Politics

You are currently browsing the archive for the Politics category.

Turkey shut down Twitter today. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced, “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” (Hurriyet Daily News) He also said Turkey will “rip out the roots” of Twitter. (Washington Post)

Those roots are in the Internet. This is a good thing. Even if Turkey rips the roots out of the phone and cable systems that provide access to the Net, they can’t rip out the Net itself, because the Net is not centralized. It is distributed: a heterarchy rather than a hierarchy. At the most basic level, the Net’s existence relies on protocols rather than on how any .com, .org, .edu or .gov puts those protocols to use.

The Net’s protocols are not servers, clouds, wires, routers or code bases. They are agreements about how data flows to and from any one end point and any other. This makes the Internet a world of ends rather than a world of governments, companies and .whatevers. It cannot be reduced to any of those things, any more than time can be reduced to a clock. The Net is as oblivious to usage as are language and mathematics — and just as supportive of every use to which it is put. And, because of this oblivity, The Net supports all without favor to any.

Paul Baran contrasted centralized systems (such as governments), decentralized ones (such as Twitter+Facebook+Google, etc.) and distributed ones, using this drawing in 1964:

Design C became the Internet.

It appealed to military folks because it was the best design for surviving attack. Even in a decentralized system there are central points of vulnerability where a government can spy on traffic or knock out a whole service. The “attack surfaces” of a distributed system are no larger than a single node or a single connection, so it’s much harder to bring the whole thing down. This is why John Gillmore says ”The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” No doubt this is happening right now in Turkey, just as it is in China and other countries  that block sites and services on the Net. It might not be easy, but it is do-able by design. That design is not about hard fixed administrated lines, but voluntary connections, or what Bob Frankston calls ‘DIY connectivity’.

Twitter’s centralized nature makes it a dot in the star-shaped designs of A and B. That dot becomes a black hole when powerful actors like the Turkish and Chinese governments “eradicate” it. We need to bear this in mind when we design and use centralized systems — and even decentralized ones.

It helps to recognize that some things — such as being social with each other — do not require centralized systems, or even decentralized ones. They can be truly distributed, heterarchical and voluntary. Just as we have freedom of speech and association in any free society, we should have the same on the Net. And, at the base level, we do.

But this isn’t easy to see, for five reasons:

  1. We do need centralized systems for doing what only they can do
  2. Existing building methods and materials make it easy
  3. The internet is also a “network of networks” which at the backbone and “provider” level (the one you access it through) is more like a combination of B and C — and, because you pay providers for access,  it’s easy to ignore C as the virtuous base of the whole thing
  4. After eighteen years of building centralized systems (such as Twitter) on the Net, it’s hard for most people — even geeks familiar with the Net’s base design — to think outside the box called client-server (and some of us call calf-cow)

A great way to avoid the black hole of centralization is to start from the fully distributed nodes that each of us are, designing and building first person technologies. And I have a specific one to recommend, from Customer Commons:

This is Omie:

She’s the brainlet of Customer Commons: She is, literally, a clean slate. And she is your clean slate. Not Apple’s. Not Google’s. Not some phone company’s.

She can be what you want her to be, do what you want her to do, run whatever apps you want her to run, and use data you alone collect and control.

Being a clean slate makes Omie very different.

On your iPhone and iPad you can run only what Apple lets you run, and you can get only from Apple’s own store. On an Android phone you have to run Google’s pre-loaded apps, which means somebody is already not only telling you what you must do, but is following you as well.

Omie uses Android, but bows to Google only in respect of its intention to create an open Linux-based OS for mobile devices.

So Omie is yours, alone. Fully private, by design, from the start.

Omie needs crowdfunding. More specifically, she needs somebody who is good at doing crowdfunding videos, to help us out. We have the script.  If you’re up for helping out, contact me. I can be DM’d via @dsearls, or emailed via my first  name @ my last name dot com. Thanks!

 

 

This post is a hat tip toward Rusty Foster’s Today In Tabs, which I learned about from Clay Shirky during a digressive conversation about the subscription economy (the paid one, not the one Rusty and other free spirits operate in), and how lately I’m tending not to renew mine after they run out, thanks to my wife’s rational approach to subscriptions:

  1. Don’t obey the first dozen or so renewal notices because the offers will get better if you neglect them.
  2. See if you miss them.
  3. If you don’t miss them, don’t renew.

While thinking about a headline for this post, I found that searches for theater and theatre are both going down, but the former seems to be holding a slight lead.

While at Google Trends, I also did a humbling vanity search. Trust me: it helps not to give a shit.

Other results::: tired is up… stupid still leads dumb, but dumb is catching up… Papua New Guinea leads in porn. And Sri Lanka takes the gold in searches for sex. They scored 100. India gets the silver with 88, and Ethiopia settles for the bronze with 87. Out of the running are Bangladesh (85), Pakistan (78), Nepal (74), Vietnam (72), Cambodia (69), Timor-Leste (67) and Papua New Guinea (66) — perhaps because porn is doing the job for them.

Michael Robertson continues to invent stuff. His latest is Clock Radio, a Chrome browser extension that lets you tune in, by genre or search, to what’s playing now on the world’s Internet radio stations. Links: bit.ly/ClockRadio & bit.ly/ClockRadioVideo. Here’s what mine looks like right now:

I’m not surprised (and I don’t know why) that most of the stations playing music I like are French.

David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer at Google, will talk about The Fight for Internet Freedom tomorrow at Stanford. Register by 5:30pm Pacific, today. @Liberationtech is hosting. Oh, and Google Fiber may be coming to your city.

George Packer says Amazon may be good for customers but bad for books, because Amazon is a monopoly in that category. Paul Krugman meanwhile says the same kinda thing about Comcast, and the whole cablecom biz. He’s not alone. Nobody likes the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable, other than Comcast, their captive regulators and their big-biz amen corner in what’s left of the press. (Watch: it’ll pass.) FWIW, Quartz has some nice charts explaining what’s going on.

What’s the word for a business nobody dominates because basically the whole thing, as we knew it, looks like Florida a week after Chicxulub? That’s what we have with journalism. The big reptiles are gone or terminal. The flying ones are gonna be birds one of these eras, but for now they’re just flying low and working on survival. For a good picture of what that looks like, re-dig A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013, which Alexis Madrigal posted in The Atlantic on March 13 of last year. In it he said,

…your total budget for the year is $12,000, a thousand bucks a month. (We could play this same game with $36,000, too. The lessons will remain the same.) What do you do?

Here are some options:

1. Write a lot of original pieces yourself. (Pro: Awesome. Con: Hard, slow.)
2. Take partner content. (Pro: Content! Con: It’s someone else’s content.)
3. Find people who are willing to write for a small amount of money. (Pro: Maybe good. Con: Often bad.)
4. Find people who are willing to write for no money. (Pro: Free. Con: Crapshoot.)
5. Aggregate like a mug. (Pro: Can put smartest stuff on blog. Con: No one will link to it.)
6. Rewrite press releases so they look like original content. (Pro: Content. Con: You suck.)

Don’t laugh. These are actual content strategies out there in the wilds of the Internet. I am sure you have encountered them.

Myself, I’m very partial to one and five. I hate two and six. For my own purposes here, let’s say you do, too, and throw them out.

That leaves three and four…

You’re reading #4. Flap flap flap…

Speaking of trash talk, Polygon says NBA 2K14 gives you a technical foul for swearing at the game.

I like the Fargo2 model:

Want to know where your Internet comes from? Look here. While it lasts. Because what that describes is infrastructure for the free and open world wide Internet we’ve known since the beginning. Thanks to the NSA spying, national leaders are now floating the idea of breaking the Internet into pieces, with national and regional borders. That seems to be where Angela Merkel is headed by suggesting a Europe-only network.

Progress: there’s an insurance business in protecting companies from data breaches. No, they’re not selling it to you, because you don’t matter. This is for big companies only.

Finally, because you’re not here — or you wisely don’t want to be here — dig what parking in New York looks like right now, after two weeks of snow, rain, freezing, melting and re-freezing:

parking in NYC

Let’s hope it thaws before alternate side parking goes back into effect.

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

Fort Lee has been in the news lately. Seems traffic access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee was sphinctered for political purposes, at the spot marked “B” on this map here:

The spot marked “A” is the site of my first home: 2063 Hoyt Avenue. Here’s how it looked in 1920:

My grandfather, George W. Searls, built it in 1900 or so. He and grandma, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls, raised thee children there: Ethel M. Searls, born in 1905, Allen H. Searls (my father), born in 1908, and Grace (née Searls) Apgar, born in 1912. Grandpa died in 1935, but Grandma and Aunt Ethel lived here until 1955, when I was eight years old.

It was in a fine old neighborhood of similar mansard-roofed homes, most of which were built before the George Washington Bridge showed up and became the town’s landmark feature. Pop, who grew up climbing the Palisades and had no fear of heights, helped build the bridge, mostly by rigging cables.

Not long after finding a place to stay in New York in Fall of 2012, my wife and I took a walk across the bridge to visit the old neighborhood. I knew the old house was gone, the land under it paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. What I didn’t expect was finding that the entire neighborhood had been erased. See the brown area on the map above, between the highway and Main Street? That was it. Palisade Avenue, behind Hoyt, is now a house-less strip of rotting pavement flanked and veined by wild grass. The only animal life we spotted was a large groundhog that ran to an old storm drain when we approached.

Little of the Fort Lee I knew as a kid is still there. The only familiar sights on Main Street are City Hall and the old fire station. Dig this: City Hall also shows up in the background of this shot of Mom with my cousin Paul and I, when we were both a few months old, in April 1948. This street too has been obliterated: replaced by stores and parking lots, with no trace of its old self.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, my grandparents’ generation — all born in the second half of the 19th Century — was still going strong. One relative I remember well was great-aunt Eva Quackenbush, Grandpa Searls’ older sister. Here she is with Mom, and the baby me. Eva was born in 1853, and was twelve years old when President Lincoln was shot — and event she talked about. She visited often from her home in St. Louis, and died just a few days short of 100 years old, in 1953. Living long is a Searls family trait. Grandma made it to 107 and Aunt Grace to 101 (she passed just last month, fun and lucid to the end).

So to me the world before cars, electricity and other modern graces was a familiar one, because I heard so many stories about it. Grandma grew up in The Bronx, at 742 East 142nd Street, when it looked like this:

Today, according to Google’s StreetView, it looks like this:

The red A marks 732. On the left, behind that wall, is a “towed car” lot. It sits atop a mound of rubble that was once “old Lincoln Hospital”:

According to the Wikipedia article on Lincoln Hospital, “In 1895, after more than half a century of occupying various sites in Manhattan, the Board of Trustees purchased a large lot in the South Bronx—then a semi-rural area of the city—at the corner of 141st Street and Southern Boulevard.” This is a morning view, lit from the southeast, looking north across 141st Street. Grandma’s place was on the back side of the hospital. Amazing to think that this scene came and went between the two shots above it.

Grandma’s father, Henry Roman Englert, was the head of the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in the city. His trade was also destroyed by industrial progress, but was an art in its time. Here he is, as a sharp young man with a waxed mustache:

Henry was a fastidious dude who, on arriving home from work, would summon his four daughters to appear and stand in a row. He would then run his white glove over some horizontal surface and wipe it on a white shoulder of a daughter’s dress, expecting no dust to leave a mark on either glove or girl. Or so the story went. Henry was the son of German immigrants: Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, both of Alsace, now part of France. They were brewers, and had a tavern on the east side of Manhattan on 110th Street. Jacobina was a Third Order Carmelite nun, and was buried in its brown robes. Both were born in 1825. Christian died in 1886 while picking hops in Utica. Jacobina died in 1904.

Grandma met Grandpa in 1903, when she was twenty and he was forty. She was working as a cleaning woman in the Fort Lee boarding house where Grandpa lived while he worked as a carpenter. One day she saw him laying asleep, and bent down to kiss him. He woke, reached up, and kissed her back. Romance commenced.

Grandma didn’t like to admit having done cleaning work, insisting always that she was “lace curtain Irish,” to distinguish her family from “shanty Irish.” When ethnic matters came up in conversation over dinner, she would often say “All for the Irish stand up,” and everybody would rise. In fact she was only half Irish. Her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, died in her thirties. Henry later married an Italian woman and produced more progeny, only one of which was ever mentioned by Grandma. That was Harry, who died at age five. The largest framed photograph in Grandma’s house was one of Harry, looking up and holding a toy.

Kitty’s dad was Thomas Trainor, who came over from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 to escape England’s harsh penal laws. (He shipped out of Letterkenny with an uncle, but the Trainors were from south of there. Trainor was anglicized from the Gaelic Tréinfhir, meaning “strong man.”) Thomas worked as an indentured servant in the carriage trade, and married Catherine McLaughlin, the daughter of his boss. Thomas then prospered in the same business, building and fixing carriages at his shop at the south end of Broadway. His two daughters were Kitty and “Aunt Mag” Meyer, whom Grandma often quoted. The line I best remember is, “You’ve got it in your hand. Now put it away.” Mag taught Grandma how to walk quietly while large numbers of other people in the house were sleeping. Grandma passed the same advice to her grandkids, including me: “Walk on the balls of your feet, toes first.” The Trainors also had a son, who ran away to fight in the Civil War. When the war ended and the boy didn’t come home, Thomas went down to Washington and found his son in a hospital there, recovering from a wound. The doctors said the boy would be home by Christmas. And, when Christmas came, the boy indeed arrived, in a coffin. Or so the story went.

An interesting fact about Fort Lee: it was the original Hollywood. The Searls family, like most of the town, was involved. Grandpa was D.W. Griffith’s head carpenter, building film sets such as this one here. Here he is (bottom right) with his crew. Here’s a link for the Fort Lee Film Commission, featuring samples of the silent movies made there. Among the extras are family members. Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney both boarded upstairs at 2063 Hoyt. So did the dad of the late Elliot Richardson, a cabinet member in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Time flies, and so do people, places and memories. My parents’ generation is now gone, and family members of my own generation are starting to move on. I can count ten places I used to live that are now gone as well, including my high school. Kevin Kelly told me a couple years ago that none of us, even the famous, will be remembered in a thousand years. I’m sure he’s right.

But I still feel the urge to pour as much as I can of what I know into the public domain, which is what you’re witnessing now, if you’re still with me at the bottom of a long post. I believe it helps to see what was, as well as what is.

For example, this view up Hoyt Avenue from the site of the old Searls place, in 2012, is now filled with a high-rise that is almost complete. The little bridge-less town where my grandparents met and my father and his sisters grew up is now a henge of high-rises. Fort Lee itself is now also known as Fort Lee Koreatown. In this constantly shifting urban context the current scandal seems a drop in the bucket of time.

 

Eye of SauronIn Big Cable’s Sauron-Like Plan for One Infrastructure to Rule Us All, Susan Crawford (@SCrawford) paints a bleak picture of what awaits us after television (aka cable) finishes eating the Internet. But that’s just in our homes. Out in the mobile sphere, telcos have been eating the Net as well — in collusion with cable. That’s one of the points Marvin Ammori makes in We’re About to Lose Net Neutrality — And the Internet as We Know It. Both pieces are in Wired, which is clearly on our side with this thing — especially since, if Marvin is right, Wired might someday need to pay the carriers for privileged carriage on what used to be the free and open (aka “neutral”) Internet. Specifically,

Net neutrality is a dead man walking. The execution date isn’t set, but it could be days, or months (at best). And since net neutrality is the principle forbidding huge telecommunications companies from treating users, websites, or apps differently — say, by letting some work better than others over their pipes — the dead man walking isn’t some abstract or far-removed principle just for wonks: It affects the internet as we all know it.

Once upon a time, companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others declared a war on the internet’s foundational principle: that its networks should be “neutral” and users don’t need anyone’s permission to invent, create, communicate, broadcast, or share online. The neutral and level playing field provided by permissionless innovation has empowered all of us with the freedom to express ourselves and innovate online without having to seek the permission of a remote telecom executive.

But today, that freedom won’t survive much longer if a federal court — the second most powerful court in the nation behind the Supreme Court, the DC Circuit — is set to strike down the nation’s net neutrality law, a rule adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010. Some will claim the new solution “splits the baby” in a way that somehow doesn’t kill net neutrality and so we should be grateful. But make no mistake: Despite eight years of public and political activism by multitudes fighting for freedom on the internet, a court decision may soon take it away.

He continues,

How did we get here?

The CEO of AT&T told an interviewer back in 2005 that he wanted to introduce a new business model to the internet: charging companies like Google and Yahoo! to reliably reach internet users on the AT&T network. Keep in mind that users already pay to access the internet and that Google and Yahoo! already pay other telecom companies — often called backbone providers — to connect to these internet users.

That was eight years ago. In response to the same AT&T salvo, I wrote Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes in Linux Journal. It was submitted in November 2005 and ran in the February 2006 issue. In it I outlined three scenarios:

  1. The Carriers Win
  2. The Public Workaround
  3. Fight with Words and Not Just Deeds

Neither #2 nor #3 have come to pass, except in very limited ways. So, since #1 seems to be on the verge of happening, here’s what I wrote about it. There is a fair amount of link rot, but the points are still sharp — and depressing to contemplate:

Scenario I: The Carriers Win

Be afraid. Be very afraid. –Kevin Werbach.

Are you ready to see the Net privatized from the bottom to the top? Are you ready to see the Net’s free and open marketplace sucked into a pit of pipes built and fitted by the phone and cable companies and run according to rules lobbied by the carrier and content industries?

Do you believe a free and open market should be “Your choice of walled garden” or “Your choice of silo”? That’s what the big carrier and content companies believe. That’s why they’re getting ready to fence off the frontiers.

And we’re not stopping it.

With the purchase and re-animation of AT&T‘s remains, the collection of former Baby Bells called SBC will become the largest communications company in the US–the new Ma Bell. Verizon, comprised of the old GTE plus MCI and the Baby Bells SBC didn’t grab, is the new Pa Bell. That’s one side of the battlefield, called The Regulatory Environment. Across the battlefield from Ma and Pa Bell are the cable and entertainment giants: Comcast, Cox, TimeWarner and so on. Covering the battle are the business and tech media, which love a good fight.

The problem is that all of these battling companies–plus the regulators–hate the Net.

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. The thing is, they’re hostile to it, because they don’t get it. Worse, they only get it in one very literal way. See, to the carriers and their regulators, the Net isn’t a world, a frontier, a marketplace or a commons. To them, the Net is a collection of pipes. Their goal is to beat the other pipe-owners. To do that, they want to sell access and charge for traffic.

There’s nothing wrong with being in the bandwidth business, of course. But some of these big boys want to go farther with it. They don’t see themselves as a public utility selling a pure base-level service, such as water or electricity (which is what they are, by the way, in respect to the Net). They see themselves as a source of many additional value-adds, inside the pipes. They see opportunities to sell solutions to industries that rely on the Net–especially their natural partner, the content industry.

They see a problem with freeloaders. On the tall end of the power curve, those ‘loaders are AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other large sources of the container cargo we call “content”. Out on the long tail, the freeloaders are you and me. The big ‘loaders have been getting a free ride for too long and are going to need to pay. The Information Highway isn’t the freaking interstate. It’s a system of private roads that needs to start charging tolls. As for the small ‘loaders, it hardly matters that they’re a boundless source of invention, innovation, vitality and new business. To the carriers, we’re all still just “consumers”. And we always will be.

“Piracy” is a bigger issue to the cargo sources than to the carriers. To the carriers, “fighting piracy” is a service offering as well as a lever on regulators to give carriers more control of the pipes. “You want us to help you fight piracy?”, the transport companies say to the content companies. “Okay, let’s deal.” And everybody else’s freedoms–to invent, to innovate, to do business, to take advantage of free markets and to make free culture–get dealt away.

The carriers have been lobbying Congress for control of the Net since Bush the Elder was in office. Once they get what they want, they’ll put up the toll booths, the truck scales, the customs checkpoints–all in a fresh new regulatory environment that formalizes the container cargo business we call packet transport. This new environment will be built to benefit the carriers and nobody else. The “consumers”? Oh ya, sure: they’ll benefit too, by having “access” to all the good things that carriers ship them from content providers. Is there anything else? No.

Crocodile grins began to grow on the faces of carriers as soon as it became clear that everything we call “media” eventually would flow through their pipes. All that stuff we used to call TV, radio, newspapers and magazines will just be “content” moving through the transport layer of the pipe system they own and control. Think it’s a cool thing that TV channels are going away? So do the carriers. The future à lá carte business of media will depend on one medium alone: the Net. And the Net is going to be theirs.

The Net’s genie, which granted all those e-commerce wishes over the past ten years, won’t just get shoved back in the bottle. No, that genie will be piped and priced by the packet. The owners of those pipes have a duty to their stockholders to make the most of the privileged position they’ve been waiting to claim ever since they got blind-sided, back in the 80s and 90s. (For an excellent history of how the European PTTs got snookered by the Net and the Web, see Paul F. Kunz’ Bringing the World Wide Web to America.) They have assets to leverage, dammit, and now they can.

Does it matter that countless markets flourish in the wide spaces opened by agreements and protocols that thrive at the grace of carriage? Or that those markets are threatened by new limits, protections and costs imposed at the pipe level?

No.

Thus, the Era of Net Facilitation will end. The choke points are in the pipes, the permission is coming from the lawmakers and regulators, and the choking will be done. No more free rides, folks. Time to pay. It’s called creating scarcity and charging for it. The Information Age may be here, but the Industrial Age is hardly over. In fact, there is no sign it will ever end.

The carriers are going to lobby for the laws and regulations they need, and they’re going to do the deals they need to do. The new system will be theirs, not ours. The NEA principle–Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it–so familiar to the Free Software and Open Source communities will prove to be a temporary ideal, a geek conceit. Code is not Law. Culture is not Free. From the Big Boys’ perspective, code and culture are stuff nobody cares about.

That’s us: Nobody.

The new carrier-based Net will work in the same asymmetrical few-to-many, top-down pyramidal way made familiar by TV, radio, newspapers, books, magazines and other Industrial Age media now being sucked into Information Age pipes. Movement still will go from producers to consumers, just like it always did. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Literally.

The deals that matter will be done between tops of pyramids. Hey, it’s easier to do business with the concentrated few than the dispersed many. The Long Tail can whip itself into a frenzy, but all the tech magazines and blogs in the world are no match for the tails and teeth of these old sharks. (Hey, Long Tailer, when’s the last time you treated your erected representatives to private movie screenings, drafted their legislation, ghosted their committee reports, made a blockbuster movie or rolled fiber across oceans?)

Google and Yahoo and Amazon and eBay and e-commerce and free software and open source and blogging and podcasting and all the rest of that idealistic junk have had their decade in the sun. Hell, throw in Apple and Microsoft, too. Who cares? Them? Doesn’t matter how big they are. They don’t matter. They’re late to the game.

We all know the content business got clobbered by this peer-to-peer crap. But the carriers took a bath by building out the Net’s piped infrastructure. They sank $billions by the dozen into fiber and copper and routers and trunks, waiting for the day when they’d be in a position to control the new beast fleshed on the skeleton that they built.

That Day Has Come.

It came earlier this month, when the November 7, 2005, issue of BusinessWeek hit the Web’s streets. In that issue are “Rewired and Ready for Combat” and “At SBC, It’s All About ‘Scale and Scope’”, which features an interview with Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC. Here’s the gist of it:

How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google (GOOG), MSN, Vonage, and others?

How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

What’s your approach to regulation? Explain, for example, the difference between you and Verizon in how you are approaching regulatory approval for Telco TV [digital-TV service offered by telecoms].

The cable companies have an agreement with the cities: They pay a percentage of their revenue for a franchise right to broadcast TV. We have a franchise in every city we operate in based on providing telephone service.

Now, all of a sudden, without any additional payment, the cable companies are putting telephone communication down their pipes and we’re putting TV signals. If you want us to get a franchise agreement for TV, then let’s make the cable companies get a franchise for telephony.

If cable can put telephone down their existing franchise I should be able to put TV down my franchise. It’s kind of a “what’s fair is fair” deal. I think it’s just common sense.

What if the regulators don’t agree?

Then there won’t be any competition–there will be a cable-TV monopoly.

I know you’re a competitive person. Who are your biggest competitors?

Our big competition in the future is with the cable companies. Verizon’s going to be a player, and certainly I want to compete. And I want our shareowners to do better than anyone else.

If I were BusinessWeek, I’d ask:

What about the free and open marketplace that has grown on the Net itself? Do you have any interest in continuing to support that? Or in lobbying forms of deregulation that foster it? Or are you just in a holy war with the cable companies inside the same old regulatory environment you’ve known since forever?

I’d ask:

If you were to buy, say, Level 3, would you start to filter and restrict content at the transport level, to extract the profits you want, without regard for other market consequences? Would Cisco, builder of the great Firewall of China, help out?

I’d ask:

Which do you prefer: The regulatory environment where your business has adapted itself for more than a century, or a completely free and open marketplace like the rest of us enjoy sitting on top of your pipes?

Whiteacre’s answers, of course, would be less relevant than the obvious vector of his company’s intentions. For a summary of that, let’s return to Lauren Weinstein of People for Internet Responsibility:

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the telcos have been moving rapidly through massive consolidation–and a range of other tactics–to create an environment where “competition” will only be a pale reflection of what we were originally promised, with only a few gigantic players in control of all telecom resources and policies. Like the robot cop in Terminator 2 that reformed from blown-apart mercurial blobs of metal, the “golden age” of telecom competition is already giving way to empire.

Don’t blame BusinessWeek for not asking the important questions or for missing the Carriers vs. Net story. Biz pubs love to cover vendor sports. And there’s certainly a big story here.

Great distraction, vendor sports. While we’re busy watching phone and cable giants fight over a closed battlefield that ought to be open, we miss Net-hostile moves by other parties that result in other lost freedoms.

Take ICANN, for instance, where a new .com Registry Agreement allows Verisign to raise the rates for .com names by 7% annually, and to operate .com in perpetuity, and to “mak[e] commercial use of, or collect, traffic data regarding domain names or non-existent domain names”, and to reap other rewards for what few other than Verisign would agree is a good job. Bret Faucett summarizes the darkest shadow across the noir scenario we’ve already described:

The theme running through all of these is that ICANN and Verisign are treating the .COM registry as a private resource. It’s not. The root servers and TLD servers are public resources. We should treat them like that.

Bret has one of the most eloquent voices in the wilderness of clues the Big Boys would rather avoid. So does Susan Crawford, who was just, perhaps miraculously, named to the ICANN board.

For Bret, Susan and the rest of the restless natives of this new world, what matters most is Saving the Net–keeping it a free and open marketplace for everybody–while also making sure that carriers of all kinds can compete and succeed while providing much of the infrastructure on which that marketplace resides. That means we need to understand the Net as more than a bunch of pipes and business on the Net as more than transporting and selling “content”.

This isn’t a trivial issue. It’s a matter of life and death for the Net itself. How are we going to fight?

Read on.

You can do that here. Also dig Marvin Ammori’s own follow-up.

Meanwhile the Net continues to cry out for a definition all can agree on. Toward that goal, I wrote this in The Intention Economy:

To simplify things a bit, look at the Net’s future as a battleground where any and only fight it out. On the side of any are the Net’s protocols. On the side of only are governments and businesses with interests in restricting and controlling access to the Net, and thwarting many purposes to which the Net might be put. This battle also happens inside our own heads, because we tend to view the Net both ways. Ironies abound.

For example, the Internet is often called a “network of networks,” yet the Net was designed to transcend the connections it employs, and is therefore not reducible to them. It is not comprised of wiring, and is not a “service,” even though it’s called one by ISPs.

So let’s look at the sides here. On the any side, “net-heads” (yes, they call themselves that) frame their understanding of the Net in terms of its protocols, and those protocols’ virtues. On the only side, “bell-heads” (yes, they call themselves that, too) frame their understanding of the Net in terms of wiring infrastructure and billing systems.

To net-heads, the Internet is a vast new virtual space with qualities such as neutrality and generativity. To maximize economic opportunity and vitality, those virtues need to be maximized—even if phone and cable TV businesses don’t wish to acknowledge or support those virtues.

To bell-heads, the Internet’s “network of networks” is a collection of mostly private properties, with which owners should be free to do what they please. So, if what pleases them is throttling certain kinds of data traffic to maximize QoS (Quality of Service), too bad. They are The Market, which will grow best if they act in their own economic self-interest. Hey, look at all the good they’ve done already. (Want dial-up again, anyone?) And look at the robust competition between cable and phone companies. Isn’t that producing enough economic benefits for everybody?

Since net-heads tend to make social arguments while bell-heads tend to make economic ones, net-heads get positioned on the left and bell-heads on the right. Between the two are boundless technical arguments that aren’t worth getting into here.

I’m a net-head, but one who wants both sides to recognize that the Net’s original design is encompassing and beneficial for economies and societies everywhere. That is, I believe the argument for the Net is the same as the one for gravity, sunlight, the periodic table and pine trees: that it is part of nature itself. What makes the Net different from all those other products of Nature is that humans made the Net for theselves.

The Net’s nature—its essential purpose—is to support everything that uses it, just as the essential purpose of a clock is to tell time. So, while the Net today relies on phone and cable connections, its support-everything purpose should not be subordinated to legacy phone and cable TV businesses. The Internet, in the neutral and generative form defined by its protocols, is a far larger and more interesting market environment than the one defined by the parochial and limited interests of phone and cable companies, both of which are desperately trying to hold on to their legacy businesses, and would be better served by embracing all the opportunities the Internet opens up, for everybody.

We’re going to evolve past those old businesses anyway. Phone and cable company engineers know that, and so do many of the business leaders in those companies, even as they fight to protect their legacy businesses at all costs.

As a pro-business guy, I sympathize with phone and cable companies, which are cursed by the need to maintain margins in existing business while building out infrastructures that obsolete those businesses (at least as we know them). These companies get little credit (especially from net-heads) for their genuine innovations, and for their ability to innovate more. We do need them, whether we like them or not…

So, then

The Net’s capacity to support limitless economic activity and growth will win in the long run because it will prove out in the very marketplaces it support. But there will be a great deal of resistance along the way, as the narrow interests of both Big Government and Big Business try to contain the Net’s potential within the scope of their own ambitions. Still the evolutionary direction of the Net is toward ambient connectivity. Whatever that looks and feels like, it won’t resemble either the phone system or cable TV. Rather it will look like everything, together.

That’s the long-term optimistic view. Meanwhile, there is much cause for pessimism in the short term.

My sister Jan — student of history, Navy vet and a Wise One — sent me an email a couple days ago that I thought would make a good guest post. She said yes to that suggestion and here it is…

Is the new born-in-connectivity generation going to re-define privacy?   They may try — from the comfort of their parents’ homes or the cocoon of youth — but first they have to understand what constitutes privacy.  They are going to learn, albeit the hard way, that what you make available is no longer private and therefore you cannot expect it to be protected by the norms of privacy.  The norms of privacy, however, aren’t universally understood.

America is one of the few — perhaps the only if we’re talking large scale — modern countries that was created though one people’s individual exploration and individual settlement into an ever-moving frontier.  After initial sputtering wealth-seeking attempts, the true settlement along the coast line of north America was primarily under private sponsorship rather than military incursion.   It was “relatively” benign colonization in that the goal was not to annihilate, enslave or ‘save’ the indigenous people through religious conversion or education.  The arriving colonists primarily sought freedom to work and worship and the opportunity to better their lives and raise their social standing.  The principal asset needed to obtain those goals was land, which was seen as limitless and free for the taking provided the native population withdrew beyond the frontier and one had the strength and determination to tame the land as needed.

The leading edge of this frontier movement started with those who built the original settlements in the early 17th century and continued to move out in the lower 48 until the mid-20th century and in very remote areas continues still.  The “frontier” society was composed of people who took the initiative and individually ventured into new areas where there was little law, oversight or judgement.  Although they brought morals and manners of every social strata, they also had to rely on each other and build some form of community where ever they settled in order to survive and thrive.  But in the frontier, in the place of established laws, there were protocols — unwritten codes of correct conduct — born of common consent and enforced by common acceptance  that enabled the community to function, grow and improve.  These protocols became the societal norm for most of the expansion into the US as it is today.

In the rest of the world connected by the major trade routes during this same period, societies grew and countries were formed primarily from the top down by gathering like together, or by force, and they were ruled through laws and protocols that came into being to enable financial investors, religions or conquerors to subjugate and /or extort populations.

But America came into existence and continued to expand as one contiguous country because the key unifying principle was individual liberty, and our legal and societal norms developed to support that principle.  This is what made America so singular as a nation in it’s early days. This is at the heart of what some call exceptionalism today.  Exceptional may be an egotistical term for it — as Putin just called it and as the push-backers deny — if one interprets exceptional as being “above average,” or “extraordinary” or any other superlative.  But America is exceptional if one uses the term in the context of “deviation from the norm.”

Now overlay this frontier concept onto the development of the Internet and our other networking systems.  How were they developed?  Was it by governments pushing out into or conquering a new frontier with laws and protocols in hand or was it by individuals determining the most effective protocols that would help them solidify what they had achieved and enable them to push the frontier borders out further, wider and deeper?

A unique concept of individual privacy was part of America’s frontier society;  it wasn’t a place of one’s past but rather a place of new starts, of re-creation, a place where a person made themselves anew, a place where it didn’t matter where or what you came from but rather where you were going and what you would do.  Therefore individual privacy became an expectation rather than an exception in the country that frontier society created.

However, that ingrained individualism is not the norm in the rest of the world, a world that technology has rapidly connected.  As of today, the concept of individual privacy is not universally understood, now that online, networked and connected  technology is at a confluence of cultures.  Because of the universality of the usage of connective technology, privacy is going to need a universally accepted definition.  And at the heart of privacy is the idea of identity:  is it vested in the individual or the collective?

@BlakeHunskicer has a kickstarter project, Fleeing the War at Home: An interactive documentary introducing the crisis in Syria through the personal histories and dreams of Syrian refugees, with a few days and a few thousand dollars left to go.

Blake is one of the graduate students I got to know this last year as a visiting scholar in @JayRosen_NYU‘s Studio20 (@Studio20NYU) class at NYU. He’s a terrific journalist and photographer already, and will put both skills to good use for a good cause. Join me in helping him make it happen.

In Bubkes, Stephen Lewis has lately been blogging with depth and insight on many topics — music, architecture, culture, infrastructure and events historic and current — in two cities with which he is intimately familiar: Istanbul and Sofia.

In Taksim Underpass: Ask Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Jane Jacobs, and Robert Moses, he writes,

By itself, the Turkish government’s plan to shunt traffic under and past Taksim Square might indeed lessen vehicular congestion, thus freeing this iconic location from dominance by motor vehicle traffic. In conjunction with the plan to replace all of Taksim Square and Gezi Park with a massive complex of shopping mall, mosque, and fantasy reconstruction of a 19th-century military barracks, however, the underpass will instead deliver more automobile traffic into the urban core, a further step toward transforming a vital, unplanned, dense, “legacy” urban agglomeration into just another suburb.

In Istanbul Conflicts From Afar: Issues and Aspersions, Headscarves and Rambo, he visits specious tales by the Turkish Prime Minister and his sympathizers, of protestors “harassing pious Muslim women and tearing off their headscarves” (among other offenses for which there is no confirming hard evidence), and compares them to equally wrong tales from the Vietnam War era. That was when “US antiwar activists were stigmatized — and crocodile tears poured forth — over reports that US soldiers returning from tours duty in Vietnam were being spit upon by opponents of the war.  Not a single person, however — neither spitter, spat upon, nor witness thereto — ever stepped forward to confirm any such attack.” In support of this he recalls an On the Media program confirming the purely propogandized nature of the claim. I just did some digging and found the program transcript. Here it is.

In Sofia, Bulgaria: From Protest to Protest to Protest, Steve visits “the Balkan blurring of what is said and what is, and what is and what could or should be” and how in Bulgaria “nothing is what is seems to be at first glance, and words, no matter how clear, often refer to alternate realities (click here for my long-ago online discourse on the wisdom and convenience of the oft-heard Bulgarian-language phrase po printsip, tr. ‘in principle‘).” His next post, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 1997: Musicians Marching in Protest, recalls an earlier protest, again accompanied by an excellent photo.

In Istanbul: Water, Fountains, Taksim, and Infrastructural Tourism, Steve reports on joining a colleague in visiting “the layers of infrastructure — including Ottoman-era fountains — that have served Istanbul over centuries past and during its ten-fold growth in population during the twentieth.” I share with Steve a passion for what he and his colleague call “infrastructural tourism” — a practice which, he adds, “appears already to be underway, albeit searching for its own content and method, as per this report at Design Observer.” Wonderful link, that one. Go read that too.

In From the Archives: Fading Fragments of Legacy Infrastructure, he begins,

Two decades ago, I began to photograph the historic water fountains (çeșme) and water kiosks (sebil) of Istanbul.  I began, not with the grand and monumental, but with obscure and abandoned — those in backstreets, alleyways, and courtyards, functioning and non-functioning fragments of legacy urban infrastructure, overlooked by scholars,  their features surrendered to the elements, decay, and neglect. The forgotten origins and gradual disappearance of many of these structures seemed symbolic of larger urban processes of decline and abandonment — processes that are as central to the functioning and continuity of cities as are restoration and (re)development.

I’ve been doing something similar in New York and New Jersey, where I grew up. A few days ago, driving back to Manhattan from a meeting in Edgewater, New Jersey, I found myself following Google Maps’ navigation to the George Washington Bridge, turning onto Bruce Reynolds Boulevard before bearing right onto a ramp leading into the toll lanes. Paused at a light,  I saw on the right an old street sign marking the late Hoyt Avenue, and realized I was exactly where my parents lived when I was born: at 2063 Hoyt. Ninety-three years earlier, this was the view from that very same spot. (And here’s the larger photo set, with shots old and new. Credit for the old ones goes to my late father and to his little sister Grace, now 101 years old and doing fine.) I hope, when Steve next returns to New York (his home town), we can do some infrastructural touring together, cameras in hand.

Bonus link: Steve’s latest, Further to “Istanbul Conflicts From Afar:” Kudos, Mentions, and “Great Expectorations”, which cites this post as well.

The title of this post, Rebuilding the Future, is one I came up with back when I read Steve’s Taksim Underpass piece, and I wanted to post thoughts about the ironies that always surround the civic graces — especially infrastructure — that we choose to keep using (often for new purposes), or just to preserve, for generations to come. I didn’t go there, because I’ve already said enough and I’d rather that readers get into what Steve is writing and sharing. But I still kinda like the headline, so I’m letting it stand.

