Public Radio’s Enormous Typo

This weekend I visited the web site for Marketplace Morning Report. It's a business news program often broadcast on public radio stations during NPR's Morning Edition and other shows. But Saturday, I noticed one enormous typo in this transcript of last Monday's interview with their Washington bureau chief, John Dimsdale.

Hobson: All right, what about the federal highway funding bill — this is the transportation bill. It's been debated back and forth but still no agreement on it, and I guess the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month if they don't come up with a solution?

Dimsdale: That's right.

Gee, I hope not!

Click here for a screenshot. It apparently stayed up on their site for seven days before someone finally noticed the mistake Sunday afternoon and took it down. (I was always pretty sure that it was the funding that could come to a halt at the end of the month...) And according to the site's social media icons, the link has been shared exactly once on Twitter, while being completely ignored on Facebook and on Google Plus. Though it seems like there'd be a lot to say...

So let me help get things started. "The fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month, people! Don't you realize what this means?!!"

Maybe their transcriber was inserting some political commentary — that the funding of highway construction bills has a negative effect on the electorate which is equivalent to having your Congressman come to your house and then fuck you. But don't worry, because the fucking could come to a halt at the end of the month. Er, did we really need a Washington Bureau Chief to explain that to us?

The rest of the article talked about the Congressmen's "short-term extensions." I pray to god that that doesn't mean what I think it means...

Maybe it's "Surrealism News Week" over at American Public Radio. Maybe the transcriber's mind wandered to that big argument he'd had last night with his girlfriend. Or maybe the transcriber just really hates taxpayer-funded highway projects. Did Marketplace Morning Report inadvertently hire the Tea Party transcription service?

Besides Marketplace Morning Report, American Public Radio also distributes Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. Er, I just hope they're not using the same transcribers. The good news is, on Friday the highway bill eventually did make it through Congress, and it saved millions of American jobs, if you believe what the Democrats are telling you. But I think that's really overlooking what's the true significance of this bill's passage.

The fucking didn't come to a halt at the end of the month.

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Transhumanist Salvation or Judgment Day?

We're starting to brush up against real robots, real nanotech, and maybe even the first real artificial intelligence. But will emerging technologies destroy humankind — or will humankind be saved by an emerging transhumanism?

And which answer is more liberating?

If anybody knows, it's R.U. Sirius. The former editor in chief at Mondo 2000 (and a Timothy Leary expert) has teamed up with "Better Humans LLC." They're producing a new transhumanist magazine called h+. (And R.U. is also one of the head monkeys at 10 Zen Monkeys.) But can he answer this ultimate question? Terminator Salvation played with questions about where technology ends and humanity begins.

But what will we do when we're confronting the same questions in real life?

10 Zen Monkeys: Isn't this whole idea of real transhumanism kind of scary?

RU SIRIUS: Everything's scary. Human beings weren't born to be wild so much as we were born to be scared, starting on a savanna in Africa as hunter-gatherers watching out for lions and tigers and bears (oh my... Okay, maybe just lions), subjected to the random cruelties of a Darwinian planet. I would say that the transhumanist project is probably an attempt to use human ingenuity to make living in this situation as not scary as possible, and in some theories, to actually change the situation, to create a post-Darwinian era.

Of course, that — in itself — is scary. Our favorite narratives — our favorite movies and stories and comics tend to involve humans being altered by our own technologies to dramatically bad ends. Most of those stories are silly in the particular, but the broader fear of unintended consequences or the use of advanced technologies by intentionally destructive people isn't silly.

For instance, we explored the very rapid development of robotic technologies for warfare during the web site's Terminator Week. That's viscerally scary. Logically it can also mean less civilian casualties, less harm to soldiers, and so on. And on the other hand, it can also mean less hesitation to use violence against others, or a possibly objectionable system of total control in which revolution is permanently rendered impossible. And on the other hand... I can do the "on the one hand and on the other hand" until the Singularity or at least until the Mayan apocalypse of 2012.

But seriously, what really scares the crap out of me is that we might not make radical technological problem-solving breakthroughs — that we might stop, or that the technologies might fall short of their promises. What scares me is the idea of a 6 billion-strong species finding itself with diminishing hopes, resource scarcities, insoluble deadly pandemics, and global depression based on the delusions of abstract capital flow resulting in increases in violence and suffering and territoriality and xenophobia.

10Z: But how does transhumanism resolve these problems? How does a bunch of rich people living longer solve any of this?

RU: Let's take this one at a time. The technological paradigm that has grown out of transhumanist or radical technological progressive circles that I'm most fond of is NBIC. Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno. The promise of nanotechnology — which has become much more tangible just in the last few months (thanks to developments we recently covered on our site) — is basic control over the structure of matter. This should eventually solve most of our scarcity problems, with the possible exception of physical space. (And there are ways we might deal with that, but I'm trying to keep it short.)

Nanotechnology, of course, has enormous potentials in terms of health as does biotechnology. People can find these details just about anywhere so I won't go into it. Anyway, sickness is perhaps our greatest source of misery and our greatest resource sink... particularly if you contrast sickness not just with the absence of disease but with the possibilities of maintaining a high level of vitality.

Then... information technology allows us to organize the data for distributed problem solving and — to a great degree — democratizes it. (More eyes and more brains on the problem, working with and through more intelligent machines.) IT is at the heart of all the breakthroughs and potential breakthroughs in nano and bio — and all this is leaving aside the further out projections of hyper-intelligent AIs.

You know, getting back to what's scary, I agree with Vernor Vinge that the greatest existential threat is still nuclear warfare. But next in line is the possibility of a major plague... a rapidly spreading pandemic. And already we can see that the tools for dealing with that come down to intelligent systems and biotech. There's biotech medical solutions using intelligent systems married to global mapping and communications and organized distribution. Human behavior has a role too, of course... but not as much as romantics might wish.

Which perhaps brings us to cogno — getting control and better use out of the brain for greater intelligence, greater happiness, less misery... hell, maybe even cheaper thrills! Why not? A lot of our problems are self-created... or they're created by particularly unstable or irrational people. As a veteran of the psychedelic culture, the potentials and problems of cognition are a particular area of fascination for me — and also as a nonconformist who is suspicious of the tendency of society to be hostile towards what we might call creative madness. So I do have some ambiguities, but it's just a huge area of intrigue as far as I'm concerned.

Now, all of this is just the prosaic stuff, without imagining Singularities, or say hyperintelligent humans who aren't needy... happily living on converted urine and nutrient pills while entertaining one and other in ever-complexifying virtual spaces. Lots of energy savings there, Bubb.

10Z: President Obama is reconstituting his bio-ethics panel. Just how high are the stakes, in the here and now, regarding U.S. political policy governing future research?

RU: You know, I think the bioconservatives who dominated Bush's bio-ethics panel and opposed stem cell research were just pissing in the wind... but that stuff can hit you in the face. Really though, I think that the discourse in opposition to embryonic stem cells will some day be seen as every bit as absurd as Monty Python's "every sperm is sacred."

More broadly, I don't think the stakes are very high because I don't think you can get the federal government today to be terribly functional... and I'm not a knee-jerk anti-government guy at the level of economics or investment in research. I just think there's a certain all-American "can't do" thing going on there and there's no effective strategy for changing it.

Sometimes I think that the people who really control America — the corporate oligarchs and finance kleptocrats, the national security apparatus and so forth — realize that the Titanic has already hit the iceberg. And laughing up their sleeves they said, "Quick! Put that charismatic black guy behind the wheel!"

10Z: I'm surprised to hear that you're not a knee-jerk anti-government sort of guy. I read that you were an anarchist.

RU: I've read that too. I have an anarchistic streak, but I can't even begin to believe in it. I do think that being an anarchist is an excellent choice though, because it's never going to be tried by any large group on a highly populated planet with advanced technology. So you never have to witness or experience the consequences of your belief system being enacted. It will remain forever romantic.

On the whole, though... I should try to be diplomatic. Let's just say that anarchists and pure libertarians are the most anti-authoritarian, and I like to be anti-authoritarian. It would be more convenient and more consistent to believe, but I don't think ideologies work in the real world.

10Z: Let's get back to those ambiguities you mentioned. That seems like a rare trait in the community represented by h+ magazine.

RU: Hardly. But I'm probably more richly ambiguous than most other human beings. My only ideology is uncertainty. Although you'll see it if you explore transhumanist-oriented discussion groups and blogs like Michael Anissimov's Accelerating Future or the writings of Nick Bostrom ad infinitum. They're rife with complexity and argumentation, and concern about existential threats, inequalities in the distribution of positive results from scientific achievement, and on and on. The reality is there's a rich and varied discourse within the techno-progressive movement just as there is between the progressives and the bio-conservatives.

10Z: It's hard to see where longevity and immortality fits into your vision of social responsibility.

RU: First of all, I emphasized problem solving to respond to your question about fear. And in essence my answer was I'm more afraid of standing still or going backwards than I am of moving forward. But man... and woman... cannot live by social responsibility alone. (We don't go around now asking people to die so we can spare resources or whatever.)

And I think that our humor columnist Joe Quirk had the best response to people who are against hyper-longevity... holy crap! These people want me to die!

Can we allow people to be the owners and operators of their own experiences and decide for themselves how to answer the Shakespearian question — to be or not to be? I think it's doable. There's a very substantive discussion from Ramez Naam in our first issue about why hyper-longevity should not create big resource problems. It has to do with demographics and the tendencies of educated, comfortable people to make less kids, and a fairly high percentage of inevitable deaths even if we cure aging and most illnesses.

10Z: But won't this exacerbate already extreme class distinctions? Won't we have a wealthy race of immortals and then everybody else?

RU: That's plausible, but very unlikely. And it always surprises me that that's the first thing you usually hear, since a great portion of the human species already has access to universal health care. Even left to the market, the investment that's being made in this should eventually lead to a need to sell to a large consumer market. In our first issue, we have a chart that shows billionaires who are investing in revolutionary science projects... and a few of them are investing in longevity. Well, they're going to want to take their product to market and get a big consumer share. John Sperling isn't going to be sitting in some mountain retreat rubbing his hands together and saying, "Foolish mortals, I shall use this only for myself and my beautiful blonde cyborg bride Britney!" That's the movie version, not the reality.

The reality is actually sort of comical — the wealthy are the early adapters of new technologies, but those new technologies usually don't work very well at first... they tend to fuck up. Now, I think you can imagine that as a potential movie that can satisfy everybody's need for schadenfreude.

10Z: Francis Fukuyama wrote some critiques of the transhumanist vision. In one essay he writes: "Modifying any one of our key characteristics inevitably entails modifying a complex, interlinked package of traits, and we will never be able to anticipate the ultimate outcome." How would you respond?

RU: This gets us to the cover story on so-called designer babies in the current Summer Edition of h+ magazine. There's hugely intriguing and potentially controversial issues about enhancement in this edition. And that's not only around parents pre-selecting traits for their children, but there's also a portrait of Andy Miah in the issue. He's a British professor who — for all intents and purposes — is pro-sports doping.

Before I go into this, I want to take a bit of a detour. When I wake up in the morning and start working on h+, I'm not thinking "How can I spread propaganda for the glories of transhumanism?" or anything like that. I'm thinking: "How can I do a totally cool-ass website and magazine with the transhumanist idea and sensibility at the center of it." That's my charge, and I'm approaching it as a craftsman. So I'm looking at this first as a magazine writer and editor — I want it to be accessible, exciting and fun, and I want it to look great. I want it to ride along the boundary between being a pro-transhumanist magazine and being more of a balanced and very hip generalist geek culture magazine. That, for me, is the sweet spot in this, and I think, along with other contributors, we've pretty much nailed it.

So I'm first of all an editor and writer. And secondly, I'm a curious editor and writer. This isn't necessarily all good or all bad. It's interesting. And that's how I'd hope and expect most readers would approach it.

And there's one more thing coming in a very distant third. In the context of an overarching commitment to my philosophy of uncertainty — or meta-agnosticism — I'm an advocate of the radical technological vision. I've thought long and hard about politics — and about consciousness unassisted by radical technology — and I've concluded that radical technology is the only bet that has a chance of winning not just a sufferable but a generally positive and enjoyable human future. But I'm not a stoical defender of the cause or anything like that.

So what Fukuyama proposes is interesting — that altering a few alleles to create some characteristics could iterate into monstrous or unhappy consequences further down the road. And I think that the general consensus among geneticists is that this is very unlikely with the small kinds of changes that are being discussed now (for example, selections of eye and hair color). Beyond that point, I say... let the arguments rage on! One of the assumptions among advocates is that by the time we're able to make significant incursions into germ line engineering (to affect people's intelligence or make them more or less aggressive or sexier or whatever), we'll have significantly advanced measurement and predictive, a really good understanding of what we're doing.

And there's another argument: we change stuff all the time in the "natural" evolution of human beings — and we reap both positive and negative consequences. But generally we gain more than we lose by proceeding with technological advances. There's this idea called the "proactionary principle" which came from Max More, one of the originators of transhumanism. He basically argues that we measure the potential negative consequences of a technology, but we also need to measure the negative consequences of not developing a technology. What do we lose by its absence?

Anyway, I sort of want to punt — in the specific — on the issue around choosing traits for babies. I prefer to acknowledge that it's a controversial area, but I'm excited to present the articles that are favorable towards these activities and hope they generate lots of interest and discussion.

10Z: Before I let you go, let me ask you about the politics of h+ magazine and the transhumanist movement. Ronald Bailey, who writes for the libertarian magazine Reason, criticized another transhumanist — James Hughes — who apparently advocates democratic socialism. Where do you come down on all this, and what are the politics of h+?

RU: First of all, the magazine has no explicit politics. Having said that, I think we have an implicit politic that both Ron Bailey and James Hughes agree with. It's the idea that human beings have a right to a high degree of autonomy over their minds and bodies, and that the trend towards transhuman technologies makes those rights all the more important and poignant. So human beings would have the right not just to choose their sexual preferences, or to control their birth processes, or as consenting adults to take whatever substances they like, or to eat what they like. We would also have the right to control and change our biologies, to self-enhance, to alter our bodies through surgery and on and on. So let me be oh-so-diplomatic, by emphasizing our points of agreement.

I'll give a bit of my own perspective in terms of the great late second millennium debate that puts an unfettered market at one end of the spectrum and communism at the other end of the spectrum; that puts competition on one end of the spectrum and cooperation at the other end; that puts decentralization at one of the spectrum and centralization on the other end of the spectrum. I'd have to say I'm horribly centrist. I'm dead center. It's not a mainstream centrism, but without going into a long explication, I'm almost embarrassingly moderate.

But while I think these arguments are still lively and vital today — and I have my own cheers and jeers over each day's political issues — from a near-futurist transhumanist perspective, the debate seems really tired. For about a decade I've been arguing that the future I see emerging is witnessed by the open source culture, Wikipedia, and file sharing. And in another decade or two the dominant economic mode will not be the market or socialism or the mixed economy that we actually have pretty much everywhere — it will be voluntary collaboration. And yes, that's kind of an anarchist view... but I'm saying it will become the dominant mode, not the only mode. (The market and the state will continue to be factors.) I hear Kevin Kelly just figured this out. :)... although his use of loaded words like socialism and collectivism are somewhat unfortunate.

People sometimes wonder how wealth will get distributed in a future economy that will likely require close to 0% human participation and that still presumably requires people to hustle themselves up some proof of value. But I think there's a good chance that an advanced "file-sharing" culture hooked up to advanced production nanotechnology will render the question moot.

Free lunch for everybody!

See Also:
Latest issue of h+ magazine
Read the first issue
R.U. Sirius on "Terminator/Robot Week"
"Is the Future Cancelled?" Spring 2009 Edition
HPlus Magazine's main site
R.U. Sirius's editor's blog

Read More


Real-life miracles were the subject of Van Jones' keynote address at the Craigslist Foundation's "Nonprofit Boot Camp" last year.

