aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Yet another reason newspapers are dying: the courts!
Friday’s decision in the Craigslist case in the Seventh Circuit offers yet another reason why newspapers are losing ground-and quickly-to their online competitors: newspapers face tougher laws than the online firms. As (our) Judge Easterbrook’s opinion makes clear, publish a “No Minorities Welcome” ad in the Chicago Tribune and the Trib violates the Fair Housing Act. But put the same ad on Craigslist and, after Friday at least in the Seventh Circuit, Craigslist faces no liability under the FHA given the protection given to it under the Communications Decency Act of 1996. We often talk about media neutrality-the idea that a particular set of rules should apply independent of the medium via which the content is delivered. This is just the opposite-media bias-but not the usual version; this is bias against one medium-classified ads in newspapers-in favor of another-the Internet. [...]
Section 230(c) says that it is intended to protect “Good Samaritan” online providers who jump in to screen offensive content, but it starts with a safe harbor: “no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” If a newspaper publishing a discriminatory ad is liable under the Fair Housing Act-the triggering language there is “[t]o make, print, or publish"-we should think that an online service provider would face the same liability. Media neutrality. Section 230(c) seems to say otherwise, and so the Seventh Circuit concludes. Section 230(c) seems to call off the usual rules that cause us to treat the Chicago Tribune as printing and publishing.
I read this case in preparation for a panel tomorrow morning that I am doing at the Internet Video Policy Symposium. One of the key issues there is the extent to which we think media platforms like YouTube should be in the business of filtering content: screen for copyright violations and yet allow user-generated content to flourish. The Craigslist case is another filtering situation. Newspapers typically run with a built-in choke point, but Craigslist doesn’t. But these designs aren’t necessary. Newspapers could just take all ads without filtering classifieds; indeed, they seem to be set up to do that if they can do so legally. I’m not sure that it is meaningful just to use labels like newspapers-filtering presumed-and common carriers-the telephone system-where we assume no filtering.
Instead, we need to focus on what is at stake. The situation in Chicago Lawyers’ offers two separate reasons for looking to push more liability on service providers like Craigslist. The first is to more fully implement the ideas of the Fair Housing Act: if discriminatory ads are offensive in newspapers, they should be offensive on Craigslist. Second, newspapers are in enough trouble without facing legal disabilities compared to the competitors who are leaving them in the dust. So either free the newspapers and further gut the Fair Housing Act or take the FHA seriously and apply it to Craigslist. Doing that would mean rewriting Section 230(c). (This isn’t a universally-held view; see, for example, this post by Eric Goldman.)
It must be seen in its entirety. It lived up to my every hope. I will watch with groups of students in the coming days and discuss it again and again. The full text is in the extended entry. I urge you to please watch. No excerpt can possibly do it justice.
DC v Heller argument afterward
A majority of the Supreme Court appeared ready on to embrace an interpretation of the Second Amendment that protects the right to own a gun for personal use.
The Supreme Court’s historic argument Tuesday on the meaning of the Constitution’s Second Amendment sent out one quite clear signal: individuals may well wind up with a genuine right to have a gun for self-defense in their home. But what was not similarly clear...was what kind of gun that would entail, and thus what kind of limitations government could put on access or use of a weapon.
Standing with Obama
As Obama faces this toughest challenge, I stand with him.
I have wanted him to talk race for a long time. I’m sorry this is how it came about; but better now than later.
He’s been toughened enough in recent days. I believe the man can do it. And having done it, maybe this will lift us out of the muck the Dems have been in these last few weeks.
Doug’s a Temple grad; PA is my childhood home; we love Philly.
I will watch with the first real hope I’ve had in way too long.
Sunstein’s 2nd Amendment primer
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments this morning in a case seeking to preserve the Washington DC ban on handguns. The court has not conclusively interpreted the Second Amendment in the 216 years since its ratification. In the most closely watched case of the term, the court plans to release audio recordings of the arguments as soon as they conclude.
Last October Cass Sunstein, the Karl N. Llewellyn Dist. Service Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, did a talk on What does the Second Amendment mean? as part of the Chicago’s Best Ideas Series. It is an excellent Second Amendment primer. The lecture also appeared as a piece in The New Republic.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Troy Anthony Davis: Stop the execution of an innocent man
I kept telling them that I didn’t know. It was dark, my windows were tinted, and I was scared. It all happened so fast. Even today, I know that I could not honestly identify with any certainty who shot the officer that night. [â€¦]
After the officers talked to me, they gave me a statement and told me to sign it. I signed it. I did not read it because I cannot read. [...]
I nodded and repeated what they said, whether it was true or notâ€¦. I am not proud for lying at Troy’s trial, but the police had me so messed up that I felt that’s all I could do or else I would go to jail.
An email from Amnesty International:
Today’s stunning decision by the Georgia Supreme Court to let the death sentence stand in the Troy Anthony Davis case means that the state of Georgia might execute a man who well may be innocent.
With this decision, the Supreme Court is demonstrating a blatant disregard for justice and turning its back on the fundamental flaws that taint Mr. Davis’s case at every level.
Over 60,000 supporters signed petitions on Troy’s behalf, and letters of support continue to pour into his mailbox. “I want to thank all Amnesty supporters,” he said, “I want to thank everyone all over the world who have been praying for me, supporting me, writing letters and signing petitions on my behalf.” Troy needs your continued support today, now more than ever.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Since his conviction, seven out of nine original witnesses have either recanted or changed their testimony. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia also deserve true justice. However, this will not be accomplished by executing a man with such strong claims of innocence.
