Tag Archives: information

cultural appropriation, property rhetoric, acknowledgment

The feminist blogosphere has been erupting lately, showing our strengths and our weaknesses and faultlines. One of those faultlines is race, and the discussions over Amanda Marcotte (of Pandagon)’s work, BrownFemiPower’s work, and cultural appropriation have brought this out.

I’ve stayed quiet thus far on the issue, mostly because I have too many thoughts, and not enough time to do the full book-length essay I want to do and have been futzing about with for several years now.

But, since I am a feminist blogger [in addition to being an information activist blogger], and this issue is on the nose for my interests, I wanted to post something. I’ve been tinkering with a draft for a week or more, but finally scrapped it and wrote this one. And since this post is all about credit where credit is due, I’m going to single out two posts that influenced me and this post:
* Twisty’s recent post on the issue (Schooled, 4/23) helped me think through the need to speak sooner rather than later when I have the perfect statement;
* The Angry Black Woman’s post that she’s not going anywhere –in the missing voices of those who *have* gone away. (ABW Not going anywhere, 4/26). See also ABW On Feminism Part 2, 4/28.)

As Feministe (4/26) said: The question stopped being about plagiarism a long time ago, but that’s what I find myself still responding to; that’s what Amanda continued to respond to. (Well, long ago in blogospheric terms!) I understood this passage to mean that the plagiarism stuff was just the tip of the iceberg that has been revealed and now we’re talking about the whole iceberg, that is, racism and cluelessness in (white) feminism. As to what has replaced the plagiarism/appropriation, I’ve included links at the bottom about one of the issues — the imagery associated with the Marcotte/Seal Press book. But since this blog and my passion is about information and autonomy, it’s the plagiarism / cultural appropriation that I want to deal with (even though it’s “long ago”, as in, days and weeks old).

note: This post is long and rambly and goes a lot of places before it gets to its destination. Be forewarned. (This post was edited & tweaked & updated & corrected for a day or two after initial publication, as is my wont.)

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my own googlegängers

I hadn’t previously heard the word “googlegängers”, which the American Dialect Society deemed “most creative” word last year. But I love the concept, which Stephanie Rosenbloom explored in the NYT today. Apparently lots of people follow the lives and careers of people with the same names as themselves.

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birth of and intellectual property

Intellectual property pops up in the strangest places.

Browsing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg, for instance, I found this discourse on “stealing” baby names:

Not long ago, I heard an expectant mother beside herself with outrage. She had just learned that another woman in her small town had “stolen” her baby name! No, she admitted, she had never met the woman. But for years now she had been planning to name a baby Keaton, a name she had personally invented, and now there was another little Keaton right across town. Someone must have told that other mother her own secret, special name. Thief!

Chances are this was not really a case of name larceny. That mom had just run into a startling fact of baby-name life: Our tastes, which feel so personal, are communal creations. Keaton? Well, it’s a surname ending in “n,” a style parents are flocking to for fresh ideas that sound like classic names. K in particular is a hot first letter. And don’t forget that almost every parent today grew up watching Alex Keaton on Family Ties. So just like that outraged mom, thousands of parents across the country have independently “invented” the name for their kids.

We live in a shared culture with communities and experiences that shape our likes and dislikes. That means overlapping tastes — and as a rule, the closer two people are, the greater the overlap. Many of us have had a long-cherished name “stolen” by friends who had long cherished it themselves. …

… [R]emember that communal taste is really a good thing. That shared perspective is exactly what gives names their style and nuance. It’s also the context that lets you define your own style, meaningfully. …

This is from The Baby Name Wizard, Laura Wattenberg, “Rules of Thumb for Choosing a Name” (2005), p.6 (babynamewizard.com), which is probably my favorite baby name book out there. In addition to the little “definitions” and heritage information about various names, it includes trend information, and a variety of essays (like the one above) that contextualize names and naming. The book was published in 2005, and has a hypnotic and fascinating associated website — the “name voyager” — which provides the most up-to-date trend information for names. Type in any name to see how names beginning with those letters or that name have been trending up or down in the US over the past 125 years.

The book is awesome, in part because the author analyzes the phonemes and meanings of individual names, the data on popularity of individual names, and does significant additional research into news and culture, to discern both causes and meta-trends. For instance, tracking how Aiden and Jaden and many other names have become popular, while Eunice and Beulah and many other formerly popular names have become less so, the author sees that Americans dislike the “yoo” sound in names, but, these days, love the “ehn” sound as an ending. Our common tastes manifest in individual names, but reflect a deeper common taste in phonemes, resonances, and meanings.