There is a classic scene in Cool Hand Luke where the prison warden (Strother Martin), says to the handcuffed Luke, (Paul Newman), that he doesn’t like it when Luke talks to him as an equal. So, to teach a lesson, the warden smacks Luke hard, sending him rolling down a hill. The warden then says to the crowd of prisoners below, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

That’s also what we’ve got with login failures on the Web. Case in point: In response to The Illusion of the Gifted Child in Time, I tried posting this comment:

Standardized education and testing both deny that which makes us most human: our differences, as individuals, from everybody else. Whitman said it best: “I was never measured, and never will be measured… I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass… I know that I am august. I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood. I see that the elementary laws never apologize.” Standardized schooling cannot respect any of that.

As the great teacher John Taylor Gatto put it, genius in children is common, not exceptional. Thus the job of the teacher is not to fill empty heads with curricula, but to remove whatever “prevents a child’s inherent genius from gathering itself.” The first thing to remove (which Gatto did, year after year, winning awards along the way), is standardized schooling. Or at least framing our understanding of education in standardized terms. We’ve been in that box so long we can no longer think outside of it. Yet we must. For lack of thinking outside that box, we ruin kids.

When I was a kid, my mother taught in the same school system, and had access to my text scores. Between those and others, my IQ score had an eighty point range, from very smart to very dumb. Those scores showed that there is no such thing as “an IQ.” It also suggested that giftedness has little or nothing to do with test scores, and may not be something schools can deal with at all. My own gifts didn’t appear until after college, and all the achievements for which I am known came after I was fifty.

All of us are profoundly unique. Even identical twins, split from the same egg, are complete, separate and distinct individuals with independent souls. School teaches otherwise. And that’s the problem. Not the parents, and not the kids.

I failed to post that, which is why I’m posting it here. But my point is about digital identity, which is is no less fucked up in 2013 than it was in 1995, when the Web went viral.

What’s fucked up about identity is that every site and service has its own identity system. None are yours. All are theirs, all are silo’d, and all are different. For this we can thank the calf-cow model of client-server computing, and we are stuck in it. That’s why we are forced to remember how we identify ourselves, separately, as calves, to many different cows, each of which act like they’re the only damn cow in the world.

When I attempted to post the comment above under the essay at Time, I was given a choice of social logins (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), plus Time‘s own. Not remembering if I ever created an identity for myself (or, actually, for Time) at that site, I chose to log in with Twitter. This should have worked, given the expectations we all have with “social” login. But it didn’t work, because Time still required an email address to go with the login ID. When I provided the email address I use with Twitter, Time said the address was taken. When I tried another email address, it said that one was taken too. Then I guessed that maybe I had already used one of the handles (login+email A or email B) I had just attempted, as a login with Time. So I tried several new combinations. All failed.

There are two main difference between this failure and Luke’s with the warden: 1) machine programming does the smacking, and 2) no lessons are taught to the rest of the prisoners.

This is a design issue, and it’s as old as computing. It’s called the namespace problem. Every system has its own namespaces, and getting different systems’ namespaces to work together is very hard. Maybe impossible. After all these years (hell, decades), it damn sure looks that way.

I believe, as do more many others, that the only solution is for those with the damn names to be in charge of those names, and to identify themselves in their own ways to the many different systems that require putting those names in their namespaces.

In a blog post last year, Devon Loffreto in Moxy Tongue laid out Why sovereign source authority matters. He was right then and he’s right now. So was Walt Whitman, quoted above in the failed comment to Time.  I believe sovereign identity is the only answer — or at least the only right place to start finding the answer.

I’ll be defending that position when we meet to talk about it, among lots of other subjects, in a couple weeks at IIW. If you’re interested, be there. It’t about time, doncha think?

I’m in Boston right now, and bummed that I can’t attend Start-up City: An Entrepreneurial Economy for Middle Class New York, which is happening today at New York Law School today.

I learned about it via Dana Spiegel of NYC Wireless, who will be on a panel titled “Breakout Session III: Infrastructure for the 21st Century—How Fast, Reliable Internet Access Can Boost Business Throughout the Five Boroughs.” In an email Dana wrote, The question for the panel participants is how fast, reliable internet access can boost business throughout NYC.” The mail was to a list. I responded, and since then I’ve been asked if that response might be shared outside the list as well. So I decided to blog it. Here goes:

Fast and reliable infrastructure of any kind is good for business. That it’s debatable for the Internet shows we still don’t understand what the Internet is — or how, compared to what it costs to build and maintain other forms of infrastructure, it’s damned cheap, with economic and social leverage in the extreme.

Here’s a thought exercise for the audience: Imagine no Internet: no data on phones, no ethernet or wi-fi connections at home — or anywhere. No email, no Google, no Facebook, no Skype.

That’s what we would have if designing the Internet had been left up to phone and cable companies, and not to geeks whose names most people don’t know, and who made something no business or government would ever contemplate: a thing nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve — and for all three reasons supports positive economic externalities beyond calculation.

The only reason we have the carriers in the Net’s picture is that we needed their wires. They got into the Internet service business only because demand for Internet access was huge, and they couldn’t avoid it.

Yet, because we still rely on their wires, and we get billed for their services every month, we think and talk inside their conceptual boxes.

Try this: cities are networks, and networks are cities. Every business, every person, every government agency and employee, every institution, is a node in a network whose value increases as a high multiple of all the opportunities there are for nodes to  connect — and to do anything. This is why the city should care about pure connectivity, and not just about “service” as a grace of phone and cable companies.

Building a network infrastructure as neutral to purpose as water, electricity, roads and sewage treatment should be a top priority for the city. It can’t do that if it’s wearing blinders supplied by Verizon, Time Warner and AT&T.

Re-base the questions on the founding protocols of the Net itself, and its city-like possibilities. Not on what we think the carriers can do for us, or what we can do that’s carrier-like.

I came to the realization that networks are cities, and vice versa, via Geoffrey West — first in Jonah Lehrer’s “A Physicist Solves The City,” in the New York Times, and then in West’s TED talk, “The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations.” West is the physicist in Lehrer’s piece. Both are highly recommended.

Bonus link.

Geologists have an informal name for the history of human influence on the Earth. They call it the Anthropocene. It makes sense. We have been raiding the earth for its contents, and polluting its atmosphere, land and oceans for as long as we’ve been here, and it shows. By any objective perspective other than our own, we are a pestilential species. We consume, waste and fail to replace everything we can, with  little regard for consequences beyond our own immediate short-term needs and wants. Between excavation, erosion, dredgings, landfills and countless other alterations of the lithosphere, evidence of human agency in the cumulative effects studied by geology is both clear and non-trivial.

As for raiding resources, I could list a hundred things we’ll drill, mine or harvest out of the planet and never replace — as if it were in our power to do so — but instead I’ll point to just one small member of the periodic table: helium. Next to hydrogen, it’s the second lightest element, with just two electrons and two protons. Also, next to hydrogen, it is the second most abundant, comprising nearly a quarter of the universe’s elemental mass.  It is also one of the first elements to be created out of the big bang, and remains essential to growing and lighting up stars.

Helium is made in two places: burning stars and rotting rock. Humans can do lots of great stuff, but so far making helium isn’t one of them. Still, naturally, we’ve been using that up: extracting it away, like we do so much else. Eventually, we’ll run out.

Heavy elements are also in short supply. When a planet forms, the heaviest elements sink to the core. The main reason we have gold, nickel, platinum, tungsten, titanium and many other attractive and helpful elements laying around the surface or within mine-able distance below is that meteorites put them there, long ago. At our current rate of consumption, we’ll be mining the moon and asteroids for them. If we’re still around.

Meanwhile the planet’s climates are heating up. Whether or not one ascribes this to human influence matters less than the fact that it is happening. NASA has been doing a fine job of examining symptoms and causes. Among the symptoms are the melting of Greenland and the Arctic. Lots of bad things are bound to happen. Seas rising. Droughts and floods. Methane releases. Bill McKibben is another good source of data and worry. He’s the main dude behind 350.org, named after what many scientists believe is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 350 parts per million. We’re over that now, at about 392. (Bonus link.)

The main thing to expect, in the short term — the next few dozen or hundreds of years — is rising sea levels, which will move coastlines far inland for much of the world, change ecosystems pretty much everywhere, and alter the way the whole food web works.

Here in the U.S., neither major political party has paid much attention to this. On the whole the Republicans are skeptical about it. The Democrats care about it, but don’t want to make a big issue of it. The White House has nice things to say, but has to reconcile present economic growth imperatives with the need to save the planet from humans in the long run.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote, or how I’m going to vote, because I don’t want this to be about that. What I’m talking about here is evolution, not election. That’s the issue. Can we evolve to be symbiotic with the rest of the species on Earth? Or will we remain a plague?

Politics is for seasons. Evolution is inevitable. One way or another.

(The photo at the top is one among many I’ve shot flying over Greenland — a place that’s changing faster, perhaps, than any other large landform on Earth.)

[18 September...] I met and got some great hang time with Michael Schwartz (@Sustainism) of Sustainism fame, at PICNIC in Amsterdam, and found ourselves of one, or at least overlapping, mind on many things. I don’t want to let the connection drop, so I’m putting a quick shout-out here, before moving on to the next, and much-belated, post.

Also, speaking of the anthropocene, dig The ‘Anthropocene’ as Environmental Meme and/or Geological Epoch, in Dot Earth, by Andrew Revkin, in The New York Times. I met him at an event several years ago and let the contact go slack. Now I’m reeling it in a bit. :-) Here’s why his work is especially germane to the topic of this here post:  ”Largely because of my early writing on humans as a geological force, I am a member of the a working group on the Anthropocene established by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy.” Keep up the good work, Andy.

I own a lot of books and music CDs — enough to fill many shelves. Here’s just one:

They are relatively uncomplicated possessions. There are no limits (other than mine) on who can read my books, or what else  I can do with them, shy of abusing fairly obvious copyright laws. (For example, I can’t plagiarize somebody’s writing, or reproduce whole chapters of a book I’m quoting.) Music is a bit more complicated, but not to the degree that I stop assuming that I own and control the CDs on my shelves (even when they’re copied onto a hard drive, or stored in a cloud). The same even goes for the videocassettes and DVD of movies I’ve purchased. They are mine. I own them.

But books, music and movies from Amazon, Apple and other BigCos aren’t really sold. They are licensed. Take Amazon’s terms of use for e-books. They say this:

… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

Pretty clear. That stuff ain’t yours. All you get is some downloaded data and a highly restricted set of permissions for where and how you use that data, mostly within within the walled gardens provided by Amazon and the Content Providers. So it’s really more like renting than buying. (And not from friendly competitors, either.)

What’s more, the seller can also change the licensing terms at will. For example, in Apple’s terms for iTunes, it says “Apple reserves the right to modify the Usage Rules at any time.” Somewhere deep in the 55-page terms of use for the iPhone it says the same kind of thing. This is why your ownership of a smartphone is far more diminished than your ownership of a laptop or a camera. That’s because our phones are members of proprietary systems that we don’t operate. This is why the major operators (e.g. Verizon, AT&T) and OEMs (e.g. Apple and Google) are at liberty to reach into your phone and turn stuff on and off. (MVNOs such as Ting distinguish themselves by not doing that.)

Same with TV. Nothing you watch on your cable or satellite systems is yours. In most cases the gear isn’t yours either. It’s a subscription service you rent and pay for monthly. Companies in the cable and telephone business would very much like the Internet to work the same way. Everything becomes billable, regularly, continuously. All digital pipes turn into metered spigots for “content” and services on the telephony model, where you pay for easily billable data forms such as minutes and texts. (If AT&T or Verizon ran email you’d pay by the message, or agree to a “deal” for X number of emails per month.)

Free public wi-fi is getting crowded out by cellular companies looking to move some of the data carrying load over to their own billable wi-fi systems. Some operators are looking to bill the sources of content for bandwidth while others experiment with usage-based pricing, helping turn the Net into a multi-tier commercial system. (Never mind that “data hogs” mostly aren’t.) And mobile carriers are starting to slice up the Web itself. In All Mobile Traffic Isn’t Equal — As ‘Net Neutrality’ Debate Swirls, Wireless Carriers Start Cutting Special Deals , Anton Troianovski writes this in the Wall Street Journal:

One of Europe’s biggest wireless companies recently started offering a new plan in France: For less than $14 a month, customers could get unlimited Web browsing on their phones.

The catch—the Internet was limited to Twitter and Facebook. Every 20 minutes spent on any other website cost nearly 70 cents.

France Telecom SA’s Orange Group is one of several wireless carriers around the world experimenting with slicing up the Web into limited offerings and exclusive deals they hope will bring marketing advantages or higher profits.

In Turkey, mobile operator Turkcell lets users pay a flat fee to access Facebook, but not competing Turkish social networks. Polish carrier Play has offered free access to a handful of sites including Facebook but charged for the rest of the Web. And AT&T Inc. now says it’s planning to let app developers subsidize U.S. subscribers’ use of services.

Such tests remain the exception not the rule. Still, they show that the “open Web” ideal that has long governed Internet use is starting to break down as more and more surfing takes place on mobile devices.

Telecom executives, tired of being the “dumb pipes” through which valuable Internet traffic flows, say they need to cut such deals to make investing in expensive mobile-data networks worthwhile. But entrepreneurs seeking to devise new mobile offerings worry the shifting rules of the game will favor well-heeled companies that can afford carriers’ new terms.

Thus turning the mobile Web into something more like TV.

Meanwhile, back on the book and music front, publishers already have the Amazon and Apple content sphincters in place, on the iPads, iPhones and Kindles that are gradually marginalizing our dull old all-purpose desktop and laptop computers.What used to be radio is gradually turning into a rights-clearing mess. You like Spotify? Read Michael Robertson on how hard it is for Spotify and other radio-like music services to make money, or for the artists to make much either. You like to hear music on the radio, either over the air or over streams? Read David Oxenford’s report on how complicated that’s getting. Stopping SOPA was indeed an achievement by advocates of a free and open Internet.  But that was like stopping one goal in a football game after the other side already built up a 100-to-0 lead.

So, while BigCo walled gardeners such as Apple and Amazon continue to convert things that could be owned in the physical world (starting with music and books) into what can only be licensed in the virtual one, the regulatory framework around the Internet is ratcheting in an ever more restrictive direction, partly at the behest of regulatory captors such as the phone, cable and content companies (all getting more and more vertically integrated), and partly at the behest of countries that want the UN and the ITU to help them restrict Net usage inside their borders.  The latter is less about licensing than about pure politics, but it’s still at variance with the free and open marketplace the Net opened up in the first place.

John Battelle has long been observing this trend, and contextualizes it in a post titled It’s not whether Google’s threatened. It’s asking ourselves: What commons do we wish for?, The gist:

What kind of a world do we want to live in? As we increasingly leverage our lives through the world of digital platforms, what are the values we wish to hold in common? I wrote about this issue a month or so ago:  On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme. In that piece I outlined a number of core values that I believe are held in common when it comes to what I call the “open” or “independent” web. They also bear repeating (I go into more detail in the post, should you care to read it):

No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.

An ethos of the commons. The web developed over time under an ethos of community development, and most of its core software and protocols are royalty free or open source (or both). There wasn’t early lockdown on what was and wasn’t allowed. This created chaos, shady operators, and plenty of dirt and dark alleys. But it also allowed extraordinary value to blossom in that roiling ecosystem.

- No preset rules about how data is used. If one site collects information from or about a user of its site, that site has the right to do other things with that data, assuming, again, that it’s doing things that benefit all parties concerned.

- Neutrality. No one site on the web is any more or less accessible than any other site. If it’s on the web, you can find it and visit it.

- Interoperability. Sites on the web share common protocols and principles, and determine independently how to work with each other. There is no centralized authority which decides who can work with who, in what way.

I find it hard to argue with any of the points above as core values of how the Internet should work. And it is these values that created Google and allowed the company to become the world beater is has been these past ten or so years. But if you look at this list of values, and ask if Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of app makers align with them, I am afraid the answer is mostly no. And that’s the bigger issue I’m pointing to: We’re slowly but surely creating an Internet that is abandoning its original values for…well, for something else that as yet is not well defined.

This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. I’m not out to “save Google,” I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values.

What’s hard for walled gardeners to grok — and for the rest of us as well  — is that  the free and open worlds created by generative systems such as PCs and the Internet have boundaries sufficiently wide to allow creation of what Umair Haque calls “thick value” in abundance. To Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon, building private worlds for captive customers might look like thick value, but in the long run captive customer husbandry closes more opportunities across the marketplace than they open. Companies do compete (as do governments), but the market and civilization are both games that support positive sum outcomes for multiple players. The free and open Internet is the game board on which the Boston Consulting Group says a $2.1 trillion economy grew in 2010, on a trajectory to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. That game board is also a commons, and it’s being enclosed. (Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, calls it the “third enclosure.”)

By losing the free and open Internet, and free and open devices to interact with it — and even such ordinary things as physical books and music media — we reduce the full scope of both markets and civilization.

But that’s hard to see when the walled gardens are so rich with short-term benefits.

[Later...] I should make clear that I’m not against silos as a business breed, or vertical integration as a business strategy. In fact, I think we owe a great deal of progress to both. I think Apple actually opened up the smartphone market with the iPhone, and its vertical private marketplace. The concern I’m expressing in this post is with the fractioning of the commercial Web, as we experience it, and of much else that happens on the Net, into private vertical silos, using proprietary gear that limits what can be done to what the company owning the whole market allows. The book business, for example, largely happens inside Amazon, as of today. I think this is good in some ways, and worse in others. I’m visiting the worse here.

 

So I’m at Micah Sifry’s Politics of the Internet class at the Kennedy School, and risk live-blogging it (taxing my multitasking abilities…)

Some questions in the midst of dialog between Micah (@Mlsif) and the class (#pol-int)…

  • Was there a $trillion “internet dividend” over the old phone system, and was it a cost to the old system?
  • Did the Internet have to happen?
  • Is the IETF‘s “rough consensus and running code” still a prevailing ethos, or methodology?
  • Is it an accident that the rough consensus above is so similar to the #Occupy methods?
  • When you add value, do you also subtract value? (And did I — or David Weinberger and I) actually say that in World of Ends?)
  • Does this new un-owned decentralized medium cause or host culture?
  • How is the Internet used differently in different societies? (Assertion: it’s not monolithic.)
  • What is possible in a world where we assume connectivity?
  • What are the major disruptive effects?
  • What is the essence of the starting point in the early connection of computers? (What is the case for the Net, and how would you make it to, say, a legislator? Or you’re in an elevator with your boss, and you want to make the case against legislating how the internet is structured?)

Topics brought up:

  • Net-heads vs. bell-heads (the Net as its transcendant protocols vs. the Net as a collection of owned and controlled networks)
  • Commercialization
  • Authentic voice
  • Before and after (what if Compuserve and AOL had won?)
  • How can we speak of a giant zero when companies and governments are being “smart” (either through government censorship or carrier limitations, including the urge to bill everything, to pick a couple of examples)

My Linux Journal collection on the topic (from a lookup of “giant zero”):

Well, I wrote down nothing from my own talk, or the Q & A following. But there are clues in the tweet stream (there’s some funky html in the following… no time to fix it, though):

dskok David Skok
 An excellent read re: the battle @dsearls was referring to. I recommend @scrawford‘s @nytimes op-Ed: nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opi… #pol-int
NoreenBowden Noreen Bowden

 @dsearls! #pol-int Death From Above – 1995 essay by John Barlow on future of internet. w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati…
dskok David Skok

 .@dcsearls reading list: Death from above by John Perry Barlow: w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati… #pol-int
NoreenBowdenNoreen Bowden
Stanford prof leaves to start online university. allthingsd.com/20120125/watch… #pol-int
dsearls Doc Searls
My live blog from @mlsif‘s #pol-int class: hvrd.me/xd3Iki #politics #internet
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Tweet “+1″ if you think @MlSif should slide over 3 feet to his left or right so the classroom projector isn’t shining on his face. #pol-int
dskokDavid Skok

 Listening to @docsearls referring to the Internet Protocol Suite: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_… #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 ”Anyone can join it and work to improve it.” @Mlsif: Is it a coincidence that #OWS and the Internet are structured so similarly? #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Testing live classroom Twitter feed @Mlsif‘s new @Kennedy_School course, “The Politics of the Internet.” #pol-int
dsearlsDoc Searls

 Fun to be sitting in on @Mlsif‘s #pol-int class, described here: hvrd.me/w3hCbI
 MlsifMicah Sifry
I hadn’t realized up til now just how much the IETF and its working groups resemble Occupy Wall St and its working groups. #pol-int

Enjoyed it. The class will be blogging. Look forward to reading those too.

Today I’m in solidarity with Web publishers everywhere joining the fight against new laws that are bad for business — and everything else — on the Internet.

I made my case in If you hate big government, fight SOPA. A vigorous dialog followed in the comments under that. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

I also said this:

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all — vote for it.

This is the pro-business case. There are other cases, but I don’t see many people making the pure business one, so that’s why I took the business angle.

The best summary case I’ve read since then is this one from the EFF.

The best detailed legal case (for and against) is A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill, by Jonathan @Zittrain. The original, from early December, is here.

Not finally, here are a pile of links from Zemanta:

Oh, and the U.S. Supreme Court just make it cool for any former copyright holder to pull their free’d works out of the public domain. The vote was 6-2, with Kagan recused and Breyer and Alito dissenting. Lyle Denniston in the SCOTUS blog:

In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. was a far more sweeping outcome.

No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.

IMHO, the U.S. has become devoutly propertarian, even at the expense of opportunity to create fresh property from borrowed and remixed works in the public domain. One more way the public domain, and its friendliness to markets, is widely misunderstood.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leveraging Hal

Hal Crowther remains my favorite essayist, regardless of whether or not I agree with him. (And on some things I don’t.) Like Hunter S. Thompson, Hal’s writing is beyond enviable and his characterizations often over the top. Here’s some of his latest, addressed to the #Occupy movement:

“Go get a bath right after you get a job,” snarls Newt Gingrich, an influence-peddler who’s had no legitimate job for 15 years and exists only to give the word “hypocrisy” a human face.

My sympathies are obvious. What you in the tents can accomplish remains to be seen. But what I think I see, through the media fog of polarized America, is the return of the full-fledged idealists (as opposed to single-issue idealists) who seemed to go underground around 1980, possibly because the mass media abandoned them during the mudslide of self-celebration that began with Reaganism and culminated in Facebook.

I say God bless them, and God will if he still has any investment in the United States of America. The Goliath they challenge has crushed a thousand Davids. The good news is that “the kids” are right on target. Their diagnosis is bull’s-eye correct, and the patient is critical. For this country to survive, it must find saner ways to pursue and multiply wealth, and find them quickly. The cannibal capitalism that produced a Goldman Sachs and a Bernie Madoff is subhuman and obscene. There’s no form of government more inherently offensive than plutocracy—only theocracy comes close. When a citizen comes of age in a plutocracy, he has no moral choice but to slay Pluto or die trying.

The history of American plutocracy is shockingly simple. The Industrial Revolution fueled the metamorphosis of capitalism into a ravenous monster that devoured resources, landscapes and human beings on a scale no wars or natural disasters had ever approached. The wealth generated by this devastation created colossal corporations and financial operations far more powerful than elected governments; long ago the individuals who controlled these giants learned that it was cost-effective to buy up the politicians and turn governments into virtual subsidiaries. Along with the unprecedented wealth of the new ruling class came two protective myths, transparently false but widely accepted: one, that the feeble, compliant federal government was somehow the enemy of free enterprise; two, the outrageous trickle-down theory, which urged us to choke the rich with riches in the hope that they would disgorge a few crumbs for the peasants.

Investment banks and hedge funds were designed as perfect engines for multiplying the assets of the affluent. The Wall Street elite of the 20th century—Masters of the Universe, Tom Wolfe called them—flew so far above the laws of the land that they began to imagine themselves exempt from all laws, including economics, physics and averages. This magical thinking came to a head with a wave of death-defying speculation in mortgage-backed securities, and quite suddenly, in 2008, the walls came tumbling down, exposing a phantom economy based on nothing but arrogance and sleight of hand.

… In a recent German study that established a “social justice” index (poverty levels, education, health care, income equality) for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th among 31 nations, outstripping only Greece, Turkey, Chile and Mexico. Meanwhile, also, Wall Street banks on taxpayer life support continued to pay out billions in bonuses, monstrously inflated CEO salaries showed no signs of shrinking and the Republican Party campaigned for more of the bloody same, and a stronger dose of it: no taxes, no regulations, no unions.

This is beyond unacceptable, much closer to unspeakable, like an economic survey comparing the French court at Versailles to the sans-culottes.

…a slate of demands from Occupy Chicago struck me as savvy and dead-on: repeal tax cuts and close loopholes for the rich, prosecute the Wall Street felons of 2008, separate commercial lending from investment banking, rein in lobbyists, eliminate corporate personhood and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.

This last demand is perhaps the most critical. The decision that defined campaign contributions as free speech, delivered by the court’s 5-4 Republican majority, removed the last legal obstacles to a wallet-based political system that leaves the 1 percent, or one-hundredth of 1 percent, in unchallenged control of our fortunes and our public lives. It opened the floodgates for a multibillion-dollar campaign to defeat President Obama, and any candidates who might resist corporate feudalism, in 2012.

In the words of the late Molly Ivins, “We either get the money out of politics or we lose the democracy.”

Molly’s gone, but Hal lives. I just wish he wrote more often. Here’s the archive.

Bonus links:

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

A few years back, a former government official confidentially issued a warning to a small group I was part of, which favored some kind of lawmaking around technology. While this isn’t a verbatim quote, it’s pretty close, because it has been burned in my mind ever since: “In the course of my work I have met with nearly every member of Congress. And I can tell you that, with only a handful of exceptions, there are two things none of them understand. One is economics and the other is technology. Now proceed.”

Know-nothing lawmakers are doing exactly that with SOPA. As Joshua Kopstein says, Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all, vote for it.

Rivers of ink and oceans of pixels have been spilled by others on this subject, so I’ll confine my case to a single section of the bill:

SEC. 103. MARKET-BASED SYSTEM TO PROTECT U.S. CUS- TOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. FUNDING OF SITES DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY.

(I tried copying and pasting the whole section here, but it’s a @#$%^& .pdf, a proprietary format that has been Web-hostile from the start, but beloved of the “content” folks, as well as Congress and lawyers in general. If somebody can find us a .html or a .txt version, please let me know.)

There is nothing “market-based” about this section of the bill. “Market-based” is a paint job on more regulation, more restriction, more bureaucracy, more federal meddling, more litigation. Weighing in at nearly 17,000 words, is not only clueless about the nature of the Net and the Web, mischaracterizing both from front to back, but features the word “plaintiff” 100 or more times (I lost count). Oh, and lots of new work for this bureaucrat:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT COORDINATOR.—The term ‘‘Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’’ means the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator appointed under section 301 of the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (154 U.S.C. 8111)

Yes, it exists.

We don’t need SOPA. What we do need is for Congress — along with lawmakers and regulators everywhere, right down to public utilities commissions and town councils — to at least begin to understand what the Internet is, and what it does for everybody, before it starts making laws protecting one business at the expense of all the rest.

If you want to see who is behind SOPA, just follow the money.

A couple days ago, David Weinberger told me Jimmy Wales was mulling the wisdom of shutting off Wikipedia for a day.  David blogged about it. So did Cory Doctorow. Later Torrent Freak spilled the beans as well. For some perspective on this, consider these two facts: 1) Jimbo is an economic Libertarian—about as pro-business and pro-”market-based” as you can get; and 2) Wikipedia remains the only search result for anything that consistently rises above the tide of gimmickry that has corrupted the commercial Web and buried more and more “organic” (non-commercial) results under an avalanche of promotional jive.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute presents a solid Libertarian case against SOPA on YouTube. If it passes, he says, “the only difference between the U.S. and China is what’s on the blacklist.”

Sure, “piracy” is a problem. So are a zillion other afflictions you can name. New laws — especially ones that are written by regulatory captives and feared by real businesses in the marketplace — are not a solution. They compound the problem they purport to solve and cause untold new problems as unintended but certain consequences. Any conservative worthy of the label should be dead-set against SOPA.

Futhter reading, compiled mostly by Zemanta:

Tags:

I normally avoid talking politics here, but it’s hard to stay quiet while partisans on the left help with the demolition project that partisans on the right started the moment Barack Obama arrived in the White House.

One example: Hillary Told You So in The Daily Beast. Here’s how it begins:

At a New York political event last week, Republican and Democratic office-holders were all bemoaning President Obama’s handling of the debt-ceiling crisiswhen someone said, “Hillary would have been a better president.”

“Every single person nodded, including the Republicans,” reported one observer.

At a luncheon in the members’ dining room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday, a 64-year-old African-American from the Bronx was complaining about Obama’s ineffectiveness in dealing with the implacable hostility of congressional Republicans when an 80-year-old lawyer chimed in about the president’s unwillingness to stand up to his opponents. “I want to see blood on the floor,” she said grimly.

A 61-year-old white woman at the table nodded. “He never understood about the ‘vast right-wing conspiracy,’” she said.

Another is Obama in the Valley, by Charles Blow in the New York Times. Concludes he,

The country needs the president to rise to this crisis in word, spirit and deed. We need him to reach out of his nature and into the nation’s need. We are on the precipice. There’s growing concern that we may slip into a second, more painful recession. There is little optimism that the housing crisis will loosen its grip on the economy anytime soon. The unspeakable truth is that we may well be on the leading edge of a prolonged period of national stagnation, if not decline.

A robotic Sustainer-in-Chief with an eerie inhumanity will not satisfy. At this moment, we need less valley and more mountaintop.

Oh please.

He’s not Moses, and that’s not his job. He’s the President. He presides. He doesn’t rule. We gave him an awful job, and he’s doing it with dignity, sobriety, intelligence, and a variety of other personal and administrative virtues that were absent or compromised in the prior two administrations.

On November 8, 2008, The Onion ran Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job. It was prophesy:

In his new high-stress, low-reward position, Obama will be charged with such tasks as completely overhauling the nation’s broken-down economy, repairing the crumbling infrastructure, and generally having to please more than 300 million Americans and cater to their every whim on a daily basis. As part of his duties, the black man will have to spend four to eight years cleaning up the messes other people left behind. The job comes with such intense scrutiny and so certain a guarantee of failure that only one other person even bothered applying for it.

A goof with truth.

It doesn’t matter if there’s a right-wing conspiracy (which there is). The right wing doesn’t need a conspiracy while it remains what it became in the age of Fox News and talk radio: an uncompromising partisan bloc devoted utterly to defeating its political opponents, as a Prime Directive. The GOP is hardly unified in all its positions, but as a partisan bloc all its guns have been aimed since 2008 at President Obama, and they haven’t stopped firing. Meanwhile folks on the left have convened a circular firing squad, with their Main Man in the middle.

If Hillary had won, she’d be there now too, because she’d be disappointing the left just as much as Obama is. She’d have to, because she’d be President, and not just a candidate.

The Republicans have also hated Hillary far longer than they’ve hated Obama, and for all the same reasons: she’s a tax & spend Liberal who prefers Big Hands-on Government to the smaller Hands-off kind (that lives as an ideal in the collective Republican mind, even though we’ve haven’t had it in anybody’s living memory, or maybe ever). It wouldn’t matter if she was “tougher.” Her opposition would be just as uncooperative, hostile and determined to drive her from office. Absolute unity and intransigence on Core Principles is the GOP’s chemo for the body politic: it will kill off the cancer of leftism before it kills the country.

So the Republicans are succeeding, with help from Democratic outlets like Daily Beast and HuffPo, whose constituencies are tiny fractions of populations that Murdoch outlets and their amen corners on talk radio preach to every day.

Not saying folks on the left should shut up about Obama; just that they should look at the hand he was dealt in the first place, plus what the guy is up against and what his job is. Pleasing his core on the left isn’t Job One, or even Job Ten. Running a country that risks devolving into misery and chaos is Job One.

Personally, I don’t think anybody can do it, because our system is rigged against it. (And, for what it’s worth, I’m a registered Independent whose usual inclination is to vote for None of the Above.)

Anyway, if you want to help the country, go after Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman. Because that’s who you’ll get in 2012 if Obama loses.

 

 

So I took up David Weigel‘s challenge in Slate: Read the Reid Plan. Read the Boehner Plan. Get Back to Me… and got as far as this stuff in Reid’s plan:

Reid plan

(Sorry, I had to take a screen shot because the original is a .pdf and the copied text takes too much work to fix.)

So I’m wondering why… let’s see… Pages 46 to 82 — out of a 104-page document — are devoted to this stuff. I really don’t know, although I’m guessing it’s good for Verizon, AT&T and other bidders on that spectrum.

There’s plenty of coverage, of course. Here’s a list, some ranging a bit from the budget fracas, but perhaps illuminating the politics of spectrum, and why it’s in the middle of this thing:

The Boehner plan is utterly opaque to me, at least at this point. But maybe that’s because this spectrum thing stands out so obviously in the Reid plan, and spectrum is a subject I know a few things about. I’m opposed to selling any of it, and think we need to get past spectrum alone as a way to understand radio waves and how they work (especially when we sell off rights to use them… it’s like selling the color blue. I’m also big on open spectrum and unlicensed wireless, but no BigCo wants either, so those aren’t on the table, even though they’re already proven sources of economic benefits. By the way, whatever happened to “the public airwaves”? Remember those?

What do the rest of ya’ll think?

Tags: , , , , , ,

So Dan Gillmor and I will be on stage later today at the Personal Democracy Forum at NYU. What questions should we be asking the the people we’d rather not call the audience?

[Later...] Since I’ve been told that the above (the one-paragraph tweetlike post this used to be) has been misunderstood by a few folks, here’s some context missing in the original: 1) Dan is deservedly notable for referring to “the former audience” and saying “my readers know more than I do”; and 2) I’m the “markets are conversations” guy. So we don’t wish to hog the stage we’ve been given. Hope that helps.

While arguments over network neutrality have steadily misdirected attention toward Washington, phone and cable companies have quietly lobbied one state after another to throttle back or forbid cities, towns and small commercial and non-commercial entities from building out broadband facilities. This Community Broadband Preemption Map, from Community Broadband Networks, tells you how successful they’ve been so far: Broadband Preemption Map Now they’re the verge of succeeding in North Carolina too.

This issue isn’t just close to home for me. I lived in North Carolina for nearly two decades, and I have more blood relatives there than in any other state. (Not to mention countless friends.) Not one of them tells me how great their broadband is. More than a few complain about it. And I can guarantee that the complaints won’t stop once the Governor signs the misleadingly-named ”Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition act” (H129), which the cable industry has already been lobbied through the assembly.

The “free market” the phone and cable companies claim to operate in, and which they mostly occupy as a duopoly, is in fact a regulatory zoo where the biggest animals run the place. Neither half of the phone/cable duopoly has ever experienced anything close to a truly free market; but they sure know how to thrive in the highly regulated one they have — at the federal, state and local levels. Here’s Ars on the matter:

Let’s be even clearer about what is at stake in this fight. Muni networks are providing locally based broadband infrastructures that leave cable and telco ISPs in the dust. Nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee’scity owned EPB Fiber Optics service now advertises 1,000Mbps. Wilson, North Carolina is home to the Greenlight Community Network, which offers pay TV, phone service, and as much as 100Mbps Internet to subscribers (the more typical package goes at 20Mbps). Several other North Carolina cities have followed suit, launching their own networks. In comparison, Time Warner’s Road Runner plan advertises “blazing speeds” of 15Mbps max to Wilson area consumers. When asked why the cable company didn’t offer more competitive throughput rates, its spokesperson told a technology newsletter back in 2009 that TWC didn’t think anyone around there wanted faster service. When it comes to price per megabyte, GigaOm recently crunched some numbers and found out that North Carolina cities hold an amazing 7 of 10 spots on the “most expensive broadband in the US” list.

And here’s what Wally Bowen and Tim Karr say in the News & Observer:

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation’s first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state’s rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power. Statesville built the state’s first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state’s first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties. Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled “Level Playing Field” bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That’s why five cities – Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville – invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives. (While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.) How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow absentee-owned corporations to pass a law essentially granting two industries – cable and telephone – the power to dictate North Carolina’s broadband future? This question will be moot if Gov. Beverly Perdue exercises her veto power and sends this bill where it belongs: to the dustbin of history.

We don’t need more laws restricting anything around Internet infrastructure build-outs in the U.S. That’s the simple argument here.

We need the phone and cable companies to improve what they can, and we need to encourage and thank them for their good work. (As I sometimes do with Verizon FiOS, over which I am connected here in Massachusetts.)

We also need to recognize that the Internet is a utility and not just the third act (after phone and TV) in the “triple play” that phone and cable companies sell. The Net is more like roads, water, electricity and gas than like TV or telephony (both of which it subsumes). It’s not just about “content” delivered from Hollywood to “consumers,” or about a better way to do metered calls on the old Ma Bell model. It’s about everything you can possibly do with a connection to the rest of the world. The fatter that connection, the more you can do, and the more business can do.

Cities and regions blessed with fat pipes to the Internet are ports on the ocean of bits that now comprise the networked world. If citizens can’t get phone and cable companies to build out those ports, it’s perfectly legitimate for those citizens to do it themselves. That’s what municipal broadband build out is about, pure and simple. Would it be better to privatize those utilities eventually? Maybe. But in the meantime let’s not hamstring the only outlet for enterprise these citizens have found.

Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S. today, the leading innovators in Internet build-out are cities, not phone and cable companies. Look at Chatanooga and Lafayette — two red state cities that are doing an outstanding job of building infrastructure that attracts and supports new businesses of all kinds. Both are doing what no phone or cable companies seems able or willing to do. And both are succeeding in spite of massive opposition by those same incumbent duopolists.

The Internet is a rising tide that lifts all economic boats. At this stage in U.S. history, this fact seems to be fully motivating to enterprises mostly at the local level, and mostly in small cities. (Hi, Brett.) Their customers here are citizens who have direct and personal relationships with their cities and with actual or potential providers there, including the cities themselves. They want and need a level of Internet capacity that phone and cable companies (for whatever reason) are not yet giving them. These small cities provide good examples of The Market at work.

It isn’t government that’s competing with cable and phone companies here. Its people. Citizens.

No, these new build-outs are not perfect. None are, or can be. Often they’re messy. But nothing about them requires intervention by the state. Especially so early in whatever game this will end up being.

I urge friends, relatives and readers in North Carolina to Call Governor Perdue at (800) 662-7952, and to send her emails at  governor.office at nc.gov. Tell her to veto this bill, and to keep North Carolina from turning pink or red on the map above. Tell her to keep the market for broadband as free as it’s been from the beginning.

Bonus link.

[Later, as the last hour approaches...]

Larry Lesig has published an open letter to Governor Perdue, Here is most of it:

Dear Governor Perdue:

On your desk is a bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature to ban local communities from building or supporting community broadband networks. (H.129). By midnight tonight, you must decide whether to veto that bill, and force the legislature to take a second look.