In light of today’s Supreme Court decision, we ask that you take action once again and call on the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute Mr. Davis’ death sentence. Executing Troy Anthony Davis would be an irrevocable error that would haunt the conscience of the state of Georgia forever.
Director, Death Penalty Abolition Campaign
Amnesty International USA
Silda Spitzer & the perils of postfeminism
Ariel Levy, still* writing in New York Magazine:
Last Wednesday, Silda Wall Spitzer was caught in a trap she’d inadvertently set for herself. Like half of the best-educated and most-privileged women in this country who have babies, she relinquished her high-powered career to devote herself to supporting her spouse and caring for their three daughters. However traditional this idea of wifely duty, it was an open-eyed decision, mulled over endlessly and made on modern, postfeminist terms. Later, in 2005, she even sought Clinton’s advice on becoming the First Lady of New York: “I figured, here’s a woman who also met her husband at law school, who had been a lawyer with a firm, whose husband was a state attorney general,” Silda Spitzer said in 2006. “There really aren’t that many role models for this.” But Hillary Clinton never stopped pursuing her own professional agenda. The Clinton relationship has always mixed romance and ambition, and while the calculated nature of this bargain has at times made Hillary seem less than human, it’s also enabled her, at age 60, to be in the prime of her professional life. That’s a stage many more men reach than women.
During his 2006 campaign, Eliot Spitzer said of his wife, “The fact that she believed in me enough to put her very promising legal career on hold was a great source of inspiration.” While this move may well have helped him achieve his goals, it put Silda Spitzer in the nationally televised bind we witnessed last week. This is a Harvard-educated woman who was once a corporate lawyer who made more money than her husband and was proud of it. But since 1994, the year Silda opted out of the workforce to witness her husband’s first run for attorney general, all her formidable drive has had to be channeled into his career. Fourteen years later, retreat wasn’t possible. As the rest of the state called for his head, Silda told her husband to fight for power. It was a moment Hillary Clinton, no doubt, could have advised her about. But for Silda Spitzer, even more was at stake. And she will not have the consolation of her own career as she comes to terms with the man she gave it up for. In a way, it’s the saddest part of the story, and it exposes the risks women take when they make certain kinds of choices-things that, after Silda, they might not think are safe.
In other postfeminism news, we’ve got the spectacle of a former aide to disgraced NJ governor James E. McGreevey saying yesterday that he had three-way sexual trysts with the gov and his wife that kicked off at T.G.I. Fridays—“but it didn’t seem like he was gay”—denied by Dina and confirmed today by McGreevey.
I’m sorry, but spare me the postfeminism and give me some of that good old-fashioned feminism please!
* A couple weeks ago we learned that Levy’s moving to The New Yorker effective April 1.
The markets-know-best model is a fairy tale
Predictably Irrational was reviewed in the NYTimes’ Book Review this weekend:
For years, the ideology of free markets bestrode the world, bending politics as well as economics to its core assumption: market forces produce the best solution to any problem. But these days, even Bill Gates says capitalism’s work is “unsatisfactory” for one-third of humanity, and not even Hillary Clinton supports Bill Clinton’s 1990s trade pacts.
Another sign that times are changing is “Predictably Irrational,” a book that both exemplifies and explains this shift in the cultural winds. Here, Dan Ariely, an economist at M.I.T., tells us that “life with fewer market norms and more social norms would be more satisfying, creative, fulfilling and fun.” By the way, the conference where he had this insight wasn’t sponsored by the Federal Reserve, where he is a researcher. It came to him at Burning Man, the annual anarchist conclave where clothes are optional and money is banned. Ariely calls it “the most accepting, social and caring place I had ever been.”
Obviously, this sly and lucid book is not about your grandfather’s dismal science. Ariely’s trade is behavioral economics, which is the study, by experiments, of what people actually do when they buy, sell, change jobs, marry and make other real-life decisions.
To see how arousal alters sexual attitudes, for example, Ariely and his colleagues asked young men to answer a questionnaire - then asked them to answer it again, only this time while indulging in Internet pornography on a laptop wrapped in Saran Wrap. (In that state, their answers to questions about sexual tastes,, violence and condom use were far less respectable.) To study the power of suggestion, Ariely’s team zapped volunteers with a little painful electricity, then offered fake pain pills costing either 10 cents or $2.50 (all reduced the pain, but the more expensive ones had a far greater effect). To see how social situations affect honesty, they created tests that made it easy to cheat, then looked at what happened if they reminded people right before the test of a moral rule. (It turned out that being reminded of any moral code - the Ten Commandments, the non-existent “M.I.T. honor system” - caused cheating to plummet.)
These sorts of rigorous but goofy-sounding experiments lend themselves to a genial, gee-whiz style, with which Ariely moves comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life (why did he buy that Audi instead of a sensible minivan?). He is good-tempered company - if he mentions you in this book, you are going to be called “brilliant,” “fantastic” or “delightful” - and crystal clear about all he describes. But “Predictably Irrational” is a far more revolutionary book than its unthreatening manner lets on. It’s a concise summary of why today’s social science increasingly treats the markets-know-best model as a fairy tale. [READ ON]
GA Supreme Court denies new trial for Troy Anthony Davis
“We simply cannot disregard the jury’s verdict in this case,” Justice Harold Melton wrote for the majority. He was joined by Justices George Carley, Harris Hines and Hugh Thompson.
“We conclude that Davis has failed to show that these alleged recantations support his extraordinary motion for new trial,” the ruling said.
Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, joined by Justices Carol Hunstein and Robert Benham, said she would have granted Davis a new hearing to allow a judge to weigh the new evidence.
