The Simpsons’ “Don’t cut off my pianissimo” and “What would Jesus glue?” is not patently offensive, according to the FCC, disagreeing with the Parents Television Council.
FCC denies 36 Indecency Complaints, AP 1/24
California Senator Wants To Throw Ed Felten In Jail
Contributed by Mike on Tuesday, January 18th, 2005 @ 07:00PM
from the sorry-Professor-Felten dept.
While the headline might seem a bit extreme, it seems accurate. A California state Senator with ties to Hollywood has introduced a law that could mean jailtime for any developer of a file sharing application. That’s right — it’s not about anyone who actually used the app to do something illegal, but whoever develops an application. This, despite the fact that courts have found repeatedly that you can’t blame the application for the fact that some people misuse it. So why is Professor Ed Felten at risk? Well, he recently wrote a file sharing application in all of 15 lines of code. The purpose, of course, was to show that the concept of regulating file sharing by banning the creation of such applications was ridiculous and anti-innovation. By the way, if you’re wondering where you’ve heard of State Senator Kevin Murray before, he’s the politician who also made it illegal to send any media file in California anonymously. Despite the questionable basis for such a law (and the fact that it probably violates other laws concerning privacy — especially with respect to children), it appears that Murray doesn’t really care about the facts of the situation, but just that folks in the entertainment industry are happy with all the laws he’s passed in their favor. Anyway, based on my reading of the actual proposal, it would also threaten to put anyone who has written FTP software and possibly even web browsers in jail. Maybe his next law will simply outlaw the internet, and force us all to watch broadcast content instead. That would really help, wouldn’t it?
Sen. Murray, from LA, makes the mistake that oh-so-many would-be tech regulators make: not understanding that there is no meaningful distinction between peer-to-peer file sharing; file sharing via email, FTP, the web; and file sharing via copy machines, paper, and pencils.
Moreover, beyond being indistinguishable as a matter of law from these other forms of reproduction, file sharing and information copying are core technologies for everything else we do involving communications. Consider seti-at-home, which relies on sharing files of data in order to share the processing task. Oh no! What if one of those alien radio signals somehow incorporates a copyrighted song that they heard on our radio signals!
One could really write an infinite number of amusing examples of how stupid the notion behind this legislation is. But when you think about it, it’s not so amusing, after all.
“I would call upon everyone who has access to ‘Eyes on the Prize’ to openly violate any and all laws regarding its showing,” says civil rights leader Lawrence Guyot, who led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and today is a program manager for the D.C. Department of Human Services.
hmm. maybe the whole spongebob thing is worth checking out after all, now that i know what an insidious homosexual menace it is:
“We see the video as an insidious means by which the organization is manipulating and potentially brainwashing kids,” he said. “It is a classic bait and switch.”
— NYT 1/20
quick reference: Judy Bachrach takes out Bush / Prayer Services [Fair And Balanced | Oliver Willis]
I categorically reject the deceptive and dangerous claim that the outcome last November was somehow a sweeping, or a modest, or even a miniature mandate for reactionary measures like privatizing Social Security, redistributing the tax burden in the wrong direction, or packing the federal courts with reactionary judges. Those proposals were barely mentioned — or voted on — in an election dominated by memories of 9/11, fear of terrorism, the quagmire in Iraq, and relentlessly negative attacks on our Presidential candidate.
In an election so close, defeat has a thousand causes — and it is too easy to blame it on particular issues or tactics, or on the larger debate about values. In truth, we do not shrink from that debate.
There’s no doubt we must do a better job of looking within ourselves and speaking out for the principles we believe in, and for the values that are the foundation of our actions. Americans need to hear more, not less, about those values. We were remiss in not talking more directly about them – about the fundamental ideals that guide our progressive policies. In the words of Martin Luther King, “we must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”
Unlike the Republican Party, we believe our values unite us as Americans, instead of dividing us. If the White House’s idea of bipartisanship is that we have to buy whatever partisan ideas they send us, we’re not interested.
