I have pointy hats to sell

I’m in the middle of an application I hope to roll out tomorrow if the pieces fall into place. I’m pushing up the publication date to celebrate all the Web 2.0 activity this week (both Yahoo and Google released map APIs today in honor of the Where 2.0 conference. I imagine the MSN folks are burning the midnight oil). However, I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my new business: selling tinfoil hats to webloggers.

I already have the ideal domain: Tinfoil Project. Strange name for a photo weblog, but not bad for selling tinfoil hats, eh? And I think the market is ripe for this type of business. I mean, now that the US has become a fascist empire, it’s only a matter of time before The Party, mind-reading ray guns in hand, goes after webloggers who host their sites on US servers.

Consider the recent concerns about Flickr moving its data centers from Canada to the US. A free citizen of Canada, Tris Hussey, writes:

In the States civil liberties are truly a farce and a sham. Under the Patriot Act, the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and compel Yahoo/Flickr to open up the data doors to them on the basis of “national security” or that a “person of interest” has photos there. They don’t need a warrant. Yahoo/Flickr will not be able by law to inform you that this has happened, going to happen, etc.

And it goes beyond this. Given the right-wing politics of the day, how long will it be before Yahoo is forced to close or restrict the tags “nude” and “erotic”? This would not happen in Canada.

The U.S. has become a country where law enforcement, the people supposed to be protecting our rights, can enter your home, without a warrant or you present, search it, take evidence, close it up, and not reveal this to you. You can be held without charges, access to a lawyer, or outside communications.

I’m sure that Osama Bin Laden will close his Flickr account before the data center move is finished. But just in case he doesn’t, he should be aware that his photos, residing in data centers in California, are subject to arrest by the Department of Homeland Security.

And too bad about Penthouse–those DHS-sanctioned drapes play havoc with the photos. The new Republican Greasemonkey script, which pastes cute little tape X’s over nipples in bare breast photos is kind of cool. However, I don’t know that I agree that Howard Dean’s face looks like a nipple.

Wait! Wait! Who’s that at the door! Oh sure he says pizza man, but how do I know he’s who he says he is? Does he have a digital ID? Where’s his InfoCard?

Sigh, it’s tough to be a blogger in the US.

Damn! That sounds like a song:

My baby done left me
She walked out the door.
She’s leaving the country
Won’t be here any more

Oh I’m just a US Blogger, and I’m feeling so blue.
Yes, I’m just a US Blogger, and don’t know what to do.
The world thinks we’re crap, and the government agrees.
I’m just a US Blogger, a global disease.

Of course, as Ben Hammersley has said, thank goodness the States isn’t the Net.

We don’t need to explain what the internet is, or what the funny “http://” thing at the bottom of the article means. Even the BBC can confidently state “for more on this, go to bbc dot c.o. dot u.k. slash radio four” and not have to explain just what the hell it’s talking about. In less than a decade, this is an incredible change.

But now we need to add a new clause. There’s something missing from sentences that needs to be replaced, lest we all get the wrong idea. That clause is “in the US”.

Almost every story, written in the past few days about the Grokster case have missed this clause out. So, filesharing applications are now liable to new legal contraints. Yes. In the US. Not here. Not in China. Not in India. Not across the majority of the world. The Supreme Court of the United States of America may have made a silly ruling, or it may not, but it did it in the US. Last we checked, their bailiwick doesn’t extend outside of the fifty states.

Tell me something, Ben. You ever tried to wax the floor of an elephant cage? With the elephant still in it?

I mean no disrespect to either Tris or Ben, truly I don’t. We in the States are all too aware of the precarious nature of many of our freedoms. I am ashamed of what we have done in Iraq, and horrified about what we’re doing in Cuba. Within the country, we frisk visitors in our airports, keep brain dead women alive and 13 year olds pregnant, monitor folks who check out certain books, and hassle photographers on bridges. Word has it with the new ruling on the Ten Commandments, some church groups are collecting money to put monuments everywhere. Soon we’ll be neck deep in cheesy, mass produced, ugly as sin monuments to Christianity; monuments, ignored as quickly and completely as Sunday sermons are ignored come Monday.

(Of course, more money on monuments means less money to give to politicians so every dog has his day.)

Our fight to maintain our freedoms, though, is hard enough without having to battle hyperbole on top of it. If it’s too dangerous to move Flickr photo databases to the States, do we now remove all data centers for all technology out of the country? Not just data centers: file sharing applications, too. Of course, as I wrote long time ago, the fact that the software is created in another country doesn’t matter once its effects cross borders. After all, P2P file sharing works by placing files on intermediate machines in response to requests. This means that at any point in time, your box could be hosting who knows what: copyrighted movies, nude pictures, illegally copied music, or the plans for an invasion of Pittsburgh.

What do we do then? Or since we’re talking ‘borders’ here, and I’m just a US blogger– what should you all do? Consider the US damage and route around us? Might be hard to reach Foo Camp, Ben. And Tris: what’s the French Canadian word for ‘Gnomedex’?

If this all were easy, it wouldn’t be any fun. At any time, any number of countries will come up with any number of rules and regulations and laws and walls; some might even make sense but knowing governments most will be silly if not downright oppressive. All we can do is do what we’ve always done: the best we can. Yes, even we poor old sods in the States.

We can’t start putting borders on the internet. What impacts one of us, impacts all of us.

(Link to Tris thanks to Suw, thanks to jr. Link to Ben thanks to Julian and Euan.)

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.