Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Month: October 2006 (Page 1 of 4)

P.W. Botha Dead at 90

He's up there with George Wallace, in the too evil to forgive pantheon. Why do evil old men live so long?

Great job, guys

Three Allen staffers tackle (really) a constituent asking Allen, "Why did you spit on your first wife?" (And just for your own head-shaking amusement, check out this press report after you've watched the video. Your media in action . . .) Update: Mike Stark (the constituent that was attacked) has a letter up at the web site of the local television station that captured the incident on tape.) Further: The Washington Post redefines "heckling" as someone asking questions. And from the WP report, I'm getting the idea that the Charlottesville police aren't going to be a lot of help:
"Charlottesville Police Lt. Gary Pleasants said Stark reported the incident today and indicated he wanted to press assault charges against the men. Pleasants said police are investigating and trying to determine the names of the Allen staffers involved. "We will find out who the people are, give him the information and he can go to the magistrate and try to obtain a warrant for them," Pleasants said."

Ridicule

That is all people like this deserve.

Tim Wu on YouTube

Tim Wu has a great piece on Slate, arguing that YouTube greatly benefits from the notice and takedown processes provided by the much (and rightly) reviled DMCA. Much as he's done with net neutrality issues, Tim's done an excellent job of describing the crux of the issue:
[M]uch of the copyrighted material on YouTube is in a legal category that is new to our age. It's not "fair use," the famous right to use works despite technical infringement, for reasons of public policy. Instead, it's in the growing category of "tolerated use"—use that is technically illegal, but tolerated by the owner because he wants the publicity. If that sounds as weird as "don't ask, don't tell," you're getting the idea. The industry is deeply conflicted about mild forms of piracy—trapped somewhere between its pathological hatred of "pirates" and its lust for the buzz piracy can build.
Read the whole thing for a short and illuminating history of the laws and policy arguments that brought us to this point. If you're as interested in this as I am, jump over to Tim's site, where a conversation on the concept of "tolerated use" seems to be developing.

Vote No: Undoing Virginia’s Bill of Rights

Virginia's Constitution is really a work to behold. Its priorities are evident from the moment you start reading it - the first article is entitled Bill of Rights, and the very first section reads:
"That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."
That was written 230 years ago, before the colonies had even declared independence, nevermind adopted the U.S. Constitution. Its ideas - of liberty, independence, and equality - served as a model for many. And now those ideas are under direct attack in Virginia. Vivian Page brings us the highlights the Virginian Pilots' editorial against the proposed amendment that Virginia voters will be facing on November 7th:
Parse them anyway you like, but those 87 words [of the amendment] seek no less than to undo what Mason wrought in Virginia’s first days, sentiments that have stood the test of 230 years. […] The mere possibility that such gracelessness might find its way into Virginia’s high-minded Bill of Rights - among protections for religious liberties, assembly and free elections - is insult enough to the commonwealth’s founding sentiments. But the marriage amendment’s intent - to deprive unmarried people of basic legal rights otherwise guaranteed by Virginia’s constitution and by common law - makes a mockery of Mason’s hope of protecting the inherent rights of all men to be equally free and independent.
The whole editorial is here. This amendment is an abomination. Vote No, Virginia.

So, do we get to

conduct midnight smash n' grabs into the homes of the Congressmen that put together the TSA system that doesn't work? Or is that just something we reserve for the people that point out what a pointless mess the TSA has made?

The politics of responsibility

Republicans are forever praising the concept of taking responsibility. You're poor? Sick? Unlucky? That's all your responsibility. Get hurt and are suddenly faced with $100k in medical bills you never asked for? Your responsibility. Funny how that tune changes when it comes to corporate responsibility. Then it's all over-regulation! Trial lawyers! Stymied innovation! Utter bullshit. If Republicans held corporations to the same standard of responsibility they do an unwed mother of two, I just might vote Republican. As Ezra points out, it's all about power, not principle.