In fact, our values are still our greatest strength. Despite resistance, setbacks, and periods of backlash over the years, our values have moved us closer to the ideal with which America began — that all people are created equal. And when Democrats say “all,” we mean “all.”
We have an Administration that falsely hypes almost every issue as a crisis. They did it on Iraq, and they are doing it now on Social Security. They exploit the politics of fear and division, while ours is a politics of hope and unity.
In the face of their tactics, we cannot move our party or our nation forward under pale colors and timid voices. We cannot become Republican clones. If we do, we will lose again, and deserve to lose. As I have said on other occasions, the last thing this country needs is two Republican parties.
The American Dialect Society has recognized Dan Savage’s efforts on behalf of the word santorum, “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex”:
The Most Outrageous category is tricky; we never agree whether it’s the word itself that’s outrageous (typically for having some vulgar element, as in 2003’s winner, cliterati, for “prominent feminists”) or the concept (as with 2002’s neuticles, “false testicles for neutered pets”). This year the strongest contender was santorum, defined (and heavily promoted) by sex writer Dan Savage—in a campaign to besmirch the name of right-wing Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum—as “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” We dismissed one potential problem—that newspapers wouldn’t print the term if it won—on the grounds that we shouldn’t censor ourselves. And indeed, in the afternoon’s voting, santorum did win, but many newspapers simply skipped this category in their coverage. So much for academic freedom.
The 10th anniversary of SF MOMA prompted an article in SFGate today [1/13] about MOMA’s architectural values, functionality as an art museum, and fitness into the SOMA neighborhood. I particularly liked the opening observation:
A big problem with architectural criticism is that buildings often are treated as if they are inert works of art, sculptures on a grand scale. The day they’re unveiled is the day they’re best judged.
In fact, even the most meticulous creation is a work in progress that reveals itself over time and is defined in part by its surroundings[.]
This is a common problem with library architectural projects, which too often result in designs of grand buildings that are architectural plums, but are not well-suited for their function as a library. The designers and library committees treat the library building as an inert work of art rather than as a functional building. They do beautifully on opening day and arouse many oohs and ahhs but over time the staff and patrons are forced to live with and adapt to features that are essentially library-unfriendly.
For instance, my pet peeve in modern library architecture is the giant atrium. So many public libraries do as SF Public Library (late 90s) has done — create a large atrium running up & down the center of the building. They make a lovely space for civic entertainments but the big open space is not functional for a library — not for creating reading / study space, not for archiving books, not for providing access to information. It wastes energy, creates a draft, carries sound, and while it’s entertaining sometimes for people on the top floors to people-watch, it invariably renders the first floor under the atrium inhospitable and useful only as a passageway. Huntsville, Alabama’s public library (mid-80s) did likewise, but in a smaller library the sins are proportionally more minor. Chicago Public Library‘s giant new downtown main branch (early 90s) managed to take the cold feel of the atrium and extend it even to its non-atrium spaces.
The SF MOMA article author, John King, also rants about SF MOMA’s atrium. I’m even more uninformed about museum architecture criticism than library architecture criticism — I’m not even a Power User of museums — but it seems to me that while the functionality of the museum as warehouse-for-art [or whatever] might pose a similar problem, the overall function of the museum as an artpiece in itself might make the atrium more justifiable in the museum context than in the library context. This is not to say that libraries shouldn’t be works of art in themselves; they should; but the art should flow with the functionality, not against it. It may be that atria in art museums flows with that functionality in a way that it doesn’t flow with the functionality of libraries.
Some cities of course get their library architecture right. Berkeley Public Library (Berkeley, CA) rehabbed its downtown library, retaining the lovely exterior. There is an atrium, but for only three floors, it’s tolerable, and better done than San Francisco, still allowing the library to retain some warmth. [Berkeley Public also has one of my favorite branch libraries, the North Branch, which has an exceptionally warm and friendly design.]
