There's funny “ha ha” and there's funny “patheticly lame” . . . .

As anyone who watches television or movies knows, some things are outrageously funny because they hit the comedy bone just right. Other things are unintentionally funny. They come accross as so lame, so sad, so pathetic, that you can’t help but laugh.

Net Neutrality has produced some fine examples of both. No doubt I show my biases by finding many more examples of genuinely funny stuff in the pro-NN camp and many more examples of pathetically lame in the anti-NN camp. But two recent examplars absolutely stand out.

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This Time, We Spank the Telcos

If anything can warm my sad, cynical heart here in the Sausage Factory, it’s seeing people rise up and reclaiming their power and responsibilities as citizens.
So when I saw the House Judiciary Committee voted 20-13-1 (one voting “present”) to send the the Internet Freedom and Nondiscrimination Act to the floor of the House for a vote, a stunning turn around from last month’s Commerce Committee approval of COPE, I get quite giddy about the prospects for legislation that reflects more than just refereeing industry food fights.

Needless to say, the opponents of network neutrality find themselves stammering in amazement and groping for alternative explanations. Surely it must be a turf fight, or an effort to extort more campaign contributions from telcos and cable cos! Surely it must be Google money financing things! Could Moveon.org really make common cause with the Christian Coalition, the Catholic Church and, well, Common Cause? Could the dry bones of democracy again be given flesh? Could the couch potato masses remember their strength and rise again as citizens reborn? Hallelujah!

Well, maybe not quite so dramaticly Biblical (must be working too much with all those religious groups), and we’re not out of the woods yet by a long-shot. But the last few weeks have definitely thrown up roadblocks in the telco victory march through Congress. My analysis, including a Colbert-esque “Tip of the Hat” to Free Press’ Ben Scott for his amazing Senate Commerce Committe testimony and a “Wag of the Finger” to Libertarian Reporter Declan McCullagh for this rather shameful bit of editorializing in the guise of reporting below.

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COPE-ing nicely, thank you

Throughout the public interest community, one can find much wailing an gnashing of teeth over today’s Commerce Committee mark up of the Communications Opportunity Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). “A Bad Day for Media Democracy” reads the headline at Save Access.

Well, I’m not happy with COPE so far, but I think it turned into a good day for democracy, with better days to come. Because if you thought today was grim, you weren’t here for the absolute spanking net neutrality got in subcommittee in the beginning of April. In the week since the SavetheInternet campaign got underway, four democrats switched their votes on Net Neutrality from “anti” to “pro.” The day before mark up, the Republican chair of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust in the Judiciary Committee and their new task force on telecom declared all out war against the Commerce Committee effort to eliminate a free and open internet. The telcos, who earlier this month boasted they could get the bill past both houses and signed into law before the election recess, don’t sound nearly as confident despite today’s win.

What changed? Until the Subcommittee Spanking, folks let the tech companies do the heavy lifting and fought by the standard lobbying play book. Hill meetings, inside the beltway briefings, insider baseball, blah blah blah. Google v. Verizon, people said, and tuned out. And while the tech lobbyist worked with us public interest folks, one could not help but detect a certain — how shall I put it? — condescension and cluelessness as to how this “public interest” stuff really works. It kinda felt like posing for photo ops, while the “real” decisions about spending money on messaging and what strategies to persue and the ever-important smoke filled room meetings never involved anything as messy as the public.

And, as usual, the tech folks got spanked. Spanked real good. The kinda spanking you usually have to pay good money for if you fancy that kind of thing. Because despite having more money than the telcos and cable cos combined, the tech cos can never win using telco and cable co rules. Because the telcos and cable cos wrote the goddam rules and have played this game by this rulebook for a longer than most tech CEOs have been alive. As a result, the telcos and cable cos are very, very good at it. Meanwhile, as my friend and fellow traveller Jeff Chester at CDD observed the tech companies still can’t figure out how to play this game, or what they want to get out of it if they could figure it out. Or maybe they just like getting spanked, and miss the days when the intellectual property mafia would toast their little bottoms for them with legislation like the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

So, while still working with the tech lobbyists etc., the folks in the public interest community finally said “Screw this. You guys may be into getting spanked, but we prefer winning. And the way you win in democracy is by busting open the process, getting people to see what’s at stake, and reminding elected officials that their job is to do what’s best for their constituents not to referee industry food fights.” And thus, through the work of Free Press, Common Cause, Moveon and a host of others, was the SavetheInternet campaign born. And when the mainstream media refused to cover the story as too technical or boring or against the interest of their parent mega-companies, 500 bloggers took up the cry. And all this free speech stuff, that the telcos and the cable cos and the memebrs of Congress ignored because it doesn’t have a trade group and you can’t quantify it in dollar terms, really worked. And more and more people are writing letters and calling members and reminding them that there’s an election this fall.

There’s a lesson here; one backed up by the utter triumph of the pro-munibroadband forces against proposed amendments to outlaw munibroadband, or even to grandfather existing state-level bans. YOU CAN’T OUTSOURCE CITIZENSHIP. You can’t let “the tech companies” or even “the consumer advocates” or anyone speak for you. Citizenship carries responsibilities that go beyond the ritual of voting every two years. But when citizens wake up and speak up, and speak to each other, they find — to their surprise — they are strong. They find they have power. And they find that being a citizen may take hard work, but it is so, so, SO much better and more satisfying than being a couch potato. As the great Jewish sage Hillel said: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not me then who? If not now, when?”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the tech companies are on our side. They have a lot to offer, lots of resources, and, if they decide they are tired of of playing by the old rules and getting spanked, can really help push this effort over the top. But if we as citizens let this degenerate to a fight with Google, Microsoft and Silicon Valley venture capitalists who like tech start ups on one side v. AT&T, Comcast and Wall Street analysts who like monopolies on the other, with Congress brokering a deal between the two, then we citizens lose no matter which side wins. We can, we must, speak for ourselves.

