Here CNN discusses President Carter’s introduction of politics into his funeral speech for Corretta Scott King. Apparently this has been raising a fuss among some conservatives. As CNN says: “After the funeral yesterday, Kate O’Beirne, a prominent conservative writer, said liberals don’t know how to keep politics out of their funerals.”
Personally I find the fuss strange. Funerals are frequently a rallying point for the ideals of the deceased. When else do you have the attention of the country focused and thinking about a single set of values and issues? Nobody is claiming that President Carter said anything that would have gone contrary to the wishes of Correta King. On the contrary, she probably would have been very pleased at the attention those words have received.
Here is the portion President Carter’s speech which raised the fuss: “It was difficult for them personally with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the targets of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance.” The video is here. Anyone who thinks that wiretaps without court supervision will always be used correctly, for the right purposes, and not to discredit legitimate causes, should think long and hard about our history.
Here is my letter to Newsweek on the subject of Google censorship in China.
[Note from 2017: Google eventually gave up and pulled out of China rather than be censored and constrained. But American companies continue to work around restrictions and sell censorship tools to oppressive regimes.]
The question of whether to work within an oppressive regime, or hope that a boycott will force change, is always a hard one; and I’m not going to judge Google on their decision. Keep in mind that such censorship requests don’t just come from China–even France and Germany wish to censor external web sites. Nonetheless, there is no question in my mind that Yahoo overstepped the bounds when they turned over identifying information on a blogger.
However, in all this fuss we are missing an even more important example of censorship complicity by American companies. At the same time that the United States is encouraging the people of countries like Iran to exercise their right to disagree with their government, American technology is being used to prevent freedom of speech in those countries. Iran, and other countries in the Middle East, use software from companies like Secure Computing to block their citizens from accessing everything from Iranian bloggers to the BBC Persian News Service. While Secure Computing denies having sold the software to Iran, there is no question that they didn’t provide sufficient safeguards to prevent the dissemination of the software to such countries. In a age when word processors get shipped with restrictions which require them to validate their license with a remote server, it seems to me that software which can be used to limit the liberties of people around the world should be locked down quite a bit tighter. At least Google has the excuse that they are expanding access to some information. This software is designed solely to provide censorship. It is a weapon against freedom of speech, and it should be regulated like any other weapon.
“Iran’s Internet filtering system is one of the world’s most substantial censorship regimes. Iran has adopted this extensive filtering regime at a time of extraordinary growth in Internet usage among its citizens, as well as a tremendous increase in the number of its citizens who write online in Farsi…. The Internet has become an important information resource in Iran. Polls show that people trust the Internet more than any other media outlet, including domestic television and radio broadcasts. Beginning in 2000, Iranians began to create internal news sites to circumvent the state’s controls over traditional media sources. Blogs, both Iranian and from elsewhere, are increasingly popular, and Iranian servers host thousands of blogs.” – http://www.opennetinitiative.net/studies/iran/
There is a certain irony here that both the liberals and conservatives have fallen into the same trap. Fundamentally the federal government has very little control of our lives. However, once you start accepting money from it–you are caught in a dependency trap. For religious conservatives, this means the eradication of support for any particular religion in schools. For anti-discrimination liberals, it means allowing military recruiters into the schools. I confess that I have little sympathy for either side. If you want to be free of federal restrictions–stay clear of federal money.
The Post goes on to say that the Interior Department documented this in a “glossy 24-page brochure”. They weren’t kidding. Whatever the truth of the claims, there’s no question that someone blew a bunch of money on a significant bit of form over content. You can see for yourself at http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust/iimaccounting.pdf. Pure PR.
This case has been going on for years. Everyone agrees that the judge has been particularly pithy in his criticism of the government’s behavior. But fundamentally the problem is that the Interior Department has repeatedly been unable to clean up its act.
World Wide Words newsletter is a fun read. The latest typos, odd words, and questions about where phrases come from. This time there’s a request for suggestions of words or phrases that have falling into disuse.
That’s an interesting distinction. One can understand the practical aspects. Those who can afford to hire armed security forces presumably can afford to keep them healthy and fed. And those forces (perhaps) are less likely to engage in illegal activities than non-incorporated forces. But fundamentally, this means that people with money can protect their property by means that violate the law, but people without money cannot. Whether the decision is valid or not, the result is that the poor will lose more than the rich.
Recently Scott McNealy, predicting consolidation in the ISP market, was quoted
as saying that we no more needed 700 ISPs than we needed 700 electric power
companies. That’s an interesting analogy when you consider that the electric
power industry, now approaching deregulation, is probably approaching 700 companies
itself, many of whom don’t even own power facilities.
As usually, Scott is being quotable. Realistically, as more detailed comments
have indicated, it’s the medium sized ISPs that are likely to consolidate. Smaller
ISPs serve niche markets and personalized service that are not likely to be
attacked by the larger players. I don’t believe the numbers of small ISPs are
likely to decrease, in fact, as I sit here after just having driven through
the sparsely settled high-plains of Utah, I suspect that the market for small
ISPs is far from saturated.
It’s dangerous to judge the progression of the internet by the progression
of businesses past. While it’s true that in areas of high competition, the service
and hardware requirements for an ISP are high. It is also true that in many
areas, anyone with a leased line and a couple of modems can still become an
ISP. While all eyes are turned towards the big IPOs, it’s the small businesses
that will keep the internet alive.
[2017: I was wrong. In fact McNealy was wrong, it’s more like 50.]
When was it that everyone started to talk about
rights, and forgot all about responsibilities?
[A note from the future, in 2017. I was right. I didn’t get more conservative, and they grew up safe and awesome. One’s editing movies. The other’s working QA at a robotics company. Let’s hear it for sensible parenting.]
