Monthly Archives: July 2005

Search in Textbox Extension for Firefox

A while ago I posted this software wish:

… if only there were a tool that would let me search inside the text that I am posting to input boxes on web forms before I actually post it.

Well, my wish has been almost answered by the Firefox textareatools extension.

I say “almost answered” because this extension still has rough edges, e.g. “find” doesn’t actually work for me — I have to use the “find (regexp)” option for it to do anything. It could use better shortcuts, especially one to repeat a search. But oh am I happy to have it.

Posted in Software | Comments Off on Search in Textbox Extension for Firefox

It Starts to Come Around At Last

After the basic underlying ugliness of tampering with national security for political revenge (against a spouse, at that), one of the aspects of the Plame scandal that has always most amazed and disgusted me is the role of then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales. Forgotten amidst all the current finger pointing as to who said what to whom when and with which mental state was that when Gonzales learned that the Justice Dept. had started an official investigation into the leak, Gonzales waited twelve hours before putting the White House staff on notice that they had to preserve documents and electronic files. Which seemed than and seems now like an open invitation to obstruction of justice (AKA “shredding and deleting”).

Well, it’s forgotten no longer; what’s more it seems that Gonzales did tell White House Chief of Staff Andy Card right away. And who did Card tell and when? And what did they do?

Posted in Politics: The Party of Sleaze | Comments Off on It Starts to Come Around At Last

Thank You Jon!

Jon Weinberg has done a terrific job as a guest blogger (he even fought the spam, which decided to try to flood the blog while I wasn't looking). But I'm home, so the data/ink (or is that data/electron?) ratio will now go down to its usual level.

I hope to write a bit about my trip soon, but my first priority is to get some sleep. Then shop for food…

Posted in Personal | Comments Off on Thank You Jon!

EFF’s Blog-a-thon

EFF, to celebrate its 15th anniversary [], is asking folks this week to blog about their their “click moments” — as they put it, “the very first step you to took to stand up for your digital rights.” This is a hard question to answer for me. I've done a variety of things over the years that count as online activism, but it's difficult, thinking about it, to separate that stuff from my day job. After all, I'm an academic. I get paid to sit around and figure out what I think is correct and say so. It's my job to speak truth to power (and anyone else).

But I remember my first contact with EFF. It came in the form of the September 1991 EFFECTOR, EFF's newsletter (it was printed on dead trees at the time), and it contained this summary by Esther Dyson of EFF's basic message: “There's a new world coming. Let's make sure it has rules we can live with.” I scissored out the membership form on the back and sent it in with my $40 — and I started reading what EFF had to say.

I drew on that stuff in a column I sent out two years later to the law-professor members of the American Association of Law Schools Mass Communications Law section. Parts of it are funny reading now. One of the things I said was that while we “hear a lot about electronic home shopping … I think I'd be perfectly happy living the rest of my life without” it. Little did I know.

Some of the rest of it, though, was on target. My point was that in building the information superhighway, we needed to develop a switched network in which anybody could become a content provider — not some monopoly content provider giving you 500 channels and interactive shopping, not any one-way system with a fixed number of channels, but a two-way, switched, many-to-many communications infrastructure that looked like the Internet. A system like that, I wrote, “could transform the nature of mass communications.”

It did.

This is my last post as a guest blogger here — Michael should be coming back tomorrow. Thanks for putting up with me. I had a great time.

Posted in Communications | Comments Off on EFF’s Blog-a-thon

A Note From London

As it happens I am in London, spending an evening between planes on my journey homewards. I am watching coverage of the mostly failed bombing attempt today in London on the TV in an airport hotel. That was not the plan.

I had a very much better plan. I had a ticket to see the great Michael Gambon as Falstaff in Henry IV, part II this evening, at the National Theater. And I wasn't inclined to let a bomb threat campaign stop I think that the terrorists win if you cower at home. Seeing the TV news presenter read a government statement asking people to go on with their daily lives clinched it. Michael Gambon here I come, I thought, as I set out to brave what I imagined were the London crowds. But first I had to get to London from Heathrow.

The problem was that London transport is basically shut down. For a while there, I thought I had a Plan B – I figured out a route from the airport with the help of the excellent London Transport Real-Time Map. The Piccadilly line that takes you from Heathrow to central London was (and is) shut. There is an express train from LHR to Paddington – but given my late start, no obvious way to get from Paddington to the show in time. Surface transport would, I imagine be at a standstill, queues for taxis very long, and it's a bit far to walk in the time I had available.

So the plan was to eschew the express, take the local train about half way to Ealing, and switch to the central line, which seemed to be working. I went back to the airport, bought a ticket from the vending machine for the London Connection to Ealing Broadway, and descended to the platform. No trains showing on the departures board. A small hand-lettered sign revealed the reason: no trains today beyond Hayes due to “technical issues”. The nice but harassed lady at the station duly refunded my ticket.

It seems even when you don't want to let yourself be defeated by terrorists, you can still be defeated by British Rail. Then again, it's probably a mercy. By the time I got back to my hotel, the Central line seemed to have been stopped too.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment

Proving that Michigan politics can be as wacko as Florida’s?

Ward Connerly's American Civil Rights Coalition has spent more than half a million dollars to get a state constitutional amendment on the ballot here. It's the “Michigan Civil Rights Initiative,” which would ban any affirmative-action consideration of race by the state of Michigan or its units and subdivisions (including my employer, Wayne State University).

Initially, the effort was derailed by a state-court ruling that MCRI — a proposed amendment to the state constitution — was improperly worded. Plaintiffs urged, and the court agreed, that the initiative's proposed ballot presentation obscured what the amendment would really do. The ballot language presented the amendment as one to bar state entities from “discriminating or granting preferential treatment” on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin. The Michigan constitution, though, already makes it illegal for the state to “discriminate” on those grounds; the only change made by the proposed amendment is to bar “preferential treatment” — that is, affirmative action. The lower court held that the ballot proposal violated state law because it didn't make that clear. Our (Republican) state attorney general appealed, though, and the appellate court reversed, finding no violation of state law in the proposed wording.

Near as I can tell, most of Connerly's money went to paid petition circulators. In due course, MCRI organizers presented more than 500,000 signatures in support of the proposed initiative to Michigan's Board of State Canvassers; many of them came from (overwhelmingly African-American) Detroit. Finding this a little odd, opponents took a random sample of 500 petition signers, located the 87 of those 500 who lived in Detroit, and found that nearly all had been given to understand that the initiative would support affirmative action. Among the initial petition signers were two Michigan circuit-court judges; they've provided affidavits that the circulators told them that the petitions favored affirmative action, and that — on that basis — after glancing at the title and lengthy caption language, they signed. It appears that circulators routinely made similar statements (along with the statement that the NAACP favored the proposal).

The Board of State Canvassers held its hearing yesterday, and found itself unable to decide what to do. One Republican member of the Board voted to put the measure on the ballot; another abstained from voting, citing her conviction that fraud had taken place, and urged our state legislature to set up a panel to investigate. The two Democratic members of the Board say that the Board itself should subpoena petition circulators and signers to testify. The state attorney general's office, though, responds that the Board hasn't the authority to do that.

So it all goes now to the courts. Last year, an anti-gay marriage initiative failed to get past the Board of State Canvassers, and the courts reinstated it to the ballot. We'll see if they do it again.

Posted in Law: Elections | 2 Comments