Legal, Laws, and Regs

A busy Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued four significant rulings today, before taking their summer break.

The first, which has been getting most of the attention, is the Grokster ruling. Though I’m not quite as complacent as Don Park about the ruling, I don’t believe it is, in actuality, the death of openness and innovation. After all, we’re still capable of generating and consuming RSS feeds; what other technology could we possibly need or want?

From the BBC report it would seem that the originators of a technology will be liable primarily if they promote the technology as a way of infringing on copyright. How this is to be interpreted is going to be a challenge, and will most likely bog down many a court system, but I don’t think anyone is really and truly surprised the courts made this decision–even with the reliance on the old Sony Betamax ruling used by Grokster in defense. From my admittedly limited knowledge of the Supreme Court, their task seems less a job of defining black and white, as much as it is delimiting various shades of gray; sometimes the difference between the shades of gray is hard for the untrained eye to detect.

On the one hand you had the old betamax technology and Sony not being held liable for copyright infringement, as Sony shows that the majority of use of the technology is for legal purposes. On the other hand, you have Grokster, where most users spend much of their time thumbing their noses at Hollywood and bragging about how they got such and such song, movie, and/or television show for free.

Regardless, this isn’t the death of P2P; this isn’t the end to innovation. You sell us all too short when you say that.

The second ruling was on the use of cable for broadband internet access. In this, the Court sided with the cable companies and the FCC and said they do not have to allow competitors to use their wires. This is a disappointment, as opening the wires would open up competition, and hopefully drive down prices.

However, David Weinberger points to Susan Crawford’s analysis of this ruling, where she says that the ruling does give the FCC control over most of the bits that flow on the Net:

This is very very big. This means that even though information services like IM and email don’t have to pay tariffs or interconnect with others, they may (potentially) have to pay into the universal service fund, be subject to CALEA, provide enhanced 911 services, provide access to the disabled, and be subject to general consumer protection rules — all the subjects of the FCC’s IP-enabled services NPRM. I’ve blogged about this a good deal, and now it’s coming true: the FCC is now squarely in charge of all internet-protocol enabled services.

Susan’s reasoning is that because net access now falls under an “information service” it falls under the FCC jurisdiction and, …the FCC can make rules about these information services under its broad “ancillary jurisdiction”.. Does anyone else see this?

From the publications I’ve read on this, this isn’t seen as an issue. What is, is the power given to the cable companies to control services such as VoIP. More, I’m concerned about what happens if DSL and cable work together to limit wireless access. For instance, the entire St. Louis downtown is wired for free use. Could this eventually be limited as somehow anti-competitive and therefore ‘harmful to innovation”, as the FCC would define it?

All I can say is: shop your beliefs. Not happy with this ruling and cable? Turn it off, and let them know why you’re turning it off. You can still download Stargate through BitTorrent.

Though both these items are getting wide play in weblogging, it is actually the two other ruling that concern me the most, and both have to do with the Ten Commandments.

The Court, in two separate rulings, stated that posting the Ten Commandments in Kentucky was unconstitutional, but a display in Texas was not. Why the contradiction? The Court decided the latter was part of a historical and political display that de-emphasized the religious nature of the monument. According to Reuters:

In the Texas case, Rehnquist said for the majority that the state has treated the monuments on the capitol grounds as representing several strands in the state’s political and legal history.

Justice Stevens, in minority dissent, :

…argued it was an improper government endorsement of religion. “The monument is not a work of art and does not refer to any event in the history of the state,” Stevens wrote. “The message transmitted by Texas’ chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God.”

This opened a big ole hole into where religion ends and government begins. Now, when a religious artifact can be displayed, and when not, is going to be difficult to determine.

I didn’t now this but Missouri had one of the same statues in our state’s Capitol grounds. No one had ever complained about it. But from the story, it would seem that most people just ignored it. It is, after all, not art.