Boston Public Library married its beautiful, historic old facility to a modern new facility (90s?). While the new facility isn’t beautiful,* and has, yes, the dreaded atrium, the BPL atrium is reasonably functional, or at least, minimally disruptive. The atrium itself is relatively small. And in a city like Boston, the front area/entryway necessarily becomes a passageway rather than a habitable space, because of the drafts and chills thru much of the year. So the passage-ness of the space is less wasteful than it might otherwise be. More importantly, by coupling the old facility with the new facility, BPL managed to marry form to function. The old library now contains reading rooms and research and reference collections. You can appreciate the historical architecture and design elements while working at the slower pace that the functions designate. On the other hand, the new addition contains the higher-traffic programs — the circulating collections and the lively programs (children’s, literacy, friends of the library). On a minor technical note, BPL didn’t succeed in matching floor heights between the old and new sections — hardly any project does — but it’s certainly not as bad as at some libraries I’ve often used [University of Kentucky main library in the early 1990s; University of Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, Library in the early 2000s, with its North Addition].
The new Seattle Public Library (2004), from what I’ve heard, has some interesting features that attempt to break new ground in librariness — for instance, the book stacks on the inclining ramps. Over time we’ll see how library/user-friendly and workable these features really are.
Good. Georgia District Court has ordered removal of the anti-evolution stickers in science textbooks. [sfgate 1/13]
… i’ve liked the term “blink” which copyfight has been using the last several months for its links. Blink, because it implies a quick look at something; blink at it’s gone. Eliot Gelwan claims it as his idea, describing it as a noun/verb derived from “weblink”, a la blog from weblog.
What’s interesting is how some folks, like Ed Felten and joe hall have set up blink blogs. Ideally I think you could have your blog display with or without your blinks. I think you could do it in WordPress, by giving the items all one category, and then having the blog display without that category; but you link to that category as if it were a separate blog. The problem tho is that I think WP’s boolean isn’t sophisticated enough to allow you to display no items with that subject; instead, it just operates as a “don’t-display” on the bad subject, but where items have more than one subject, there are multiple commands, and I think the upshot is the item would display if it has other subjects.
i’ve been out of the loop for about an entire month while i moved, battled colds & flus & snowstorms, and made it thru the winter holidays … so i’ll be logging a month’s worth of interesting articles & commentaries. luckily it seems that courts, legislators & commentators have also been slower than usual the last few weeks:
1/13: EFF has now filed its grokster brief in the US Supreme Court.
1/11: maine today covers the Maine Supreme Judicial Court case about a guy who created a hotmail account in someone else’s name. Anonymous free speech, says EFF, Public Citizen, the ACLU, and Defendant Doe. Fraud, says the plaintiff.
1/10: Apple has been sending C&Ds to apple blogs for breaking news about new apple lines. If apple isn’t careful, its highhanded tactics will lose it some hipster street cred.
My people (or so very old family history would have it) are picking a fight between the Cherokee Nation and the GPL. [linux business week 1/10] [thanks to Brian Carver for the link]
bill gates thinks IP reformers are communists. What an ass.
C|Net: In recent years, there’s been a lot of people clamoring to reform and restrict intellectual-property rights. It started out with just a few people, but now there are a bunch of advocates saying, “We’ve got to look at patents, we’ve got to look at copyrights.” What’s driving this, and do you think intellectual-property laws need to be reformed?
BG: No, I’d say that of the world’s economies, there’s more that believe in intellectual property today than ever. There are fewer communists in the world today than there were. There are some new modern-day sort of communists who want to get rid of the incentive for musicians and moviemakers and software makers under various guises. They don’t think that those incentives should exist.
And this debate will always be there. I’d be the first to say that the patent system can always be tuned–including the U.S. patent system. There are some goals to cap some reform elements. But the idea that the United States has led in creating companies, creating jobs, because we’ve had the best intellectual-property system–there’s no doubt about that in my mind, and when people say they want to be the most competitive economy, they’ve got to have the incentive system. Intellectual property is the incentive system for the products of the future.