North Carolina is an overwhelmingly rural state. Relative to the communities it competes with around the globe, it has among the slowest and most expensive Internet service. No economy will thrive in the 21st century without fast, cheap broadband, linking citizens, and enabling businesses to compete. And thus many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks.

These networks have been extraordinarily effective. The prices they offer North Carolinians is a fraction of the comparable cost of commercial network providers. The speed they offer is also much much faster.

This single picture, prepared by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, says it all: The yellow and green dots represent the download (x-axis) and upload (y-axis) speeds provided by two community networks in North Carolina. Their size represents their price. As you can see, community networks provide faster, cheaper service than their commercial competitors. And they provide much faster service overall.

2011-05-20-broadbandgraph.png

 

Local competition in broadband service benefits the citizens who have demanded it. For that reason, community after community in North Carolina have passed resolutions asking you to give them the chance to provide the Internet service that the national quasi-monopolies have not. It is why businesses from across the nation have opposed the bill, and business leaders from your state, including Red Hat VP Michael Tiemann, have called upon you to veto the bill.

Commercial broadband providers are not happy with this new competition, however. After spending millions in lobbying and campaign contributions in North Carolina, they convinced your legislature to override the will of local North Carolina communities, and ban these faster, cheaper broadband networks. Rather than compete with better service, and better prices, they secured a government-granted protection against competition. And now, unless you veto H. 129, that protection against competition will become law.

Opponents of community broadband argue that it is “unfair” for broadband companies to have to compete against community-supported networks. But the same might be said of companies that would like to provide private roads. Or private fire protection. Or private police protection. Or private street lights. These companies too would face real competition from communities that choose to provide these services themselves. But no one would say that we should close down public fire departments just to be “fair” to potential private first-responders.

The reason is obvious to economists and scholars of telecommunications policy. As, for example, Professor Brett Frischmann argues, the Internet is essential infrastructure for the 21st century. And communities that rely solely upon private companies to provide public infrastructure will always have second-rate, or inferior, service.

In other nations around the world, strong rules forcing networks to compete guarantee faster, cheaper Internet than the private market alone would. Yet our FCC has abdicated its responsibility to create the conditions under which true private broadband competition might flourish in the United States. Instead, the United States has become a broadband backwater, out-competed not only by nations such as Japan and Korea, but also Britain, Germany and even France. According to a study by the Harvard Berkman Center completed last year, we rank 19th among OECD countries in combined prices for next generation Internet, and 19th for average advertised speeds. Overall, we rank below every major democratic competitor — including Spain — and just above Italy.

In a world in which FCC commissioners retire from the commission and take jobs with the companies they regulate (as Commissioner Baker has announced that she will do, by joining Comcast as a lobbyist, and as former FCC Chairman Powell has done, becoming a cable industry lobbyist), it is perhaps not surprising that these networks are protected from real competition.

But whether surprising or not, the real heroes in this story are the local communities that have chosen not to wait for federal regulators to wake up, and who have decided to create competition of their own. No community bans private networks. No community is unfairly subsidizing public service. Instead, local North Carolina communities are simply contracting to build 21st-century technology, so that citizens throughout the state can have 21st-century broadband at a price they can afford.

As an academic who has studied this question for more than a decade, I join many in believing that H.129 is terrible public policy…

Be a different kind of Democrat, Governor Perdue. I know you’ve received thousands of comments from citizens of North Carolina asking you to veto H.129. I know that given the size of the Republican majority in the legislature, it would be hard for your veto to be sustained.

But if you took this position of principle, regardless of whether or not you will ultimately prevail, you would inspire hundreds of thousands to join with you in a fight that is critical to the economic future of not just North Carolina, but the nation. And you would have shown Republicans and Democrats alike that it is possible for a leader to stand up against endless corporate campaign cash.

There is no defeat in standing for what you believe in. So stand with the majority of North Carolina’s citizens, and affirm the right of communities to provide not just the infrastructure of yesterday — schools, roads, public lighting, public police forces, and fire departments — but also the infrastructure of tomorrow — by driving competition to provide the 21st century’s information superhighway.

With respect,

Lawrence Lessig

To contact the governor, you can email her. If you’re from North Carolina, this link will take you to a tool to call the governor’s office. You can follow this fight on Twitter at @communitynets
You can follow similar fights on Twitter by searching #rootstrikers.

Well put, as usual. Hope it works.

I’ve been fairly quiet on the developments in Egypt, preferring to let others do the blogging, especially when they know far more than I do. (Ethan Zuckerman, for example.) But I’ve been involved in many conversations, because it’s damned interesting, what’s going on. One of those conversations is with my sister Jan, by email. She’s a retired Commander with the U.S. Navy, and a veteran at international matters as well, having served as an exchange officer with the British Royal Navy and as a protocol officer with the U.S. one.

I liked an email she sent this morning well enough to ask her if it was cool to share it. She said yes, and here it is:

I can’t help but believe that at least half the educated and aware (not always the same thing, is it?)  population of the world isn’t digesting yesterday’s outcome without thinking of their own government.  I liked Tom Friedman’s line in his latest column Postcard From a Free Egypt – NYTimes.com Hello, Tripoli, Cairo calling. I can feel his optimism and I have it, too.

I don’t think this is going to be nasty to watch; I have been beyond impressed with the control the protestors have displayed in this process, and I just realized why:  Facebook may have gotten them into the Square, but it was Twitter that kept them in hand.  This was not the protest of the bullhorn, of the warping of direction by misinterpretation caused by passing the word along because the word was universally available in one shot! The age of reiteration is over.  Now is the age of the direct thought going out to all ears vs the age old chain of mouth to ear to mouth to ear….  That is the power of Twitter.

So the message and the method stayed true.  No one went off the rails, the whole thing was non-violent in intent and in execution. And – the hitherto unimaginable – the youth stayed true to that.  Youth, who we associate with hooliganism in sports and overheated loyalty to their current cultural idols, they kept their eye firmly on the long-view.  They led their elders – the professionals who had lived under the thumb and threats of a tyrant, the educated who were stifled and stilled by fear, the political who were passively waiting.  The youth led, because they had a unity of purpose that was tightly held — or in this case twittered.

Today I am stunned, and smiling, and … wondering.  Do our politicians realize that we, too, have an enormous disenfranchised population?  That we have a large, youth-filled population who feel they have few options or opportunities? That we have an underclass in living in a poverty that should be unimaginable in a first-world country?  That we have an eager and interested population that feels its voice cannot be heard by our government over the cacophony of corporate interests?

And this is not the voice of the Tea Party.  I think it will become glaringly obvious  that the Tea Party was a just a segment of the frustrated, found to be useful to and thereby fueled and funding by special interests, enlarged by bored and lazy media and will eventually be fragmented by electoral fulfillment.  The population I’m thinking of has not been heard from yet.  The Administration may think that Organizing for America gives them a voice, but it hasn’t, because it is too one-way.  It is a fund-raising, message passing tool of the administration.

The voice heard in the square in Cairo and in the streets of Egypt did not rise up overnight or out of thin air.  That voice that has been unheard because it was a voice shouting in a vacuum.  But a vacuum cannot exist in cyberspace. Traditionally in revolutions the key is to take over the one-to-many vehicles of mass communication, radio and TV.  But this time they were not taken over, they were ignored.  They weren’t needed because it was the masses that were communicating.

So now we are in a new age, an age of leadership and governments being held accountable to the voice of the governed.  And in this new age I am optimistic for Egypt as well as other oppressed people.  I hope every autocrat and dictator is hearing footsteps in the dark.  And I hope our government is paying close attention — people have voices and, no matter how disenfranchised, they have just learned a new way to make them heard.

Bonus link.

[Later...] While this post has met with a fair amount of approval here and in the Twitterverse, Doug Skogland has some pushback.

Perhaps linking to this piece by Nicholas Kristof will help.

[This piece was written for (in Raleigh, North Carolina ) and published twenty-five years ago, on February 10, 1986. Since it might be worth re-visiting some of the points I made, as well as the event itself, I decided to dust off the piece and put up here. Except for a few spelling corrections and added links, it's unchanged. — Doc]

I can remember, when I first saw the movie , how unbelievable it seemed that and could fly their spacecrafts so easily. They’d flick switches and glance knowingly at cryptic lights and gauges, and zoom their ways through hostile traffic at speeds that would surely kill them if they ran into anything; and they’d do all this with a near-absolute disregard for the hazards involved.

That same night, after I left the movie theatre, I experienced one of the most revealing moments of my life. I got into my beat-up , flicked some switches, glanced knowingly at some lights and gauges, and began to zoom my way through hostile traffic at speeds that would surely kill me if I ran into anything; and I did all this with a near-absolute disregard for the hazards involved. Suddenly, I felt like Han Solo at the helm of the . And in my exhilaration, I realized how ordinary it was to travel in a manner and style beyond the dreams of all but humanity’s most recent generations. I didn’t regret the likelihood that I would never fly in space like Han and Luke; rather I felt profoundly grateful that I was privileged to enjoy, as a routine, experiences for which many of my ancestors would gladly have paid limbs, or even lives.

Since then I have always been astonished at how quickly and completely we come to take our miraculous inventions for granted, and also at how easily we use those inventions to enlarge ourselves, our capabilities, and our experience in the world. “I just flew in from the Coast,” we say, as if we were all born with wings.

I think this “enlarging” capacity, even more than our brains and our powers of speech, is what makes us so special as creatures. As individuals, and as an entire species, we add constantly to our repertoire of capabilities. As the educator said, our capacity to learn is amplified by our ability to develop skills. Those skills give us the power to make things, and then to operate those things as if they were parts of ourselves. Through our inventions and skills, we acquire superhuman powers that transcend the weaknesses of our naked, fleshy selves.

One might say that everything we do is an enlargement on our naked beginnings. That’s why we are the only animals that not only wear clothes, but who also care about how they look. After all, if we were interested only in warmth, comfort and protection, we wouldn’t have invented push-up bras and neckties. Or other non-essentials, like jewelry and cosmetics. It seems we wear those things to express something that extends beyond the limits of our bodies: the notions of our minds, about who we are and what we do.

But clothes are just the beginning, the first and most visible layer in a series that grows to encompass all our tools and machines. When we ride a bicycle, for example, the bike becomes part of us. When we use a hammer to drive a nail, we ply that tool as if it were an extra length of arm. Joined by our skills to tools and machines, our combined powers all but shame the naked bodies that employ them.

I remember another movie: a short animated feature in which metallic creatures from Mars, looking through telescopes, observed that the Earth was populated by a race of automobiles. Martian scientists described how cars were hatched in factories, fed at filling stations, and entertained at drive-in movies.

And maybe they were right. Because, in a way, we become the automobiles we drive. Who can deny how differently we behave as cars than as people? It’s a black that cuts us off at the light, not Mary Smith, the real estate agent. In traffic, we give vent to hostilities and aggressions we wouldn’t dare to release in face-to-face encounters.

Of course, we have now metamorphosed into entities far more advanced than automobiles. As pilots we have become airplanes. As passengers we have become creatures that fly great distances in flocks.

If those Martian scientists were to keep an eye on our planet, they would note that we have now begun to evolve beyond airplanes, into spaceships. In their terms we might note the Tragedy as the metallic equivalent of a single failure in the amphibians’ first assault on land. Evolution, after all, is a matter of trial and error.

But as we contemplate the price of our assault on the shores of space, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. For example: is the Challenger tragedy just a regrettable accident in the natural course of human progress, or evidence of boundaries we are only beginning to sense?

On January 28th, Challenger addressed that question to our whole species. We all felt the same throb of pain when we learned how, in one orange moment, seven of our noble fellows were blown to mist at the edge of the heavens they were launched to explore.

Most of us made it our business that day to visit the TV, to watch the Challenger bloom into fire, and to share the same helpless feeling as we saw the smoking fragments of countless dreams rained down in white tendrils, like the devil’s own confetti, to the ancestral sea below. The final image — a monstrous white Y in the sky — is permanently embossed in the memories of all who witnessed the event.

It was so unexpected because the shuttle had become exactly what NASA had planned: an ordinary form of transportation, a service elevator between Earth and Space. NASA’s plan to routinize space travel succeeded so convincingly that major networks weren’t even there to cover the Challenger liftoff. Instead they “pooled” for rights to images supplied by Ted Turner‘s Cable News Network. Chuck Yeager, the highest priest in the Brotherhood of The Right Stuff, voiced the unofficial NASA line on the matter. “I see no difference between this accident and any accident involving a commercial or military aircraft,” he said.

Would that it were so.

“Fallen heroes” is not a term applied to plane crash victims. In fact, the technologies of space travel are still extremely young, and the risks involved are a lot higher than we like to think. “Since NASA made it look so easy, people thought it would never happen. Those of us close to the program thought it could happen a whole lot sooner. We’re glad it was postponed this long,” said , a former astronaut and pilot of the .

The fact that the shuttle program was so vulnerable, and we failed to recognize the fact, says unwelcome things about our faith in technology, and now is when we should listen to them. Because the time when flying through space becomes as easy as flying down the road, or even through the air, is still a long way off. In the meantime, it might be best to leave the exploring to guys like Lousma, who are blessed with the stuff it takes to push the risks out of the way for the rest of us.

And we’re talking about the kind of risks that were built into the shuttle from its start.

Consider for a moment that the shuttle program is, after all, the bastard offspring of a dozen competing designs, and constrained throughout its history by a budgetary process that subordinates human and scientific aspirations to a variety of military and commercial interests. And consider how, as with most publicly-funded technologies, most of the Shuttle’s components were all produced by the lowest bidder. And consider the fact that many of the Shuttle’s technologies are, even by NASA’s admission, obsolete. If we had to start at Square One today, we’d probably design a very different program.

A new program, for example, would probably take better account of the Perrow Law of Unavoidable Accidents. A corrolary of Murphy’s Law — “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” — the Perrow Law is modestly named after himself by , Professor of Sociology and Organizational Analysis at Yale University. According to Perrow, the shuttle program has succeeded mostly in spite of itself. Its whole design is so detailed, so complex, so riddled with interdependent opportunities for failure, that we’re lucky one of the things didn’t blow up sooner, or worse, suffer a more agonizing death in space.

“The number of interconnections in these systems is so enormous,” he says, “that no designer can think of everything ahead of time. It may be that this was one major valve failing on one of the tanks, but I rather suspect that that’s not the case. NASA tests and is very concerned about those valves. They have back-ups for every major system. The problem is more likely to have been a number of small things that came together in a mysterious way — a way that we may never learn about.”

He continues, “The chances for an accident will be only marginally reduced if we find the cause of this, and harden something or increase the welds, and eliminate this one thing as a source of an accident. But right next to it will be a dozen other unique sources of accidents that we haven’t touched. But by touching the components next to it, we may increase the possibility of other accidents.”

, who wrote , and invented the term, suggests that NASA may have snowed itself into believing that space travel is past the pioneering stage, and that, as a concept, the shuttle’s “coach & freight service — a people’s zero-G express” was premature. Of the martyred teacher, , he says “Her flight was to be the crossover, at last, from a quarter of a century in which space had been a frontier open only to pioneers who lived and were willing to die by the code of ‘the right stuff’ — the Alan Shepards, s and Neil Armstrongs — to an era when space would belong to the entire citizenry, to Everyman. The last role in the world NASA had in mind for Crista McAuliffe and the rest of the Challenger crew was that of pioneer or hero.”

This was because NASA had labored long and hard to break the political grip of what Wolfe calls “Astropower,” the “original breed of fighter-pilot and test-pilot astronaut — the breed who had been willing, over and over again, to sit on top of enormous tubular bombs, some 36 stories high, gorged with several of the most explosive materials this side of nuclear fission, and let some NASA GS-18 engineer light the fuse.”

The fact was, Wolfe suggests, that McAuliffe and her companions “hurtled for 73 seconds out on the edge of a still-raw technology” before they perished. Which is why he asks “If space flight still involves odds unacceptable to Everyman, then should it be put back in the hands of those whose profession consists of hanging their hides, quite willingly, out over the yawning red maw?”

If the answer is yes, then what will need to happen before Everyman is really ready to fly the zero-G express?

In a word, simplification. Right now there is no way for a single pilot’s senses to stretch over the entire shuttle system, and operate it skillfully. A couple of years ago, the Director of Flight Operations for NASA said “this magnificent architecture makes it that much harder to learn to use the system.” According to Professor Perrow, “because the Shuttle system was designed in so many parts by a phalanx of designers, when it’s all put together to run, there is nobody, no one, who can know all about that system.”

Perrow says “It requires simplification for a single person, a pilot, to know everything that’s happening in such a hostile environment as space.” One of the great simplifications in aviation history was the substitution of the jet engine for the piston engine. That’s what we need to make space travel agreeably safe.”

It is ironic that on the day the Challenger blew up, , a space industry consultant and a former NASA administrator, was about to mail the first draft of a commission report to the president on the future of the U.S. space effort. That report advanced two recommendations: 1) a unmanned cargo-launching program to deliver cargo to space at a fraction of current shuttle costs; and 2) an improved shuttle or a new-generation system like the “hypersonic transportation vehicle” the Air Force has wanted ever since NASA beat the rocket airplane into space. The hypersonic transport would simply be an airplane that can fly in space. By contrast, the shuttle is a spacecraft that can glide to earth. Already, hypersonic transport technology has been around for years. Reports say the first “space plane” could be ready to fly in the 1990s. The thing would cruise along at anywhere from Mach 5 to Mach 25, which would mean, theoretically, that no two points on the earth would be more than three hours apart.

But it will have to fight the inertia behind the shuttle program, which is substantial, and slowed only momentarily by the Challenger explosion.

I fear we can only pray that future missions will continue to dodge Murphy’s law.

Over time, however, our sciences will need to face Perrow’s Corollary more soberly. We need to recognize that there are limits to the complexities we can build into our technologies before accidents are likely to occur. Thanks to Fail Safe, Doctor Strangelove , and other dramatic treatments of the issue, we are already familiar with (and regretably taking for granted) the risks of nuclear catastrophe to which we are exposed by our terribly complicated “defensive shields.”

And this hasn’t stopped us from committing to even more dangerous and complicated “defensive” projects, the most frightening of which is the euphemistically titled , better known by its nickname: Star Wars. Professor Perrow says “Star Wars is the most frightening system I can think of.” In fact, Star Wars is by far the most complex technology ever contemplated by man. And possibly the most expensive.

There are cost projections for Star Wars that make NASA’s whole budget look like pocket change. Portentiously, the first shuttle experiment with Star Wars technology failed when shuttle scientists pointed a little mirror the wrong way. We can only hope that the little mirrors on Soviet Warheads are aligned more cooperatively.

Complexity is more than a passing issue. It is science’s most powerful and debilitating intoxicant. We teach it in our schools, confuse it with sophistication and sanction it with faith. In this High Tech Age, we have predictably become drunk on the stuff. And, as with alcohol and cocaine, we’ll probably discover its hazards through a series of painful accidents.

Meanwhile, there is another concern that ironically might have been illuminated by a teacher, or better yet a journalist, in space. Its advocates include a recently-created organization of space veterans whose non-political goal is to share their singular view of our planet. That view sees a fragile ball of blue, green and brown, undivided by the lines that mark the maps and disputes on the surface below. It is an objective view, and we need it badly.

The implications of that view are made more sober by recent discoveries suggesting limits to the viability of human life in the environments of space. Outside the protective shield of our atmosphere, travelers are bombarded constantly by cosmic radiation that produces cancer and other ailments.

Weightlessness also has its long-term costs. While there may be ways to reduce or eliminate the risks involved with space travel, we are still, at best, in the zygote stage of our development as space creatures. It might be millennia before we are finally ready to leave Earth’s womb and dodge asteroids in the manner of Han Solo.

Until then, it would be nice if we didn’t have to discover our limits the hard way.

Al Jazeera story

Cable companies: Add Al Jazeera English *now* Jeff Jarvis commands, correctly, on his blog — and also in , under the headine . For me now was a few minutes ago, when I read both items on the family iPad, which has been our main news portal since the quit coming and I suspended my efforts to reach them by Web or phone. (The Globe also wants a bunch of ID crap when I go there on the iPad, so they’re silent that way too.) So I went to the App store, looked up , saw something called Al Jazeera English Live was available for free, got it, and began watching live protest coverage from Cairo.

We don’t have cable here. We dumped it after network news turned to shit, and we found it was easier to watch movies on Netflix. We still like to watch sports, but cable for sports alone is too expensive, because it’s always bundled with junk we don’t want and not available à la carte. (You know, like stuff is on the Web.) When we want TV news, we go online or get local TV through an gizmo plugged into an old Mac laptop. Works well, but it’s still TV.

And so is Al Jazeera on an iPad/iPhone, Samsung Wave or a Nokia phone. (See http://english.aljazeera.net/mobile/for details. No Android or Blackberry yet, appaerently.) The difference is that real news s happening in Egypt, and if you want live news coverage in video form, Al Jazeera is your best choice. As Jeff puts it, “Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one — not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media — can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can.”

And it’s very good. , “If you’re watching Al Jazeera, you’re seeing uninterrupted live video of the demonstrations, along with reporting from people actually on the scene, and not “analysis” from people in a studio. The cops were threatening to knock down the door of one of its reporters minutes ago. Fox has moved on to anchor babies. CNN reports that the ruling party building is on fire, but Al Jazeera is showing the fire live.”

In fact six Al Jazeera journalists are now being detained (I just learned). That kind of thing happens when your news organization is actually involved in a mess like this. CNN used to be that kind of organization, but has been in decline for years, along with other U.S. network news organizations. As Jeff says, “What the Gulf War was to CNN, the people’s revolutions of the Middle East are to Al Jazeera English. But in the U.S., in a sad vestige of the era of Freedom Fries, hardly anyone can watch the channel on cable TV.”

And that’s a Good Thing, because cable is a mostly shit in a pipe, sphinctered through a “set top box” that’s actually a computer crippled in ways that maximize control by the cable company and minimize choice for the user. Fifteen years ago, the promise of TV was “five hundred channels”. We have that now, but we also have billions of sources — not just “channels” — over the Net. Cream rises to the top, and right now that cream is Al Jazeera and the top is a hand-held device.

The message cable should be getting is not just “carry Al Jazeera,” but “normalize to the Internet.” Open the pipes. Give us à la carte choices. Let us get and pay for what we want, not just what gets force-fed in bundles. Let your market — your viewers — decide what’s worth watching, and how they want to watch it. And quit calling Internet video “over the top”. The Internet is the new bottom, and old-fashioned channel-based TV is a limping legacy.

A few days ago, President Obama spoke about the country’s “Sputnik moment”. Well, that’s what Al Jazeera in Egypt is for cable TV. It’s a wake-up call from the future. In that future we’ll realize that TV is nothing more than a glowing rectangle with a boat-anchor business model. Time to cut that anchor and move on.

Here’s another message from the future, from one former cable TV viewer: I’d gladly pay for Al Jazeera. Even when I can also get it for free. All we need is the mechanism, and I’m glad to help with that.

Tags: , ,

In a more perfect world, where my many passions and obligations would be jobbed out to team of scattered clones, one of me would be in Santa Barbara, at the Super Santa Barbara exhibition on Net Neutrality at 653 Paseo Nuevo where a reception will take place 6:30pm-9pm on Thursday (that’s today) January 6th.

In my stead will be friends, most notably Joe Andrieu — who will give a talk on Net Neutrality with a Q&A — and Warren Schultheis of City2.0, who organized the event and the exhibition, which will run Jan 7th – Jan 23rd. Tues-Sun 12pm -5pm.

In their page on Net Neutrality, there’s a link to this piece I wrote for Linux Journal in 2006. It holds up pretty well, actually.

Again, wish I could be there. But if you are, please come by. There are many arguments to be had on the topic — art to appreciate as well (such as the Julia Ford item above). But the fact that matters most for Santa Barbara is that the city is still under-served by its sources of Internet connectivity. That alone should give everybody plenty to talk about.

Bonus link.

We’ll start with four essential posts on the Wikileaks matter.

First is Iran and the Bomb, by Hedrik Hertzberg, It’s this week’s Talk of the Town in The New Yorker. Here’s the pull quote:

Perhaps the two biggest secrets that the WikiLeaks leaks leaked are that the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face and that the officials who carry it out do a pretty good job.

Second is Clay Shirky‘s Wikileaks and the Long Haul. His bottom lines (or, paragraphs):

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the US trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Over the long haul, we will need new checks and balances for newly increased transparency — Wikileaks shouldn’t be able to operate as a law unto itself anymore than the US should be able to. In the short haul, though, Wikileaks is our Amsterdam. Whatever restrictions we eventually end up enacting, we need to keep Wikileaks alive today, while we work through the process democracies always go through to react to change. If it’s OK for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the internet for doing something they wouldn’t prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.

Third is Hackers Give Web Companies a Test of Free Speech, in the New York Times. It’s about secretive hackers attacking MasterCard, Visa and Paypal, and doing so in what we might call a “social” way. Sez the Times, “To organize their efforts, the hackers have turned to sites like Facebook and Twitter. That has drawn these Web giants into the fray and created a precarious situation for them.” The pull-grafs:

Some internet experts say the situation highlights the complexities of free speech issues on the Internet, as grassroots Web companies evolve and take central control over what their users can make public. Clay Shirky, who studies the Internet and teaches at New York University, said that although the Web is the new public sphere, it is actually “a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech.”

Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “Any Internet user who cares about free speech or has a controversial or unpopular message should be concerned about the fact that intermediaries might not let them express it.”

She added, “Your free speech rights are only as strong as the weakest intermediary.”

Fourth is Dave Winer‘s Are we starting a full-out war on the Internet? His post pivots from Wikileaks to a larger issue: the Net itself:

I watch my friends root for the attackers and think this is the way wars always begin. The “fighting the good fight” spirit. Let’s go over there and show them who we are. Let’s make a symbolic statement. By the time the war is underway, we won’t remember any of that. We will wonder how we could have been so naive to think that war was something wonderful or glorious. People don’t necessarily think of wars being fought on the net and over the net, but new technology comes to war all the time, and one side often doesn’t understand…

…the Internet no longer has to fight for a right to exist. The people want it. But what kind of Internet we get, and what kind of government we get, those two things are now very deeply intertwined, and absolutely not decided. And how our financial system functions, that’s going to be what the war is fought over, if we can’t avoid having a war — which we should, if we can.

Let’s go back to Clay’s characterization of the Web as a corporate sphere that tolerates public speech. This is true, and in a way that goes far deeper than the current popularity of Twitter, Facebook and other “social” sites and services. It goes to the Domain Name System, or DNS.

You don’t own domain names. You rent them. You do this through a domain name registrar. Most of these are commercial entities. These sit in a domain name space that is hierarchical in nature and structure. This is why it is possible for governments and well-placed companies to cut off Wikileaks from every Web location other than wikileaks.ch, in Switzerland, which is characteristically neutral on the matter. It’s also why, even with COICA (the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act) still in its larval stage, Homeland Security can kill off websites for alleged copyright infringement without showing probable cause, issuing a warrant, or anything else so traditionally procedural. (Here’s one example.)

The Web and the DNS are also organized on the client-server model. In addition to putting site owners at the mercy of greater powers in the hierarchy, this puts users — you and me — at the mercy of the site owners. Think about this every time you don’t read the terms of an “agreement” you submit to. The pro formalities of these conform to the submissive/dominant relationship between clients and servers. These agreements, known as contracts of adhesion, nail down the submissive party while leaving the dominant party free to change the terms. Such is the law of the Web’s jungle: a system in which site owners control the rules of engagement, and provide the means as well. This is why you have to carry around a janitor’s keyring of separate logins and passwords for every different site and service with which you do business. The shortcuts provided by Twitter and Facebook are handy, but can also mask high degrees of exposure — especially in the Facebook case. (See I Shared What? for schooling on this.) Think about why “privacy policy” appears in nearly a billion sites, with the quotes, and in three and a quarter billion sites without the quotes.

So, why don’t you have your own policy? Why can’t you be as trustworthy on the Web as you are walking into any store off the street? The reason is that you have no status on the Web itself beyond the minima implied by the term “user.” Whatever status you experience is what’s granted by site owners. You are the client. Your position is submissive. The dominant party is in charge, and there are a billion-plus of those.

I don’t propose fixing either DNS or the client-server model. I do propose, however, that we work on new models that don’t put us in submissive roles. For one example, see “How is your idea new?” under our Knight News Challenge entry. (And, if you like it, give it a good rating.) There are others as well. David Siegel wrote a whole book on one. Kynetx has another. (They’re complementary.) I could go on (and I invite others to do exactly that).

The Wikileaks mess was made on the Web, and less so the Net. These things are different. More to the point, we are netizens and not just webizens. The war for the Net is a separate one, and it is being faught in many places. From some of those places, little if any news escapes. (For example, did you know that your city in Texas you can’t do what Chatanooga’s doing in Tennessee?) Others places, such as Washington, are beyond fubar.

I’ll have more to say about that war in another post soon. Meanwhile, it might help to read an oldie but (very) goodie: Retired Texas Judge Steve Russell’s reaction to the late Communications Decency Act.

Lately, thanks to the inexcusably inept firing of Juan Williams by NPR brass, and the acceptance of a $1.8 million grant from George Soros, NPR has tarred its credentials as a genuinely fair and balanced news organization. Which it mostly still is, by the way, no matter how much the right tries to trash it. (And mostly succeeds, since trying to stay in the middle has itself become a lefty thing to do.)

Columnists all over the place are calling for the feds “pull the plug on funding for Natonal Public Radio”. (That’s from No subsidy for NPR, by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. An aside: NPR’s name is now just NPR. Just like BP is no longer British Petroleum.) In fact NPR gets no money from the feds directly. What NPR does is produce programs that it wholesales to stations, which retail to listeners and sponsors. According to NPR’s finances page, about 10% of that sponsorship comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Another 6% comes from “federal, state and local government”.

Jeff points to a NY Times piece, Move to Cut NPR Funding is Defeated in the House, which says “Republicans in the House tried to advance the defunding measure as part of their ‘YouCut‘ initiative, which allows the public to vote on which spending cuts the G.O.P. should pursue.’ The You Cut page doesn’t mention public radio. It does have this:

Terminate Broadcasting Facility Grant Programs that Have Completed their Mission.

Potential Savings of $25 million in the first year, $250 million over ten years.

In his most recent budget, President Obama proposed terminating the Public Broadcasting Grants at the Department of Agriculture and Public Telecommunications Facilities Grants at the Department of Commerce. The President’s Budget justified terminating these programs, noting that: “Since 2004, the USDA Public Broadcasting Grants program has provided grants to support rural public television stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting. Digital conversion efforts mandated by the Federal Communications Commission are now largely complete, and there is no further need for this program.” and “Since 2000, most PTFP awards have supported public television stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting. The digital television transition was completed in 2009, and there is no further need for DOC’s program.”

CPB isn’t in there. And they’re right: the digital conversion is done. So maybe one of ya’ll can help us find exactly what the congressional Republicans are proposing here.

Here’s a back-and-forth between Anna Christopher of NPR and Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard. Says Anna,

NPR receives less than 2% of its funding from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations (such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts).

Replies Michael,

I appreciate the smug, condescending tone of this letter, but I’m unconvinced. As one former CPB official I spoke to explained, “they love to claim they’re insulated, but they’re very much dependent on the public tit.” The other 98 percent of NPR’s funding comes from a mix of donations, corporate support, and dues from member stations. The fees and dues paid by member stations comprise more than half of NPR’s budget. Where does that money come from? In large part, from the federal government.

Take the local NPR affiliate in Washington, WAMU 88.5. That station paid NPR in excess of $1.5 million in dues, the station’s largest single expense outside of fundraising and personnel. The station also took in $840,000 in public funding and grants from the CPB. The station spent nearly $4 million on “fund-raising and membership development,” with a return of just $6 million. Fundraising is expensive — public money isn’t.

I looked at the .pdf at that link and don’t see the same numbers, but it’s clear enough that NPR affiliates pay a lot for NPR programming, and a non-trivial hunk of that money comes from CPB. According to this CPB document, its regular approriation for fiscal year 2010 is $420 million, and it’s looking for $430 million in 2011, $445 million for 2012 and $604 million for 2013. Bad timing.

Still, here’s the really interesting thing that almost nobody is talking about. Public radio kicks ass in the ratings. It’s quite popular. In fact, I would bet that it’s far more popular, overall, than right wing talk radio.

In Raleigh-Durham, WUNC is #2, with an 8.2 share. That’s up from 7.5 in the prior survey. Radio people can tell ya, that number is huge.

In San Francisco, KQED is #4 with a 5.2 share.

In New York, WNYC-FM is down in the teens with a 2.2 share, but nobody has more than a 6.5. Add WNYC-AM’s .8 share and classical sister WQXR’s 1.8 share, and you get a 4.8, which is #3 overall.

Here is Boston, WBUR has a 3.3 share. WGBH has a 1.1. Its classical sister station, WCRB (which now avoids using call letters) has a 2.7. Together those are 6.1, or #3 overall.

In Washington, WAMU gets a 4.8, , and stands at #5. Classical WETA has a 4.4, for #6. Add in Pacifica’s jazz station, WPFW, with .8, and you get 10, which would be #1 if they were counted together.

There are places where public radio, relatively speaking, sucks wind. Los Angeles is one. The public stations there are good but small. (The Pacifica station is technically the biggest in the country, but its appeal is very narrow.) Dallas is another. But on the whole, NPR stations do very well.

But do they do well enough to stand on their own? I think so. In fact, I think they should. That’s one reason we created ListenLog, which I visited at length here last July. ListenLog is an app that currently works with the Public Radio Player from PRX.  The idea is to show you what you listen to, and how much you value it. Armed with informative self-knowledge, you should be more inclined to pay than just to cruise for free.

We’re entering an era when more and more of our choices are both a la carte and our own. Meaning we’re more responsible, on the whole. And so are our suppliers. There will be more connections between those two facts, and we’ll be in a position to make those connections — as active customers, and not just as passive consumers.

So, if you want public radio to do a better job, to be more accountable to its listeners and not just to the government (even if indirectly), pony up. Make it yours. And let’s keep building better tools to help with that.

[Later...] Here’s a bonus link from Bob Garfield’s AdAge column. (He’s also a host of NPR’s On the Media.) And a quote:

The only quality journalism available, at least in this country, is from a few dozen newspapers and magazines, NPR, some alt weeklies, a few websites  Slate.com, for instance) and a few magazine/website hybrids such as Atlantic. On TV, there is “The News Hour” and “Frontline” on PBS and that is it. Cable “news” is a wasteland (watch for a while and let me know when you see a reporter, you know, reporting). Network news, having taught cable how to cut costs and whore itself to ratings, isn’t much better. Local TV news is live remotes from crime scenes and “Is Your Microwave Killing Your Hamster?”

Good stuff. Read the whole thing.

Obama’s About page, in a podcast

If you can park your politics (whatever it might be) long enough to listen with an open mind to a one-hour podcast, please dig Reading Obama’s Mind: Pragmatism and Its Perils, an interview by Chris Lydon of James T. Kloppenberg, chair of the Department of History at Harvard, author of “A Nation Arguing with Its Conscience” in Harvard Magazine, and a forthcoming biography, Reading Obama: Dreams, Hopes, and the American Political Tradition.

Chris is one of the first (and best) podcasters, as well as a notable on many other grounds. (Bonus link.) He blogs and ‘casts at Radio Open Source. Subscribe here.

Live blogging Barbara van Schewick’s talk at Maxwell Dworkin here at Harvard. (That’s the building from which Mark Zuckerberg’s movie character stumbles through the snow in his jammies. Filmed elsewhere, by the way.)

All the text is what Barbara says, or as close as I can make it. My remarks are in parentheses. The talk should show up at the MediaBerkman site soon. When it does, go there for the verbatim version.

(In the early commercial Net, circa 1995 forward), the innovator doesn’t need to ask permission from the network provider to innovate on the network. Many different people can innovate. Individuals at the network’s ends are free to choose and to use. Obligation to produce a profit in the future isn’t required to cover development costs, because those costs are often cheap.

Innovators decide, users decide, low costs of innovation let a large and diverse group can participate.

The network is application-blind. That’s a virtue of end-to-end. (Sources Reed, Saltzer and End-to-End Arguments in System Design.)

Today the network operators are in a position to control execution of programs. “Imagine you have this great idea for a video application… that means you never have to go back to cable again. You know you have a fair chance at the marketplace…” In the old system. Not the current one. Now the network provider can stand in the way. They say they need to manage bandwidth, or whatever. Investors don’t invest in apps or innovators that threaten the carriers directly.

Let’s say Google ran the network when YouTube came along. Would YouTube win this time, like it did the first time? (Disregard the fact that Google bought YouTube. What matters is that YouTube was free to compete then in ways it probably would not now—so she suggests.)

In the early Net (1995+), many innovators decided, and users decided. There was little uncertainty about the supportive nature of the Internet.

User uncertainty or user heterogeneity? More and better innovation that better meets user needs. More ideas realized. (That’s her slide.)

With fewer or less diverse innovators, fewer ideas are realized.

Her book concentrates on innovators with little or no outside funding. (Like, ProjectVRM? It qualifies.)

One might ask, do we need low cost innovators now that there are so many billionaires and giants like Google and Yahoo? Yes. The potential of the early Web was realized by Netscape, not Microsoft. By Amazon, not by Barnes & Noble.

Established companies have different concerns and motivations than new innovators. Do we prefer innovation from large self-protecting paranoid companies or small aggressive upstarts?

Users decide vs. Network providers decide. That’s the choice. (The latter like to choose for us. They did it with telephony and they did it with cable TV.) In Europe some network providers prohibit Skype because it competes with their own services. Do we want them to pick winners and losers? (That’s what they want to do. Mostly they don’t want to be losers.)

Users’s interests: Innovators decide. Users decide Network can’t control Low costs of innovation, very large and diverse group of innovators. (Her slides are speaker’s notes, really.)

Network providers’ interests: They are not interested in customer or user innovation. In fact they oppose it. They change infrastructure to protect their interests. There is a gap between their private and public interests: what economists call a Market failure.

Do we need to regulate network providers? That’s what Network neutrality is about. But the high cost of regulation is a difficult question. Not saying we need to preserve the Net’s original architecture. We do need to protect the Net’s ability to support innovation.

Let’s pull apart network neutrality and quality of service (which the carriers say they care most about).

Best effort is part of the original design. Didn’t treat packets differently. Doing that is what we call Quality of Service (QoS).

Question: How to define discrimination? We need to ask questions. Such as, do we need a rule against blocking? Such as against Skype. One defining factor in all NN proposals is opposition to blocking. If Comcast slows down YouTube or something else from Google to favor it’s own video services (e.g. Xfinity), that’s discrimination.

Option 1: allow all discrimination…. or no rule against discrimination. That’s what the carriers want. Think of all the good things you could get in the future that you can’t now if we allow discrimination, they say. (Their promise is a smooth move of cable TV  to the Net, basically.)