He amused and inspired his audience with the story of his early days at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

There's probably at least one person, and maybe more than one, who feels like their little not-for-profit just may not make it.

There may be somebody that feels like their cause is too marginal, their constituency is too desperate, their dreams are too big, their knowledge base is too small, and they just don't know if they're going to be able to pull this one off. If you're that person, I want to tell you a little bit about my story, my secret rules for success if you're doing tough things, and to remind you how important it is that you stick this out.

Ten years ago, all I had with my co-founder was a $10,000 grant and a scribble in my notebook, and we had a dream. We wanted to do something about police brutality. We wanted to do something about kids suffering in prison. We wanted to do something about the level of violence that was going on in our community. All we had was each other and that idea.

The very first champion that we got — the first person who was on our side, the chair of our advisory board who was our hero — told us "Frankly, man, you will never raise enough money to cover your own salary on this. I think you're great, I like what you're doing, but you will never raise enough money to actually have a full staff. But I like you, I like what you're doing, and I'm willing to lend my name." And that was our most enthusiastic supporter!

Eleven years later, we have a national organization. We have 24 people on staff, we occupy a two-story building, and we've won international awards and recognition for our human rights effort. We've stopped jails from being built, and we've been able to make a difference. In just ten years. I want you to know that looking back on it, you know what it looks like? It just looks like a series of miracles. Just miracle after miracle after miracle after miracle.

The only way we were able to get to those miracles was that we believed in what we were doing. When we first started out, we had a closet in the back of the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights. When I say closet, I'm not joking. It was literally a closet, that we took the shelves out of, wedged in a desk from my house, moved the tiles, dropped down wires so we could plug things in... That was our office for three years.

I'm thankful to Eva Patterson from the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights for giving us that opportunity. We took that closet and a Macintosh SE-30 from my house and our $10,000, and we started announcing that we had a hotline for survivors of police brutality and police misconduct. I think the first week we got one phone call. The second week we got two or three. Within about two months, we were getting three to four phone calls a day from people in the community who had no place else to turn... We were young lawyers and they were calling on us, and we were doing the best that we could.

But we were spending down that little $10,000 very quickly. We got to the place where we literally didn't have any more money. Diana and I looked at each other and we said, "You know what? We'll go on unemployment. We'll do whatever we have to do. We cannot let these people down."

I got on KPFA radio. I said "My name is Van Jones, and I'm working with Bay Area Police Watch. We're running into some trouble right now, but we want you to know, keep calling us. We're going to have to reduce our hours, but we're going to stick in there." The day before we spent our last dime — literally — we got a letter in the mail. An anonymous donation of $50,000.

"Hey! We might be able to keep going!" We took that $50,000, and we decided, you know what? We're going to go after the worst police officer in the Bay Area, a man named Mark Andaya. He had 27 formal complaints against him for racism and brutality. Remember this case? There were five lawsuits against him, and he was still on the police force. We took that money and launched a campaign to get him removed from the San Francisco police department.

Keeping On

We went through hell. We went through three hearings, we went through ups and downs, but at the end of that summer, the San Francisco police department fired Mark Andaya. It was a huge breakthrough. Suddenly we went from being these kids in the closet to being the people who'd really gotten something done in the community. And, we were broke again! Because we forgot to write grants. We're just fighting, just out there, just broke and ignorant — but passionate!

But we'd already had two miracles. We were still there, and we'd gotten this guy who had killed two people out of our community. There was an African-American woman at a prestigious local foundation who'd listened to us on the radio, had seen us on TV, had heard about what we were trying to do. I'd sent her a letter letting her know that we'd like to apply for a grant, but we didn't get a chance to, we'd missed the deadline, and please, please... "Mercy?"

This woman said "You know, I've been working at this foundation for a long time, and I've been waiting for someone to come out of the community, out of the neighborhood, who was really willing to do what it takes to make a difference. I don't have any more discretionary money. But I do have the $40,000 that we've always given to the symphony... And we're going to give it to you."


Now, she no longer works there. But she is well taken care of at another foundation...

We just kept on, and kept on, and kept on. If at any moment we had gotten too rational, if at any moment we'd actually done the math on how many foundations are committed to this thing and that thing, we wouldn't be here at all. You have a dream inside yourself, and it's an impossible dream. That's why the creator gave it to your crazy ass. If it was easy, She'd have given it to somebody else.

So let's talk about your impossible dream. You need some miracles. Good luck with that. But I can give you, as a 10-year veteran, my five counter-intuitive and probably immoral success secrets.
1. Self promote
2. Steal
3. Don't Lie
4. Hate your enemies, but love your rivals.
5. Do less.

Number One, Self Promotion. People say, "Van, you're a shameless self-promoter. We're disgusted with your shameless self-promotion!" And I say, "Au contraire, my friend. I am not a shameless self-promoter. I am a proud self promoter."

Because I'm proud of the work we're doing. I'm proud of the people on our team. I'm proud of the fights we take on. I'm proud there are still people coming out of law school who are willing to take on these crazy crusades. If I don't tell the story, if I don't share the victory, if I don't share the lessons — who will?

We have a simple theory about how we built this organization, and the only thing it requires is you've got to be willing. We call it the three-M conversion: Mobilization, Media, Money. If you're serious about scaling an organization that's small, with a marginal constituency, doing very difficult stuff, you've got to mobilize. You've got to do something! You've got to take on a fight, you've got to help somebody. You've got to get something done. But too many of us stop there, and then we wonder why the support that we need doesn't come.

We get bitter, and we get angry, and we look at the group over there that has two more dollars than we do, and we start making them the enemy, and start this whole competitive thing, and start in-fighting, and it just depresses everybody. Then some poor intern comes to work for you. They see all this drama and all this crazy stuff, and they say "I was just trying to help the poor! I didn't know I was joining an armed faction!"

So let's just de-mystify this whole thing. Do good stuff — mobilize resources, do something — and then, media. Write a press release, think about how to get some coverage. A lot of times, people don't want to cover our stuff? That's fine. Take the photo your damn self! Video cameras are small and cheap. Record your meeting, interview your people... Document your passion.

Document the people that you've helped. Document what you're doing so you can show it to somebody who wasn't there. That's a critical step, and we forget, don't we? We get so passionate about, "The meeting's going to be at 4:00, we've got to have the kids and the pizza..." When we get finished, we're so tired we go home... And there's not one single photograph.

You might've served 10,000 people and don't have one photograph, while the person next door served 20, and has a glossy manual. And you know who you're mad at? Them! You could've had a glossy manual... But you're mad at them, and now we've got drama. Document, and then take that documentation to people who have money.

People say, "Aw, I don't want to deal with the fund-raising. It's not about the money to me." Obviously it's not about the money for you, you're working for a non-profit! But people who have means and who have discretionary income and who have different types of financial instruments want to be helpful, and they want to be engaged — but they don't live in your neighborhood! By definition, they don't. They need some help understanding the situation. That's the media part, the documentation.

You have to get as passionate about talking to the people with as you are talking to the people without. Because we need each other, and you're the bridge person. If you were just desperate and needing of services and help, you wouldn't be working at a not-for-profit. If you were a gazillionaire, you probably also wouldn't be working at a non-profit. So you are the person whose job it is to bring the haves and the have-nots together. And you have to be passionate about that. Yeah, somebody will say "You self promote! You're self-promoting!" Fine, and proudly so! Get that out of your mind as a barrier, and look at the service you can provide by documenting your work.

Number Two, Steal. Steal! I don't mean steal money. Steal ideas! Talk to other people who don't work on your project. If you go to New York to see your friends or your parents, look up the other groups working in a similar area and say hello. If you can't meet with the executive director, that's good, because if the organization is more than five years old the executive director has no idea what's going on anyways.

Talk to the program officer, the deputy director, the receptionist — and steal ideas. And grab onto people that you stole the ideas from. If you go overseas, make sure to visit some of the non-governmental organizations in other countries. It's amazing how many problems have already been solved that you're still stewing in and suffering through.

Our first two years, 100% of all of the paperwork we had for checking in people and interviewing them we'd stolen from a similar project in Los Angeles. I went down there, I'd knocked on their door, I said hello, I told them what we were trying to do... They were very friendly, and said, "This is our paperwork," and I said "Thank you!" I got a Bic pen — remember, I told you we were broke? — and wrote on the top of it, "Bay Area Police Watch." And then we photocopied that thing for two years!

So you've got to be willing to steal. And people love it! People will brag about it, saying "Well you know, we're now the thought leaders in the field. Our model is being replicated." So it's good for them. So I'm not saying anything immoral yet.

Number Three, Don't Lie. This is for real. There is something about the relationship between the not-for-profit sector, the government, the foundations, and the donors that creates a massive incentive to lie — flagrantly, and often.

And it's not just a one-sided thing. The relationship between not-for-profits and foundations is like the relationship between teenagers and parents. You don't really want to tell them everything that's going on, and they don't really want to know. So there's this dance of deceit, shall we say.
"What'd you do this weekend?"
"Oh... Studied! With my friends."

And the parents say "Good! So glad to hear that!" Because they don't want to know. And so what do you say?
"How did the year go?"
"We had success after success! All goals were met, and a good time was had by all."

And what was there left to say? "Good! Good!" They don't want to know about the youth in your program that cussed you out and set the building on fire. They don't want to know that you hired somebody once again who was a complete idiot. They don't want to know, and you don't want to tell them, and therefore we all stay very ignorant. Then the actual innovation curve has flattened out, because nobody's telling the truth about what we're going through any more. We're all self-deceiving and trying to make it look good.

At the Ella Baker Center, we adopted a reporting form that freaked out our board and advisors. It was very simple: highlights, low lights, and lessons learned. We created a discipline in the organization that we would report out the bad stuff. First of all, everybody knows the bad stuff anyway, because the person you fired is talking right now, so it's not like it's not out there. But did you learn anything?

Program officers at foundations, donors, and philanthropists are just inundated with lying, false crap. And they know they're being lied to. If you took all your annual reports and just read them end to end, you'd have to conclude that we're now living in a socialist paradise. Everything's going well, people are being served, and all the children are happy. And then you look at any newspaper, and it's very clear that we might be fudging a bit.

So my experience has been that donors and program officers love to actually get the truth. They don't punish you for it if you learned something. I think if all of us started to confess a little bit more, we would learn a little bit faster.

Number Four: Hate Your Enemies, if you must, but love your rivals — and know the difference. Your enemies are people like Nazis, okay? Your enemies are people who want to do you bodily harm, who hate you, and who are actively plotting your demise, with weapons. Just about everybody else that you don't get along with is probably a rival. They run an organization and you run an organization, or they have a department and you have a department. Or they have a cubicle, and you have a cubicle. And you just don't get along. You don't see eye to eye, there's some jealousy, you have different communication patterns. Their mom was this way, your dad was that way — you're working it out.

But we turn those minor differences into adversarial wars. It's fine to hate your enemies if you must. Jesus, Gandhi, other people would argue with you, but if you insist, fine. Hate your enemies. But most of the people you see every day are not your enemy. I've got emotional scars and damage from being in this work, and I've never even met a Republican! Even with people who fundamentally agree with everything I think, we just fight and hurt each other and say mean things, and think mean thoughts. All the time! That's called the movement. That's called the progressive community, right?

I want to make the case that we should actually love our rivals, and we should develop a discipline about bragging on our rivals. One group doesn't like us very much at all. I started talking about them first at every funder meeting. "I'm so happy to be here. Before I tell you about our work, have you heard about X group? They're doing extraordinary work. They did this last year, they did this this year. If you don't know about them, I want to make sure you know about them before the meeting's over. Now let me tell you about what we're doing..."

I developed the discipline in my own mind that I was going to brag on my rivals. I was going to love them, I was going to learn from them. I was going to try to figure out what it was that I could do differently in the relationship. I want to report that it has made no difference, at all, in the way they treat me. But it's made a tremendous difference in the way that other people view our organization and the way that we view ourselves. We're lighter. Love your rivals.

Number Five, Do Less. When I first came into this movement, we named the organization after a woman named Ella Baker, a civil rights heroine from the sixties. Ella Baker said many, many wise things. One of the things that caught on was something she said in a moment of frustration. Some civil rights workers had been murdered — two Jews and a black — and while they were trying to find these civil rights workers, they kept coming up with body after body after body of black men that had been lynched and drowned down through the ages. The media kept saying, "Well, that's interesting but what about the two white kids?" She got frustrated, and she said in that moment of frustration — and it didn't represent her life, but she said "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until all mothers' children are honored."

It's rung down through the decades since she said that. I just drank the Kool-Aid on that. "We who believe in freedom cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot rest. We cannot..." And I hurt myself. Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. I really hurt myself.

July 17, 2000, I had a complete emotional, physical, psychological breakdown. I literally could not get out of bed. I'd gone for years without — I would sleep with my clothes on, and the lights on, books all around me on the bed. I never took a vacation. For years it never occurred to me to take a vacation. Something just popped in my brain. It was almost audible. I was in deep trouble.

I'd been in all these coalition meetings, and it occurred to me that over the past couple years, in every meeting I'd been surrounded by idiots. I had to deal with them, and point out their flaws, and stop them from wreaking havoc, and... I was burning out, and I didn't know it. I had to take about two years of counseling, therapy, learning to go to the gym — things I'd just never done — just to be able to get back to doing this work.

My dad was an alcoholic, so I'd said, "Well I'm not going to do that," but then I was into this workaholism thing. I pulled out of it, and when I came back I saw that it was just everywhere. So what I want to say to you, very clearly, is that you have emotional needs. You have physical needs. You need to get them taken care of outside of this work.

You need to have something outside of this work where you go for re-charging, where you talk to people who don't do this kind of work, so you can keep it in perspective. So when you go into those board meetings and you go into those coalition things, you're coming with something. We who believe in freedom have to rest. We have to rest.

Who We Are

Our country is in a difficult situation now. We're facing difficult days. You're the people who are the reserve strength of the country. You're this nascent, pro-democracy movement trying to revive the best in the United States. It's important that you see yourselves in that way.

We tend in our movement to forget who we are. The legacy that we're carrying out, the shoes that we're standing in, the call that we're answering. Dr. Martin Luther King never gave a speech called "I Have...A Complaint." That wasn't his speech. The brother had a dream. And you have dreams. You have big, beautiful dreams. You will not be able to meet them alone. You need friends, you need solidarity, you need partnership, you need a movement.

But in a difficult period like the one that we're in right now, that's when there's opportunities for she-roes and heroes to step forward. People remember Roosevelt and Churchill and those guys because Hitler made it an awful, hard decade for them, and they rose to that. It's the same with every other hero and she-ro. This is a time for heroes. This is a time for she-ros. I want you to be the people who in the difficult times stood up for the best in this country, who said "We are willing to say that we'll defend America's freedoms." Who will say that the people who want to tear up the Constitution at the first opportunity are not the patriots. The patriots are the people who are willing to defend America's freedoms, the people who are willing to defend people's freedom to marry who they want to, and divorce who they want to.

We're the people who are willing to say America should be number one in the world. But not in war. Not in pollution. Not in incarceration rates. America should be number one in the world in green and clean technology, in solar power, in bio-diesel, in sharing those beautiful things with the world. We should be number one in showing how a rainbow nation — multi-colored, multi-class, multi-hued, multi-language — can come together and fix real problems, and show a rainbow planet how it's done. That's who we should be.

I believe if we do our work in that spirit, with that knowledge, with that commitment, we will build the kind of pro-democracy movement that will get past left and right, past black and white and yellow and every other color, and get back down to the very basics of who we are as people. People who believe, people who stand for something.

People who understand that at the end of the day, when it's all said and done, our love, our hope, our faith, and our commitment, is stronger than a bomb from anybody.