The same zeitgeist lies behind numerous simultaneous “inventions” of unique names, and “rediscoveries” of older names. My partner and I loved the name Emma, and thought surely this nice old-fashioned name that is an excellent homage to Emma Goldman would be distinctive. I’m sure that most people reading this know what we were surprised to learn: Not only did we love picking that name out of our collective past, so did practically every other person of our age group: It’s the number two name for our daughters ever since people of our generation started having children.

I quoted Wattenberg at length, because so much of what she was astutely observing about our tastes and creative processes is utterly applicable to everything I think and write about on a daily basis. We humans take our names, and our children’s names, fairly seriously, and spend a decent amount of time scouring for them. In fact, as Wattenberg points out, one of the current trends is to have a unique name — we all try to come up with unique names for our children, and we all do it by assembling the same sets of popular sounds and rhythms.

… Finally, as long as I’m on the topic, you may be amused by this disclaimer on our “hypno-birthing” preparation audiorecording:

Do not listen to this CD while in a moving vehicle.

update 2/26 6pm: Wattenberg had two fascinating posts on the evolution of naming patterns and national identity — L’Etat, c’est nous (Jan. 23) and Part 2: L’Estat, c’est nous (Feb. 13) — deep comment threads. For those of you who, like me, are not what you might call “anthroponymists”, this can be a fun diversion. I was struck most particularly by a short reference in the Feb. 13 column:

Starting in the 16th century most countries moved toward heritable surnames … Modern nation states required more from names, too. In Scandinavia, the patronymic naming system that had existed since the time of the Vikings (Niels Jensen’s son Peder is Peder Nielsen, his daughter Anna is Anna Nielsdatter) was eliminated to aid record-keeping. Taxing, educating and conscripting a mobile population required clear and traceable family names.

“Family names” being the presumptive father’s names, that is. L’Estat, c’est le patriarcat, apparently. But what really struck me was the influence that states and governments have had on this basic feature of identity, and the ways that identity has been created in part as a form of social control.

Introducing the book

For the bibliophiles and geeks.

Credits posted on YouTube:
It’s from a show called Øystein & Meg (Øystein & I) produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting television channel (NRK) in 2001. The spoken language is Norwegian, the subs in Danish. It’s written by Knut Nærum and performed by Øystein Bache and Rune Gokstad.

teledildonics can only be another step away …

Today, on our way to the Fung Wah bus (we never got there, but that’s another story), my partner & I happened to stop in at a bookstore/teahouse for brunch. Then we realized that they were actually having a booksigning by Margaret Atwood. I’m in the middle of a huge deadline, and have just started a new job to boot, but my spouse was very excited and managed to persuade me that I could work while she listened to the reading & signing.

So, we’re enjoying our very delicious chai when the event begins. My spouse wanders over to the event, and about 10 minutes later comes back laughing & shaking her head.

It turns out that, in fact, Margaret Atwood isn’t here in NYC; she’s in London. No, she didn’t miss her flight; her publisher and a group called Unotchit have jointly planned the first trans-Atlantic book-signing. This miracle of modern technology apparently permits Ms. Atwood to sign a book, in London, and all the way over here in New York City, the “Long-Pen” scribes her autograph on a book here in NYC. And that’s what’s happening: there are monitors set up to show Ms. Atwood signing, and the LongPen device, and people standing around waiting to get their books autographed long-distance. (I asked, btw, and this was a true transAtlantic long-distance call. No Skype!)

Naturally I thought this was hilarious. I mean, first the serendipity: that a cafe we happened into almost randomly is having a signing by Margaret Atwood, an author I tremendously respect and enjoy. But then, o brave new world that hath such [wonders] in’t, it’s not just any ordinary book-signing! It’s an experiment in virtual presence! And it’s trans-Atlantic–what more needs to be said?

The LongPen company, Unotchit, has provided a whole packet of info, with a promotional DVD, a special cartoon by Margaret Atwood, and a photocopy of a hand-written note:

This is my actual handwriting — a sample so you can compare it with what the LongPen™ does–and assure yourself that the spikiness, illegibility, and peculiarity is a property of the actual writing, and has not been added by the LongPen.™.
Margaret Atwood

As it turns out, Ms. Atwood is the President of the company (Unotchit), which explains why she was such an enthusiastic participant in the demonstration, and so respectful of the company’s trademarks. Good for her for coming up with something innovative in response to her own exhaustion from book tours.

Unfortunately the system didn’t actually work for the performance, although we were assured that it had worked in the trials just a few minutes before, and had worked successfully city-to-city. I’m sure it will start working, though, and then we can look forward to some of these listed applications:

  • “The signing of their books by authors.” (and lots of other celebrity/fan autographic applications)
  • “The signing of legal documents (in most instances).” plus real estate business, banks, government signatures like passports, marriages, divorces.
  • Banks, real estate business, and financial applications like cheque-cashing facilities and prevention of credit card fraud.
  • And “of special interest for languages that do not use phonic writing but have many characters. For such languages, it is sometimes easier to write than to type.”

