Babbage on Aaron, in this week’s Economist, with love and regret
Remembering his own past correspondence with Aaron:
On hearing of his death Babbage (G.F.) reviewed a number of e-mails he exchanged with Mr Swartz in 2000-01. The boy was in his mid-teens but his prose, taut and to the point, was as mature as his precocious mind. He wanted to know where your correspondent obtained book data for a price-comparison site. He even suggested a collaboration, regretfully unconsummated, that later became the nucleus of the Open Library.
Three Copyright Myths and Where to Start to Fix it – a policy brief
Tuesday November 20th 2012, 5:41 pm
Filed under: citation needed
,Glory, glory, glory
,Not so popular
,Rogue content editor
A lovely short policy brief on designing a better copyright regime was published on Friday – before being quickly taken offline again. I’ve reposted it here with light cleanup of its section headings.
If you care at all about copyright and its quirks, this is short and worth reading in full.
UNHRC: Periodic Rights Review (US edition, part 2)
Earlier this year I wrote a bit about the latest UNHRC periodic rights review of the US, something that happens for every country once every four years. Norway offered the most excellent advice, making 7 solid apolitical recommendations.
They didn’t rehash international policy disputes or convention-signing, which can be nominal at best: and focused instead on essential changes that can be carried out now, and would be historically significant. If we implemented their 7 recs, our nation would be a better place. Here they are, consolidated (with the # of the rec, and our response):
- Consider a human rights institution at the federal level to ensure implementation of human rights in all states (74: yes, will consider, but no current plan)
- Take further measures in economic and social rights for women and minorities, including equal access to decent work and reducing the number of homeless people (113: yes)
- Take measures to eradicate all forms of torture and illtreatment of detainees by military or civilian personnel, in any territory of jurisdiction, and that any such acts be thoroughly investigated (139: yes)
- Take steps to set federal and state-level moratoria on executions with a view to abolish the death penalty nationwide (122: blanket no)
- Review federal and state legislation with a view to restricting the number of offences carrying the death penalty (132: blanket no)
- Apply the model legal framework of the Leahy Laws to all countries receiving US security assistance, with human rights records of all units receiving such assistance documented, evaluated, made available and followed up upon in cases of abuse (227: no more than now. ‘we already do this, but in secret’)
- Remove the blanket abortion restrictions on humanitarian aid covering medical care given to women and girls who are raped and impregnated in armed conflict (228: no, sorry. “due to currently applicable restrictions”)
The death penalty is increasingly considered outmoded and barbaric in most of the world, yet in our domestic discussions it is seen as a reasonable option – more a matter of regional preference than a fundamental moral matter. 35 states currently allow it.
And what’s up with the 7th point above? The US has imposed restrictions on its international aid funding over the past few decades to prevent aid recipients from using those funds to provide abortions or suggest them as an option for family planning. The most well-known example of this is the Mexico City Policy , instated by Reagan and since repealed or reinstated by each preseident in the first days of his term, along party lines. This affected roughly $100M of aid given to family planning programs; and is also called the “global gag rule” because it prohibited aid recipients from using any of their funds for abortion care.
Today, while the MCP stands repealed, there are other similar restrictions in force – including the one highlighted by Norway. They are reportedly the first country to bring the issue up in an international setting, as part of a campaign launched with the Global Justice Center.
Overall, I am fascinated at how unified and sane most of these recommendations are. It reminds me that peer review by a large group of peers tends toward the awesome, constructive side of the scale, even when the peer group includes some trolling and posturing.