See Also:
20 Wildest Reactions to Obama's Victory
The QuestionAuthority Proposal
Reverend Billy Wants You To Stop Shopping
Is The Net Good For Writers
When Lego Goes To War

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What If Ben Were One of Us?

What If Benjamin Franklin Were One of Us, CNN Editor Asks

Would Ben Franklin be a blogger? It's a serious question pondered by news "gatekeeper" Walter Isaacson, once the managing editor at Time magazine and the chief executive officer at CNN.

Isaacson shared some startling insights about technology and media, both past and present, at a symposium last year at the Smithsonian Institution's Lemelson Center (which studies "invention and innovation.") Isaacson told the audience that Ben Franklin was influenced by both the mechanics of 18th-century printing presses and a fickle American public. But as an afterthought, Isaacson noted that today the internet creates lots of publishers. "It's turned us back to the days when technology allowed low barriers of entry into the information transmission market."

So are we all Ben Franklin? Or, to put it another way — if Ben Franklin were alive today, would he be one of us? The National Archivist of the United States, Allan Weinstein, had suddenly asked the question.

Isaacson, who'd written a 608-page biography of Franklin, insisted that the answer was no — "not a blogger." The distinction was that Franklin "polished every word." But the question was too provocative to leave without more discussion. Ben Franklin would have a web site, Isaacson speculated. "It would be carefully crafted. It would be more like Andrew Sullivan than your normal blogger in pajamas."

"And he would charge!" added archivist Weinstein.

Yes, Ben Franklin would put his content behind a pay wall. "He would definitely charge for it," Isaacson agreed, "because he believed that if you weren't tested by the marketplace..." But then America's National Archivist cut him off with an important observation about the state of the media today.
Look, you have life going in two directions, as far as technology and democracy is concerned.

In one direction, you have the centralization of mass media to a great extent. You still have the three networks getting — not as much of the audience they did, but it's something...

But at the same time you have so many decentralizing elements in the mass media, the bloggers being just one of the major ones, that there's no coherence any longer.

It's wonderful. There's this great blooming, buzzing confusion in the media world which I think is, by and large, an asset to democratization.

In a poignant moment, the National Archivist remembered his childhood in New York, when there were twelve different newspapers. "That dozen became the three or four that we have now, by 1950." And former newsman Isaacson saw an even harsher reality. "Having three newspapers in New York — however you want to count it — that's unusual. In Los Angeles now you're not going to have three, and the Chicago Sun-Times is about to go under."

But ultimately this discussion led to one inescapable conclusion. Maybe inspired by Benjamin Franklin and America's history of a decentralized media, Isaacson made one irrefutable observation about our media landscape today. In the great American city of New Orleans, yes, there's one monopoly newspaper. "But there's about twenty web sites, and probably a thousand bloggers, all attacking the mayor of New Orleans at any given moment!"

The bloggers and other new decentralized media outlets are "a wonderful asset," Isaacson added. And he pointed out that a decentralized media is almost an American tradition. "Ben Franklin arrives in Philadelphia, and it's a town of what — 12,000 people? It's got four newspapers. So what does Ben Franklin do? Get a fifth!"
All the way through our life as a country, almost, you have low barriers of entry to the technology of information. People could become printers, they could have newspapers, they could be pamphleteers, they could — whatever.

When radio hits, something else happens — a monopolization of newspapers... For a variety of reasons — classified ads, everything else — it was better to have one newspaper in town than seven newspapers, so you started seeing consolidation in the newspaper market. And the barrier to entry into the broadcast world was very hard. You couldn't become an NBC just sitting in your pajamas in your attic or something, because there were public airwaves, there were monopolies. There were three networks.

So for a very brief period in our country's history, approximately from 1940 to the year 2000 — for just that sixty-year period — you have a concentration of media where it's a higher barrier to entry. You can't start a newspaper in town, you can't start a TV network.

Then the internet blows all that away, and everybody can start web sites, blogs, email newsletters, that sort of thing, until you'll see us reverting back to the free flow of information that's more democratized.

Would Ben Franklin really fit into all this? Isaacson thinks it's unmistakable. In his book he identifies Franklin as "A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity.

"He would have felt right at home in the information revolution."

See Also:
Is The Net Good For Writers?
Monkey v. Dog v. Wikipedia
The Furious Passions of Norman Mailer
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
Neil Gaiman Has Lost His Clothes
How Gay Were the Hardy Boys?

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Bush Administration’s Greatest Hits (To Your Face)

Everybody who is paying attention – and who is not in deep denial – knows that there has been an intense and radical assault on civil liberties in the United States during the Bush Administration. In fact, the blows against the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have come on so fast and furious that few of us have been able to absorb them – or to try to get a complete picture of the damage done. Too many outrages tends to fog the mind against recalling the details of each or of any. Indeed, this tactic – relentlessness – is one that has often been employed by authoritarian regimes.

Working on behalf of the incipient QuestionAuthority organization and the MondoGlobo Social Network, Phil Leggiere has put together what may be the only complete timeline that delineates Bush's Greatest Hits against our rights, as well as relevant Supreme Court decisions, and Acts of Congress.

The Bushies started rockin' hard right out of the gate – well before 9/11. Taking office in January, 2001, the administration introduced it's paranoid style — immediately broadening the scope of documents and information that could be classified, and within a couple of months they had the NSA monitoring domestic calls and internet traffic.

We all tend to remember the big hits. The Patriot Act of 2001. The Military Commissions Act of 2006. But how many of us recall deceptively clever little mindfucks like when the FBI and DOD routed around US law by contracting with private companies to provide them with information on US citizens? And how about the time the Justice Department gave the FBI permission to monitor US religious and political groups? And not to be outdone, the Supreme Court showed off it's own chops in 2006, deciding that it was OK for drug-sniffing dogs to search your car when you're stopped for a random traffic violation. (Full disclosure: I've dated a few drug-sniffing dogs in my time!)

You may think that the biggest hits – the most damage – came in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Perhaps they freaked out — understandably — and it inspired the Bushies to go mental for a few years. Or maybe you would assume that the Bushies would have chilled after his popularity sank to Nixonian levels.

No way! In October, 2006, the Congress, acting in consort with the administration, gave the president the power to – in essence – declare martial law and round up troublemakers. To quote Leggiere, "The 'John Warner Defense Authorization Act' is passed. The act allows a president to declare a public emergency and station US military troops anywhere in America as well as take control of state based national guard units without consent of the governor or other local authorities. The law authorizes presidential deployment of US troops to round-up and detain 'potential terrorists', 'illegal aliens' and 'disorderly' citizenry." And then in May, 2007, El Presidente issued a directive that allowed him or his successor to take charge of all three branches of government in case of "a disaster resulting in extraordinary casualties."
There have been so many awesome hits! I have only scratched the surface here. Collect them all! Check out the timeline here!

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The QuestionAuthority Proposal

This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent Open Source Party proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

A dark cloud is passing over America. We've witnessed, in recent years, the death of many of our constitutional rights and liberties. We've also seen increasingly authoritarian trends in daily life and culture.

Those of us who would prefer to keep our freedoms have been relatively powerless as the events of 9/11 have created an atmosphere of fear and acquiescence. Everybody knows the litany: the virtual death of habeas corpus, the legalization of surveillance against all Americans, the lawlessness and usurpation of powers by the executive branch, ad infinitum.

It is time for all those who oppose this gathering trend towards the worst type of authoritarian governance and culture to put aside their differences and join together in a coalition that can act as a counterforce to this gathering threat to our liberties. It is time for QuestionAuthority (QA).

1: QuestionAuthority — A Coalition

QuestionAuthority is an educational and advocacy project dedicated to defending and extending personal and civil liberties and encouraging free expression. Our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

2: QA Platform

We ask you to please endorse the QA Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the QA Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network, and by so joining, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.

1) We call for the resurrection of all basic liberties and protections – including protections against pervasive surveillance – taken away by the federal government and by the executive branch of the Federal Government resulting directly, or obviously, as the result of reactions to the events of 9/11

2) We call for maximum state transparency (an end to excesses in state secrecy). This would include a generous and resilient usage of the Freedom of Information Act; procedural oversight that can bring sane boundaries into the process of classifying materials; and a movement towards the greatest possible realistic use of open source information-sharing and problem-solving in areas related to defense and intelligence.

3) We call for the restoration of a robust system of checks and balances and separation of powers, meant by the Founders to keep concentrated growths of political malfeasance shaken and unable to take root.

We are particularly concerned about centralized power within the Executive Branch of government. In this context, we emphasize a return to active use of "The War Powers Act" in which substantive military campaigns have to be approved by the US Congress.

4) We call for an end to the so-called "war on drugs." This drug war has resulted in frequent violations of limits against search and seizure and an abhorrently large prison population, among other forms of abuse by authorities. (There is room within QA for those who would like an outright end to prohibition as well as for those who prefer more cautious approaches like reform and medicalization to bring to an end the more draconian aspects of the "drug war.")

5) We call for continued vigilance in the defense of free expression, both in the technical legal sense and in a broader socio-cultural sense. There must be a vibrant, vital dialogue around possible contemporary threats to free expression that might not strictly fall under the rubric of censorship. Issues worthy of dialogue and debate include excesses in copyright, hypersensitivity, pressures wrought by corporate media consolidation, state intimidation (such as Congressional hearings) and intimidation of discourse during times of war or during the buildup towards war.

Endorse Platform here

3: Action Agenda for QuestionAuthority

The action agenda for the QA is simple.

1a) We will monitor, inform about, and coordinate public educational responses against any further assaults on the basic constitutional liberties of Americans, and will organize information and educational responses to civil liberties already lost to the "war on terror."

1b) Imagine every authoritarian absurdity and outrage carefully explored and catalogued on a single website. Imagine networked groups that can spring into action to alert and educate the public the next time authorities savage the Bill of Rights

2a) We will do everything in our power to bring non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian thinkers and speakers before the public and particularly before youth.

2b) Imagine a QA publicity/speakers bureau that would get a wide variety of QA types onto college campuses, on the various media talk shows (let's change the dialogue from Right v. Left to Authoritarian v. Non-Authoritarian) and before various civic groups.

3) We will encourage, initiate, and provide an online place for a wide-ranging discussion among supporters of the QA principles. We envision a QA virtual library of various "question authority" texts, videos, audio files, blogs and other media forms that give expression to diverse non-authoritarian and anti-authoritarian views.

We envision QA members organizing meetups, regional meetings, local forums and perhaps an annual or semi-annual QA conference. We envision QA members and supporters expressing these concepts in their own style through their own websites, wikis, blogs, videos, podcasts, and through other forms of communication directed towards those who are not online.


Q: What is the difference between QA and other organizations and candidates that fight for our rights?

A: First of all, our goal is to create a broad-based coalition of non-authoritarian groups and individuals who may currently be working in relative isolation on single issues, for political organizations and candidates, or in relatively isolated ideological cohort groups.

Also, in cases where civil liberty types of issues are involved, people tend to sit back and let them be fought out in the court. As a cohesive force, we can do more than just stem the tide one issue — or one court case — at a time. We can exercise political and cultural influence by uniting the vast numbers of Americans who believe that the country has taken a radical turn in an authoritarian direction.

Secondly, look again at what we promise to do in terms of organizing informational and educational materials. If these things were being done by anyone else, we wouldn't need to do them. QA proposes to be dynamic and participatory in ways that other organizations are not.

Q: Why should non-authoritarians want to unite in a big centralized organization?

A: They should unite only to the extent that it's necessary to show our numbers to the nation and amplify our influence as a way to counteract the influence of well-organized authoritarians.

How many times, in recent years, have you heard folks wonder why people don't "do something" when major, fundamental outrages against basic constitutional liberties are committed by the state? Now imagine a large, networked group of "question authority" types who can spring into action the next time something of this sort occurs to educate and advocate. Next time, do something! Additionally, the "myth" of a grand QA with a large membership filled with both influential and diverse people could have power to influence media and political discourse.

Q: How will the QA be organized?

A: QA will seek tax-deductible non-profit status. We imagine a very minimal centralized "bureaucracy." Everything about the actions of the QA as an organization, including its use of funds, will be open and transparent. For a brief period, QA decisions will be made by a Board of Directors. It will be comprised of people representing a wide variety of political (and perhaps "anti-political") views. We would hope to move quickly towards making decisions via open source, democratic processes.

We also imagine that many QA activities, right from the start, will be decentralized and taken by local and cohort groups.

Q: This document calls for action to educate and alert the pubic about basic losses of essential liberties. Isn't it time to move beyond education and into activism?

A: The rules guiding the creation of an educational organization and the rules around activism are subtly different. There is room for activist types of activity in an educational context, and those kinds of responses can be discussed and debated by the group. Also, some people will be more comfortable joining an informational/educational project than an activist project and we want a big fat sassy coalition.

Q: Who will join the QA?

A: We hope everybody who agrees with our platform (or who agrees, but with minor quibbles) will join us, so that our numbers and influence will act as a powerful counterforce against the authoritarian activists. Let's let them know we're here.

But let's be blunt. It's obvious that many of those who agree with this platform will tend to be people who are labeled "liberal" and "libertarian." Beyond that, we believe that this coalition will appeal to an even larger disenfranchised group of Americans who believe in questioning authority, but who have very few ideological certainties.

Finally, let's be excessively blunt. We want all the nation's most influential anti-authoritarian individuals and organizations to join in this coalition. We want the ACLU and the Cato Institute; Bob Barr and Mos Def; the EFF and the People for the American Way; and; Hitchens and Chomsky; Penn Jillette and George Carlin, Reason magazine and Harpers magazine; Howard Stern and Amy Goodman; Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich; Paris and Nicole… (OK, maybe not.) Anyway, by now, you get the point.


These days, those of us who question authority find ourselves shocked and astonished by the actions of the state – both small and large – on nearly a daily basis. As individuals, we find ourselves wondering, "Why isn't there mass outrage?"

Of course, there is quite a bit of outrage. It's distributed all over the web and all over the culture, but this sense of outrage does not have the coherence it needs to be perceived as a player on America's political stage. We can no longer afford to let that be the case. We need to act now.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free Or Not?
Catching Up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight
Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

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The Open Source Party Proposal

This proposal is meant to be considered alongside, or in conjunction with my other recent QuestionAuthority proposal. They can both be discussed within active, dedicated groups at the new MondoGlobo social network, along with related issues.

The duopoly will have its way again in this year's election.

Ralph Nader and whoever the Libertarians and Greens nominate as their candidates will drag their asses around the country, sometimes saying interesting and important things, sometimes not. Many of us will wish, once again, that there could be a dynamic discourse about the many real issues and problems that get ignored; and then we will vote (or not) for the one who has at least a fingernail grip on sanity, or for one of the sad and hopeless alterna-candidates.

But we could make the political season less depressing by using networking tools to create a very large and dynamic discourse about the things that we believe really need to change, and we could evolve a new political organization that would be ready to kick up some noise by the time the next political season (2010) rolls around.

In that spirit, I propose a Liberal/Libertarian/Other unity party that will develop ideas and solutions to America's political problems through an Open Source process that will be engaging and fun. We will have online conferences, social networks and wikis, we will have meetups, we will have parties, we will create games that model likely real world responses to our proposed ideas, we will field candidates starting in 2010, get "crazed" anti-authoritarians on TV and radio, and maybe change a few things before the apocalypse, the Singularity, the second coming, the complete conquest of the world by Google, the election of another generation of Bushes and Clintons, or whatever other event you may be expecting.

There are two ways to go with an Open Source Party. One way would be to just throw it open to everybody. Everyone gets to pour their ideas into the maelstrom whether they're anarchists or fascists, conservatives or moderates — or if they just miss Ross Perot.

But I'm not an absolute believer in the wisdom of crowds and all that. I prefer another idea. I would bring together people who feel they are in agreement with at least 5 of the 7 points in the party platform below – giving us a starting point from which to launch activities on the basis of the platform and to have interesting fun in a democratic process that adds to or subtracts from the platform.