Can’t Stop the Signal

So I'm a big Joss Whedon fan. Since, say, the second episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Go ahead, laugh - it's your loss. Whedon's creative talents have just kept getting better and better, earning himself an incredibly devoted fan base. One so devoted that he credits them with being a significant part of the reason he was able to make Serenity, a movie based on the abruptly canceled Firefly television series. Serenity's storyline revolved around a group of exiles working against the authorities to make sure that a truth isn't buried. That storyline is woven around a central message - the truth is a signal that can't be stopped. Unlike many (most?) successful director/writers, Whedon has a very positive and active relationship with his fans. And that relationship worked to great benefit for both him and his fans when it came to Serenity. For his part, Whedon kept fans up to date during production, dropped lots of hints without spoiling the story, and invited an enormous number of fans to screenings of the movie while it was still in post-production. What did the fans offer in return? An amazing amount of time and energy devoted to promoting the movie. Not just word-of-mouth "oh, yeah, go see that, it's good", but an extraordinary effort by people who simply wanted others to share in wonderful storytelling. People gathered up friends for the screenings, they talked it up in local media, and produced some incredibly well done derivative promotional materials. Like what? Well, I can tell you - posters, bags, clothing. Some of it was simple, and some of it was amazing. But I can't show you. Why not? These devoted fans have been shut down. Over a year after Serenity's successful release, Universal's lawyers have come to town, and not only want these fans to quit supporting the movie, they want money. In at least one case, the opening demand appears to be $9000. Nice, eh? Yes, in return for all that devotion, all that hard work, all that energy - Universal is billing fans. They could have simply come out and said "Okay, folks, we know that we've traditionally turned a blind eye to this, but we have companies paying us for exclusive rights, and you need to stop now. We know that Joss has even encouraged you to make these things, but it's not his decision. It's ours. Thanks for your help, and we know you'll understand." No, instead my brethren at the bar embarrass me (yet again) by opening up with nasty demand letters and intimidation tactics. Aimed big guns at people who would have stopped with a simple request. A favorite tactic of the industry, sadly. But I doubt they've ever been on the receiving end of an invoice in response. That's right, fans have retroactively invoiced Universal for their marketing and promotional services. Can't stop the signal.

Security Theater, Part 27

Rep. Ed Markey's a bit upset that Chris Soghoian has done his part to point out that the emperor has no clothes. Uninformed outrage is eversomuch easier than actually, you know, fixing the problem. Update: In keeping with the theme that illusions of security are far more important that actual security, Congressional Quarterly reports that "[t]wo former House committee investigators who were examining Capitol Hill security upgrades said a senior aide to Speaker J. Dennis Hastert hindered their efforts before they were abruptly ordered to stop their probe last year." You can never been too cynical about these people. Further update: The "emperor has no clothes" link above no longer works. It was a web-page that illustrated how simple it is to generate a fake boarding pass that can be used to enter the gate areas of airports. It appears to have been taken down after an FBI visit to the page's author. Boing Boing keeps us apprised.

An endorsement worth reading

The Virginian-Pilot, the largest newspaper in the Hampton Roads area of coastal southern Virginia, endorsed Jim Webb for Senate today. Now, I don't think that endorsements really matter much at this point, but I'm highlighting it because it does an excellent job of why many of us will be happy to vote *for* Jim Webb, and not simply against George Allen:
Over the past few months, Virginians have started to get to know James Webb. There are still gaps in that knowledge, but on two of the most essential ingredients for a U.S. senator - character and intellect - the record is clear. Webb has an abundance of both. Witness the fact that you have seen no pictures of Webb with his son, Jimmy, as the 24-year-old Marine lance corporal deployed for Iraq last month. That's because Webb would not allow any. Or the fact that nowhere on his campaign Web site will you find the citation (reprinted below) for extraordinary bravery that accompanied the Navy Cross awarded him for "courage, aggressive leadership, and selfless devotion to duty" in Vietnam. [ . . . ] As for intellect, very little that is canned or formulaic makes its way into Webb's speeches or conversation. For better and occasionally worse, his answers appear to have been concocted in his own head, not during some poll-driven strategy session in Washington, D.C. Personal understanding of cultural forces in the Middle East and an innate skepticism governed Webb's courageous decision to speak out against the war in Iraq before it ever began. He took that once-lonely view long before events proved him right.
Read the whole thing. And I knew that he'd been awarded the Navy Cross, but I'd never heard the story around it. The Virginian-Pilot published the citation itself, explaining:
The Navy Cross is the nation's second-highest award for bravery in facing an enemy. James Webb has refused to use it in his campaign. We are publishing it with our endorsement of him because we believe it testifies to his character.
Hampton Roads is also the world's largest naval base. I think this just might grab the attention of a few people who otherwise wouldn't have given Jim Webb a thought. Added: A very fair profile of Jim Webb, via the Washington Post.

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