I’m not sure I get the language thing, but okay. I’m also a little skeptical as to whether or not autograph-seekers will really be quite satisfied with remote autographs. I think part of the thrill is getting the tiny particles of author/athlete oil & grease along with the signature. Plus actually getting to stammer a few words in the presence of the great one.

But the proposed legal / financial applications raise questions of a somewhat more serious nature. I’ll be going thru that DVD as soon as I get a chance (not till next weekend, for sure), but some questions occurred to me off the top of my head. Among them:

  • What is the authentication procedure for making sure that the item signed by the robotic pen has the same content as the item signed in the presence of and by the signer? For instance, if you’re signing a contract on page 4, how are you going to know that page 3-New York is the same as page 3-London?
  • How do you prevent the signature transmission from being captured & replicated somewhere else? For instance, A is signing a cheque check in New York, and a check cheque is being signed in London. But I’ve captured the signature transmission and am using it to sign a check in Boston — a check made out to me, perhaps, or to a local pimp or skanky political party.
  • For that matter, if the signal is unencrypted, how do you prevent it from being captured & interfered with, so that it becomes less likely to be validated? There’s a visual read-out of it on both sides, but you could capture the video transmission as it comes from London, and mirror it back so it looks like it’s coming from New York, but in the meantime send something slightly different to New York. Or if the signature was only slightly different it might not be apparent over the transmission, but still not pass a handwriting expert signature.
  • And, how good *are* these pens, anyway? Can they really replicate the changes in pressure and angle that a real pen does? Even if it can do pressure & angle, what is the original pen that the author holds actually like? Does it feel like a real pen? Or is it held rigidly in place? Which would certainly affect the signature, and I wonder what a handwriting expert would think about it.

The answers to these questions will no doubt become clearer when I go through the materials. Stay tuned for more.

In the meantime, more info available at:

ruminating on … rumination? information? tinkering? imagination?

For some time (years, literally) I’ve been pondering the perfect phrase to capture ‘information rights’ — the natural right people have to create, invent, tinker, think, imagine, ponder, access information, etc. The First Amendment conceptual toolkit doesn’t really measure up: we have First Amendment concepts for speaking and the corollary, listening. But these concepts don’t fully capture the rights which are restricted by intellectual property laws, government Secrets Acts, and the like.

The language I would like would be fuller, and would capture not just the First Amendment concepts of communicating, but also the right to gather information and access information about the world around you, the systems, the people, the cultural creations — the right to investigate? the right to explore? the right to acquire information? the right to learn? It’s about knowledge acquisition and communication. I want the perfect pithy, zingy, umbrella term that encompasses all these information and knowledge-based rights.

The pieces that are critical to the term, I think, are

(a) the right to create new stuff;
(b) the right to experiment with & learn about existing stuff, gathering information and exploring the world;
(c) the right to communicate information and ideas; and
(d) the right to receive information and ideas.

Or maybe these could be broken down into (a) communication (first amendment) and (b) creation (gathering existing information and manipulating it; creating knowledge, whether embodied only in the creator’s mind, or whether embodied in an invention, or embodied in a new derivative work). But this doesn’t quite get it: I worry that the concept “creation” is too subject to being cabined off by notions of originality and novelty. Also, while creation requires exploration and knowledge gathering and information access, I would ideally like to the term to capture both aspects and not privilege acts of “creation”.

Or perhaps (a) receiving information ought to be construed more broadly, to include accessing information &mash; as in FOIA requests, sunshine acts, scientific research, reverse engineering products. And (b) communicating and disseminating alone.

The two candidates I’ve toyed with have been intellectual rights and information rights.

“Intellectual Rights” is nice because it balances “intellectual property”: it suggests that “intellectual property rights” are but one subcategory of “intellectual rights”. And “intellectual” gets at the braininess of the matter: the concept should capture the essence of all its elements, which is to say, the human mind at work. But it sounds wonky and, well, in these anti-intellectual times, maybe it’s not really sellable. Also, “intellectual rights” doesn’t necessarily mean that one can gather information, about the government, say, or about the new DRM methods.

“Information Rights” is nice, but the term “information” always sounds so bland, so cheerless and un-fun. Thinking and learning and reading and talking is fun.

I want this concept, because I want a better way to balance the trade-offs of different sets of rights. Information can be free, or it can be controlled. We have many, many doctrines that aim to control or free up information: the Speech Clause and the IP Clause; trade secrets, contract law, the DMCA and DRM; FOIA and government classification and Secrets Acts; privacy and reputational harms; risks of other harms and national security; open content, open source, and open licensing. But often when I look at a particular instance, the values for controlling information are defined well, and the values for sharing the information are not. It seems that a single pithy term or phrase would help make this work more concrete.