8th circuit online privacy victory: The RIAA has to actually provide some evidence of copyright infringement, and sue them individually, before it can gain access to individual’s ISP records. This follows the DC Circuit Verizon decision. [eff press release]
dec: Did I mention how depressed I am that Pennsylvania passed the stupid law banning municipalities from providing their own broadband services? At the behest of Verizon, which was alarmed when Philly started plans to provide its own broadband to the entire city. Grr. [news.com 12/1 and 1/4]
So call me one of those annoying people who count things up and then bitch and infer meaning from quotas and statistics:
Boy Reviewer Michael Chabon, in his March 25, 2004, The New York Review of Books: Dust & Daemons review of Pullman’s His Dark Materials books, manages to cite, out of 19 references, only one female author (and only by her male character’s name (Harry Potter, of course)).
Chabon gets a pass on Pullman, the subject of the review; Milton (because so much of the books relate to Milton); Virgil (again because of the subject matter); C. S. Lewis (since the books were written at least in part as a kind of response to The Chronicles of Narnia); and Nabokov since Pullman had a minor reference to Nabokov’s Ada in the books. That leaves a ratio of, umm, 14 to 1 male authors to female. In fantasy literature! Which is even more astonishing when you consider the observation / generalization of the gender breakdown in authorship between fantasy and science fiction.
Am I suggesting that The Boy Reviewer I just counted up is sexist? No, I have no idea about his political and cultural views. I am suggesting that the review below, statistically speaking, looks like a good example of the phenomenon of boys reading boys, a phenomenon which is probably best explained by unconscious socio-cultural conditioning. I pick on this particular Boy Reviewer & his review not out of malice, but because while reading his review for otherwise innocent purposes, I was struck, almost against my will, by the paucity, indeed the dearth, of women cited in the text. The writers who are significant to The Boy Reviewer’s analysis are all male, but even more revealing is the uniform XY-ness of virtually all the writers cited as mere sidenotes to his analysis.
I don’t want to rewrite The Boy Reviewer’s article for him. It’s a perfectly fine article. The examples he gives make his points & do so just fine. But they also make a point he was perhaps not quite conscious of making: that this Boy Reviewer is generally conversant and conversational with male writers, but female writers don’t come quite so trippingly to his tongue.
… Sometimes, fighting for freedom of access to information seems shallow in comparison to the struggle against poverty and inequality, or against government-sponsored murder and torture, or even the struggle to survive in the face of hurricanes and tsunamis and floods. But ultimately I believe it’s all the same struggle.
… Philip Pullman recently wrote an essay, published in The War on Words The Guardian [2004-11-09] and previously apparently in Index on Censorship, about reading, dogma, and theocracy in Bush’s US. So timely, as the world faces so many incidents of censorship and outright ideological attempts to control education and access to information. A few notes:
My third and final charge against the theocracies, atheist or religious, and their failure to read properly is this: that the act of true reading is in its very essence democratic.
Consider the nature of what happens when we read a book – and I mean, of course, a work of literature, not an instruction manual or a textbook – in private, unsupervised, un-spied-on, alone. It isn’t like a lecture: it’s like a conversation. There’s a back-and-forthness about it. The book proposes, the reader questions, the book responds, the reader considers. We bring our own preconceptions and expectations, our own intellectual qualities, and our limitations, too, our own previous experiences of reading, our own temperament, our own hopes and fears, our own personality to the encounter.
I like this analyis of reading. The observation isn’t unique, but tying this form of reader empowerment into broader exercises of democracy and empowerment is sharp.
