Posts Tagged ‘freedom of expression’

Tearing off the Masks

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

I've read that Anonymous has found the names of about a thousand members of the Ku Klux Klan, and is preparing to release them.

I'm hoping that none of the 10 other people in this nation with the same first and last name as I are members, because it could be Hell for the rest of us. I'm also hoping that Anonymous doesn't add names of people whom it dislikes, especially as I might be amongst them.

A few years ago, I challenged their attack on Stratfor. Stratfor was a journalistic enterprise, focussing on issues of global politics (including military action) and security, and publishing both free content and content that required a paid subscription. Some at Anonymous were sure that Stratfor were, effectively, a criminal undertaking because

  • Stratfor communicated off-the-record with policy wonks and with state officials (as did and do almost every other major journalistic enterprise and many of the minor journalistic enterprises); and
  • Stratfor expressed opinions with which Anonymous vehemently disagreed.

So Anonymous stole e.mail, e.mail addresses, and credit-card information from the Stratfor servers. If one had so much as subscribed to a free newsletter from Stratfor, then one's e.mail address was made public, and one was subjected to hoax e.mail from Anonymous. Many who had simply paid for something from Stratfor had their credit card information used to make contributions to charitable organizations (each of which then had to spend resources on returning the stolen money, at a net loss).

The e.mail itself was given to WikiLeaks, which processed it with the help of other journalistic institutions. Some of these institutions shamelessly used the stolen information to their own advantage, though it didn't provide evidence of wrong-doing by Stratfor. Indeed, after almost four years, no evidence of criminal wrong-doing has ever been presented. Stratfor's greatest sin was gross incompetence in the field of security.

None of the major media outlets has drawn attention to the point that the supposed end that was to justify Anonymous's means was not met. They have been virtually silent about this attack on journalistic freedom. That's because, as I suggested in my entry of some years ago, these outlets are themselves afraid of being attacked by Anonymous.

Journalists are fond of seeing their profession as brave. Well, there truly are some brave journalists in this world, but they're in a minority, and the rest don't deserve to see themselves as heroes for keeping company with that minority.

No News Is Bad News

Thursday, 16 February 2012

On 24 December, the Stratfor computer site was learned to be hacked; e.mail, e.mail addresses, and credit-card information were stolen. Initially, Anonymous couldn't agree within itself whether its members were responsible, but the deniers fell silent.

The credit-card information was used to make charitable donations, which subsequently had to be returned (at a net loss) by the charities. Those whose e.mail addresses were stolen had them publicly dumped (and thus made available to spammers), and were subjected to hoax mailings by Anonymous.

And we were told that the e.mail itself would be released, so that the world could see that Stratfor were really a malevolent force, which revelation would ostensibly justify the hacking.

After seven weeks, the e.mail that was supposed to expose the wickedness of Stratfor has not been released. There's more than one possible explanation. Perhaps the responsible members of Anonymous have obscure but compelling reasons to release the information all-at-once, and to organize it before doing so. Perhaps these members have been found and whisked-off to secret internment camps, along with anyone who might have reported their disappearances. Or perhaps the e.mail would reveal no more than that Stratfor communicates off-the-record with sources, some of whom could (reasonably or otherwise) be regarded as villains, and perhaps other members of Anonymous noted that almost any reporting and news-analysis service does the same thing, so that Anonymous would appear to subvert freedom of the press.

(I kinda favor that third explanation. Like many members of the Occupation Movement — who also like to claim the prerogatives but duck the responsibilities of association, and to wear Guy Fawkes masks and fantasize about being Vs — many members of Anonymous seem inclined to try to silence those whose views they find greatly disagreeable, but only so long as these members aren't made to recognize that they're engaged in censorship. [Up-Date (2012:02/27): It has now been announced that the e.mail is being released in coöperation with WikiLeaks.])

But, whatever may be the reason, the e.mail has not been released, and that failure or delay is itself a news story — which story you've not read in the Times (of London, of New York, or of Los Angeles) nor heard from the major broadcasters. Possibly that's because they're such lack-wits that it hasn't occurred to any of them that there's a story here. I rather suspect, however, that it's because they're scared. A group such as Anonymous could take-down pretty much any of these news services just as they did Stratfor.

Of Black-Outs and Block-Heads

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Those who attempted to visit this 'blog yester-day met with this proclamation that it were suspended by its author in protest against SOPA and against PIPA. None-the-less, when the Woman of Interest asked me whether I thought that the black-out protests would be effective, my answer in the late morning was negative.

First, I was inclined in advance to believe that deciding positions had already been taken (albeït not announced) some days ago by a majority in Congress and by the President, and that final outcomes would not be actually swung by the sort of protest that could plausibly be expected.

Additionally, by late morning, I felt that a rather poor protest had been mounted. Wikipedia, most famous of the protestors, ostensibly blacked-out its pages, but had left them so that hitting Esc as they loaded caused the ordinary content to be delivered. Google merely changed its home-page graphic, partially (but, tellingly, not fully) covering-over their name with a cocked black rectangle; never mind that those who invoke searches with a browser text-field don't see that graphic anyway! Many sites did no more than change their color-schemes.

