Glass Maze Every jumbled pile of person

Wrong Target

Digby on the ridiculousness of the Edwards trial:

But I suppose we have to give credit where credit is due. Wall Street gamblers and high flying bankers have so far been smart enough not to do the one thing that can get important, high-profile, white males in trouble with the law: get caught paying for unauthorized sex. Other than that, it’s clear that pretty much anything goes.

It really is shocking how skewed our ethical universe has become. Righteous moral indignation has its uses, but we always direct it at the wrong targets. All these justice department resources used up on a cad and an adulterer, while the malefactors who tried to murder our economy sit unperturbed in their moneyed lairs. It’s like driving a firetruck to the site of a raging housefire and jumping down and pulling out the hoses and then watering the garden nextdoor. Inexplicable.

A Good Day for the Internet

Yesterday was a good day for the internet. Lots and lots and lots of sites either went entirely dark to protest SOPA and Protect-IP, or posted prominent banners explaining why these awful, awful bills would kill the internet as we know it.

A bit of confusion aside, this really got the message out there. Thirteen senators have withdrawn their support for it (including mine!).

As many have said, this is just the beginning. There’s a war looming. But it’s an auspicious beginning.

Of Course SOPA Is a Free Speech Issue

Here’s the AFL-CIO’s Paul Almeida, on why SOPA doesn’t represent a massive and disastrous abridgment of our rights to free speech:

There is no inconsistency between protecting an open Internet and safeguarding intellectual property. Protecting intellectual property is not the same as censorship; the First Amendment does not protect stealing goods off trucks.

This isn’t even wrong: it just takes two unrelated concepts — internet content and theft — and puts them in vague proximity to one another. We’re supposed to hear “stealing” and think oh noes stealing! and then blindly sign on to whatever it takes to make the stealing stop — which, in this case, means making the internet, as we know it, stop.

Because what our current laws do protect (sticking with this demented mixed metaphor for a moment) is the right to drive your truck around even if there’s a chance that it contains stolen goods — or, more to the point, even if someone gets it in his head that it contains stolen goods and asserts as much, without proof. If we were to apply the same standard to truck content as this stupid bill does to website content, then:

  1. The truck could be forced off the road if some jerk with an axe to grind writes a letter to the Trucking Authority saying he suspects it’s carrying contraband. That’s all it would take. No judge, no lawsuit, no cops — just a notice.
  2. The trucking company could be cut off from its payment processors and advertisers — effectively preventing it from doing business — and removed from the yellow pages. Again, without due process.
  3. Furthermore, any third party running an ad for — or otherwise directing customers to — the trucking company would also be breaking the law, and be liable for damages, because of the bill’s “anti-circumvention” clause.
  4. Conversely, if the Trucking Authority — either through an (understandable) excess of caution, or for more nefarious reasons — preemptively does any of this stuff without an actual due-process-free takedown notice, they’d be effectively immune from liability.

And this is to say nothing of the government itself — which, as the silencing of Wikileaks has demonstrated, is more than willing to bring extra-legal pressure to bear in order to silence its critics, even without the express authority to do so.

In short: if this becomes law, we can look forward to media behemoths training their giant howitzers on little guys who post non-infringing content, taking them down without even having to pull the trigger. We can look forward to curated link sites like BoingBoing and Slashdot severely curtailing what they link to, and getting sued out of existence if they’re not careful enough (or even if they are); and sites that depend on user-generated content (like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and MetaFilter) going dark, unless they find a way to severely restrict what people can post.

We can look forward to sites suddenly disappearing from the internet, just like that.

Again: the end of the internet as we know it. An endless vista of possibility reduced to a nightmare of chainlink fences and disappeared websites and everyone always looking over their shoulder, not sure where the next blow is going to come from, or why.

Anybody who tells you this isn’t a free speech issue is either deeply confused about what free speech is or — far more likely — lying. Don’t believe them.


There’s been a bit of of tempest in a teapot recently in the Apple community, around an incident where some poor guy stopped a performance of the New York Philharmonic with an ill-timed iPhone alarm. He’d put the phone on mute, but the iOS alarm app ignores the mute button, so it went off anyway.

Gruber and Marco have both mounted their inevitable defense of the iPhone’s muting behavior — but, uncharacteristically, I actually agree with something Marco said:

The user told the iPhone to make noise by either scheduling an alarm or initiating an obviously noise-playing feature in an app.

The user also told the iPhone to be silent with the switch on the side.

The user has issued conflicting commands, and the iPhone can’t obey both.

It’s a typical design problem: it can’t be heavy and light and big and small. Neither decision will satisfy everyone all the time or cover every edge case: if Apple implemented Mute in Ihnatko’s preferred way, millions of people would be just as irritated when their scheduled alarms didn’t wake them up.

This is hard to quibble with. If you have one mute switch and no ability to tell the alarm what you want it to do in that situation, then, yes, you’re going to piss somebody off.

