November 04, 2008

I endorse Barack Obama

As I've said before, normally I don't write about pure politics, since if my influence on Internet freedom is marginal, my influence on the electoral process isn't even a speck on the page. And while this election doesn't look close, you never know. I suspect my readership skews liberal and intellectual, but I probably have a few conservative, older, readers in the mix.

Vote for Barack Obama

I've never been one of the worshippers of "The One", but I actually have come to think more favorably of Barack Obama over the past few months. Politically, I am impressed by how he fought off the inevitable Swiftboating attempts, and the competence of the campaign organization overall.

In contrast, McCain's stunts like "suspending" his campaign during the financial crisis - and then doing nothing but grandstanding - refute any argument for his experience or leadership. Obama clearly demonstrated both intelligence and steadiness there.

By all governing measures, Obama has proved to be a better candidate than McCain - the people he surrounds himself with, the Vice President choice, the strategic decisions he's made - and I believe the policies he's advocated (Obama's quip "It's like these guys take pride in being ignorant" sums it up well).

So I endorse Barack Obama.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:11 AM | Comments (3)
March 05, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on lessons from the "Draft Lessig" campaign

"In politics, being determined counts more than being online"

"The role of intellectuals in politics is an age-old issue"

More relevantly, "a healthy respect for all previous failure is sometimes a prerequisite for any success".

For all columns, see the page Seth Finkelstein |

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1)
February 21, 2008

"Draft Lessig" reasons

With "Draft Lessig" in full swing, to advocate for Larry Lessig running for Congress, I find myself in the uncommon position of being on the side of the crowd, yet for rather distinct reasons. Note there's no ambition on my part, as since I live on the other side of the country, I'm not ever going to be something like, e.g., special legislative aide in charge of DMCA-fighting. I'm not going to ask people to idealistically believe that I would be immune from being bought. But rather, in full cynicism, observe that there's nothing at realistic price levels which could even reach the status of an attractive offer.

That being said, consider: For many months, I've been commenting and even writing a column to Lawrence Lessig on "corruption", in sum, stay away from the data-miners and digital-sharecroppers, the conference-clubbers, the whole collection of hypsters and hucksters and marketers who operate via exploitative bubble-blowing. Instead, reality-check, subject theories to rigorous testing, and talk to people who deal with problems on ground level. So now Lessig considers a run for Congress. THIS IS GOOD (for him). It's the ultimate real-world test.

I've seen both Richard Bennett and Gabe Wachob" make cogent arguments that Lessig wouldn't be the best possible choice for elective office, not being especially suited for politics, and his opponent is a better choice for the district on the merits. But I think there's merit in Lessig making his case in a campaign, even if the other side proves correct.

Which bring me to Shelley Powers point:

Which then leads us back to the whole Change Congress platform. Here we're talking about an organization populated by neophytes who got a hankering to "change Congress", without once considering that some of most important changes must occur at the local and state level, and in the executive branch, as well as Congress. Populated by people who seem to think that all one needs is a weblog, the right social network (and associated tools), and a leader who is wired.

And nothing puts that to the test that like an actual election. Which is why I think it's a good idea to try and see what happens.

[Update - All academic now (pun unintended), since Lessig has decided not to run]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:53 PM | Comments (3)
February 16, 2008

I endorse "Lessig For Congress"

"Lessig For Congress" exploratory efforts are kicking off and I'm going to support them. (from a blog post by Jonathan Zittrain: "I don't think he's fully decided, but the special election is very soon: April 8, with a runoff on June 3, which is the regular California primary election day" - this for the House of Representative seat made vacant by the recent death of Tom Lantos)

I've earlier written a cautionary column about Lessig and corruption and have been worried on several levels about how it'll all turn out. But after thinking for a while about this possible Congressional run, it actually seemed like a good idea all around. If successful, it would raise the average intelligence level of Congress. And also raise Lessig's intelligence level on politics and corruption. Getting deep inside the sausage factory strikes me as very helpful, if someone wants to spend years writing about how sausages are made, and how to make them better (even a loss would be educational here).

Plus there's the local factor of a particular special election, which looks like a great opportunity in terms of the timing. And Lessig's already something like a quasi-political campaigner in effect, so why not take it to the next level? Of course "Great internet campaigns don't guarantee success in politics". Internet celebrity doesn't necessary mean someone definitely will be elected. But there's free media to be had, lots of potential campaign contributors small and big (money matters in politics!) and I can't see much downside from the risk.

Go for it.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:09 AM | Comments (4)
February 14, 2008

My _Guardian_ column on Internet and political campaign counter-examples
Great internet campaigns don't guarantee success in politics

Internet evangelism shares a marketing technique with sellers of quack medicine, in that the promoters are eager to emphasise any successes and ignore any failures.

Internet President Howard Dean, meet Internet President John Edwards (not to mention Internet President RuPaul).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:15 PM | Comments (3)
February 05, 2008

I Am Not Impressed By Barack Obama

In honor of the major political primary day in the US. I'm going to do a somewhat "meta" political post again, since this is for the teeny-tiny echo chamberish audience rather than any delusion of world-changing significance. That is, I'm going to disclaim A-lister's Disease (a subclass of Grand Pundititous) in that I will make no pretension of Knowing It All. I'm not the Common Man, I have no special expertise on how the average voter reacts, I'm often wrong when I make political predictions and I'm aware of that.

But ... I am not impressed by Barack Obama.

Yes, he makes nice speeches. Yes, he's anti-war. That's great. I don't hate him. He's a good guy for a Presidential candidate. However, I feel no great inspiration, and there's a lot of ways he seems to me to be an inferior candidate to Hillary Clinton. He's a lightweight in terms of track record, with no experience in dealing with all the mud that can be thrown at a Democrat by the Republican campaign apparatus.

These days, when someone makes an emotionally appealing speech to me, my guard goes up and I start considering how they might be trying to take advantage of me. Maybe the conference-club doesn't have that reaction since they're generally treated as symbiote peers rather than as potential prey. But the mania which seems to have gripped many of the bloggers I read, just leaves me cold. Instead, I have the same reaction I often have these days when dealing with an ambitious holder of political power: This person talks a good line and is professionally pleasant - but never ever forget they'd sell me out in a minute if they saw it as advantageous to them. I don't "believe" (and I don't want to).

I had some detailed thoughts on factual refutation of Lessig's Obama promotion video. But I've already written a public plea on Lessig's "corruption" studies, so it's not worth risking getting him mad at me over this (so much for the great ability of the Internet to enable political discourse, more like political marketing :-().

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (15)
January 30, 2008

John Edwards Ending Presidential Campaign and Blog Evangelism Is Quackery

I usually don't comment on politics, but "John Edwards to Quit Presidential Race" is an opportunity to note something I've often said, where the "Web 2.0" sales-pitch uses the same mechanism as quack medicine. The Net marketing hucksters hype up the people who have taken their snake-oil and do well, but don't mention (or worse, blame) the people who drink the Kool-Aid and DON'T do well. The John Edwards campaign had the bubble-blowers, genuflected to bloggers and big Liberal political blogs, had blog A-listers on board for advice ... and none of it worked. If his campaign had caught fire, we'd be hearing from that crew again about the wonderful Internet, buy their magic, etc.

Now, the A-listers involved might say they never promised success in every case, under all circumstances. But that would be missing my point. Some of the more clever peddlers of quack medicine don't promise cures in all circumstances either - they just show testimonials of the sick who coincidentally happened to get better, and ignore those who died horrible deaths (which were sometimes worsened by the quackery). They're not interested in any objective evaluations of how well their stuff works, they want to sell it to you.

Yeah, I know, old news. Shouting to the wind again, bad habit :-( ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:59 PM | Comments (2)
September 05, 2007

Vanity Fair: Going After Gore

Vanity Fair has an article "Going After Gore", by Evgenia Peretz, which is a good long analysis of the issues of how press imbalance affected Gore's campaign. I wish the author has checked my "Al Gore" / Internet page, though, since the discussion of that point, while reasonably researched, could have been helpfully improved.

The press didn't object to Gore's statement until Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey led the charge, saying, "If the vice president created the Internet, then I created the interstate highway system."

Well, I suppose it's true if by "press" the writer means "respectable" press. But the propaganda was in fact started by a hatchet-job committed by a Wired News "journalist" (nominally), and Dick Armey's office picked it up from there.

A few days later the word "invented" entered the narrative. On March 15, a USA Today headline about Gore read, inventing the internet.

Again, sort of true if "narrative" means the indexed press. But I've traced the word "invented" back to the same day as the Dick Armey press release, inserted into the narrative via ... guess who ... drumroll ... the same "journalist" who wrote the creative fiction in the first place.

Sigh. So much for "citizen journalism" ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 02:27 PM
September 22, 2006

Spurious Search Count War On Gore

Geoff Nunberg posts at Language Log regarding how the Al Gore / Internet story history is being subjected to a misleading attempt to minimize its impact via a spuriously low search engine count:

Of course counts of media stories are only a rough indication of how widely diffused a story is, but even if we restrict ourselves to print, the contrast between [Alan] Abramowitz's 19 stories and the actual figure of several thousand is pretty striking. But then anybody who lived through this period knows without having to check that the story was all over the place. Which leads me to ask, How could Abramowitz possibly have believed the number his search returned?

Heck [alert - information you won't find elsewhere here!], let's go the source, from the story's inventor (my emphasis):

Next came the media feeding frenzy. On 11 March, Wired News was the first to report Gore's remarks. Hundreds of articles were quick to appear, many drawing the inevitable comparisons to Gore's other gaffes.

Sigh. Why do I bother?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Comments (3)
January 16, 2006


I reiterate what I've already posted on Martin Luther King and Affirmative Action.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:51 PM
November 21, 2005

Peter Junger resumes "Samsara's Blog"

[Update - For people visiting this page in the wake of Peter Junger's death, see the memorial notice]

Law Professor Peter Junger has resumed writing a weblog ("a collection of recollections of the sort that almost demand being recorded in a blog"):

Samsara's Blog arrow image

To people who don't know the name, Peter Junger was one of the earliest net legal freedom fighters. But he's also a tremendously witty writer. I've long had some of his classic posts mirrored on my site, such as "The inevitable problem of lawyers". So here's an echoed short post, to give the flavor of why these are such gems:

The Local Consequences of Global Warming

I turned on the local public television station for a moment in the middle of the night last night and learned that the polar bears are hungry and endangered. The weather is so warm this year that the arctic ice is a month late in forming and until the sea freezes the polar bears can't go out on the ice hunting for seals for their dinner.

This morning I awoke to the realization that we could, if not solve, at least ameliorate two of our environmental problems by feeding Republicans to the bears.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:38 PM
July 08, 2005

London Bombings and Blog Evangelism

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.

Shelley Powers wrote:

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.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:07 AM | Comments (7)
April 18, 2005

Where Are The Women Of [Insert Cyber Topic Here]


The Women of IP Law & Policy: More than a Footnote

Siva asks why more women aren't featured at debates like this one, especially when there are outstanding female intellectual property scholars like Rosemarie Coombe, Pam Samuelson, Jessica Litman, Julie Cohen, Ann Bartow, Sonia Katyal, Susan Crawford, Beth Simone Noveck, and Rebecca Tushnet. ...