Option 2: ban all discrimination … or treat every packet the same. This is what Susan Crawford and others argue for. Many engineers say “just increase capacity,’” in suipport of that. But that’s not the best solution either. It’s not the job of regulators to make technical decisions about the future.

All or nothing doesn’t work. Nether allow all discrimination nor Ban all discrimination.

Application blindness is the answer.

Ban discrimination based on applicaitons. Ban discrimination based on applications or classes of aplicaitons.

Fancast vs. Hulu. YouTube vs. Hulu. Allow discrimination based on class of aplication… or like treatment. Treat internet telephony vs. email differently. But don’t favor Skype over Vonage. (This is hard to describe here. Forgive.)

Problem 1. Distorting competion. Capturing some value from gaming, for example, by favoring it as a class. Give it no-delay service while not doing that for VoIP. But both are affected by delays. In the Canadian network management proceding, we found that P2P is slowed down either all the time or during congestion time. That allows real-time to work well. But then real-time video came along. What class do they say that belongs to? We don’t really know what the Canadian carriers did, but we do visit the question of what they should do if they discriminate by class. Thus…

Probem 2. High cost of regulation. (Self-explanatory, so it saves me the effort to transcribe.)

Problem 3. User choice. Support from the network. The moment you require support from the network (as a user or app provider), you throttle innovation.

Constraints on Network Evolution allows quality of service: 1) Dfferent classes of service offered on a non-discriminatory basis; 2) Users able to choose wheter and when to use which class of service; 3) Net provider only allowed to charge its own Internet service sustomers for use of different classes of service*. So network providers don’t destroy competition any more. Users get to choose which quality of service to use. And the network provider doesn’t need to provide QoS except in a general way. They’re out of the market equation.

(Bob Frankston is across the aisle from me, and I can see the word balloon over his head: “Why constrain thinking with ‘services’ at all? Why not just start with connectivity? Services keeps us in the telecom bottle.”)

Constraints on network evolution. Cost of regulation.

MY SOLUTION: (not on screen long enough.. there was more on the slide)

Preserve factors that have fostered application innovation ≠ Preserve original archictecture of the internet.

Final question to talk about. Why care about application innovation?

Have you ever tried to explain to your partner’s grandmother why she should use the Internet? You don’t argue about sending packets back and forth. You talk about grandchildren pictures, and being able to talk for free. That comes from innovation at the ends, not the carriers.

We need to protect the sources of innovation.

Yochai: What do you do with Apple iPhone? Tremendous user adoption being driven precisely by a platform that reverses many of your assumptions smack in the middle othe most controversial boundary, regarding wireless. (Not verbatim, but as close as I could get.)

Barbara: People say, “Look, I’ve got a closed device supporting lots of innovation.” No, you need to think about this differently. Apple created a device with open interfaces that supported lots of innovation. So it moved us from a world where few could innovate and it was costly, to a world where many could and it was cheap. Proves my point. Now we have an experiment with iPhone vs. Android. Apple controls, Google doesn’t. Now we get to see how this plays out. We’re starting to see where lots of innovators are moving to Android as well. More are starting with the Android, experimenting and then moving to the iPhone. The cost of starting on the Android is less. So we have two shifts. I think we will se the platform with no control being more successful.

Every network neutrality proposal has a network management exception. Mine doesn’t.

Q from the audience; Some apps still need a lot of money, whether or not the network is neutral. Building a big data warehouse isn’t cheap. And why is innovation all that matters? What happens when it is actually hurtful to rich incumbents such as news channels?

Barbara: I agree. If you’re a rich company, your costs of entry are lower. Kids with rich parents have advantages too. To me the network itself is special because it is the fundamental point of entry into the marketplace. We want the impediments to be as low as possible. The cost of starting Facebook for Mark Zuckerberg was actually rather low. He scaled after getting VC money, but he got a significant number of users first, without a lot of costs. I do think this is very important. Innovation is often disruptive, sure. But that’s not a reason for messing with this fundamental infrastructure. If newspapers have a problem with the Net, fix the papers. Separate that problem from the infrastructure itself. As a general matter, one of the good things about the Net’s infrastructure is that it allows disruption.

Q: What about companies as users? (Can’t summarize the answer.)

Bob Frankston: If your grandmother is on a phone… (couldn’t get what Bob said or make sense of Barbara’s response… sorry).

Q: (What about subsidies? I think.) The theory of two-sided markets. With papers, subscibers and advertisers. With the Net, users and app providers. If you’re attached to one platform, the providers are likely to attach to one side. (I think that’s what she’s saying.) This gives the provider a way to monopolize. In Europe, where there is more competition, there are more trade-offs. I think what would happen if we forced the net to be neutral, would we solve the problem by charging a different way. Subsidies, tax breaks. Perhaps a solvable problem. Let’s say we allow the carriers to charge extra (for premium use?). We break the system at its core. It doesn’t make sense to give up the value of the Internet to solve a problem that can be solved a different way.

Q: A question about managed vs. unmanaged isochronous delivery. We should be thinking about what happens when the carriers start charging for better service. (But they already do, with service tiers, and business-grade service (with assigned IP addresses, unblocked ports, etc.). The Europeans give the regulators the ability to monitor quality and impose minimum standards. This has a whole bunch of problems What really are acceptable levels? for example. The Europeans think this is sufficient to discipline providers. Well, in the end there might be some apps that require strict guarantees.

Okay, it’s later now. Looking back over this, I have to say I’m not sure it was a great idea to live-blog it. There are others who are better at it. Within the Berkman fold, David Weinberger is one, and Ethan Zuckerman is another. Neither were in the room, so I thought I’d give it a try. Again, visit MediaBerkman for the actual talk. Or just go get her book, Internet Architecture and Innovation. I got one, and will start reading it shortly.

The picture above, by the way, is one of a set I shot at the talk.

The summary paragraph of a great column by Tom Friedman:

A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers.

Here’s a link to Rising Above the Storm, the study Tom cites. There is a free download routine that requires giving ID information, though what you say is up to you.

Tags: ,

Immigrants and Crime: Time for a Sensible Debate is a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Francis Fukuyama with the subhead, The gardeners and maids who cross the border illegally are very different from the tattooed Salvatrucha gang member who lives by extortion and drug-dealing.

Here’s the gist:

There is indeed a huge problem of crime originating in Latin America and spilling into the United States. This is almost wholly driven by the enormous demand for drugs from the U.S. There are many things we can and should do to mitigate this problem, but it will persist as long as that demand remains high.

But the problem of gangs and drug violence should not be confounded with the behavior of the vast majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S., who by and large are seeking the same thing that every immigrant to America has wanted since the time of the Mayflower: to better their condition and that of their families. They are not criminals in the sense of people who make a living by breaking the law. They would be happy to live legally, but they come from societies in which legal rules were never quite extended to them. They are therefore better described as “informal” rather than “illegal.”

Understanding this distinction requires knowing something about the social order in Latin America or, for that matter, in many other developing countries. These societies are often characterized by sharp class distinctions between a relatively small, well-educated elite and a much broader and poorer population.

Note how this re-framings the problem.

Fukuyama goes on to unpack what he means by “informal”:

The rule of law exists in places like Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador; the problem is that access to the legal system tends to be a privilege of the well-to-do. The vast majority of illegal immigrants to the U.S. come from poor rural areas, or shantytowns in large cities, where the state — in the form of courts, government agencies and the like — is often absent. Registering a small business, or seeking help from the police, or negotiating a contract requires money, time and political influence that the poor do not possess. In many Latin American countries, as much as 70%-80% of the population lives and works in the informal sector.

The lack of legal access does not make everyone in these regions criminals. It simply means that they get by as best they can through informal institutions they themselves create. The Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto has written extensively about the lack of formal property rights, not just in his own country but throughout the developing world. The poor do not hold legal title to their homes, despite having lived in them for years, because of the insuperable barriers the system throws up to formal registration. So they squat in their homes, constantly insecure and unable to use their property as collateral.

The poor are entrepreneurial and form businesses like restaurants and bus companies, but they are unlicensed and don’t conform to official safety rules. They and everyone else would be much better off if they could be brought into the formal legal system, but it is a dysfunctional political system that prevents that from happening.

This is a beautiful linguistic hack, right out of the George Lakoff rulebook. Fukuyama pays respect to bedrock concepts of conservative thinking: rule of law, property rights, entrepreneurship, self-reliance… and disdain for dysfunctional political systems. But he also borrows another rightward concept — formal (a cousin to law), and pulls all wannabe law-abiding imigrants into that frame, but as informal. Subtract the in and your problem is solved.

This artful play by Fukuhama is especially interesting to me, because I think we have been having the wrong debates about the Internet and how to improve it. Carriers vs. Neutralists only amps up the politics. Hand-wringing about lack of rural broadband only plays on the left. The idea of re-classifying the Net as a breed of telecom is a clever regulatory hack by the FCC, but it has shifted debate back into lobby politics, which the agency’s friends and enemies of the moment — Google and the carriers — are good at playing. Jonathan Zittrain’s arguments favoring generativity are good ones, and he’s right that hope lies with users; but the pro-business case isn’t quite there.

I want to make that case. This piece by Francis Fukuyama is a good model for How It’s Done.

Now what I want to see is if his strategy works. If we’re talking about “informal immigrants” in a year, the answer will be yes.

Bonus link.

Quote du Jour

On the phone with Britt Blaser, who just said, Politics is so complicated that only zealots get involved. Of course, he’s been working on fixing that. I think this here can help.


The California is serpentine (correct name, serpentinite), which comes in many varieties, some which contain asbestos, which doesn’t get dangerous unless you grind it up and spread it into the air. Just sitting there, as it does through much of California and in other parts of the world, serpentine is mostly a greenish grace on the landscape.

Serpentine’s provenance is also remarkable (at least to geology types like me). It’s formed deep in the planet’s crust, under the spreading centers of oceans, where sea water penetrates mantle rock and, under great heat and pressure, lends lustrous colors and textures to what would otherwise become the plain old peridodite.

Anyway, have found a friend in , who is working to dump serpentine as the state rock. You know, like it matters. (Only 27 states bother having a state rock.) Read more in Burrito Justice and in the many posts that come up when you search for. Or you can skip all that and go to ‘s Speak Up for Serpentine at .

Here’s the opposing (anti-serpentine) view.

My home state, (also that of my nonfictionist hero, ) has no state rock, mineral or gem. How about asphalt, rhinestone and dirt? Just trying to help.

Tags: , , , ,

Until her Supreme Court nomination turned Elena Kagan into big-time news fodder, there was not an abundance of great pictures of her to be found on the Web. Among the better ones to be found were a couple I had posted on Flickr a couple years ago, when she was still Dean of Harvard Law School. Here’s one. Here’s another.

The second of those (cropped a bit) was put up on Wikimedia Commons, and for awhile accompanied her Wikipedia entry, and continues to be used in a number of places.

Both shots have a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 license, meaning anybody can use it, and should also give me credit for having shot it. And both shots have appeared since then in many publications. Some, like Wikipedia, do a good job of following the license. Some, for example Outside the Beltway — in this piece stirring the shit about Ms. Kagan while accusing CBS and other news organizations of bad journalistic practices — do not.

None of that is troubling, or even very interesting. Instead what prompts this post is a comment under one of the two photos, from an entity called TEA PARTY LEADER. It’s a diatribe that verges on hate speech, but (in my amateur judgment) doesn’t quite cross the line. The question for me, when I saw the comment, was Should I kill it?

My photo pile on Flickr isn’t a public space. It welcomes comments to the degree that it simply allows them. It has no rules (of my own or defaulted by Flickr) regarding comments, beyond the ability Flickr provides for editing or deleting them.

I asked fellow Berkman Fellows list for their thoughts, and those went both ways. Some said the space is mine to manage, and if somebody is rudely spamming the premises I should feel free to delete their icky work. Others said doing so indeed would violate free speech principles, even if I would be within my rights in doing so. I was also probed with questions about whether I would delete the comment if its positions were more agreeable to me — though with manners just as rude.

I’ve been inclined from the start toward leaving it up, and that’s where I’m staying. But in the meantime I thought I’d pass along the same questions.

What would you do, and why?

Tags: , , , ,

What is this stuff we call power?

This question came to mind when I read about Digital Power and Its Discontents, a conference coming up on 21 April at Georgetown. In it (says that link) they will be “exploring the ways digital technologies disrupt the balance of power between and among states, their citizens and the private sector.” Rebecca MacKinnon, Micah Sifry, Brendan Greeley and other folks I know and like are listed as panelists and moderators.

The title and description raised a number of questions for me. Is power always a sum of something? Does disruption always subtract power from whatever it disrupts? What is “digital power” and how is it applied? What makes private and public “sectors”? Are they really that separate? Why does the possessive pronoun “their” apply to citizens?

The word balance calls to mind something like the image on the left. You have a sum of X in one place, and it’s balanced by a sum of Y in another. For many subjects involving power the metaphor applies. There is a given sum of gold in the world, for example. But does power always pile up in ways that a scale suggests? Does it pile at all?

Whatever digital power is, it has been growing over the last few decades, and continues to grow. It also serves everybody — regardless of the labels we give it. Some of us use that power better than others, but it’s still available in any case. (No, not evenly, but still available, if you want it and are motivated to use it.)

For that conference, and for the rest of us in the meantime, I invite considering this: The entity with the most power to gain is the individual (or, as they put it in wonky circles, citizens). I believe there is much to be discontented about, in both the public and the private sectors. I also believe that each of us is steadily acquiring more power, as individuals, to influence both government and business — and in ways that are constructive, even when they disrupt whatever the status quos are.  Giving individuals more power is the job ProjectVRM and its development communities have taken up. But it will happen anyway.

It’s tempting to focus on what Big Bad Government and Big Bad Companies are doing. They hog spotlights they deserve in any case. But digital technology makes many other places no less deserving of spotlights. Our ability to learn, to inform and to act, will only grow. If we’re busy being discontented with others who have more power at the moment, we’ll get less done. And we’ll miss out on a lot of the fun.

Four years and one day ago, we took a trip aboard a sailboat captained by our friend John Pfarr (who a few days later would later sail the same vessel to Hawaii, the South Seas and back — the dude is a serious sailor). Our modest destination was the string of oil platforms that rise above the coastal waters off Santa Barbara. These are now familiar landmarks, and are regarded with both loathing and affection, the latter especially by he sea (most obviously seal) life that abounds on the platforms’ pylons and girders, above and below the waterline.

As always, I took a lot of photos, one of which now also graces the poster for Oil + Water: The Case of Santa Barbara and Southern California, which will take place April 8 – 10, 2010 in the McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB, at UCSB. Specifically,

This conference will explore the ways in which oil and water have created and transformed the history and culture of Santa Barbara and Southern California. Topics will include the Santa Barbara oil spill; the impact of oil on Hollywood; agriculture and marine life; the Owens River Valley; the Salton Sea; cars and car culture; and environmental histories and their lessons.

Important stuff, and highly recommended.

News Without the Narrative Needed to Make Sense of the News: What I Will Say at SXSW is where and how Jay Rosen lays out his current thinking on new agendas for whatever journalism will become after we’re done with the current transition.

He has long been concerned with how explanation is “under-emphasized in the modern newsroom” and offers excellent examples of how explaining should work, as well as ideas about how to institutionalize it. For example, “The goal is to surface the hidden demand for explanation and create a kind of user-driven assignment desk for the explainer genre, which is itself under-developed in pro journalism”. He adds, “Are there other ways to surface this kind of demand?”

I’d call attention to the imperatives of stories, and the role that might be played by new sets of well-explained facts that can help frame or re-frame a story.

See, stories are what assignment editors want. They’re also what readers want. And stories are different to some degree from the current vogue-word narrative. They do overlap, but they are different.

A few months back I visited the subject of story in What’s right with Wikipedia? — a piece I wrote in response to a What’s Wrong With Wikipedia story that had run in the Wall Steet Journal. I don’t know if that story was part of the WSJ’s GOP-aligned “What’s Wrong With Everything Liberals Do” narrative, but in any case I felt the matter needed explaining. Some Wikipedians did a good job of showing how there wasn’t much of a story there (read the piece to see how). For my part, I felt the need to explain what stories are actually about, which is problems, or struggles. Said I,

Three elements make stories interesting: 1) a protagonist we know, or is at least interesting; 2) a struggle of some kind; and 3) movement (or possible movement) toward a resolution. Struggle is at the heart of a story. There has to be a problem (what to do with Afghanistan), a conflict (a game between good teams, going to the final seconds), a mystery (wtf was Tiger Woods’ accident all about?), a wealth of complications (Brad and Angelina), a crazy success (the iPhone), failings of the mighty (Nixon and Watergate). The Journal‘s Wikipedia story is of the Mighty Falling variety.

In his piece Jay mentions what a good Job the Giant Pool of Money episode of This American Life did of bringing sense to the country’s financial crisis. This gave rise to the PlanetMoney podcast, which is also terrific at explaining things. PlanetMoney feeds some of its best stuff to NPR’s news flow as well. One good example is Accidents of History Created U.S. Health System, which made it clear how we got to our wacky employer-supported health insurance system. Go listen to it and see if you don’t have a much better grasp on the challenge, if not of the solutions, currently on the table.

My point here, or one of them, is that the real story isn’t Obama vs. Intransigent Republicans (the Dems’ narrative) or Sensible Americans against Government Takeover (the Reps narrartive), but that we’ve got a health care system that burdens employers almost exclusively, rather than individuals, government (save for VA, Medicare and Medicaid), or other institutions. It’s an open quetion whether or not that’s screwed up, but at least it’s a question that ought to be at the center of the table, or the “debate” that been both boring and appalling.

This is consistent with what Matt Thompson says in The three key parts of news stories you usually don’t get, # 2 of which is WHAT WE MISS (1): The longstanding facts. But we also miss seeing the role that longstanding overlooked facts might play amongst the three story elements: protagonist, problem and movement. Take the problem of employer responsibility as a structural premise for health care. By itself, the problem just sits there. We need a protagonist and a sense that the story has movement. In the absence of either, we look for other defaults. Thus we cast Obama and his opponents as the protagonists, or to get into characterization as the issue if the topic gets logjammed, which it has been for awhile. So we hear about problems with the president’s charactrer. He’s not leading. Or … whatever. You can fill in the blanks

Meanwhile, we live in a world where employers are almost nothing like they were when the current health care system solidified at the end of World War II. In many towns (Santa Barbara, for example) the (or at least a) leading employer is “self”. Tried to get insurance for your self-employed butt lately? How about if you’re older than a child and have a medical history that’s other than perfect? Scary shit. Does the Obama plan make things better for you? According to this story in CNN, “Health insurance exchanges would be created to make it easier for small businesses, the self-employed and unemployed to pool resources and purchase less expensive coverage.” Hmm. “Easier” doesn’t sound like much relief. But doing nothing doesn’t sound good either.

So the easy thing is to go back to covering the compromise bill’s chances in Congress, and the politics surrounding it. That at least makes some kind of sense. We have all our story elements in place. It’s all politics from here on. Bring in the sports and war metaphors and let automated processes carry the rest. Don’t dig, just dine. The sausage-machine rocks on.

As Matt says, “… rarely do we acknowledge what we’re pursuing. When our questions make it into the coverage at all, they have to appear in the mouths of our sources, resulting in paltry, contorted pieces like this one, from the AP. Or they’re attributed to no one, weaseled into a headline that says only, ‘[Such-and-such] raises questions.’ Whose questions? Not ours, certainly.”

I also wonder if we’re barking up the wrong tree (or down the wrong hole) when we obsess about “curation” of news — a favorite topic of mainstream media preservationists. Maybe what we need is to see explainers as advocates of our curiosity about the deep questions, or deep facts, such that they might become unavoidable in news coverage.

This, of course, begs the creation of whole new institutions. Which is the job that Jay has taken up here. Let’s help him out with it.

[Later...] An additional thought: statistics aren’t stories.

I remember hearing about what were later called the killing fields of Cambodia, after refugees reported Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were murdering what eventually became more than a million people. Hughes Rudd delivered the story one on the CBS Morning News, as I recall between items on the Superbowl and Patty Hearst. He said that perhaps half a million people were already dead. But the story wasn’t a story. It was an item. It wasn’t until Sydney Shamberg ran “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” in the New York Times’ Sunday Magazine that the story got real. It got human. It had a protagonist. It became a movie.

I thought about this when I noticed there were exactly no comments following my Gendercide post. Here’s the fact that matters: countless baby girls are being killed, right now. But that’s not a story. Not yet. Not even with help from The Economist. I think the job here isn’t just to get more facts, or even to get the right name and the right face. The story needs its Dith Pran, and doesn’t have her yet. (Or, if it does, news hasn’t spread.)

Tags: , , , ,

After visiting the Titan Missle Museum in Arizona, Matt Blaze wrote, How did we keep from blowing ourselves up for all those years?

Good question.

Take a listen the next time you hear somebody say “Good question.” It means they don’t have the answer. Maybe it also means the best questions are unanswerable.

But maybe we also need to keep asking them anyway, for exactly that reason. This was a lesson I got a long time ago, and reported in 2005, in this post here:

About ten years ago I took a few days off to chill in silence at the New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur. One of the values the White Monks of the monastery share with Quakers in Sunday meeting is confinement of speech to that which “improves on the silence”. (Or, in the case of the monks, fails to insult the contemplative virtues of silence.) It was there that I had an amazing conversation with Father John Powell, who told me that any strictly literalist interpretation of Christ’s teachings “insulted the mystery” toward which those teachings pointed — and which it was the purpose of contemplative living to explore. “Christ spoke in paradox”, he said. Also metaphor, which itself is thick with paradox. Jesus knew, Father Powell said, that we understand one thing best in terms of another which (paradoxically) is literally different yet meaningfully similar.

For example, George Lakoff explains that we understand time in terms of money (we “save”, “waste” and “spend” it) and life in terms of travel (we “arrive”, “depart”, “fall off the wagon” or “get stuck in a rut”). For what it’s worth, George is Jewish. Like Jesus.

The greatest mystery of life, Father Powell explained, isn’t death. It’s life. “Life is exceptional”, he said. For all the fecundity of nature, it is surrounded by death. Far as we can tell, everything we see when we look to the heavens is dead as a gravestone. Yet it inspires the living. “Life”, he said, sounding like an old rabbi, “is the mystery”.

I was a kid in the fifties, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were busy not talking to each other while planting thousands of nuclear-tipped ICBMs  in the ground, pointed at each other’s countries. They were also sending thousands of additional warheads to sea in nuclear submarines. Every warhead was ready obliterate whole cities in enemy territory. Our house was five miles from Manhattan. We had frequent air raid drills, and learned how to “duck and cover” in the likely event of sudden incineration. Like many other kids in those days, I wished to enjoy as much of life as I could before World War III, which would last only a few hours, after which some other species would need to take over.

I was no math whiz; but I was an authority on adults and their failings. I could look at the number of missles involved, guess at all the things that could go wrong, and make a pretty good bet that something, sooner or later, would. I wasn’t sure we would die, but I was sure the chances were close to even.

In his new book The Dead Hand, Washington Post reporter David E. Hoffman explains exactly how close we came:

At 12:15 A.M., Petrov was startled. Across the top of the room was a thin, silent panel. Most of the time no one even noticed it. But suddenly it lit up, in red letters: LAUNCH.

A siren wailed. On the big map with the North Pole, a light at one of the American missile bases was illuminated. Everyone was riveted to the map. The electronic panels showed a missile launch. The board said “high reliability.” This had never happened before. The operators at the consoles on the main oor jumped up, out of their chairs. They turned and looked up at Petrov, behind the glass. He was the commander on duty. He stood, too, so they could see him. He started to give orders. He wasn’t sure what was happening. He ordered them to sit down and start checking the system. He had to know whether this was real, or a glitch. The full check would take ten minutes, but if this was a real missile attack, they could not wait ten minutes to nd out. Was the satellite holding steady? Was the computer functioning properly?…

The phone was still in his hand, the duty ofcer still on the line, when Petrov was jolted again, two minutes later.

The panel ashed: another missile launched! Then a third, a fourth and a fth. Now, the system had gone into overdrive. The additional signals had triggered a new warning. The red letters on the panel began to ash MISSILE ATTACK, and an electronic blip was sent automatically to the higher levels of the military. Petrov was frightened. His legs felt paralyzed. He had to think fast…

Petrov made a decision. He knew the system had glitches in the past; there was no visual sighting of a missile through the telescope; the satellites were in the correct position. There was nothing from the radar stations to verify an incoming missile, although it was probably too early for the radars to see anything.

He told the duty ofcer again: this is a false alarm.

The message went up the chain.

How many other events were there like that? On both sides?

I think there lurks in human nature a death wish — for others, even more than for ourselves. We rationalize nothing better, or with more effect, than killing each other. Especially the other. Fill in the blank. The other tribe, the other country, the other culture, the other religion, whatever.  “I’ve seen the future,” Leonard Cohen sings. “It is murder.” (You can read the lyrics here, but I like the video version.)

Yet we also don’t. The answer to Matt’s question — How did we keep from blowing ourselves up for all those years? —is lieutenant colonel Stanislav Petrov, and others like him, unnamed. Petrov had the brains and the balls to say “No” to doing the crazy thing that only looked sane because a big institution was doing it.

We’re still crazy. You and I may not be, but we are.

War is a force that gives us meaning, Chris Hedges says. You can read his book by that title, (required reading from a highly decorated and deeply insightful former war correspondent). You can also watch the lecture he gave on the topic at UCSB in 2004. The mystery will be diminished by his answer, but not solved.

Still, every dose of sanity helps.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

sunlight_repdata

Brilliant of the Sunlight Foundation to show who pays each elected speaker, in text next to them as they’re speaking at the Heath Care Summit. Dig it here, live.

Via @mathowie.

[Later...] In the interest of fairness, here’s a Democrat, and his major backers:

sunlight_repdata2

(I’ve cropped and moved the video image a bit so browsers won’t shrink the numbers too much.)

Tags: , , ,

The Cinternet is Donnie Hao Dong’s name for the Chinese Internet. Donnie studies and teaches law in China and is also a fellow here at Harvard’s Berkman Center. As Donnie sees (and draws) it, the Cinternet is an increasingly restricted subset of the real thing:

map[19]

He calls this drawing a “map of encirclement.” That last noun has a special meaning he explains this way:

“The Wars of (anti-)Encirclement Compaign” were a series battles between China Communist Party and the KMT‘s Nanjing Gorvernment in 1930s. At the time the CCP established a government in south-central China (mostly in Jiang Xi Province). The KMT’s army tried five times to attack and encircle the territory of CCP’s regime. And The CCP’s Red Army was almost defeated in the Fifth Encirclement War in 1934. The Long March followed the war and rescued CCP and its army.

Encirclement is more than censorship. It’s a war strategy, and China has been at war with the Internet from the start.

But while China’s war is conscious, efforts by other countries to encircle the Net are not. To see what I mean by that, read Rebecca MacKinnon‘s Are China’s demands for Internet ‘self-discipline’ spreading to the West? Her short answer is yes. Her long answer is covered in these paragprahs:

To operate in China, Google’s local search engine, Google.cn, had to meet these “self-discipline” requirements. When users typed words or phrases for sensitive subjects into the box and clicked “search,” Google.cn was responsible for making sure that the results didn’t include forbidden content.

It’s much easier to force intermediary communications and Internet companies such as Google to police themselves and their users than the alternatives: sending cops after everybody who attempts a risque or politically sensitive search, getting parents and teachers to do their jobs, or chasing down the origin of every offending link. Or re-considering the logic and purpose of your entire system.

Intermediary liability enables the Chinese authorities to minimize the number of people they need to put in jail in order to stay in power and to maximize their control over what the Chinese people know and don’t know.

In its bombshell announcement on Jan. 12, Google cited massive cyber attacks against the Gmail accounts of human rights activists as the most urgent reason for re-evaluating its presence in China. However, the Chinese government’s demands for ever-increasing levels of censorship contributed to a toxic and unsustainable business environment.

Remember that phrase: intermediary liability. It’s a form of encirclement. Rebecca again:

Meanwhile in the Western democratic world, the idea of strengthening intermediary liability is becoming increasingly popular in government agencies and parliaments. From France to Italy to the United Kingdom, the idea of holding carriers and services liable for what their customers do is seen as the cheapest and easiest solution to the law enforcement and social problems that have gotten tougher in the digital age — from child porn to copyright protection to cyber-bullying and libel.

I’m not equating Western democracy with Chinese authoritarianism — that would be ludicrous. However, I am concerned about the direction we’re taking without considering the full global context of free expression and censorship.

The Obama administration is negotiating a trade agreement with 34 other countries — the text of which it refuses to make public, citing national security concerns — that according to leaked reports would include increased liability for content hosting companies and service providers. The goal is to combat the global piracy of movies and music.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t fight crime or enforce the law. Of course we should, assuming that the laws reflect the consent of the governed. But let’s make sure that we don’t throw the baby of democracy and free speech out with the bathwater, as we do the necessary work of adjusting legal systems and economies to the Internet age.

Next, What Big Content wants from net neutrality (hint: protection), by Nate Anderson in Ars Technica. According to Nate, more than ten thousand comments were filed on the subject of net neutrality with the FCC, and among these were some from the RIAA and the MPAA. These, he said, “argued that the FCC should encourage ISPs to adopt ‘graduated response’ rules aimed at reducing online copyright infringement”, and that they “also reveal a content-centric view of the world in which Americans will not ‘obtain the true benefits that broadband can provide’ unless ‘copyrighted content [is] protected against theft and unauthorized online distribution’”. He continues,

What could graduated response possibly have to do with network neutrality? The movie and music businesses have seized on language in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that refuses to extend “neutrality” to “unlawful content.” The gist of the MPAA and RIAA briefs is that network neutrality’s final rules must allow for—and in fact should encourage—ISPs to take an active anti-infringement role as part of “reasonable network management.”

Not that the word “infringement” is much in evidence here; both briefs prefer “theft.” The RIAA’s document calls copyright infringement “digital piracy—or better, digital theft,” and then notes that US Supreme Court Justice Breyer said in the Grokster case that online copyright infringement was “garden variety theft.”

To stop that theft, the MPAA and RIAA want to make sure that any new FCC rules allow ISPs to act on their behalf. Copyright owners can certainly act without voluntary ISP assistance, as the RIAA’s lengthy lawsuit campaign against file-swappers showed, but both groups seem to admit that this approach has now been hauled out behind the barn and shot.

According to the RIAA, “Without ISP participation, it is extremely difficult to develop an effective prevention approach.” MPAA says that it can’t tackle the problem alone and it needs “broadband Internet access service providers to cooperate in combating combat theft.”

“No industry can, or should be expected to, compete against free-by-theft distribution of its own products,” the brief adds.

“We thus urge the Commission to adopt rules that not only allow ISPs to address online theft, but actively encourage their efforts to do so,” says the RIAA.

And that’s how we get the American Cinternet. Don’t encircle it yourself. Get the feds to make ISPs into liable intermediaries forced to practice “self discipline” the Chinese way: a “graduated response” that encircles the Net, reducing it to something less: a spigot of filtered “content” that Hollywood approves. Television 2.0, coming up.

Maybe somebody can draw us the Content-o-net.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I just posted this essay to IdeaScale at OpenInternet.gov, in advance of the Open Internet Workshop at MIT this afternoon. (You can vote it up or down there, along with other essays.)  I thought I’d put it here too. — Doc


The Internet is free and open infrastructure that provides almost unlimited support for free speech, free enterprise and free assembly. Nothing in human history, with the possible exception of movable type — has done more to encourage all those freedoms. We need to be very careful about how we regulate it, especially since it bears only superficial resemblances to the many well-regulated forms of infrastructure it alters or subsumes.

Take radio and TV, for example. Spectrum — the original “bandwidth” — is scarce. You need a license to broadcast, and can only do so over limited distances. There are also restrictions on what you can say. Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464, prohibits “any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication.” Courts have upheld the prohibition.

Yet, as broadcasters and the “content industry” embrace the Net as a “medium,” there is a natural temptation by Congress and the FCC to regulate it as one. In fact, this has been going on since the dawn of the browser. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSA) came along in 1995. The No Electronic Theft Act followed in 1997. And — most importantly — there was (and still is) Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.

Thanks to the DMCA, Internet radio got off to a long and very slow start, and is still severely restricted. Online stations face payment requirements to music copyright holders are much higher than those for broadcasters — so high that making serious money by webcasting music is nearly impossible. There are also tight restrictions on what music can be played, when, and how often. Music on podcasts is essentially prohibited, because podcasters need to “clear rights” for every piece of copyrighted music they play. That’s why, except for “podsafe” music, podcasting today is almost all talk.

There is also a risk that we will regulate the Net as a form of telephony or television, because most of us are sold Internet service as gravy on top of our telephone or cable TV service — as the third act in a “triple play.” Needless to say, phone and cable companies would like to press whatever advantages they have with Congress, the FCC and other regulatory bodies.

It doesn’t help that most of us barely know what the Internet actually is. Look up “The Internet is” on Google and see what happens: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q… There is little consensus to be found. Worse, there are huge conflicts between different ways of conceiving the Net, and talking about it.

For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,” we are saying the Internet is a place. (Where, presumably, you can have free speech, enterprise and assembly.)

But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers,” we’re talking about something more like broadcasting or the shipping industry, where those kinds of freedoms are more restricted.

These two ways of seeing the Net are both true, both real, and both commonly used, to the degree that we mix their metaphors constantly. They also suggest two very different regulatory approaches.

Right now most of us think about regulation in terms of the latter. That is, we want to regulate the Net as a shipping system for content. This makes sense because most of us still go on the Net through connections supplied by phone or cable companies. We also do lots of “downloading” and “uploading” — and both are shipping terms.

Yet voice and video are just two among countless applications that can run on the Net — and there are no limits on the number and variety of those applications. Nor should there be.

So, what’s the right approach?

We need to start by recognizing that the Net is infrastructure, in the sense that it is a real thing that we can build on, and depend on. It is also public in the sense that nobody owns it and everybody can use it. We need to recognize that the Net is defined mostly by a collection of protocols for moving data — and most of those protocols are open to improvement by anybody. These protocols may be limited in some ways by the wired or wireless connections over which they run, but they are nor reducible to those connections. You can run Internet protocols over barbed wire if you like.

This is a very different kind of infrastructure than anything civilization has ever seen before, or attempted to regulate. It’s not “hard” infrastructure, like we have with roads, bridges, water and waste treatment plants. Yet it’s solid. We can build on it.

In thinking about regulation, we need to maximize ways that the Net can be improved and minimize ways it can be throttled or shut down. This means we need to respect the good stuff every player brings to the table, and to keep narrow but powerful interests from control our common agenda. That agenda is to keep the Net free, open and supportive of everybody.

Specifically, we need to thank the cable and phone companies for doing the good work they’ve already done, and to encourage them to keep increasing data speeds while also not favoring their own “content” subsidiaries and partners. We also need to encourage them to stop working to shut down alternatives to their duopolies (which they have a long history of doing at both the state and federal levels).

We also need to thank and support the small operators — the ISPs and Wireless ISPs (WISPs) — who should be able to keep building out connections and offering services without needing to hire lawyers so they can fight monopolists (or duopolists) as well as state and federal regulators.

And we need to be able to build out our own Internet connections, in our homes and neighborhoods — especially if our local Internet service providers don’t provide what we need.

We can only do all this if we start by recognizing the Net as a place rather than just another medium — a place that nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve.

Doc Searls
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

[Later...] A bonus link from Tristan Louis, on how to file a comment with the FCC.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

‘Smart’ Electric Utility Meters, Intended to Create Savings, Instead Prompt Revolt is a New York Times story that perhaps suggests a deeper truth: People don’t want their utilities to get smart on them. Except, occasionally, on request. Like, when a bill one month is strangely high.

These paragraphs encapsulate several problems at once:

At the urging of the state senator, Dean Florez, Democrat of Fresno and the chamber’s majority leader, and others, the California Public Utilities Commission is moving to bring in an outside auditor to determine whether the meters count usage properly.

In response to a wave of complaints from the Bakersfield area in the Central Valley, Pacific Gas & Electric has been placing full-page advertisements in newspapers in the area promising benefits from the new meters. It says customers will save money not only by paying rates based on hourly fluctuations in the wholesale market, but also eventually by displaying real-time rates.

To reduce their bills, customers could cut back at pricey peak times and shift some activities, like running a clothes dryer or a vacuum cleaner, to off-peak periods. Utilities will then have lower costs, the argument goes, because the grid will need fewer power plants as demand levels out.

Customers will become “structural winners,” said Andy Tang, senior director of the company’s Smart Energy Web program.

The first problem is that some customers (enough to cause a stink, and cause newspaper stories) think their new “smart” meters are cheating them. Let’s say the meters are fine. (And I’m betting they are.) What’s this say?

The second problem is that the meters complicate usage. Who (besides people paid to care) are interested in wholesale energy market price fluctuations? And how many customers are ready to modulate usage based on fluctuating real-time demand?

The third problem is cultural, normative, and to some degree explains the first two: We’re not used to caring about this kind of stuff. Much less about being “structural winners,” whatever those are.

What’s being called for here is not just new gear that helps users use less electricity, water and gas. And what’s proposed is not just the need for all of us to “go green” and care about wasting resources and cooking the planet. What’s proposed is re-conceiving what a utility is.

Utilities, at least to the end user, the final customer, the one paying the bills, are simple things. They are dumb. Their availabiliy is binary: it’s there or its not. When it is, you want to hold down costs, sure; but you expect it to be there full-time. There should be enough gas or oil to run a furnace, to boil an egg, to produce hot water. There should be enough electricity to light bulbs and keep appliances running. There should be enough water pressure for people to take showers and wash dishes. More than enough doesn’t get noticed. Less than enough is a problem. That or none requires a call to the utility company or the landlord.

“Smart” so far looks complicated. And most people don’t want complicated, especially from their utilities.

Now, what we’re talking about here is making all utilities digital. That is, computerized. Again, complicated. True, for a mostly good cause. But entirely good? I gotta wonder. When I see big companies like GE and IBM talking about making our power “smart,” I think they’re talking about making it smart their way. Which is not like other companies’ ways. And selling “solutions” to utility companies that are different than the next company’s “solutions,” and lock the customers into proprietary systems that can cause more annoyance than convenience down the road.

I haven’t studied any of this, so I don’t know. I’m just saying what I suspect. And I invite correction on the matter. If there are standard ways to smarten power, so that customers can swap out one company’s gear for another’s, that’s fine. But again, I dunno.

Meanwhile, let’s table that and look at the Internet. This is a place where we have a degree of intelligence in a utility. Customers in many places have choices about variables such as bandwidth, and “business” versus “home” levels of support.

But I think what we want out of the Internet is what we already have with water, gas and electricity: it’s just there. Nothing more complicated than that.

