joke being that "I can't complain" means colloquially, "I'm doing OK", but literally, "I can't talk about it"]
But I think I can get away with using the occasion to post two historical gems of the "very first step" of my attempts to get legal defense for censorware research, those many years ago:
("I've found out some fairly interesting information on a hot topic ...")
("I am quite willing to take the risk, but he is not unless he knows he has representation.")
[The first is entirely mine, and the second is posted with permission of the writer.]
Read them and weep. Or at least, I weep. What a long strange trip it's been. As I've said, "It's impolitic and unpleasant to say this, but - it wasn't worth it". Looking back, nearly a decade later, I think I'd have been far better off if I'd never heard of censorware.
I've been commenting on law professor Cass Sunstein's guest-postings at Lessig's blog, regarding aggregation and "prediction markets". (for whatever good it does ...). My general view is summed up by the old quote:
"On two occasions I have been asked [by members of Parliament], ``Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?'' I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question." - Charles Babbage
But I see an underlying idea in some evangelism now, that we can put into the "machine" wrong figures, and through the program WISECROWDS, the right answers will come out.
But as the saying goes, "Garbage In, Garbage Out", and usually aggregating a bunch of wrong answers leads to a wrong answer. There are indeed some extraction procedures which can find a signal amidst noise. However, accurate information can't be created if it was never there in the first place.
I'm not the only person to point this out. Several other commentators are doing so too. There's plenty of material. But I can see that skepticism is fighting the appeal of punditry. For all the supposed wonders of interactivity, there doesn't seem to be much good in going against the hot fad.
The news article U.S. Tech Firms Help Governments Censor Internet summarizes recent events regarding complicity of US companies with totalitarian regimes. The most explosive aspect is potential violation of US laws by Secure Computing, given that their censorware software "SmartFilter" is being used by the government of Iran - while allegedly without the company's knowledge, the implications remain troubling. Much attention is devoted to the China controversies of Cisco and Microsoft.
Notable quote: "D'Amato said the [U.S-China Economic and Security Review] commission, which reports to Congress, hopes to put pressure on these companies by bringing them in for hearings, soon. "I'm not so sure they'll come," he said. "They're running for cover."
Now, some tantalizing question are: What specific US laws might Secure Computing be violating, which specific government office is charged with enforcing them, and who might have the power to issue a nice juicy subpoena to extract information rather than PR flackery?
So much opportunity, and I have so little power ... :-(
[Update - excellent material in a comment below]
There's a little controversy spreading around the blogosphere over the past week, for the usual reason: somebody's said something bad about blogging.
It originates in the response to the London bombings, and some people worrying that some weblogs have been a little too self-congatulatory. First up was Shelley Powers, who warned "don't used this event to promote weblogging". Seth Finkelstein continued the theme by saying "there will always be a certain percentage of the population that will take self-promotion over solemnity".
Then, and probably most importantly, The Register's Andrew Orlowski stirred the pot with a piece headlined "For ambulance-chasing bloggers, tragedy equals opportunity":
No human disaster these days is complete without two things, both of which can be guaranteed to surface within 24 hours of the event. First, virus writers will release a topical new piece of malware. And then weblog evangelists proclaim how terrific the catastrophe is for the internet. It doesn't seem to matter how high the bodies are piled - neither party can be deterred from its task.
He puts the boot in fairly strongly. And hey, the Guardian even gets a slating along the way (a reference to this piece, I think). The response has been varied, and there's been a fair bit of it. But is this genuine disgust, or just a fuss over nothing?
Further, deponent sayeth not.
Except that Dean Landsman's reply deserves a link.
wasted entirely too much time being sucked-into,
err, now thought about the Internet Archive / DMCA circumvention issue
at great length, I think I've come up with a closely-reasoned argument
for the Internet Archives' control system not to be subject to the DMCA:
Proposition: OPT-OUT controls are not DMCA access controls
The DMCA reads:
(B) a technological measure ''effectively controls access to a work'' if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.
The Internet Archive's robot.txt control look superficially like a DMCA access control. But I'd say at a detailed level, it doesn't qualify. Crucially, the default in the Internet Archive is to gain access, and it does the inverse - in the ordinary course of its operation, it requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, [i.e., retrieving a robots.txt file] to DENY access to the work.
Of course, in a very abstract sense, one could say these are equivalent in terms of logical negation. But I'd argue that if, by explicit design decision (which is the case here), failure of the process leads to permission rather than denial, then it can't qualify as a DMCA 1201 access control method. Even if it's an access control method in a broader sense, not every access control method should be taken to fit the DMCA's definition.
This seems to capture an intuitive argument.
Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, I make no assurances a "hacker"-hating judge would care.
... if there's a technological protection measure here, it looks like copy protection rather than access protection, which puts defendants in the clear. ...
Did the law firm's banging on the Internet Archive with requests for the page circumvent a "technological measure" that in the ordinary course of its operation "require[d] the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access"'
I don't think so. This language describes technology that mediates access - that allows access to some people and not to others, depending on whether the person seeking access had properly applied "information, or a process or a treatment," so that the copyright owner authorized him to get access. Think pay-per-view. Think DivX. The Internet Archive server that the law firm banged on, by contrast, was running code designed to prevent anybody from downloading a copy of the pages in question. ...