“In this case, nearly every witness who identified Davis as the shooter at trail has now disclaimed his or her ability to do so reliably,” Sears wrote.
“Perhaps these witnesses’ testimony would prove incredible if a hearing were held,” Sears said. “Perhaps the majority is correct that the allged eyewitnesses’ testimony will actually show Davis’ guilt rather than his innocence.”
But the collective effect of all of the new testimony, if it were to be found credible by a judge, Sears wrote, “would show the probability that a new jury would find reasonable doubt of Davis’ guilt or at least sufficient residual doubt to decline to impose the death penalty.”
In a telephone interview, Davis’s sister, Martina Correia, said she was stunned and disappointed by the court’s opinion.
“The claim that evidence in Davis’ favor was not sufficient to reopen his case is simply stunning,” said Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA. “In turning a blind eye to the realities of the case, the legal system has shrugged off the very notion of justice at every level, from Savannah to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Board of Pardons must recognize that a blind adherence to technicalities cannot trump a concerted search for the truth, especially when a human being’s life is at stake. [...]
Amnesty International maintains that the case has been tainted from the start, with a questionable police investigation, a lack of funding to ensure adequate defense, and an increasingly restrictive appeals process, which has thwarted attempts to present new evidence in the case. In the wake of the state Supreme Court decision, the human rights organization is once again calling for the Georgia Board of Pardon and Paroles to commute the death sentence for Davis due to the troubling facts of the conviction.
Troy Davis was convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail in 1991. Davis was convicted solely on the basis of witness testimony, and seven of the nine non-police witnesses have since recanted or changed their testimony. No murder weapon was found and no physical evidence linked Davis to the crime. Several cited police coercion, and others fear of one of the remaining two witnesses, whom they allege actually committed the crime.
“With this decision, the Supreme Court is ignoring the fundamental flaws that underlie the death penalty in Georgia and in Troy Davis’s case,” said Jared Feuer, Southern Regional Director of AIUSA. “As a result, we will continue to advocate for a re-examination of his sentence and of Georgia’s use of capital punishment. Officer MacPhail’s life was cut tragically short, and his family and the people of Georgia deserve justice. This will not be accomplished by executing a man with a strong case of innocence.”
More on the case at TroyAnthonyDavis.org.
The politics of attendance in the GA legislature
Well today Blogs for Democracy’s Mel helpfully follows-up with a letter Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield sent to her constituents:
If you woke up Monday, March 10, morning and saw the front page of the local newspaper (as I did), with my photo among ten state representatives who were described as missing the most votes in the Georgia House of Representatives, you would have been treated to about half of the real story.
If you don’t mind, I’d like to fill you in on the details that the newspaper story failed to mention.
Vote Tally Misleading. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s method of tallying voters is misleading because it failed to count the actual number of total votes missed, choosing instead to count only “unexcused absences.” Given that excused absences are automatically given upon the request of a legislator without any explanation, there is no meaningful distinction between excused and non-excused absences. The reality is that I missed a couple of mornings at the Legislature this session to take my children to the doctor during the cold and flu season. I made the technical mistake of not calling in for an excused absence. Had I done so, I would not have been included in the AJC’s ranking.
Vote Tally Reality.
It is also not particularly meaningful to have a quantitative voting ranking without a qualitative examination of what was actually being voted on. Of my 53 missed votes, almost 70% (36) of the measures passed unanimously, including twelve local calendar votes, two motions to adjourn and two privileged resolutions honoring special Georgians.
Read on. She makes some remarkably good points.
I started out wanting to chew out the AJC reporters for not making the excused/non-excused distinction clearer. But those reporters, Ben Smith and John Perry, apparently went to our good government watchdogs and this is what they got:
A leading advocate for open and responsible government said he found the statistics troubling.
“A fundamental responsibility of being in the General Assembly is to be there, casting votes,” said Bill Bozarth, executive director Common Cause Georgia. “If not for every vote, at least a large majority of the time.”
Excused absences were not included in the totals, although some lawmakers had high numbers of excused absences from voting. Lawmakers don’t have to state the reason why they’ll be absent.
“Ordinarily they tell us,” said Robbie Rivers, clerk of the Georgia House. “We don’t question why â€”- we just take their word for it.”
A fundamental responsibility of being the director of Common Cause Georgia is to provide something more than wrote fodder for a boiler-plate story that obfuscates more than informs.
A letter from Mark Twain to Helen Keller on St. Patrick’s Day 1903
When, at the age of 12, Helen Keller was accused of plagiarism, Michael Anagnos of the Perkins Institution in Boston convened a nine-member jury that acquitted her of the charge by a single vote. His. He later turned on her calling her “a living lie.” Keller would remain defensive about plagiarism ever after.
On St. Patrick’s Day 1903, Mark Twain wrote Helen a consoling letter that is quoted by Siva Vaidhyanathan in Copyrights and Copywrongs. I quote it again this St. Patrick’s Day, intending to make it my own small tradition:
I must steal half a moment from my work to say how glad I am to have your book and how highly I value it, both for its own sake and as a remembrance of an affectionate friendship which has subsisted between us for nine years without a break and without a single act of violence that I can call to mind. I suppose there is nothing like it in heaven; and not likely to be, until we get there and show off. I often think of it with longing, and how they’ll say, “there they come--sit down in front.” I am practicing with a tin halo. You do the same. I was at Henry Roger’s last night, and of course we talked of you. He is not at all well--you will not like to hear that; but like you and me, he is just as lovely as ever.
I am charmed with your book--enchanted. You are a wonderful creature, the most wonderful in the world--you and your other half together--Miss Sullivan, I mean, for it took the pair of you to make complete and perfect whole. How she stands out in her letters! her brilliancy, penetration, originality, wisdom, character, and the fine literary competencies of her pen--they are all there.