I think that least effective were those who expressed their ostensible support for the black-out by posting those expressions, through-out the day, on the WWWeb, while withdrawing nothing. Now, let me make it plain that I have no quarrel with those who simply didn't participate in the black-out, or those who shut-down only some of their sites; the former may be perfectly consistent, the latter perhaps efficient. But those who weren't blacked-out in the least and discoursed upon their support for the black-out on the WWWeb as that black-out were in-progress seem not to understand that they were providing content in attempted support of an effort to provide a sense of the loss of content that would follow upon the passage of something such as SOPA or as PIPA. And if the only content that one normally provide were tweets and such, then exactly that were what one needed to halt to actually support a black-out.

Those in that last group ought to understand that SOPA or PIPA wouldn't simply mean that the WWWeb no longer offered them so much information and passive amusement; such an act would limit their ability to express themselves as freely as they do now. Along with Google and YouTube and Tumblr would go Facebook and Twitter and Blogger and all the other centralized social-networking sites. (Which is not to say that more autonomous sites, such as mine, would be spared.) People who won't g_dd_mn'd shut-up would be quite hard hit — which might be an amusing thought, but freedom of expression is essential, and not to be reduced to quiet chatter-boxes and pontificators.

My participation in the protest, however, wasn't conditioned on a presupposition that it would sway the body politic. My actions were essentially symbolic, and it wasn't necessary for me to believe that I would sway anyone, though I would hope at least that there'd be one or two sympathetic readers.

And my negativity about the black-out doesn't mean that I expected or expect one of these bills to pass, nor for it to avoid a Presidential veto, nor for the Supreme Court to rule in its favor. I don't know about the first two. (The President will certainly require cover if he is not to veto a bill of this sort, but perhaps he will think that he can get that cover from a signing statement.) I would be unpleasantly surprised by the last; the Supreme Court seems more genuinely alert to concerns about freedom of expression in recent years.

Of course, I may be wrong about the effect of the black-out, however feeble it may look to me. Representatives and Senators have been spooked by scarecrows in the past. But, if the bills failed, that failure wouldn't itself demonstrate that the black-out had a deciding effect.

I would definitely caution at this point that what appears to be strategic retreat may be merely tactical. The interests behind these bills are not going to go away, and features of these bills may be withdrawn at one stage only to be reïntroduced at another (such as reconciliation).

The principal recommendation of many of those participating (however convincingly or pathetically) in the protest was that people should contact their Senators and Representatives. Well, the Senators from California are a knavish fool and a foolish knave, and the Representative for my district is at best a twit. I've tried moving those three in the past, and been met by silence or with inane boiler-plate. If they voted against these bills, it wouldn't be because of anything that I said to them. There's not even a sympathetic reader to be found amongst them. But I do know that other districts are not so grim.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Here!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

To-day, 20 May, is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I'm quite disappointed that its founder has retreated; I could not have withdrawn in good conscience, even though my contribution demonstrates that I am pretty poor at working in charcoal: [drawing of the head of a bearded man of Mediterranean stock]

Some people have chosen to draw caricatures, but my objective was simply to violate a grossly illegitimate prohibition. As such, I sought to draw Mohammed. If the death threats become more narrowly focussed on those who creäte caricatures, then I will creäte a caricature.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Coming!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

20 May is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day! It's a special opportunity to reject claims against our words, against our art, and against our minds!

on a wavelength far from home

Friday, 20 February 2009

There is a myth (demonstrated to be false by economist Ronald Harry Coase about 50 years ago) that, before the state stepped-in to regulate radio transmissions, there was simply chaos, as one would-be broadcaster tried to over-power the signal of another.

Actually, what happened was that broadcasters who wanted to work in the same frequency ranges and in the same geographical regions as each other went to court, and the courts began to apply the principles of homesteading to broadcasting. The main questions, as with the use of land, was of who was there first. Basically simple (though there certainly could be nuances).

Now, I would acknowledge the point, made by Donald Clayton Hubin and others, that allowing someone to own the use of one part of the electromagnetic spectrum doesn't seem different a priori from allowing them to own any other, and the intuitions of many of us would be immediately alarmed at the idea that someone should own, say, red in the Columbus PMSA. But we are alarmed in the context of there already being meaningful use of red by everybody; given that use of red, we could conceptualize the existence of a sort of easement actually giving us each a right to its continued use. On the other hand, prior to the development of radio, people did not so much use those parts of the electromagnetic spectrum as accidentally generate such electromagnetic radiation. For important parts of the spectrum, that remains the case. And, in-so-far as such accidental generation may be long-standing and so forth, one could believe that there was an easement allowing such continued accidents, but otherwise impute a property right to broadcasters in the same ranges as the accidents.