We ask you to please endorse the Open Source Platform below. You can demonstrate your endorsement of the Open Source Platform by joining the dedicated group on the MondoGlobo Network and/or by contributing money to the "establishment campaign." By so doing, you'll send a message to the nation and the world.

Here, then, is the Open Source Party Platform...

1: Let's Have A Democracy

It's a wacky, wacky idea that may have started in early Greece and was cautiously revived during the American Revolution in 1776 when voting rights were granted to property owning white males living in most states of that Union. Since then, the hint of democracy has grown and spread, but the actual practice has been far from complete. Recently, many citizens of the US have questioned whether democracy is still in practice here at all. It's an excellent question. The Open Source Party suggests two steps to ensure actual democracy.

A: One person/one vote: Every US citizen over 18 has a Social Security number. Many activities on the internet are protected from fraud by strong data encryption. Surely, computer geniuses thinking together in an Open Source process can come up with a way that every person over 18 can use his or her number to effectively and efficiently vote once and only once. Citizens can vote from their homes or they can vote from public polling stations using social security numbers tied to data encryption. If this solution isn't possible, let's brainstorm others. Shouldn't actually having a democracy be a priority for the world's oldest "democracy"?

B: Demolish the duopoly: There are dozens of rules and regulations designed by the two political parties that have had a virtual monopoly on power for many decades that prevent other political parties and independents from competing on a fair playing field. We should eliminate all those barriers that give unfair advantage to the ruling parties.

NOTE: There are a number of other ideas that we are not now advocating — including direct majority voting on presidential elections; run-off votes when candidates fail to win 50%; various scenarios to control or change campaign finance and media access in the electoral process; and even direct voting on legislation — that will provoke controversy and discourse within the Open Source Party. Some of these ideas may be added to the platform following a radically open and democratic process that will be suggested at the end of this statement.

2: Let's Have Civil Liberties and a Bill of Rights

Here we have yet another notion that only cranks subscribe to — that civil liberties can survive crime, mind-active substance use, and even terrorism.

For starters, we seek the return of civil liberties, rights, and basic, sane conduct by the Executive branch of government that has been lost in the post 9-11 environment. This includes the reform or repeal of the (mostly) unnecessary Patriot Act; the return of Habeas Corpus; the end of essentially infinite surveillance rights for the federal government; limits to privilege and secrecy in the executive branch; the end of — or the imposition of judicial limits onto — presidential signing statements. (What have I forgotten? You tell me.)

We support strong free speech that includes an end to implicit censorship through government intimidation, and an end to the so-called "War on Drugs," which has resulted in frequent violations against limits on search and seizure and an abhorrently high percentage of US citizens imprisoned.

NOTE: There is plenty of room here for dynamic, open debate among Open Source Party members, including whether to reform or repeal The Patriot Act and what kind of surveillance is necessary and appropriate for the defense of the nation. Also, ending the "drug war" could involve anything from reform of draconian policies and medicalization of illegal drugs, to an outright end to prohibition. Again, we will follow a radically open and democratic process that may add to the party platform.

3: Let's End the Imperial Foreign Policy

Or, if you prefer, let's stop playing the world's policeman. However you phrase it, we should no longer invade or attack sovereign nation states, either directly or indirectly, that haven't attacked us by force of arms. The emphasis of American foreign policy needs to change from "defending our interests" to "defending our sovereignty."

NOTE: Here we can have a dynamic discussion about many possible aspects of defending the US, including, the size of the military budget and the interests of what President Eisenhower called a military-industrial complex; what to do about weapons systems and weapons testing (including nuclear); whether we should provide weapons to other nations and under what circumstances; whether to allow mercenary groups to operate out of the US; whether and when to participate and help in peace negotiations among other nations as a humanitarian act; whether and when to participate with other nations in interventions in extreme cases of genocide; whether or when to intervene in extreme cases if and when another nation launches repeated interventions of its own and seems clearly bent on regional or global conquest in the tradition of Genghis Khan, Napolean and Hitler; how to cope with the development of nuclear weapons by other nations (and by our own); whether or not to have military alliances and what our degree of commitment to them should be; and whether and when to cooperate with the UN.

4: A New "Energy Task Force"

A tremendous number of energy pioneers have been thinking and working for decades on energy solutions that don't involve oil, natural gas or coal. These organizations include Rocky Mountain Institute, Pliny Fisk’s Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and the folks at WorldChanging, ad infinitum. Let's bring people like these together to map out how best to bring us as completely into the age of clean energy as possible within 10-20 years — whether through the state, the market, decentralized voluntarism, or all three.

NOTE: Obviously, there's nearly infinite room here for debate and discussion about these solutions, but we imagine a passionate discourse about whether the transition can happen primarily through encouragement of the market or whether it should emphasize government solutions. We also look forward to an interesting debate among Open Source Party members over whether to develop and deploy more nuclear power.

5: Let's Explore The Possibility of an Open Source Monetary System

Monetary policies and systems change all the time and it is always necessary to remind ourselves that "money" is a symbol (presumably) of wealth, and not an actual material value. We should encourage and empower a public discourse around how money should be issued, understood, defined and valued. Ultimately, we may want to think in terms of an "Open Source" monetary system and we may want to encourage "alternative" forms of currency.

NOTE: Again, there is nearly infinite room for new ideas and debate here, including questioning the essential premise — thus the "let's explore" aspect of this part of the platform. Open Source currency may be achievable through networks of trust, through virtual money (like Linden Dollars) or simply by removing the state from the equation and then publicly encouraging a multiplicity of exchange signals. We are most of all intrigued by ideas that might lead toward a post-scarcity monetary system.

6: Let's End Corporate Personhood and Other Rules that Unfairly Advantage Corporations

Corporations today have the rights but not the responsibilities of persons, and our laws are riddled with other advantages that tilt the balance of economic and political power in favor of these giants. This platform suggests a simple libertarian approach toward disempowering what some have called the corporatocracy by removing their state advantages.

Note: There is tremendous room for discussion and debate about other measures to rein in corporations, including — no doubt — discourse about whether to simply take away corporate advantages or to regulate them, democratize them, utilize the corporate approval process to punish corruption and/or anti-social activities, ad infinitum.

7: Let My Web People Go!

Digital stuff exists in a land without scarcity. It is natural and spontaneous that when people reside there, they tend to share and to re-purpose content without guilt. On the other hand, "content creators" need to pay bills just as much as programmers and other virtual laborers do. We need to support the natural evolving ecology of copying and sharing on the web. At the same time, we need to find a way to sufficiently reward creative content.

Note: This requires lots of real creative thinking and there is lots of room for discussion and debate around the nuances of netiquette and law.

Democratic Processes Within an Open Source Party

We suggest that decisions to take on "official" activities and to make additions or subtractions to and from the Open Source Party platform would take place along the lines of "near consensus." We would suggest a 75% yes vote among registered members would be requuired to adopt any action or platform point. We also suggest that the democratic process would include serious campaigning and some degree of hilarity.

We suggest that erecting a pay wall would be instrumental not only in helping to finance a dynamic organization but necessary to keep out all but the most motivated griefers, and help us to verify the legitimacy of voters, who would vote only once. Naturally, we would hope that enthusiasts who can would contribute substantially more.

Final Thoughts

We imagine that this in-group, Open Source, participatory democratic process could be a way in which people who have been more or less on the fringe of American politics can encourage one another to think clearly in terms of actually making policy. It's very easy to stand outside the system and protest or call for some absolutist ideological solution ("Anarchy, dudes!"), but it's more interesting and valuable to try to realistically envision the consequences of policy. We also want to emphasize again the ample potential to keep this playful — to create dynamic virtual worlds (in Second Life, or wherever), games, fanciful as well as serious candidacies, videos and podcasts, songs, etc. Such media can now be created by a large proportion of the general internet public, so why not do it?

Note: Special thanks to Jon Lebkowsky for help and encouragement with this document. The Open Source Party is currently a gleam in the eye and not an extant organization.

Visit our newly re-purposed MondoGlobo Network to get more involved with this idea and/or in a social network for people who question authority.

See also:
Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
The Future of America Has Been Stolen
DC Sex Diarist Bares All
Libertarian Chick Fights Boobs With Boobs
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, Or Not?

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Catching Up With an Aqua Teen Terrorist

Mooninite Terrorist Zebbler
January 31, 2007: a day that will live in infamy. The great city of Boston was brought to its knees by the appearance of unexpected L.E.D. placards in places where they didn't belong. Alert to potential connections between terror and anything a wee bit unusual, stout citizens and government officials alike in the land of the free and the home of the brave peed their metaphoric pants. The L.E.D. character was described in a CNN report as "a Mooninite, an outer-space delinquent… greeting passersby with an upraised middle finger." Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley was quoted in the same piece as saying, "It had a very sinister appearance." The horror. The horror.

A pair of young Bostonians were arrested for perpetrating this dastardly act as hired guns in a guerrilla marketing campaign to promote the upcoming movie, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie. The two lads, Peter Berdovsky and Sean Stevens were charged with "placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic," a felony, and disorderly conduct. At a news conference, Berdovsky and Stevens refused to talk about the case but expressed a willingness to opine at length on '70s hairstyles. They were not taken up on their generous offer by the gathered media.

Berdovsky, known popularly as Zebbler, has plenty of hair to think about – long dreadlocks down to his waist. He also has a reputation in Boston — and increasingly around the world — as a popular VJ, video artist, performance artist and painter. Sentenced to 80 hours community service for his crime, he made the most of it, painting a delightfully trippy mural for Spaulding (physical) Rehabilitation Center. He was also recently voted the #12 VJ in the world by London-based DJ Magazine and was named Boston's Best Artist by Improper Bostonian Magazine. Zebbler also recently appeared in Berkeley, Caliifornia where his surround sound HD projection set was part of the opening reception for RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA at the Pacific Film Archives — an exhibit that "celebrates the cultural and artistic practice of remix."

Meanwhile, the film that brought down the city, Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie was, undeservedly, a commercial flop. (Maybe if they'd shut down more cities, people would have noticed.) But it is now out on DVD, so don't wait to discover what happens when Carl gets strapped into the insane-o-flex. Like the cartoon, the movie is, at times: ridiculous, stupid, hilarious, clever, and – of course – composed of cheesy bad animation. Rent it. You can't go wrong.

I interviewed Berdovsky aka Zebbler by email.

RU SIRIUS: Most people who read this will probably just know you as the guy with the long dreads who got caught up in the big Aqua Teen Terrorist scare of 2007. Were you in any way prepared to get caught up in anything that absurd?

ZEBBLER: Well it depends. I never expected anyone to freak out over the L.E.D. placards. However, I recognize people's perceptions of me. I behaved in a manner that was consistent with my knowledge of how I am perceived, although there were definitely a few unknowns. I have never seen a guy with long dreadlocks in a situation like mine. People's reactions were pleasantly positive. On the streets, in airports, stores, events — people who recognize me are generally very positive and curious.

RU: I've known a couple of people who have wound up in situations with Homeland Security basically around technologies that were not understood. They found themselves facing a veritable platoon of armed agents and various other types of hostility. How was your treatment at the hands of law enforcement, homeland security and so forth? Did anybody on that team say or do anything particularly bizarre or interesting?

Z: Yeah, there were lots of interesting statements from them. My interrogator gave me nothing but carrots to eat. I cooperated fully — since I had nothing to hide — but at times it was uncanny as to how convincing he was. He made me want to tell him my deepest secrets — a genuinely weird feeling. I had to snap out of it a few times. He promised to give me back all of the mooninites they have confiscated from me. It was a lie and I knew it as he was saying it.

The biggest surprise was from one of the older state police person. On the way out of the holding cell where we were held in overnight, there were whispers about us being famous as a result of what happened. One of the higher-ups came up to me as I was being led away in shackles and said: "My daughter is a huge fan of you. She watches the show and knows all about what happened. She was so excited that I get to see you." He paused for a second and added: "So... did you really mean to blow up Boston?" I think I just growled with disbelief after that statement and walked out to face the press staking out the holding cell in the bitterly cold morning.

RU: You're a pretty well known video artist and VJ. What do you try to do with the medium and tell us about a few high points in your career?

Z: I am moving more and more in the direction of solo surround sound custom HD video performances. I have spent several years creating custom psychedelic content in my resolution. To my mild surprise, it's starting to be recognized by the fine art community. I recently performed solo at Berkeley Museum of Art (California) as part of their RIP.MIX.BURN.BAM.PFA. There are also talks about performing for the Anchorage Film Festival (AK).

I tend to get physical in my performances. I am known for wearing costumes and masks during performances and potentially more than other VJs I have been mistaken for DJs during many shows.

Right after graduating from Mass College of Art, I went on a major US tour providing custom video projection performances for Ozric Tentacles. That was pretty great. A lot of work (25 shows in 30 days all over US) — but a great introduction to the industry and craft of live performance in big venues.

RU: You also worked recently with Alex Grey, the painter who is much known and admired in psychedelic circles. How have psychedelics influenced your work... and do you think your experiences helped you maintain your sense of humor throughout the whole Aqua Teen Terror crisis? You guys were pretty gracious and disarming when you went on Fox with Geraldo.

Z: Mmm... that's a big question. Psychedelics were a major part of my inspiration to create art. As a teen, I read a lot about human psychology and heard about the sensory deprivation experiments, where people are faced with nothing but their inner world. It inspired me to seek similar experiences. Probably, it was my desire to seek the unexplained, the otherworldly. It was a yearning to prove to myself that there's something outside the box. I have since learned to differentiate between genuine revelations and delusional mind tricks. I am not as intensely into mental experimentation these days — instead I'm trying to recreate a lot of the feelings, concepts and sensations through my art.

A life-changing psychedelic experience is an honest slap in the face with a realization of our own arbitrary position in the universe. Regular societal roles become unglued. Personal impulses reveal their egotism. It did not seem to offer a path to salvation, just a widening of perspective.

One doesn't need psychedelics to achieve those kinds of realizations however. While it helped my sense of humor to a degree — I think ultimately it's my personality that's responsible for my sensations and behavior during the Aqua Teen Boston Bomb Scare. When I am faced with an uncontrollable situation, I let go of trying to control what's beyond reach, and focus on what I can change. Both Sean and I didn't want this case to intimidate or frighten people. We were sick of media spinning stories to make them scarier. So we came up with a way to disarm the media — first with our press conference.

RU: Tell us about your video show, "I Wash My TV in Fear"

Z: It was my reaction to seeing so many fear-inducing messages constantly on our TV screens. Since the news became a business, they realized that fear creates the need to watch. The TVs at my performance were literally awash in fear. I recorded a day or two of television news and selected the most frightening messages to create a hyper saturated barrage of FEAR that I then perform live on multiple screens with custom music/edits/animations.

RU: So what did you think of the Aqua Teen movie? I thought it was pretty hilarious nonsense but you may disagree. And do you think it's weird that all the publicity didn't create any curiosity for the flick?

Z: I thought it held up strong with a hilarious start and beginning/middle. But, ultimately I was hoping for a more intelligent ending. Instead, it all just went to hell. But so be it — I had a good time. And it was a little strange that it didn't get that much attention. I attribute some of it to the execs freaking out and backing off from the promotional opportunity that this event gave them.

See also:
Is It Fascism Yet?
Burning the Man with Hunter S. Thompson
The Great Wired Drug Non-Controversy
10 Worst Spiderman Tie-Ins
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
Homeland Security Follies
Prior Permission Required by Government Before Each Flight

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Are We Losing the Fight for Porn?

It may not matter what the courts say about free speech or what the law is about adult content — because our Department of Justice has its own agenda.

The Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals recently ruled that the government's 2257 statute against pornography is unconstitutional, which immediately prompted an ecstatic round of premature celebrations. Salon's tech blogger Machinist popped a boner the size of the Empire State Building. ("Hallelujah!" he wrote. "Haul out your 8 MM, put on some lounge music, get your partner — and maybe a gaffer, some stage hands, a caterer, a boom operator and your parents, who'll be so proud —and get down! The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has just ruled that you are free to make your own porn...")

