Monthly Archives: December 2010

Our Hero

George Bush issued a secret order authorizing Presidential assassinations of U.S. citizens abroad whom the US unilaterally decided were Terrorists.

Start the outrage machine.

Oh. Wait. That wasn’t G.W. Bush. It was B.H. Obama who is authorizing murder without trial of US citizens abroad — and not on some battlefield either.

That’s different, right?

Right?

[Original draft 1/27/10.  In preparation for my blog redesign, I found draft blog posts that somehow never made it to publication. This is one of them.]

2010: Since I first wrote the above, the Obama administration successfully fought off a court challenge to its citizen assassination policy, on the grounds that the suit could not be brought by the future victim’s father, but rather required the targeted American to file it himself–an action that would inevitably put him at severe risk of capture and at least Padilla-like confinement if not death.  Happy New Year.

Posted in Law: Constitutional Law | 3 Comments

RISKS of Xmas Lights

Risk Assessment and Failure Analysis in Multiple Small Illumination Sources During Winter Conditions by Robert M. Slade, version 1.0, 20031217

via The Risks Digest Volume 26: Issue 26.

Abstract:

In the author’s immediate socio-cultural environment, the unpacking, testing, placement, and maintenance of Christmas lights has been mandated to be “man’s work.” (Women will, reluctantly, direct the placement of lights, since it is an observed fact that a man has all the artistic sensitivity of a Volkswagen. The car, not the automotive designers.) Therefore, despite the complete lack of any evidence of competence in domestic “handiness,” or knowledge of electrical appliances, the author has found himself making an extensive, multi- year study of failure modes in different forms of lighting involving multiple small light sources.

This paper examines the various failure modes that have been designed as part of different formats of such lighting, and, being a confirmed pessimist, the author conjectures about possible future design failures.

Posted in Completely Different | Leave a comment

A Contracts Problem

Mars Hill professor resigns after student undresses in class

Mars Hill College has accepted the resignation of a longtime professor after he challenged students to disrobe in exchange for an A in his sociology class and one of them took him up on the offer.

College President Dan Lunsford said the professor didn’t expect the student would actually take off his clothes during the class last Thursday evening. The instructor’s offer was intended to illustrate cultural differences and that public nudity is unacceptable in American society, he said.

“He did not expect it to happen,” Lunsford said. “The professor realized that this had gone much beyond what he ever anticipated, and he was shocked and dismayed.”

Lunsford said he would not release the name of the professor or student because of privacy concerns. The student will not be punished, he said.

The incident has been the talk of the campus at this Madison County school affiliated with the Baptist Church. Senior Kat Marotta said it disturbed her.

“I feel a lot of the responsibility is on the professor in how he handles his classroom,” she said. “I’m very disappointed.

“People were very upset about it. It’s probably the juiciest thing that’s ever come out of this campus.”

But students such as senior Josh Dye do not believe it was that serious.

“As part of the classroom setting, I don’t think it should have been done, but it really didn’t affect me,” he said.

Lunsford said the professor, who has been with the college for more than 25 years, acted professionally by resigning. He has tenure and is eligible for retirement benefits.

“The professor has requested to activate his retirement, and it has been accepted with my expression of appreciation of his service to the college in the past,” he said. “I am concerned about the negative perception it may generate, and the professor was equally concerned in his conversation with me. However, it was a mistake.”

The professor apologized in an e-mail to students in the class. Lunsford said the student will not be punished because the incident would not have occurred if the teacher hadn’t issued the challenge. However, the student will not receive an A for accepting the offer, he said.

“In my view, in American society and in an academic environment, public nudity is not acceptable to illustrate a point,” he said.

Offer and acceptance?

[Original draft 2/21/2004. In preparation for my blog redesign, I found draft blog posts that somehow never made it to publication. This is one of them.]

2010: Link-rot has struck. Here’s the archive.org version. I imagine I didn’t run this because it seemed a little risqué somehow for around here and I felt sorry for the guy. And I suppose the contract is void on public policy grounds?

Posted in Etc, Zombie Posts | 2 Comments

Demiurge, Moi?

Today's word is demiurge. I didn't quite know what it meant, so I had to look it up. Answers.com defines as follows:

dem·i·urge (dĕm'ē-ûrj') pronunciation
n.

  1. A powerful creative force or personality.
  2. A public magistrate in some ancient Greek states.
  3. Demiurge
    A deity in Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and other religions who creates the material world and is often viewed as the originator of evil.
  4. Demiurge A Platonic deity who orders or fashions the material world out of chaos.

[Late Latin dēmiurgus, from Greek dēmiourgos, artisan : dēmios, public (from dēmos, people) + ergos, worker (from ergon, work).]

I mention this because someone has called me a “Domain names demiurge” and I think it's brilliant: The people who like my work can think definition one, and those who hate it can think definition three!

I should perhaps explain: although it doesn't seep into this blog much, one of the issues that turns up with some frequency in my academic work has been the regulation of domain names. Some of my articles, especially the ones critical of ICANN, the major institutional actor in this area, have been very controversial, as has some of my online advocacy at ICANNWatch.org.