Oh, dear me, how unspeakably funny and owlishly idiotic and grotesque was that “plagiarism” farce! As if there was much of anything in any human utterance, oral or written, except plagiarism! The kernel, the soul--let us go farther and say the substance, the bulk, the actual and valuable material of all human utterances in plagiarism. For substantially all ideas are second hand, consciously or unconsciously drawn from a million outside sources and daily use by the garnerer with a pride and satisfaction born of the superstition that he originated them; whereas there is not a rag of originality about them any where except the little discoloration they get from his mental and moral calibre and his temperament, which is revealed in characteristics of phrasing.
When a great orator makes a great speech you are listening to ten thousand men--but we call it his speech, and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his but there were others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing--and the last man gets the credit and we forget the others. He added his little mite--that ninety-nine parts of all things that proceed from the intellect are plagiarisms, pure and simple; and the lesson ought to make us modest. But nothing can do that.
Then why don’t we unwittingly reproduce the phrasing of a story, as well as the story itself? It can hardly happen--to the extent of fifty words--except in the case of a child; its memory tablet is not lumbered with impressions, and the natural language can have graving room there and preserve the language a year or two, but a grown person’s memory tablet is a palimpsest, with hardly a bare space upon which to engrave a phrase. It must be a very rare thing that a whole page gets so sharply printed on a man’s mind, by a single reading, that it will stay long enough to turn up some time or other to be mistaken by him for his own.
No doubt we are constantly littering our literature with disconnected sentences borrowed from books at some unremembered time and how imagined to be our own, but that is about the most we can do. In 1866 I read Dr. Holmes’s poems, in the Sandwich Islands. A year and a half later I stole his dedication, without knowing it, and used it to dedicate my “Innocents Abroad” with. Ten years afterward I was talking with Dr. Holmes about it. He was not an ignorant ass--no, not he; he was not a collection of decayed human turnips, like your “Plagiarism Court,” and so when I said, “I know now where I stole it, but who did you steal it from,” he said, “I don’t remember; I only know I stole it from somebody, because I have never originated anything altogether myself, nor met anyone who had!”
To think of those solemn donkeys breaking a little child’s heart with their ignorant rubbish about plagiarism! I couldn’t sleep for blaspheming about it last night. Why, their whole histories, their whole lives, all their learning, all their thoughts, all their opinions were one solid rock of plagiarism, and they didn’t know it and never suspected it. A gang of dull and hoary pirates piously setting themselves the task of disciplining and purifying a kitten that they think they’ve caught filching a chop! Oh, dam--
But you finish it, dear, I am running short of vocabulary today.
Every lovingly your friend (sic)
Mark Twain had complex and contradictory views on creativity and copyright. For much more here’s the Mark Twain and the History of Literary Copyright chapter from Siva’s Copyrights and Copywrongs (pdf).
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Ellen calls Sally Kern
Decision in Troy Anthony Davis case expected tomorrow
Condemned cop killer Troy Anthony Davis, whose case has gained international attention because of his claims of innocence, will learn Monday whether he will get another chance to win a new trial or remain on death row.
The Georgia Supreme Court posted on its Web site Friday that it will publish its opinion on the case Monday.
Davis was sentenced to death in Chatham County for the 1989 murder of Savannah Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail. But since Davis’ trial, seven prosecution witnesses have recanted their trial testimony in sworn affidavits and signed statements.
In November, during arguments before the state Supreme Court, Davis’ lawyers argued that he should either be granted a new trial or be given a court hearing in which a judge weighs the recantation evidence.
Banks stop people from speaking their truth
So I just finished telling the tale of cops going bonkers over the possibility that ordinary citizens would have the opportunity to rate their performance on the job.
Which reminds me of a similar story about congress caving to the banking industry at a hearing of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Financial Institutions last Thursday. Elizabeth Warren was a panelist:
The first panel was four regular people who wanted to give first-hand information about their experiences with their credit cards. While the reps from Cap One, Chase and Bank of America went on for hours about their customer friendly policies and how much value they provided free to consumers, the people who had different stories were never allowed to utter a single word.
The people who had been invited to testify had flown in from around the country with their credit card bills in hand, only to learn that they couldn’t talk unless they would sign a waiver that would permit the credit card companies to make public anything they wanted to tell about their financial records, their credit histories, their purchases, and so on. The Republicans and Democrats had worked out a deal “to be fair to the credit card lenders.” These people couldn’t say anything unless they were willing to let the credit card companies strip them naked in public.
Via Kevin Drum, who observes:
Hmmm. That’s pretty much how we used to treat rape victims in court, isn’t it? Why the Democratic majority felt like it had to agree to this “compromise” is a little hard to fathom.
In any case, Warren has a good question: does this policy apply to credit card companies too? “I asked if the credit card companies were going to testify to such factual statements, would they be required to produce the data to back up the claims so that we could all see it and evaluate it....I never quite understood the Congressman’s reply.” Actually, I have a feeling she understood it perfectly. It’s only got two letters, after all.
Later on Friday Steve Autrey, one of the people who had been invited to testify before the House subcommittee, made his testimony available as a post on Credit Slips. I’ve excerpted some choice phrases here:
My relationship with Capital One goes back to 1999, when I was solicited with an offer for a Visa card with a “fixed” 9.9% rate card. [In July, 2007] Capital One advised me in a billing insert that my “fixed” rate of 9.9% was being raised to 16.9%. No reason or explanation was given â€“ I was not late on payment, and had not utilized the entire credit limit. This was a unilateral change to the terms of our agreement.