One of the most extraordinary scenes I’ve ever watched, and one which brings everything I’ve said in this piece into sharp focus, occurs in the famous videotape of George W Bush receiving the news of the second strike on the World Trade Centre on 9/11. As the enemies of democracy hurl their aviation-fuel-laden thunderbolt at the second tower, their minds intoxicated by a fundamentalist reading of a religious text, the leader of the free world sits in a classroom reading a story with children. If only he’d been reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, or Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, or a genuine fairy tale! That would have been a scene to cheer. It would have illustrated values truly worth fighting to preserve. It would have embodied all the difference between democratic reading and totalitarian reading, between reading that nourishes the heart and the imagination and reading that starves them.
I have a minor quibble with the substitution of the term “theocratic” for what might be more properly termed “dogmatic.” Theocratic would be a special instance of dogmatic. I understand, I think, what Pullman is getting at; he wants us to see the common strands between theocratic dogmas and other forms of ideological dogmas, such as the Soviet Union. The US’ current dogma might fit somewhere in the broader slate even if it doesn’t quite line up with Iranian-style theocracy. But as a US citizen who is quite concerned about actual theocracy, I want use of terms to be precise. Just a nitpicker, I guess. I suppose I wouldn’t care if I didn’t have particular beefs with the use of religion to create and buttress political structures. But among dogmas, theologies are particularly prone to abuse.
Pullman also quotes Karen Armstrong’s recent The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:
There is a good description of two different modes of reading in Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam (2001). Armstrong is eloquent on the difference between mythos and logos, fundamentally different ways of apprehending the reality of the world. Mythos deals with meaning, with the timeless and constant, with the intuitive, with what can only be fully expressed in art or music or ritual. Logos, by contrast, is the rational, the scientific, the practical; that which can be taken apart and put together again; that which is susceptible to logical explanation.
Both are necessary, both are to be cherished. However, they engage with different aspects of the world, and these days, says Armstrong, they are not equally valued. Her argument is that in modern times, because of the astonishing progress of science and technology, people in the western world “began to think that logos was the only means to truth, and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious”. This resulted in the phenomenon of fundamentalism, which, despite its own claims to be a return to the old true ways of understanding the holy book, is not a return of any kind, but something entirely new: “Protestant fundamentalists read the Bible in a literal, rational way that is quite different from the more mystical, allegorical approach of pre-modern spirituality.”
These notes lead to the heart of Pullman’s observations, which are that the current US government is increasingly dogmatic in dangerous ways. It’s true that those who see fit to govern us seem to have less of a sense of humor than ever. I’m reminded of John Ashcroft installing covers for the naked lady statues at DOJ (for $8000, apparently!). (U1) More recently, just a day or two ago I saw this story about Mississippi county library officials banning Jon Stewart’s America (The Book). The district library director was offended by the photoshopped photo of the naked US Supreme Court, which asks readers to “restore [the justices’] dignity by matching each justice with his or her respective robe.” Surely, the inability to appreciate absurdity and satire is another feature of the dogmatic … It’s always depressing when a librarian falls short of the standards that so many of us uphold so well. Robert Willits, library director for Jackson & George counties, said “I’ve been a librarian for 40 years and this is the only book I’ve objected to so strongly that I wouldn’t allow it to circulate.” Jesus. Mississippi really is backwards if this was the most offensive thing he’s seen in 40 years. Or is it that he was particularly offended by the use of nudity in the satiric context? … Certainly it wasn’t the prurient aspect of this nudity that appalled, since the sight of 9 naked people, not one of whom is less than 55 years old, isn’t really calculated to arouse prurient interest in most folks today. [update 1/12: after complaints the library board un-banned the book]
I remembered recently the story an acquaintance of mine told me about her youth. Her parents were embedded in an evangelical church, hung up on issues of satanism. At one point her parents became concerned about her choice of reading materials — science fiction, fantasy, comic books, historical romance novels — convinced that some of it at least was satanic — and literally began burning her books. After she pulled some books out of the flames and pointed out to them that they were classics, or not satanic, or were in some other way significantly misapprehended, her parents changed tactics. They demanded that she herself sort the books out according to a standard they adapted from the Supreme Court case Miller v. California: that the books she kept had to have redeeming literary or other social value. Her parents weren’t concerned with just the prurient interest, either, apparently; her books had to attain some higher value other than mere non-prurience in order to be redeemed.