The point is, this is a crack. And its a scary crack. Of the rulings, the Texas one is the one that will disturb my sleep tonight. What good is open file sharing if you can’t share the Quran? And what good is it to have cheap broadband, if all that flows through it is what the American Majority wants to read, see, and hear?


May 12, 2012: And today’s hot download is a video of a popular purple dinosaur, you know who, singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, cause the Bible tells me so…”



The weather continues too hot to do more than walk from the door to your car and back again. As it is, I park down the hill and feel faint walking back. Tomorrow, they’ve issued a heat advisory, and the local weather people are predicting that we’ll have actual temperatures of 100 degrees; with the humidity, we could looking at 110 or more heat index. This is killer weather–it kills the spirit as readily as it destroys plants.

Even our birds are impacted by the heat. My roommate watched an infant bird in our finch garden trying to get fed by an adult bird. As the adult would hop away to get more food, two other young birds would jump on the youngster’s back, trying to peck its eyes out. The drought and extreme weather have triggered the animals naturally aggressive tendencies to compete for limited food and water. The baby will have to grow up quickly; mother nature is not feeling kind this summer.

Summer of the dead aside, I can’t fault the little guy for continuing to demand food even though he’s big enough to feed himself. All animals, including humans, especially humans, resist weaning. After all, why should we give up a nice, steady supply of tasty food in order to have to scavenge for ourselves; whether the food we’re rooting around for is seeds in dirt or Cheerios on plastic.

Reminds me of an old, old term. Have you all heard of sugar tits? I’m not sure how regional this term is, but if you haven’t heard of it before, a sugar tit is sugar wrapped in a cloth, soaked in water, and given to a baby to suck. Another old-time variation is a mixture of butter and sugar, again tied up in a cloth. A modern sugar tit is a pacifier, or sucky, dipped in sugar and given to a child–especially a child who is currently being weaned but still fussy.

Zora Neal Hurston mentions sugar tits in her story, “The Gilded Six-Bits”, a powerful short story about the lure of gold, metal that shines and glitters like the sparkle of sugar sprinkled on flour sack cotton–glittering like naked need reflected in the mirror.

The hours went past on their rusty ankles. Joe still and quiet on one bed rail and Missie May wrung dry of sobs on the other. Finally the sun’s tide crept upon the shore of night and drowned all its hours. Missie May with her face stiff and streaked towards the window saw the dawn come into her yard. It was day. Nothing more. Joe wouldn’t be coming home as usual. No need to fling open the front door and sweep off the porch, making it nice for Joe. Never no more breakfast to cook; no more washing and starching of Joe’s jumper-jackets and pants. No more nothing. So why get up?

With this strange man in her bed, she felt embarrassed to get up and dress. She decided to wait till he had dressed and gone. Then she would get up, dress quickly and be gone forever beyond reach of Joe’s looks and laughs. But he never moved. Red light turned to yellow, then white.

From beyond the no-man’s land between them came a voice. A strange voice that yesterday had been Joe’s.

“Missie May, ain’t you gonna fix me no breakfus’?”

She sprang out of bed. “Yeah, Joe. Ah didn’t reckon you wuz hongry.”

No need to die today. Joe needed her for a few more minutes anyhow.

I don’t think we outgrow the need for sugar tits though the form they take changes over time–usually become more sophisticated, and hence, more expensive, fattening, or generally bad for you in some way. When we’re unhappy or worried, it’s natural to reach out for and hold on to what gives you comfort: whether it be a macaroni and cheese casserole, chocolate, a drink, a new red convertible or an old white lover.

Years ago, I used to go to the rock shop and buy a new rock when I was unhappy. I ended up with quite a collection, which I had to auction off on eBay last year. It was devastating to have to sell the collection, but if you can’t let something go when you have real need, then you’re not much different than a fretty baby sucking on an old cotton flour sack.

Still, last couple of times out on hikes, I found myself picking up a couple of rocks, with tiny grains of quartz in them that sparkled in the sun. The good thing about these new rocks, though, is they have no intrinsic value other than my own interest; therefore I’ll never have a reason to sell them.