When Ben Franklin left the Constitutional Convention someone shouted to him from the crowd “Mr. Franklin, what have you given us?” He answered “A republic — IF YOU CAN KEEP IT.” The Sausage Factory of democracy is a messy business, but it’s worth it. We can either let other folks make the sausage and eat whatever shit they put in, or we can wade in and make sure it comes out alright. We lost today’s battle. But we are turning the tide in the war. And if we keep growing and going like we have in the last week, we will win.

Stay tuned . . . .

It Doesn't Have To Be Physical

My wife recently made this video about our fight to stop a high-voltage power line proposed in our neighborhood. It was a lot of work.

She put copies onto DVDs with nice printed labels for distribution. I would have thought that seeing the physical product would give us a sense of completion and having accomplished something. It was nice, but it didn’t quite close the effort.

Then we uploaded the bits to Google Video and waited for review before it was accessible. And waited. And waited. And then one day we just checked to see if it was up. Bingo! We watched it over and over again. I was struck by how much greater the sense of accomplishment in seeing the video up on Google, available for world-wide viewing.

This is the new distribution. This is the Age of Imagination.

Net Neutrality As Campaign Finance Reform

It is quite possible that the most important piece of campaign finance reform to pass in 2006 will be Senator Wyden’s “Internet Non-Discrimination Act of 2006.” Until now the internet did not require candidates to raise huge amounts of money to pay for the ability to reach voters. Without Net Neutrality, all that changes. The internet will increasingly come to resemble radio, television and cable, where the well-funded buy their way onto your screen and the rest get crowded out. Not because of any evil corporate conspiracy or antidemocracy cabal, but because of the iron rules of economics.

If companies can make money charging political speakers for premium access, they will. If that’s bad for democracy and free speech, too bad. Companies aren’t in business to promote democracy, but to maximize value for shareholders. If that means that well-funded candidates and talk radio hosts can buy “premium” access while independent bloggers and pod casters can’t, that’s what will happen. Too bad about that democracy and free speech thing. Nothing against it you understand but, y’know, it’s just business.

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Jews for Jesus Rises Again

According to this blog entry, Jews for Jesus has sued Google over use of a third level domain name: jewsforjesus.blogspot.com You can read the complaint here.

As Ron Coleman’s Likelihood of Confusion blog observes, Jews for Jesus achieved one of the early awful victories for trademark holders in 1998 over this very same issue. In Jews for Jesus v. Brodsky, 993 F.Supp 282 (D.NJ 1998), Jews for Jesus won a trademark infringement claim against the user of the name “jewsforjesus.org” and “jews-for-jesus.com.” (Coleman was Brodsky’s attorney and provides a good summary and links.) This case is actually used to be pretty famous (or infamous) in domain name/TM circles. As use and sophistication about the Internet has grown, however, courts have backed away from it and the pendulum has begun to swing the other way (as I noted last year in my entry on the jerryfalwell.com case).

Comparing the 1998 case and the 2006 case provides some interesting lessons in how much the world has changed in 8 years. My thoughts below, but some disclosure first- I helped draft an amicus brief in support of Brodsky in 1998 in my roll as assistant general counsel to the now defunct Domain Name Rights Coalition.

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Scaling to the Enterprise (Part 1 of 4)

Croquet is built on some well-used, but not mainstream technologies. A colleague has asked “Why should we believe that Squeak scales to the enterprise?” I’d like to share my answer, to solicit comment.

It is good to ask this, and there are several aspects to the answer:
1. How reliable is the underlying software?
2. How much use can the software support?
3. How will applications be developed?
4. How reliable is the community.

Part 1 of 4.

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Sunday profundities

I went to a wedding last Saturday. The bride (a native of North Carolina) and the groom (a long-time resident of Massachusetts) met in an online discussion group. I had met & had become friends with the groom through a different online group. Before and after the wedding, Dear Wife Betty and I stayed at the home of another friend, whom I also had met through an online discussion group. And at the wedding reception were other friends that I knew from Kuro5hin (or the K5 spinoff site HuSi). As a technoskeptic with strong technoparanoidish tendencies I find it odd that so many of my best friends are people that I met online, and I also note with raised eyebrow that the bride and groom, who were married in an ultra-traditional High Spook Episcopalian mass, are both introverted people. One is a fifty year old astrophysicist and the other is a thirty year old (former) instructor of English. It’s hard to imagine they would have found each other had it not been for teh Intarweb.

Some other time I will write about the notion of community as it relates to “online community.” I used to think that this subject was played out enough that there was little new to say about it. I’ve changed my mind about that, so Stay Tuned, as Harold says.

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in re: Mars Rover — John channels Gary

This article about the discovery, debugging, and patch of a timing glitch on the Mars Pathfinder caught my fancy.

Its system architecture reminded me of the three-bus architecture of Masscomp “real time unix(TM)” machines, which I came to know intimately “back in the day” (84-86) as a side effect of writing the damn ‘theory of operations’ manuals for it. And anyway, as any of y’all as have read the first page of my Acts of the Apostles knows, I think the discovery-and-debugging of timing glitches is inherently interesting.

Outer space and spacecraft and actual hardware are Gary’s beat around Wetmachine, so here’s my respects, gov’nuh.

By the way, Google came up with an article on the Masscomp architecture but you need an ACM membership to read it so I’m not bothering with it, as my account has expired. If anybody has a Masscomp architecture diagram lying about, kindly post a link.