December 14, 2006

Talk about chilling effects!

From a FAQ on a new Internet-hosted service I've been tinkering with:

Q34. Why can't I open or collaborate with music and video files?
A. There are many copyright-related issues when it comes to music/ video files, and we felt that allowing users to collaborate on, or share, such files would perhaps cause copyright or DRM (Digital Rights Management) violations if those users were not the actual copyright holders of the content they were sharing/ collaborating on. This entire topic is a legal minefield, and at this point we're sidestepping the entire mess by simply disallowing opening/ collaboration/ sharing of music and video files. After all, you wouldn't want mysterious organizations like the RIAA, MPAA and MAFIAA after you, would you? While we may allow this at some time in the future, for now, we're sorry, but you cannot open, share or collaborate on music/ video files. original link

Wow. "You wouldn't want mysterious organizations..." is cutting-edge new services are self-censoring. Can someone come up with a catchy phrase for this mess? The War On Culture? The War On Getting-Things-Done? The War On Thought-Crime? Oh, getting ahead of myself...

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December 10, 2006

Lies, damned lies, and big-business funded think-tanks.

In An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore points out that it's difficult to make a man understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it. So true this is.

Imagine if one of the largest tobacco companies was heavily funding a "Tobacco is a healthy habit" think-tank. These people spent money on advertising, hired lots of "experts" to tell the public that tobacco was fine. Further, if anyone ever manages to find negative consequences of tobacco, so, cancer, they immediately blame it on "existing health conditions", despite strong evidence of a correlation between tobacco use and cancer. Now, someone in the government, perhaps tired of trying to find ways of funding public health, which is more expensive because of the number of tobacco-induced cancers being treated on tax-payer dollars, tries to get this "think-tank" shut down. Possibly by just asking the tobacco companies to stop funding them. The tobacco industry, or sock puppets on their behalf, are immediately up in arms at this attempt to squelch the "little guy" with the entirely reasonable contrary opinion. There are two sides to the story, of course, and both can be reasonably heard.

Now, we've been through this in this country, and the tobacco industry has taken its licks. Thank goodness for eventual corporate responsibility.

Unfortunately, this kind of tactic still passes in other industries.

Recently, Senators Rockefeller (D-West Virginia) and Snowe (R-Maine) wrote a letter to Exxon, strongly asking them to stop their "obfuscation agenda", in the name of funding passed to such slimy think tanks as the Competitive Enterprise Institute (see some of their work here). Now, the Wall Street Journal was nice enough to rebut the letter in an article called The Global Warming Gag Order. Among other things, they say that those supporting climate reform are “so afraid of debate that they want Exxon to stop financing a doughty band of dissenters who can barely get their name in the paper". Big bully senators should leave alone "think tanks" with no real scientific support on their side. Huh. It'll be ok, though, because Carbon Dioxide is "life" (see the link above from CEI).

Sometimes, we need to prevent people from continuing to propagate lies in the name of "discussion". No one is arguing that these people have a case, we're just trying to stop the runaway propaganda that's so easy to absorb. I'm not saying we should deny anyone the right to free speech, but, when these people can buy their way into the collective intellect, we should be wary. Exxon should take the high road on this one, and walk away from their "obfuscation agenda", before someone successfully points out the cancer their product is giving to the earth.

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April 07, 2005

Open government? Not really...

To follow up on a previous gripe, here's an article (via Bruce Schneier's Blog) which discusses how much less open our governments have become following the horrible 9/11 tragedy.

The article does a good job of covering the basics. In essence, our current administration is pushing to make everything it can secret. Want to know about some scary government project going on in your town? Worried they might not be taking appropriate care to safeguard, say, your water supply? You're probably out of luck. And that's not to mention that managing so many “secrets” is expensive, in a time when our government needs to make every dollar count.

I mean, sure, if you don't let the citizenry know anything, it's a lot easier to sell out their interests, health, and safety to the highest bidder. That's what's happening in Pennsylvania, where the state is refusing to release information on how Homeland Security funds are being distributed. Here's a hint, folks - there's a lot of money in that budget. Isn't it convenient not to have to explain where it goes? The Freedom of Information Act was supposed to deliver accountability of the government to the populace. How can we hold the government accountable if it refuses to disclose what it's doing most of the time? How are we to prevent another failure of intelligence like 9/11 was, if we can't even find out what is going on?

This has got to stop. Hopefully the Senate hearing the article mentions will bring this discussion up to the public's consciousness.

January 29, 2005

Some useful frame shifts....

Joy and I have been meaning to start discussing some of the methods and techniques we've learned from this great book by George Lakoff. If you're even remotely left-leaning, it's a quick read, and you should go get a copy, and read it right now. You can read more of Lakoff's articles at the Rockridge Institute

Anyway, the book suggests that part of the reason it's so hard to make inroads against the right-wing viewpoints so commonly expressed around us, is that the right-wing has established the frame of the discussion in their own terms. Turns out, you can't fight an opposing frame with facts - cognitively, once someone has accepted a frame, they reject opposing facts. So, instead of using the right-wing frames, and voicing our objection, we need to build new frames from our viewpoint.

Here are some that we think are promising. It's hard to encounter one frame, and remember to re-cast - but worth it.

  • Forced-birth: The anti-abortion side of the argument is rarely about actually caring for living people. They are not “pro-life” - all they care about is making sure that pregnant women actually have babies. Generally, the position doesn't include pre- or post-natal care, money to cover education or health care for the new family... all of which would be necessary to be “pro-life”.

  • The Iraqi Offensive: They haven't ever attacked us. We invaded them under false pretenses - no ties to Al-Qaeda, no weapons of mass destruction. This “war” was really an invasion, that has caused tens of thousands of deaths. The whole thing has truly been offensive.

  • The War Against Hatred of the United States: Why are we in danger? Because people want to kill us. Why do they want to kill us? Because they hate us. So, what should we be doing to stop this? We need to stop the spread of hatred of our country. You can't stop terrorism; terror is a tactic. It's the hatred that's the problem. Our current approach is making the problem worse. Thus we need to be fighting a war against that hatred.

  • Save the Human Race: “Save the Earth” sounds good, but the earth is going to be here not matter what we do. The real problem is that our lack of strong environmental protection policies is going to lead to the ultimate destruction of humanity. This new frame brings the idea to a more personal level.

We'd love to hear your comments and reactions.

November 02, 2004

I voted!

Just to stick it in the record, I voted. I think I was about the 82nd person to vote in my precinct. I wonder how many people are registered for that precinct?

Haven't voted yet? Get out there, there's still plenty of time!