Digital rights pundit Declan McCullough joined the frenzy, cheering that "this is likely going to be the last word unless the U.S. Supreme Court gets involved." But what looks like good news for porn looks like exactly the opposite — with a little history.

Explicit Justice

I wish I could be so blissfully ecstatic about the ruling, but this "unconstitutional" law enforcement has gone on for too long without any real consequences, despite previous major court rulings. In 1998, I was working my first adult content gig at a West L.A. company called Sundance and Associates, which among other things produced a series of print magazines which ran explicit classified ads, and was henceforth considered a "secondary producer" of adult content.

In 1998, Sundance sued Janet Reno, insisting that the first incarnation of the 2257 legislation failed to prove that by running these ads, Sundance was their "producer." The magazines were almost exactly the same as the Ohio magazines involved in last month's court decision, and our case ended up in the Tenth Circuit court, which ruled in our favor.

However, that ruling was never put to the test, because the Department of Justice never launched the inspections many producers feared they would. Instead, many content providers ranging from hardcore porn sites to internet dating services continued taking the greatest care in creating and keeping detailed records, fearing they'd otherwise face federal prosecution under a statute with "child pornography" in its title. Many even assumed the ruled-against legislation had remained intact and unchallenged!

In fact, U.S. Code 2257, which was passed under the guise of protecting children during the Clinton administration, instead puts anyone who's ever taken a sexually explicit photograph in jeopardy of federal prosecution. In 2005, Senators Hatch and Brownback overhauled the statute to address new technologies of production (like the interwebz), but with the troublesome "secondary producer" language remaining. The language in 2257 was ultimately slighted by the courts as being "poorly drafted...should never be used as a model of the English language" and "overbroad." (It's presently worded so that the naughty photo of you and your partner stored on your iPhone qualifies you as a producer of adult content.)

It's unknown how much producers struggled to adhere to this incarnation of the 2257 statute — but the wave of fear it produced is tangible. Attorneys for some websites, many unfamiliar with the code's storied history, have cowered under the threat of inspection, choosing instead to change their sites to avoid scrutiny.

Which is why the government will most likely stall any further judicial review as long as it can.

After all, it's already taken two more years just to get to this point, and if this administration knows the statute is eventually doomed, its best interests are served by postponing the inevitable. Until the highest court in the land puts the beat-down on this unconstitutional code, the chilling effect of possible prosecution will continue to be felt in what has always been the vanguard of the fight for free expression — the adult entertainment industry.

Even if you don't have an entire wing of your estate dedicated to the canon of Ron Jeremy, history has proven it unwise to encourage the persecution of one group, lest that group contain you later on. Especially with that iPhone photo we talked about earlier.

The Tragic Failure

Perhaps the most perverse element of 2257 is that, by using it as a blunt instrument to attack all adult content, it fails on its own premise of being a weapon against the creation and distribution of child pornography.

When the statute was first passed almost 20 years ago, both the porn industry and the Department of Justice were still smarting from the whole Traci Lords debacle, where it was revealed that the starlet had been working in the industry well before her 18th birthday. And while the millions in lost revenue from the loss of her catalog was fair evidence that the studios had been fooled by Lords' fake ID (and a talent well beyond her young years), the government nevertheless leapt at the chance to regulate an industry that they loathed.

So currently, every adult title must keep detailed records of everyone involved, just in case dark-suited FBI agents invade their offices. And that's every adult movie — even the ones that feature 70-year-old women and well-worn former fluffers engaged in geriatric carnal knowledge that nobody with half a brain would confuse with kiddie porn. As with the undocumented immigrant labor issue, many regard this extra record-keeping as an unreasonable burden. Opponents of the current 2257 statute maintain that the Constitution gives the government the burden of establishing whether or not adult content is child pornography — instead of placing a burden on the producers of proving content isn't child pornography.

In their new unanimous decision, the three judges of the Sixth Circuit also noted this peculiar irony: the tragic failure of 2257 to actually protect children by concentrating heavily on material so obviously outside this scope.

Leading the charge against the legislation was the Free Speech Coalition, a renowned trade organization and constitutional crusader — and they cited our 1998 victory against Janet Reno.

Reed Lee, the chair of their Legal Committee and an FSC board member, agreed with the Court that the legislation was too vague to actually afford any protection to children. "This is one of the arguments that we have been asserting all along and that we will continue to carry if necessary."

Of course, the court's decision is by no means the last word on 2257, and Lee believes the government will probably make its next move in the coming weeks. The Department of Justice could request that the Sixth Circuit court review its decision, or it could ask the United States Supreme Court to take up the case. It could also try to re-write the statute to address the court's concerns, though of the three justices on the Sixth Circuit, only one even believed that "portions of the section can be judicially salvaged."

Even if it's ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, Congress can always try to create a new statute without the same defects. (This isn't the first time the Department of Justice has been spanked for trying to bully the adult industry with anti-lifestyle legislation disguised as child protection.) But not everyone's as cynical about the outcome as I am.

In a press release, the currently-victorious FSC assessed the possibility that Congress could simply attempt a third iteration of the code. "Given the decision yesterday, that would not be easy to do and might not result in anything like the burdensome record-keeping requirements now on the books, but we must remain vigilant against efforts to revive Section 2257 legislatively.

If there's any hope today, it's the end result of a very long fight. "The Free Speech Coalition has worked hard over the past few years to be in a position to influence events in Congress as well as the courts. Our efforts there may not always be high-profile, but we are confident that we are in a position to be heard on policy issues as we never have before."

Eliminating the tools with which zealous, almost always Republican-controlled, U.S. Attorneys use the War on Porn to target whomever they don't want running around in society, is not just good for the adult industry — it protects all of us.

See Also:
Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
Ed Rosenthal, Big Man of Buds
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan
Is It Fascism Yet?
Prior Permission From Government To Be Required For Each Flight

Read More

Is The Net Good For Writers?

Gutenberg and the Internet

"Writing as a special talent became obsolete in the 19th century. The bottleneck was publishing."

That bold statement came from Clay Shirky when I interviewed him for the NeoFiles webzine back in 2002. I never got around to asking him if that was an aesthetic judgment or a statement about economics and social relations.

But here's a contrasting viewpoint. Novelist William Burroughs met playwright Samuel Beckett, and after some small talk, Beckett looked directly at Burroughs and said, propitiously, "You're a writer." Burroughs instantly understood that Beckett was welcoming him into a very tiny and exclusive club — that there are only a few writers alive at any one time in human history. Beckett was saying that Burroughs was one of them. Everybody writes. Not everybody is a writer. Or at least, that's what some of us think...

Now the web — and its democratizing impact — has spread for over a decade. Over a billion people can deliver their text to a very broad public. It's a fantastic thing which gives a global voice to dissidents in various regions, makes people less lonely by connecting other people with similar interests and problems, ad infinitum.

But what does it mean for writers and writing? What does it mean for those who specialize in writing well?

I've asked ten professional writers, including Mr. Shirky, to assess the net's impact on writers. Here are their answers to the question...

Q: Is the internet good for writers and writing?

Mark Amerika

The short answer is yes, but as I suggest in my new book, META/DATA, we probably need to expand the concept of writing to take into account new forms of online communication as well as emerging styles of digital rhetoric. This means that the educational approach to writing is also becoming more complex, because it's not just one (alphabetically oriented) literacy that informs successful written communication but a few others as well, most notably visual design literacy and computer/networking literacy.

As always, RU, you were ahead of the game — think how easy it is to text your name!

It helps to know how to write across all media platforms. Not only that, but to become various role-playing personas whose writerly performance plays out in various multi-media languages across these same platforms. The most successful writer-personas now and into the future — at least those interested in "making a living" as you put it — will be those who can take on varying flux personas via the act of writing. (And who isn't into making a living... What's the opposite? Conducting a death ritual for the consumer zombies lost in the greenwash imaginary?)

Think of this gem from Italo Calvino.
Writing always presupposes the selection of a psychological attitude, a rapport with the world, a tone of voice, a homogeneous set of linguistic tools, the data of experience and the phantoms of the imagination — in a word, a style. The author is an author insofar as he enters into a role the way an actor does and identifies himself with that projection of himself at the moment of writing.

The key is to keep writing, imaginatively. As Ron Sukenick once said: "Use your imagination or else someone else will use it for you." What better way to use it than via writing, and the internet is the space where writing is teleported to your distributed audience in waiting, no?

Mark Amerika has been the Publisher of Alt-X since it first went online in 1993. He is the producer of the Net-Art Trilogy, Grammatron. His books include META/DATA: A Digital Poetics and In Memoriam to Postmodernism: Essays on the Avant-Pop (coedited with Lance Olsen). He teaches at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

Erik Davis

In the face of this complex, hydra-headed query I'll simply offer the evidence and narrow perspective of one writer in a moderately grumpy mood: me.

I began my career as a freelance writer in 1989, and by the mid-90s was a modestly successful and up-and-coming character who wrote about a wide number of topics for a variety of print publications, both esoteric (Gnosis, Fringeware Review) and slick (Details, Spin). I got paid pretty good for a youngster—generally much better than I get paid now, when my career sometimes looks more and more like a hobby, but also less driven by external measures of what a “successful” writing career looks like.

I cannot blame my shrinking income entirely on the internet. My own career choices have been largely to write about what I want to write about, and my interests are not exactly mainstream. The early to mid-1990s was a very special time in American culture, a strange and giddy Renaissance where esoteric topics freely mixed and matched in a highly sampledelic culture. So I was able to write about outsider matters in a reasonably mainstream context.

My first book, Techgnosis, which was about mystic and countercultural currents within media and technological culture, fetched a pretty nice advance. But once the internet bubble really started to swell, leading to the pop and then 9/11, that era passed into a more conservative, celebrity-driven, and niche-oriented culture, a development that relates to the rise of the internet but cannot be laid at its feet.

Many of the changes in the book industry and print publications are more obviously related to the rise of the internet. One of the worst developments for me has been the increasing brevity of print pieces, something I do blame largely on the fast-moving, novelty-driven blip culture of the internet and the blogosphere. When I started writing for music magazines, I wrote 2000-plus-word articles about (then) relatively obscure bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. Now I write 125-word reviews for Blender. I don't even try to play the game of penning celebrity-driven profiles in mainstream music mags anymore, where feature lengths have shrunk all around and the topics seem more driven by the publicists.

Shrinking space has definitely worked against my job satisfaction. I'm basically an essayist, though I often disguise myself as a critic or a journalist. Either way, it means that I am a long writer guy. I like to develop topics, approach them from different, often contradictory angles, and most of all, I like to polish the shit out of them so that the flow and the prose shine and bedazzle. On and offline, I find the internet-driven pressure to make pieces short, data-dense, and crisply opinionated — as opposed to thoughtful, multi-perspectival, and lyrical — rather oppressive, leading to a certain kind of superficial smugness as well as general submission to the forces of reference over reflection. I do enjoy writing 125-word record reviews though!

I also like to read and try to produce really good prose — prose that infuses nonfiction, whether criticism or journalism or essay, with an almost poetic and emotional sensibility that ideally reflects in style and form the content that one is expressing. But nonfiction discourse online is almost entirely driven by Content — which includes not only news and information, but also opinion, that dread and terrible habit that is kinda like canned thought. People have reactions, and yet feel a need to justify them, and so reach for a can of opinion, pop the lid, and spread it all over the bulletin board or the blog.

I'm really sick of opinions and of most of what passes for online debate. Even the more artful rhetorical elements of argument and debate are rarely seen amidst the food fights, the generic argumentative “moves,” the poor syntax, and the often lame attempts to bring a “fresh take” to a topic. This is not an encouraging environment from which to speak from the heart or the soul or whatever it is that makes living, breathing prose an actual source of sustenance and spiritual strength.

But it's all about adaptation, right? Though I'm still committed to books, I now write more online than off. I've been enjoying myself, although my definition of “making a living” has continued to sink ever farther from anything halfway reasonable. I've enjoyed writing for online pay publications like Slate and Salon, but the rates are depressing. As for my own writing at my, I'm still struggling to develop traffic in an environment that rewards precisely the kind of writing I don't really do. Some people really love the stuff I write there, but I take a lot of time on my posts and generally don't offer the sort of sharp opinions and super-fresh news and unseen links that tend to draw eyeballs.

At the same time, it's been enormously satisfying to find my own way into this vast and open form, and to elude the generic grooves of the blog form and really shape it into a medium for the kind of writing I want to do. (Don't get me wrong—some of my favorite writing and thinking anywhere appears online; BLDGBLOG is just the first that springs to mind.) It's been delicious to explore possibilities in nonfiction writing that all but the most obscure and arty print publications would reject, and to do so in a medium that is bursting with possible readers. I'm not into “private” writing; I write for and with readers in mind, and I think its great how the web allows linkages and alliances with like minds and crews (like 10 Zen Monkeys, or Reality Sandwich, or Boing Boing). And I know that readers who resonate with my stuff now stumble across it along myriad paths.

At the same time, I find it tough to keep at bay the online inclinations that in many ways I find corrosive to the type of writing I do — the desire to increase traffic, to post relentlessly, to write shorter and snappier, to obsessively check stats, to plug into the often tedious and ill-thought “debates” that will increase traffic but that too often fall far short of actually thinking about anything. I've met amazing like minds online, and participated in some stellar debates, but frankly that was years ago. Today things seem to be growing rather claustrophobic and increasingly cybernetic.

For example, I chose to not have a comments section on, because I didn't want to deal with spam. Plus I find most comments sections boring and/or tendentious and/or tough to read for one still invested in proper grammar. I figure that folks who wanted to respond can just send me emails, which they do, and which I have long made it a rule to answer. I'm pleased with my choice, though I also feel the absence of the sort of quick feedback loops of attention that satisfy the desire to make an impact on readers, and that, in an attention economy, have increasingly become the coin of the realm. But that coin—which is certainly not the same thing as actually being read—is a little thin.

Especially without some of the old coin in your pocket to back it up.
Erik Davis is author of The Visionary State: A Journey Through California's Spiritual Landscape and Techgnosis: Myth, Magic & Mysticism in the Age of Information.

He writes for Wired, Bookforum, Village Voice and many other publications. He posts frequently at his website at

Mark Dery

Who, exactly, is making a living shoveling prose online? Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds? Jason Kottke? Josh Marshall? To the best of my knowledge, only a vanishingly tiny number of bloggers are able to eke out an existence through their blogging, much less turn a healthy profit.

For now, visions of getting rich through self-publishing look a lot like envelope-stuffing for the cognitive elite — or at least for insomniacs with enough time and bandwidth to run their legs to stumps in their electronic hamster wheels, posting and answering comments 24/7. As a venerable hack toiling in the fields of academe, I love the idea of being King of All Media without even wearing pants, which is why I hope that some new-media wonk like Jason Calacanis or Jeff Jarvis finds the Holy Grail of self-winding journalism — i.e., figuring out how to make online writing self-supporting.

Meanwhile, the sour smell of fear is in the air. Reporting — especially investigative reporting, the lifeblood of a truly adversarial press — is labor-intensive, money-sucking stuff, yet even The New York Times can't figure out how to charge for its content in the Age of Rip, Burn, and Remix. To be sure, newspapers are hemorrhaging readers to the Web, and fewer and fewer Americans care about current events and the world outside their own skulls. But the other part of the problem is that Generation Download thinks information wants to be free, everywhere and always, even if some ink-stained wretch wept tears of blood to create it.

Lawrence Lessig talks a good game, but I still don't understand how people who live and die by their intellectual property survive the obsolescence of copyright and the transition to the gift economy of our dreams. I mean, even John Perry Barlow, bearded evangelist of the coming netopia, seems to have taken shelter in the academy. Yes, we live in the golden age of achingly hip little 'zines like Cabinet and The Believer and Meatpaper, and I rejoice in that fact, but most of them pay hen corn, if they pay at all.