There's also a bit of apparent oddness in the fact that broadcasting amounts to vibrating the surrounding area; this seems a use of the properties in the surrounding area. But, while it's certainly a use, we have to be careful about the issue of whether it is a use of the property of others. We tend to equate property with the object against which a property claim is made. For example, we would normally simply say that Thomas's house is Thomas's property; we would even normally continue to say this if Thomas rented the house to Richard. But the notion of property rights as distinct from use rights is incoherent, and the rental agreement transfers some of Thomas's property rights to Richard, even if only rights specific to a defined interval. So, backing-up, we need to at least ask whether the property rights of those otherwise owning physical things in the area surrounding a broadcaster included exclusive rights to vibrate those things, or at least exclusive rights to vibrate them other than in the aforementioned accidental manner.

The reason that the airwaves were declared to be public was not because there was no coherent model of private property in the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, and the declaration certainly wasn't to end chaos.

(Nor was it because there is some sort of natural monopoly in broadcasting. Consider how few daily newspapers the typical city now has, as opposed to how many radio and television stations it has.)

The nationalization of radio broadcasting was to introduce censorship. People were broadcasting opinions that the state and its clients didn't want broadcast, such as attacks on the medical profession. Freedom of speech was the chaos that was stopped.

This brings me to the Fairness Doctrine, which was introduced in 1949 and prevailed until late-mid 1987. The doctrine ostensibly required broadcasters to present opposing views on important and controversial matters, in a fair and balanced manner.

Even if it had done this much, it would have been a gross violation of freedom of expression, much like forceably demanding that any of you reading this entry both speak-out on important and controversial issues and that you always defend, as strongly as practicable, views that you oppose. Operationally, you couldn't be a spokesperson for your own views so much as a reporter of what views were had.

But, in practice, the Fairness Doctrine was part of a system of disguising gross biases as balance. For example, the gentlemen's agreement (sans gentlemen) between the prevailing political left and political right has been that only both sides are represented, not the views of those who do not fit on whatever might be the left-right spectrum of the day, the Fairness Doctrine abetted the impression that no one (or no one who mattered) could have such views. Beyond this, the politicial left, for most of this period, was largely successful both in disguising their own views as neutral, and (when unable to do that) in selecting poor representatives of the political right to present opposing views; thus not even both sides were given the same opportunity to be heard.

The Doctrine fell because of pressure from those who opposed censorship in principle and from those who were given the short end of the stick (the political right) or given pretty much no end of the stick (everyone not on the left-right spectrum).

Once the Doctrine fell, the political right developed a sort of counter-weight to the main-stream media. Against CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, and NPR, the right threw-up first a network of AM radio stations and then Fox Television. In terms of combined listenership and viewership, these countervailing broadcasters don't match the old main-stream, but it upsets the political left that there should be grossly biased broadcasting, when the gross bias isn't their own. And, in spite of their continued dominance in the more important medium of broadcast television, it hugely disturbs the political left that the right-wing has a larger presence in AM radio.

Parts of the left persuaded themselves that the right-wing dominated talk radio because powerful corporations were willing to sacrifice direct profitability in order to mold public opinion in favor of the political right, and therefore presented only personalities such as Rush Limbaugh, rather than what would be popular progressive (social democratic) personalities. Hence, Air America Media. But, in operation, Air America has not been profitable; it has been a meaner, dumber NPR, dependent upon subsidies.

So there has been increased interest on the part of the left-wing in a revived Fairness Doctrine. And even trial balloons about somehow applying it to the Internet. Therefore, I am pleased and relieved that the Obama Administration has declared that it does not support a revival of the Doctrine. I would really like to believe that this decision is based on a respect for freedom of speech, but the plain fact is that the present SCotUS has a majority bloc that could be expected to reject a Fairness Doctrine as unconstitutional, and the Court could well continue to have such a majority for at least the next eight years. (Justices Kennedy and Scalia are each about sixteen years younger than Justice Stevens.) But if just one member of that bloc were to leave the court then the Obama Administration would be faced with a new calculation.

Hard Sell

Thursday, 25 September 2008

In the wake of a ruling by the Supreme Court of the State of California that required the state to recognize and effect same-sex marriage, there is a measure, Proposition 8, on the ballot to amend the state constitution to halt recognition of further same-sex marriages. I oppose this measure, though (as I have stated various places) what I really want is for the state to get out of the marriage business altogether, and to treat marriages simply as private contracts. (I think that participants should see marriage as far more, but that's not the business of the state.)

This after-noon, I stopped at the San Diego headquarters of Vote No on Prop 8 to buy a couple of bumper-stickers, one to actually slap on a bumper, and one to put on the case of my note-book computer.

The guy who greeted me there was a fool. Instead of just selling me a couple of bumper-stickers, he tried very aggressively to get me to make a substantial donation, starting with the idea that I should give them the equivalent of a dollar an day for a year, by donatiing $365. There isn't a fr__king year left until the election; there's about 40 days. Had he begun by suggesting a $40 donation, well, I might have gone along with that; as it was, he had my back up, and I said no to the other sums that he suggested. I gave them $5 and they gave me the two bumper-stickers that I'd sought. In addition to the bumper-stickers, I left with considerable annoyance.

Another irksome thing, not the fault of Vote No on Prop 8, was that I had to fill-out a d_mn'd form, because I'd made a political contribution, however small. It was a gross violation of my rights as acknowledged by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, but if I didn't fill-out that form, and truthfully, then the money could be confiscated by the state.