My Dad who died last year was a man who had little tolerance for being dependent on things. By the time he passed away, he’d stripped most of the possessions from his life until he could live in a small, two room retirement apartment. About the only things he cherished at that point were his books, his tea, and the carved wood walking stick I gave him. I have it now, the only thing I asked for from my brother when Dad moved on.

My Mom, though, I swear she holds on to stuff until the crap is dust. And then she’ll shellac it.

She shops at Wal-Mart, too. I’m disappointed by this because Wal-mart is the biggest sugar tit of all time. But, she says, it’s so cheap to buy things there. Doesn’t matter how many times I talk about laid off US workers, and abused employees and slave labor in China, she still goes back. Those two gallon jugs of pickles are a mighty lure.

One woman’s pickles, however, is another’s shiny white plastic. When Apple released iTunes podcasting support today, many of the same people who decried yesterday’s Supreme Court decisions about broadband on cable and the Grokster decision excitedly latched onto this new variation of RSS. Universally, the move is seen as a good one, even if there are concerns about the implementation. Whatever promotes the use of syndication and/or podcasting, has to be, must be, a good thing.

Even if it’s a bandwidth intensive technology that feeds the need for broadband, created by a company that has the seal of approval by the RIAA.

As for me, I used to spend money all the time. When my computers were two years old, I’d buy new ones. When new types of televisions came out, I’d buy the latest. If I was attracted to a pretty crystal statue, it usually ended up in my curio. I had, by the time I was finished, three curios stuffed full of stuff. I made a lot of money, and spent it as fast as I brought it in. I sometimes wonder if my eternal search for stuff died when the good times ended; or did I stop pursuing the good times, because in the end I found that lots of stuff means lots of stuff to dust, and not much else.

Woman’s eternal quest for truth: which dies first, the ambition, or the tits?

Most of the stuff is gone, now. I have found it easy to give up things, but less easy to give up possibilities. Doesn’t sound like a bad thing to hold on to: possibilities. But the hope of a possibility can keep you going long past the time when you should let it go.


Breaking out all Web 2.0 week

I don’t care if the weather is hot enough to burn you when you touch metal, I have to get out for some walks or go mad. And if I continue going mad, like I have been, I’ll chase you all away and then what value will I be?

Catarina from Flickr just announced a beta test for Yahoo’s new My Web 2.0. This follows on iTunes podcasting and Microsoft’s RSS — we’re busting out microformats and social networks all over.

There is an interesting twist to Yahoo’s My Web 2.0: your search results can be impacted by those who are in your community list. I’m still not sure about how this works, but if anyone wants to try this out with me, send me an email and I’ll send you an invite. Or you if you want, you can invite me. My Yahoo email address is p2psmoke.

I can see issues with search results being impacted by your community, and the fact that doesn’t this narrow our world vision rather than broaden it. But I’ve been critical of all this Web 2.0 technology all week, and this isn’t done, so I’m not doing it.

Diversity Events of note People Photography


Pridefest 2005 Today’s outing to the St. Louis PrideFest 2005 parade did not begin auspiciously–we were hit from behind by a lady driving an SUV. Luckily my roommate, who was giving me a lift, drives a larger van and we could drive away after the insurance cards were exchanged.

(I hate the sensations of a car wreck: the screeching tires, the metallic thud, and the fast jerk as your car is pushed forward. I dislike more my roommate’s car being damaged because he was giving me a ride.)

Anyway, he dropped me off at the parade route, and I found a spot in front of a light pole in a little bit of shade, right next to a large group of gay women. Ironically, it was the group the lady who hit us was joining. That poor woman became the butt of several of her friend’s jokes, and one bad pun from me (“Nice running into you again.”)

They were a marvelous group to stand with : every time any car, float, or group went by they would cheer and cheer. Their exuberance added much to the event.