In August, of 2007, I wrote a letter to Mr. Richard D. Fairbank, Chairman, President, and CEO of Capital One, at their McLean, Virginia home office. My written statement will contain a copy of Capital One’s response which includes the line, “Unfortunately, changes in the interest-rate environment or other business circumstances may require us to increase rates, even for fixed-rate accounts in good standing.”
Other issues should be of concern to this committee as well. My wife holds a Capital One-issued MasterCard credit card. Last October, she experienced a medical emergency and had to leave work to spend hours at a medical facility to receive tests and treatment. Arriving home later that evening, she immediately logged on to the CapitalOne.com website to pay her bill online. It was approx. 9:00pm on the due date. Although she made the payment on the due date, it was 6 hours past the 3:00pm cutoff time.
For being six hours late on her payment, she was hit with a $39.00 punitive fine labeled as a “late fee.” That late fee, when added to her account, pushed her balance over the limit by $16.00. It was at this point that Capital One added a second $39.00 fine in the form of an “Over the limit fee” to her account.
Last March Professor Warren discussed the abusive lending practices of credit card companies with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. It’s worthwhile listening. I excerpt some of it here.
Cops go bonkers over RateMyCop.com
Let’s begin with Radley Balko’s telling of the saga:
So even as police departments across the country are setting up sex offender registries, drug offender registries, and posting the mugs and names of suspected johns online, they also took a great deal umbrage early this month when Gino Sesto set up a site called RateMyCop.com. The premise is simple: Sesto wrote to police departments across the country, and obtained a list of the names and badge numbers of their officers. He then posted the names online in a format broken down by state and city, and encouraged users to rate their experiences with individual officers. All of the information he posted was already open to the public. He didn’t post the identities of any undercover officers.
Police groups went nuts, making the dubious argument that posting the publicly-available names and badge numbers of police officers on the Internet somehow jeopardized the safety of individual officers. Sesto said he had even planned on adding a feature that would allow individual officers to write responses to complaints made against them. But police groups persisted.
Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told Wired the site could give citizens the opportunity to "unfairly malign" individual officers, and said he’d be asking the legislature to pass a law making sites like RateMyCop.com illegal.
On Monday TechDirt noted Arizona police were complaining about it:
The site doesn’t have pictures, addresses, or other personal information on the site. It only lists officers’ names and the department they work for. But this is still too much for the Tempe police department. “If everybody went home everyday and you had the whole world ranking your job, we do make mistakes, but other days we do great things,” said one Tempe police officer. I’ve have a lot more sympathy for the guy if this wasn’t true of a ton of other professions. When I do a stupid blog post, you guys all leave comments saying so. Most restaurants and retail business have complaint cards so customers can complain about bad service. There are a ton of sites where consumers rate hotels, bands, restaurants, books, and a ton of other stuff—such as rating teachers (although some people do want to make that illegal too). The big difference is that police officers have the force of law behind them, so they need to be held to a higher standard than other professions...When a police officer screws up, the result can be innocent people being harrassed, humiliated, arrested, injured or killed.
On Wednesday, Wired’s Threat Level reported that GoDaddy pulled the site:
RateMyCop founder Gino Sesto says he was given no notice of the suspension. When he called GoDaddy, the company told him that he’d been shut down for “suspicious activity.”
When Sesto got a supervisor on the phone, the company changed its story and claimed the site had surpassed its 3 terabyte bandwidth limit, a claim that Sesto says is nonsense. “How can it be overloaded when it only had 80,00 page views today, and 400,000 yesterday?”
GoDaddy’s is a checkered past:
Unfortunately for the startup, the company it chose for hosting is known to be quick to censor its customers. In January of last year, GoDaddy took down entire computer security website—delisting it from DNS—to get a single, archived mailing list post off the web.
On that occasion, at least, it gave the site’s owner 60 seconds notice. GoDaddy notified Seto by posting its “Oops!” message to his public website.
“You put on my website for me to call you, when you have my phone number?,” says Sesto.
Gideon says the irony’s coming in buckets:
Curiously, police agencies have no problem with Cops Writing Cops, which is a site for cops to trash other cops for not showing them “professional courtesy”.
So a website where cops can complain about, essentially, getting ticketed, arrested and charged for breaking the law is okay, but a website where the public they serve does that is unacceptable.
I conclude in agreement with Radley:
The good news is, the site’s back up, now, though it isn’t clear who’s hosting it.
Me, I think police departments should be required to post all citizen complaints against individual officers online in a searchable database. Individual officers, their union reps, or their departments could post responses or explanations to frivolous claims. Police officers are public servants. Not only that, they’re public servants with the power to arrest, detain, and use lethal force. If certain officers are the subject of repeated complaints and aren’t being properly investigated internally, the public ought to be informed of that. This culture of secrecy—and of intimidating anyone who dares question it—isn’t healthy.
And further agreement with Threat Level’s Kevin Poulsen’s prediction that:
A year from now RateMyCop.com will have won public service awards. Good cops, and clean departments, will have come to think of the site as a friend, and its founders will be sought-after speakers at police gatherings. Hosting companies that reject them on “health and safety” grounds will look like fools and cowards.
If they want to waste their time with legislation, bring it on. Such legislation, says Poulsen, “wouldn’t pass constitutional muster in any court in America.”
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Sally Kern’s son isn’t gay
Remember the Oklahoma State pol, Rep. Sally Kern, who said gays are a bigger threat than terrorists?
Jesse Kern, son of Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said information purporting that he is gay, which has appeared on several blogs, is damaging to himself and his family.