Meet Shelley:

Better Bad News on Why Guys don't Link

Speaking of which, Mr. Scoble knows of no geek women or women interested in technology or Longhorn (Microsoft's next wonderkid) in Silicon Valley. If you match this criteria - female, tech, Silicon Valley - drop by and say Hi. He also doesn't understand why only guys are asking questions of Jim Allchin, Longhorn architect and O/S VP.

But I should note for myself, while it's true that the rulers of the world are pretty much all white men, very few white men get to be rulers of the world.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:07 PM | Comments (1)
November 02, 2004

Why You Should Vote For John Kerry

Normally I don't write about pure politics, since if my influence on Internet freedom is marginal, my influence on the electoral process isn't even a speck on the page. But given the closeness of the Presidential race, today might be a day where it's literally true that if what I write changes just one reader's mind, it reasonably might make a difference.

Vote for John Kerry.

Here's why.

Now, I know that if Kerry does win, I'll have to endure much finger-pointing of the form "Nyah, nyah, nyah. You said to vote for Kerry, and he did *this*, And *that*. And yada-yada ...". It's easy to argue fantasy against reality. We must deal with degrees of difference.

Ralph Nader is being a spoiler. The US electoral system does not support minor third-party candidates. They have the effect of siphoning votes. That's the facts of the matter.

Having lived in Massachusetts for more than 20 years, I've seen John Kerry over the long term. He's got no charisma, but he is thoroughly competent at his job.

More importantly, despite all the campaign noise, there really is a signal which comes through, and very strongly on the issue of security. The Kerry team believes in US power, but the Bush team believes in US empire. I assert the US would in fact be safer under a Kerry administration than a Bush administration. George Bush's foreign adventurism of an Iraq war is like a grotesque version of the old joke about the drunk who searches for his missing keys under a lamppost because the light is better there. I'm impressed, in a negative manner, how the Bush administration has to keep coming up with some sort of "link" between Iraq to Osama Bin Laden, some way to put them into the same category, in order to justify an outright war. If any country deserved to be invaded for connections to Osama Bin Laden (especially funding), that country was Saudi Arabia. And Bush, given his family and personal background, is far too entangled with the Saudi monarchy to credibly oppose it.

In contrast, John Kerry knows all about wrong wars in the wrong place in the wrong time, about ripping the country apart for ill-considered policy. Posturing wins no battles, bullets are remarkably ignorant of speeches. Iraq isn't Vietnam. But there's enough in common so that John Kerry saw the end of a similar path which George Bush seems determined to take, and it doesn't end in a pretty place.

This doesn't even address all the issues of George Bush being set to load the Supreme Court with even more right-wing fanatics, or to pay for the war(s?) with an even larger deficit, and so on.

It's not about "character" or "family values" or any such nebulous quantity. It's very clear, about bad wars paid for with bad economics, as opposed to understanding that war is not a sport and has a price. That's why:

Vote for John Kerry.

[Update: Well, I tried ...]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:29 AM | Followups
September 17, 2004

CBS Memos links page with forgery evidence references

I've created a CBS Memos resources page, at

As I put it on that page:

Disclaimer - this page is not meant to be objective or comprehensive. It is a compilation of resources intended for my use in convincing people who do not believe the memos are forged. Transparency: I'm a Kerry supporter, respect Dan Rather personally, dislike many journalistic behaviors, believe the memos are forged beyond a reasonable doubt, though the content likely is true.

I've collected a bunch of relevant links, that I want to use to show people for evidence, since all the blog posts can be hard to follow. So I figured that if I put it all on one page, it'd be easier to have it handy.

Again, anyone who does not think at this point that the memos are forged, past any possible fair dispute, should read the evidence.

"A fact is something so well affirmed that it would be perverse to withhold assent" - Stephen Jay Gould

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:28 AM | Followups
September 13, 2004

CBS (60 Minutes) Forged Memos Comparison Evidence

[Update - see my CBS Memos page]

After continuing to think about the 60 Minutes / forged memo issue this weekend, and reading some of the responses which talk about the required typewriters perhaps being available at the time, I did some contemporaneous document comparisons. Whether or not such a typewriter could exist in theory, it seems Bush's Air Force base definitely didn't have one!

The directory has a cache of documents involving Bush from that base and time period. They are glaringly different in typography and format.

Look at the various base memos, especially 1972 and 1973. There's no proportional spacing (and the printing seems blockier). I don't see any superscripts in base memos at all, much less small-font superscripts.

For example, compare:


Note that no base memo date ever begins with a zero (the CBS memos have dates starting with zero).

Picking up on an item from the military critics, the base memo signature format is (always left-margin)

name, rank, TexANG


rank, TexANG

So the memo signature is always, for example


I don't see any exceptions.

The suspect memos have (tabbed over to right-hand side)

Lt. Colonel


Lt. Colonel

No "TexANG". The "TexANG" always appears in the base memos. Also note "Lt Col" vs "Lt. Colonel".

Observe the CBS memos have a space in "147 th" or "9921 st". The base memos don't have spaces (e.g. "147th"). And the space makes sense as a clumsy way of avoiding the MS WORD auto-superscripting.

Particularly interesting are the files and

This is obviously a paired original and an official retyped copy. Compare the thick, monospaced, no-superscript, base memos, to the clean, proportionally-spaced, pretty-superscript CBS memos, e.g. - even at low resolution, it's dramatically different.

The modern word-processor characteristics of those memos don't appear in any of the base memos, and the format details seem too different. I'd put this as beyond a reasonable doubt that the CBS memos are forged.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:11 AM | Followups
September 12, 2004

More concerning story that 60 Minutes documents on Bush may be fake

I continue to find the CBS fake? memos story absolutely fascinating, from all sorts of angles. It's also a reminder as to why I'm of the scientist mindset and not a politician. This incident covers all sorts of issues:

Who do you trust? Which evidence do you believe? How do you find the truth amid a minefield of conflicting partisan claims and paid liars? Remember, in general, I believe there is objective truth, and that it matters deeply (which is why I'm so bad at politics :-().

If someone tells a blatant lie, then blows smoke about the lie (deny, deny, deny), do they automatically win at least halfway? (Petty bickering! Old news! Food fight! - on and on). The trivial answer is to ignore the problem, and that then favors the dishonest. Note truth is not in the middle - the documents can't be a little bit forged.

To me, people who say the forged document analysis is all about typographic trivia, are like someone who dismisses fingerprints as inconsequential grease-spots : What's all this about patterns in dirty smudges? How can we be expected to deprive someone of liberty, or even their life, based on some geek mutterings about whirls and ridges? Wow, those techs are really concerned with nonsense, building up a huge features database for comparison and arguing over whether something is a good match - what nerds! (Real men determine truth by running at each other with spears on horseback).

I was shocked that Dan Rather's defense compared the small-font superscript 'th' of the 1973 forged? memo with something like the obviously different 'th-bar' character of the service record (see second line). In fact, the latter shows what a custom-key really does look like. It's on the same line (i.e. not raised), and has a bar underneath for apparent typographic emphasis. The memo printing is extremely different. But what is truth ...

I find this under-linked (and not right-wing) source interesting:

For those who want my opinion...the documents appear to be done in Word, and then copied repeatedly to make them "fuzzy". They use features that were not available on office typewriters the 1970s, specifically the combination of proportional spacing with superscript font. The IBM Executive has proportional spacing, but used fixed type bars. The Selectric has changeable type elements, but fixed spacing (some models could be selected at 10 or 12 pitch, but that's all). The Selectric Composer was not an office typewriter, but apparently did use proportional spacing. These were very expensive machines, used by printing offices, not administrative offices.

Also note:

Update: Documents May Be Forgeries 09.10.2004

Serious questions have been raised about the authenticity of four documents that CBS News said it had obtained from the personal files of Bush's former squadron commander in the Texas Air National Guard. We are removing reference to them in our September. 8 article on the "Texans for Truth" ad until these questions are settled to our satisfaction.

So it's not just a "freeper/wingnut" issue.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:35 AM | Followups
September 10, 2004

Forged memos humorous conspiracy theory

I've been following the 60 Minutes/ forged memos story, where purported memos about Bush's National Guard time seem to have been forged. Now, for all the upcoming babble about blog-power, the exposure is not anything which depends on an emergent open-origin smart-rabble social-underwear wikimob revolution. The first halfway-decent historical expert who looks at the documents (and it does depend on having access to the reproduced documents), will say "What in the world is a small-font superscript 'th' doing in a supposedly typewritten memo from 1973?". And indeed, how did such documents make their way to be a story? I couldn't help thinking ...

[Warning: humor humor humor, not completely serious, tongue-in-cheek]

It's very odd, in that it all seems to be a forged presentation of believed-true information. Now, let's assume that 60 Minutes is not full of complete and total idiots. They play in the big leagues. Yes, they slant things. But it's generally by journalistic "rules," which say you're allowed to lie through your teeth on the meaning, as long as you spell the names right. Assume they checked something. It looks like they (CBS) checked the information:

A senior CBS official, who asked not to be named because CBS managers did not want to go beyond their official statement, named one of the network's sources as retired Maj. Gen. Bobby Hodges, the immediate superior of the documents' alleged author, Lt. Col. Jerry Killian. He said that a CBS reporter read the documents to Hodges over the phone, and that Hodges replied that "these are the things that Killian had expressed to me at the time."

"These documents represent what Killian not only was putting in memoranda, but was telling other people," the CBS News official said.

The official said the network regarded Hodges' comments as "the trump card" on the question of authenticity, as he is a Republican who acknowledged not wanting to hurt Bush.

Thus CBS has a Major General who will back them. They ask him if the information is true, he confirms. Thus, in their mind, they've got it nailed. They wouldn't then send him the specific documents to read, he's a busy man. Then CBS doesn't go get a historical expert, since again in their mind, they have validation.

[Update: This aspect might get analysis at Jay Rosen's Pressthink]

They run the story. The White House has to have examined the documents immediately (this is 60 Minutes!). They then know the documents are forged. Were the information false, they'd scream. But since the information is true, they say nothing, and let the reaction develop. The discrediting of the documents discredits the true information.

So ... so ... so ... Who benefits?

The Bush campaign. Enormously. Tremendously


60 Minutes/CBS News/Dan Rather ... etc. gets a huge black eye.

The true information will then be forever tainted by the forged documents.

The Kerry campaign will get slammed by the backlash.

All future revelations about Bush's guard service will be tainted in the public's mind.

Conclusion: Karl Rove (the Bush Campaign) is one Machiavellian man. They planted the forged documents themselves.

[Reminder: humor, not completely serious, tongue-in-cheek ... I think]

[Update: See more serious thoughts of mine at the post CBS (60 Minutes) Forged Memos Comparison Evidence]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:27 AM | Comments (3) | Followups
August 10, 2004

Online Principles

Susan Crawford proposed to create Online principles, and I quickly commented, mainly about "Been there, done that, doesn't work". John Palfrey replied noting the "doesn't work", and further, "That does not suggest to me that it's not a worthy exercise, necessarily, especially if it's possible to come up with a set that are agreeable to a broad and influential enough community.)". Then Ed Felten responded, "But Seth is right that past attempts to define online principles have often gone off the rails ... We need to focus instead on specific things [the Internet] does change, and devise principles for dealing with them."