I hope that’s where we end up. But my fear is that old-fashioned utilities will get smart the way the phone and cable companies have made the Internet smart. And that would be dumb.

Tags: , ,

Empowering the Internet One American at a Time is an excellent post by Erik Cecil, a battle-hardened telecom lawyer whose vision of the Big Picture and around all curves continues to delight me. The post first appeared on a mail list, and is addressed primarily to fellow Internet and telecom obsessives (myself included). Here are its opening paragraphs:

From this lawyer’s perspective, regulation mostly puts the legal power in the hands of carriers and regulators. The Internet puts technology in the hands of everyday people. There’s a mismatch. I’ve offered here and in other places simple ways to fix that near term, but as you may see from discussions in policy, legal, technical, and economic circles, we get into all sorts of interesting chats about history and this and that, but few actually take on the political realities and industry issues head-on. Connectivity sucks in every state because we subsidize to the tune of billions of dollars per year ancient technologies, force new ones into those shoehorns, and drive costs through the roof. Industry, particularly competitive industry is hemmed in on one side by what by any monetary measure is monopoly and on the other by regulators. Since industry is terrified of getting under the skin of the regulators (with good reason in many respects – they can be vindictive at times; happy to take anyone through any dozen briefs, recommended decisions and commission decisions), there’s a lot of dancing around the issue, but few, IMHO, really run it to ground.

Very simply: federalize regulation BUT put the rights in the hands of individuals rather than the always hyper-political state PUCs, which, as you note and as has been discussed on this list and other lists for years, tend to be self-serving in how they cut up their data. Unless and until we flatten regulation, it will continue to flatten us. The little guys cannot afford the legal and political horsepower it takes to compete. Trust me; I’ve run some of the biggest ones around (at least from the competitive side) and I still deal with this on a daily basis.

More fodder for this morning’s session at Supernova.

Tags: , ,

Yesterday the FCC released a public notice seeking comment on the “transition from circuit switched network to all-IP network.” (Here’s the .pdf. Here’s the .txt version.) Translation: from the phone system to the Internet.

This is huge. Really. Freaking. Huge.

Or maybe not. Could be it’s all just posturing or worse. But I don’t think so. Or I hope not.

Either way, it matters. For better and worse, the Internet reposes in legal as well as technical infrastructures.

The money text:

The intent of this Public Notice is to set the stage for the Commission to consider whether to issue a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) relating to the appropriate policy framework to facilitate and respond to the market-led transition in technology and services, from the circuit switched PSTN system to an IP-based communications world.

In the spirit of understanding the scope and breadth of the policy issues associated with this transition, we seek public comment to identify the relevant policy questions that an NOI on this topic should raise in order to assist the Commission in considering how best to monitor and plan for this transition.

In identifying the appropriate areas of inquiry, we seek to understand which policies and regulatory structures may facilitate, and which may hinder, the efficient migration to an all IP world. In addition, we seek to identify and understand what aspects of traditional policy frameworks are important to consider, address, and possibly modify in an effort to protect the public interest in an all-IP world.

The italics are mine.

There is a high degree of presumption here. I mean, are we really migrating to an all-IP world? All? Most of us still watch plenty of television. And, in the immortal words of Wierd Al Yankovic, we all have cell phones. Neither TV nor cellular telephony are even close to an “all-IP world.” IP might be involved, but … there is some distance to cover here. And not much motivation by phone companies to make the move.

Still, we can see it happening. Your smartphone today is a data device that happens to run a lot of applications, which include both telephony and television. Yet the bill you get for using your phone (no matter how smart it is) comes from a phone company. The underlying infrastucture, including 3G, is largely a phone system. It handles data, and it’s mostly digital, but it is not fundamentally a data system. It’s a phone system built for billing by the minute. Or even the second.

Can we change phone systems into all-IP data systems? I would hope so.

But before I go any deeper, I want to plug my panel tomorrow morning (8:30am Pacific) at Supernova (#sn09). The title is Telecom as Software. Any questions you want me to ask, or topics you want me to cover, put them below.

I just posted Rupert Murdoch vs. The Web, over at Linux Journal. In it I suggest that the Murdoch story (played mostly as Bing vs Google) is a red herring, and that the real challenge is to free the Web and ourselves from dependencies from giant companies I liken to volcanoes:

We’re Pompeians, Krakatoans, Montserratans, building cities and tilling farms on the slopes of active volcanoes. Always suckers for stories, we’d rather take sides in wars between competing volcanoes than build civilization on more flat and solid ground where there’s room enough for everybody.

Google and Bing are both volcanoes. Both grace the Web’s landscape with lots of fresh and fertile ground. They are good to have in many ways. But they are not the Earth below. They are not what gives us gravity.

I think one problem here is a disconnect between belief systems about markets, and the stories that arise from them.

One system believes a free market is Your Choice of Captor. In this camp I put both the make-it/take-it mentality (where “winners” are rewarded and “losers” punished) of the Wall Street Journal (which a few months ago looked upon the regulated duopolies for Internet access as the “free market” at work) and those who see business (or corporations, or capitalism, or all three) as a problem and look to government — another monopoly — for remedy from these evils in the marketplace. In other words, I lump both the left and the right in here, along with the conflicts between them.

The other system sees markets as settings for human activity: the locations, both real and virtual, where people and their organizations meet to do business, make culture, and build civilization. Here I put nearly everybody who contributed the structural agreements that made the Internet possible, and who truly understand what it is and how it works, even if they can’t all agree on what metaphors to use for it. I also include all who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the free and open code bases with which we are building out our networked world. While political beliefs among members of this system may sort somewhere along the right-vs.-left axis, what they do to build the world is orthogonal to that axis. That’s one big reason why that work escapes notice.

The distinction I see here aligns well with Virginia Postrel‘s contrast between “stasists” and “dynamists”. The difference is that much of what gets done to make the networked world (and to support its dynamism) isn’t “dynamic” in the active and dramatic sense of the word — except in its second-order effects. For example, SMTP and IMAP are not dynamic. (Being mannerly technical agreements, protocols don’t do that.) But on those protocols (and related ones) email happened, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

With that distinction in mind, I suggest that too much oxygen suckage is wasted on “wars” between the stasists (some of whom are also into the superficially dynamistic attention-suck of vendor sports — here’s an oldie but goodie that still makes my point), and not enough on constructive work done by geeks and entrepreneurs who quietly build the original and useful stuff that serves as solid infrastructure on which countless public goods (including wealth creation beyond measure) can be generated.

We have the same problem in most net neutrality arguments. The right hates it, the left loves it. One looks to protect the “free market” of phone and cable companies (currently a Your-Choice-of-Captor system) while the other looks to government (meet your new captor) for relief. When in fact the whole thing has happened all along within what Bob Frankston calls The Regultorium.

The primary dynamism of the Internet — what gave us the Net in the first place, and what holds the most promise in the long run — doesn’t just come from those parties, and can’t be found in the arguments they’re having. It comes from low-box-office geekery that supports enormous new business opportunities (along with many public benefits, with or without business).

It’ll take time to see this, I guess. Just hope we don’t drown in lava in the meantime.

Bonus red herring: A lot of news really isn’t.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Consider the possibility that “social media” is a crock.

Or at least bear with that thought through Defrag, which takes place in Denver over today and Thursday, and for which the word “social” appears seventeen times in the agenda. (Perspective: “cloud” appears three times, and “leverage” twice.)

What prompts the crock metaphor is this survey, to which I was pointed by this tweet from Howard Rheingold. (I don’t know if the survey is by students of Howard’s Digital Journalism Workspace class, though I assume so.)

While the survey is fine for its purposes (mostly probing Twitter-based social media marketing) and I don’t mean to give it a hard time, it brings up a framing issue for social media that has bothered me for some time. You can see it in the survey’s first two questions: What Social Media platforms do you use? and How often are you on social media sites?

The frame here is real estate. Or, more precisely, private real estate. Later questions in the survey assume is that social media is something that happens on private platforms, Twitter in particular. This is a legitimate assumption, of course, and that’s why I have a problem with it. That tweeting it is a private breed of microblogging verges on irrelevance. Twitter is now as necessary to tweeting as Google is to search. It’s a public activity under private control.

Missing in action is credit to what goes below private platforms like Twitter, MySpace and Facebook — namely the Net, the Web, and the growing portfolio of standards that comprise the deep infrastructure, the geology, that makes social media (and everything else they support) possible.

Look at four other social things you can do on the Net (along with the standards and protocols that support them): email (SMTP, POP3, IMAP, MIME); blogging (HTTP, XML, RSS, Atom); podcasting (RSS); and instant messaging (IRC, XMPP, SIP/SIMPLE). Unlike private social media platforms, these are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them and Anybody can improve them. That’s what makes them infrastructural and generative. (Even in cases where protocols were owned, such as by Dave Winer with RSS, efforts were made to remove ownership as an issue.)

Tweeting today is in many ways like instant messaging was when the only way you could do it with AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple and ICQ. All were silos, with little if any interoperabiity. Some still are. Check out this list of instant messaging protocols. It’s a mess. That’s because so many of the commonly-used platforms of ten years ago are still, in 2009, private silos. There’s a degree of interoperability, thanks mostly to Google’s adoption of XMPP (aka Jabber) as an IM protocol (Apple and Facebook have too). But it’s going slow because AOL, MSN and Yahoo remain isolated in their own silos. Or, as Walt Whitman put it, “demented with the mania of owning things”. With tweeting we do have interop, and that’s why tweeting has taken off while IM stays stagnant. But we don’t have NEA with Twitter, and that’s why tweeting is starting to stagnate, and developers like Dave are working on getting past it.

Here’s my other problem with “social media” (as it shows up in too many of the 103 million results it currently brings up on Google): as a concept (if not as a practice) it subordinates the personal.

Computers are personal now. So are phones. So, fundamentally, is everything each of us does. It took decades to pry computing out of central control and make it personal. We’re in the middle of doing the same with telephony — and everything else we can do on a hand-held device.

Personal and social go hand-in-hand, but the latter builds on the former.

Today in the digital world we still have very few personal tools that work only for us, are under personal control, are NEA, and are not provided as a grace of some company or other. (If you can only get it from somebody site, it ain’t personal.) That’s why I bring up email, blogging, podcasting and instant messaging. Yes, there are plenty of impersonal services involved in all of them, but those services don’t own the category. We can swap them out. They are, as the economists say, substitutable.

But we’re not looking at the personal frontier because the social one gets all the attention — and the investment money as well.

Markets are built on the individuals we call customers. They’re where the ideas, the conversations, the intentions (to buy, to converse, to relate) and the money all start. Each of us, as individuals, are the natural points of integration of our own data — and of origination about what gets done with it.

Individually-empowered customers are the ultimate greenfield for business and culture. Starting with the social keeps us from working on empowering individuals natively. That most of the social action is in silos and pipes of hot and/or giant companies slows things down even more. They may look impressive now, but they are a drag on the future.

Defrag wraps tomorrow with a joint keynote titled “Cluetrain at 10″. On stage will be JP Rangaswami, Chris Locke, Rick Levine and yours truly, representing four out of the seven contributors to the new 10th Anniversary Edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. We don’t have plans for the panel yet, but I want it to be personal as well as social, and a conversation with the rest of the crowd there. Among other things I want to probe what we’re not doing because “social” everything is such a bubble of buzz right now.

See some of ya there. And the rest of you on the backchannels.

My first reaction to the news this morning aligns almost exactly with Matt Welch’s

My wife woke me with the ridiculous news that Barack Obama, who has been in office for eight months and achieved no notable peace, won the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Seriously, what has he done?” I asked.

The short answer is: speak. We didn’t pay much attention on this side of the pond, but Barack Obama’s speeches in Cairo and Berlin were smash hits. The guy is a star. He gives the world hope that the U.S. isn’t fucking nuts after all. This is not a small thing. But there is a huge difference between promise and delivery. Gas alone is not transportation. You gotta drive.

Obama ran (and voted) against the wars in Iran Iraq and Afghanistan. Both continue under his command. He backed off on missle installations in Poland and got warm reciprocal sounds out of the Kremlin, which is … something, I guess. He has led efforts toward peace between Israel and its neighbors, but every U.S. president since the founding of Israel has done that. Or tried. Results so far–on any of this? Nada.

I’m all for giving the guy a chance, but why hang a garland on him when the race has hardly begun?

The generous take is Andrew Sullivan’s: “I seem to be one of the few who sees this as a downpayment on a potential transformative period in world history. History alone can judge that, and history hasn’t happened yet.”

Add one more burden to those the president carries already: proving that the Nobel committe hasn’t jumped the shark. Peace of cake.

First, Larry Lessig gives some of the best sermons in academia. Or anywhere. He is so freaking good. That Larry’s a master presentationist is secondary to his excellence in the art of homiletics, in the sense that Ray Charles’ piano mastery was secondary to his transcendent skills as a singer, a composer, a performer.

Instituional corruption is the topic of today’s Lessig talk, at Harvard’s Kennedy School. Taking notes live.

Early point. The country’s founders value independence as, among other things, the absence of depencence. Or dependence on the wrong influences. Some great quotes, which I just missed.

Now he’s unpacking influence. Giving examples.

Lobbying now a $9 billion industry. One lobbyist earned more than $100 million in that industry (missed the name).

Hall & Deardorff (in American Political Science Review): Lobbying as subsidy.

Mazolli: lobbyists just get “access,” which is not influence. Easy cases allow us to charitably let that slide.

Example after example. Nutrition. Global Warming. Copyright. Health Care. Taking money is standard now. John Stennis, long dead and hardly a paragon of probity, quoted as opposing it. Lead in gasoline.

Side thought: to what degree are Harvard (or any major university) and its schools and centers, industries? Or influential within industries? Or influential within government? How many Harvard veterans now work in the Obama administration? (The same might have been asked about Yale veterans for some earlier administrations. Or for Berkeley in the California state government.) This isn’t taking money, or taking people; but rather an aspect of echo-chamberism. Perhaps. Not sure. I’m expecting Larry to visit this later. Hope he will, anyway.

Larry: The real decline of journalsim began happening long before the Internet came along. It began in the ’70s and ’80s when papers and broadcasters sold out to giants that could give a damn about the institutional missions, of community, and the rest of it. Or he’s citing sources and claims on that.

For years I’ve been watching my old pal Britt Blaser work to improve the means by which citizens manage their elected politicians, and otherwise improve governance in our democracy.

Now comes Diane Francis, veteran columnist for the National Post in Canada (but yes, she’s an American), summarizing the good that should come from Britt’s latest: iVote4U, and its trial run toward the elections in New York coming up in just a few days. New York’s Digitized Dems Can Take Over City Council Sept. 15, says the headline. In addition to the Drupal sites of the last two links, there is a Facebook app as well.

The idea, sez Britt, is “to give voters a way to manage their politicians as easily as they manage their iTunes”. If you’re a New Yorker who plans to vote next week, give it a whirl. If enough of you do, you might begin to see what we call Government Relationship Management (or GRM) at work.

iVote4U pioneers as a fourth party service.Follow that link for more on what I mean by that; or check out Joe Andrieu’s series on user driven services. If we want government that is truly of, by and for the people, we need tools that give meaning to those prepositions. Especially the first two. Britt has dedicated his life to providing those tools. Give them a try.

You don’t need to be a Democrat, by the way. These tools should work equally well for voters of all political bendings.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

A couple days ago I responded to a posting on an email list. What I wrote struck a few chords, so I thought I’d repeat it here, with just a few edits, and then add a few additional thoughts as well. Here goes.

Reading _____’s references to ancient electrical power science brings to mind my own technical background, most of which is now also antique. Yet that background still informs of my understanding of the world, and my curiosities about What’s Going On Now, and What We Can Do Next. In fact I suspect that it is because I know so much about old technology that I am bullish about framing What We Can Do Next on both solid modern science and maximal liberation from technically obsolete legal and technical frameworks — even though I struggle as hard as the next geek to escape those.

(Autobiographical digression begins here. If you’re not into geeky stuff, skip.)

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s I was obsessed with electricity and radio. I studied electronics and RF transmission and reception, was a ham radio operator, and put an inordinate amount of time into studying how antennas worked and electromagnetic waves propagated. From my home in New Jersey’s blue collar suburbs, I would ride my bike down to visit the transmitters of New York AM stations in the stinky tidewaters flanking the Turnpike, Routes 46 and 17, Paterson Plank Road and the Belleville Pike. (Nobody called them “Meadowlands” until many acres of them were paved in the ’70s to support a sports complex by that name.) I loved hanging with the old guys who manned those transmitters, and who were glad to take me out on the gangways to show how readings were made, how phasing worked (sinusoidal synchronization again), how a night transmitter had to address a dummy load before somebody manually switched from day to night power levels and directional arrays. After I learned to drive, my idea of a fun trip was to visit FM and TV transmitters on the tops of buildings and mountains. (Hell, I still do that.) Thus I came to understand skywaves and groundwaves, soil and salt water conductivity, ground systems, directional arrays and the inverse square law, all in the context of practical applications that required no shortage of engineering vernacular and black art.

I also obsessed on the reception end. In spite of living within sight of nearly every New York AM transmitter (WABC’s tower was close that we could hear its audio in our kitchen toaster), I logged more than 800 AM stations on my 40s-vintage Hammarlund HQ-129x receiver, which is still in storage at my sister’s place. That’s about 8 stations per channel. I came to understand how two-hop skywave reflection off the E layer of the ionosphere favored flat land or open water midway between transmission and reception points . This, I figured, is why I got KSL from Salt Lake City so well, but WOAI from San Antonio hardly at all. (Both were “clear channel” stations in the literal sense — nothing else in North America was on their channels at night, when the ionosphere becomes reflective of signals on the AM band.) Midpoint for the latter lay within the topographical corrugations of the southern Apalachians. Many years later I found this theory supported by listening in Hawaii to AM stations from Western North America, on an ordinary car radio. I’m still not sure why I found those skywave signals fading and distorting (from multiple reflections in the very uneven ionosphere) far less than those over land. I am sure, however, that most of this hardly matters at all to current RF and digital communication science. After I moved to North Carolina, I used Sporadic E reflections to log more than 1200 FM stations, mostly from 800 to 1200 miles away, plus nearly every Channel 3 and 6 (locally, 2,4 and 5 were occupied) in that same range. All those TV signals are now off the air. (Low-band VHF TV — channels 2 to 6 — are not used for digital signals in the U.S.) My knowledge of this old stuff is now mostly of nostalgia value; but seeking it has left me with a continuing curiosity about the physical world and our infrastructural additions to it. This is why much of what looks like photography is actually research. For example, this and this. What you’re looking at there are pictures taken in service to geology and archaeology.

(End of autobiographical digression.)

Speaking of which, I am also busy lately studying the history of copyright, royalties and the music business — mostly so ProjectVRM can avoid banging into any of those. This research amounts to legal and regulatory archaeology. Three preliminary findings stand out, and I would like to share them.

First, regulatory capture is real, and nearly impossible to escape. The best you can do is keep it from spreading. Most regulations protect last week from yesterday, and are driven by the last century’s leading industries. Little if any regulatory lawmaking by established industries — especially if they feel their revenue bases threatened, clears room for future development. Rather, it prevents future development, even for the threatened parties who might need it most. Thus the bulk of conversation and debate, even among the most progressive and original participants, takes place within the bounds of still-captive markets. This is why it is nearly impossible to talk about Net-supportive infrastructure development without employing the conceptual scaffolding of telecom and cablecom. We can rationalize this, for example, by saying that demand for telephone and cable (or satellite TV) services is real and persists, but the deeper and more important fact is that it is very difficult for any of us to exit the framing of those businesses and still make sense.

Second, infrastructure is plastic. The term “infrastructure” suggests physicality of the sturdiest kind, but in fact all of it is doomed to alteration, obsolescence and replacement. Some of it (Roman roads, for example) may last for centuries, but most of it is obsolete in a matter of decades, if not sooner. Consider over-the-air (OTA) TV. It is already a fossil. Numbered channels persist as station brands; but today very few of those stations transmit on their branded analog channels, and most of them are viewed over cable or satellite connections anyway. There are no reasons other than legacy regulatory ones to maintain the fiction that TV station locality is a matter of transmitter siting and signal range. Viewing of OTA TV signals is headed fast toward zero. It doesn’t help that digital signals play hard-to-get, and that the gear required for getting it sucks rocks. Nor does it help that cable and satellite providers that have gone out of their way to exclude OTA receiving circuitry from their latest gear, mostly force subscribing to channels that used to be free. As a result ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS are now a premium pay TV package. (For an example of how screwed this is, see here.) Among the biggest fossils are thousands of TV towers, some more than 2000 feet high, maintained to continue reifying the concept of “coverage,” and to legitimize “must carry” rules for cable. After live audio stream playing on mobile devices becomes cheap and easy, watch AM and FM radio transmission fossilize in exactly the same ways. (By the way, if you want to do something green and good for the environment, lobby for taking down some of these towers, which are expensive to maintain and hazards to anything that flies. Start with this list here. Note the “UHF/VHF transmission” column. Nearly all these towers were built for analog transmission and many are already abandoned. This one, for example.)

Third, “infrastructure” is a relatively new term and vaguely understood outside arcane uses within various industries. It drifted from military to everyday use in the 1970s, and is still not a field in itself. Try looking for an authoritative reference book on the general subject of infrastructure. There isn’t one. Yet digital technology requires that we challenge the physical anchoring of infrastructure as a concept. Are bits infrastructural? How about the means for arranging and moving them? The Internet (the most widespread means for moving bits) is defined fundamentally by its suite of protocols, not by the physical media over which data travels, even though there are capacity and performance dependencies on the latter. Again, we are in captured territory here. Only in conceptual jails can we sensibly debate whether something is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service”. And yet most of us who care about the internet and infrasructure do exactly that.

That last one is big. Maybe too big. I’ve written often about how hard it is to frame our understanding of the Net. Now I’m beginning to think we should admit that the Internet itself, as concept, is too limiting, and not much less antique than telecom or “power grid”.

“The Internet” is not a thing. It’s a finger pointing in the direction of a thing that isn’t. It is the name we give to the sense of place we get when we go “on” a mesh of unseen connections to interact with other entitites. Even the term “cloud“, labeling a utility data service, betrays the vagueness of our regard toward The Net.

I’ve been on the phone a lot lately with Erik Cecil, a veteran telecom attorney who has been thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to. He regards network mostly in its verb form: as what we do with our freedom — to enhance our intelligence, our wealth, our productivity, and the rest of what we do as contributors to civilization. To network we need technologies that enable what we do in maximal ways.  This, he says, requires that we re-think all our public utilities — energy, water, communications, transportation, military/security and law, to name a few — within the context of networking as something we do rather than something we have. (Think also of Jonathan Zittrain’s elevation of generativity as a supportive quality of open technology and standards. As verbs here, network and generate might not be too far apart.)

The social production side of this is well covered in Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks, but the full challenge of what Erik talks about is to re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.

As we do that, it is essential that we look to employ the innovative capacities of businesses old and new. This is a hat tip in the general direction of ISPs, and to the concerns often expressed by Richard Bennett and Brett Glass: that new Internet regulation may already be antique and unnecessary, and that small ISPs (a WISP in Brett’s case) should be the best connections of high-minded thinkers like yours truly (and others named above) to the real world where rubber meets road.

There is a bigger picture here. We can’t have only some of us painting it.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The best insights compound the obvious. They make so much sense that you struggle to comprehend their many implications. Such is the case with the first line, and then the first paragraph, of Kevin Kelly‘s Better than Free:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Consider the implication of this for the concept of copyright, then ponder the pile of law that first defined it in 1790 (in the U.S.) and has expanded on it ever since.

I won’t offer an opinion about that here, but instead turn our floor over to a pair of brilliant opponents on the subject: William F. Patry and Ben Sheffner. Bill is the author of Moral Panics and the Copyright Wars and a blog by the same name, subtitled “A blog about copyright discourse”—and a copyright attorney in the employ of Google (though he is careful to add, everywhere it makes sense, that “This is a personal blog, not a Google blog”.) Ben is a “copyright/First Amendment/media/entertainment attorney and former journalist” with a long list of credentials in the sidebar of his Copyrights & Campaigns blog, subtitled “Ben Sheffner’s notes on copyright, First Amendment, media, and entertainment law, and political campaigns”. Bill and Ben have been enjoying a very civil and illuminating debate, which Bill outlines this way:

Given the reverse-chronological nature (or LIFD–Last In, First Dug) nature of both blog publishing and geology, the first post is the bottom one on that list. Start there and work upward. I guarantee you will be smarter by the time you get to the top, and hungry for more.

As a pair of bonus links, I’ll point to Edward Samuels’ The Illustrated Story of Copyright, and Michele Boldrin and David K. Levine‘s Against Intellectual Monopoly. I’ve read the first, but not the second. Basically I’m just sharing my reading list here. Again, no opinions. Yet.

Oh, one more recommendation: Adam Gopnik’s Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life. Among many of its quotable nuggets is this one: “Law is the practice of rules in a context of deals, and Lincoln believed in both.” Keep that in mind when reading all the above.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Allan Gregory (a 3rd year law student and my summer intern at the ) and I have spent a lot of time this summer looking at the history of copyright and royalties, mostly in respect to music. What I’ve noticed in the course of this work is how much commercial interests of one kind or another (and in some cases we’re talking about a single party with a legitimate beef who had been screwed over one too many times — Victor Herbert, for example) push law and enforcement across new lines that quickly harden. The free space on the far sides of those lines ratchets downward with each advance of creators armed by the law as rights-holders. At a certain point, it disappears.

To see how extreme this can get, visit here, or Bemuso.com, which does an amazing job making sense of the music business in the U.K., which restricts music usage far more than anything like it in the U.S. For example,

Steve Finnigan, Chief Constable in Lancashire, England seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the Performing Right Society (PRS). Apparently there’s been music playing in police stations where people can hear it, and someone at the PRS noticed that no one has paid any licensing fees for it. The PRS is responsible for collecting performance royalties on behalf of composers and publishers in the UK.

In addition to the music that allegedly plays in 34 separate police stations, they’re also being accused of allowing employees to listen to it in gyms and at office parties. They’ve even gone so far as to use unlicensed music for entertaining the public when they get put on hold while calling in.

Since Lancashire Constabulary’s head of legal services, Niamh Noone, instructed officers not to discuss what was being played with PRS representatives, the agency decided to take them to court in order to collect back royalties they believe are owed and arrange for proper licensing so that future royalties may be collected in a more timely manner.

And you thought the RIAA was prickly.

Meanwhile on the publishing front, the Associated Press has been moving is a similarly restrictive direction for some time. The organization’s latest efforts are being covered like a blanket by Zachary M. Seward at the Nieman Journalism Lab. His latest post, Who, really, is The Associated Press accusing of copyright infringement? looks in depth at what the AP has been saying and doing, both in public and in secret. The word “bellicose” stands out in its first paragraph.

It’s an outstanding series. If you care about journalism, free speech, Free Culture, fair use and other values that transcend the AP’s parochial interests, it’s required reading.

While you do, remember that the AP is primarily an association of newspapers, formed early in the Industrial Age, and very much a creature of it. They are also, like many other associations representing originators of work about which usage rights are ambiguous, in essence a big legal department: quick to litigate and slow to comprehend the larger and changing contexts in which it now finds itself. Litigators are soldiers, not peacemakers. They don’t much care for olive branches (such as the one I extended last month).

Still, they’re not entirely unfriendly. Writes Zachary,

The AP would like to encourage use of its content — even full content — under terms that might not be so different from the APIs released by The New York Times and NPR. (Then again, it might be very different. The AP thus far hasn’t said what restrictions it will attach to its APIs.) I asked Kasi for an example, and he said that a mobile developer who wanted to include the AP’s articles or videos in an iPhone application could do so, probably without paying for access. Addressing the hypothetical developer, he said, “If this becomes a runaway success, I want to be part of this kind of business arrangement with you. In the meantime, if you want to experiment, go at it.”

In other words, “soon as there’s money in it, we want a piece of it”. In fact my proposal is for exactly that. Except it won’t be on their terms. It will be on ours, as fellow participants in what Zachary calls “the web’s circulatory system”.

In that system, Fee Culture is arteriosclerotic.

For the form of life we call business, we are at a boundary between eras. For biological forms of life, the most recent of these is the K-T boundary between the  and the Eras. The Mezozoic Era ended when Earth was struck by an object that left a crater 110 miles wide and a world-wide layer of iridium-rich crud. Below that layer lies the Age of Dinosaurs, completed. Above that layer accumulate the fossils of life forms that survived the change, and took advantage of it. Notable among these is a branch of theropod dinosaurs we call birds.

In business we have the I-I boundary: the one between the Industrial and Information ages (which Alvin Toffler first observed in The Third Wave, published in 1980).  Below that boundary we find a communications environment dominated by telecom and cablecom. Above it we find a radically different communications environment that still supports voice and video, but as just two among an endless variety of other applications. We call that environment the Internet.

At this moment in history most of us know the Internet as a tertiary service of telephone and cable companies, which still make most of their money selling telephone service and cable TV. Since those are highly regulated businesses, the Internet is subject to degrees of regulatory capture. Some of that capture is legal, but much of it is conceptual, for example when we see the Internet as a grace of telecom and cablecom — rather than as something that subsumes and obsoletes both of those Industrial Age frames.

Such is the risk with “broadband” — a term inherited by the Internet from both telecom and cablecom, and which is a subject of interest for both Congress and the FCC. In April of this year the FCC announced the development of a national broadband plan, subtitled “Seeks Public Input on Plan to Ensure Every American has Access to Broadband Capability”. In July the commission announced that Harvard’s Berkman Center would conduct “an independent review of broadband studies” to assist the FCC. Then yesterday the center put up a notice that it “is looking for a smart, effective fellow to join our broadband research team”. (This is more than close to home for me, since I am a fellow at Berkman. So I need to say that the broadband studies review is not my project — mine is this one — and that I am not speaking for the Berkman Center here, or even in my capacity as a fellow.)

The challenge here for everybody is to frame our understanding of the Net, and of research concerning the Net, in terms that are as native to the Net as possible, and not just those inherited from the Industrial Age businesses to which it presents both threats and promise — the former more obvioius than the latter. This will be very hard, because the Internet conversation is still mostly a telecom and cablecom conversation. (It’s also an entertainment industry conversation, to the degree that streaming and sharing of audio and video files are captive to regulations driven by the recording and movie industries.)

This is the case especially for legislators and regulators, too few of which are technologists. Some years ago Michael Powell, addressing folks pushing for network neutrality legislation, said that he had met with nearly every member of Congress during his tour of duty as FCC chairman, and that he could report that nearly all of them knew very little about two subjects. “One is technology, and the other is economics,” he said. “Now proceed.”

Here is what I am hoping for, as we proceed both within this study and beyond it to a greater understanding of the Internet and the new Age it brings on:

  • That “broadband” comes to mean the full scope of the Internet’s capabilities, and not just data speeds.
  • That we develop a native understanding of what the Internet really is, including the realization that what we know of it today is just an early iteration.
  • That telecom and cablecom companies not only see the writing on the wall for their old business models, but embrace other advantages of incumbency, including countless new uses and businesses that can flourish in an environment of wide-open and minimally encumbered connectivity — which they have a privileged ability to facilitate.
  • That the Net’s capacities are not only those provided from the inside out by “backbone” and other big “carriers”, but from the outside in by individuals, small and mid-size businesses (including other Internet service providers, such as WISPs) and municipalities.

That last item is important because carriers are the theropods of our time. To survive, and thrive, they need to adapt. The hardest challenge for them is to recognize that the money they leave on the shrinking Industrial Age table is peanuts next to the money that will appear on the Information Age table they are in a privileged position to help build.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2close2nstar

Mark Finnern has a great idea: Wikipedia papers. Specifically,

Every student that takes a class has to create or improve a Wikipedia page to the topic of the class. It shouldn’t be the only deliverable, but an important one.

The Wikimedia organization could help the professors with tools, that highlight the changes that a certain user has done on a page. You only pass, when the professor is satisfied with the scientific validity of the page. One could even mark the pages that went through this vetting process differently.

Instead of creating papers that end up in a drawer, you would create pages that you even feel ownership of and would make sure that they stay current and don’t get vandalized. You could even link to them on you LinkedIn profile.

It would make an enormous difference to the quality of Wikipedia year over year. One can think of wiki-how and other pages that could be improved using the same model.

There are other reasons. For example, Wikipedia has holes. Not all of these line up with classes being taught, but some might. Let’s take one example…

811

Wikipedia has an entry for 5-1-1, the phone number one calls in some U.S. states for road conditions. It also has an entry for 9-1-1, the number one calls in North America for emergency services. And, while it has an entry for 8-1-1, the “call before you dig” number in the U.S., it’s kinda stale. One paragraph:

All 811 services in the U.S. will end up using 611 by early 2007, as the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in March 2005 made 811 the universal number for the 71 regional services that coordinate location services for underground public utilities in the U.S.[1][dated info] Currently, each of these “call before you dig” services, has its own 800 number, and the FCC and others want to make it as easy as possible for everyone planning an excavation to call first. This safety measure not only prevents damage that interrupts telecommunications, but also the cutting of electricity, water mains, and natural gas pipes. Establishment of an abbreviated dialing number for this purpose was required by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002.

That last link takes you to one of those “Wikipedia does not have an article with this exact name” places. The “call before you dig” link redirects to Utility location. There you’ll find this paragraph:

One-call, Miss Utility, or Underground Service Alert are services that allow construction workers to contact utility companies, who will then denote where underground utilities are located via color-coding those locations. As required by law and assigned by the FCC, the 8-1-1 telephone number will soon be used for this purpose across the United States.

Well, it’s already being used. And it’s way freaking complicated, because there’s this very uneven overlap of entities — federal government, state goverenments, regional associations, and commercial entities, to name a few — that all have something to say.

For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA. Right on their front page, they tell you April is Safe Digging Month. Good to know. April of what year? Next to a blurred emblem with an 811 over a shovel (a poor version the above, which comes from the Utility Notification Center of Colorado) and a horribly blurred graphic proclaiming WE SUPPORT SAFE DIGGING MONTH, a Call Before You Dig link leads to a page that explains,

Guidance for implementing safe and effective damage prevention for underground utilities was established by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a national organization representing all underground utility stakeholders. Calling before you dig is the first rule to remember when conducting underground related activities, no matter what the job is. The law requires you to phone the “One-Call” center at 8-1-1 at least two days prior to conducting any form of digging activity.

No link to the Common Ground Alliance. That org (a domain squatter has its .org URL, so it’s a .com) explains that it’s “a member-driven association dedicated to ensuring public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of services by promoting effective damage prevention practices.” Its news page mentions that, among other things, August 11 is “8-11 Day”. It has a press release template in Word format. It also has news that “MGH Hired as CGA 811 Awareness Contractor” in .pdf. Within that one finds MGH’s website URL, where one finds that the agency is @mghus, which may be the hippest thing in this whole mess.

Digging farther, one finds that there is an call811.com, which appears to be another face of the Common Ground Alliance. (If you’re interested, here are its “sponsors and ambassadors”.)

Also involved is the American Public Works Association. Apparently the APWA is the outfit behind what LAonecall (one of the zillion of these with similar names) calls “the ULCC Uniform Color Code using the ANSI standard Z53.1 Safety Colors”. APWA must have published it at one point, but you won’t find it on its website. Hey, Google doesn’t. Though it does find lots of other sites that have it. Most are local or regional governmental entities. Or utilities like, say, Panhandle Energy. Here’s the graphic:

colorcode

Here in New England (all of it other than Connecticut, anyway), the public face of this is Dig Safe System, Inc., which appears to be a nonprofit association, but there’s nothing on the site that says wtf it is — though it is informative in other respects. It does say, on its index page,

What is Dig Safe ®?

State laws require anyone who digs to notify utility companies before starting, and for good reason. Digging can be dangerous and costly without knowing where underground facilities are located.

Dig Safe ystem, Inc. is a communication network, assisting excavators, contractors and property owners in complying with state law by notifying the appropriate utilities before digging. Dig Safe®, a free service, notifies member companies of proposed excavation projects. In turn, these member utilities respond to the work area and identify the location of underground facilities. Callers are given a permit number as confirmation.

Member utilities, or contracted private locators, use paint, stakes or flags to identify the location of buried facilities. Color coding is used to identify the type of underground facilities… (and the same color coding as above)

I found out all of this — and much more — while I was researching for my column in the November issue of Linux Journal, which has Infrastructure the issue’s theme. I’m leveraging my leftovers here, closing one tab after another in my browser.

I’m also interested in approximately everything, one of which is the official-looking public graffiti on the ground all over the place. These are known locally as “dig safe markings”. At least that piece of the scattered one-call/call-before-you-dig/8-1-1 branding effort has taken root, at least here.

Anyway, I’d love to see a Wikipedia entry or two that pulls all this together. Maybe I should write it, but I’m busy. Hey, I’ve done this much already. Some actual experts ought to pick up the ball and post with it.

Which brings us back to Mark’s suggestion in the first place. Have a class do it.

Hey, @mghus, since you’re in Baltimore, how about  suggesting a Wikipedia page project to The Civil & Environmental Engineering Department at UMBC?

Maybe for 8-11 Day?

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When we went looking for an apartment here a couple years ago, we had two primary considerations in addition to the usual ones: walking distance from a Red Line subway stop, and fiber-based Internet access. The latter is easy to spot if you know what to look for, starting with too many wires on the poles. After that you look for large loops among the wires. That means the wiring contains glass, which breaks if the loops are too small. The apartment we chose has other charms, but for me the best one is a choice between three high speed Internet services: Comcast, Verizon FiOS and RCN. Although Comcast comes via coaxial cable, it’s a HFC (hybrid fiber-coax) system, and competes fairly well against fiber all the way to the home. That’s what Verizon FiOS and RCN provide.

fiber

We chose Verizon FiOS, which gives us 20Mb symmetrical service for about $60/month. The 25 feet between the Optical Network Terminal box and my router is ironically provided by old Comcast cable TV co-ax. (Hey, if Comcast wants my business, they can beat Verizon’s offering.)

My point is that we live where we do because there is competition among Internet service providers. While I think competition could be a lot better than it is, each of those three companies still offer far more than what you’ll find pretty much everywhere in the U.S. where there is little or no competition at all.

The playing field in the skies above sidewalks is not pretty. Poles draped with six kinds of wiring (in our case electrical, phone, cable, cable, fiber, fiber — I just counted) are not attractive. At the point the poles become ugly beyond endurance, I expect that the homeowners will pay to bury the services. By the grace of local regulators, all they’ll bury will be electrical service and bundles of conduit, mostly for fiber. And they won’t bury them deep, because fiber isn’t bothered by proximity to electrical currents. In the old days (which is still today in most fiber-less places), minimum separations are required between electrical, cable and phone wiring — the latter two being copper. In Santa Barbara (our perma-home), service trenching has to be the depth of a grave to maintain those separations. There’s no fiber yet offered in Santa Barbara. At our house there the only carrier to provide “high” speed is the cable company, and it’s a fraction of what we get over fiber here near Boston.