Adapt Now Or Be Disintermediated, says @FakeElsevier
Reed Elsevier’s received a scathing critique by The Street’s Jared Woodward this week, who bets heavily against its stock [RUK] :
“We regard the common stock as an implicit naked short put option because, while the upside potential from the publishing division is limited, the downside risk from any revolt by its customers (libraries), laborers (academics), or funders (governments) is not.“
Woodward incisively covers everything from the academic-run The Cost of Knowledge campaign countering the Elsevier-backed Research Works Act, the Federal Research Public Access Act proposal to enshrine Open Access as a requirement of all government funders, a similar EU mandate, the UK recruiting Jimbo to help draft a similar policy for all UK-funded research by 2014, Harvard’s faculty memo on deep and broad Open Access support, the stunning successes of PLoS One and Rockefeller University Press, and @FakeElsevier‘s tweets and blog.
@FakeElsevier is a pseudonymous academic who has been sharing satirical posts and tweets about Elsevier since February. The subject above is from one of the more popular blog posts: “Dear Elsevier Employees, With Love, From @FakeElsevier.“
Take a look at Woodward’s report: It’s an exhausting and exhilirating read.
Federal Research Public Access Act
Meteor: The future of web-apps?
Congrats to deberg and others for pulling off an inspiring soft-launch.
Cardboard Cutout Khomeini
Still venerated: Ruhollah Khomeini, iconified in larger-than-life cardboard forms. Shown here on MehrNews, and parodied on its own Blogspot.
The landing-strip military welcome for the cutout, complete with roses and a band, is a nice touch. “Too strange for fiction” wins out over “photoshop”.
via Jacob Rus.
Preserving Internet freedom: protesting SOPA and the Wikipedia blackout
Thousands of web sites across the Internet are shutting down today to protest proposed U.S. laws (SOPA
) that would make it difficult for websites to host community-generated content on the Internet. Most notably, the English Wikipedia is implementing a 24-hour blackout
, replacing articles with a notice describing the two bills and encouraging readers to take action to stop them.Please take a moment to learn more about the bills and why they would be harmful to the open Web
, to open education, and to present and future collaborative projects.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and other non-profit organizations dedicated to preserving freedom on the Web have ways that you can make your voice heard in the national and international debate about these proposed laws.
On appearance, body language, and xenophobia
The Occupy movement has a nice set of websites up for many of the major metropoles in the US. They even have a meta-website up (how can you not love that?) covernig the links between them, Occupy Together. Right now it is focused on the US, even though there’s already an Occupy Canada movement (ok, no surprise, since Adbusters was a driving force behind the original idea).
From the meta-site, I discovered that Noam Chomsky recorded a video supporting Occupy Boston, and found a link to some charming footage of an afternoon party in the Cipriani Club on Wall Street, where partygoers in black tie on a second-floor balcony smiled and waved at the march passing underneath their balcony. They seem cheerful, interested, and friendly to the passing crowd, waving and taking photographs – just like so many of the observers down on the street. But even if their body language is essentially the same, their setting and clothes set them apart in the eyes of many. Almost every comment on the video that I’ve seen, is scornful of the partygoers — assuming they represent the Other the crowd is implicitly targeting and opposing with their chants. Only one of hundreds of people pointed out that they are probably at a wedding or other formal celebration at the club, and many likely support the ideals of the marchers.
How can we bridge the gap created by surface appearances — communities with different dress codes, social circles, and ways of expressing themselves — to get at underlying agreement? The fundamental requests and needs of these protests are no only supported by the sorts of people who celebrate at black tie events, but also at some of the wealthy “1%” – Warren Buffett most notable among them. Yet certain kneejerk reactions and stereotypes are set up as barriers to cooperation even before people have a chance to meet. We have foun many solutions over the generations to the more omnipresent problem of bridging cultural divides across national and language barriers when immigration or war brings different societies together. How can we learn from that to bridge this gap in the debates over how to allocate a nation’s resources?
Aaron Swartz vs. United States
(echoes of a broken system)
UPDATE: Aaron committed suicide on January 11, 2013.(!) More on his life here.
Aaron Swartz is a friend and Cambridge-area polymath whose projects focus on access to knowledge, open government, and an informed civil society. He has worked as a software architect, digital archivist, social analyst, Wikipedia analyst, and political organizer. Last year he co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the non-profit political advocacy group Demand Progress.