It's important to remember the "been there and done that" part of my comment. I don't mean to be harsh, but many, many, statements have been issued over the years.

To take one notable recent example, consider the Center for Democracy and Technology's Library Censorware Wish List (formally "Principles for the Implementation of CIPA-Mandated Filtering in Public Libraries"). It's not a bad document, as such things go. It just has absolutely no utility as far as I can see. I'm particularly fond of the item where "Users and communities should have access to ... lists of blocked sites ...". That won't happen. All the major companies keep their blacklists secret, and they sue to prevent exposure. I don't know of any major censorware company which cares that it doesn't comply with the CDT censorware principles. Why would they? And CDT isn't the first organization to issue this sort of censorware statement.

Anybody can make up a wish list: Peace on earth, goodwill to all, freedom, democracy. That is, I mean, End-To-End, User Control, Innovation, etc. Then what?

The issues facing the evolution of the Internet are ones where there are heavily conflicting and mutually incompatible interests. The obvious response of someone on an opposite side of an issue is perhaps "I don't share those principles", or maybe "The principles don't mean what you think they mean, instead I am the true interpreter of The Way".

And this is seen very contentiously in the spam debate, where the arguments over principles there resembles the intensity of the political arguments over abortion.

I should stress I believe I understand the perspective which drives these proposals. What I'm attempting to convey is that, in practice, the ideas have very well-known failure-modes. If they worked, there wouldn't be so many opportunities to repeatedly propose them.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 12:28 AM | Comments (3) | Followups
July 07, 2004

Democratic National Convention and Blog Coverage

So, the Topic Of The Day is that a few A-list'ish bloggers are getting press credentials to be Certified As Journalists for the purposes of the Democratic National Convention (see Jay Rosen's extensive essay Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials).

To sum up my view, in a few words:

Political Conventions == Pep Rallies

That limits the options. One can do a sort of anthropology, a dissection of the Deep Meaning Of It All. Or a General Reflection On The Body Politic. Or take a narrative approach along the lines of "What will the Young turks, The Marvericks, Those Wild And Grazy Guys And Gals, uncover that the Old Guard has missed?"

But if there is no there there, being there won't create a there (except in a self-referential navel-gazing manner).

Look, anyone who has the time and can afford to travel to a political party's convention, is doing it for some reason which puts them far outside the realm of ordinary citizen. It's their business in some sense. They're a journalist themselves, or want to be one, or do study of journalism, or associated in various others ways (selling people on ways to do journalism, counts, strongly). Nobody cares outside of this media incest orgy or the hardest-core political junkies.

Going further down that path leads to A-list revenge, so I'll stop here.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
May 14, 2004

iLaw mood piece

[Notes for what happened at the iLaw sessions can be found indexed at FurdLog, go there if you're interested in that material.]

People sometimes ask me why I did all the free-speech work that I've done. This is often after I mention, usually grouchily these days, that I've never gotten a cent for all my years of speech activism, and in fact it's been an extremely heavy opportunity-cost.

I say, in as wistful a tone as I can muster to try to convey my emotion:

"I wanted to keep the Internet free".

Many years ago, in 1996, when I went to my first "Internet" conference (CFP96 - The Sixth Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy) I talked about being present as the bits are put in place. Today, I was flashing back to that time, to the feeling of shapings and potentialities in a conference room.

It's been a long strange trip since then.

What I try to explain, is that sense of the world in flux, of open possibilities, of seismic shifts in the works, of fundamental changes taking place as the technological advances worked its way through social organization.

Of course, one wave has by now already crested and broken (dot-boom/dot-bust). But the effect is that it means everybody knows what's at stake now.

Censorship! Copyright! Culture! ... what's at stake, where are we going, What Does It All Mean ...

Except now it's getting answered.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:43 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
April 01, 2004

Disassociated Press: V-I Day - Internet Wins

April 1, 2004
Candle H. McCall
Disassociated Press

LALA LAND - In a surprise announcement today, all the world's government announced they were to disband in favor of Internet Emergent Democracy. United Nations (U.N.) Secretary General Nosee TheMan issued the shocking communique.

"War, famine, plague, and pestilence, have set man against man throughout human history. But it's a New Era. A few hackers with computers have changed it all. We're giving up. Bloggers, filesharers, and flame-wars trump laws, guns, and money.

We used to think we could control the world. But now, with the advent of The Internet, we all know we have no choice but to become technolibertarian cryptoanarchies."

Robber Baron Snidely Whiplash said "Curses! Foiled again! I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for those darn geeks".

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:03 AM | Followups
February 22, 2004

Ralph Nader Arguments

Ralph Nader is running for US president, as an Independent candidate. I've found the reaction to be degenerating quickly into an endless repetition of a few key arguments (I'll describe them with my stance being evident).

1) Just One Straw

A large part of the discussion is people repeating the One Straw On The Camel's Back argument in various forms. Either directly ("How could Ralph Nader cause such problems?"), or in a kind of contrapositive form ("If Ralph Nader made the difference, Gore was too weak to win anyway") or in terms of deflections ("What about this? And that? And the other thing? Gore's home state? Internet! Mistaken denial of voters as felons?" etc etc.)

2) I'm Being Censored!

Ralph Nader claimed censorship by his critics. Allegedly, those opposed to his candidacy are violating the liberal virtues of debate, pluralism, open-mindedness, and general freedom. Let a thousand flowers bloom, and a dozen vote-splitters run.

This also comes in the ever-popular Tolerating-Intolerance variation, where anyone who criticizes (what they argue to be) stupidity is thus being intolerant. Supposedly, liberals are somehow obligated to be so open-minded that their brains fall out (this may explain some of the problems in winning elections ...).

3) Fix The Bug (Ignore The Crash)!

The mathematics of voting systems teaches us that in a simple plurality system, it is very easy for opposition forces to split the vote in terms of reformist and radical candidates, leading to the triumph of a status-quo candidate opposed by both camps.

Some people consider this a bug, while others consider it a feature. In either case, though, it is a fact. The question is then what to do in the face of this fact. Repeated saying It's Broken, It's Wrong, It's Not The Right Way, may be true, but don't let Ralph Nader off the hook.

Re-engineering the voting system is a laudable goal. However, it won't happen by the 2004 election. We can't say "Buggy system! We won't use it now!". It's like a legacy choice imposed by management.

The options within this framework may not be pretty. But ignoring how Ralph Nader is likely splitting the vote simply denies what will happen in terms of probable effect.

90% of the punditry seems to be these three items, pro or con. As usual, nobody's mind is changed.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:08 PM | Comments (2) | Followups

Ralph Nader "Meet The Press" candidacy announcement escapes via Google News?

Folks, do the following search on Google News:

source:alternet Nader "Meet The Press"

At 2:32 am EST Sunday, I get:

A Risk-Free 'Nader' in 2004
AlterNet - 57 minutes ago
... And Ralph Nader's candidacy as an Independent, announced on Meet The Press Sunday, only lessens the chances of success in November. ...

Trying to click through to the story, I get:

The story you have selected is only available to AlterNet Syndication Clients. If you are already a client, please sign in below.

Hmm ... it wasn't much of secret before, but it sure isn't now!

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 02:38 AM | Followups
February 17, 2004

Dean-ial: "Trippi McMahon Squier" Is Not "A Movement"

One more Dean-ial post: Folks, what does Trippi McMahon Squier do? That is, what is Joe Trippi's profession? Here's a hint:

At Trippi, McMahon & Squier, our specialty is communications strategy and persuasive advertising that delivers a targeted message. For political campaigns. For issue advocacy groups. For trade associations. For corporate clients in both the U.S. and the international arena. ...

What's missing here?

Do you see anything like "Our specialty is enabling people to work in coalitions and collective actions. For labor organizing. For civil rights. For anti-corporate protests in both the U.S. and the international arena."? No?

Then why do you think you're going to get anything other than advertising?

This is the reasoning flaw underlying much failure to implement political change: People are suckers for someone selling them the style of something, rather than the substance.

As the Howard Dean campaign destructs, there's a lot of disillusioned net-souls looking for a new guru. Burst bubbles hurt people, which is one reason that blowing bubbles is bad. But it is not an issue of finding the right guru, rather it's a matter of all false prophets.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
February 16, 2004

Howard Dean Domains

Inspired by Joe Trippi's blog domain, I went digging though the domain database to see if there was anything "interesting" to be found there. No scandal, but some amusing material associated with the Dean campaign. Most of the list was just or But amusingly, the domains:


were all registered by "Dean For America" on "31-Oct-03".

And on "16-SEP-03", the Dean webmaster had registered


I wonder what the story is there, just for the humor value.

Other funny domains:


And interestingly:


None of these seem to be in use.

If anyone wants it, I've made the list available (not meant to be exhaustive) at:

Again, not exactly hot material, but it has its moments.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
February 13, 2004

Joe Trippi, Net Politics, and The Money

I don't want to turn my blog into "bash Joe Trippi" one-notes. But the more I read, the more I distrust what he's doing for net politics. Yes, there are some interesting technical innovations. But there's interesting technical innovations in creating weapons of mass destruction too. The advances here are in new forms of bubble-blowing.

Note in particular the following section of the Joe Trippi Etech talk (my emphasis):

There's a reason George Bush is vulnerable today and it's because of the blogs. It's because of Howard Dean. It's because tools were out there that let hundreds of thousands of Americans get involved and let a debate happen in this country again that wasn't happening.

Once more - RUN AWAY! Just run away. Anyone who can make that statement with a straight face, is either remorselessly manipulative, or so deluded as to be outright dangerous, in the sense of a cult-leader. It's like someone who says "I'm Jesus Christ returned to Earth, so follow me to save your soul, err, democracy.". We can have a debate over whether they're a heartless con-man who preys on the vulnerable, or are "merely" sincerely completely disconnected from reality. But either way, or any mixture, the end result is the same: It is a bad idea to follow them.

Let's consider the money. In some ways, the exaggeration of the amounts Joe Trippi supposedly made, has deflected attention from the deeper problem, the set-up of "heads I win, tails you lose". No, he did not collect $7 million dollars in campaign cash himself. The $7 million is the total ad buy, of which his firm gets a commission (said to be in fact 7%, not 15%), of which he gets a 1/3 split:

2. I recently inquired about the contract and my compensation. It turns out it was a 7% contract. Meaning that if $7 million in TV was bought 93% went to TV stations to buy the time and 7% or $490,000 was paid to the firm in which I was a partner. My firm has 3 partners so my third or share comes to approximately $165,000. I will let the grassroots and donors of the campaign decide if that was too much compensation. $165,000 is a lot of money, but it is not the $7 million the media and those leveling the attacks want you to believe either.

Indeed, $165,000 is not a king's ransom. But it's not bad either. Heck, for the work involved, I'll say it's not even undeserved! But now things get interesting (emphasis mine):

So why are they trying to make $165,000 sound like $7 million?

Because how do you stop a movement? How do you stop people from contributing to change their country? Its easy -- make them think the whole damn thing was a ponzi scheme to enrich a consultant.

3. My partner Steve McMahon had handled Governor Dean's media for over 12 years. And Trippi McMahon & Squier were hired as the media firm long before I volunteered to run the campaign when not many would. This is important -- because this fact means that as a 1/3 partner in my firm -- I would have made the $165,000 in 2003 if I had gone golfing in Fiji for the entire year instead of going sleepless in Burlington.