As someone who once survived (albeit barely) as a freelancer, I can say with some authority that the freelance writer is going the way of the Quagga. Well, at least one species of freelance writer: the public intellectual who writes for a well-educated, culturally literate reader whose historical memory doesn't begin with Dawson's Landing. A professor friend of mine, well-known for his/her incisive cultural criticism, just landed a column for Now, a column is yeoman's work and it doesn't pay squat. But s/he was happy to get the gig because she wanted to burnish her brand, presumably, and besides, as she noted, "Who does, these days?" (Pay, that is.) The Village Voice's Voice Literary Supplement used to offer the Smartest Kids in the World a forum for long, shaggy screeds; now, newspapers across the country are shuttering their book review sections and the Voice is about the length (and depth) of your average Jack Chick tract and shedding pages by the minute.

So those are the grim, pecuniary effects of the net on writers and writing. As for its literary fallout, print editors are being stampeded, goggle-eyed, toward a form of writing that presumes what used to be called, cornily enough, a "screenage" paradigm: short bursts of prose — the shorter the better, to accommodate as much eye candy as possible. Rupert Murdoch just took over The Wall Street Journal, and is already remaking that august journal for blip culture: article lengths are shrinking. Shrewdly, magazines like The New Yorker understand that print fetishists want their print printy — McLuhan would have said Gutenbergian — so they're erring on the side of length, and Dave Eggers and the Cabinet people are emphasizing what print does best: exquisite paper stocks, images so luxuriously reproduced you could lower yourself into them, like a hot bath.

Also, information overload and time famine encourage a sort of flat, depthless style, indebted to online blurblets, that's spreading like kudzu across the landscape of American prose. (The English, by contrast, preserve a smarter, more literary voice online, rich in character; not for nothing are Andrew Sullivan and Christopher Hitchens two of the web's best stylists.) I can't read people like Malcolm Gladwell, whose bajillion-selling success is no surprise when you consider that he aspires to a sort of in-flight magazine weightlessness, just the sort of thing for anxious middle managers who want it all explained for them in the space of a New York-to-Chicago flight. The English language dies screaming on the pages of Gladwell's books, and between the covers of every other bestseller whose subtitle begins, "How..."

Another fit of spleen: This ghastly notion, popularized by Masters of Their Own Domain like Jeff Jarvis, that every piece of writing is a "conversation." It's a no-brainer that writing is a communicative act, and always has been. And I'll eagerly grant the point that composing in a dialogic medium like the net is like typing onstage, in Madison Square Garden, with Metallica laying down a speed metal beat behind you. You're writing on the fly, which is halfway between prose and speech. But the Jarvises of the world forget that not all writing published online is written online. I dearly loathe Jarvis's implication that all writing, online or off, should sound like water-cooler conversation; that content is all that matters; that foppish literati should stop sylphing around and submit to the tyranny of the pyramid lead; and that any mind that can't squeeze its thoughts into bullet points should just die. This is the beige, soul-crushing logic of the PowerPoint mind. What will happen, I wonder, when we have to write for the postage-stamp screen of the iPhone? The age of IM prose is waiting in the wings...

Parting thoughts: The net has also open-sourced the cultural criticism business, a signal development that on one hand destratifies cultural hierarchies and makes space for astonishing voices like the people behind bOING bOING and BLDGBLOG and Ballardian. Skimming reader comments on Amazon, I never cease to be amazed by the arcane expertise lurking in the crowd; somebody, somewhere, knows everything about something, no matter how mind-twistingly obscure. But this sea change — and it's an extraordinary one — is counterbalanced by the unhappy fact that off-the-shelf blogware and the comment thread make everyone a critic or, more accurately, make everyone think they're a critic, to a minus effect. We're drowning in yak, and it's getting harder and harder to hear the insightful voices through all the media cacophony. Oscar Wilde would be just another forlorn blogger out on the media asteroid belt in our day, constantly checking his SiteMeter's Average Hits Per Day and Average Visit Length.

Also, the Digital Age puts the middlebrow masses on the bleeding edge. Again, a good thing, and a symmetry break with postwar history, when the bobos were the "antennae of the race," as Pound put it, light years ahead of the leadfooted bourgeoisie when it came to emergent trends. Now even obscure subcultures and microtrends tucked into the nooks and crannies of our culture are just a Google search away. Back in the day, a subcultural spelunker could make a living writing about the cultural fringes because it took a kind of pop ethnographer or anthropologist to sleuth them out and make sense of them; it still takes critical wisdom to make sense of them, but sleuthing them out takes only a few clicks.

Do I sound bitter? Not at all. But we live in times of chaos and complexity, and the future of writing and reading is deeply uncertain. Reading and writing are solitary activities. The web enables us to write in public and, maybe one day, strike off the shackles of cubicle hell and get rich living by our wits. Sometimes I think we're just about to turn that cultural corner. Then I step onto the New York subway, where most of the car is talking nonstop on cellphones. Time was when people would have occupied their idle hours between the covers of a book. No more. We've turned the psyche inside out, exteriorizing our egos, extruding our selves into public space and filling our inner vacuums with white noise.

Mark Dery is the author of The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink and Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century. His 1993 essay "Culture Jamming: Hacking, Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of the Signs" popularized the term "culture jamming" and helped launch the movement.

He teaches media criticism and literary journalism in the Department of Journalism at NYU and blogs at

Jay Kinney

It's a mixed blessing.

If the hardest part of writing is just making yourself sit there and write, and what used to be a typewriter and a blank sheet of paper has been transformed into a magical portal to a zillion fascinating destinations, then the internet can be a giant and addictive distraction.

On the other hand, it's a quick and simple way to do research without ever leaving your chair, and that can be a real time-saver.

So, on those counts at least — color me ambivalent.

Jay Kinney is the author of Hidden Wisdom: A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions (with Richard Smoley), and The Inner West: An Introduction to the Hidden Wisdom of the West. He was the editor of CoEvolution Quarterly and Gnosis magazine.

Paul Krassner

For me as a writer, the internet has become indispensable; if only in terms of researching it saves so much time and energy. Google et al are miraculous.

Word processing has changed the nature of editing, and without the dread of typing a whole page again; I can change things as I go along, surrendering to delusions of perfection.

I have become as much in awe of Technology as I am of Nature. And although I blog for free, occasional paid assignments have fallen into my lap as a result.

Better than lapdancing.

Paul Krassner was Publisher/Editor of the legendary satire magazine, The Realist.

He started the classic satirical publication The Realist, founded the Yippies with Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and has written billions and billions of books including his most recent: One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist. Krassner posts regularly at

Adam Parfrey

The internet has made research much easier, which is both good and bad. It's good not to be forced to go libraries to fact check and throw together bibliographic references. But it's bad not to be forced to do this, since it diminishes the possibility of accidental discovery. Physically browsing on library stacks and at used bookstores can lead to extraordinary discoveries. One can also discover extraordinary things online, too, but the physical process of doing so is somehow more personally gratifying.

The internet has both broadened and limited audiences for books at the same time. People outside urban centers can now find offbeat books that personally intrigue them. But the interest in physical books overall seems diminished by the satiation of curiosity by a simple search on the internet, and the distraction of limitless data smog.

The internet has influenced my decision as a publisher to move away from text-only books to ones with a more multimedia quality, with photos, illustrations and sometimes CDs or DVDs.

I like the internet and computers for their ability to make writers of nearly everyone. I don't like the internet and computers for their ability to make sloppy and thoughtless writers of nearly everyone.

Overall, it's an exciting world. I'm glad to be alive at this time.

Adam Parfrey is Publisher with Feral House and Process Media, and author of the classic Apocalypse Culture, among many other books.

Douglas Rushkoff

I'd say that it's great for writing as a cultural behavior, but maybe not for people who made their livings creating text. There's a whole lot more text out there, and only so much time to read all this stuff. People spend a lot of their time reading text on screens, and don't necessarily want to come home and read text on a page after that. Reading a hundred emails is really enough daily reading for anyone.

The book industry isn't what it used to be, but I don't blame that on the internet. It's really the fault of media conglomeration. Authors are no longer respected in the same way, books are treated more like magazines with firm expiration dates, and writers who simply write really well don't get deals as quickly as disgraced celebrities or get-rich-quick gurus.

This makes it harder for writers to make a living writing. To write professionally means being able to craft sentences and paragraphs and articles and books that communicate as literature. Those who care about such things should rise to the top.

But I think many writers — even good ones — will have to accept the fact that books can be loss-leaders or break-even propositions in a highly mediated world where showing up in person generates the most income.

Douglas Rushkoff is a noted media critic who has written and hosted two award-winning Frontline documentaries that looked at the influence of corporations on youth culture — The Merchants of Cool and The Persuaders.

Recent books include Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do Is Great for Business and Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism. He is currently writing a monthly comic book, Testament for Vertigo. He blogs frequently at

Clay Shirky

Dear Mr. Sirius, I read with some interest your request to comment on whether Herr Gutenberg's new movable type is good for books and for scribes. I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about the newly capable printing press, and though the invention is just 40 years old, I think we can already see some of the outlines of the coming changes.

First, your question "is it good for books and for scribes?" seems to assume that what is good for one must be good for the other. Granted, this has been true for the last several centuries, but the printing press has a curious property — it reduces the very scarcity of writing that made scribal effort worthwhile, so I would answer that it is great for books and terrible for scribes. Thanks to the printing press, we are going to see more writing, and more kinds of writing, which is wonderful for the reading public, and even creates new incentives for literacy. Because of these improvements, however, the people who made their living from the previous scarcity of books will be sorely discomfited.

In the same way that water is more vital than diamonds but diamonds are more expensive than water, the new abundance caused by the printing press will destroy many of the old professions tied to writing, even as it puts in place new opportunities as yet only dimly with us. Aldus Manutius, in Venice, seems to be creating a market for new kinds of writing that the scribes never dreamt of, and which were impossible given the high cost of paying someone to copy a book by hand.

There is one thing the printing press does not change, of course, which is the scarcity of publishing. Taking a fantastical turn, one could imagine a world in which everyone had not only the ability to read and write but to publish as well. In such a world, of course, we would see the same sort of transformation we are seeing now with the printing press, which is to say an explosion in novel forms of writing. Such a change would also create enormous economic hardship for anyone whose living was tied to earlier scarcities. Such a world, as remarkable as it might be, must remain merely imaginative, as the cost of publishing will always be out of reach of even literate citizens.


Clay Shirky, Esq.

Clay Shirky consults on the rise of decentralized technologies for Nokia, the Library of Congress, and the BBC. He's an adjunct professor in NYU's graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), where he teaches a course in "Social Weather," examining ways of understanding group dynamics in online spaces.

His writing has appeared in Business 2.0, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired, among other publications.

John Shirley

The internet has some advantages for writers, which I gladly exploit; it offers some access to new audiences, it offers new venues... But it has even more disadvantages.

A recent study suggested that young people read approximately half as much as young people did before the advent of the internet and videogames. While there are enormous bookstores, teeming with books, chain stores and online book dealing now dominate the book trade and it may be that there are fewer booksellers overall. A lot of fine books are published but, on the whole, publishers push for the predictable profit far more than they used to, which means they prefer predictable books. Editors are no longer permitted to make decisions on their own. They must consult marketing departments before buying a book. Book production has become ever more like television production: subordinate to trendiness, and the anxiety of executives.

And in my opinion this is partly because a generation intellectually concussed by the impact of the internet and other hyperactive, attention-deficit media, is assumed, probably rightly, to want superficial reading.

I know people earnestly involved in producing dramas for iPod download and transmission to iPhones. Obviously, productions of that sort are oriented to small images in easy-to-absorb bites. Episodes are often only a few minutes long. Or even shorter. Broadband drama, produced to be seen on the internet, is also attention-deficit-oriented. I've written for episodic television and have known the frustration of writers told to cut their "one hour" episodes down to 42 minutes, so that more commercials can be crammed in. Losing ten minutes of drama takes a toll on the writing of a one hour show — just imagine the toll taken by being restricted to three-minute episodes. Story development becomes staccato, pointlessly violent (because that translates well to the form), childishly melodramatic, simple minded to the extreme.

All this may be an extension of the basic communication format forged by the internet: email, chatrooms, instant messages, board postings, blogs. Email is usually telegraphic in form, compact, and without the literary feel that letters once had; communication in chatrooms is reduced to soundbites that will fit into the little message window and people are impatient in chatrooms, unwilling to wait as a long sentence is formulated; instant messages are even more compressed, superficial, and not even in real English; board postings may be lengthier but if they are, no one reads them.

Same goes for blogs. They'd better be short thoughts or — for the most part — few will trouble to read them. The internet is always tugging at you to move on, surf on, check this and that, talk to three people at once. How do you maintain long thoughts, how do you stretch out intellectually, in those conditions? Sometimes at places like The Well, perhaps, people are more thoughtful. But in general, online readers are prone to be attention challenged.

Reading at one's computer is, also, not as comfortable as reading a book in an armchair — so besides the distractions, it's simply a drag to spend a lot of time reading a single document online. But people spend a great deal of time and energy online, time and energy which is then not available for that armchair book. Occasionally someone breaks the rules and puts long stories online, as Rudy Rucker has done, admirably well, posting new stories by various writers at But for the most part, the internet is inimical to stretching out, literarily.

The genie is out of the bottle, and we cannot go back. But it would be well if people did not misrepresent the literary value of writing for the internet.

John Shirley was the original cyberpunk SF writer, but he also writes in other genres including horror. He wrote the original script for The Crow and has written for television including Deep Space Nine, Max Headroom, and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

His books include the Eclipse Trilogy, Wetbones, The Other End and his latest — a short story collection Living Shadows: Stories: New & Preowned. He writes lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult. Shirley's own online indulgence is his site Signs of Witness.

Michael Simmons

Concerning the internet, yes, many thoughts. None of them good.

The advent of personal computers has been ruinous. Empowering, my ass. Suddenly everyone's a writer. As someone who's been a professional writer my entire life, I now sit for hours every day and answer e-mails. I don't mind if the subject has substance, like this, but the onslaught of e-media, e-spam, e-requests for money, stupid e-jokes, e-advertisements, etc., is painful. I'm chained to a machine. Editors say they simply can't respond to all the e-mails they receive. Telephonic communication was quicker and easier.

Used to be I sat at an alphabet keyboard (called typewriters in my day) when I had an assignment or inspiration. Now it's all I do. Go to a library? Why? You can get what you need on the internet. Which means I've been suffering from Acute Cabin Fever since 1999 (when I tragically signed up for internet access). Sure, I could get off my ass and go to a library, but the internet is like heroin. Why take a walk in the park when you can boot up and find beauty behind your eyelids or truth from the MacBook? (Interesting that the term 'boot-up' is junkie-speak.)

I only got a word processor in 1990. I used a typewriter until then. My writing was no different before I could instantly re-write. I had to think about what I was going to write before applying fingertip to key. Now I'm terribly careless. I make mistakes that I never made pre-processing. Certainly literature hasn't improved (nor has art, music, film or anything else). Instead of reading Charles Olson or Rimbaud or Melville or Voltaire or Terry Southern, now people spend all day playing with their computers and endless varieties of applications.

I hear my friends — all smart — kvelling about some new piece of software. You'd think they'd cured cancer. We're a planet of marks getting our bank accounts skimmed by Bill Gates and Steven Jobs. Gates and Jobs (and yer pal Woz) ought to be disemboweled — yes, on the internet — and their carcasses left to rot on

Furthermore, I get nauseous thinking of the days, weeks, months I've spent on the phone with tech support. All these robber baron geeks are loaded, yet they can't even perfect the goddamn things.