The Parade started right on time, and they kept the pace up, probably because they wanted to finish quickly. It was in the upper 90’s and humid and the air quality was horrid. The conditions were more than compensated, though, by the parade participants. They were a wonderful group, and more than once, I found my eyes stinging a bit from the gentle pride, and absolute joy you could see on their faces.

A Mother's Pride

There were participants from several companies, including several real estate firms. I gather that gay money, at least, is welcome in the housing market. Even in Missouri. Politically, the mayor was there, as was the fire chief and a couple of aldermen, and Ross Carnahan, a Democrat. There was even a small contingent from the Log Cabin Republicans, though they marched at quite a distance from the one somber entry, aptly named “Fear”.


There were some fun and flamboyant participants, but most of the marchers wore simple cotton shirts in various colors, with the word “Pride” over the chest. Even though they live right in the middle of that part of the country which condemns everything about them, they can still smile at, and throw pretty beads to, a crowd that has consistently voted down many of their rights. I think next year the St. Louis Pridefest organizers should consider adding the words “Courage” and “Determination” to the outfits.


Reflection in Glass



Bubble wrap up

I’m not going to be spending a lot of time on the the topic of Microsoft’s embrace of RSS, primarily because the implementation of much of this stretches too far out into the future. When the tech hits my hands, then I’ll kick the tires, and look under the hood.

I will say that I found the Microsoft examples of their RSS integration to be less than compelling: updates of calendars in Outlook and subscribing to Amazon wishlists. The former is just ActiveX subscriptions all over again; the latter seems more geared to bringing in the Amazon name than demonstrating anything particularly useful.

I can’t help thinking that, just like years ago when Microsoft realized it was late to the browser games, it’s now discovered it’s late to the syndication party. To make up for it, the company hopes to do something bigger and better: to redefine what a ‘feed’ really means, and in the process remind people not to forget who the Big Dog is. Yet I just don’t find the effort to be exciting.

I remember when Microsoft entered the browser wars, it did so with such a bang. It brought a lot of innovation to the concept of ‘web browser’: integration with the desktop, DHTML, object models, and even early work with CSS. It was the first browser to drop support for BLINK.

Along the way, though, it also wrecked havoc with its proprietary extensions and implementations–damage we’re still feeling today. Perhaps that’s why much of the positive feedback about the announcement yesterday is more along the lines of, “Wow, Microsoft hasn’t tried to take ownership of RSS. I’m impressed. And it’s honoring the CC license, too. Golly.”

In other words, Microsoft isn’t causing harm with its effort. Whew! Let’s wipe our brows, that was a close one! I ’spect, though, that some of the stronger proponents of this move will be changing their mind on the goodness of this effort in about 2-4 months time. Tops. (Maybe less.)

In the meantime, Atom is moving forward to its first release, and other XML vocabularies are appearing in new or increased uses. Even us bastard XMLers, the RDF clan, are actually doing something useful with our unreadable and indecipherable specification. We just don’t get stage space at Gnomedex.

While Microsoft has stood still, the world has moved on: Gimp, OpenOffice, Atom, LID, podcasting, Mac OS X built on BSD, Ubuntu Linux, NeoOffice, RDF, Firefox, MySQL, PHP, REST, WordPress, even Ajax–light, open, tasty little nibbles in a world suffering a surfeit of heavy metal infrastructures. We’ve moved on.

Microsoft’s RSS team has worked hard, and I respect their efforts. I enjoyed seeing their enthusiasm in the Channel 9 video, and I hope the company gives them space to do something exciting. The photo integration demonstration was one of the more interesting ones, but even that, as they say themselves, is dependent on bandwidth and copyright issues. Also the fact that most folks use PhotoShop or Gimp, though I imagine a plugin could be created to work with these non-Microsoft tools. Come to think of it — you could traverse feeds to pages and scrape the images to pop up into PS or Gimp now, wouldn’t have to wait for them to appear in enclosures. Or Microsoft, for that matter.

Eighteen months to see most of this rolled out is a long, long time. Especially when Microsoft is already eighteen months too late.