Monthly Archives: December 2004

More on “Not Just a Good Defense”

Based on some of the comments elsewhere I guess I was too terse in my earlier post on the battle between free speech via technology and the counter-urge to monitor it (a technique which may not be designed to censor but enables censorship). [Good Defense Is Not A Victory. It Just Means You Haven't Lost Yet.]I agree there have been some good (lower) court decisions in the US, although I remain very nervous about what the Supreme Court will do to them. The problem is, though, that I don't think that the courts are the major battlefield here. The significant facts, to me, are in the legislature and the executive.

Perhaps the biggest worry is that the fix is in to try to do a CALEA to VOIP: just as they did with old fashioned phones, so now the governments of the world intend to require the service provides to build in the ability to wiretap large numbers of simultaneous internet-based phone conversations. Of necessity, that technology will also work for all other internet-based methods of communication. That’s major. (The cybercrime convention is just a warm-up exercise.)

A secondary issue is the move towards tightening screws on Internet access – more countries are showing an interest following Pakistan and China’s lead in requiring internet cafes and other kiosks to record who uses the service and when so that if something is traced back to that place and time the user can be identified. These are in effect speech licenses.

And, there’s stuff to worry about in the para-copyright realm. We can deal with copyright (trademark, other than famous mark rights expansion, and patent, other than process patents, I generally support more or less as applied). DMCA itself continues to throw an ugly shadow. And I am also concerned about intellectual property style protections for data compilations (databases).

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | 2 Comments

I Should Start Selling Virtual Swampland

The BBC reports

A 22-year-old gamer has spent $26,500 (£13,700) on an island that exists only in a computer role-playing game (RPG). The Australian gamer, known only by his gaming moniker Deathifier, bought the island in an online auction. The land exists within the game Project Entropia, an RPG which allows thousands of players to interact with each other.

Eighty years ago when people sold land in Florida that didn't exist, we put them in jail. Now we give them venture capital. This is progress!

(Kidding aside, it is either lunacy or a graphic demonstration that Dan Hunter is right about the coming value of virtual property.)

Posted in Virtual Worlds | 5 Comments

How to Do Sarcasm

First Draft takes this quote from Tom Ridge:

Outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Tuesday that the government should reconsider how it warns people about security threats, saying that its color-coded scale has invited “questions and even occasional derision.”

And destroys it .

Posted in National Security | Leave a comment

The Ultimate in Bad Taste

This, to me, is about the weirdest thing I ever read in the newspaper. Well, after invading Iraq with too few troops because someone else, living elsewhere, attacked the World Trade Center. Or that the US is systematically torturing people, and elite lawyers are writing opinions justifying it or working out strategies to allow the torturers to avoid prosecution.

In Death, Loved Ones Can Live On As Diamonds: When William Lucas' mother died nearly two years ago, he found an unusual way to keep her memory close at hand.

The general contractor from Kitty Hawk, N.C., had some of ''Momma Luke's'' ashes converted into three synthetic blue diamonds, each about a third of a carat. One is set into his wedding band.

Posted in Kultcha | 3 Comments

Inside the TSA at MIA

This account of the goings-on at the MIA TSA branch, brought to you by the feisty local Miami New Times, is worse than not pretty. It's pretty ugly: allegations of theft from passengers' bags, sexual harassment (of other TSA employees), massive featherbedding, internal racism, and general incompetence.

Your Safety, Their Punch Line: Internal mistakes and misjudgments in day-to-day operations are even harder to root out, since the rare fool employee who might criticize, even constructively, is immediately dispatched. From the TSA's earliest days, screeners have complained of ongoing breaches of security at their workplaces, the result of improper inspection procedures. I know of several instances, both here and at other airports, in which the employees responsible for violations were never corrected or reprimanded. But the whistleblowers — who committed the unpardonable sin of not just telling the truth, but of telling the truth about bosses or co-workers — were fired. Some have also asserted that in the weeks leading up to their dismissals, their personnel files suddenly began bristling with fabricated documentation of inappropriate or illegal activities.

Repressing criticism might be a way of streamlining operations, but it conceals security problems that sooner or later, one way or another, will be revealed. Even the greenest screener at MIA knows that an alert terrorist would have little trouble slipping past a checkpoint. And passing through deadly objects? Child's play. That's partly because humans err, but also because TSA rewards those who can look efficient and do nothing, all the while punishing honesty and diligence, which can complicate things. I have to keep reminding myself: TSA management is motivated by priorities that have nothing to do with our job performance.

Teeming with sexual intrigue and power plays, TSA is more dating service than disciplined “security administration.” So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised this past week to hear a manager cryptically refer to some “investigation” of TSA employees who've allegedly been offering money to airline employees in exchange for “sexual favors,” or of the departure of two more top managers, Paul Diener and William Morrison, owing to allegations of sexual harassment.

One screener describes her checkpoint: “There's a group who's always standing around talking or going on breaks whenever it's their time to [do certain tasks]. So a few screeners end up doing everything. Whenever we complain to supervisors, they say, 'Oh yeah, I'll have to talk to him or her.' But then nothing changes. … Nobody complains anymore — we just have to accept it.”

Continue reading

Posted in National Security | 1 Comment

US Reverses Unconstitutional Policy Making Editing A Crime

Crooked Timber: Editing Embargo Ends reports that the US has lifted its very likely unconstitutional rule prohibiting domestic editing of works by foreigners from embargoed nations. I wonder if it was the lawsuit or if this incident had anything to do with the sudden liberalization?

Posted in Civil Liberties | Leave a comment

The Greeks Had A Name For It

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman notices something important, then fails to call it by its name.

Changing for the Better — or Worse?. Throughout a two-day conference on the economy, President Bush and his allies extolled the virtues of his tax cuts and “pro-growth” policies, which they said have lifted the nation from recession and propelled it well above its international economic competitors. If Washington adheres to the path of fiscal restraint while following the president's tax prescriptions, it was suggested, policymakers could secure powerful economic growth far into the future.

Yet when the subject turned to the nation's legal or Social Security systems, the picture grew suddenly dark. Frivolous lawsuits have hobbled America's businesses and have put them at the mercy of their enlightened overseas competition, administration officials said. As for federal entitlements, a rising tide of retiring baby boomers will inevitably slow economic growth and bankrupt Social Security.

“The crisis is now,” Bush warned in his closing speech.

Such contradictions emerged repeatedly, pointing up the delicate balancing act that Bush faces as he tries to sell his economic proposals.

Sorry, Jonathan, but there's a name for political posturing that involves saying both 'A' and 'not-A' at the same time while trying to whip people up into supporting your political program..

Demagoguery.

Posted in Econ & Money | 2 Comments