The world of LOL and iirc and this hideous perpetual junior high language has not encouraged quality-lit. Have you looked at my former employer the L.A. Weekly lately? It's created by illiterates promoting bad and overpriced music, art, film, etc. There's a glut of so-called writers and if they're 22 and have big tits, many editors will give them work before I get any. It's no coincidence that my payments and assignments for freelancing have diminished in the last 8 years.

I was a happy nappy-takin' pappy 'fore the advent of these glorified television sets. Now my eyes hurt at the end of every day from the glow of the monitor. RU, I'm not happy that you — a brilliant man who has kept Yippie spirit alive — promote these contraptions. I didn't even have a phone answering machine until 1988 when I was 33. Everything was better before this glut of machinery entered my life. It's quadrupled my monthly bills and swamps me with useless information.

No, it hasn't fired my imagination but, yes, I can't get no satisfaction.

Michael Simmons edited the National Lampoon in the ‘80s. He has written for LA Weekly, LA Times, Rolling Stone, High Times, and The Progressive. Currently, he blogs for Huffington Post and he and Tyler Hubby are shooting a documentary on the Yippies

Edward Champion

The Internet is good for writers for several reasons: What was once a rather clunky process of querying by fax, phone, and snail-mail has been replaced by the mad, near-instantaneous medium of e-mail, where the indolent are more easily sequestered from the industrious. The process is, as it always was, one of long hours, haphazard diets, and rather bizarre forms of self-promotion. But clips are easily linkable. Work can be more readily distributed. And if a writer maintains a blog, there is now a more regular indicator of a writer's thought process.

The stakes have risen. Everyone who wishes to survive in this game must operate at some peak and preternatural efficiency. Since the internet is a ragtag, lightning-fast glockenspiel where thoughts, both divine and clumsy, are banged out swifter with mad mallets more than any medium that has preceded it, an editor can get a very good sense of what a writer is good for and how he makes mistakes. While it is true that this great speed has come at the expense of long-form pieces and even months-long reporting, I believe the very limitations of this current system are capable of creating ambition rather than stifling it.

If the internet was committing some kind of cultural genocide for any piece of writing that was over twenty pages, why then has the number of books published increased over the past fifteen years? Some of the old-school types, like John Updike, have decried the ancillary and annotated aspects of the Internet, insisting that there is nothing more to talk about than the book. But if a book is a unit transmitting information from one person to another, then why ignore those on the receiving end? For are they not part of this process? Writing has been talked about ever since Johann Gutenberg's great innovation caused many classical works to be disseminated into the public consciousness, and thus spawned the Renaissance.

What we are now experiencing may have an altogether different scale, but it is not different in effect. The profusion of written thoughts and emotions is certainly overwhelming, but the true writer is likely to be a skillful and highly selective reader, and thus has many jewels to select from, to be inspired by, to be wowed by, and to otherwise cause the truly ambitious to carry forth with passion and a whip-smart disposition.
Edward Champion's work has appeared in The LA Times, Chicago Sun-Times, and Newsday, as well as more disreputable publications.

His Bat Segundo podcast — which you can find at his website at — has featured interviews with the likes of T.C. Boyle, Brett Easton Elllis, Octavio Butler, John Updike, Richard Dawkins, Amy Sedaris, David Lynch, Martin Amis, and William Gibson.

Contributor Books

Mark Amerika
Erik Davis
Mark Dery
Jay Kinney
Paul Krassner
Adam Parfrey
Douglas Rushkoff
John Shirley

See Also:
How The Internet Disorganizes Everything
When Cory Doctorow Ruled The World
David Sedaris Exaggerates For Us All
How The iPod Changes Culture
Thou Shalt Realize the Bible Kicketh Ass

Read More

Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?

Strange Culture film

The Emergency Response Team might have thought they'd stumbled upon an underground bioterrrorist's laboratory.

On May 11, 2004, 911 received a call from SUNY Buffalo University professor and artist Steve Kurtz reporting the death of Kurtz's wife Hope from heart failure. The responders entered the home where Kurtz worked on his projects for Critical Arts Ensemble (CAE) — projects which explore and critique bio-issues like our contemporary use of biotechnology for weapons programs, reproduction, and food. The responders noted a table with scientific equipment and peculiar substances that are an essential part of Kurtz' work.

The FBI detained and questioned Kurtz for 22 hours. His house — and his wife's body — were confiscated. Kurtz' entire street was quarantined while agents from numerous agencies, including Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, descended on his home in hazmat suits. Everything was confiscated – computers, books on bioweaponry, garbage, posters with "suspicious" Arabic lettering on them… everything.

After about two days, the authorities had tested the biological materials and declared that no toxic material had been found. On May 17, Kurtz was allowed to return to his home.


So did the authorities apologize to the grieving professor before busying themselves with pursuing real crimes and threats? Not on your life!

Despite the Public Health Commissioner's conclusions about the safety of Kurtz's materials, and despite the FBI's own field and laboratory tests showing they weren't harmful to people or the environment, the Justice Department still sought charges under the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989, as expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act — Prohibitions With Respect to Biological Weapons.

A federal grand jury rejected the charges, but instead handed down indictments with two counts each for "mail fraud" and "wire fraud." According to the CAE, the charges "concern technicalities" about how Kurtz obtained "$256 worth of harmless bacteria for one of CAE's art projects." (Robert Ferrell, former head of the Department of Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Public Health, and a collaborator on several of CAE’s projects, now facing charges along with Kurtz) In this interview, Kurtz characterizes the charges even more bluntly. "The Department of Justice can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it."

To bring more attention to the case, film director Lynn Hershman Leeson (Teknolust, Conceiving Ada) has released a unique new film, Strange Culture. Starring Tilda Swinton, Peter Coyote, Thomas Jay Ryan, and Josh Kornbluth — plus Kurtz himself — the film effectively communicates the story while also reinventing the documentary genre in Leeson's unique style.

Strange Culture was screened in the virtual world of Second Life as part of the 2007 Sundance Festival, a first for the festival. The film has also been screened in Los Angeles, Albequerque, Chicago, Buffalo, Seattle and Minneapolis and is just finishing up showings in San Francisco and San Rafael on September 27. The film has not gone into conventional release, but future showings are planned for New York City.

RU SIRIUS: Describe the project you were working on that caused you to have the materials that caused law enforcement officials to go nuts.

STEVE KURTZ: Three projects seemed to really bother law enforcement. Critical Art Ensemble was working on a biochemical defense kit against Monsanto’s Roundup Ready products for use by organic and traditional farmers. That was all confiscated.

We had a portable molecular biology lab that we were using to test food products labeled “organic” to see if they really were free of GMO contaminant. Or, when in Europe, to see if products not labeled as containing GMOs really had none. We'd finished the initiative in Europe and were about to launch here in the U.S. when the FBI confiscated all our equipment.

Finally, we were a preparing project on germ warfare and the theater of the absurd. We were planning to recreate some of the germ warfare experiments that were done in the '50s (which were so insane that they could only have been paid for with tax dollars). We had two strains of completely harmless bacteria that simulated the behavior of actual infectious diseases — plague and anthrax. To accompany these performances, we were in the middle of a manuscript on the militarization of civilian health agencies in the U.S. by the Bush administration.

Everything described was confiscated. We had to start from scratch on the project and the book. Happily, we did eventually do the experiments, and published the book — Marching Plague: Germ Warfare and Global Public Health.

RU: Would you say that originally, they authentically suspected they had found some sort of bioterror weapon, and once they realized they hadn't, they found other reasons to remain hostile?

SK: What I think they thought was that they had a situation, along with a vulnerable patsy, out of which they could manufacture a terrorism case. After all, the rewards that were heaped on the agents, prosecutors, and institutions that brought home the so-called “Lackawana Six sleeper cell” case — another railroad job — were witnessed by others in these agencies and noted. This made it too lucrative to pass up turning anything they could into “terrorism”.

They also had plenty of other reasons to be — and remain — hostile.

RU: Could you describe the scene of the raid? Did they use a lot of weaponized overkill?

SK: I really don’t know any more than anybody else about that. At the time of the real action, I was at the Yes Men’s compound in Troy, NY. (Due to the initial media circus, I was told by my lawyers to leave town for a few days.) From what I can tell from the news footage and the reports of neighbors, the entire alphabet soup of the federal investigative agencies was launched. Each took a turn entering my home wearing hazmat suits with guns drawn, and proceeded to do their “bioterrorism” exercises.

RU: Oh, I had the impression that the entire situation involving your wife's death, the discovery of the materials, and the raid all happened fairly instantly. Did this scene stretch out over days?

SK: It did stretch out a ways. Even though I was illegally “detained” for 22 hours the day after my wife’s death and they had confiscated my house, the raid didn’t begin. It took a few days for them to assemble all the troops and to obtain a search warrant.

RU: And did they think you were trying to avoid arrest since you were hiding?

SK: No. I was out of town on advice of my attorneys. I had already been in custody and released. They knew they only had to contact my lawyer and I would self-surrender.

RU: This must have all been a tremendous strain, coming as it did coupled with the death of your wife. Can you describe some of the thoughts and emotions you had around all this?

SK: I think all adults know the feelings of intense grief and depression that are brought about by the loss of a loved one. My feelings were in no way unique. But when you spice it with the adrenalin and the hyperanxiety of being attacked by the full weight of federal forces, which in turn causes all your survival instincts to really kick in, you have a bad trip from which you are not going to come down for a long time. In my case, it was six months or so before I started feeling anything approaching normal. This close proximity to mortality stemming from two different extremes (loss and attack) creates a feedback loop that turns your brain into static. Patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior deconstruct and seem to lose any identifiable point of origin. I was a zombie— an animated organic mass with modest brain function.

RU: Have you run into particularly Kafkaesque scenarios given this cases' attachment to The Patriot Act and Homeland Security?

SK: The case has been a hyperreal, bureaucratic grind, but I have yet to wait endlessly in any hallways not knowing why I was there or what I was charged with.

RU: Explain a little bit more about the project you were planning around these materials related to biological warfare and theater of the absurd.

SK: We did the projects. You can see them at our website at We just recreated a couple of the experiments that different militaries did to see if germs were viable candidates for weaponization.

For the British Plague experiments, Critical Art Ensemble went to the Isle of Lewis in Scotland where they had originally been done. The British tests started south of this location and were land-based, but the results were so appallingly bad from a military perspective that they began to believe that the only way infectious disease could possibly be of use militarily was as a tactical ship-to-ship weapon. To test this idea they moved to an even less populated area (the Isle of Lewis). They put a bunch of monkeys and guinea pigs on a pontoon and started shooting germs at them in both powder and wet forms from about a mile away — a very difficult shot in the blustery weather of Northern Scotland.

The infection rates were again poor, and included a fishing vessel that unsuspectingly sailed through the experiment. The British Navy had to follow the vessel to make sure it didn’t land or make physical contact with other ships until they were sure no one on the boat was infected. No one was. The only conclusion reached from this experience was to move the test to the colonies — in this case, the Bahamas.

Critical Art Ensemble did the same thing, only we recreated the harmless simulant tests (not the actual plague tests), and only used guinea pigs overseen by the SSPCA — no monkeys. Our results were just as bad, so it seems as if we reliably replicated the test. CAE went to the end of the world to shoot bacteria at guinea pigs.

Can there be a more absurdist gesture than that? Well yes — one: Bush reinitiating a failed germ warfare program at public expense and at the cost of civilian interests in world and national health policy. The Bush administration is usurping public civilian agencies (such as the CDC and countless universities) and using them to play out the administration’s fantasies of a terrorist germ warfare attack. The resources to study infectious diseases are limited, and it's criminal to use them for a remote “what could be” scenario at the expense of real, ongoing health crises like AIDS, TB, hepatitis, malaria, and other diseases that are killing millions every year.

RU: I never thought of CAE as a really obscure project, since I'd read various manifestos or statements by you and seen stuff about you here and there. And yet, outside the avant-garde art community, very few people know about this bizarre and outrageous case. Do you think this says something about our cluttered and diffuse culture.

SK: I think you have stated the situation as well as I can. Information is ubiquitous and overwhelming. Only so much can be processed in a day. And when you think of how many outrages are occurring each day because of the war and the current U.S. constitutional crisis, who has time to follow one of the many ridiculous court cases brought by the Department of Justice?

One has to be motivated by a very direct interest in the case to take notice, no matter how precedent setting the case might be. In my case, the Department of Justice is attempting to completely implode civil and criminal law, but if you are not in the arts and sciences, there’s too many other events and situations to worry about.

RU: Is there some way we can make it more difficult for arbitrary authority to pick off people who are on the so-called fringes?

SK: I have no idea. The FBI has been a Dr. Jekyll/Mr Hyde type of institution from its inception. While I am happy for its work against organized crime, for example, I have always been completely outraged by its continuous assault on those individuals and sometimes entire communities (as with the current attack on peoples of Islamic faith) who openly express ideological difference. The FBI has worked against socialists and communists from the 20s through the 60s, and against the equal rights movements of the same period.

The COINTELPRO operations of the 60s and 70s are basically back, so exercising our rights is more risky than ever, but it’s for that very reason we must. Rights are won and kept through struggle, and in our struggle to preserve our Constitution, it pains me to say that the FBI is and has always been one of the anti-democratic enemies.

RU: What do you think abour Lynn Hershman's film, Strange Culture?

SK: It’s inspirational and well worth seeing. It has brought awareness about the case to new audiences.

RU: Did you participate in the creative direction at all?

SK: No.

RU: What kind of effect do you expect from it?

SK: Exactly what it’s doing — bringing an awareness of the case to people and communities that otherwise would not hear about it.

RU: According to the CAE defense fund FAQ, you were originally charged under prohibitions on biological weapons, but a grand jury instead handed down indictments related to "wire fraud" and "mail fraud." And then it also states that the terrorism charges could come back to haunt you.

I wonder how your attorneys are coping with all this. Are they simply trying to get across the absurdity of the whole mess, or are their any legal fine points?

SK: What they have been arguing in motion hearings is that the Department of Justice is making an absurd interpretation of the mail fraud law. The DoJ has thrown away its guidelines (which state my case should not be prosecuted) and interpreted the law in a way that is unique for my situation.

My co-defendant Bob Ferrell and I are the first citizens to ever be indicted for mail or wire fraud because we supposedly broke a material transfer agreement. The “defrauded” parties do not believe we did anything to harm them — the crime is a DoJ fantasy that they hope to prove. We’ll see at trial if rationality prevails.

If it doesn’t, the case will set a precedent that will mean that the Justice Department can drop a major felony on someone for filling out a warranty card incorrectly and mailing it. This will be a major tool for them. Talk about being able to pick off people at will!

Lynn Hershman Leeson invites 10 Zen Monkeys readers to sponsor showings of the film. For sales and exhibition information contact: [email protected]

Strange Culture Screenings
Critical Arts Ensemble Defense Fund

See Also:
Homeland Security Follies
Halluncinogenic Weapons: the Other Chemical Warfare
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Still Free, or Not?

Read More

Ed Rosenthal: Big Man of Buds

The Big Book of Buds

From a certain perspective, Ed Rosenthal may have caught a break when Judge Breyer sentenced him to just one day in prison plus time served when he was convicted for growing hundreds of marijuana plants in Oakland, California. But it would be difficult to argue that his trial was anything short of Kafkaesque. Rosenthal had been deputized by the City of Oakland to grow medical marijuana. But after being busted by the Feds, he was not even allowed to mention his relationship to the lawful government of Oakland nor was he allowed to present witnesses who could talk about it.
So after his conviction, Rosenthal took his case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and won. His conviction was overturned, but it was overturned on a technicality. Then, in a clear case of vengeful prosecution, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California who prosecuted the case decided to bring up charges again, adding new charges to the original. Again Rosenthal was not allowed to present the obvious defense — his deputization with the City of Oakland — and he was re-convicted.