Kern, 31, said he feels the media has a responsibility to seek out the truth, then report it.
Kern, who said he is affiliated with the Des Moines School of Metaphysics, said that he chooses to be celibate, but he is not homosexual.
“First of all, no one’s sexuality is anyone’s business. It is not even my mother’s business,” he said.
“I practice celibacy to give to my God,” he said.
Kern said metaphysics helps teach him such things such as concentration, which has helped him keep focused with all the adverse publicity surrounding his mother’s comments.
Kern said his mother’s comments apparently were taken out of context. He has not chosen to listen to the audio version that has been disseminated widely throughout the nation.
Kern’s views differ from those of his mother, although he applauds her for standing up for what she believes, and thanks his parents for his good upbringing. His father is a Baptist minister in Oklahoma City.
He said the purpose of sex is reproduction, and it is the function of the animal body."But we are more than animals, and we can use sex for a tool of deep relationship with another person.”
Kern added that what is more important than whether it be a relationship with someone of the same sex, is that there “needs to be honor in any relationship whether it is a straight or gay relationship.”
Sounds like we should let him alone and maybe one day he can get through to his mother!
“I would submit to you that the vast majority of the folks in our caucus, particularly those who consider themselves conservative, stand with and support Sally,” said state Rep. Randy Terrill.
Sunstein on ‘the Obama I know’
In The Chicago Tribune Cass Sunstein tells us that for more than a decade Obama was his colleague at the University of Chicago Law School. He details his admiration and concludes:
From knowing Obama for many years, I have no doubts about his ability to lead. He knows a great deal, and he is a quick learner. Even better, he knows what he does not know, and there is no question that he would assemble an accomplished, experienced team of advisers. His brilliant administration of his campaign provides helpful evidence here.
But there is some fragility to the public fervor that envelops him. Crowds and cults can be fickle, and if some of his decisions disappoint, or turn out badly, his support would diminish. Some people think it might even collapse.
My concern involves the importance of internal debate. The greatest American presidents (above all Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt) benefited from robust dialogue and advisers who avoided saying “how wonderful you are” and were willing to say, “Mr. President, your thinking about this is all wrong.”
Because Obama is exceptionally able, and because so many people are treating him as a near-messiah, his advisers might be too deferential, too unwilling to question. There is a real risk here. But I believe that his humility, and his intense desire to seek out dissenting views, will prove crucial safeguards.
In the 2000 campaign, Bush proclaimed himself a “uniter, not a divider,” only to turn out to be the most divisive president in memory. Because of his certainty and lack of curiosity about what others might think, Bush polarized the nation. Many of his most ambitious plans went nowhere as a result.
As president, Barack Obama would be a genuine uniter. If he proves able to achieve great things, for his nation and for the world, it will be above all for that reason.
$100 million for rural GA ethanol plant
The promised plant is, relatively speaking, in my neck of the woods.
It’s March Money Madness in clean tech these days.
Range Fuels, which says it can produce cellulosic ethanol out of wood scraps, has raised $100 million to build a 100-million-gallon-a-year plant in Georgia, according to VentureWire, which posted the news first. Investors in the round include Khosla Ventures (a previous investor) and an unnamed energy company.
Earlier, the company received grants from the U.S. Department of Energy worth up to $76 million, as well as other venture funds.
CEO Mitch Mandich, a former Apple guy, told us last year that the plant would cost around $150 million. Unlike Web 2.0 start-ups, energy companies require a lot of capital to get off the ground. The company is trying to get the plant running this year to the point where it can produce 20 million gallons a year.
Range Fuels uses thermochemical processes to convert forestry wastes into ethanol. The alcohol can be mixed into gas, or be turned into E85, which is 85 percent ethanol. There are only a few cars on the road that can run on E85 and only about 1,400 stations in the U.S. that sell it, but both numbers are expected to climb.
More on Stossel’s Age of Consent
A background report asking what should the age of consent be? gives plenty of space for Family Research Council spokesman Peter Sprigg to make his case that the laws should be stricter.
I have no problem with that. Like the parent who wants to beat up the kid for having sex with his daughter, then have the cop come and arrest him, they can’t deal. The argument has no legitimacy. Sprigg makes the same oft and easily refuted std/depression/pregnancy arguments before summing up:
“...young people today need more time before marriage, but they don’t need sex before marriage.”
The article concludes:
There’s no proof that age of consent laws are a deterrent to sex before marriage. Many kids don’t even know what the age of consent is.
Whatever the age of consent is, or should be, something is very wrong when some young people, doing what hundreds of thousands of other kids do, are severely punished, branded for life on sex registries next to rapists and real pedophiles. There’s no justice in that.
I point back to some of the more reputable understanding of the topic that I’m happy to see ABC air:
Family counselor Marty Klein calls this criminalization of sex, “America’s War on Sex.”
“The idea that we have to criminalize 14-year-olds having oral sex or sexual intercourse with 16-year-olds, that’s a horrible solution to a subtle and complex issue,” he said.
Klein points out that throughout history even younger teens have had sex.
“Back in the 1850s, the age of puberty and the age of first marriage were very, very close together. People got married pretty much as soon as their bodies matured,” Klein said. “Their bodies matured around 14 and 15, and they got married around 14 or 15.”
Today, however, Klein said “we live in a time when kids are going through puberty when they’re 10, and they’re getting married for the first time when they’re 25 or 26. ... Telling a kid just say no, and expecting them to not have sex, that’s like telling somebody who’s depressed, ‘have a nice day,’ and expecting that to lift their depression.” [...]