NO. That $165,000 is the final yield on the $41 million fundraising which he did, from the grassroots. He wouldn't have gotten it if someone hadn't raised it - it's his contribution as a member of the firm in the first place! He's not a partner just to look pretty. And the numbers are exactly the same thing, in terms of inflated figures, as when the media reports "XYZ was involved with $7 million of illegal drugs seized in a raid!". That $7 million is an inflated overall value. It certainly doesn't mean $7 million for any one drug-dealer. The overall sums have to be split with partners, middlemen, low-level dealers, and so on. And someone as familiar with bubbles as Joe Trippi certainly knows this media-hype convention.

What's far more important here, is how the the risks are arranged. No matter what happens, he comes out well. Look at it this way:

1) If he wins, in the best case, he comes out with tremendous power, as well as maybe *$800,000* for the ride (he wanted to raise $200 million, and $41 million = > $165,000, so I assume (200/41)*165 => ~ 800).

2) If he loses, in the worst case, he comes out with fame (or notoriety), has a shot at being a national pundit, can go on the lecture circuit, and gets a low six-figure consolation prize (which ended up at around $165,000).

Not a bad deal at all. And it's made possible by YOU, yes, you, citizen-blogger, taking back democracy from your computer, revolution 2.0 in America! Just send a check, err, a PayPal transfer to this address ...

It's not wrong for a salesman to get a commission. And yes, we have to deal with the money involved in the whole process. But that doesn't make this salesman right, nor this product a good one. In fact, the end results have been downright shoddy, and the number of people taken-in is only a measure of how much of a dream existed to be fleeced.

[Personal note: I've put in a lot of net-freedom work myself. I finally was driven-out because, far from a golden-parachute, I was spending hundred of dollars in expenses out of my own pocket while unemployed, and not a big-time pundit, but being attacked every single day. This does affect my perspective in the above!]

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:54 AM | Comments (4) | Followups
February 11, 2004

Joe Trippi Quotes Me (almost) At ETech Q&A!

People say that I have more readers and influence than I know. Perhaps that's true. But be careful what you wish for, because you might get it. I just found out that Joe Trippi used some blog comments focused on me, as part of a story he told at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference, during the "Digital Democracy Teach-In". I'm not mentioned by name there, and it's not harmful to me. So thankfully, this is not a case of my being flamed from on-high, with no way to reply. But I was very surprised to see how some months-ago remarks I wrote, had made their way into his Etech discuasion, and how they were presented.

[Update note 2/15: I initially transcribed this myself from the audio, so it differs slightly from the now-released official transcript]

At around 19:42 minutes (of the audio) into the Q&A session, discussing blogs and ideas, Joe Trippi says:

[There were so many different ideas ... such as] Larry Lessig letting the governor blog on his blog. The governor just wanted to learn, he literally wanted to get the living daylights kicked out of him, learning what blogging was really like, in the real world.

One of the coolest things that happened in that one was everybody wanted to know - his [Dean's] blog comments were thought to be so - how do I put this - inane, that they couldn't possibly be really him, that they might have been sort of autobots. And I came on the blog, on Lessig's blog, and immediately said, like

"I know you guys think this, but if you thought that these were being ghost-written, don't you think we'd do, I'd do, a better job of it?"

[audience laughter]

And I can't remember who, I think it was David Weinberger or somebody, basically wrote this all up on the JOHO blog, and said

"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"

Because when you look at that exchange on the Lessig blog, it's *clear* that this is really Howard dean, and it really is his campaign manager, who else - who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow?

Now, Joe Trippi is not the first politician, or even the first person, to tell a story where he makes himself sound more heroic than circumstances warranted (Who would manufacture this sort of blow-by-blow? What a straight-line! :-)). But since his comment on the Lessig blog specifically addressed me by name, and that exchange was much in reference to me, I recall what really happened - and in fact was able to locate the actual blow-by-blow. It's entry #1363 on Lessig's blog:

Short version - what I really said was:

Earlier, I wondered if a staffer would be ghost-writing the entries.

Now I'm wondering if the entries are auto-posted by a script.

posted by Seth Finkelstein on Jul 15 03 at 8:48 PM

AND IT WAS A JOKE!. I was saying exactly what Joe Trippi gives as his zinger - that a ghost-writer would have done a better job with writing articles. And moreover, while some people didn't get the joke, other commenters did get it:

Jonathan: Seth is (quite humerously IMHO), saying that Dean's arguments have, thus far, been so elementary that they could have been posted by an artificially intelligent script.

I don't think (now) that anyone doubts that it is truly Dr. Dean who is posting.

posted by jt on Jul 15 03 at 9:13 PM [jt != Joe Trippi, it's someone else]

THEN, afterwards, around forty minutes later, is when Joe Trippi chimes in:

Seth ? can I ask you something ? don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that? I mean seriously if that post doesn't prove Howard Dean himself is posting ? I don't know what will cut through your doubts.

[rest of comment snipped]

posted by Joe Trippi on Jul 15 03 at 10:01 PM

Now, I don't fault him for wanting to make an "official" statement, given the comments. But turning this into a story where he sets everybody straight with humor - that's complete fiction. Again, NOBODY, NOBODY, was truly thinking the posts "might have been sort of autobots". That's a kind of slang for what, in pundit-ese, might be termed "a scripted performance" (i.e. whether script as in theater, or script as in computer program, the result is the same).

And this is what David Weinberger wrote at the time on the JOHO blog

In response to a comment questioning, in an unnecessarily nasty tone, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts at the Lessig blog, Joe Trippi, Dean's campaign manager, wrote:

Seth - can I ask you something - don't you think that if we were ghostwriting this stuff we would have come up with something better than that?

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the entire Wed summed up in one line. Take it in the micro sense and you have the Web's Theory of Authenticity with its corollary that Imperfection Is a Virtue. Take it to the macro and you get the Messy Network Axiom with its corollary that Efficiency is the Enemy of Truth.

Umm ... What? No, don't explain, it's possible, but it's not worth it. Much more important is that this latter comment proceeds from a false premise, from Joe Trippi's supposed zing. I wasn't questioning, at that point, whether Gov. Dean was the actual author of the posts. Rather, then, I was humorously saying they were vacuous, playing off earlier authorship doubts for the joke (whether in an unnecessarily nasty tone, I won't comment).

Oh, the irony, of thinking
"This is one of the most authentic moments in American politics on the web"!

First my point is misconstrued. Then it's pundit-fodder. Then the whole story is spun to make the campaign a hero, against the confused and ignorant public. And almost nobody will ever hear differently, because of power-laws and marginalization.


Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:23 AM | Comments (3)
February 10, 2004

Dean-ial: Debunking "The Unmaking Of A President-2004 By Carl Jensen"

I wrote the message below for a mailing list, to partially debunk an article on the Howard Dean campaign meltdown, "The Unmaking Of A President-2004 By Carl Jensen". While I have much sympathy for Howard Dean for his suffering a post-Iowa attack of negative pack-journalism (as opposed to his previous months of positive pack-journalism), I can't see this as any sort of willful reaction by Big Media against The Reformer. That's persecution fantasy. It's much more romantic to imagine being hunted down as an Enemy Of The Status Quo, than ignominiously stampeded by a herd of journalist-cattle all MOO-ing after the gotcha. But death by stupid stampede is just as fatal as death by malevolent hunt.

Carl Jensen's article is extremely selective in quoting. To start with one howling example:

> The research Center does not cite any major donors for Dean.


The number-1 donor for Dean is ... drumroll ... Time Warner!

Time Warner $65,225

That does compare favorably to Kerry, where Time Warner is number 3

Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo $230,796
FleetBoston Financial Corp. $182,387
Time Warner $140,710

But note those are career numbers, and Kerry has been in Washington politics for many, many, years.

> As we know, the majority of his contributors are ordinary citizens
> who donate an average of $77 dollars. Dean's "special interest group"
> is the American people.

Bleh. The "majority" of almost any group of contributions will be by ordinary citizens, simply as a function of numbers. But $65,225 in contributions is worth quite a few $77 contributions.

Howard Dean is not exactly without sin, from the same Center:

"While governor, Howard Dean pushed for utility contract provisions that aided the power companies, but cost Vermont families millions of dollars in skyrocketing rates. Vermont has the sixth highest utility rates in the country, due in part to a series of long-term contracts between its major power companies. After years of pushing for Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and the smaller utilities it held to absorb the excess costs of their expensive contracts, Dean's Department of Public Service agreed to let ratepayers be billed for more than 90 percent of the excess costs -- which could soar into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Central Vermont Public Service Corp. donated more than $10,000 to Dean's Fund for a Healthy America PAC -- a hefty contribution in a state that limits campaign contributions for statewide offices to $400."

Regarding media coverage:

> The results of the CMPA study, released January 15, 2004, revealed that
> Gov. Dean received significantly more negative criticism on the
> network broadcasts while his Democratic presidential competitors
> received significantly more positive comments. The research examined
> 187 stories broadcast on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news in 2003.

Well, he was the front-runner during much of that time, and hence should be expected to receive more criticism. Note the timing problem here: (my emphasis)

> Also on November 19, the Associated Press reported, "Dean, the > former Vermont governor, said Tuesday that if elected president, he
> would move to re-regulate business sectors such as utilities and media
> companies to restore faith after corporate scandals such as Enron and
> WorldCom."
> Dean's idea of re-regulating two out-of-control business sectors
> produced criticism from some of his competitors and surely struck a
> raw nerve within monopolistic utilities and mega-media companies.
> I believe Dean's progressive attack on monopolies helps explain why
> the corporate media started piling on Dean, portraying him with the
> pejorative term of the "angry candidate."

But the CMPA says (my emphasis):

"The Gore Effect--Dean's coverage improved dramatically in December, when nearly one-third of his 2003 coverage occurred. Twenty-eight percent of all on-air descriptions of Dean were positive through the first eleven months of the year, while his coverage spiked to 59 percent positive in December, the month he received the endorsement of former Vice President Al Gore."

While I'll agree the media coverage of Dean has been unfair at times, especially post-Iowa, there's too much of an attempt to force that into a directed attack because of his alleged threat as a supposed supporter of re-regulation/The Internet/People Power/Blog Triumphalism/etc.

I suggest reading an analysis by Clay Shirky: "Exiting Deanspace"

"You can ring doorbells and carry signs and donate and stay up til 4 in the morning talking with fellow believers about the sorry state of politics today, and you still only get one vote. If you want more votes than that, you have to do the hardest, most humbling thing in the world. You have to change someone else's mind."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 09:46 PM | Followups
February 09, 2004

The Dean Scream vs. The Net Dream

The Howard Dean collapse has given me a new stock answer to reply to people who argue that the Internet is a power equalizer:

"Howard Dean had a website. Look how much good it did him, in fighting a media slam. YEARRGH!"

[And I can have my scream above as a multilayered reference, encompassing both the famous image driven into our collective consciousness by media saturation, as well as my own desire to scream whenever someone preaches the website-is-equality argument!]

In some ways, it's fascinating to watch the Who-Lost-Dean debate. PressThink has a great summary article on various explanations. One interesting underarticulated thread, is that here, we've actually run a large-scale real-world experiment in being heard versus power-laws in audience numbers. Again, Howard Dean had a web platform, an extremely well-known site as such things go, where people could go to get his side of the story! Remember the net utopian idea? Just have a site on The Internet, and the media can't smear you, because people can (gasp, choke, get a load of this) find it out themselves!.