All this comes to mind after reading D.C. Court Upholds Ban on MDU Contracts: FCC prevents new exclusive contracts and nullifies existing ones, by John Eggerton in Broadcasting & Cable.  It begins, “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Monday upheld an FCC decision banning exclusive contracts between cable companies and the owners of apartments and other multiple-dwelling units (MDU).”

The rest of the piece is framed by the long-standing antipathy between cable and telephone companies (cable lost this one), each as providers of cable TV. For example,

Not surprisingly, Verizon praised the decision. It also saw it as a win for larger issues of access to programming:

“This ruling is a big win for millions of consumers living in apartments and condominiums who want nothing more than to enjoy the full benefits of video competition,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior VP, deputy general counsel, in a statement. “In upholding the ban on new and existing exclusive access deals, the Court’s decision also confirms the FCC’s authority to address other barriers to more meaningful competitive choice and video competition, such as the cable companies’ refusal to provide competitors with access to regional sports programming.”

Which makes sense at a time in history when TV viewing still comprises a larger wad of demand than Internet use. This will change as more and more production, distribution and consumption moves to the Internet, and as demand increases for more Internet access by more different kinds of devices — especially mobile ones.

Already a growing percentage of my own Internet use, especially on the road, uses cellular connectivity rather than wi-fi (thanks to high charges for crappy connectivity at most hotels). Sprint is my mobile Internet provider. They have my business because they do a better job of getting me what I want: an “air card” that works on Linux and Mac laptops, and not just on Windows ones). Verizon wanted to charge me for my air card (Sprint’s was free with the deal, which was also cheaper), and AT&T’s gear messed up my laptops and didn’t work very well anyway.

In both cases — home and road — there is competition.

While I can think of many reforms I’d like to see around Internet connectivity (among citizens, regulators and regulatees), anything that fosters competition in the meantime is a Good Thing.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

WebTV webtvwas way ahead of its time and exactly backwards. The idea was to put the Web on TV. In the prevailing media framework of the time, this made complete sense. TV had been around since the Forties, and nearly everybody devoted many hours of their daily lives to it. The Web was brand new then. And, since the Web used a tube like TV did, it only made sense to make the Web work on TV, rather than vice versa.

Microsoft bought WebTV for $.425 billion in April 1997. It was the most Microsoft had ever spent on an acquisition, and a stunning sum to spend on what was clearly a speculative play. But Microsoft clearly thought it was skating to where the puck was going.

Not long after that I heard from Dave Feinleib, an executive at Microsoft. Dave wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a chapter for a book he was putting together on the convergence of the Web and television. What brought him to my door was that I was the only writer he found who claimed the Web would eat TV, rather than vice versa. Everybody else was saying that history was going the other way — including Microsoft itself, with its enormous bet.

Dave was an outstanding editor, and did a great job pulling his book together. Originally he wanted it to be published by somebody other than Microsoft, but that didn’t work out. If I’m not mistaken (and Dave, if you’re out there somewhere, correct me), his choices of title also didn’t make it. The title finally chosen was a kiss of death: The Inside Story of Interactive TV and (in much larger type) WebTV for Windows. (Cool: You can still get it at Amazon, so death in this case is only slightly exaggerated.)

It was a good book, and an important historic document. At least for me. Much of what I later contributed to The Cluetrain Manifesto I prototyped in my chapter of Dave’s book. My title was “The Message Is Not the Medium.”

Amazingly, I just found a draft of the chapter, which I assumed had been long gone in an old disk crash or something. Begging the indulgence of Dave and Microsoft, I’ll quote from it wholesale. Remember that this was written in 1998, at the very height of the dot-com bubble.

About the conversational nature of markets:

So what we have here are two metaphors for a marketplace: 1) a battlefield; and 2) a conversation. Which is the better metaphor for the Web market? One is zero-sum and the other is positive-sum. One is physical and the other is virtual. One uses OR logic, and the other uses AND logic.

It’s no contest. The conversation metaphor describes a world exploding with positive new sums. The battlefield metaphor insults that world by denying those sums. It works fine when we’re talking about battles for shelf space in grocery stores; but when we’re talking about the Web, battlefield metaphors ignore the most important developments.

There are two other advantages to the conversation metaphor. First, it works as a synonym. Substitute the word “conversation” for  “market” and this fact becomes clear. The bookselling conversation and the bookselling market are the same. Second, conversations are the fundamental connections human beings make with each other. We may love or hate one another, but unless we’re in conversation, not much happens between us. Societies grow around conversations. That includes the business societies we call markets…

About the Web as a marketplace:

Today the Web remains an extraordinarily useful way to publish, archive, research and connect all kinds of information. No medium better serves curious or inventive minds.

While commerce may not have been the first priority of the Web’s prime movers, their medium has quickly proven to be the most commercial medium ever created. It invites every business in the Yellow Pages either to sell on the Web or to support their existing business by using the Web to publish useful information and invite dialog with customers and other involved parties. In fact, by serving as both an ultimate yellow page directory and an endless spread of real estate for stores and businesses, the Web demonstrates extreme synergy between the publishing and retailing metaphors, along with their underlying conceptual systems.

So, in simple terms, the Web efficiently serves two fundamental human needs:

1.    The need to know; and
2.    The need to buy.

While it also serves as a fine way to ship messages to eyeballs, we should pause to observe that the message market is a conversation that takes place entirely on the supply side of TV’s shipping system. In the advertising market, media sell space or time to companies that advertise. Not to consumers. The consumers get messages for free, whether they want them or not.

What happens when consumers can speak back — not just to the media, but to the companies who pay for the media? In the past we never faced that question. Now we do. And the Web will answer with a new division of labor between advertising and the rest of commerce. That division will further expose the limits of both the advertising and entertainment metaphors.

On Sales vs. Advertsing, and how the Web does more for the former than the latter:

“Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all  it is.” — Fairfax Cone

Fairfax “Fax” Cone founded one of the world’s top advertising agencies, Foote, Cone & Belding, and ran it for forty years. A no-nonsense guy from Chicago, Cone knew exactly what advertising was and wasn’t about. With this simple definition — what you do when you can’t go see somebody — he drew a clear line between advertising and sales. Today, thirty years after he retired, we can draw the same line between TV and the Web, and divide the labors accordingly.

On one side we have television, the best medium ever created for advertising. On the other side we have the Web, the best medium ever created for sales.

The Web, like the telephone, is a much better tool for sales than for promotion. It’s what you do when you can go see somebody: a way to inform customers and for them to inform you. The range of benefits is incalculable. You can learn from each other, confer in groups, have visually informed phone conversations, or sell directly with no sales people at all.

In other words, you can do business. All kinds of business. As with the phone, it’s hard to imagine any business you can’t do, or can’t help do, with the Web.

So we have a choice. See or be seen: see with the Web, or be seen on TV. Talk with people or talk at them. Converse with them, or send them messages.

Once we divide these labors, advertising on the Web will make no more sense than advertising on the phone does today. It will be just as unwelcome, just as intrusive, just as rude and just as useless.

The Web will call forth — from both vendors and customers — a new kind of marketing: one that seeks to enlarge the conversations we call business, not to assault potential customers with messages they don’t want. This will expose Web advertising — and most other advertising — as the spam it is, and invite the development of something that serves supply without insulting demand, and establishes market conversations equally needed by both.

This new marketing conversation will embrace what Rob McDaniel  calls a “divine awful truth”  — a truth whose veracity is exceeded only by its deniability. When that truth becomes clear, we will recognize most advertising as an ugly art form  that only dumb funding can justify, and damn it for the sin of unwelcome supply in the absence of demand.

That truth is this: There is no demand for messages. And there never was.

In fact, most advertising has negative demand, especially on TV. It actually subtracts value. To get an idea just how negative TV advertising is, imagine what would happen if the mute buttons on remote controls delivered we-don’t-want-to-hear-this messages back to advertisers. When that feedback finally gets through, the $180+ billion/year advertising market will fall like a bad soufflé.

It will fall because the Web will bring two developments advertising has never seen before, and has always feared:  1) direct feedback; and 2) accountability. These will expose another divine awful truth: most advertising doesn’t work.

In the safety of absent alternatives, advertising people have always admitted as much. There’s an old expression in the business that goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” (And let’s face it, “half” is exceedingly generous.)

With the Web, you can know. Add the Web to TV, and you can measure waste on the tube too.

Use the Web wisely, and you don’t have to settle for any waste at all.

About advertising’s fatal flaw:

Television is two businesses: 1) an entertainment delivery service; and 2) an advertising delivery service. They involve two very different conversations. The first is huge and includes everybody. The second is narrow and only includes advertisers and broadcasters.

TV’s entertainment producers are program sources such as production companies, network entertainment divisions, and the programming sides of TV stations. These are also the vendors of the programs they produce. Their customers and distributors are the networks and TV stations, who give away the product for free to their consumers, the viewers.

In TV’s advertising business, the advertising is produced by the advertisers themselves, or by their agencies. But in this market conversation, advertisers paly the customer role. They buy time from the networks and the stations, which serve as both vendors and distributors. Again, viewers consume the product for free.

In the past, the difference between these conversations didn’t matter much, because consumers were not part of TV’s money-for-goods market conversation.  Instead, consumers were part of the conversation around the product TV gives away: programming.

In the economics of television, however, programming is just bait. It’s very attractive bait, of course; but it’s on the cost side of the balance sheet, not the revenue side. TV’s $45+ billion revenues come from advertising, not programming. And the sources of programming make most of their money from their customers: networks, syndicators and stations. Not from viewers.

Broadcasters, however, are accustomed to believing that their audience is deeply involved in their business, and often speak of demographics (e.g. men 25-54) as “markets.” But there is no market conversation here, because the relationship — such as it is — is restricted to terms set by what the supply side requires, which are ratings numbers and impersonal information such as demographic breakouts and lifestyle characterizations. This may be useful information, but it lacks the authenticity of real market demand, expressed in hard cash. In fact, very few viewers are engaged in conversations with the stations and networks they watch. It’s a one-way, one-to-many distribution system. TV’s consumers are important only in aggregate, not as individuals. They are many, not one. And, as Reese Jones told us earlier, there is no such thing as a many-to-one conversation. At best there is only a perception of one. Big difference.

So, without a cash voice, audience members can only consume. Their role is to take the bait. If the advertisements work, of course, they’ll take the hook as well. But the advertising business is still a conversation that does not include its consumers..

So we get supply without demand, which isn’t a bad definition of advertising.

Now let’s look at the Web.

Here, the customer and consumer are the same. He or she can buy the advertisers’ goods directly from the advertiser, and enjoy two-way one-to-one market conversations that don’t involve the intervention either of TV as a medium or of one-way messages intended as bait. He or she can also buy entertainment directly from program sources, which in this relationship vend as well as produce. The distribution role of TV stations and networks is unnecessary, or at least peripheral. In other words, the Web disintermediates TV, plus other media.

So the real threat to TV isn’t just that the Web makes advertising accountable. It’s that it makes business more efficient. In fact the Web serves as both a medium for business and as a necessary accessory to it, much like the telephone. No medium since the telephone does a better job of getting vendors and customers together, and of fostering the word-of-mouth that even advertisers admit is the best advertising.

The Web is an unprecedented clue-exchange system. And when companies get enough clues about how poorly their advertising actually works, they’ll drop it like a bad transmission, or change it so much we can’t call it advertising any more.

We may have a blood bath. Killing ad budgets is a snap. Advertising is protected by no government agencies, and encouraged by no tax incentives. It’s just an expense, a line item, overhead. You can waste it with a phone call and almost nobody will get fired, aside from a few marketing communications (“marcom”) types and their expensive ad agencies.

About TV’s fatal flaw:

Few would argue that TV is a good thing. Hand-wringing over TV’s awfulness is a huge nonbusiness. TV Free America counts four thousand studies of TV’s effects on children. The TVFA also says 49% of Americans think they watch too much TV, and 73% of American parents think they should limit their kid’s TV watching.

And, as the tobacco industry will tell you, smoking is an “adult custom” and “a simple matter of personal choice.”

Then let’s admit it: TV is a drug. So why do we take it when we clearly know it’s bad for our brains?

Six reasons: 1) because it’s free; 2) because it’s everywhere; 3) because it’s narcotic; 4) because we enjoy it; 5) because it’s the one thing we can all talk about without getting too personal; and 6) because it’s been with us for half a century.

Television isn’t just part of our culture; it is our culture. As Howard Beale tells his audience, “You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube.” And we do business like the tube, too. It’s standard.

Howard Beale had it right: television is a tube. Let’s look at it one more time, from our point of view.

What we see is a one-way freight forwarding system, from producers to consumers. Networks and stations “put out,” “send out” and “deliver” programs through “channels” on “signals” that an “audience” of “viewers” “receive,” or “get” through this “tube.” We “consume” those products by “watching” them, often intending to “vege out” in the process.

Note that this activity is bovine at best, vegetative at worst and narcotic in any case. To put it mildly, there is no room in this metaphor for interactivity. And let’s face it, when most people watch TV, the only thing they want to interact with is the refrigerator.

Metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t matter that TV contains plenty of engaging and stimulating content, any more than it matters that life in many ways isn’t a journey. TV is a tube. It goes from them to us. We just sit here and consume it like fish in a tank, staring at glass.

Of course we’re not really like that. We’re conscious when we watch TV.

Well, of course we are. So are lots of people. But that’s not how the concept works, and its not what the system values. TV’s delivery-system metaphors reduce viewing to an effect — a noise at the end of the trough. And they reduce programming to container cargo. “Content,” for example, is a tubular noun that comes straight out of the TV conversation. What retailers would demean their goods with such a value-subtracting label?   Does Macy’s sell “content?” With TV, the label is accurate. The product is value-free, since consumers don’t pay a damn thing for it.

There is a positive side to the entertainment conversation, of course. Writers, producers, directors and stars all put out “shows” to entertain an “audience.” Here the underlying metaphor is theater. By this conceptual metaphor, TV is a stage.  But the negotiable market value of this conversation is provided entirely by its customers: the TV stations and networks. The audience, however, pays nothing for the product. Its customers use it as advertising bait. This isolates the show-biz conversation and its value. You might say that TV actually subtracts value from its own product, by giving it away.

And, the story of TV’s death foretold:

In the long run (which may not be very long), the Web conversation will win for the simple reason that it supports and nurtures direct conversations, and therefore grows business at a much faster rate. It also has conceptual metaphors that do a better job of supporting commerce.

Drugs have their uses. But it’s better to bet on the nurtured market than on the drugged one.

Trees don’t grow to the sky. TV’s $45 billion business may be the biggest redwood in the advertising forest, but in a few more years we’ll be counting its rings. “Propaganda ends where dialog begins,” Jacques Ellul says.

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

Looking back on all that, I wince at how hyperbolic some of it was (like, there really is some demand for some messages), but I’m still pleased with what I got right, which is that the Web eats TV. Which brings me to the precipitating post, YouTube is Huge and About to Get Even Bigger, by Jennifer Van Grove in Mashable. Sez Jennifer,

According to YouTube, the hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute has been growing astronomically since mid-2007, when it was just a measly six hours per minute. Then, in “January of this year, it became 15 hours of video uploaded every minute, the equivalent of Hollywood releasing over 86,000 new full-length movies into theaters each week.”

Now, just a few months later and we’ve hit the 20 hour per minute milestone, which means that for every second in time about 33 minutes of video make it to YouTube, and that for any given day 28,800 hours of video are uploaded in total…

Even though YouTube (YouTube reviews) is seeing such massive upload numbers, and we think that speaks to the strength of their community, they still have monetization challenges that are only exacerbated by the rising bandwidth costs required to support such an enormous load. Bandwidth costs are already proving to be the bane of YouTube’s existence, possibly resulting in $470 million in loses for this year alone.

So while YouTube’s outwardly celebrating that we’re dumping 20 hours of video on their servers every minute, we think they should count their blessings with a little more realism since, based on previous patterns, this number, along with bandwidth costs, will only continue to rise.

“Rise” is too weak a verb. What we have here is something of an artesian flood, a continent of blooming volcanoes.

In the old top-down world of broadcasting, all we had were a few thousand big transmitters, each with limited reach, stretched and widened by cable and satellite TV. (Remember that what we call “cable” began as CATV: Community Antenna TeleVision.) It is over these legacy systems, plus the upgraded phone system, that most of us are connected to the Internet today.

In the legacy TV world, transmitters are obsolete to the verge of pointlessness. So are “channels.” So are the “networks” that are now just distributors for TV shows. All that matters is “content,” as they say. And that’s moving online, huge-time.

Tomorrow’s shows  won’t be coming only from big-time program producers.  We’ll be getting them from each other as well. We already see that with YouTube, but in relatively low-def resolutions. Still, it’s a start. At the end of the next growth stage we’ll be producing out own damn shows, and at resolutions higher than cable can bear. So will the incumbent producers, of course, but they won’t be taking the lead in pushing for wider bandwidth. That’s an easy call because they’re not taking the lead right now, and they should be. Instead they’ve left it up to us: the “viewers” who are now becoming producers and reproducers.

Already you can get a camcorder that will shoot 1080p video for well under a $grand. That’s more resolution than you’ll get from cable or satellite, with a few pay-per-view exceptions. Combine the sphinctered nature of cable and satellite TV bandwidth with the carriers’ need to compete by carrying more and more channels, and what you get is stuff that’s “HD” in name only. While the resolution might be 720p or 1080i, the amount of actual data carried on each channel is minimal or worse, resulting in skies that look plaid and skin that looks damaged. All of whch means that the best thing you can see — today — on your new 1080p screen comes from your new 1080p camcorder. (Unless you pay bux deluxe for a Blu-Ray player, which not many of us are doing.) So: how long before ordinary folks are producing their own high-def movies, in large numbers? How long before that pounds out the walls of pipes all over the place?

Even if that takes awhile, we have to face facts. We’re going to need the bandwidth. Storage and processing we’ve got covered, because that’s at the edges, where there’s not much standing in the way of growth and enterprise. In the middle we’ve got a world wide bandwidth challenge.

The phone and cable companies can’t give it to us — at least not the way they’re currently set up. Even the best of the carrier breed — Verizon FiOS, which I’m using right now, and appreciating a great deal — is set up as a top-grade cable TV system that also delivers Internet. Not as a fat data pipe between any two points, which is what we’ll need.

Pause for a moment and recall this scene from the movie “Jaws”. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Roy Scheider says.

TV on the Net is the shark in this story. The Quinn role is being played by the carriers right now. They need to be smarter than what we’ve seen so far. So do the rest of us.

Tags: , , ,

A stand-up job

Obama gets funny. Some of the jokes fall flat, but most are pretty good. A few are LOL.

He gets serious toward the end. You can skip that part.

Tags: , ,

Jonathan Zittrain: “I don’t think .gov and .com never work. We too easily underestimate the possibilities of .org — the roles we can play as netizens rather than merely as voters or consumers.” Yesss. Putting a “vs.” between government and business tends to narrow conversation to arguments that miss important points. Such as what .orgs can do.

That’s a big reason why why I love being at the Berkman Center (of which JZ is a founder). Here’s my .org there. It has (speaking toward Cato‘s libertarian sympathies) the intention of liberating the demand side of the marketplace, and making gazillions of dollars for business, without government help.

I believe some .orgs can create public goods with enormous private leverage. I also think some .orgs can also have the effect of lessening .gov urges to mess with .com business. (Heck, Cato itself is a .org.)

Anyway, I urge folks to check out the whole Cato Unbound thing. It’s the tip of a thoughtberg.

It all started here.

It all started here. With Platform A: the first of thirty-some oil platforms built in the 1960s off the coast of Southern California. To anybody looking seaward from Santa Barbara, the platforms are nearly as much a fixture of the horizon as the Channel Islands beyond. The three closest, Platforms A, B and C, are just several miles out.

On January 28, 1969, Platform A had a blow-out. As much as 100,000 barrels of oil rose to the surface and spread. Had the oil been carried away from shore, the event might have been small news. But instead it gunked up the coast, ruining Santa Barbara’s harbor for a time, and treating the world to the first of many iconic visuals: tar-covered sea birds.

Long story short, Earth Day followed.

Some pictures from the time.

Tags: , , , ,

garanti-obamaStephen Lewis has an excellent post from Istanbul on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Turkey, which was completed this morning.

Steve explains, “Yes, that’s Garanti with an ‘i’ and not a double-’e', as in Garanti Bank, one of the largest banks in Turkey.  For the last two months Garanti Bank has mounted these advertisements on billboards throughout Istanbul — with text offering low interest loans set below an image looking convincingly like Barak Obama and printed in a very Islamic green.  Actually, the face is that of a local actor and Obama look-alike.  The choice of an Obama-like image for the ads might imply a guarantee of stability in a time of instability and a recognition of vox populi rather than the very real and desperate need of the US economy for low-interest capital.”

More of Steve’s thoughtful postings at his alterblog, Hak Pak Sak.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Just asking

Has President Obama made a single appointment that says “change”?

Here’s his latest.

Tags: , , ,

Filling out this

yielded this:

Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech
My fellow Americans, today is a fibrous day. You have shown the world that “hope” is not just another word for “chair”, and that “change” is not only something we can believe in again, but something we can actually annihilate.

Today we celebrate, but let there be no mistake – America faces unavoidable and level challenges like never before. Our economy is spiffy. Americans can barely afford their mortgages, let alone have enough money left over for monsters. Our healthcare system is plapulous. If your ulvula is sick and you don’t have insurance, you might as well call a sheet-metal worker. And America’s image overseas is tarnished like a trocar newspaper. But pressing together we can right this ship, and set a course for Kansas.

Finally, I must thank my sideways family, my flatulent campaign volunteers, but most of all, I want to thank munchkins for making this historic occasion possible. Of course, I must also thank you, President Bush, for years of drooling the American people. Without your flaccid efforts, none of this would have been possible.

Post your brilliant speech in our community message forum and it might get featured on Atom.com.

Your flappage may vary.

Hat tip to Adriana Lukas.

Tags: , , , , ,

Peelings

The Onion on the Inauguration:

Funny shit.

Tags: , , , ,

Changes at Whitehouse.gov are the top item on Techmeme.

My tweets watching The Event:

Say Amen.
search isn’t working too well at http://whitehouse.gov
This may be the greatest speech ever given about the United States.
“We are willing to extend a hand if you will unclench your fist.” What is this form of homiletics called? “This, then that…”
“the lines of tribe will soon dissolve…” whoa.
“We reject as false the distinction between our safety and our ideals.” Another great one-liner.
“the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.” Well put. Hope it’s even partly true.
Wow. Check out http://whitehouse.gov. Change has come. Here’s the blog: http://tinyurl.com/6tdmhy
World’s greatest orator flubs the oath. O well. It’s cool. Roberts didn’t look like a teleprompter, I guess.
My attorney, to my right, says “It’s the end of an error.”
We’ll all remember where we were for this. The place is Together.
Those people have faith. Which he called “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” In this case, next 8 years.
The view up the mall… Stunning.

Not sure if that beats blogging it, but it sure was easier.

And I’m still glowing, three hours later.

[Later...] Apparently I topped the retweet radar list for a moment there. And Twitter itself peaked without pique.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Lots of folks in China get around the Great Chinese Firewall by using circumvention tools. But at what risk? That’s one of the biggest questions raised by Hal Roberts in this post here.

Seems the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, or GIFC, which offers this laudable PR…

… is also selling users up who-knows-what rivers. At least that’s what Hal finds when he checks the FAQ at the Edoors Ranking Service, which lets you browse the “top anti-censorship sites”. The FAQ begins,

Q: Who is the owner of this service?
A: This service was developed by World’s Gate, Inc. with help from other Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC) partners.

Q: Where did you get the raw data for the analysis?
A: The raw data came from the server log of GIFC member companies. Right now, data from three of the five tools of GIFC (DynaWeb, GPass, and FirePhoenix) are included for analysis.

Which sounds okay, so long as the data used is of the aggregate sort. In other words, as long as it’s not personal.

Alas, there is this smoking gun, pointed right at the heads of DynaWeb, GPass and FirePhoenix users:

Q: I am interested in more detailed and in-depth visit data. Are they available?
A: Yes, we can generate custom reports that cover different levels of details for your purposes, based on a fee. But data that can be used to identify a specific user are considered confidential and not shared with third parties unless you pass our strict screening test. Please contact us if you have such a need.

That means they track browsing data of individual users, and sell it. Hal adds,

…the data about circumventing users is much more sensitive than the data about most ISP users. These are the histories of users browsing sites that are not only blocked (and therefore mostly sensitive in one way or another) but blocked by an authoritarian country with an active policy and practice of persecuting dissidents. The mere act of anyone, let alone projects proclaiming themselves for internet freedom, storing this data is very bad practice. Any data that is stored can be potentially be shared or stolen. The best way to make sure that dangerous data like this does not get into the wrong hands is not to store it in the first place.

But these projects are not only storing the data. They are actively offering to sell it. None of the projects has anything like a privacy policy that I can find, and none of them provides any notice anywhere on the site or during the installation process that the project will be tracking and selling user browsing activity.* But all of the sites have deceptive language…

I’m sure what these companies are after is advertising money from companies wanting to “target” individuals personally. That’s what it smells like to me.

We live in a time when personalized advertising is legitimized on the supply side. (It has no demand side, other than the media who get paid to place it.) Worse, there’s a kind of gold rush going on. Even in a crapped economy, a torrent of money is flowing into online advertising of all kinds, including the “personalized” sort. No surprise that companies in the business of fighting great evils rationalize the committing of lesser ones. I’m sure they do it it the usual way: It’s just advertsing! And it’s personalized, so it’s good for you!

Ah, but what happens if one of those advertisers is a front for the Chinese governent, looking for dissidents to jail — or worse? If you’re one of those (or anybody) would you trust the “strict screening test” at Edoors Ranking Service?’

Me either.

Tags: , ,

Quote du jour

Lessig: Take the money out of politics (and here’s a specific proposal for doing that), and then come back to me to talk about the good, public regarding reasons why Congress is stepping in to “save the auto industry.”

Tags: , , , , ,

Stephen Lewis has made a decades-long study of both the charms and absurdities of national and ethnic legacies. His most recent essay on the matter, Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries, unpacks the growing distance between the ideals of the Internet and the realities of dysfunctional nationalisms, and the failures of the former to transcend the latter.
He begins by describing his frustrations at trying to obtain podcasts of This American Life while overseas:

As it does with its iPhone, Apple “appliances” its services to geopolitical strictures inherited from the pre-Internet age and to a jingoistic concept of national identity quite contrary to the expansive spirit of This American Life and to the “worldwide” as in Worldwide Web. Podcasts of This American Life are available for purchase and download via iTunes only from IP addresses within the boundaries of the United States. Also, even within the US, Apple does not accept for payment credit cards issued by overseas banks. Last, even when listeners from within the US attempts a purchase a credit card issued by a US bank, Apple will not sell them podcasts if their iTunes Stores accounts were originally registered from abroad.

By jigsawing its services to fit national boundaries, Apple fragments the efficacy and global scope of the internet and denies NPR broader listenership, international impact, and potential revenues. By outsourcing exclusive sales of podcasts of the This American Life to Apple’s iTunes Store, NPR denies the benefits and insights of listenership and the pleasure of contributing to the support of Public Radio to Americans living and working abroad, not to mention citizens of all other countries.

Meanwhile, you can hear This American Life for free over the Net on hundreds of streams from the U.S. based public radio stations to which NPR wholesales the program for the stations to sell to listeners (who contribute on a voluntary basis), making the restrictions even more strange. Steve continues:

The Internet — in its role as prime infrastructure for the formation of community and conveyance of the information, entertainment, knowledge and transactions — is intangible and without physical location.  However, the infrastructure that supports it is quite physical, an ad hoc non-purpose-built amalgam of fiber, copper, and wireless  strung together, enabled, and animated by protocols.  By resting on a “borrowed” infrastructure, the Internet has inherited the “gatekeepers” that own and control, charge for, and regulate these legacy elements – telecom operators and service providers, cable TV companies, governmental authorities, etc.).  Such organizations still carve up the world according geopolitical entities and borders defined between the late-eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth and gerrymander services and access accordingly.  Apparently, so does Apple.  Apple’s method of “appliancing” country-by-country reinforces anachronistic borders and undermines the potential of the internet to transcend past divisions.

Steve also spends a lot of time in Turkey, a country where his own blog (the one I’m quoting here) gets blocked along with every other blog bearing the .wordpress domain name. Lately YouTube and Blogger have also been blocked. (For more on who blocks what, visit the Open Internet Initiative.)

These sites and services are easy for governments to block because they’re clustered and silo’d. Yet on the Internet these clusters and silos, once big enough, take on the character of countries. In this New York Times piece, Tim Wu says. “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king”. Talk about retro.

Steve continues,

This has turned Google, a private company with no accountability to any constituency, into a negotiating partner of national governments whose laws or policies do not  reflect or respect the ethical stance claimed in Google’s own slogan.  Thus, Google now functions on a diplomatic level with the ability and clout to forge country-by-country compromises affecting internet activity and the free flow of information and opinion, Turkey’s YouTube and Blogger ban not least among them.

Well, Google does have accountability to its customers, most of which are advertisers. Which makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Meanwhile the promise of the Net continues to be undermined not only by wacky forms of counterproductive protectionism, but by our own faith in “clouds” that can often act more like solids than gasses.

Tags: , , ,

So the Wall Street Journal runs Google Wants Its Own Fast Track on the Web, by Vinesh Kumar and Christopher Rhoads. It’s dated today, but hit the Web yesterday. Among other things it says,

Google Inc. has approached major cable and phone companies that carry Internet traffic with a proposal to create a fast lane for its own content, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Google has traditionally been one of the loudest advocates of equal network access for all content providers.

At risk is a principle known as network neutrality: Cable and phone companies that operate the data pipelines are supposed to treat all traffic the same — nobody is supposed to jump the line.

I declined to post on this yesterday because I suspected that this was simply a matter of edge caching: locating services as close to users as possible, to minimize network latencies and maximize accessibility. Akamai‘s whole business is based on this kind of thing. Much of what we now call the “cloud” — including conveniences provided by Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others — are back-end utilities that benefit from relative proximity to users. It’s all part of what Nick Carr calls The Big Switch.

As Richard Whitt of Google puts it here,

Edge caching is a common practice used by ISPs and application and content providers in order to improve the end user experience. Companies like Akamai, Limelight, and Amazon’s Cloudfront provide local caching services, and broadband providers typically utilize caching as part of what are known as content distribution networks (CDNs). Google and many other Internet companies also deploy servers of their own around the world.

By bringing YouTube videos and other content physically closer to end users, site operators can improve page load times for videos and Web pages. In addition, these solutions help broadband providers by minimizing the need to send traffic outside of their networks and reducing congestion on the Internet’s backbones. In fact, caching represents one type of innovative network practice encouraged by the open Internet.

Google has offered to “colocate” caching servers within broadband providers’ own facilities; this reduces the provider’s bandwidth costs since the same video wouldn’t have to be transmitted multiple times. We’ve always said that broadband providers can engage in activities like colocation and caching, so long as they do so on a non-discriminatory basis.

All of Google’s colocation agreements with ISPs — which we’ve done through projects called OpenEdge and Google Global Cache — are non-exclusive, meaning any other entity could employ similar arrangements. Also, none of them require (or encourage) that Google traffic be treated with higher priority than other traffic. In contrast, if broadband providers were to leverage their unilateral control over consumers’ connections and offer colocation or caching services in an anti-competitive fashion, that would threaten the open Internet and the innovation it enables.

But there is a political side to this. The WSJ is playing the Gotcha! game here, “catching” Google jumping “the line” across which its postion on Net Neutrality is compromised. According to Whitt, it’s not.

Net Neutrality as a topic is complex and politically charged. One can argue with Google’s position on the topic. But I don’t believe one can argue that edge caching deals are a compromise of that position, simply because these deals are nothing new, and do nothing to squeeze other companies out of doing the same kind of thing (so long as Google doesn’t make the deals exclusive, which it says it’s not doing).

Hat tip to my colleague Steve Schultze, who is on top of this stuff far more than I am.

Tags: , , ,

Utilities in deed

Change.gov is the main place where the President-in-Waiting takes advice from the public. One item there is MPAA’s Key International Trade Issues, detailed in this .pdf. You can’t search or copy the content of that file because it’s a graphic. I guess the MPAA decided it would rather not post the text somewhere.

Alas, Change.gov doesn’t let you link to individual comments, so you’ll just have to hunt or scroll down to find the one by “skywriter”, who says,

I like the public utility analogy. The DEA can’t shut down a person’s electricity because they ‘suspect’ a person is growing pot in a back room of their house, nor can they shut off their water, why should a ‘non-governmental agency’ (No, MPAA, you are not a government agency no matter how much you like to think so) push for an ISP to cut off a person’s internet because you ‘suspect’ they might be doing bad things with their connection? Treat internet access like a utility, I say.

One goal of Net Neutrality, Wikipedia currenty says, is “A neutral broadband network is one that is free of restrictions on content…” By that angle alone the MPAA’s is a bad idea. Hard enough just to get the Net to people and keep it running for the good of everybody. Let’s not turn the Net into TV (which is censored… try saying “fuck” over U.S. airwaves), or worse — into a branch of Hollywood. Least of all by legislation.

One of the most common expressions in geology is “not well understood”. Which is understandable, because most rocks were formed millions to billions of years ago, often under conditions, and in locations, that can only be guessed at. One of the reasons I love geology is that the detective work is of a very high order. The work is both highly scientific and highly creative. Also, it will never be done. Its best mysteries are rooted too deeply in the one thing humans — relative to rock — severely lack: time

Anyway, I’m here to suggest that two overlapping subjects — infrastructure and internet — are not well understood, even though both are made by humans and can be studied within the human timescale. The term “infrastructure” has been in common use only since the 1970s. While widely used, there are relatively few books about the subject itself. I’d say, in fact, that is more a subject in many fields than a field in itself. And I think it needs to be. Same with the Internet. Look it up on Google and see how many different definitions you get. Yet nothing could be more infrastructural without being physical, which the Internet is not.

Anyway, as I write and think about this stuff, I like to keep track of what I’ve already said, even though I’ve moved beyond some of it. So here goes:

More from allied sources:

And now I have to fly to Paris, to have fun at LeWeb. We’ll pick up this and other subjects there.

Tags:

In The Office of Connectivity Advocacy, Bob Frankston argues for something we’ve needed a long time: prying the Net from the regulatory grips of telecom and cablecom, both of which are inside the FCC and part of a regulatory mess that traces back past the 1996 and 1934 telecoms acts, all the way to the railroad thinking and legislation that modeled those acts.

What we need, Bob says, is to re-frame the Net outside of telecom (which includes cablecom as well). The Net needs to be more than just the third act in a “Triple Play” sold by phone and cable companies. It needs to be more — and other — than just a “service” we get from monopolists operating in an old regulatory habitat.

Inside our homes we do not negotiate with, or pay, a “printing service” to use our printers. Nor are our phone and cable companies required to hook our computers and other appliances together inside our homes. As a result, there is no issue of speed, no need for “broadband”, because we enjoy much limitless network speeds without a “service provider” in the middle.

Some specifics:

We need a “Connectivity Strategy” with a champion; a “Connectivity Advocate” who is outside the FCC and is thus can focus on a positive agenda. “Internet Connectivity” is not a telecommunications service but something new. It is based on the idea that we can create our own solutions out of imperfect resources. And it has proven to be an exceptionally powerful idea.

It has allowed us to create new solutions by focusing on the end points of relationships rather than all the myriad points between. We’ve seen a similar dynamic with the interstate (defense) highway system that has been credited with adding trillions of dollars to the economy. The Internet-connectivity has the potential to do far more because it doesn’t have the limits of the roads and demand creates supply.

The challenge is to overcome the artifacts that we confuse with the powerful idea. We happened to have repurposed existing telecommunications infrastructure and thus the idea has become captive of the incumbents whose business of charging for transporting bits as a service is threatened. To add to this confusion we can easily spoof existing telecommunications services ourselves but still act as if only a carrier can provide the services.

Instead of spending so much time and effort forcing connectivity into a service framing we need to be able to focus on connectivity from first principles. After all, the Internet (as connectivity) and Telecom have no intrinsic relationship beyond their common use of electromagnetism to transport bits.

By having an Office of Connectivity Advocacy (I’m open to a better title) outside the FCC we can have a positive and proactive strategy. We have abundant existing resources that are lying fallow either because we don’t recognize what we have or are forbidden from competing with those who control are very means of communicating and the vital information paths we use for commerce.

So look at it this way. What we have inside the free spaces of our own homes is connectivity. What we have outside of our homes, through telco and cable systems, is broadband. The latter may seem desirable, but only in the absence of free (as in liberty, not price) alternatives.

Bob sees the Internet less as a physical infrastructure of CFR (copper, fiber and radios) than as a “bit commons” to which we all contribute. It’s an ocean rather than canals across a desert. Its nature is one of abundance, not scarcity. One can only make it scarce, which is what phone and cable companies do, even as they increase our broadband speeds to larger fractions of what we have at home for free.

Bob has specific recommendations for what an Office of Connectivity Advocacy would do. Read them and give Bob (and the Transition Team) constructive feedback. Here’s part of his post:

Initially the OCA would be charged with:

  • Empowering communities and individuals to create their own solutions using common facilities – the bit commons.
  • Education and research focused on achieving and taking advantage of end-to-end connectivity.
    • Educating Congress to understand the meaning and value of connectivity. Ideally it would play the role of providing a first-principles reality check rather than just checking for conformance to regulations. For example, a call is completed when the message gets through, not when a phone rings.
    • Assist the government in its own use of technology both for its own use and as an example for others. It could encourage technologies that have wide market appeal rather than just those that can conform to government RFPs.
    • Developing enlightened investment strategies which don’t try to capture all of the value.
    • Supporting research in using networking rather than the networks themselves.
    • Supporting research in how to get more out of existing physical facilities as well as encouraging new technologies.
    • Developing decentralized protocols for connectivity rather than today’s provider-centric IP
    • Working to simplify building applications using public connectivity (the bit commons). This could be mundane telemedicine, community information or …
  • Acting as an advocate for a transition from a telecom framing to a connectivity framing:
    • Evaluating existing assets and business practice afresh without the century old technical and policy presumptions.
    • Working towards a bit commons or common infrastructure including removing the artificial distinctions between wired and unwired bits.
    • Assisting in transitioning the existing telecommunications industry to industries supporting and taking advantage of connectivity.

At first glance the idea of the OCA may seem fanciful but it’s far easier to start afresh than trying to struggle out of the mire of the existing Regulatorium. We didn’t build the automobile by modifying stage coaches – we just used our understanding of wheeled vehicles to start afresh.

