Outsourcing Big Brother

I gave this speech last July at the ACLU Biennial Conference in New Orleans. At the time, the news that major telcos and search engine companies were cooperating with the government by providing all kinds of personal infomration had not yet hit the press. I was just applying logic.

It seems useful to me to publish here as a reminder that the recent headlines are not an aberration or the work of a few evil or gready or misguided men. It is the inevitable result of a system that concentrates power and information in the hands of a few large coorprations with every interest keep those in government happy.

We don’t ask chain saws to distinguish between human beings and trees. They are inanimate tools. If you turn it on, it cuts through things. If you want to make it safer, you need to put on safety locks and other devices, or someone is likely to cut his or her own leg off by accident some day.

Similarly, it is ridiculous to depend on corporations to defend private information. They are designed to maximize revenue for shareholders. This does not make them good or bad, greedy or virtuous. It makes the corporation a tool. If we, as citizens of democracies, care about our civil liberties, then we need to install some safeties.

Stay tuned . . .

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Pitchforks and Torches! Cory Doctorow talks to Wetmachine

Cory Doctorow–noted spokesperson for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, of which he is a Fellow; science fiction author; uberblogger of metacool boing boing; alumnus of the legendary Clarion writer’s workshop; and friend of Harold Feld –stopped by Wetmachine last week for a little chat.

To be precise, he joined me and chief Wetmachine mechanic Gary Gray in the lobby of the Sheraton Hilton in Boston, where he had been staying in his capacity of Notable Luminary at Boskone 43. He chatted with us for an hour, and Gary recorded our conversation on one of his nifty gadgets.

I asked Cory to vamp on the four themes:

1) The EFF — in particular, what big fights are coming up in the next five years or so, and how Cory handicaps the good guys’ and bad guys’ prospects;

2) Trends in publishing, (with particular reference to how yours truly can make money on his self-published books);

3) What’s interesting to write about;

4) Clarion.

As you’ll hear if you listen to the podcast, Cory is an articulate guy who talks fast. In the first part of the interview he talks about: how the United States is “creating trade obligations for itself abroad” and cases where “an appointed bureaucrat from the administrative branch [is] subverting what’s going on with elected representatives in Congress”; ominous proposals to change so called “intermediary liability standards” and ways that lawyered-up bullies use copyright laws to shut down legitimate speech without due process; the World Intellectual Property Organization as a bunch of pipsqueaks who are awakening the sleeping giants of internet stakeholders from corporate boardrooms to average human beans like me and you; and how “people are starting to have a burgeoning consciousness of the politics of information freedom.”

The next time the antiliberal forces try to “burn down the library”, Cory says, we need to be there with pitchforks and torches! pitchforks and torches! to tell them we won’t put up with it.

This is our inaugural Wetmachine podcast; apologies in advance for any glitches. The sounds you hear in the background are other people — children mostly– who were hanging about in the lobby. The deep-voiced person who asks the questions, trips over his words, and says “right, right” a lot is me. The reclusive Gary’s voice does not appear in this part, but I believe we got him on one of the other sections, to be posted over the next few days.


[update: Sorry for multiple posting noise to any of you on RSS feeds. Gary and I are trying to figure out why the link to mp3 works when he posts and not when I post. . .]

Building the Overmind, one pizza at a time

This little simulation is as distressing as it is amusing.

Which, I realize I’m delinquent in commenting on the three-card monte in which Bush & Pointdexter play “now you see it, now you don’t” with Total Information Awareness, but weariness forfends. Don’t worry however. Soon enough John of Wetmachine will make such a blog post about the all-compassing info-maw as to shake the Moloch/Overmind/Military-Industrial-Prison-WarInfotainment Complex to its very foundation!

Brie Demos

I gave a demo of Brie at the OOPSLA Croquet workshop in October, and Julian gave one a couple weeks ago at C5. Alas, no video, but the Brie papers are here and here.