But, overall, they don't. People don't painstakingly research an issue. Either they don't care, or they take the media report as definitive, or they just don't want to be bothered.

In general, the blogosphere just talks to itself. So the A-list posters, who have tens of thousands of readers, get a vastly inflated sense of their own influence. They're big fish (A-list) in a small pond (policy blogs). But when it comes to the general political mediamass, the blog-writers who aren't members of that punditocracy, don't even register. And even those who are media pundits, are low on the scale.

Just as the blog A-list is around 1000 times more powerful than the average blogger, the mass media A-list is around 1000 times more powerful still. Welcome to my world, folks. This is how it feels to be a minnow instead of a shark. When you get slammed, you get to hear dark mutterings from your friends about how threatening you were to the powers that be, or how we must redouble our efforts against The Man, or that your sacrifice was worth it because of the change it wrought.

But in terms of the cliche about a beautiful theory being slain by an ugly fact, well:

"Remember, no matter how hard you work, no matter how right you are - sometimes the dragon wins."

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
February 05, 2004

Ralph Nader, "Censorship", and 2000 Election

I've been posting the following comments in today's blog mini-debate, so here's my emergent blatherocracy citizen-commentary contribution, about whether Ralph Nader should run in the 2004 election, and if the reaction against it, per his NPR Interview is "censorship".

Note interesting analysis: Nader did it

Many straws go into breaking a camel's back. And each individual straw can say:

"Who me? Wasn't me. I'm just one straw! What sort of a big strong camel is this, if he can't deal with one more straw on his back? The solution is to get a better camel!"

Media smears such as the Al Gore "invented the Internet" fabrication were one straw. ChoicePoint was another straw. And Ralph Nader was yet another straw.

In collective action, how do you allocate responsibility for the end result?

It's certainly true that *some* Nader voters wouldn't be Gore voters. But I think it strains credibility to argue that overall, Nader voters would prefer Bush over Gore!


We really need a good framework for someone to make the argument, and have it evaluated *on the merits* of:

"If I advocate this position, I am afraid I will subjected to torrents of *undeserved abuse*, which I will be *unable* to counter to defend myself, and thus will personally suffer to such an extent that fear of this process has chilled and intimidated me from speaking out."

The above outcome may be 100.0% legal, First Amendment protected - but it's still worth examination.

There's some times this argument is reasonable, and some times it's not, and we need some way to be able to deal with it to separate the two.

The problem is this idea gets bogged down in "censorship" vs "only *government*" and "it's *my right* to criticize" and implicit accusations that the above is being falsely claimed for sympathy, and the discussion becomes a whirlpool of people flaming past each other :-(.

Note, I believe Ralph Nader's use of this argument here is *not* reasonable, and is a case of it being used for sympathy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (3) | Followups
February 03, 2004


Forgive him, for he believes that the customs of his tribe are the laws of nature!

George Bernard Shaw

Clay Shirky has an excellent lengthy post-mortem on what I've taken to call "Dean-ial", the bubble which was the Dean campaign:

Exiting Deanspace

Quote, my emphasis (he said it, I didn't)

"... the hard thing to explain is not how the Dean campaign blew such a huge lead, but rather why we ever thought that lead actually existed. Dean's campaign didn't just fail, it dissolved on contact with reality.

I actually don't think it's too hard to explain. It's basically plain old Groupthink. It's not particularly net-specific. The Howard Dean campaign had a good run for a few months, capitalizing on anti-war sentiments and press fascination with "The Internet" (e.g. social software, blogs) and his admittedly successful fundraising. But if you treated him like a standard candidate (rookie, anti-war against incumbent, noisy factional support), you got a reasonable scenario about how this would play out.

This leads me to one of my few disagreements with an article full of sound analysis, the part where it's said:

A number of people, disputing the idea that the use of the internet had anything to do with the gap between Dean's predicted and actual support, have advanced the "internet minority" thesis, as in "The internet is used by a minority of citizens", or, in its more regionally biased version, "Who in Iowa has computers anyway?"

With national internet penetration at roughly two-thirds of households, it's long since time to retire this canard. More people use the internet than read a daily newspaper. More people use the internet than vote in general elections, much less primaries. Iowa and New Hampshire both have better than 50% penetration (as does most of the country except the antebellum south.) Furthermore, one of the commonest uses of the internet is getting daily news. The internet is now, and from now on, a political media channel.

I think this misses the critique of the Internet triumphant. Many people may "use the Internet", in terms of email, eBay, or chat. But that doesn't mean they're at all interested in the tiny bubble of blog blather, or going to MeetUp with people as anything other than a dating opportunity. Indeed, "a political media channel" might very well be the website of CNN/ABC/CBS/NBC/etc.

As I've mentioned, there's too often a conflation of writing an online diary for oneself and a few friends, with having an effect on the political process. It's a bit like the old jokes about how logical fallacies can imply anything, "IF 1+1 = 1, THEN I am the Pope". Except here the reasoning is more like "IF many teenage girls e-write about their crushes, and their parents use eBay as a garage sale, THEN Howard Dean is President". Not quite the same thing, but about as useful.

It's all part of a fantasy that, Come The (Net) Revolution, we're all supposed to be happy little blogging bears, "citizen-journalists" reading and writing to one another, merrily pouring in hours and hours of time each week, for free, in order to take back Democracy from Big Media via People Power, I mean The Blogosphere.

That's an appealing fantasy, and for a while, it got attached to the Dean campaign. But one doesn't get popularity-points for saying its utter nonsense. That view isn't amplified, echoed, promoted.

David Weinberger commented:

So, I find myself agreeing with Clay's warnings about how a candidate's Internet campaign can create an unfounded perception of electoral strength, yet also worried that readers will come away with an exaggerated view of the Internet's role in that perception. It wasn't just the Internet that led us into false optimism.

It's not "The Internet". It's us. It's that desire to want to believe in things which make us feel good, and not to consider that which makes us feel bad. In short, Dean-ial.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:22 PM | Comments (9) | Followups
January 31, 2004

Howard Dean and the banality of "Social Software"

An inevitable reaction to the failure of the Great Internet God, is view it as the Great Internet Satan. But perhaps social software, blogging, etc. was neither Deity nor Devil, but merely banal.

There's a good quote in Andrew Orlowski's article Howard Dean's Net architect blasts 'emergent' punditocracy:

"Campaigns have always been decentralized and disorganized. There's always authorization and endorsement behind the scenes. In 2000, McCain's campaign was totally disorganized outside the main little bubble that they had. We were simply able to have more disorganized people!"

Presidential campaigns are big, geographically widespread, rambling organizations. A moment's thought will show they can't be too centralized by their very nature. Let's turn it around. Let's assume the Dean campaign was not extraordinary in any way we can. That is, nothing will be accounted extraordinary if it can be explained conventionally (extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - not press-hype).

Yes, Dean has dedicated volunteers. But Kerry has campaigners who give the impression they'd literally take a bullet for him (which, one has to admit, would be much more impressive that writing on a blog, or even letters/canvassing). Yes, Dean raised much money, - but there was nothing unique about him which raised that money (rather than being an earlier-adopter of Internet fund-raising).

However, there's also downsides which didn't get discussed much in the hype. Dean is a rookie. His campaign managers (past and present) may have been experienced - but he was not. Experience counts in campaigning. While money talks, his opponents also had growls of their own, sometimes against him. Even if you raise more money than everyone else, if several of them gang up on you with attack-ads, you go down.

And again, if you campaign as Mr. Anti-War, and ride high when the war is more in the news, it's not surprising to fade as the war fades.

So maybe the all the Internet chatter was just ... chatter. Didn't help much, didn't hurt much. Or at least not nearly as much as would make The Internet Revolutionize Politics.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Comments (3) | Followups
January 29, 2004

Howard Dean, Joe Trippi, and Bubble Valuation

Continuing the theme of Howard Dean campaign and a bubble have been confirmed by his New Hampshire loss.

In a piece by Clay Shirky, Is Social Software Bad for the Dean Campaign?, he writes:

I'm getting the same cognitive dissonance listening to political handicappers explain Dean's dismal showing in Iowa that I used to get listening to financial analysts try to explain dot com mania with things like P/E ratios and EBITDA. A stock's value is not set by those things; it is set by buyer and seller agreeing on price. In ordinary markets, buyers and sellers use financial details to get to that price, but sometimes, as with dot com stocks, the way prices get agreed on has nothing to do with finance.

This sums up much which goes wrong in bubble-blowing. It's absolutely true that a stock's value is "set by buyer and seller agreeing on price". But it's a trivial definition of the word value. "What is this stock worth?" "What you paid for it". Right, but that's a joke, since it's re-interpreting the question in a semi-humorous way ("Call me a taxi","OK, you taxi!"). What people tend to mean by a stock's "value", is the complicated string of words "What is the return on investment for the level of risk, and is this greater or lesser than other investments for the same cost?". That's value - not price.

Now, this is a very complicated estimate - there's much mathematics, and superstition, associated with it. But that doesn't make it meaningless. When estimates of these factors (return, risk) depart from rational parameters, we enter bubble-land - and people get hurt (Enron!)

The comparable metric for a politician is roughly, metaphorically, "What is the worth of these policies, given that he/she has to get elected?" (return on investment == worth of these policies, get elected == risk)

The Dean Campaign was a classic bubble-stock. He was "thinly traded" (no real votes for a very long time). He was hyped by self-interested promoters, having found a new, naive, constituency which could be fleeced (net-heads). He had a gimmick (BLOGS / SOCIAL SOFTWARE, feel the *B*U*Z*Z*!), which was made even stronger for having a kernel of truth (fundraising being more efficient). He tapped into strong emotions (the war). And there was a ready supply of castle-in-the-air builders to tell us all about the New Era (of Regurgitant Pundocracy). All very standard.

And also classic is the way a rational assessment would show these to be blown way out of proportion. Howard Dean is a good guy, But he's not God. He's not even JFK. He has nothing so overwhelmingly favorable so as to make him even certain of victory. Yes, a big war chest is nice. But it wasn't 10 times, 100 times, more than his nearest competitors. Moreover, campaigning as an anti-war candidate automatically shut him off from the substantial number of pro-war voters (even Democratic voters). And was further vulnerable to being weakened by candidates who were somewhat anti-war, but less objectionable to those leaning pro-war. And his primary "market" (anti-war), weakened substantially due to world events. Plus he apparently blew the cash in some ill-advised ways.

Narrow market, over-hyped, lost share to more established players, crashed and burned (though to be fair, not to absolute zero) - where have we heard that story before?

When I read the following part of the New Republic article on Joe Trippi, my eyebrows raised up (emphasis mine):

Beyond its size, two things stood out about the Wave community. The first was the emotional investment the shareholders were making thanks to their interaction with each other and the company's management--an investment that produced incredible loyalty. "I think that the individual retail investor, no doubt about it, kept Wave afloat," says Barkeloo. "The loyal following kept the stock price up. The company should have gone away [when the tech bubble burst], but it didn't because of the retail base." The second thing was the way the investment community expanded. "It was word of mouth, grassroots," Sprague explains. "A buddy calls you up and says, 'Ah, I have a great stock.' You say, 'Where can I learn more?' He says, 'Join the chat board.'"