[Original draft 3/20/2005. In preparation for my blog redesign, I found draft blog posts that somehow never made it to publication. This is one of them.]

2010: Although the link to the blog posting where this happened is no more, or at least not findable by me, I’m pretty sure I didn’t hallucinate it. In any case, it seems appropriate to post this now, as I’ve just put the finishing touches on my latest — and I think last — ICANN-related article (online soon), which is an analysis of the ICANN/US “Affirmation of Commitments”. Of course, I also said that the previous ICANN-related article would be the last. And also the one before that.

Posted in Law: Internet Law, Zombie Posts | Leave a comment

Why Does the Chicago Manual of *Style* Hate Open Access?

The Occasional Pamphlet (aka Stuart Shieber), finds something odd, unpleasant, and rather short-sighted in the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style on Open Access: a suggestion that publishers work to undermine Open Access.

Stuff like this is why I started the Copyright Experiences project, a site where academic authors can report on the extent to which they’ve been able to persuade publishers to allow wide distribution of their work, e.g. via Open Access, Creative Commons, or the like.

If you are a legal academic author who has published something recently where you were able to keep your copyright and/or license it under an Open Access or Creative Commons model, please consider going to the Copyright Experiences website and sharing this information for the common good.

Posted in Law: Copyright and DMCA | Leave a comment

How to Censor ‘A Censorship-Resistant Web’

A Censorship-Resistant Web sets out a sketch of a way to create fail-safe distributed copies of web pages (i.e. not centralized in a single point of failure like at archive.org) thought likely to suffer political risk, to authenticate them as genuinely by the original author, and to help browsers find them if the original were to vanish.

What’s nice about this system is that it gets you censorship resistance without introducing anything wildly new. There are already certificate authorities. There are already hash-to-URL servers. There are already mirrors. There’s already Tor. (There’s already tor2web.) The only really new thing specific to censorship resistance is URL-to-hash servers of the form I described, but they’re very simple and hopefully uncontroversial.

There is some work to be done stitching all of these together and improving the UI, but unlike with some other censorship-resistance systems, there’s nothing you can point to as having no good purpose except for helping bad guys. It’s all pretty basic and generally useful stuff, just put together in a new way.

(Spotted via Cory Doctorow)

I like this kind of stuff, and this seems the start of a fine effort. But it made me think, and I’m afraid that I had an evil idea.  The same techniques that allow users to navigate to the backup pages(s) also will allow the party that took down the page in the first place to find the duplicate(s), and it will rarely be hard to trace these to their respective owners.  So if this form of future-proofing becomes frequent for politically sensitive materials, I expect the cross-border aspect of the denial-to-denial-of-service-attack to be overcome by executive agreement or treaty.

The difficulty for the censor in the USA, however, is that pesky First Amendment.  I can see two ways that a determined government might try to get around it other than directly applying its scary and expansionist reading of the Espionage Act.  The first would be to argue the still-open issue regarding the supremacy of treaties over the Bill of Rights.  But that’s rather major, and would depend on the content of the hypothetical international agreement. It may also be unnecessary.

A sneakier work-around the First Amendment might go as follows:

  1. Seize the copyright of the online version.  This might be done on a claim that the text is contraband or was acquired with contraband.  Alternately, the seizure might be effected under the standard condemnation power, in which case just compensation would be due to the original owner in order to comply with the Fifth Amendment.
  2. Once the government has the copyright it then applies the DMCA to all the (domestic) copies and has them taken down.  It applies to foreign countries to do the same under the proliferating DMCA clones around the world.

There are a couple of complexities that need explanation.

First, the US government doesn’t usually claim copyright in the work product of its employees, which would make the claim that there is a copyright to seize difficult if the government was the original author of the leaked work (the WikiLeaks situation). That’s from 17 USC § 105,

Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government, but the United States government is not precluded from receiving and holding copyrights transferred to it by assignment, bequest, or otherwise.

But imagine that § 105 was amended, and the government did start to claim copyright in its employees’ works, or maybe just in all classified works produced by the government or its contractors and agents.  On the one hand, this would seem to avoid the need to seize the copyright, since the government would already have it and could instead go straight to the DMCA. 

On the other hand, however, the government would face a difficulty in that in order to claim copyright over the posted work, the government would have to admit that the work was authentic, something the US government has studiously avoided doing (officially) in the WikiLeaks case.

Perhaps, however, the government could invent some new procedure in which it went to District Court and proceeded in the alternative, saying it was either seizing the copyright, or not (leaving the question of just compensation for any subsequent proceeding in which someone claiming to have the copyright could come forward in the Court of Claims), but in either case now claimed entitlement to a declaration that it had the authority to apply the takedown clauses of the DMCA?

Anyway, all this is too horrible.  I hope a real copyright lawyer can come along and explain why it is nonsense. And by posting it on the day of the year when no one reads this blog, I hope I’ve both established priority in the unlikely event this both isn’t nonsense and is original, and also limited the chance of the idea taking off.

Posted in Cryptography, Law: Copyright and DMCA, Law: Free Speech, National Security | Leave a comment

Math Doodles

This is for Benjamin:

Via Robert Krulwich’s Blog.

Posted in Science/Medicine | 1 Comment