He is also currently charged with computer fraud by the US Attorney’s office, in what appears to be the latest example of “a sweeping expansion of federal criminal jurisdiction” based on the broad applicability of wire fraud and computer fraud statutes. An overview:
Aaron has studied institutional influence and ways to work with large datasets. In 2008, he founded watchdog.net, “the good government site with teeth“, to aggregate and visualize data about politicians – including where their money comes from. That year he also worked with Shireen Barday at Stanford Law School to assess “problems with remunerated research” in law review articles (i.e., articles funded by corporations, sometimes to help them in ongoing legal battles), by downloading and analyzing over 400,000 law review articles to determine the source of their funding. The results were published in the Stanford Law Review. Most recently, he served for 10 months as a Fellow at Harvard’s Safra Center for Ethics, in their Lab on Institutional Corruption.
He contributed to the field of digital archiving, designing and implementing the Open Library, which serves as a global digital resource today, and as a foundation for any digital libraries in the future. And he collected 2 million public-domain court decisions from the US PACER system — a system that nominally makes all such decisions available to the public, but in practice keeps them hidden behind a paywall – to add to Carl Malamud’s collection at resource.org. (That work in turn gave rise to the crowdsourced RECAP project.)
The Case of the Over-Downloader
Last week, Aaron was charged by a grand jury with computer fraud , for allegedly downloading millions of academic articles hosted by the journal archive JSTOR, and exceeding authorization on MIT and JSTOR servers to do so.
JSTOR claims no interest in pursuing a legal case. However they are not part of the prosecution, and Aaron faces a possible fine and up to 35 years in prison, with trial set for September. You can support his legal efforts online.
The Association of College and Research Libraries notes that both the prosecution and Swartz’s supporters have characterized the trial with “superficial, and deeply incorrect, messages about libraries and licensed content“.
So how did this come to pass, and what does it mean for the Internet?
Details of the case and public reactions it inspired, after the jump.
Plagiarising satire as news
Today the Tehran Times, an English-language paper based in Tehran, and other Iranian news sources, engaged in a bit of Internet journalism, copying some satire (‘Saudi king offers to buy Facebook for $150B to end revolt’) — down to a misspelling of Zuck’s name — into a summary of news on the King’s announced plans for social reform (providing cheap land for housing). This got its fifteen minutes of fame on forums and Twitter, enough to draw a brief official denial.
It’s not news that minor news agencies can be too busy to check facts or worry about copyright, but you’d think they would be more sensitive to satire. All I have to say is: Freshrant made the joke first.
Random Hacks of Kindness — hacking subverted?
RHOK has a great name (if only an OK acronym) and sweet mandate: hacking to save the world. They work with Crisis Commons and other grassroots groups, organizing physical meetings to hack for two days with a competition theme (prizes for the best hacks). Great, right?
But is this a meme whose time has come, that’s been subverted by people who aren’t hackers? How will it change over time? The proof may be in the results, but the corporate firepower lined up behind this project, and the vagueness of how its organizing takes place, make me wonder. From a recent NPR piece on the project:
Patrick Svenburg, a director for Microsoft and a co-founder of Random Hacks of Kindness, says it was a little risky at first.
“We threw all cautions to the wind, and we got a little group of people together in November of 2009 at the first hackathon in Silicon Valley,” he says. “About 100 people showed up. I didn’t get fired; nobody got fired. It was a nice experiment.”
Indeed. More than 20 cities took part in RHOK #2, so let’s hope it continues to thrive.
I’m almost back from 2010… here one more from the road, to make you smile or win your fellow linguist’s ♥!. Lyrics and fabulous youtube recording (what, no video?) are (c) Christine Collins:
let me have your heart and i will give you love
the denotation of my soul is the above
if there’s anything i lack, it’s you
as my double brackets, you make me mean things
i can’t say enough