This terrific video of the Alternate Reality Kit was made at Xerox PARC in 1987. So, of course, it’s not actually Brie, but it does give a lot of the feel of what we’re going for. There are a few UI differences and the ARK is only 2D, but the main thing is that Brie is synchronously collaborative, and therefore eminently shareable.

Another related thing (without a cool video) was PARC’s Thing Lab.

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Globalization in convenient movie format

Well I saw Syriana last night and I must say I liked it an awful lot. It’s about the global implications of addiction to oil, and includes a world-weary CIA operative right out of Graham Green taking “joy rides” in Teheran and Beirut, rich sheiks of Araby, power lawyer-lobbyists of the Georgetown set, and an idealistic dreamer in the body of a handsome hedge fund trader. As an added topical bonus there’s even a scene featuring a Texas oliman indulging in gunplay on a ranch stuffed with imported “exotics.” One almost expected a drunk Vice President to make a cameo! This is that film done by what’s his face, Gaghan, who also wrote the screenplay for Traffic, another film about addiction and globalization.

I remember when I was a young man back there in seminary school in the department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue (1978) and chanced into some Milton Friedmanites of the most doctinaire kind (is there any other?). Well they would go on and on spouting their religious beliefs concerning “free” trade and so forth, under the delusion that they were talking about empirical things and not metaphysics. (This type is given a royal send-up in Syriana, in the character portrayed by Tim Blake Nelson, last seen with George Clooney in Oh Brother Where Art Thou?, in which he played one of the dimwitted Foggy Mountain Boys in a fake beard and clownish hayseed atire.) And they would prattle on about how, left unfettered, capital would magically find its way to its most efficient use (kinda like how Lassie found her way home all the way across Scotland without a map in the 1943 classic). The point being that American capital, among others, needed to be free to find its best use in Peruvian jungles or Saudi deserts or Indonesian forrests. Capital knows best.

Well, I would say, that’s fine. But If we send our capital there, unfettered, then presumably the capital of the poor peoples of those regions should be free to come here. Absolutely! they replied. Only ha-ha those people do not have capital. That’s their problem! Poor capital formation!

You miss my point, I rejoined. Their capital is human capital. It resides in their noggins and perforce their bodies.

Ah, I love the smell of capitalism in the morning! It smells like a vast technologically-based unfathomable dark conspiracy! But enough for now, I need to go earn my paycheck.

What the Dormouse Said

Everyone’s been waiting patiently for Hedgehog. There’s no way to know when the next step of David Reed’s Tea Time will be available. As David Smith and Andreas Raab began working on Simplified Tea Time for Hedgehog, there was no way to know when that process would produce results.

The Croquet group at the University of Wisconsin is not in the Computer Science department. We’re not driven by the theoretical concepts of Croquet for its own sake. We are in the Academic Technology department of the Division of Information Technology, and our interest is in building educational applications in Croquet. Adding stuff to the Croquet core is fun, but what we really need is to build learning environments with faculty. Last summer, we had the opportunity to just that, and we took it, even though we knew that the existing Jasmine proof-of-concept version of Croquet would not meet our needs. What to do?

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A useful chronology

See here for an easy-to-read illustrated guide to some actions by the administration that claims it needs to void the constitution of the United States of America in order to protect us from the boogeyman. (A boogeyman who evidently still resides in the cave (in the rabidly mysogynistic, institutionally antisemitic, nuclear-bomb duty-free-shopping-zone and “partner in the war on boogeymen” known as Pakistan) to which he retreated after the adminstration gave him a free pass out of Afghanistan).

[update: editted for slightly enhanced readability.]


Freaking trade press should know better, or at least learn to read more carefully. There is a steady drum beat of reports, starting I think with this one at RCR Wireless News that the President wants a “wifi tax.” This is, bluntly, a misreading of the plain language of the President’s budget proposal.

Lord knows there is plenty in the proposed budget not to like, but there’s no “wifi tax.” My analysis (and a little context) below.

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