Before I begin, let me set
some context. I’m a parent, I have two terminally cute daughters; one six, the
other four. I’ve heard that the number one correlation between sexual conservatism
and other factors is whether a person has daughters. Maybe things will be different
when they reach adolescence, but so far my values haven’t changed.
So now we have had a summit,
and everyone’s talking about how to protect the rights of
parents on the internet.
This is apparently something that greatly concerns many parents,
from a reading of the statistics,
I can only assume that it’s primarily a concern of parents who are not
on the internet, since those that are, aren’t even using the available
tools. But I don’t mean to belittle the core desire–parents
want to make sure that children’s exposure to new concepts and people is
consistent with their beliefs, whether that exposure is on the internet, the
street, or the corner store.
And that’s the fundamental issue I have with all this ruckus. The
internet doesn’t exist as a thing, it isn’t something that’s safe or not
safe. The internet is a community of people, and the things you
have to teach your kids in this community are the same as the things you teach
them in your own. Be polite, don’t interrupt, don’t speak unless
you have something to say, stay away from the seamier parts of town, and of
course, don’t go off alone with strangers. Those are values I try and teach my
kids. If I haven’t gotten them across by the time they learn to
send email, it’s probably too late anyway. But these values are not
the internet–I expect them to be applied online, and down at the
I think I know where things went wrong. Some parents thought that if
their kid was staying home in front of the computer, that they were safe
and could be left alone–just like when they were sitting in front
of the television. They were wrong of course, the two mediums are not
comparible–there is far more violence and sex on television.
But on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog. What good does it do to teach
your kids right from wrong, if someone can pretend to be a teenage soulmate,
when they are actually a lecherous old man? There is some validity in this,
but frankly, anyone who has spent much time in online communities very quickly
learns that identity is both central to, and yet completely apart from, the
online experience. I spent my freshman year in college hooked on “the con”,
as it was called by those of us with access to Dartmouth’s
Time Sharing System years before AOL’s forums and IRC. We all knew
the story of the guy that gets all excited about this great girl he’s been chatting
with for hours, only to walk over to his roommate’s cubby to tell him the news–and
find out he’s been chatting with him all this time. The notion of an
online identity, or identities, that is separate from your physical one is fundamental
to the system–our children will understand that long before their parents.
This isn’t the dark side of the internet, this is one of the liberating things
about the internet. (Note that having multiple identities is not the same as
being anonymous, I’ll talk more about that some other time–if you want some
mandatory reading on that subject, check out “The Transparent Society : Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between
Privacy and Freedom” by David Brin.)
“But…,” (says my wife), “it is different, you think they
are safe because they are in the house. With other communities, you know where
they are.” Well, one can hope, but the teen
pregnancy rate in the U.S. would seem to argue otherwise. The fact of the
matter is that, the older your kids get, the less control you have over them.
That’s why I see this whole thing very differently. This isn’t an issue of parent’s rights, it’s a question of parent’s responsibilities, and that’s
a word that seems to be very much out of favor recently. All the internet is
doing is bringing home that our job as parents is not to control, but to guide.
Here is FamilyPC’s “Internet Bill of Rights” proposal, with my responses. They asked if they
could publish by responses, so if you see it in a physical copy, let me
know which issue.
Parental blocking software should be integrated into every Internet
ones? Ones meant for developer use only? Ones running on PDAs that
have the necessary memory or CPU? No. If the demand is there, the
will provide it. Protection of children is the responsibility of
not something that can be regulated.
Web site creators must
sites in an industry-standard way that is recognizable by the browser
(for now this means using RSACi or SafeSurf or PICS).
Aside from being
unenforcable, there is no need to do this. If people stop going to
sites, then sites will rate themselves. The fact of the matter is the
majority of sites that rate themselves are adult sites–they don’t
minors on their sites. The rest of sites don’t have the time or
to rate themselves.
An arbitration board should be created to
discrepancies in site ratings.
That implies that ratings have the
of law. Ratings are going to be relative my definition. An independent
board cannot be created to legislate free speech. If we were
signs on a front yard, this wouldn’t stand up in court for a
Webmasters who do not comply with voluntary ratings should not be
on the major search services.
Absolutely not. This restricts adult
to sites, never mind access to sites outside of the United States.
engines are already beginning to offer alternative, rated-only search
facilities. There is no need to legislate this.
will be monitored to keep them safe; monitoring can be human or
If you are worried about what your children say to whom, then
them. Don’t forget to tape phone conversations and follow them to the
school bathroom as well. Chat room monitoring is neither practical or
Web sites must fully disclose what they do with
collected from people who register at their sites.
This is a
that has nothing to do with the specific issue you are addressing
Advertising must be clearly labeled as advertising and kept
from editorial content.
If online shopping is involved,
must require parental permission prior to purchase. Parents will be
to cancel an order mistakenly sent by a minor at no charge to the
The standards here should be the same as they are anywhere else.
a credit card is deemed to be an indication of adult status.
advertiser communicates with a child by e-mail, the parent should
and should have the option, with each mailing, to discontinue
If you want to disallow communications with children by advertisers, I
might consider that a good goal. However, “on the internet no one
your a dog”. It’s impossible to tell whether you are communicating
a child on the internet. As for the ability to remove yourself from
mailings–go for it, but this is a general issue, not one specific to
Frankly I find the whole concept of a
Bill of Rights” to be misguided. First we need to construct a Parent’s
Bill of Responsibilities. For the past 15 years my closing email
has been the same. And every year I feel it is more and more
“I’m not sure which upsets me more; that people are so unwilling to
responsibility for their actions, or that they are so eager to