As we DMCA-fans know, there's a whole subgenre devoted to issues of access vs copying, and the merger thereof, since there is a stand-alone access control circumvention prohibition, but not a stand-alone copy control circumvention prohibition. However, I don't see where "access" requires "some people and not to others". I mean, I see the argument being made - that an "access" of zero is not access control, but copy control. But take a look at the House legislative report, where it clarifies that copy control is after one has a copy (so initially obtaining a copy is access control, my emphasis below):
Subsection (b) applies when a person has obtained authorized access to a copy or a phonorecord of a work, but the copyright owner has put in place technological measures that effectively protect his or her right under Title 17 to control or limit further use of the copyrighted work.
Let's put it this way - while the programmer part of me thinks that making repeated requests so that an eventual connection time-out leads to getting desired data, is a really neat, err, "work-around" - the reader-of-many-DMCA-cases part of me thinks that's exactly the sort of action that judges tend to view with a jaundiced eye (at least when done by programmers!).
Now, I don't think that the above necessarily means there is a DMCA violation here. But again, the argument is harder than it looks at first glance.
The Internet Archive is a wonderful organization which keeps historical records of websites ('The Wayback Machine"). In Healthcare Advocates, Inc. v. Harding, Early, Follmer & Frailey, they are involved in a lawsuit alleging a violation of the DMCA. See William Patry for details and discussion.
The basic DMCA aspect of the case seems to be the Internet Archive uses (current website) "robots.txt" exclusion files to block access to archived material (they talk about "removing documents", but it's really "block access", not deletion). The defendants in the case were able to get to historical versions of the website in question anyway. The court complaint is unclear about exactly what happened. After thinking about it, the following is my speculation as to the technical aspect of the sequence of events (some material below taken for the lawsuit).
1) Fact - In order to decide whether to display the history version
of a website, the Internet Archive queries the current
website for the contents of the "robots.txt" file (to see if that
file prohibits the display or not).
2) Fact - The check is supposed to be done once per day.
3) Fact - There was a bug in this check, which led to the lawsuit.
4) SPECULATION - The bug in the check was that if an attempt to retrieve the "robots.txt" file failed, that failure would be treated as if no "robots.txt" file existed, and that means no block on display (i.e. everything could be displayed for that attempt).
5) SPECULATION - At the time, this bug could be triggered by repeatedly attempting to retrieve pages from the historical site (which would, at the time, trigger repeated retrieval attempts of "robots.txt", some of which might have failed).
Hmmm ... I hate to say it, but if the above is a correct reconstruction, it does begin to at least arguably look like an access control circumvention under the DMCA. The Internet Archive relies on external files to "control access" to archived website content. The defendants here found that sometimes it appears to the Internet Archive as if the external file wasn't present, via an implementation flaw.
I think it comes down to whether buggy "technological measures" still count under the law, and if taking advantage of a malfunction counts as circumvention by the user. It seems to be a much tougher case than it first appeared.
A further note on Secure Computing ("SmartFilter") and Iranian Censorship: Does it strike anyone as interesting that one of their PR defenses to a violation of US laws, is in effect to claim that their censorware product does not work? That is, what is the business of a censorware company? Keeping third parties from reaching content that an authority has determined is prohibited (remember, exact authority relationship is a social value, not a technical matter). We have an authority - the US government - which has various laws against dealing with third-parties - such as the government of Iran. Now, a censorware product is not a one-time acquisition, but requires repeated downloading of the blacklist database. Let's look at the exact PR statement:
1) We block update requests from IP addresses that we know originate in Iran.
Now - "we know"? Is it the case, that, say, using an open proxy for access is enough to defeat the censorware company's ability to comply with US law? (or is it a matter of "Don't ask, don't tell", with respect to what they know ...). Can we make a negative inference about their actual ability to enforce content control over sexual material in general, given that they evidently plead they can't effectively comply with a specific legal obligation for a particular file of their own?
I wish someone had the ability to hold their feet to the fire on this matter of compliance with US law (I sure don't). Perhaps through some Qui Tam-like private right of action (I suspect Qui Tam isn't the exact method, I cite it here just for the idea). Again, it's not a crime to be a censorware company. But violating US export regulations or trade embargoes can be a serious legal matter.
A little while ago, the OpenNet Initiative produced a report on censorware used by the government of Iran, exposing that Iran used SmartFilter censorware. I've stayed out of the ensuing controversy, since given the history of (Secure Computing PR flack) David Burt's tactics, I'm more than happy that Harvard people get to tangle with him in pure unalloyed form. But since the issue has settled down now, I'll summarize and add some references that won't be found anywhere else.
A US company selling censorware to a totalitarian government is not a legal problem in itself. However, selling to Iran in specific is problematic. So I will quote the company line:
"We sell to ISPs where the law allows. It's really up the customer how they use our software."