She was required to sort her books according to this metric, and turn over a good portion of her collection of “escapist” fiction with no “redeeming values” to be destroyed. … Forcing someone to apply another’s standard to their own punishment is a tactic of humiliation, of course, used by authoritarians to make the victim complicit in their own victimization. …
Redeeming. Suggesting that the books were damned to begin with, and had to be redeemed by some especial value. Damned, I suppose, because they were for entertainment, or purposes other than religious education. Redeemed by being for some other acceptable purpose. The Supreme Court in Miller damned books (and films, etc.) for their prurient value. A hang-over of our Puritan religious past, a distaste for the sexual. The Court let materials escape if they had other redeeming values — even prurient materials may be redeemed by some other benefit to society. But change the test just a little, as my friend’s parents did, simply drop the prurience requirement, and you’ve shifted the burden from some literature or art to all literature or art. All literature or art is now guilty unless proved innocent, damned unless redeemed.
Carry that notion a little further, and measure science and education and medical information on the same yardstick. Now you’re no longer balancing science education in the schools or medical information against the truth of the science — now you weigh it against some other scale, in which there is a subjective redemptive value. We don’t teach the truth because of its truth. We teach because we want to control the ideological outcome. Now, advocates of so-called intelligent design can feel outraged, hurt, treated unfairly, because all they want is equal time, a fair share of the educational pie. Critics of dispensing information about birth control and the efficacy of condom use for disease prevention can weigh the information not against its accuracy but against their values.
In this view, education isn’t about truth. Education is about ideology, and the intelligent design folks deserve just as much opportunity to control the instillation of ideology (“education”) as the scientists and teachers. Learning, truth, education, truth, aren’t valued for themselves. In fact they’re damned because they cause us to question the values that redeem.
Pullman observed in the His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass, etc.) that all of history is a struggle between those who want to disseminate knowledge, and those who want to control and limit that dissemination. Between those who trust only themselves with information — and consequently with freedom — and those who think that information and freedom and power belong to all.
Another acquaintance of mine was recently wrestling with the question of whether or not to have an abortion. Her circumstances were difficult, but she had always identified as “pro-life,” and most of her close friends and family members felt similarly and encouraged her not to have the abortion. Ultimately they joined, though, in supporting her; they believed that she would do the right thing, whatever it was; they trusted her to make the right decision. I was angry about this, although I didn’t discuss it with her. It’s easy to trust people you know. But who are they to make those decisions for all the people they don’t know? Why, in fact, should the people that pro-lifers don’t know have to trust the pro-lifers to make the right decision for them?
The Bush administration is just one manifestation of this greater historical tendency. We ought to weigh this manifestation properly — hard to do, sometimes, when you’re in the thick of it. The Bush administration didn’t start the fear; but it is capitalizing on it, and building on it, and strengthening that tendency in the US and around the world. The push is away from multilateralism, away from respect of others, and towards unilateralism, towards limiting trust to oneself and one’s clan. The control of people’s access to information is a symptom and a sign, but it is also a means towards the end of controlling people. You don’t trust people to do the right thing with information, and by keeping it away from them, you prevent them from doing what the wrong thing.
And since all our struggles — whether against economic injustice or the effects of natural disasters or the repression of governments — are carried forward by individuals, then trusting individuals with information, empowering them through information, and letting people build their own tools is still the best way to further social change. … which of course is why, as Pullman observes, governments and hierarchies such as the Bush administration are always so interested in stifling knowledge and education transfer. Keep the knowledge, keep the power, don’t trust anybody else to do the right thing.
U1: 2005/July/9. Replacement Atty. General Gonzalez quietly undraped the statues, returning a little bit of sanity to the otherwise indecent DOJ.