Starting afresh is essential to the telcos and cablecos as well. They need to see the Internet as something more, and other, than just a “service” they provide. Their existing phone and cable TV business models are in trouble. Charging for Net access is no gold mine, either. They need to start looking for ways of making money because of the Net and not merely with it. This is what Google and Amazon have done with “cloud” services. (Many of Google’s are in this list here. Amazon’s are here.) The only thing keeping the phone and cable companies from being in similar or allied businesses is a lack of imagination. Also a lack of appreciation for advantages of incumbency other than the ability to charge folks for broadband alone. These companies have waterfront property on the Net’s ocean. They also have direct relationships with customers. Those relationships can be used for much more than billing and essential services alone.

It would be much easier for these guys to start thinking outside their boxes if the Net were split off from the phone and cable regulatoria. And that Nick Carr’s Big Switch would happen a lot faster. (By the way, for thinking outside the box, it’s fun to read Nick’s post on Microsof’ts “trailer park” based cloud infrastructure.)

I wrote here,

Phone and cable companies today are in a lousy position to run the Internet business. Telephony and Cable TV are railroads and steamships. They “carry” the Net as a “service”, but the Net isn’t essentially a service. It’s just a way to connect things. Connectivity is what matters. Not “broadband”, much as it appeals within the context of phone and cable companies’ limited offerings and imaginations. Who will imagine what can be done when connectivity is freed up? Phone and cable companies? I’d rather bet on the people leaving those companies.

If phone and cable companies want to attract rather than lose its most original engineers, they it would help if they got out of the old regulatory frame and into a new one that separates the Net from their legacy monopolies.

More about Bob.

Bonus link: Beyond Telecom: Bob Frankston on the Future We Make for Ourselves. It’s is an interveiw I did with Bob earlier this year, for Linux Journal.

Tags: , , , , , ,

I just posted The Open Source Force Behind the Obama Campaign over at Linux Journal. I wrote it in August for the November issue, which would come out in time for the election. But it was too long for the magazine, and too off-topic as well. So we shelved it, and planned to put it on the website after the election.

Originally I was going to update it; but after noodling around with that for awhile, and not quite getting it the way I wanted it, I realized it was more interesting as a piece of history: a snapshot in time. So that’s what I just put up there, adding only an introduction.

In going through this process, one thing that surpised me was how much I wrote about the Dean Campaign back in ’03-04. Since the Obama Campaign was what Britt Blaser calls “Dean done right”, you could say I had started covering the Obama campaign more than four years ago.

And maybe I was unintentionally influencing it as well.

In digging around for old stuff, I ran across Gary Wolf’s How the Internet Invented Howard Dean, in the January ’04 issue of Wired. One sidebar is The Howard Dean Reading List: How a bunch of books about social networking rebooted the Democratic system. Among those six is The Cluetrain Manifesto. So perhaps by that thin thread I can claim grand-paternity to Obama’s success.

Though not as credibly as, say, David Weinberger, who actually advised the Dean campaign. David, who is quoted in the Wired piece, not only co-wrote Cluetrain, but sole-authored Small Pieces Loosely Joined, which is another book on the Howard Dean reading list.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

These are a few among the many salt ponds that ring the south end of San Francisco Bay. Once considered and agricultural innovation and an economic boom, the practice of “reclaiming” wild wetlands for industrial purposes is now considered ecologically awful by environmentalists, especially here on the West Coast of the U.S., which has precious few wetlands in any case. Many environmentalists have been working to get Cargill to close the ponds and return the Bay to its more natural state. Cargill hasn’t budged. In fact, <a href=”http://www.cargill.com/sf_bay/saltpond_ecosystem.htm”>Cargill has its own views</a> on the matter, plus some interesting facts about the ponds themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that the Bay is actually one of the youngest features on the California landscape, having flooded within only in the last couple thousand years, as sea levels rose. (Global warming has been happening, in fact, since the last ice age.)

I took this shot two days ago on approach to San Francisco on a flight from Boston. Here’s a set of all the photos I’ve taken of salt ponds, both here and in the desert. And here is the whole set of shots I took from coast to coast. Most were at the ends of the flight, since the sky was undercast most of the way.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

It finally occurs to me to turn on the TV. I’ve been listening to NPR and CNN on the laptop, with the htoel room’s flat screen blank in the corner. BBC Channel 3 is following the man we call #barackobama to the stage in Chicago.

Now Obama is speaking. We are and always will be the United States of America. With nature waving the flag behind him. Hard to blog what follows. Too choked up.

An amazing speech, as excellent as he has led us to expect. And to keep expecting.

Not a call to unite, or a command. Just an assertion spoken on coins in our pockets. e pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

0400GMT, 4am London time, seconds after the polls close on the West Coast and Hawaii (and not a vote yet reported from any of those reliably blue states) CNN calls Barack Obama the winner. On the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the NAACP, four months past the 232nd birthday of a country whose first fifteen presidents could have owned slaves, forty years after the assassination of Martin Luther King, an African American is being elected President of the United States.

George Will, conservative columnist and historian from Chicago, just quoted King (I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land…) in a warm and humble voice.

His quote is from King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It’s about history:

I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of general and panoramic view of the whole human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” — I would take my mental flight by Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there. I would move on by Greece, and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and esthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even go by the way that the man for whom I’m named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church in Wittenberg.

But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating president by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy.” Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we’re going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence.

That is where we are today. And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period, to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember, I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the salves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

After silencing the boos, John McCain gives a concesson speech for the ages. In the end McCain — a man who has given more for his country than any presidential candidate in history — expresses the kind of grace that is the true source of honor: kindness, generosity, modesty, self-sacrifice. Country First, indeed.

He talks about promise. About how Americans never quit. He places a bookend to the history that has passed since King’s speech, given in Memphis the day before being shot dead there. King’s last paragraph begins,

… I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.

And here we are.

Tags: , , , ,

I hate to sleep through history, but that’s the plan. I’m sitting here in a hotel in London at 10:20pm GMT with a connection too slow for video and barely fast enough for audio. Meaningful results won’t be coming in here until about 3am, which is when I’ll get up and try not to listen too closely while I get some overdue work done. Then at 6am I’ll join some locals and ex-pats at a pub nearby to celebrate the Obama victory.

I’m expecting by that time the U.S. media will be calling it a landslide, and then exercizing all the superlatives that come with such an unprecedented candidate, campaign, movement and promise.

And they’ll be right.

Look at the size of the crowds, the length of the lines. No ‘fence to John McCain, but he’s not making that happen. This is Something Else. This is the movie that’s real. This is the moment. The turning point.

Enjoy.

And see ya ’round the bend.

Hitting the road for a long road trip, with just a brief visit back home in Boston next Friday. I’ll be hitting…

See some of ya’ll in some of those places…

Voices and dreams

Say Hear is page that patches together voice messages from people who want to say why they’ve voting for whom. Interesting to click around.

I just wrote in my vote for Obama. Somewhere back early this year I explained why I favored Obama. I liked what I said then, but can’t find it now.

What Colin Powell said about Obama being a “transformative figure” comes close.

What Martin Luther King said in his I Have a Dream speech comes closer, and perhaps says all that needs to be said. This is the line:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

If Obama wins on Tuesday, that dream will have come true.

Tags: , , ,

Interesting to read the “18 conservatives, libertarians, and independent thinkers” gathered bu The American Conservative. The current cover, The Right Choice, begins,

This election offers particularly dismal prospects for conservatives: the Senate’s most liberal member versus a Republican who combines the worst policies of George W. Bush with an erratic temper and a thinly veiled contempt for the Right. No third-party candidate has been able to break past the margins to mount an insurgent campaign.
Given these impoverished alternatives, no easy consensus emerges…

Then, the roster, how they will vote, and some excerpts –

Peter Brimelow, Nobody:
I would write in Baldwin, except that most states make that almost as difficult as getting on the ballot and don’t always count write-in votes anyway.
Oh, and Obama and Whatshisname? I’m indifferent. I don’t think President Obama will dare push an amnesty through because the Republicans would oppose it, whereas enough stupid Republicans will fall in line behind a McCain amnesty to give the Democrats bipartisan cover. But at least a McCain presidency would make it clear even to Republican loyalists what Pat Buchanan concluded in 2000: there is no solution for America but a new party.
Reid Buckley, McCain:
Loyalty, I suppose…
I am plenty mad at the Republican Party and would enjoy watching the entire double-talking leadership and its unctuous apparatus throughout the states fried in oil. I still disagree with maverick McCain plenty on the issues, and every time he says “my friends,” I wince almost as wretchedly as when George W. Bush ends his sentences with that awful moue of his upper lip, producing a smirk which in turn suggests a revolting fullness of self-satisfaction…
Barack Obama, on the other hand, for all his muddy shifting with the political winds, has made his vision clear, and it is doctrinaire Democratic left-wing socialism and therefore too depressing for words. I hew to the belief that he is also a decent man and probably politically more savvy than John McCain. He may learn. He may be knocked off his horse on the way to Damascus. But I can’t vote for the prospect of Obama’s education. So I vote McCain. Unlike the Beltway snobs (an insular pathology that now defines the East Coast from Bangor, Maine to Key West), I place my trust in Sarah Palin. Dadgummit, by golly, she speaks the American language of the plains and the frontier. I trust it, and her.
John Patrick Diggins, Obama:
Republicans have no trouble losing a war and calling it a victory, and some of them are voting for McCain for that reason. Obama, in contrast, is stuck with a war he opposed, and politics may force him to stay the course. Still, I prefer the professor to the warrior. McCain claims he is thinking only about the good of the country, then chooses as his running mate a gun-happy huntress who supported the Alaskan independence movement, which advocates secession from the United States. No wonder she is idolized by those who disdain the very federal government that built the Alaskan Highway. As Orwell observed, those receiving benefits always hate the benefactor.
Rod Dreher, Nobody:
As both a conservative and a Republican, I confess that we deserve to lose this year. We have governed badly and have earned the wrath of voters, who will learn in due course how inadequate the nostrums of liberal Democrats are to the crisis of our times. If I cannot in good faith cast a vote against the Bush years by voting for Obama, I can at least do so by withholding my vote from McCain.
Francis Fukayama, Obama:
I’m voting for Barack Obama this November for a very simple reason. It is hard to imagine a more disastrous presidency than that of George W. Bush. It was bad enough that he launched an unnecessary war and undermined the standing of the United States throughout the world in his first term. But in the waning days of his administration, he is presiding over a collapse of the American financial system and broader economy that will have consequences for years to come. As a general rule, democracies don’t work well if voters do not hold political parties accountable for failure. While John McCain is trying desperately to pretend that he never had anything to do with the Republican Party, I think it would a travesty to reward the Republicans for failure on such a grand scale.
Kara Hopkins, McCain:
When John McCain appears on screen, all vacant grin and Eeyore cadence, I reach for the mute button. I hate his wars. I don’t trust his maverick pose. When he says “my friends,” he doesn’t mean me. But I am voting for him.
Call it damage control.
Elizabeth Lasch-Quinn, Obama:
Without doubt, my decision to vote for Barack Obama for president began when I watched his televised speech to the Democratic Convention in 2004. Today on the cold page of the computer printout, it loses something. Outside of the electrifying moment of his delivery, the speech contains less than I remembered. But what is there explains the reverberations in so many parts of my inherited mental and moral universe.
Leonard Liggio, Barr:
In the presidential contest, the Libertarian Party is the clear choice for opponents of the Paulson plan and the government policies that precipitated the crash.
Daniel McCarthy, Paul:
I’m writing in Ron Paul for president and Barry Goldwater Jr. for vice president. Why agonize over whether Barr or Baldwin is the better constitutionalist, when you can cast your ballot for the very best? A vote for Paul is an endorsement of all he has accomplished (and might yet achieve) and a rejection of the often honorable but never effective course of the third parties.
Scott McConnell, Obama:
I’m voting for Obama. While he doesn’t inspire me, he does impress. His two-year campaign has been disciplined and intelligent. He has surrounded himself with the mainstream liberal types who staffed the Clinton administration. Like countless social democratic leaders before him, he probably was more left-wing when he was younger. Circumstance and ambition have pushed him to the center. If elected, he will inherit an office burdened with massive financial and foreign-policy problems. Unlike John McCain, he won’t try to bomb his way out of the mess.
Declan McCullagh, Nobody:
I am not voting for president in 2008.
This was not an easy decision, but all the candidates are flawed, at least if you believe in limited government, civil liberties, free markets, and a foreign policy far less bellicose than what we have today.
Robert A. Pape, Obama:
I strongly support Barack Obama for president. In the past, I have supported both Republicans and Democrats, choosing the candidate with the leadership qualities and foreign-policy principles most likely to advance the national security of the United States. Of course, we have no crystal balls, but leaders with sound judgment on core policies and courage to look beyond political winds of the moment greatly improve the odds of long-term success. Obama scores uncommonly high on the “judgment-courage” index, qualities that will be needed as our next president seeks to repair the damage from the triple train wreck of our overstretched military, underperforming economy, and floundering international reputation that is now undermining our national security.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell Jr., Nobody:
Nonparticipation sends a message that we no longer believe in the racket they have cooked up for us, and we want no part of it.
You might say that this is ineffective. But what effect does voting have? It gives them what they need most: a mandate. Nonparticipation helps deny that to them. It makes them, just on the margin, a bit more fearful that they are ruling us without our consent. This is all to the good. The government should fear the people. Not voting is a good beginning toward instilling that fear.
This year especially there is no lesser of two evils. There is socialism or fascism. The true American spirit should guide every voter to have no part of either.
Gerald J. Russello, Nobody:
In this election, we face choosing between a “maverick” with a penchant for militarism who has been part of the Washington power structure for over two decades, and an inexperienced figure who wants to save us from ourselves, or, as my friend Gene Healy puts it, “the Messiah vs. the prophet of doom.” The only thing they agree on is that Washington is where the power is. Add to that a supine Congress busy giving away its war-making power to the executive, what’s left of the economy to the Treasury secretary, and the decision over any controversial issue to the courts. It is hard to see why voting for one rather than the other would make any discernible difference.
Steve Sailer, Connerly:
Thus, I intend to do in 2008 what I did during the Bush-Kerry whoop-tee-doo: write in the name of a public figure who is actually trying to solve a major, long-term problem, my friend Ward Connerly. Just as Social Security can’t afford too many retirees per worker, America won’t be able to afford its affirmative-action system when the racial ratio of minority beneficiaries per white benefactor reaches excessive levels. As America becomes majority minority (by 2042, by latest Census projection), the cost of affirmative action will become crippling. By helping get government racial preferences banned by voter initiative in California, Washington, and Michigan, Ward has made the future a little less grim.

Total: Obama, 5; Nobody, 4; McCain, 2; Barr, 1; Paul, 1; Baldwin,1; Connerly, 1.

Bonus quote, from Andrew Sullivan: “If the GOP decides that Palin is the future of their party, the GOP won’t have a future.”

Earth to Obama…

[Note... Not sure what's wrong here, but the last few sentences of this post aren't appearing, and somehow the next post is screwed up too. No time to fix right now. Sorry about that. Suffice to say that the problem here is MoveOn and not the Obama campaign. Still, it's Obama's problem. - DS]

So I just got an email that goes like this:

Dear Doc,

Your friend _______ sent you the following video from CNNBC: “Obama’s Loss Traced To Doc Searls”

Watch it here.

The first time I saw one of these was when a likely Obama voter pointed it out to me. They were royally pissed, confused and offended.

I’m technically savvy enough to know that this is a fill-in-the-blank video, generated by a robotic process. But less technical voters might not know that. This same person told me it looked like somebody had invaded their personal records somehow. It felt like an invasion of privacy, even though the source of the video was actually a friend — as it was for me. Worse for Obama, it made this person want to vote for McCain.

After showing the video, “CNNBC” says,

Doc, It’s Your Turn To Customize This Video For Your Friends

Don’t let any of your friends be that one missing vote on Election Day. Enter their names and email addresses below to send them each a personalized version of this video with their name in it.

And don’t worry—after your friends watch their videos, we won’t email them again. And we’ll never sell or distribute your email address or your friends’ email addresses.

I’m not worried about that. I’m worried it’ll backfire on the Obama campaign.

I don’t know what the connection is between “cnnbc” and the Obama campaign, if any. (Somebody at one campaign office just told me there is none.) But it’s in the interest of the campaign to discourage it.

Update: I just ran whois on http://www.cnnbcvideo.com, and got this:

Registrant: MoveOn.org
Political Action
PO Box 9218
Berkeley, California 94709
United States

Small print at the bottom of the page to which that URL redirects (the one where you put the names off all your friends in boxes) says this:

Paid for by MoveOn.org Political Action, http://pol.moveon.org/. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. Co-sponsored by TrueMajority PAC.

 Tags: ,

Paper margins

You’d think, from the looks of the endorsement picture, that Barack Obama is gonna sell a lot more newspapers over the next four years. Whether or not, the picture’s not pretty for John McCain, who has clearly lost his “base”:

Be sure to scroll down. Lots of wonky grist for obsessive mills in there.

Hat tip to Andrew Leyden.

ISPs are pressed to become child porn cops is a new MSNBC piece by Bill Dedman and Bob Sullivan. It begins,

New technologies and changes in U.S. law are adding to pressures to turn Internet service providers into cops examining all Internet traffic for child pornography.

One new tool, being marketed in the U.S. by an Australian company, offers to check every file passing through an Internet provider’s network — every image, every movie, every document attached to an e-mail or found in a Web search — to see if it matches a list of illegal images.

The company caught the attention of New York’s attorney general*, who has been pressing Internet companies to block child porn. He forwarded the proposal to one of those companies, AOL, for discussion by an industry task force that is looking for ways to fight child porn. A copy of the company’s proposal was also obtained by msnbc.com

But such monitoring just became easier with a law approved unanimously by the Congress and signed on Monday by President Bush. A section of that law written by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gives Internet service providers access to lists of child porn files, which previously had been closely held by law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Although the law says it doesn’t require any monitoring, it doesn’t forbid it either. And the law ratchets up the pressure, making it a felony for ISPs to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of child pornography.

*That would be Andrew Cuomo.

(An appeal to journalists everywhere: When you refer to a piece legislation, whether proposed or passed, please link to the @#$% thing.)

So I looked around, and believe that the legislation in question is S.1738, described by Thomas as A bill to require the Department of Justice to develop and implement a National Strategy Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, to improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and to make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators.

It was sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden and co-sponsored by 60 others, not including John McCain. But Thomas says S.519, A bill to modernize and expand the reporting requirements relating to child pornography, to expand cooperation in combating child pornography, and for other purposes, is a related bill (there are two others), and was sponsored by McCain. About that bill it says, Latest Major Action: 2/7/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Note: For further action, see S.1738, which became Public Law 110-401 on 10/13/2008.

So I’ve read the text, and I see two things there. One is this Task Force business (which to me says “gather the wrong people for a noble purpose, and task them with creating a technical mandate that may not get funded, and if it does will be a huge kluge that does far less than it’s supposed to do while complicating everything it touches”). The other is a wiretapping bill for the Internet. I get that from Section 103, which says one Task Force purpose is “increasing the investigative capabilities of state and local law enforcement officers in the detection and investigation of child exploitation crimes facilitated by the Internet and the apprehension of offenders”. Hence the move by Andrew Cuomo in New York.

This is one more slippery slope at the bottom of which the Internet is just another breed of telecom service, subject to ever-expanding telecom regulation, all for Good Cause.

And we’ll see more of this, as long as we continue framing the Net as just another breed of telecom.

The Net is too new, too protean, too essential and too economically vital for it to be lashed — even by legislation that attempts to protect its virtues — to telecom law that was born in 1934 and comprises a conceptual box from which there is no escape.

Hat tips to Alex Goldman and Karl Bode.

Bonus wisdom from Richard Bennett: “The Internet is indeed the most light-regulated network going, and it’s the only one in a constant state of improvement. Inappropriate regulation – treating the Internet like a telecom network – is the only way to put an end to that cycle.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

David Sedaris on undecided voters:

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”
To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Hat tip to Rob Paterson.

In this election “cycle” (as the professionals call it… used to be a “season”), the only times I’ve found the cable news networks watchable were during and after the debates. CNN was generally good at that, even though the post-debate punditry got tiresome and I turned it off. But otherwise I haven’t been able to contain the sense that the need to talk, and the need to advocate for a candidate, has made hypocrites of the blathering heads the networks feel obligated to feature.

It doesn’t even matter if they get caught. They just go on and on and on, and none of the interviewers say, “Didn’t you say the opposite thing a few weeks back?”

Ah, but for that we have Jon Stewart. Bless the man, his writers, and his clip collectors. Here’s an old Daily Show (from early September). You’d think it might be stale, but it ain’t. The dude nails it.

Tags: ,

Steve Lewis writes, Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak! — a deep and wonderful detour from the usual punditry about a candidate’s temperament, informed by Steve’s years working in Indonesia, as well as his exposure to many countries and cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. I hope Steve doesn’t mind my lifting most of his post to repeat here. Dig:

So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority.  And, for, quite a number of Democrats Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are an unsettling suggestion of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular.  I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.

Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not yet fully ripened tropical fruits served with a sauce of sweet thick soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili papers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp.  Roedjak’s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory tastes is more than culinary.  Roedjak restores equilibrium even while exciting the senses.  Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of personal emotional turmoil; domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions to escalate. On the symbolic level, Roedjak embodies all that is positive of the values and social mores of southeast Asia.

Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundementalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the “Indonesian” facet of the Democratic presidential candidate, his formative years on the island of Java, and his being a member of a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan and Kenyan ones.

In Java, outward emotional evenness and display of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages.  Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat.  Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.

On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture.  The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali.  In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.

And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers.  Join me for a mango, anyone?

I dunno if Roedjak explains Obama, but I do like getting an interesting new angle on an exceptional man.

Tags: , , ,

The Oral Office

Palin as President is like some kind of weird interactive oval office advent calendar from a parallel polyverse. Click on anything and get surprised by some palinism, in Sarahs voice, explaining. Sort of. Have fun.

Tags: , , , , ,

Blogging the debate

Came in after it started. Picking it up with the question about negative campaigning. McCain nailed Obama to the wall on that one, and Obama is changing the subject. McCain is also coming across much more knowledgeable and direct. And experienced. McCain is also speaking in final draft, while Obama stumbles. Obama is a great public speaker, but a poor extemporizer.

McCain stepped in it with Ayers and Acorn. Obama gave his best response yet. Ayers and Acorn are red herrings, and they won’t wash.

Good question: about running mates. Obama gives the first response. All about Biden. It’s a good-enough answer. But not great. He said nothing about Palin. Smooth move. McCain’s response about Palin is better than Obama’s on Biden. Fact is there’s no comparison, but I’m giving this one to McCain, so far. Obama’s follow up is weak. He needs to say what’s wrong with Palin, I think now. He didn’t. Changed the subject to the costs of funding on special needs. Bad move. Now McCain is point by point doing to Joe Biden what Obama should have done to Sarah Palin.

Question on oil and energy. McCain’s response is strong.

Just noticed: they’re both left-handed.

Time for Obama to respond on the energy question. For the first time I see Obama looking into the camera. Taking money from China and giving it to Saudi Arabia again. Too simplistic. But Obama is being emphatic and clear. “We can’t drill our way out of the problem.” He still stumbles over his brain cramps when he’s uttering long sentences. Needs to fix that, if he can.

Obama: “I believe in free trade.” Really? The rest of his answer says no. But he made a good point about lack of automobile trade reciprocity with Korea.

Now McCain is nailing Obama on facts, or what sound like facts. The Columbia free trade agreeement, for example. McCain is acting smug and self-satisfied in pointing out that Obama has never traveled “south of the border”. Not sure it works. Obama’s defense against the hits are subject changes. Addressing energy consumption is good by Obama, but sounds blah.

McCain is now saying that Obama wants “to restrict trade and to raise taxes”. Obama just smiles. A hit with no counterpunch. And a credible one, given Obama’s other responses.

McCain: Real, but angry. Obama: Cool, but flat.

Health care is up. Obama talks to the camera. The usual halting pauses. The “Uncommitted Ohio Voters” are giving Obama high marks though, if the green and red lines at the bottom of the CNN screen are to be trusted.

McCain is giving a fairly strong response. Scoring with men (green line) and tanking with women (red line). Interesting, in a hypnotic way.

Obama is stronger on the health care question. Detailed, direct. Informative. Slipping when he goes into the McCain plan. “For the first time in history you’ll be taxing people’s health care benefits.” Ouch. But Obama still has those halting pauses, like somebody who has incompletely overcome stuttering. “His clutch is slipping,” my friend Joe (sitting next to me here) just said.

Andrew Sullivan: “I feel as tired of this as John McCain and Barack Obama look.”

Roe v. Wade is the current question. McCain is saying he doesn’t have a “litmus test.” Points out that Obama voted against appointing Breyer and Roberts for “ideological” reasons. McCain is sputtering on the abortion question. He has too much history on both sides of this one.

Obama won’t apply a litmus test, but says he believes Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided.” Obama is much stronger on this question. Obama: “The court needs to stand up when nobody else will.”

McCain: “We need to change the culture of America.” Going after Obama’s voting in Illinois. Once again McCain is scoring big with undecided Ohio men and the opposite with women. Obama’s defense is detailed and convincing. He opposes late term abortions except where the mother’s life is threatened.

Question on education, the last one.

Obama’s right thumb bends in, while his left thumb bends out. Basketball injury? (I ask because I have one of those. With a thumb.) His answer is blah. Good points about students taking on debt. The $4000 credit for tuition in exchange for community service is almost interesting. His point about parental responsibilty is a sop to the Right.

McCain: “Choice and competition among schools…” Charter schools… Give parents a choice… “Reward these good teachers.” Something about the military. “We need to have…” a roster of blah points.

Obama: “We agree on charter schools.” zzzzzz.

It’s weird that CNN has red on the left and blue on the right, even though Obama is positioned on the left side of the screen and McCain on the right.

McCain: “It’s a system that cries out for accountability.” A subject close to home for me. If it were up to “accountability,” I would have been washed out of high school in the 9th grade, because my grades and scores on standardized tests were bottom-tier. Anyway, whatever.

McCain’s closing remarks: “America needs a new direction. I have a record of reform…” He looks more tired now. He’s got a few hickups. “I’d be honored and humbled.”

Obama’s. “Same failed policies and same failed politics.” Yawn. “Our brighter days are still ahead… a new energy policies… It’s not gonna be easy, not gonna be quick… renew a spirit of sacrifice and responsibility… I will work every single day tirelessly… I would ask…” would? Feh. Weak ending by both men.

Okay. Bottom line: much more even than the earlier ones. I call it a toss-up, with maybe a slight edge to McCain.

Will it make much difference? I doubt it.

[Later...] Drezner: “The big winner was Joe the Plumber — the rest of us are screwed.”

Jay Rosen: “After Gore and Kerry, it became an accepted maxim in politics that you must hit back hard or lose. But this maxim has itself lost.” True. Obama payed rope-a-crank with McCain.

Mudflats has 805 comments so far.

Roger L. Simon: “The Obama-McCain debates will not be remembered like Lincoln-Douglas. In fact, I doubt they will be remembered at all.”

David Bernstein in Volokh: “Obama plays an excellent defense.”

The Onion: Bush Calls for Panic.

Okay, off to bed.

Creamed wheat

A few days ago, in Wheat vs. Chaff, I excerpted Christopher Buckley‘s Sorry, Dad, I’m voting for Obama, and added this:

What’s happening now is a wheat/chaff divide on the Right. We see the wheat with Chrisopher Buckley, David Brooks, George Will, Kathleen Parker, Andrew Sullivan and other thoughtful conservatives who stand on the rock of principle and refuse to follow errant leaders over a cliff. We see the chaff with Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and other partisans-at-all-cost.

Now Buckley reports that, as a result of his Obama endorsement, he was in effect fired by the , the magazine founded by his famous dad. Rich Lowry, the magazine’s editor, says otherwise. Whatever, Christopher’s sharpest points are not about what happened to him, but what’s happened to his party:

So, I have been effectively fatwahed (is that how you spell it?) by the conservative movement, and the magazine that my father founded must now distance itself from me. But then, conservatives have always had a bit of trouble with the concept of diversity. The GOP likes to say it’s a big-tent. Looks more like a yurt to me.
While I regret this development, I am not in mourning, for I no longer have any clear idea what, exactly, the modern conservative movement stands for. Eight years of “conservative” government has brought us a doubled national debt, ruinous expansion of entitlement programs, bridges to nowhere, poster boy Jack Abramoff and an ill-premised, ill-waged war conducted by politicians of breathtaking arrogance. As a sideshow, it brought us a truly obscene attempt at federal intervention in the Terry Schiavo case.
So, to paraphrase a real conservative, Ronald Reagan: I haven’t left the Republican Party. It left me.

Maybe, after the electorate creams McCain and what’s left of his party, they can strike the yurt and start building something a bit more spacious again.

Christopher Buckley in Sorry, Dad, I’m voting for Obama:

…I have known John McCain personally since 1982. I wrote a well-received speech for him. Earlier this year, I wrote in The New York Times—I’m beginning to sound like Paul Krugman, who cannot begin a column without saying, “As I warned the world in my last column…”—a highly favorable Op-Ed about McCain, taking Rush Limbaugh and the others in the Right Wing Sanhedrin to task for going after McCain for being insufficiently conservative. I don’t—still—doubt that McCain’s instincts remain fundamentally conservative. But the problem is otherwise.

McCain rose to power on his personality and biography. He was authentic. He spoke truth to power. He told the media they were “jerks” (a sure sign of authenticity, to say nothing of good taste; we are jerks). He was real. He was unconventional. He embraced former anti-war leaders. He brought resolution to the awful missing-POW business. He brought about normalization with Vietnam—his former torturers! Yes, he erred in accepting plane rides and vacations from Charles Keating, but then, having been cleared on technicalities, groveled in apology before the nation. He told me across a lunch table, “The Keating business was much worse than my five and a half years in Hanoi, because I at least walked away from that with my honor.” Your heart went out to the guy. I thought at the time, God, this guy should be president someday.

A year ago, when everyone, including the man I’m about to endorse, was caterwauling to get out of Iraq on the next available flight, John McCain, practically alone, said no, no—bad move. Surge. It seemed a suicidal position to take, an act of political bravery of the kind you don’t see a whole lot of anymore.

But that was—sigh—then. John McCain has changed. He said, famously, apropos the Republican debacle post-1994, “We came to Washington to change it, and Washington changed us.” This campaign has changed John McCain. It has made him inauthentic. A once-first class temperament has become irascible and snarly; his positions change, and lack coherence; he makes unrealistic promises, such as balancing the federal budget “by the end of my first term.” Who, really, believes that? Then there was the self-dramatizing and feckless suspension of his campaign over the financial crisis. His ninth-inning attack ads are mean-spirited and pointless. And finally, not to belabor it, there was the Palin nomination. What on earth can he have been thinking?

All this is genuinely saddening, and for the country is perhaps even tragic, for America ought, really, to be governed by men like John McCain—who have spent their entire lives in its service, even willing to give the last full measure of their devotion to it. If he goes out losing ugly, it will be beyond tragic, graffiti on a marble bust.

This is why I thought, early on, that McCain would win, regardless of how well Obama ran his campaign. Christopher continues,

I’ve read Obama’s books, and they are first-rate. He is that rara avis, the politician who writes his own books. Imagine. He is also a lefty. I am not. I am a small-government conservative who clings tenaciously and old-fashionedly to the idea that one ought to have balanced budgets. On abortion, gay marriage, et al, I’m libertarian. I believe with my sage and epigrammatic friend P.J. O’Rourke that a government big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away.

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.

Well, I’ve tried to read Obama’s books, and “first rate” is not what I’d call them. “Tiresome and quoteproof” is more like it. But still, he’s the best we’ve got running right now, especially since McCain has turned into a cranky bastard.

There were so many ways that McCain could have whupped Obama’s ass, but they were all on the high road: McCain’s own. For whatever reasons, McCain has done what he said he wouldn’t do, which is go low. The result is a candidate defined not by his own virtues, but by the alleged faults of his opponent. And he’s done a lousy job of it, made worse by Sarah Palin’s plays to the right wing’s scary fringe.

What’s happening now is a wheat/chaff divide on the Right. We see the wheat with Chrisopher Buckley, David Brooks, George Will, Kathleen Parker, Andrew Sullivan and other thoughtful conservatives who stand on the rock of principle and refuse to follow errant leaders over a cliff. We see the chaff with Michelle Malkin, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and other partisans-at-all-cost.

In a speech at UCSB a couple years ago, Christopher Buckley winced when asked about what had happened to his dad‘s party at the hands of George W. Bush and friends. “I think we need some corner time,” Christopher said.

That time was put off for the next Presidential election. Now that the McCain campaign has turned into a self-defeating tar-fest, that time is finally approaching.

That’s where this vector points.

Unless we Do Something, of course.

Meanwhile, there’s this source of inspiration:

Tags: , , , ,

I don’t know enough about prediction markets, but here’s what one of them says about the likely outcome of the election:

The tide is running. It’s Obama’s to lose at this point, and he’s too smart and well organized for that.

Hat tip to .

Tags:

Slept between the last post and this. Just took a shower and sat down at the computer. Here’s my brain dump before I move on to projects where I can make more of a difference.

1) Both these guys are dull. The McCain of the Straight Talk Express and Dunkin’ Donuts with press buddies is gone, replaced by a cranky old bastard. Obama is Kerry with better speechwriters. The difference is in vector. Obama is young and can learn on the job. He also has a managerial hauteur, substantiated by a campaign that is amazingly well-organized and effective at every level. I don’t doubt that he’ll manage the country well. Not so sure about leading the country, though. He’s no Reagan, but he’s a bit of a Clinton, in the sense that he’s smart, articulate and at least kinda warm up close. To me the most important fact about the debate was that Barack and Michelle stayed and worked the crowd. John and Cindy split. It’s not smart for Elvis to leave the building while the Beatles are still on stage. Not when the audience is voting on both.
2) Clinton excepted, Republicans since Nixon have been better at connecting with ordinary folks. Nixon’s “moral majority” resonated with the voting majority, and helped create the red state base that still stands. McCain should have been connecting last night, but didn’t do very well at it. Not as well as he should have, anyway. Obama, dry as he is, does come across as empathetic. And he talks empathy better than anybody since Lyndon Johnson.
3) McCain’s “that one” line was peevish and nasty, and will become a grass roots slogan for Obama. Forgotten will be the point that McCain made, about how the two voted on something. (What was it? I don’t remember, and on that rest my case.)
4) I cringed every time I heard McCain say “my friends”. It should create warmth, but sounds insincere.
5) Obama needs to work on his brain cramps. It seemed like there was a moment in every one of his answers when his mind siezed and he lost his flow. I suspect he’s been working on not saying “um” all the time, and not saying “and” when he means “um.” Whatever it is, he needs to get past it. I’m guessing Obama’s younger than Jimmy Carter was when Carter took lessons to overcome a lifelong mumbling problem.
6) The pandering was predictable, but the gratuitous and misleading simplifications got to me. When Obama talked about “borrowing money from China and giving it to Saudi Arabia,” I wanted to throw something at him. Likewise when McCain talked about “victory” in Iraq when misapplication of that very concept is one reason we got into the mess in the first place. And Obama’s stuff about going after Bin Laden is wacky. Listen to this edition of Fresh Air. It’s an interview with Robert Baer, author of The Devil We Know. In it Baer lays out a calm, rational and constructive approach to Iran and Middle East powers and politics. The reason I bring it up is that it makes sense — yet it fits into neither candidate’s narratives (although it’s in better alignment with Obama’s willingness to “negotiate with enemies”). Also because Baer, a CIA operative for two decades, says Bin Ladin is dead. If tha’s true, it inconveniences both candidates’ narratives.
7) The best question from Brokaw was about health care: Is it a right, a privilege or a responsibility? McCain said it was a responsibility (of individuals, not government), and talked up free market economics. Obama said it was a right, and talked essentially (seemed to me) about socializing the system. Neither made me feel better, but both revealed extreme differences in where the two come from.

Obama won, but not by a huge margin. The difference is between future and past. McCain looks like Bush, cont’d. I don’t think he will be, unless he vacates the office and Palin takes over, which is a frightening prospect. Still, that’s what he represents. Obama does represent Change, and something more: purge — the need to flush out the last administration and bring in a new one. I think more people want that than don’t.

If Obama wins, the best thing he can do is bring in Bill & Hillary as transition team advisors. They learned a lot of stuff the hard way, and Obama’s gonna need all the help he can get.

Tags: , , , ,

Watching the “debate” between McCain and Obama. Hard not to. After eight years of a truly bad presidency, it matters more than usual who our next prez will be. But these guys aren’t saying much.

Worse, I don’t believe either of them are going to do what they say they’re going to do.

Anyway, I’m shunt-blogging the debate mostly on Twitter.

Bonus link.

If just some of this is true, it’s bad news for McCain.

Tags:

Guest-hosting Saturday Night Live.

Might make up for her running mate’s chickening out on David Letterman.

So we just passed a bail-out package that’s marginally better than the one voted down on Monday. But it’s still a bail-out package.

When McCain “suspended” his campaign last week and said he was “going back to Washington” to straighten out this thing, I thought, Uh oh. If he goes back there and truly kicks ass, and sells what Bush can’t, it’ll show he’s a real leader and blow Obama out of the water.

I thought, What McCain should do is something like Colonel Travis did at the Alamo (or at least in the movies about it). He should have drawn a line in the sand, and challenged his party to do what Bush couldn’t make them do. He should have stood on the steps of the Capitol, in front of the TV cameras and the eyes of an expectant nation, and said “Now is the time to put country first. This is how it is done. Our president and his top advisors, and the leaders of both parties, say this bill needs to be signed. It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s the best we can do got to save our financial system in a brief window of opportunity. I want everybody’s who’s with me to line up behind me, so we can tell the country with one voice that we’re ready to do the right thing.”

But instead he did approximately nothing.

Was there a better time to show leadership than with a real crisis and a lame duck president and his own election on the line? And when, as some Republicans claim, Pelosi was trying to sandbag the bill? Can’t think of one.

Disclaimer: These are a few thoughts of one blogger with a low-grade fever. Redraw your own conclusions.