NO! Run away! You don't learn more on a chat board. A chat board is a nest of ranters, schemers, pump-and-dump scammers, manipulators, dreamers, and generally the worst place to learn anything except the many ways people can get things wrong (and their various reasons for doing so).

If presidential candidates were previously being sold as detergent, the new approach here was to sell them like a bubble stock IPO. That's indeed an innovation. But not necessarily a good one.

And I would have been flamed raw if I had said this while the bubble was being blown, before it had blown-up. At least nobody lost their retirement funds.

See also a NY Post column

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:54 PM | Comments (4) | Followups
January 21, 2004

Howard Dean Is (Was) a Bubble IPO

At times during the past few months, I thought about writing a critical essay about the Dean campaign. Yes, they used the Internet in interesting ways, socially, very interesting ways. But some of those uses were by no means as warm and fuzzy as one would like. In fact, they bore a very disturbing similarity to Net-Bubble IPO's.

I never wrote the essay, though. I thought to myself: Don't get-into-it. There's no benefit. I can't win. There's no point in being contrarian about The Dean Machine. It's not my job. The result will only be that the Dean-iacs attack, and that'll just be one more reputation-negative, for nothing. Overall, the only people who would defend me after being slammed for such an analysis, are right-wingers, and they aren't my base.

I even wondered if I could get some political cover from Dave Winer. But that didn't change the high risk/reward equation.

Now, not only the blogosphere, but the medialump in general, is thick with Dean demolition. Pack journalism is a very ugly thing to behold.

I've seen relevant articles on e.g. PressThink and Ed Cone, I won't attempt to write a post-mortem of my own. Instead, the press process intrigues me. It's strangely "emergent" - it feeds on itself, and feeds on its feeding of itself. The worm ouroboros, made media.

The Internet will revolutionize politics - chatter, *buzz*, HYPE! AND HYPE HYPE HYPE again for good measure.

Oops - The Internet DID NOT revolutionize politics - what went wrong??? - repeat, chatter, *buzz*, HYPE!.

And, just like a bubble IPO, it's the (bottom?) feeders who end up coming out ahead.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:25 PM | Comments (14) | Followups
December 04, 2003

It's Possible For ALL Sides To Lose (RSS Wars)

I saw the flare-up in the "RSS wars" (the arguments over the format for conveying article headlines) today, no links out of self-preservation. And in a bit of serendipity, an article about Microsoft dominance strategy crossed my screen. I was thinking, it really is possible for everyone on the free/open side to lose. I've managed so far not to get really hurt by D've W'ner, despite my views of blog-bubblism, so I probably should say as little as possible. But the whole thing reminded me yet again in an unpleasant way of some of the issues in the old bad censorware politics. Yes, you can all lose, in terms of the cause, everyone, though of course some people can come out ahead on a personal level.

It's like watching a real Prisoner's Dilemma unfold. Nobody wants to say "You're right, we'll do it all your way, you're in charge". It's easy to dismiss this as personality or ego, but there's much deeper and more fundamental divisions.

Well, I have no particular solution. In fact, I'm just hoping I don't suffer from this posting, which is a measure of how little I can do.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
November 28, 2003

Technology vs. offshore outsourcing ("Jobs come and go")

[I wrote this in reply to the message "Jobs come and go" today on Dave Farber's IP list, but it apparently didn't make the cut]

> [Walter E. Williams]
> But there's no significant economic difference between an industry
> using technology to reduce production costs and using cheaper labor
> to do the same.

Ah, but there is - by this logic, there's no difference between using robots and slaves. The fallacy thus should be obvious. The difference is that the robots aren't also part of the economy. By "economic", he means there is no economic difference to the industry management. Which is not the same as there being no economic difference to the industry labor force.

The argument for technology is that ultimately, it expands the economic pie (since the robots don't count as participants). This is not the same as simply playing labor off against each other, which is merely fighting over the portion of the pie (unless you also think that workers don't count as participants, a view many people do have!).

Slave labor is unarguably a cheaper method of production. But it does not follow then that society benefits from it.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Followups
November 22, 2003

In Memoriam, Nov 22 anniversary

This is a minimal post in memoriam. Sometimes there's not much to say.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
November 03, 2003

On Diebold: The DMCA Is An Anti-Freedom-Of-Information-Act

Inspired by all that's been going on with the Diebold Election Systems / Swarthmore story today, such as NYT: File Sharing Pits Copyright Against Free Speech, and Online Policy Group v. Diebold case archive:

People are told to think of the DMCA as an "anti-piracy" law. It's supposed to stop copyright infringement. But in terms of implications, the DMCA is an anti-freedom-of-information-act. It's turned into an all-purpose gag-order tool. The reason is stated to be infringement - but it's very easy for that reason to turn into an excuse. This is the exact same phenomena as when material is improperly classified as "secret". The ostensible reason is protecting national security, but too often in reality it's hiding government incompetence or corruption. Except that now, "copyright infringement" works much better in certain contexts than "national security".

Consider this - the process of voting is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of a functioning democracy. And yet, we're expected to accept that we are not permitted to check and monitor the mechanics by which the votes are being counted. It's "secret balloting", in a very negative sense! Rather than control the votes, it's control of the vote-counting machines.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:47 PM | Followups

The Smell Of Astroturf In The Morning

Numbers tell patterns and speak volumes, if you can understand their language. It was clear that Presidential candidate John Edwards guest-posting on Lessig blog today was going to draw an audience. Credit-starved beggar that I am, I was hoping that the crowd of people would also read Lessig's post a few items earlier, "thanks, Seth", about DMCA exemptions. And so I'd benefit via a reflection from that publicity.

Nope. As far as I can tell, the crowd went straight to either cheer or boo John Edwards. Almost nobody was reading anything else. No interest. Not that it's unexpected. But it's worthwhile to know, empirically, that was the case.

E-cheering and E-booing does not fill me with a great hope for the future of the web in changing political campaigns.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 04:19 PM | Comments (2) | Followups
October 12, 2003

Iraq "astroturf" letters, and Googling

I just sent this to Dave Farber's list, as a supplement for investigating the Olympian story where US newspapers barraged with same letter from different soldiers.

From: Seth Finkelstein
To: Dave Farber
Subject: Re: [IP] US newspapers barraged with same letter from different soldiers

On Sun, Oct 12, 2003 at 09:26:57AM -0400, Dave Farber wrote:
> Original URL:
> A Google search by the INQ shows only two online newspapers so far
> including one of the key phrases: "The quality of life and security
> for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of
> why that has happened." ...
> The Google links are to the Register-Herald and the Pittsburgh Daily
> Courier.

I just replicated what they did. They made a searching procedure mistake. They searched the phrase as normal, but forgot or didn't know that by default, Google doesn't show "very similar" results. In this case, "very similar" results are exactly what they wanted. They should have followed the link on the search page which says:

"If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included."

Many more online newspapers with the astroturf are then visible, e.g.

Seth Finkelstein Consulting Programmer sethf[at-sign]

P.S.: Hmm, maybe I should go into "Google studies", market myself as a "Google-expert consultant" :-)

That PS is a reference to a recent report I wrote, which is currently a story.

Google Spam Filtering Gone Bad

Google studies. Definitely, Google studies. Google may have warts, but they aren't evil. They don't threaten or sue. They don't send out PR smears. One day I might even conceivably get paid for expertise here, which has never happened with my censorware research. Google, google, google ...

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:21 PM | Followups
September 11, 2003

9/11 and the mathematics of terrorism screening

On 9/11, it feels out of place to write about anything other than the obvious. I was considering writing about why the state of civil-liberties in the US still not quite like Nazi Germany. But I'm a bit worried regarding sounding like a right-wing columnist, so I was put off of that.

There's a mathematical paradox which has been troubling me. It's a general problem, but the specifics here relate to airline screening systems, based on the two ideas:

1) Almost all people screened for terrorism will be innocent

2) Terrorists cannot be ignored

That is, a true-positive on detecting "terrorist" is a very rare occurrence, from the simple fact that there are only a handful of terrorists in existence. So any practical screening system applied to the huge numbers of people who fly each day, is going to yield almost entirely false positives. There doesn't seem to be a way to have any warning system that won't have much inconvenience.

Add in that people want the system to be as cheap as possible, and the problem becomes even harder.

I don't have a solution. If I did, I'd be trying to sell it and get rich and famous.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:05 PM | Followups
September 02, 2003

Ian Clarke GrepLaw interview, and leaving America follow-up

Greplaw has an interview with Ian Clarke where he discusses many things, including his comment about leaving America ("it was an off-the-cuff remark ... and it was taken out of context"). Though he is still leaving. I actually did write him about this issue earlier, as I debated last month, and he gave me permission to post his reply. Frankly, at the time, I decided not to go ahead and post, because I just didn't want to get-into-it so deeply. Not after the negatives of being trashed by John Gilmore on the front page of Lessig's blog, from my calling the "Suspected Terrorist" stunt "a millionaire's version of trolling". The point here being that there was no way I could gain by opposing the sensationalism. Very sadly, the hypsters could just slam me, and I wouldn't be able to fight back. But now that Greplaw has it in the story, there's probably (probably ...) no harm in my posting. So see below.

Date: Thu, 14 Aug 2003 20:41:50 -0700
From: Ian Clarke
To: Seth Finkelstein
Subject: Re: America

Yes, and I am afraid not :-)

Unfortunately the publicity around my departure is somewhat misleading, although this is partially my own fault. I never wanted or expected the slashdot comment which started this to be widely publicized, I didn't even expect people to attribute it directly to me (yeah yeah - should have posted as an AC), and I certainly didn't want my departure to attract such attention.

It was irresponsible for some people to describe that paragraph as an "announcement" - when it was actually an off-the-cuff /. post buried deep within a heated debate (the original culprit was

While it is true that I am concerned about the political direction of this country, and extremely concerned about the way this country seems to treat non-Citizens as being less than human, there are other reasons for my departure too, including the cost and limitations involved in maintaining my work visa, and the fact that most of my revenue these days is coming from the EU anyway meaning that there is little business reason for me to remain here.

There is also the concern that Intellectual Property law is enforced much more broadly here than in other places, and with less concern for the "little guy" - which could make me vulnerable should one of my current or future P2P-related projects upset the RIAA or MPAA.

So I am grateful and flattered that you might seek to persuade me not to leave, but my mind is made up - and despite the sensationalist publicity - it isn't all John Ashcroft's fault ;-) I like America, if not its current government, but it just doesn't make sense for me to stay here - perhaps I will return one day.

All the best,


On Thu, Aug 14, 2003 at 11:28:38PM -0400, Seth Finkelstein wrote:
> Ian, are you serious about "leaving America"? Would you
> be open to any counter-thoughts from me on the matter?
> --
> Seth Finkelstein Consulting Programmer

Ian Clarke
Coordinator, The Freenet Project

[Additional note]

On Sat, Aug 16, 2003 at 05:58:03PM -0400, Seth Finkelstein wrote:
> OK, understood. Can I publicize/circulate the below, as an
> antidote to some of the sensationalism?



Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
August 20, 2003

The politics of power - implications for my DMCA/censorware work

Continuing further about the implications of power and prominence, now connect the just-discussed idea of "that, for some Very Prominent People, the definition of "people" is different" with the following portion of a favorite article of mine:

"Wanted: Loveable hero for copyright battle"

"As soon as the judge says 'hacker,' you know you've lost," University of Minnesota law Professor Dan Burk said. "There is an attempt to paint defendants as unsympathetic, low-priority, on the fringe--to make it seem like nobody respectable is going to be harmed except for weird hacker types."

That is, nobody who fits the definition of "people" in the above sense.
Just another small 'hacker'.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:26 PM | Followups
August 19, 2003

Cites & Insights, and the politics of power

Walt Crawford has just released the September 2003 edition of his "Cites & Insights" publication.

Buried at the very end of the newsletter is the following poignant item:

The One that Got Away

The original title for this perspective was "The politics of weblogs." It ended with a one-page essay on "The politics of prominence," based on an unfortunate recent incident in the blogosphere.

In the end, there wasn't room for that essay -- and I could never get my commentary in a form that would serve you and didn't upset me. So why include this non-item?

Because, despite my comments in the other weblogging Perspective, I do believe there's one rule that every blogger should follow, at least if the weblog involves comments by or about anyone other than the blogger.

You know the rule: It's found in nearly every philosophy throughout history. Something about treating other people as you'd like them to treat you.

Unfortunately, the more I thought about this incident, the more I believe that -- for some Very Important People -- there's an escape clause related to the definition of people (worth treating as people.)

And I don't want to write about that.

I completely agree. But I want to note the critical practical difference in the above between statement of values versus statement of fact. Specifically:

Statement of values: "treating other people as you'd like them to treat you"

Statement of fact: "escape clause related to the definition of people"

That is, there's a vast chasm between what people should do, and what they actually do. And the implications of this difference can be very painful (as we see!).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 08:06 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
August 18, 2003

Ed Felten, law and policy debates, and being accused of lying

Edward Felten has an interesting post about a difference in thought processes between technologists and political people:

To a technologist, law and policy debates sometimes seem to be held in a kind of bizarro world, where words and concepts lose their ordinary meanings. Some technologists never get used to the bizarro rules, but some us of do catch on eventually.

One of the bizarro rules is that you should be happy when the other side accuses you of lying or acting in bad faith. In the normal world, such accusations will make you angry; but in bizarro world they indicate that the other side has lost confidence in its ability to win the argument on the merits. And so you learn to swallow your outrage and smile when people call you a scoundrel.

I've run into this phenomenon myself (except I'm not good at swallowing my outrage, so I suffer, and think I should get out of politics before I really get hurt), and I concur it exists.

What's going on is as follows: Law and policy, is, fundamentally, an undertaking where lying is expected. It's a tool, a strategic option. Not that everyone in those areas is dishonest. But being dishonest is simply considered, well, something like a lifestyle choice. One is expected to be somewhat tolerant, at least in public, of those who have a textual orientation different from one's own.

It's not that everyone in science is honest. But lying itself isn't a part of the workaday conduct (and the parts of the day where it is, are called, remember, "office politics").

In contrast, sometimes people in politics really don't understand why technologists are so upset. It's akin to the stories where the savage or alien race eats the bodies of defeated opponents, and they don't comprehend why this causes such a nasty reaction. Because to them, eating the body is a token of respect for a worthy fight, not a supreme indignity.

Hence to the savage and alien race of politicos, accusations of lying or acting in bad faith are supposed to be taken as making them sweat in the fight, not as hitting below the belt. It's very weird from the techie point of view.

I was going to tell my GetNetWise lawyer story here, but this piece is long enough already. Some other time.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 07:44 AM | Comments (3) | Followups
August 15, 2003

A Fair And Balanced look at the Fox / Al Franken lawsuit

It's a little late, but I should add my small contribution to Fair And Balanced day protesting Fox News lawsuit against Al Franken over the use of the term "Fair and balanced" in the title of his new book.

To be fair and balanced, some of Fox's objections make a little more sense when one looks at the Franken book cover. The title "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right" buries the "Fair and Balanced" phrase among other words. The graphics design of the cover makes the "Fair and Balanced" phrase a bit more standalone and eye catching. The title is visually more along the lines of:

And the
Lying Liars
Who Tell

A Fair and Balanced
        Look at the Right

That still doesn't justify Fox's reaction, in my view, but it does make it more understandable why they are complaining. However, the tag usage is clearly a fair and balanced parody.

More interesting is all the flaming in Fox's lawsuit:

77. Franken has recently been described as a "C-level political commentator" who is increasingly unfunny". ... Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics, rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight. Franken is commonly perceived as having to trade off of the name recognition of others to make money. One commentator has referred to Franken as a "parasite" for attempting to trade off of Fox News' brand and O'Reilly's fame in the Preliminary Cover of his Book.


79. Defendants' use of the Trademark also tarnishes the mark by associating the mark with Franken's sophomoric approach to political commentary. Such a use lessens the reputation of FNC for having a team of first-rate journalists and news personalities who gather, report, and analyze the news.

Note the insults serve a legal purpose. The idea is that Franken is a bad guy, so that the judge should decide against him, and associating him with the trademark is bad for the trademark. It does sound silly in print. But is the judge more likely to be a viewer of Al Franken on Saturday Night Live, or of Fox News?

Some of those slams come from an article "Al Franken is a Conservative Commentator Parasite and Other Observations", which in itself is parodying Franken's book RUSH LIMBAUGH IS A BIG FAT IDIOT and other observations." (Isn't it great how culture builds on itself?). But there's the source, "parasite", "Franken is a "C" level political commentator and usually unfunny", "needs to attack conservatives by name and then call them names to get attention", etc.

It's amazing what third-party flaming ends up in legal papers in court.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
August 14, 2003

Presidential candidate Kucinich and John Gilmore "suspected terrorist" button

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is this week's guest on Lessig blog. His latest entry was titled "Patriot John Gilmore (suspected terrorist)" and wrote:

We have just come to accept this as a natural state of things because, like Gilmore, we're all suspected terrorist.
It seems to me that the Bush Administration, with its moral obtuseness, [long in this vein] ... has prepared for the American people a one-way ticket of sorts. When it comes to the quality of our democracy we are traveling on a road to nowhere.

Perhaps unfortunately, I yielded to temptation just a little, and posted about:

I'm backsliding, but my sense of humor has overridden my better judgment:

By referencing the old joke:

"Liquor - if you mean the demon drink that poisons the mind, pollutes the body, desecrates family life and inflames sinners, then I am against it.
If you mean the elixir of Christmas cheer, the shield against winter chill, the taxable portion that puts needed funds into the public coffers to comfort the under privileged, then I am for it."

I was thinking, using phrases from [Kucinich's] statements in the post:

"Security - if you mean the moral obtuseness, its inconscience on matters of civil liberties, and its craven attempts to demolish the Bill of Rights, then I am against it.
If you mean that where the traveling public deserves assurances that they and their loved ones will be safe in the air, then I am for it."

More is not worth it.

That is, it's very easy for anyone to go on about how he's against bad and for good, but this doesn't help much. I say unto you, that security forces should stop terrorists and not bother non-terrorists! Do you hear me! That's where I stand!

It's not that I'm defending the Bush administration. Rather, there's a hard problem here, and I didn't see anything at all in the post about his own solution to that problem. The information bit rate in political speeches is frustratingly low.

Completely lost in any discussion was the fact that John Gilmore wasn't suspected of being a terrorist by the airline captain because of his button. He was suspected of being a troll who would get a kick out of provoking and possibly panicking passengers about being a "Suspected Terrorist" (sigh, I said "troll", sigh, that gives him the right to trash me via moral equivalence, double sigh). That's not nearly the same thing.

Again, I have to tell myself, SIMPLE, POPULAR, DEMAGOGUERY.

I'm just not at the power level to safely get-into-it. I'm just not.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:57 PM | Followups
August 12, 2003

More thoughts on Ian Clarke leaving America

I'm still going back and forth in my mind as to whether to write Ian Clarke arguing that he not leave America over the guilty plea of Mike Hawash.

From one point of view, I'd like to write (tongue slightly in cheek):

"Dear Ian - My analysis is that you have far more to fear in terms of being arrested at the behest of the MPAA or RIAA, on the grounds of inciting copyright criminality, than by the US government for any terrorism-related reasons. And since the copyright regime is going world-wide, there's nowhere to hide."

On the other hand, this may not be all that reassuring ...

These day, I just have no sense of what's worth taking the risk of being slammed in order to do something altruistic. It's akin to loss of depth perception.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Followups
August 11, 2003

Mike Hawash, and Ian Clarke leaving America

Just after I wrote about Mike Hawash, and thought about "the heat I would have taken back then, if I'd have said that I thought he was in fact guilty", comes the following item from Cory Doctorow at (via Greplaw story):

Ian Clarke has decided -- in the wake of Mike Hawash being railroaded into copping a "terrorism" plea for donating money to the wrong nonprofit -- that he must leave the US. I share his frustration and his anxiety. Sure, we're both white, educated technical immigrants, and thus relatively well-insulated from the excesses of the US's new immigration scapegoating, but every time I hear a story about a fellow immigrant to the US being terrorized by the immigration system, I get my own case of horrors.

[Ian Clarke does the FreeNet Project, an anti-censorship system]

Oh lord. I have to remind myself: Keep my mouth shut! Remember: Success == SIMPLE, POPULAR, DEMAGOGUERY. While not everyone arrested is guilty as charged, neither is everyone charged an innocent victim of abuse of power. I always worry about becoming a right-winger in my old age, and I sound like a cranky conservative to myself (in reacting to "railroaded"??? "donating money to the wrong nonprofit"???). I can just see how much flaming I'd get if I went around posting that Hawash is guilty, and this is not an instance of government abuse of power (especially if I had done that before his plea).

Maybe I'd convince some people. And maybe I'd get myself trashed from (and golly gee, I could post a comment to defend myself). It's not worth it.

Maybe I'll try to talk to Ian Clarke privately, to convince him that things are not nearly as bad as he might fear - at least along the lines of being arrested for terrorist activities. We're on reasonable terms, and he's publicly said some supportive things against Michael Sims domain-hijacking Censorware Project. Or maybe I'll just skip it all, as another I-can't-win situation.

Update 9/2 : For more information, see Ian Clarke GrepLaw interview, and leaving America follow-up

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Followups
August 09, 2003

Internet, equality, publishers, and California governorship

There's a common conception, that:

"On the Internet, anyone can be a publisher"

People tend to think of this as implying much equality. That somehow every net-writer is the equivalent of the New York Times (or Slashdot). But that's only a formal, procedural, equality, not a substantive equality. I've long thought the above phrase is akin to:

"In America, anyone can run for President"

Anyone sure can. That is, there's no law stopping you. But for all save a very few people, it would be, in practice, an exercise in futility.

Now, the circus in California from the recall election, has provided me with a marvelous way to make my point here.

There's an organization which is making a serious effort to have 1,000 (one thousand) people "run for the office of the Governor of the State of California." This is a deliberate tactic to "Help extend the absurdity of this recall election to its logical extreme."

On the Internet, anyone can be a candidate for California Governor?

You, too, can be a candidate for California Governor?!