So Marco makes a good point: under those constraints, there is no right decision. But then he goes on to say that Apple made the right decision:

When implementing the Mute switch, Apple had to decide which of a user’s conflicting commands to obey, and they chose the behavior that they believed would make sense to the most people in the most situations.

That’s good design.

But that’s not good design. That’s just choosing one of two bad designs, on a hunch.

I think this is emblematic of the Apple enthusiast mindset: that it doesn’t even occur to them to expand the scope of the problem beyond the constraints that Apple has imposed. There are other options: you could make the alarm vibrate instead. Or you could present the user with a choice (something that Apple rarely does) — in the alarm app itself, say, or the first time the user puts the phone on mute with alarms active. Or something. But all other options are, apparently off the table: the alarm either must go off or mustn’t go off. Those are your choices.

Most of iOS’s “user-centric” design decisions are predicated on the notion that Apple knows best. But this is a situation where Apple not only doesn’t, but can’t, know best. I’d be a lot less annoyed with Apple zealotry if it would just acknowledge this: not that Apple makes mistakes, but that their uncompromising ethos often forces them into situations where every available option is a mistake.

Prose That Takes Your Breath Away

This is some of the most powerful prose I’ve ever seen. It’s from a leaflet handed around during the 1992 primaries, written by Zoe Leonard, an artist and activist:

I want a dyke for president. I want a person with aids for president and I want a fag for vice president and I want someone with no health insurance and I want someone who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn’t have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a president that had an abortion at sixteen and I want a candidate who isn’t the lesser of two evils and I want a president who lost their last lover to aids, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a president with no airconditioning, a president who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and layed off and sexually harassed and gaybashed and deported. I want someone who has spent the night in the tombs and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want someone who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a Black woman for president. I want someone with bad teeth and an attitude, someone who has eaten that nasty hospital food, someone who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want someone who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn’t possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a president is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker, always a liar, always a thief and never caught.

It’s the way this builds, the words tumbling against each other in their eagerness to be heard, swelling off the page, yearning to get to you. As if in their urgency they forget that they’re symbols for a thing and in forgetting become the thing, three-dimensional and real and emphatically present.

I found this breathtaking, in the most literal way possible. I hope I manage to write a paragraph half as good one day.

Decentralized, Participatory Digital Democracy

Zachary Schneirov, the creator of Notational Velocity, on the pernicious qualities of the Cloud:

There’s absolutely no reason a community group, organization, or collection of friends couldn’t share everything they needed using protocols and servers that have existed almost since the dawn of UNIX. And with federated protocols like XMPP (on which Google Wave was built) there’s also no reason that such services couldn’t “scale” to include progressively larger circles of contact.

In the end, the need for profit can only ever add unnecessary and unwanted side-effects to our medium of communication, whether it’s omnipresent and invisible tracking of everything we read and say, a visual landscape overrun with advertisements, or software that disappears and takes our data with it once we stop paying rent. The “cloud” model is becoming popular first and foremost because it enables new forms of profit. However with just a tiny amount of work and responsibility, we can make the Cloud’s few advantages redundant, re-possess our information, and finally move to an era of worldwide, decentralized, participatory digital democracy.

I think I’m in love.

Loving Their Servitude

Aldous Huxley, in a letter to George Orwell:

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.

2 Kings 2:23-25

From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.

Stephen Colbert bit or biblical verse? You decide!

Seriously, this is what happens when you’re not allowed to make revisions.

Torture is Bad Even When You Don’t Call it Torture

Here’s Ron Paul making sense at the latest gathering of clowns:

Well, waterboarding is torture. It’s illegal under international law and under our law. It’s also immoral. And it’s also very impractical. There’s no evidence that you really get reliable evidence. Why would you accept the position of torturing 100 people because you know one person might have information? And that’s what you do when you accept the principle of torture. I think it’s uncivilized and has no practical advantages and is really un-American to accept on principle that we will torture people that we capture.

It’s too bad Paul is so cooky in other ways — he’s smart and consistently reasonable about these sorts of things, certainly more so than most of his peers. Herman Cain sounds a lot more like a GOP candidate:

I agree that it was an enhanced interrogation technique….I don’t see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

I think the lesson for the kids here is that the way to get away with doing bad stuff is through the magic of calling it something else. Example:

Teacher: Young man, I want you to stop talking during my class.

Lil’ Yoo: I wasn’t talking. I was practicing extroverted thinking techniques.

Teacher: What?

Lil’ Yoo: I was thinking with sounds.

Teacher: You were talking to Lil’ Rummy.

Lil’ Rummy: He was extroverted thinking in my direction.

I’d call this Orwellian, but it lacks the panache of something like, say, the Ministry of Love. It’s just dumb.

Greenwald on Drones

Glenn Greenwald on the Obama administration’s drone bombardment strategy:

… at this point, the word “militant” has no real definition other than: he or she who dies when a missile shot by a U.S. drone detonates

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