"Secure Computing has sold no licenses to any entity in Iran, and any use of Secure's software by an ISP in Iran has been without Secure Computing's consent and is in violation of Secure Computing's End User License Agreement. We have been made aware of ISPs in Iran making illegal and unauthorized attempts to use of our software. Secure Computing is actively taking steps to stop this illegal use of our products. Secure Computing Corporation is fully committed to complying with the export laws, policies and regulations of the United States. It is Secure Computing's policy that strict compliance with all laws and regulations concerning the export and re-export of our products and/or technical information is required. Unless authorized by the U.S. Government, Secure Computing Corporation prohibits export and reexport of Secure products, software, services, and technology to Iran and destinations subject to U.S. embargoes or trade sanctions."
... ONI responds with:
"The statement does not address whether automatic updates to block lists routinely made available to SmartFilter users by Secure Computing have also been made available to Iranian ISPs, nor does it address the extent to which the adoption of SmartFilter and its updated block list for "non-profit and advocacy organizations" by additional governments (such as Saudi Arabia; see OpenNet Initiative, Internet Filtering in Saudi Arabia in 2004, available at http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/saudi/) is part of Secure Computing's market."
David Burt, public relations manager for SC, provides [a] statement on the charge:
1) We block update requests from IP addresses that we know originate in Iran.
2) We sell to ISPs all over the world, including the Middle East. Like most Internet security companies, we do not disclose our customer list.
Now, in order to evaluate the likelihood of any truth in the censorware company's statements, it's helpful to have a historical perspective. Such as an archived front page of Censorware Project discussing a Secure Computing press release:
This was a lie. Secure Computing then issued a misleading press release with that same lie, which prompted us to take action.
Which had a Slashdot article also in defense (gee, isn't it interesting when Slashdot's front page is used to publicly call people liars to help defend someone's report?)
Anyway, while it may be technically an ad-hominem argument, I think the evidence as to credibility is clear. Though these days, there's not much I can do about it.
I never know what to post about events such as the London Bombings. The perpetrators sure don't care what I say, and there is hardly any debate over sympathy for the victims. Though aspects of the coverage of the tragedy seem to have touched a nerve.
I won't point to the sites, and I won't repeat the exact words. But now is not the time to point to a 'wiki' setup to collect information about the bombs in London, and smugly say how much better it is at covering the news than the New York Times. ...
Don't use this event to promote weblogging.
I've seen similar sentiments even by some A-lister's.
I suppose there's value in raising the costs of being crass. But there will always be a certain percentage of the population that will take self-promotion over solemnity. And if any of the evangelists were by chance shamed into reverence, there would be plenty of hungry evangelist-wannabes to try to exploit the PR opportunity (i.e. "If I didn't do it, somebody else would").
I think the end result is the point I make about the deep unpleasant structural similarity of high-attention blogs to mass media - with many of the same imperatives, here, ambulance-chasing. Yet another instance of meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
RSS Investors Announces Creation of $100 Million Technology Fund
Thursday June 30, 10:32 am ET
Leading Technology Experts, Internet Pioneers and Venture Capitalists to Support RSS-Related Internet Technology Companies
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 30, 2005--RSS Investors, LP, today announced the creation of the first investment fund specializing in companies based on the Really Simple Syndication (RSS) family of standards and services. This technology includes OPML and the newly proposed Microsoft extensions to RSS and is rapidly becoming integral to the next generation of Internet technology.
It is a Sign. The Sign Of The Bubble.
The start sign is small private venture capital funds. The end sign is hot public mutual funds.
Of course, RSS is just a protocol. The fund really seems to be about the wonderful world of the businesses which can be built by exploiting people's dreams of being heard and having influence. Remember, vanity press is a publishing business.
I don't think it's an intrinsically bad idea from a business perspective, though it's a tough, low-margin, market. But they also seem to have people who can work that market. Many Usual Suspects are major players. Some other analysis is lukewarm.
Note, these sorts of undertakings are where "the money" is. It's not in salaries for academic appointments. Rather, one big payday for those types of people is from being able to participate in such business opportunities.
It's not for me (I suspect I'll never be enough of a "club-member" to get any piece of that kind of action). But it does objectively suggest there's some opportunities arising.
There's an old oil-business prayer, from years ago:
"O Lord, just give me one more oil boom - I promise not to piss it all away this time."
O Lord, just give me one more tech bubble, one more collective financial insanity where I might be able to get founder's stock and be bought-out for absurd amounts of money in a ridiculously short time. I promise not to waste it all away this time doing censorware decryption and fighting for net-freedom.
Ed Felten writes about "GAO Data: Porn Rare on P2P; Filters Ineffective", extensively analyzing "GAO-05-634 - File Sharing Programs: The Use of Peer-to-Peer Networks to Access Pornography" To me, the most interesting part oif the article was the conclusion:
The policy prescription here is clear. Don't mandate the use of filters, because they don't seem to work. And if you want filters to improve, it might be a good idea to fully legalize research on filtering systems, so people like Seth Finkelstein can finish the job the GAO started.
(and echoed by Ernie Miller).
Thanks guys ... it's a long weekend, I'll leave it at that.