“We trust 15-year-olds to make decisions all the time,” Klein said, pointing out that we give them access to credit cards, let them play dangerous sports, let 16- and 17-year-olds drive cars.
“The idea that somebody who’s behind the wheel of a car can’t make good sexual decisions, I think, is more about our anxiety about sex than it is about any clear thinking about 17-year-olds,” he said.
I agree. Our problem with kids having sex is about our problem with kids having sex! We don’t want to deal with it; we don’t want to talk to them about it. It’s too difficult for us, not them!
Yes, it is complex and difficult and challenging and we may make mistakes and not know the right answers. But it is also an opportunity for us to grow closer and help and provide support and understand and know and accept our kids in ways we otherwise can’t.
I’m a gay man so what do I know from parenting anyway? Well I do now have my nephew living with me so I do now have some small inkling. I’m also aware that it is only an inkling. Still, my experience is at least suggestive.
Parents use police to lock-up daughters’ boyfriends
It has consistently been my contention that adults—and most especially parents—must STOP sexualizing kids and START talking to kids about sex.
We are using kids to market our clothes and cars and dreams and youthful longings at the expense of those kids bright and happy future. And we’re skipping out on our adult responsibilities to parent them, teach them, and face the difficult challenges that come with all of that!
Parents may not want to hear it, but it’s just a fact: Lots of teenagers are having sex.
About a quarter of 15-year-old girls and boys, almost 40 percent of 16-year-olds and about half of 17-year-olds say they’ve had sex. But what if parents of the girl find out? And they’re furious? In many cases, they can use the law to punish the boy.
The story tells the tale of parents having teenage boys arrested for having sex with their daughters. Some parents have regrets; some don’t. All of the boys are branded as sex offenders for life:
Kids are clueless about the legal consequences of teenage sex, says Arizona public defender Chris Phillis.
“We tell them you could get pregnant, you could get a disease. But we don’t tell them they could be locked up for the rest of their life,” she said. “Even if everyone says it’s OK, that you know, they’re consenting to the touching, the kissing, you could still go to jail.”
Part of the crime in all of this—beyond the immorality of locking up these boys for the simple human failings that should and could be handled in more appropriate ways—is that our limited resources are wasted on cases like these when it is needed for those much more serious cases of the very real and dangerous and violent sexual predators that are out there threatening our children.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The Death of Hardware
Why buy computers when you can rent them from Amazon, EMC or Yahoo? Has Jeff Bezos got a bargain for you.
Like everyone else, the executives at gossipy real estate Web site Zillow have been anxiously watching housing prices collapse. Hoping to spice up its offerings to a discouraged consumer, Zillow recently recalculated the values on 67 million homes over a 12-year period, a database of figures that took up 4 terabytes of memory. The company figured it would need six months and millions of dollars to make it happen. Instead, Zillow ran the job over the Internet, on 500 computer servers rented from Amazon.com. It took only three weeks and cost less than $50,000.
“This is a computer-development playground,” says Spencer Rascoff, chief financial officer of 165-employee Zillow.
The next revolution in high tech is taking place inside the “cloud” of the Internet. Small outfits looking to do lots of computing in a hurry are not buying hardware anymore; they’re renting from established players that already operate vast networks of cheap computers. Time-sharing, a concept from the dawn of the computing age, is back with a vengeance
TELEPORTING: InLine search in Google results
Has anyone seen this before?
Search within search. Pretty cool feature. Anyone know how to add this?
I’ve noticed it but, in my haste, often fail to use it. One of Cory’s commenters points to Google’s explantaion of how it works:
Have you ever forgotten the exact address of a site that you wanted to visit? [SEE ALSO 1/30/07 Google the new http://] Not a problem - just type the name of the site into the Google search box and hopefully it appears at the top of the search results page.
We call this “teleporting”, and we’re pleased that we have been able to minimize the need to remember an alphabet soup of .coms, .nets, and .orgs out of everyone’s lives. However, one of the trends we noticed while studying teleporting was that there were lots of searchers who would type the name of a specific website as if they wanted to teleport, but would then immediately issue another more a refined search within this site. [...]
Through experimentation, we found that presenting users with a search box as part of the result increases their likelihood of finding the exact page they are looking for. So over the past few days we have been testing, and today we have fully rolled out, a search box that appears within some of the search results themselves. This feature will now occur when we detect a high probability that a user wants more refined search results within a specific site. Like the rest of our snippets, the sites that display the site search box are chosen algorithmically based on metrics that measure how useful the search box is to users.
Ues it! It’s a very handy, very quick, very cool search tool!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Spitzer once told Kristoff to write about his prostitution work
Studies suggest that up to two-thirds of prostitutes have been sexually abused as girls, a majority have drug dependencies or mental illnesses, one-third have been threatened with death by pimps, and almost half have attempted suicide.
Melissa Farley, a psychologist who has written extensively about the subject, says that girls typically become prostitutes at age 13 or 14. She conducted a study finding that 89 percent of prostitutes urgently wanted to escape the work, and that two-thirds have post-traumatic stress disorder - not a problem for even the most frustrated burger-flipper.
The mortality data for prostitutes is staggering. The American Journal of Epidemiology published a meticulous study finding that the “workplace homicide rate for prostitutes” is 51 times that of the next most dangerous occupation for women, working in a liquor store. The average age of death of the prostitutes in the study was 34.
Would legalization help?
The Netherlands formally adopted the legalization model in 2000, and there were modest public health benefits for the licensed prostitutes. But legalization nurtured a large sex industry and criminal gangs that trafficked underage girls, and so trafficking, violence and child prostitution flourished rather than dying out.