I’ve been reading John McPhee’s Giving Good Weight, the title essay of his book by the same name. That last link (to McPhee’s own site) calls it “a story of farmers selling their produce in the Greenmarkets of New York City as told by a journalist who went to work for an upstate farmer, and — in Harlem, in Brooklyn — turned into a salesman of peppers. greenmarketplace in New York.” It was written in the mid-seventies, now more than thirty years ago, but half a dozen years after I worked for a fresh and frozen produce wholesaler at Hunts Point Market in the Bronx, and more still since I drove an ice cream truck in the summers out to the anomalous and amazing Pine Island, out beyond the New York exurbs. Two generations later, McPhee’s prose is still so strong I can smell the setting as if I were there this afternoon:

West of the suburbs, thirty and more miles from Manhattan, the New Jersey-New York border terrain is precipitous and glaciated and — across a considerable area — innocent of high-speed roads. Minor roads run north and south, flanking the walls of hogback ridges — Pochuck Mountain, Bearfort Mountain, Wawahanda Mountain — but the only route that travels westward with any suggestion of efficiency is the Appalachian Trail. The landscape is remarkably similar to Vermont’s: small clearings, striated outcropings, bouldery fields; rail fences under hard maples; angular roads, not well marked, with wooden signs; wild junipers signaling, as they do, penurious soil; unfenced cemeteries on treeless hillsides; conflagrationary colors in the autumn woods. Moving along such scenes, climbing, descending, losing the way and turning back — remarking how similar to rural New England all this is — one sooner or later tops a rise where the comparison in an instant blinks out. Some distance below, and reaching as far as the eye can conveniently see, is a surface perfectly flat, and not merely flat but also level, and not only level but black as carbon. There are half a dozen such phenomena in this region, each as startling to come upon as the last. Across their smooth expanses, distant hills look like shorelines, the edges of obsidian lakes. The black surfaces were, indeed, once fluid and blue –lakes that stood for many centuries where north-flowing streams were blocked by this or that digital terminus of the retreating Laurentide glacier. Streamborne silt and black organic muck gradually replaced the water… The surface of the mucklands (as they are called) is not altogether firm. It will support a five-inch globe onion. For that matter, it will support a tractor — but it is not nearly dense enough to hold up a house. There are only a few sheds on the wide flats. People live on “islands,” once and present islands, knobs that break through the black surface just as they did when it was blue. Pine island, New York, is a town in a black-dirt sea — the largest and most productive muckland of them all. Maple Island, Merritts Island, Big Island, Black Walnut Island are spaced across it as well, and their clustered houses resemble small European farming communities. The fields surrounding them seem European too, for the acreages of black dirt are ruled off in small, familial segments, like vineyards in Valencia or the Cote d’Or. NO fences, no hedgerows interrupt the vista or separate one farmer form another. Plots abut. The vegetables that come out of this rich organic soil are in their way as special as wines: tall celeries, moist beets, iceberg lettuce as crip as new money, soft Boston salad lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots — and, above all, onions. What the beluga is to caviar the muckland is to onions.”

Such sweet insult to both my own style — all short paragraphs, like advertising copy — and worthies such as Kurt Vonegut, whose central piece of writing advice was to avoid semicolons.

Anyway, I got to McPhee after reading Transportation, SUV’s, Jingoism … and Chickens, Stephen Lewis‘ latest. Steve, a native of the Lower East Side and more recently of the People’s Republic of Brooklyn, is my New Yawk docent, both on site and on blog.

So, sez Steve, “I came across this article which links the rise and fall of America’s petrol-guzzling, pollution-spewing “Sport Utility Vehicles” not to fluctuations in the prices of motor fuel but to Detroit auto makers’ decades-long successful but ultimately backfiring exploitation of a US backlash against European tariffs on … American chickens!”

Sez the article,

It started in 1961 with chicken. Trying to stop a surge of chicken imports into Germany, the European Common Market bowed to the European poultry lobby and almost tripled the tariff on frozen chicken from the United States. Washington, of course, struck back. In 1963, it raised tariffs on a range of European products: brandy to hit the French; dextrine, a food and glue component, to hit the Dutch.
To target Germany, the Johnson administration imposed a 25 percent tariff on light-truck imports, a barrier that fell on Volkswagen, which exported vans to the United States. “Why should we be the scapegoats in the chicken war?” lamented Heinz Nordoff, Volkswagen’s chief executive at the time.
The chicken war ended, but the tariff survived. It explains a lot about why Detroit chose to stake its future on S.U.V.’s...
Years of cheap gas (unleaded didn’t breach $2 a gallon until 2004) helped a lot — as did government tax breaks and looser rules on fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions. Perhaps most important, Washington used the chicken tariff to wall off the light-truck market, giving American automakers a protected and profitable niche to exploit...
The downside of this is evident today. Light trucks account for 57 percent of sales at General Motors; 62 percent of Ford’s; 72 percent of Chrysler’s. It’s not a good place to be with gas at $3.50 a gallon.

Reminds me of the textile industry a couple decades ago, when import quotas were imposed on other countries to protect businesses at home that were long gone. The other countries’ governments then sold those quotas to highest bidders, with these artificial costs passed on by foreign manufactuers to American intermediaries and customers. Maybe that’s still going on. Probably is. Dunno.

Maybe one or more of the rest of ya’ll can tell me.

Of course we’ll see more unintended consequences of forgotten policies in the next administration as well. Stay tuned for those.

Tags: ,

Caffeine Nation

I was just standing on line at a Starbucks where the entire conversation, involving everybody in the line, was about their iPhones. Two topics: operations and applications. Operations was about managing battery life and connectivity by manipulating settings. Applications was about everything: Who has what and recommends what.

The lesson: this is a data device: a hand-held apps-runner. The apps can be anything. What matters most is what gets used most. Maps and navigation appeared to be a big one. We are now blue dots on the surface of Google’s World.

For now. Perspective: The iPhone is a window into The Future, even if (as am I ) you are creeped out by one company controlling everything. The iPhone is a prototype.

I really want to see what can be done with an Android.

Bonus fun.

Watching the vice presidential debate. Biden is talking policy and numbers, while Palin is talking people and stories. Most of the time I don’t know what Biden’s talking about, other than more or less standard liberal Democratic policies: fairness, tax the rich, windfall profits. I do know what Palin’s talking about, which is getting government out of people’s lives and other tunes from the Reagan song book. Both stumble now and then, but she has the stronger personality and is much more human and plainly spoken. He seems like a Washingtontonian policy wonk. Very blah. She seems like a governor who’s been working hard for her state. Bottom line: so far, she’s kicking his ass.

Unless she blows up, which now seems unlikely, this will go down as a Palin win, and may turn things around for McCain.

More notes…

Both have had their teeth whitened. Biden also appears to have had a facelift and hair plugs. Nothing wrong with that, but hey, we’re watching a hi-def TV screen here.

Biden is finishing much stronger, and Palin’s folksy stuff is getting annoying. Still, I think, on an emotional level she’s delivering. She knows a tiny fraction of what Biden knows, but she has spunk to spare, and that counts for a lot.

And her voice gets old.

Andrew Sullivan: “I think he has now won the debate.”

I’m not so sure.

And Gwen Ifill, the moderator, didn’t hold their feet to a fire.

[Next day...] FactCheck.org says they both lied, repeatedly.

The 2012 campaign

Got an email from my sister Jan the other day. She’s a Navy veteran who knew McCain, along with other notables. She’s also quite astute about politics, and follows it more closely than I do. I asked her if it’s cool to pass the email along, and she said yes, so here goes…

After seeing the visuals of yesterday’s (Thursday’s) White House meeting, I came to a conclusion: The Republicans need McCain to lose. Not in a landslide, just narrowly; but they really want and need him to lose.

Why? Well, first of all, because they don’t like him, or Palin. And they don’t think he represents their interests or true conservatism. And they know he is unpredictable and uncontrollable. And old and aging fast in the stress of campaigning, which does not bode well for life in the oval office. So if he dies, there would be Palin, which does not bear thinking about for them: she would set the case for leadership by women and neocons both back a generation and make the GOP the laughing stock of the world.

But the best reason to want McCain to lose is because they know that whoever wins this election will have four years of no-win:

  • even if the bailout works, the economy will be a mess and hard times will hit everyone (but economic advisors and pundits)
  • recovery of Katrina is still stagnant and the real extent of the Texas coast’s devastation is just coming to light; the new President will have to do the recovery right this time, which will cost billions
  • at the best in Iraq all four years will be an expensive extraction quagmire
  • our military will be struggling with recovering from this war’s damage for at least 4 years, if not the next decade
  • Afghanistan is going to be a very hard war and Pakistan is on the brink of radicalism
  • Iran will be very eager to test the next president;
  • Kim will die and North Korea is a great, and dangerous, unknown that will cost us manpower and money to either keep isolated or help restorePutin will take the opportunity of our distractions to expand Russia’s power and influence and control
  • Labor’s time is up in the UK
  • Chavez will challenge the new president for supremacy in Latin America;
  • Global warming will become more and more visible and action more urgent and because of the delays of the last 8 years, action will be more expensive
  • Social security and medicare will be taxed beyond capabilities because bulk of the baby boomers who will become eligible
  • taxes will have to go up, for some folks anyway
  • because there will be no funds for the new President’s promises or programs, education, health care and infrastructure will not be addressed as aggressively as they should and the people will feel betrayed

So whoever is elected this time will, at best and with superb leadership, management and luck, avoid a real disaster and might just be able to start us on the road to recovery. But it will be a time of fingers in the dike, not developing a real flood control system, not visibly anyway.

So in 2012 an opposition candidate will be able to ride in on the white horse of told-you-so and have a good chance of winning.

And right now there are at least two generations of Republicans in congress, governors mansions and the private sector, just salivating at the thought of 2012. And very willing, almost eager, maybe even praying, for McCain to give them that chance.

I think she might be right. On the phone she just told me to notice that Rove is quieting down. Check the trend chart here.

Tags:

In his comment here, Mike Warot encourages me — and the rest of us — to watch this video by Karl Denninger, whose blog is here.

I did. It’s good. But I’m not sure Denninger is right. Or all-right, let’s say. Just somewhat.

Here’s the problem as I currently see it. (And I’m no economist. This is just me, one citizen trying to make sense of something that I’ve hardly paid attention to in the past. So take this with an acre of salt if you like.)

Yes, the system is rigged and corrupt. Yes, the Fed and Treasury have been messing up for decades. (As Kevin Phillips will tell you.) Yes, federal power has gone over the top here. Whoever heard of the Office of Thrift Supervision before it swooped in and sold WaMu to JP Morgan Chase? At least there’s some common sense involved with banking, and “trift” (a term that now feels euphemistic in a statist way, like “corrections”). Banking got sucked into runaway shell games, in which empty vessels multiplied and divided, as whole institutions with MBA-packed buildings grew to manage and manipulate them. Solidity and liquidity were both replaced by gasseosity — but in sectors of Xtreme Arcana that nobody outside fully understood. Thus we’ve had inflation for years, and have put off facing it, because it was hidden and the System seemed to be working.

Meanwhile the whole country became infected with the sickness of making money only for its own sake, backed by little resembling work or manufacture — a trend we’ve been seeing since the Carter administration.

The “free market” in finance has always been rigged by its Alpha beasts, its lobbied legislators and its regulators, to favor growth. But lost in this long round has been elementary horse sense about what’s actually valuable, what actually produces goods and services, what’s free and what’s not. Growth in this long round has had many costs, and we’re not even close to visiting all of them.

Perhaps it’s in our nature, with economic evidence going back to tulip bulbs. But I think it goes deeper than that. Our species pestilential and rapacious on a scale the planet has never seen before. It can rationalize chewing irreplaceable valuables out of the ground and seas, using them up and spreading its wastes everywhere. This cost-blind nature — is made manifest in a financial system that best rewards games built on games that are almost nothing but rationalizations — worse, of a sort that only its rationalizers can understand. The financial sector has become a casino in which the highest rollers have bought the house and rigged every game to pay off by splitting winnings to bet on other rigged games, while the rest of us say “Great!”, because we’re in there playing too: betting on worthless stocks, buying overpriced houses on easy credit with negative equities, running up credit card bills while thinking nothing of paying monthly interest rates north of 20%.

This “free market” was a free-for-all in which even its hands-off regulators participated. All while the country went from being the world’s leading manufacturer and creditor to the world’s leading out-sourcer and debtor — with the load now running into the dozens of trillions of dollars. Remember that we voted for the people who presided over that.

It’s tempting to blame and punish, but that isn’t what we need now. What we need is for credit to keep moving while the financial sector gradually shrinks to sane dimensions, with value that rises from 1/1 relationships between reality and perception — or at least a fair chance that good ideas will turn into good business. (I don’t want to throw smart investor babies out with the dumb investor bathwater.)

I don’t know if this $.7 trillion bill will do that. I do have a strong hunch about what will happen if it doesn’t. Or if we do nothing and let nature take its course. The entire financial sector will collapse, and the government won’t be able to print enough money to pay off its own and everybody else’s creditors, starting with China. Businesses of all kinds will close, and all but a few public utilities will cease to run smoothly. With weak manufacturing, absent small farming and other graces of traditional functioning societies, we’ll fall into a depression as bad or worse than the Great one. Cities will fail and crime will go rampant. And we’ll bore our grandchildren with stories of what it was like to hike ten miles through the snow to work at the only shit jobs that were left.

I believe this is what Warren Buffett also sees when he compares the current crisis to Pearl Harbor. I believe Buffett because he got wealthy by being sensible and prudent, and very much not of a type with those that have made a mess of the financial system.

Or so it seems to me on a Sunday morning just short of the precipice.

Oh, and I don’t hear either candidate talking about what’s really going on here. Nor do I expect them to.

I think McCain won the thing. Not on substance, but on style. McCain sounded like Reagan, and Obama sounded like Kerry. The CNN talking heads seem to be giving the edge to Obama, but I just saw Guiliani on MSNBC, who made it clear that Obama gave the right wing talk machine a pile of fodder for the next week’s shows. Every time Obama said “John is right,” I winced.

FWIW, I listened to most of it on the radio, so the stuff about McCain never looking at Obama I missed.

Dave supports the bail-out, which many are calling the Splurge. At this point, so do I. That puts me in the company of Warren Buffett and detaches me from Kevin Phillips, who says (below) that it won’t work. Elsewhere Kevin says it just cuts off one tentacle of an octopus. Maybe he’s right. From this report, it appears that McCain and some Republicans agree.

I trust Buffett. His wealth is a red herring here. What matters are his insight, intelligence, and ability to perform for stockholders — qualifications that are beyond dispute. Buffett knows better than anybody how the system works, how it’s broken — and (surely) how to make money on the upswing that inevitably follows the current collapse.

If Obama and Bush are together on this, so be it. Hey, maybe tonight we’ll have a real debate between Splurge (Obama/Bush/Buffett) and Purge (McCain/Phillips). Doesn’t look like it, but if both men are in command of their facts and ideas, it would help the country.

[Later...] Cool: looks like the debate will happen. More from the NYTimes.

A little prep from Sara Silverman.

I’ve been obsessing about infrastructure lately, with help from Stephen Lewis, whose experience and scholarship on the matter exceeds mine. The Etymology of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure of the Internet is his latest post on the matter. An excerpt:

Within the concept of urban studies and the contemporary home ownership and loan flim-flam, defaults, and financial disaster in the US, I am looking at the tension between two historical approaches, i.e. housing as infrastructure and housing as commodity. As an analogue, I am also looking at the paradigmatic abandonment of socially financed public transport to privately-owned automobiles.

My own observation — that infrastructure is far more adaptable, plastic, replaceable, substitutable and repurposeable than the word itself implies — is substantiated by the relatively new, changing and variously understood meaning of the word itself:

Infrastructure indeed entered the English language as a loan word from French in which it had been a railroad engineering term. A 1927 edition of the Oxford indeed mentioned the word in the context of “… the tunnels, bridges, culverts, and ‘infrastructure work’ of the French railroads.” After World War II, “infrastructure” reemerged as in-house jargon within NATO, this time referring to fixed installations necessary for the operations of armed forces and to capital investments considered necessary to secure the security of Europe.

It is especially interesting to me that the Net is clearly a form of infrastructure, yet has no physical properties of its own. As a utility it could hardly be more useful (that is, be a utility in the literal sense), yet it is not a utility in the manner of a water or gas service. And while today most of us enjoy the Net thanks to phone and cable companies, the Net is not a breed of telephony or television. Quite the opposite, in fact. Telephony and television are today forms of data that happen to be carried over the Net’s protocols. One no longer requires phone wiring to get phone service, or coaxial cable to get television. But because phone and cable companies bill us for the Net, we think of it as a ‘service’ of those companies. In fact it’s a pile of protocols. Are protocols themselves infrastructure? Seems so.

The fact at hand is that on the whole neither Infrastructure nor the Net are well understood. In fact, they are poorly understood, even though they are widely used.

Do we want the Net to be regulated as if it were something physical? I suggest that we want the Net to be understood first, on its own terms. And to do that, I also suggest we visit anew the nature of infrastructure itself.

Bonus pix.

Democracy at Rework

Now you can wonk with the best of them at the very Xcellent PublicMarkup.org

Sarah Palin said yes, thanks, to a road to nowhere in Alaska, a story in Thursday’s LATimes, is one among countless gotcha!s which in sum comprise a sea of bad news across which Alaska’s governor is obliged to walk like Jesus. So here’s a thought. What if the Gravina Island Bridge, the $398 million “bridge to nowhere”, was not much worse than any other piece of pork — just easier for hand-wringers to target?

I mean, hey, if you were a citizen of Ketchikan, where your whole town depends on tourism for its existence, and where your airport is on an island that can only be reached by sea — and where your whole state has always depended on large sums of federal largesse and involvement — this bridge may not have been pork. It was business as usual, and just your town’s turn to score.

Could it be that Senator Stevens was doing his job, and doing it well? Looks to me like the bridge would have gone forward, and never would have been a Big Issue, had Katrina not wiped out New Orleans and required large efforts to rebuild infrastructure there, highlighting porky projects elsewhere in the country.

In other words, what we’re looking at here is Politics as Usual. That is more than enough to explain Sarah Palin’s initial support for the bridge, her change of position after the winds of popular opinion shifted, and her truth-shading after the fact. More importantly, the whole thing says little about her ability to serve the country as Vice President, or as President in the not-unlikely chance that John McCain will fail to serve out his first term.

I won’t be voting for McCain/Palin. But the governor’s porky political past is not one of the reasons.

Tags: , , , , , ,

John McCain was once — no, for many years — one Republican in Congress that Democrats and independents could like, if not love. Why? Because he was truly bi-partisan. Far more, in fact, than Barack Obama.

It’s hard to square his campaign with that.

Is the difference just raw ambition, political hardball, do-anything-to-win? I’m sure that’s true. Still, disappointing. The promise to the counrty of McCain vs. Obama was a campaign based on ideas and ideals. That at last we might rise at least a few inches above the mud. Alas, not this time.

Framing wins

Here’s an interesting piece on framing by Rickard Linde. I think he and George Lakoff are both right about the expert framing job that the McCain campaign is doing on Obama, and that Republicans since Reagan have done in major elections. Rickard also has some excellent framing advice for the Obama campaign.

Both Rickard and George, however, are discounting the importance of bullshit. The Onion nailed it months ago. It doesn’t matter if Sarah Palin is unqualified as a presidential candidate (and remember, that’s what she’s running for — sitting on the bench behind an elderly president). She’s a star. A celebrity. That counts in America. A lot.

Who’s running for VP on Obama’s side? Nobody. Not compared to Palin’s celebrity, name recognition and face time on TV and magazine covers. Suddenly Obama’s got half a ticket.

I don’t know if the McCain campaign actually intended for this to happen, but the way it looks to me right now, it’ll work. Palin is single-handedly turning Barack Obama into John Kerry: a policy wonk quarantined to the bottom end of the FM dial. It’s amazing to watch.

In response to my last political post, the subject of High Road vs. Low Road was brought up. One comment suggested that I thought Obama’s was the former while McCain’s was the latter. In fact I was suggesting that both roads were tactics used by both candidates, and that I feared the election would be won and lost, as it usually is, by fighting along the low road to election day.

My current favorite reporting about road-taking comes from the St. Petersburg Times, which keeps up with both campaigns via the Politifact.com Truth-o-Meter. To each statement by each candidate and their campaigns (including emailings by candidates and parties), they sort statements into True, Mostly True, Half True, Barely True, False and Pants on Fire. Currently those3 sort out this way :

Obama Biden McCain Palin
True 39 7 25 4
Mostly True 23 4 19 0
Half-True 20 4 19 3
Barely True 12 3 19 0
False 18 4 22 0
Pants on Fire 0 2 4 0

Some of the rulings are generous. For example, they found Sarah Palin’s claim that she put the state’s jet up for sale on eBay is true, even though it wasn’t sold on eBay.

As H.L. Mencken said, Looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar. (More good quotes — all correct — here.*)

For what it’s worth, I favor Obama for two main reasons. One is that I’d rather see the country run on the ethics of empathy rather than those of fear. The other is that McCain and Palin are both warriors at heart (McCain was ready for war with Iraq right after 9/11, and Palin preached that the Iraq war was part of God’s “plan”) — and we’ve had eight bad years of that already.

I also think Obama is more likely to nominate top-notch non-ideological judges and to reform government in general. Also that he is less likely to screw up the Internet, which is the single best thing the world has going for itself. Finally, that he’ll restore the faith of the rest of the world in the sanity of the U.S. electorate and its government.

As for the economy, I think McCain understands the private sector — and the good it does — far better than Obama. If I were voting by my economically consevative and Libertarian sympathies alone, I’d favor McCain. But this election isn’t about that. This election is about throwing the old bums out and trying some new ones.

Back to the War Issue.

A few decades back Penelope Maunsell said of a former employer that “His management style was to find a problem and intensify it”. Same goes for politicians. There are exceptions, but that’s close to a rule.

I don’t doubt that John McCain is a first-rate military man. His experiences as a prisoner of war obviously strenghtened his character and equipped him with a high degree of sympathy for those suffering injustice, as well as for members of the armed forces. But John McCain shared with George W. Bush the urge to solve the problem of terrorism with the use of force, and lots of it. I don’t doubt that this response was exactly what Osama Bin Laden and other terrorist leaders were looking for.

Even if the Surge is working (and I’m inclined to agree that, on the whole, it is), that does not excuse McCain from having supported the Iraq War in the first place. That war has not only killed countless thousands (beyond the counted thousands of our own casualties), but put the country terribly in debt, weakened our military positions elsewhere, and diminished our reputation throughout the world. It was strategically wrong, in a huge way. McCain’s bad judgement on this count alone is reason enough not to elect him.

[Later...] Calvin Dodge points to RedState’s take on FactCheck.org’s take on Palin’s acceptance address.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Power Trip

(Note: this post was made mistakenly as a page, and didn’t go up at first. Now it’s here. Thanks to commenters for the help.)

I’ve flown over these coal in New Mexico and Arizona many times, but never checked to see what was up with them. Or down. Or choose your direction.

Turns out the one above, a giant W in the Arizona landscape, is the Black Mesa Mine, and it has been mothballed since 2005 when the destination of its coal (via an unusual route), the Mojave power plant, was shut down. The Kayenta Mine is still running, as are the other mines I saw off to the east around the Four Corners areas.

What happens after TV’s mainframe era ends next February? That’s the question I pose in a long essay by that title (and at that link) in Linux Journal.

It’s makes a case that runs counter to all the propaganda you’re hearing about the “digital switchover” scheduled for television next February 17.

TV as we know it will end then. It’s worse than it appears. For TV, at least. For those already liberated, a growing new world awaits. For those still hanging on the old transmitter-based teat, it’ll be an unpleasant weaning.

Here is a Fox News video* that tours the Gap Fire area from the air. It’s clearly submitted by an amateur using a helicopter, judging from the monolog, flavored with casual explitives. To those (like me) familiar with the landscape, the video does an excellent job of showing how “perimeter” is a mileading notion. The fire is in many places at once. Wish that Fox or the shooter gave us a time/date for the footage. (Maybe they do and I miss it.) Seems to be from yesterday morning.

A lot of commenters on Edhat take exception to Santa Barbara’s decision to go ahead with the city’s fireworks on the waterfront. I don’t. It looks right now like the fire’s moving away from the city, which means plenty of work for firefighters keeping the rest of us safe to enjoy the holiday. Huge kudos to them for some of the hardest and most dangerous work that humans can do.

* I lost the direct link. The link to the video was in a narrow banner atop this story on Fox News, which I found via an Edhat comment. The banner is gone, and I can’t find anything through searches on the Fox site. I can still see the video, which comes up in a separate window, but copying the URL doesn’t seem to work. The URL I see is not what copies. Instead it’s the story that no longer has the banner with the link in it. (I hate this too-clever video crap on sites like this. Not to mention the lame search as well.) If anybody else has luck, let us know in the comments below. It really is an interesting video.

Ray Ford has an excellent report on the fire in the Independent. A sample:

Rather than forcing the fire downhill into the ranch lands where it could be dealt with by the forces that were massing along Cathedral Oaks, the flames followed lateral channels east and west along saddles formed by erosion of softer rock materials, turning what was a half mile wide fire into one with a three-to-four mile wide. By 8pm, in the Ellwood area, rancher Ken Doty, his son, and son-in-law were busy spending the night building dozer lines to protect his property from the advancing flames.

On the other end, at the top of the Fairview area, neighbors were out in the street, dumb-struck by the huge flames they could see on the hills immediately above them. The questions were mounting.

Here is Ray’s photo gallery. Also excellent. And as scary as the text.

It is significant that Painted Cave is now under mandatory evacuation orders. If the fire jumps 154 and moves into the Painted Cave area, then winds blow down toward the city from the ridge, that would be extra bad.

[Later...] 9am. Looks like the wind is blowing the fire to the west now. Except for the firefighters, it looks like this will be a nice 4th in Santa Barbara.

Tag: sbgapfire.

Caught a bit of Michael Krasny’s Forum yesterday on KQED, and heard that George Lakoff will be on the second hour today: 10-11am, Pacific time.  Michael is among the most intellectual and probing of interviewers, and I look forward to hearing how he does with George. If you miss that, get the podcast.

What you’ll hear from George about politics, and especially about the appeal of Barack Obama, is unlike anything you’ll hear anywhere else. And perhaps more important as well, because George’s work has had a deep influence on the Obama campaign, and especially the candidate’s speechwriting.

This first post-primary TV ad by the Obama campaign. Listen to Lakoff and you’ll see exactly how it appeals to deep unconscious meanings of shared values across political divides. Reagan did it in 1980, and by the time the next decade was over the Republicans were the party of traditional American values while the Democrats were the party of tax’n'spend Liberals, fading unions and collections of minority interest groups. Blame talk radio and Fox News for that, if you like (or the Democrats themselves, who certainly deserve it); but it was Reagan’s work. And it was genius. George Lakoff has studied that genius. So has Barack Obama.

In the primaries Obama beat the Clinton machine with a much more modern and functional one, geared to a wider, deeper appeal: one targeted across political divides.

Ignore policy statements for a minute. Ignore “issues”. Ignore race, voting records and the bullshit that gasses up TV news. Look at how Obama appeals. Ask What are the deeper sensibilities he is appealing to? Then look back at what Reagan did in 1980, and through the presidency that followed. Then look at how well Obama is raising money and weakening the oppositional resolve of conservatives like George Will.

The best competitors learn from both their own mistakes and their opponents successes. The Obama Campaign has been doing that for the Democratic party from the start.

In November, the best Reagan will win.

Frank Paynter writes,

  Putting the ME in. That’s what this thing is about. So I have my personal secret plan… (not evil, like gapingvoid’s is), but the sustainability piece is missing…. monetizing…. business model… cash… shekels… ducats… does it have to be an advertising magnet? They’re not really talking about that here.
  More seriously they’re talking about the media role in the Iraq war. Amy Goodman, Phil Donahue, Norman Solomon (moderating), Lennox Yearwood (“Make Hiphop, not war”), Naomi Klein, Sonali Kolhatcar… a lot of this is preaching to the choir. The people here already get it. Many of us knew it in 2002. The administration manipulation of media from 2002 forward was a certainty. What we need is for the libertarians like Doc Searls and his ilk to get exposed to this information and find a certainty they’re willing to declaim.

Well, politically I’m a registered independent, though I do have some libertarian sympthies, to the degree that I like business and think we make too many laws and have too many regulations. But I’ve also called myself a “defective pacifist” and have come out squarely for Barack Obama. Also, I’m not aware of having an “ilk”, and I don’t like being accused of having one. But, whatever.

I don’t think I have any areas of disagreement with Frank here. What’s more, I haven’t been silent about it. Look up searls media iraq war and you’ll find plenty.

Among those items is some recent pointage to a talk Forrest Sawyer gave at UCSB last year. I think I reported on it at the time, but I can’t find it. Still, I do appreciate being prodded, because Forrest’s talk is one of the best indictments I’ve yet heard of mainstream media capitulation to the Bush administration’s railroading of the nation, and the world, into a war that was flat-out wrong and dumb to begin with. Forrest also does a great job of stressing the importance of other streams besides the main one. So go watch it. One quote…

  Over the past six years we have seen a failure of the tradiional media to live up to its obligations of oversight and challenging the government, greater than any we have seen in the nation’s history… Those who have not yet come to feel ashamed will feel ashamed of their performance and their letting down of the American people.

(I might be off by a word or two there. Transcibing from YouTube is no bargain.)

Also, for what it’s worth, at we also have some ideas for Frank’s “sustainability piece”. I can’t imagine anything more reforming of media than giving it an easy non-advertising-based business model driven by listeners, viewers and readers — in alliance with journalists and artists on the supply side — rather than ever-more-targeted advertising.

I also recommend hanging at while it’s still going on. Great conference. Wish I were there.

To get (and stay) in shape, I’ve been spending more time off-grid. Less blogging and twittering, more time communing with nature. Some of that time I’m not indulging my curiousities. Or at least I’m resisting them. No electronics, for example. It was on one of those walks that I became curious about the story of infrastructure, past and present. What were these metal plates doing in the ground? Why were they there? Why were there so many of them? What were their different purposes? Which ones were remnants of services or companies no longer in existence? Which ones had found new uses? Why do so many carry the signatures of companies and utilities long dead?

I started on the Minuteman Bikeway, which passes close to our home not far from Harvard, where I’m headquartered these days. With a minimal slope, it’s perfect for active but low-stress strolling or biking. And it connects a lot of interesting historic sites. At one end is the Alewife “T” stop on the Red Line subway. At the other is something in Belmont I haven’t reached yet, because I usually go only as far as Lexington. Most of the stretch runs through Arlington, which combines the former villages of West Cambridge and Menotony. This is roughly the path along which the British soldiers retreated from Lexington on April 19, 1775, losing men (mostly boys, actually) and killing colonials of many ages. Thus started the Revolutionary War.

The Middlesex Central Railroad was born in 1846 and died in 1982. Part of it was better known as the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad. It began as a vein of commerce, carrying goods from mills and ponds along its path. The Earth was colder in the early days of the railroad, and the winters were longer. Ice cut from Spy Pond was shipped all over the world from docks in Boston. This past winter the pond was thick enough to support skating for about three days.

But I’ve become more interested in the infrastructure story. So, over the last couple weeks, as Spring breaks out along the trail, I’ve been shooting pictures, mostly of stuff on the ground, before it gets haired over with vegetation, in faith that patterns will start making sense to me. I’ve also shot a lot around Cambridge, Boston and other places, but haven’t put those up yet. Right now I’m adding descriptions to the photos in this set here.

This is part of a long-term project, methinks. We’ll see how it goes. If you’re interested in following the same threads, tell me in the comments below.

In this comment to this post, John Quimby writes,

The people “vetting” our election haven’t been “vetted” themselves.

Try this thought on for size…

The reporters we knew and admired when we were young were educated in journalism and many of them served in the Army covering WWII. They invented broadcast news and had combat experience with average American soldiers all over the world. That experience gave them a keen sense of official BS and they weren’t afraid of the risks it took to get the story and send some truth home. They felt they owed it to the humble people they served to get it right. They knew how to tell a story.

See where I’m going?

While you’re following John’s thoughts about storytellers and stories (and please do: it’s a good thread), a few thoughts about the nature of the latter, and what any journalist, regardless of reputation and talent, will have a hard time telling.

In this post about journalism, I wrote,

The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative. Stories are made to be interesting. It is not just coincidental that this is a purpose they share with advertising.

The story in WWII (John’s example, above) was a simple one. There were good guys (us, the Allies) and bad guys (the Axis powers). Countless war stories — good ones — came out of WWII. Those stories — along with stories about The Depression that preceded The War — were the prevailing narratives around dinner tables for kids growing up in the Fifties, when broadcast journalism was maturing under the influence of Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and other exemplars. Wars won by everybody working together, and suffering through hardships, as happened with WWII, had many positive effects on the country and its citizens. Our fathers’ experiences in “the service” (as they called it then) during WWII made instant friends of countless strangers who had similar experiences. People meeting for the first time, regardless of class and race differences, often found common bonds in the ritual of exchanging data about membership and service in various military branches, divisions, boats, and battle fronts.

Our parents’ sacrifices gave them great moral authority — and of a kind that none of the succeeding generations would achieve again. Tom Brokaw was right to call our parents The Greatest Generation. They rose to the challenge, but they were also cast in the role.

Same with journalistic veterans of the same war.

Not only have we lost that whole generation of WWII journalists, plus many (or most) of the best of those that followed as well. Meanwhile, there is more journalism than ever, and much of it is good. Just harder to find, or to follow, in the midst of so much other stuff. Many more needles, much bigger haystack.

But the bigger problem is the lack of a single narrative, much less a heroic one. Worse, there is a narrative that needs to be woven, yet has few if any weavers, because it is not a happy one. That narrative is the inevitable decline of Pax Americana, and of our country’s ability to lead the world in the manner to which it has becomed accustomed, and which is proving ever more delusional.

This new narrative is required not only because the U.S.’s percentages of the global economy and populations are shrinking, and not only because its recent president(s) had foreign policy failures, but because what’s “super” about U.S. superpower — a near-limitless ability to make high-technology war, backed by a fighting force of finite size with few allies — is an anachronism. And it would still be an anachronism if most of the world didn’t already consider our approach to foreign relations tragic and absurd.

I’m not sure the people of any Great Nation are ever ready to face the fact that the height of their military and economic powers has passed. Or that the leadership they most need to assert is no longer only a military and economic one. But I am sure that we need leadership — journalistic as well as political — that is anchored in our true and enduring strengths as a people and as a polity.

The U.S. still stands best, and most credibly, for essential values the rest of the world desperately needs to respect: freedom, liberty, democracy, suffrage of women and minorities, and rule of law, to name just a few. The high value we place on eduction, on caring for others, on self-sacrifice, on economic well-being, on the worth of individuals, on respect for land and resources — the list goes on — are also ready-built platforms for leadership in the world.

I don’t know how to frame that new leadership narrative, much less express it. The best advice I’ve seen so far comes from George Lakoff and The Rockridge Institute; but we’re in a partisan season, and they’re naturally taking sides, lately on behalf of Barack Obama.

I believe Obama is in the best position to craft this new narrative, that his aspriational rhetoric has the best chance of transcending the partisan boundaries that divide us. But right now each remaining candidate’s focus is on beating each other rather than facing the challenge of changing our role in the world.

Obama and his people need to fight for the next nine months, and it’s likely that his rhetoric, no matter how well-expressed, will be mocked for its emptiness and the lack of track in his relatively short career. That mockery will get air time becaus we won’t be able to get out of sports and war journalism — and politics — until the election is over.

That’s when Then What? begins. I’m hoping the new president is good at telling the new story that needs to be told. But I’m not holding my breath. (Or my blather, or you wouldn’t be reading this.)

In the shortest and most famous speech in U.S. history, Abraham Lincoln summarized our democracy as one “of the people, by the people, for the people”.

In the Internet age, we have the means to make that democracy work better than ever, to gather and exercize our power to participate — not just by voting, but by engaging directly with our local, regional, state and national systems of governance.

That’s what Britt Blaser is talking about here:

  I’m a big Obama booster, but I don’t think any President can lead a “sea-change in the way we produce and distribute political power in this country”, because of the Mutually Assured Destruction built into the system. But he might inspire US to build US 2.0 as Dave Winer and Doc Searls have been urging, an upgrade to USOS, the United States Operating System…
  Governance sites. Lots of sites.
  Indeed, we’re like Neo in the Matrix, needin lots of guns. But guns won’t help us. We need lots of by-the-people hyperlocal governance sites. We need them everywhere to aggregate and impose the locals’ interests on their representatives and senators. No one’s gonna build them for us, and there’s no f/x department to surround us with racks and racks of political firepower. So it’s up to US.

He’s working on exactly that kind of equipment, by the way. Stay tuned for more.

Heard a piece on NPR this morning in which Brooks Jackson, director of , said Hillary Clinton was correct when she said (in much stronger language) that an Obama flyer was misleading. FactCheck goes on to say,

  We’ve also previously criticized Clinton for sending a mailer that twisted Obama’s words and gave a false picture of his proposals on Social Security, home foreclosures and energy.
  We leave it to our readers to decide whether they should be “outraged” or not, and at whom.

The subject of the flyer was NAFTA, and the candidates’ positions on it. Says FactCheck,

  We take no position here on whether NAFTA is a boon to the economy or a detriment, and note only that there are plenty of arguments on both sides. We do judge that the Obama campaign is wrong to quote Hillary as using words she never uttered, and has produced little evidence that she ever had strong praise of any sort for NAFTA’s economic benefits.

Earlier they characterize her position on NAFTA as “ambivalent”. I can see that. Even “free” trade is really freaking complicated, with trade-offs all over the place, and unintended consequences out the wazoo. Of course politicians need to take strong positions to make matters simple for voters (and themselves). But if there’s one thing that’s become clear in this election season, it’s that we’ve reached a tipping point in the voters’ distaste for lying and smearing.

All three remaining major presidential candidates continue to experiment with it. What they’ll find is that it works less and less.

The lesson: If you’re going to “go negative”, at least tell the truth. As Harry Truman put it, “I never gave them hell, I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell”.

And don’t think we can’t tell the difference. If you try to fool some of the people some of the time, you’re only making a fool of your own damn self.

isn’t running for the late Tom Lantoscongressional seat. But that doesn’t mean we can’t push him.

Which is what’s going on through the Draft Lessig for Congress blog and Facebook group.

Google has 99 results as of 2:37pm (Pacific) today. Google Blogsearch has 13. Technorati has 14. Here’s the graph:

The Facebook group has 576 members. Quite a start.

Let’s see how it goes.

For Larry’s sake, I hate wishing this on him. For the country’s sake, I love that we’re doing it.

Remember how Dave says Ask not what the Net can do for you, ask what you can do for the Net.

Nobody is better for the Net, and for the Country, than Larry.

So far I’ve had mostly nice things to say about the Obama campaign. So here’s my first dig: the index page. Hey, what if you don’t want to give them your email address and zip code? What if you don’t like the suggestion that the only way to Learn More is by giving that information to them? What if you want to go straight to the website itself, which surely must include more than just this family-foto welcome page?

You can, if you click the “skip signup” button, which is in type so barely visible that I missed it the first few times I went to the site, even though I’d clicked on it before.

While we’re at it, Dave points out here that the contributions mechanism could use some improvement too.