But this will make you the equal of the political establishment in only the most abstract sense.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:56 PM | Followups
August 03, 2003

John Gilmore ("Suspected Terrorist") trashes me as a troll

My sins have come back to haunt me. John Gilmore has a front-page post on Lessig's blog, where he rebuts criticism of his actions in part by trashing me as a troll.

It's been interesting reading. I'd like to respond. I suppose the obvious place to start is with Seth Finkelstein's trolls. (Of course he is doing what he accuses me of - making outrageous statements and then chuckling when people take them seriously).

And later:

Some people here (including Mr. Troll) think that the minor risk that someone on the plane will have a panic attack after reading a tiny button, makes the button a "safety" issue, as if I had falsely cried "fire" and risked starting a stampede.

Well, yes, I do. The risk is foreseeable, and one can trivially take off the button, and the risk is eliminated. No-brainer. That's very much what I think.

But I have, for all intents and purposes, ZERO ability to shout this to a zillion people and defend myself against being called "Mr. Troll" (wasn't me who got an airplane turned around and started crying censorship over it!).

The way to success is saying simple, popular, demagoguery. The right thing for me to do was to join the chant-and-rant, to cheerlead along the lines of

"Another atrocity in post-Constitutional America! It's a terrible 9/11 loss of freedom, when a man can't even wear a "Suspected Terrorist" button on an airplane. A button's part of who you are, just like being Middle-Eastern or Muslim. How can an airline dare infringe on making political statements about being a suspected terrorist, in the name of "safety" and "security"? We must shout to the world about the grave Ashcroftian injustice here!"

Or at least keep my big mouth shut. Instead, I was dumb. I admit it. I said what I thought, which was that John Gilmore was being a troll. In my head, I know better than to do these things. But I just haven't taken the message to heart.

I have now got 1) John Gilmore 2) Brad Templeton 3) Larry Lessig, all somewhere between mad or unhappy at me. These situation are my undoing. I haven't learned that in politics, you line up or suffer the consequences.

Oh, I can attempt to defend myself by posting a comment somewhere, or my own blog, to the whole wide range of audience of dozens of readers. Whoop-de-doo.

It's not that, at some level, I didn't know I was playing with fire. Rather, in terms of heat and kitchens, I'm way too underpowered to survive. It's like a safety match versus a flamethrower.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 01:52 AM | Comments (9) | Followups
July 30, 2003

More on "Suspected Terrorist", John Gilmore, Trolling

GrepLaw was kind enough to mention me in a story about [John] Gilmore's Flight Stunt Revisited, and to link back. So here's some more remarks on the topic.

First, the whole original account starts off in a way that is easy to misunderstand:

"Suspected Terrorist" button gets Gilmore ejected from airplane

It conjures a mental image of someone saying "Aha, you're wearing a forbidden button - off with your head, I mean, the flight". If the title were instead

Insisting on wearing "Suspected Terrorist" button gets Gilmore ejected from airplane

it would be more informative, though admittedly more cumbersome. That is, the information not given at the very start of the presentation, is that Gilmore wasn't suddenly put off the flight. Rather, he was repeatedly required, first by a steward, then by the captain, not to wear the button, with the captain saying it would "endanger the aircraft". And he responded "I told him that it was a political statement and declined to remove it." It would capture even more of the flavor of the event to have a title of

"Making political statement about being a "Suspected Terrorist" gets Gilmore ejected from airplane.

I sympathize with Gilmore's reaction. But under these circumstances, I think the captain was correct. Now, when Jonathan Swift published "A Modest Proposal", there were people who thought he was serious about eating babies.

Gilmore means his button as a hip, ironic, joking statement. But there will be uncool, unhip, un-smart people, who just won't get the joke. Some people's minds simply don't work with appreciation of the kind of humor popular in the techie crowd. They can't imagine someone voluntarily wearing such a designation about potentially being a terrorist. They will think

Gilmore's stunt is in fact one of the closest things I've ever seen in real life to the hoary free-speech cliche regarding
"falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic."

He wants to "joke about being a terrorist while on an airplane, regardless of causing a panic"

It's not quite the same thing. But it's still notable for its physical aspect of provoking a response of fear and danger. Again, such actions are overall being a troll, not being a freedom-fighter.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
July 23, 2003

Howard Dean guest-blog spot and scripts

A German publication covered the recent presidential candidate Howard Dean guest-blogging on Lessig's blog. I'm mentioned:

Lessigs Leser waren allerdings zunchst skeptisch. Seth Finkelstein glaubte sogar, es bei Deans Beitrgen mit den Erzeugnissen eines automatisierten Skripts zu tun zu haben.

Which apparently translates into roughly:

Lessig's readers were however first skeptical. Seth Finkelstein believed even to have to do it with Dean's contributions with the products of an automated script.

The writer was refering to my comment in discussion:

Earlier, I wondered if a staffer would be ghost-writing the entries.

Now I'm wondering if the entries are auto-posted by a script.

That was a joke. I was making fun of the simplistic and "scripted" quality of his postings at that point. I didn't mean he was literally a robot. Rather, it was my way of indicating he might just as well have been.

I don't want to be too hard on Howard Dean. I suppose he deserves points for trying. It's nice. He seems to be a good guy. His campaign is doing interesting and notable things with the Internet and organizing people. But I wasn't overwhelmed by him.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:59 PM
July 21, 2003

"Suspected Terrorist", or Troll? - John Gilmore and security

"Suspected Terrorist" button gets Gilmore ejected from airplane is the title of John Gilmore's story, now making the rounds.

I greatly admire John Gilmore as a civil-libertarian. That does not mean I think he is always right.

I've finally figured out what bothers me so much about this incident.

In effect, Gilmore was doing a millionaire's version of trolling.

It's a super-scaled-up version of what kiddies do on discussion boards and blog comments.

The sequence is as follows: Do something you KNOW will provoke people (proclaiming "Suspected Terrorist"). Then, when you find someone who bites, when the provocation succeeds, slap your knee in glee that they have been so stupid, so dumb, such idiots, as to react to the obvious troll. ("But I would be hard pressed to come up with a security measure more useless and intrusive than turning a plane around because of a political button on someone's lapel.")

As the reaction progresses, fuel it with liberal amounts of accusations regarding free-speech and I'm-being-censored ("I declined, saying that it was a political statement and that he had no right to censor passengers' political speech ... Ultimately, I was refused passage because I would not censor myself at her command.")

Almost everyone has to content themselves with doing this in comment sections, to a minor audience. Gilmore has managed this on an airplane, and to a huge audience ("They turned the plane around and brought it back to the gate, delaying 300 passengers on a full flight.")

I absolutely believe he is sincere in his beliefs. But he's still doing the 100% classic troll-pattern. Just not insincerely.

Now, the logic error, is that this presented as being a matter of a "political statement". But crew didn't find the politics themselves threatening. What they seemed found threatening was the possibility that some dumb, stupid, idiot might get panicked by the speech ("She said that passengers and crew are nervous about terrorism and that mentioning it bothers them, and that is grounds to exclude me"). But given that they would have to deal with the panic, and Gilmore would not, they made it a condition of the flight that Gilmore not do the speech they feared might panic someone.

It's very easy to shift away, to go debate an abstract general principle, rather than given the specific context right here, in an airplane, the consequences of someone panicking could be severe. And it's not obvious that he has a legal or even a social right to do political theatre IN THIS TIME, PLACE, AND MANNER.

In almost any other circumstances, I'd be on his side. But poking panicky people on long airflights is not laudable. He's pushing people's buttons about "security". But stripped of the veneer of reflexive opposition to airport staff, this is merely trolling.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:54 PM | Comments (1) | Followups
July 14, 2003

What does God (or Howard Dean) Need With A Starship (or Blog-Hit)?

As I continue to think about Howard Dean's guest-blogging of Lessig's blog, I'm bothered by something. To put it as a pop-cliche, "What does God need with a starship?". Or, more prosaically, WHY does a presidential candidate be a guest-blogger?

People write blogs for a mixture of reasons (these aren't exhaustive or exclusive):

1) To write about their life (gossip, friends)
2) To write about their ideas (lawyers, policy-makers, columnist punditry)
3) To write about other's ideas (portals, reporting punditry)

Where does this guest-appearance fit? Is it thought of by the Dean campaign as akin to doing a talk-show? "You're on TV with Oprah at 2, Radio with Larry King at 5, and in-between, an Internet guest-shot on The Lessig Blog."

There's nothing wrong with that. And I suppose it's a milestone of sorts when candidates make net appearances, an indication of campaign worthiness.

But then it mean much less than many people think it does. Not zero, but much closer to zero (another media appearance) than infinity (revolutionary democracy by Internet blogging).

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 05:44 PM | Followups
July 13, 2003

On the Internet, nobody knows you're Howard Dean

Howard Dean will be guest-blogging on Lessig's blog. Or at least, that's what's being claimed. I posted the following comment in response:

Hmm ... "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" ... or a presidential candidate?

How do we know it's really Howard Dean, and not a Dean campaign staffer?
(after all, letters from many officeholders, are really by their staff)

I've gotten very cynical since "Aimee Deep"

I'm reminded of a Heinlein book, where a candidate is kidnapped, and his staff temporarily covers it up by replacing the candidate with an actor. It works so well they decide to ask the actor take over as the candidate. The actor objects that he's not a qualified. The staff argues in reply that it doesn't really matter, since the candidate is just the public face of the campaign organization anyway.

posted by Seth Finkelstein on Jul 12 03 at 9:51 AM

[If I had known how many people eventually would read that, I would have been more careful about the typos! Alwin Hawkins added that "The Heinlein book is Double Star" ]

Even if this occasion turns out to truly be Howard Dean, I suspect we're soon going to see "Internet appearances" which are ghost-written by campaign staffers (if it hasn't happened already!). It's too easy.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:58 PM | Followups
March 22, 2003

Cyberterrorism and the Freedom-To-Tinker blog

Sign of the times! ...

I just checked Edward Felten's blog and saw a posting "We're Back (Mostly)", where he writes (my emphasis):

We're back on the air after roughly thirty-six hours of downtime. Apparently the server that brings you Freedom to Tinker (along with many unrelated sites hosted by the same web hosting provider) has had its hard drives impounded by the authorities as part of a cyberterrorism investigation. The last week or so of backup tapes were impounded too, so everything I have written since March 14 is apparently lost.

If you have copies of any of my postings since March 14, please email them to me, along with their original URL (if available), so I can recover. Thanks for your help.

Well, I've had a little experience with vanishing websites, so I tried to see if I could dig up some posts.

Nothing useful in the Google cache that I could find, try Google search for March and

Check local caches,

var HOST = '';

is a good string to search for.

But the postings had expired by now.

Sorry, I tried.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 10:03 PM | Followups
March 21, 2003


Herewith I mean Wargasm the song, not Wargasm the game

I'm not a warblogger. There are many warbloggers. It's not that I don't have views. But few people care what I think anyway, on issues where I'm even arguably one of the world's experts (censorware), so why even waste electrons elsewhere.

This war will be over in a week. Iraq was defeated handily in Gulf War I, and Gulf War II is barely worth the number.

The implications of Pax Americana, the possible return of empire, the virtues of imperialism, I'll leave that to people who get paid to pontificate about it. Or at least think someone is listening.

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at 11:57 PM | Followups