As a result, the Netherlands is now backtracking on its legalization model by closing some brothels, and other countries, like Bulgaria, are backing away from that approach.
In contrast, Sweden experimented in 1999 with a radically different approach that many now regard as much more successful: it decriminalized the sale of sex but made it a crime to buy sex. In effect, the policy was to arrest customers, but not the prostitutes.
Some Swedish prostitutes have complained that the policy reduced demand and thus lowered prices, while forcing sex work underground. But the evidence is strong that the new approach reduced trafficking in Sweden, and opinion polls show that Swedes regard the experiment as a considerable success. And the bottom line is that if you want to rape a 13-year-old girl imported from Eastern Europe, you’ll have a much easier time in Amsterdam than in Stockholm.
The future is Web Services, not Web Sites
YouTube announced some new API’s—“This is just a geeky acronym for Awesomely Powerful Interactions, which is what users are now capable of performing from just about anywhere”—that Fred Wilson headlines, You cannot be a destination exclusively on the Internet anymore:
If you are not a open web service, you won’t get nearly as far these days. [...]
Twitter launched with this architecture. And it has worked wonderfully for them. Twitter is everywhere.
So if you are building a new web service today, forget about being a destination. Maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t. Don’t fuss about that. Focus on making your service available everywhere. If you do that, you’ll build a much larger user base.
And Steve Rubel says, The Future is Web Services, Not Web Sites:
The leading players on the web all see the train coming. They are wisely creating APIs and turning themselves into plug-and-play services, not just big destinations. YouTube is just the latest to do so today. Amazon has S3. Google has OpenSocial and an extensive library of APIs. As does Microsoft. Facebook is allowing its applications to live outside the site. Twitter is an API first and (eventually) a business model second. Finally, the booming widget economy shows the promise of small content that can go anywhere.
These are the leaders. But everyone - including marketers - will need to think of their online brands not as sites but as portable services that can go anywhere and everywhere the consumer wants. Without such appendages, no brand will ever be able to break through the online clutter such unlimited choice offers.
Samantha Power in The Chronicle
The Chronicle had a piece on Samantha Power yesterday that put her slip of the tongue in kind context. It’s behind a paywall so here’s a fairly long excerpt:
Even for a prominent intellectual cum foreign-policy adviser, Samantha Power has been keeping a punishing schedule.
When she arrived in Europe at the beginning of the month, she had spent the previous few weeks crisscrossing the country on a frenetic hybrid book tour and campaign junket for Barack Obama, for whom she served as an unpaid adviser. In the middle of an interview to promote her new book, the adjunct professor of public policy at Harvard University told a Scottish-newspaper reporter, in an arguably off-the-record moment, that Hillary Clinton was a “monster.”
Power quickly apologized. But within hours, the story exploded across the American news media, and she resigned from the Obama campaign.
Last month, before Power’s Europe trip, I interviewed her. She was a nervous wreck even then. Perched on a stool in the corner of a bustling Washington cafe, leaning close, she confided: “I can’t sleep, and I can’t eat.”
It was a surprising admission. After all, Power seemed to be living a charmed life. One journalist had likened the attractive auburn-haired author (who was recently featured in a glamorous spread in Men’s Vogue) and human-rights activist turned academic to a latter-day Joan of Arc, out to save the world. Another scribe had suggested that Power possessed just the right combination of dynamism and “cerebral bona fides” to make her an appealing presidential candidate. In short, she was the epitome of the academic celebrity.
Pretty heady stuff for a 37-year-old who never claimed to be on the receiving end of direct orders from God or to have given any thought to running for elected office, much less the highest office in the land.
And she seemed to find love on the campaign trail: The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday that Power was dating the fellow-Obama adviser and prolific University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, soon to join her at Harvard University.
So why the frayed nerves? Simply put, Power is wildly popular. At a recent talk about her new book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (Penguin Press)-an admiring biography of the charismatic Brazilian-born United Nations diplomat who was killed in the August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad-she was inundated with well-wishers, autograph seekers, and stargazers.
With charisma and ease, she responded to a plethora of questions that included, for example, Obama and the prospect of U.N. reform. Unfailingly polite and personable-and presumably not wanting to alienate potential Obama voters, she went over her allotted time on her tightly packed schedule. She would be playing catch-up for the rest of the day, and she had been operating at that frenetic pace for weeks on end.
When we finally got to sit down and talk at a favorite tea shop of hers, she took a deep breath and explained her frenzy. “In order to do these really big ambitious books you kind of have to stay out of the daily news cycle a little bit, out of the blogosphere,” Power said, fingering her BlackBerry. But, referring to her work for Obama, she added, “I am in that now, and it has been hard to make sure I am ... being an adequate surrogate for a guy I care about so much.”
Power has spent the last 14 months advising Obama on foreign policy. Though she has always been quick to play down her role, according to The Washington Post, she is-make that was-one of the “most influential” figures in the candidate’s brain trust-"part of a group-within-the-group that he regularly turns to for advice.”
The prominently displayed Obama button on her jacket, as well as the way in which her answers to disparate questions always culminated in praise for the Democratic senator from Illinois, made plain the extent to which Power was consumed by Obama’s bid for the White House. “I have always taken my work very, very seriously, but I have never taken anything quite this seriously,” she said. “When you are out there, you just want to do right by him.”
Power had certainly been out there, campaigning for Obama across the country. And in a previous interview with The Chronicle, Power-who is unscripted and forthcoming in conversationâ€”expressed some trepidation that her blunt style would land her in hot water. “That’s the one thing that terrifies me,” Power acknowledged at the time, “that I’ll say something that will somehow hurt the candidate.” How prescient.