Or maybe the “information rights” concepts are too distinct to ever be wrapped into one? Privacy, for instance, has proven to be a troubling concept; we say “privacy”, but we mean “information privacy”, “data security”, the “right to be left alone”, or even “autonomy” (e.g., reproductive rights). And privacy further breaks down on the subject: private from whom? the government? commercial enterprises? public knowledge?

Maybe imsologists and critical information studies folks (CISters?) have already come up with search a term? but I haven’t found it yet.

Hmm. Still processing …


2005/11/28: “intellectual liberty” ???

interesting reading, early saturday morning

Up early for my spouse who caught a red-eye. Now she’s resting peacefully and I of course can’t get back to sleep. But that’s okay, because there’s the Internet!

  • Positive outcomes of BlogHer: Mary Hodder at Napsterization is establishing a Speakers’ Wiki.

  • In response to publisher anxieties & thinly-veiled threats of litigation, Google is implementing an opt-out provision in its scan-copyrighted-library-books program, and delaying scans of copyrighted books until November. [google blog] This has been widely reported as Google backing down. See, e.g., “Chilled by Publishers” (BoingBoing), “Google Sells Out Users” (Copyfight). I agree, sell-out, chill, yes, yes, but am taking a moment to appreciate the sweetness of the opt-out option as default.

    Siva Vaidhyanathan had a different take, predicated largely (it seems to me) on the fact that Google is a for-profit corporation. For once, I disagree with Siva, and on two grounds: both with library exceptionalism in this instance and the take on American Geophysical Union.

  • Ed Felten on Freedom to Tinker [8/9] talked about the DRM in Microsoft’s Longhorn-cum-Vista. Copyfight (8/9) summed it up and added this pithy observation: “[T]his isn’t about stopping mass copyright infringement or pleasing Hollywood. It’s about keeping “consumers” locked in and people who develop potentially competing products locked out.” See also Derek Slater at EFF Deeplinks (8/9).

  • On Balkinization, Brian Tamanaha ponders intelligent design, reminding us that the whole kerfluffle is not about debates between religion and science, but about debates between a few modern religious leaders who are picking issues:

    Darwin’s 1859 publication of The Origin of Species incited a wicked backlash from religious quarters in the United States, pitting science directly against religion. But within three decades an accommodation had been achieved, as Richard Hofstadter described in Social Darwinism in American Thought (1944):

    Science, [Le Conte] urged, should be looked upon not as the foe of religion, but rather as a complementary study of the ways in which the First Cause operated in the natural world. Whatever science might learn, the existence of God as First Cause could always be assumed.

    This raises the question: why has a sensible way to reconcile faith and science that has worked for so long become unacceptable to many religious leaders in this country? This is not like the other ongoing battles over religion in the public sphere and the separation between state and church (school prayer, Decalogue displays, funding for parochial schools), all of which raise debatable issues of public and private values.

    Putting it this way helps keep the focus on the small set of religious leaders who are sowing all this unnecessary discord.

    I feel I must document the provenance of this observation: I’m quoting Brian Tamanaha who’s quoting Richard Hofstadter who’s citing Joseph Le Conte who “followed” Asa Gray. I’m just tickled by the lengthy chain, but the observation stands on its own regardless of sources.

  • fafblog has been brilliant recently: two on intelligent design: creation science, creation technology! [fafnir 8/10] and overwhelming scientific proof [giblets 8/2]. Then more on torture: claustrophobic techniques [medium lobster 8/4] … in the kingdom of the one-eyed man, the best wars are blind [medium lobster, 7/28]. Segueing nicely from torture, the democrats: the great divorce [fafnir 8/3] . Last but not least, response to some recent efforts by the American Family Assn to provide gay checklists for childrearing: how to tell how gay your gay son is [giblets 8/9]. How despicable is this fear-mongering checklist in the light of this fearful Christian response? [See queerday 7/18, Tampa Bay Online 7/13] Too much anger. That’s why I read fafblog. I could just do a blog indexing fafblog. And still keep the title, ‘derivative work’.

  • A wretched decision out of the NLRB, restricting employees’ off-duty fraternization. Guardsmark, LLC, 334 NLRB No. 97 (2005) (decision in pdf); more info at american rights at work; linked from tom tomorrow. A bit more from me on this case.

Of course, two hours later, the spouse is still sleeping like a baby, and now “Adelaide’s Lament” is going through my head. It’s my own fault for putting iTunes on random shuffle through my entire 80+G music library last week, but still, I last heard that song over a week ago. Probably at some point this morning I had a low-level meditation on my own minor cold and it triggered a “Guys & Dolls” flashback. Unlike LSD, perhaps “Guys & Dolls” really does hang out in your fat cells waiting to be re-triggered.