Before Rosenthal became one of America's best-known martyrs in the "War on Drugs," he was legendary for his work advising pot growers on how to produce the finest gourmet cannabis. His books have included the legendary Marijuana Grower's Handbook and the recent Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. He wrote the popular "Ask Ed" grower's advice column for High Times during the 1980s and '90s. Rosenthal continues to write "Ask Ed" for the Canadian magazine, Cannabis Culture.

I was joined in conducting this interview for the RU Sirius Show by Steve Robles and Jeff Diehl
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: So how long have you been stoned?

ED ROSENTHAL: Well, I only smoke when I'm alone or with people. And I only smoke when I'm awake. I also do food fasts because, you know, life is speeded up. So instead of doing a 24-hour fast, I do, like, 6 hours at a time over a four-day period. It's sort of a fast fast.

RU: Let's talk about your own personal experience with pot. When's the first time that you tried it. How old were you?

ER: Um, I was...

RU: You can't remember!

ER: I was 21.

RU: What year was it?

ER: '65.

RU: It was weak back then, was it not?

ER: Yeah, it was. It was Mexican.

RU: Did you get pretty ripped? Do you remember?

ER: I got stoned enough. I remember thinking, "This is the greatest thing that ever happened in my life." I remember that. I thought that this was going to be a really powerful ally for me. And then, years later, I read the Don Juan books, and there it was.

RU: Did you associate pot in 1965 with beat culture?

ER: Folk music.

RU: And did you think that pot produced insight? Why did you like it?

ER: it was very introspective for me at that time.

RU: So let's talk about the recent wrinkle in you medical marijuana case. Why were you re-convicted, and why didn't you present a defense?

ER: We would've liked to have presented a defense. When you're on trial, you would like to do that. But the judge said he didn't like our defense. For instance, we wanted to talk about the prosecutor's RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. But we weren't allowed to present any of our defenses. One by one, the judge said that we couldn't present witnesses. For instance, we wanted to present Nate Miley, who had been a city councilperson in Oakland. He would've testified that what I was doing was in line with the city of Oakland's regulations, and that I had been deputized as a city officer. I would've brought in Barbara Parker with the city attorney's office, and she would've verified some of those things. And I would've brought end users. You know how prosecutors often bring victims in to court? Well, I would've wanted to bring in the "victims" of my actions. Those "victims" would've been the people who actually received either starter plants themselves, or the marijuana that was grown from the starter plants.

But the judge wouldn't let me do that. He wouldn't let me say to the jury that I was an officer of the city of Oakland. I couldn't testify that I had been deputized to do this and that I had been assured that I was free from prosecution.

RU: You mentioned something about the prosecutor having a RICO relationship with one of the witnesses. What's that about?

ER: Well, a prosecutor is allowed to give a witness immunity for things that they've done. For instance, if somebody's killed somebody or committed a robbery or something, often they'll give one person immunity for ratting on the others. But a prosecutor is not allowed to give a person immunity for things that they will do in the future. They can't say, "Okay, this is a pass for killing one person. You get one free death." They can't do that.

So this fellow — Bob Martin — appeared as a witness for the prosecutors and then he continued his medical pot business. He even opened up a second dispensary. He was never bothered. He had a 100,000 square foot grove that was busted by the DEA, but no charges were ever filed. That happened in 2004.

So this guy has a free pass. Basically, each member of this conspiracy was getting something out of it. My prosecutor, George Beven was getting the information — or so-called information that he wanted. And Martin, who owns two dispensaries here in San Francisco, got a free pass. To me, that's a RICO relationship. And in this case, we don't have to show any paperwork, meetings, assignments or anything like that. We have actions that actually took place. So I'm initiating a civil suit against this action because their illegal enterprise has cost me a lot of money.

You know, I wasn't allowed to present these facts in either case. And the jurors were misled, because a half-truth isn't a truth. A half-truth is a lie. The jury was told that I had distributed this material, but they didn't hear that I had been told that I was free from prosecution.

That's an estoppel issue. Let me explain that. Let's say there's a red light, but a cop waves you through. Another cop, on the other side, can't give you a ticket for crossing the red light because you have been told that what you're doing was legal, right? You're following the cop's orders.

So I was told by the city attorney's office that what I was doing was legal and I was free from prosecution. So even if she was wrong, I should've been able to say to a jury, "Hey, look. I was led to believe that what I was doing was legal by an official." But the judge said, "No. Even though this person is a government official, she can't testify for you."

RU: The jury from the first trial was outraged after your conviction when they found out what was actually going on. That was very unusual. Describe what happened with the jury after the trial.

ER: (Medical marijuana activist) Hillary McQuie actually met with the first jury as they came out from the courtroom after the trial. And she told them that she thought they had made a terrible mistake and that they should look the case up. They did. They found out the truth. They were all dismayed and started calling newspapers. Eight out of the 12 jurors, plus one of the two alternates agreed that an injustice had been done.

RU: I remember when they were in the news, but I can't remember — did they actually petition the court, or did they release a statement? I remember they were active about their unhappiness.

ER: Three of them became activists for a while, and it changed all of their lives. They learned that they couldn't trust the government.

You know, the judge was very upset this time when we said we weren't going to present a defense. But we said, "We have no witnesses left. You've eliminated all our witnesses." He looked down at his list and he realized he'd eliminated everybody except for my wife and myself. So he said, "Well, I'll tell you what. I'll let you say anything you want to the jury. I'll let you talk to the jury, unimpeded. I'm not going to say anything to the jury while you're talking. I'm not going to interrupt you." And I said, "Okay, that sounds pretty good, but I want corroborating witnesses." And he said, "Oh no, I'm not going to allow you to have your corroborating witnesses." I said, "Well, you're going to allow me to give my theory of the case, but your not allowing me to corroborate it. This is insane." And I basically said that I was not going to play the game in his Stalinist show trial. I wouldn't be a part of it. The entire transcript is online at the Green-Aid website.

RU: Do you think you could've swayed the jury if you had testified?

ER: If I had testified and been allowed one witness, that would've been it.

STEVE ROBLES: Without the witnesses, the jury would just think you're some kind of nutter. The jury will be sitting there thinking, "Why didn't I hear a witness? Why couldn't this guy back it up?"

RU: Well, he could explain that. Weren't you really able to give your full story, including your objection to...

ER: No, not at all. And I'm appealing this. And anybody who's listening to this who has $100,000 that they'd like to spend on a court case, just get in touch with Green Aid. It's all tax deductible.

Win or lose, this case has made it apparent that the federal laws have to change, and that we need the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act. That act would let you use a state medical marijuana law in your defense in a federal case. It also indicates that the State of California has to start protecting the providers, because there are now over 100 providers who have been arrested and charged. Dozens are in jail and there are over 100 under indictment right now. And the only difference between them and me is that I'm a little more notorious or famous, and I have perhaps a little more media savvy than they do. Most of them are going to wind up doing time. And very often they say to the person who runs the medical marijuana operation, "If you don't plead to a long term, we're going to take all your workers and give them each five years."

RU: What is the next stage of your appeal? Where does it go?

ER: We're preparing our appeal to the 9th Circuit.

RU: You already went through the 9th Circuit once, didn't you?

ER: Yeah. We're asking for a new trial, and if not, we're appealing. We have a number of new grounds to appeal. I mean, these colloquies that I had with the judge were very unusual. You wouldn't believe what our conversations were. And they're all on transcript.

SR: It's the same judge again?

ER: It's the same judge. And, you know, people think he's a really nice guy because he only sentenced me to a day. But first, he took away my constitutional rights. And he only gave me a day because it was well publicized and it was looking really bad. But he regularly gives people five years, ten years, seven years, all the time. And he has a reputation for not letting defenses prove their cases.

RU: In going before the 9th Circuit court before, you got the case thrown out but it was basically on a technicality. You didn't really accomplish a mission in terms of having a positive effect on people who grown medical marijuana. Do you have an approach for trying to have an effect the next time you go before the 9th Circuit?

ER: Winning. But win or lose, I think that the policies are going to change, because the state is going to realize that they have to intervene. And also, there's more impetus for the Peter McWilliams "Truth in Trials" act.

RU: Is this something that's before the House of Representatives?

ER: Yes.

RU: How could California be counted on now to confront the U.S. Government? Schwarzenegger, who sort of played at being libertarian on his way into the governorship, has been a drug warrior through and through since he's been in office.

ER: Well, he's been trying to free himself from the power of the Corrections Department bureaucracy and the prison guards union. And he's found out that he can't do it.

RU: Right. That group basically owned Gray Davis.

ER: The Democrats have to get away from that. And there are incremental steps the system can take. For instance, police need to continually get credits for learning new techniques and stuff like that. One of the places where they can get this credit is through the California Narcotics Officers Association. So they pay for these courses where they're miseducated. Right on the homepage of the CNOA website, it says, "We believe medical marijuana is a myth." That's what they teach officers.

RU: These are people who are supposed to be enforcing California law, which approves medical marijuana.

ER: Other things need to change, For instance, in Oakland, the local narcotics officers work out of the DEA office in the Federal Building. They're cross-deputized. They're paid by the city, but they also function as a federal official. So the city needs to keep them separate.

SR: Some activists think that one of the big problems is Proposition 215. People think it's a hastily put-together proposition. It's swiss cheese — full of holes. They think the state needs to pass something a lot more substantive.

ER: I don't really think that's the issue. Look, marijuana is more popular than any politician. It wins by a higher percentage than politicians do. I'll give you an example. Bush won in Montana in 2004. But marijuana won there by a much higher margin than he did.

RU: People are getting stoned and voting for Bush!

ER: So there's a disconnect between the politicians and the voters on this. And the voters consistently say, "We do want these dispensaries. We want easy access." But the politicians are in the hands of the criminal justice system — the cops, the judges, the prosecutors. It’s such a big financial interest that nobody wants to let it go. We now spend more on jails than on higher education. We have a thousand people in California prisons for marijuana.

My suggestion is that we take this on a very local level – at the level of the councilperson. It's got to be city-by-city and they've got to push back the police.

Do you remember when Proposition 36 passed?

RU: Right. The idea was that people shouldn't go to jail for drug possession.

ER: Right — not for the first or second offense. So it passed, but then – first of all, the criminal justice establishment wanted to tighten it up. And if you go online and find all the arguments against it, they're all from people who are part of the criminal justice system.

See — if marijuana was legal and other drugs were treated with a harm reduction strategy, a huge bureaucracy would be eliminated – and a lot of jobs. There are 750,000 arrests a year for marijuana in the U.S. 88% of those are for personal use. That's about 5% of the entire criminal justice arrests throughout the United States. And it's an upward funnel, because when you get to second and third offenses, the sentencing for marijuana is much higher than the sentencing for violent offenses. So you have people spending more time in prison. Also, when they get out, they need social services, another bureaucracy.

RU: But doesn't this all have to be changed through the federal government, since they come in and shut down local medical marijuana and so forth? And if pot is more popular than politicians, why don't people make the politicians take their side?

ER: It's not necessarily a primary issue with most voters. Also, the criminal justice system can provide a potent opposition to politicians. If the Police Benevolent Association and the local police union says the politician is "soft on crime," that can be trouble. So a lot of politicians are cowed.

You wind up with people like Judge Breyer. Breyer knows that pot isn't a harmful substance, but he sentences people to prison for it. He's a war criminal! When you send somebody to prison, it doesn't just affect them. It affects their families. It affects their employers or employees. A whole community of people is affected.

RU: These are acts of destruction that are woven so deeply into the system that people don't even see them as being acts of destruction.

ER: Yeah! I don't know if you heard about some of my antics, but outside the courtroom I would say nasty things to the prosecutor. For instance, I called him a liar, because the judge found that he lied to the grand jury (but said no harm had been done). I called him vindictive. I called him a coward. So he went and complained to the judge about it. And the judge said, "Well, we all should be very civil and polite here." Meanwhile, they're putting one person after another in jail for providing people with marijuana. It's outrageous! How can they say that?

So the judge talked to my lawyer and said, "Can you try and control your client?" And my lawyer said to him, "Well, judge — perhaps it's my fault. I did advise him not to say anything nasty in the courtroom. But I didn't say anything about the hallway." So the judge said, "Oh, well, please speak with Mr. Rosenthal about this." But he also said something like: "This is in a federal building, but we may have First Amendment issues." So after this exchange, I went up to the microphone at the podium, unasked, and I said, "Your honor, I'd like to thank you for protecting my First Amendment right to call this man a coward, a liar, and vindictive. But I left something out. He's also a tattle-tale and a cry baby."

JEFF DIEHL: Does the "three strikes" law relate to these two marijuana convictions?

ER: I now have three non-violent felony strikes. You get into a fight with me; I'm away for life.

RU: All right, so, be gentle with me, man.

SR: Keep away from Terence Hallinan (ed: Rowdy pro-pot former DA of San Francisco.) because that guy's a maniac.

RU: So a lot of people think there are no consequences for you because the judge only sentenced you to one day. But all those felonies – those are big consequences.

On your site, there's a mention that you might be working on a book about pot legalization. What's your favorite method of legal distribution? Do you think it should be any way people want? Or should it be in specialty shops or liquor stores? Or should it be only homegrown? Do you have a favorite procedure for doing it?

ER: I see the tomato model. Let me explain. Home gardeners grow more tomatoes than are grown commercially. But there's also a gigantic commercial market for tomatoes. Some of them are served in restaurants. Some of them are canned, dried, served in different ways. So there are lots of different commercial ways that tomatoes are distributed. I see something like that. I don't think that it's ever going to be restriction-free. I think that there's going to be the same kind of civil regulation that we have with alcohol and tobacco. There are going to be taxes on it. But I think that many more people are going to grow their own than make their own beer or wine or grow their own tobacco. I think people are going to have all of those models. In terms of buying product, I think it'll mainly be through specialty shops.

RU: So, how soon?

ER: Well, in Oakland, we have Prop Z, which says that it should be able to be sold in private clubs.

SR: In California, within 5-7 years.

RU: Before I let you go, tell us about your new book, The Big Book of Buds, Vol. 3. You told us you have some new information in there.

ER: I have a piece in their about terpenes. Terpenes are the odor parts of flowers. Almost all flowers that produce odors have terpenes. It's four simple molecules, but there's a lot going on in the way they're assembled – like with DNA. So the structure of assembly of the terpenes creates all the different odors. So I used to say that the reason why different marijuanas give you different highs is because they have different recipes of cannabinoids – somehow one will have a little more CBD or a little more CBL or other cannabinoids. But it's been shown that most modern marijuana has a big spike of THC and hardly any other cannabinoids. So the question is: what else causes different types of marijuana to give you different highs? It comes down to the terpenes. And it's in the odor qualities of cannabis.

See also:
The Simpsons On Drugs: 6 Trippiest Scenes
Prescription Ecstasy and Other Pipe Dreams
Willie Nelson's Narcotic Shrooms
Paul McCartney On Drugs
Hallucinogenic Weapons

Read More

Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice

Von Erck Their name is "Perverted Justice" — and something strange happens when you follow hyperlinks to their site from Wikipedia.

"Hello Wikipedia Visitor!" it announces. "We've listed Wikipedia as a Corporate Sex Offender for quite some time..."

The site's server re-directs any visitors from the online encyclopedia to a page warning that "there's a few facts you should know about Wikipedia as a foundation itself." Then it lays down an inflammatory attack.
Each article on Wikipedia that deals with any issue relating to pedophiles or internet predators has been heavily targeted and edited by the online pedophile activist movement... Our own article on Wikipedia, which you have likely come from, has been edited by known and outed pedophile activists dozens and dozens of times.

NBC's Dateline works with "Perverted Justice" to create an ongoing series of reports exposing pedophiles (called "To Catch a Predator.") But the group has apparently broadened its list of targets. Their site notes that Wikipedia remained ungrateful when Perverted Justice helpfully pointed out which Wikipedia editors they thought were pedophiles. So the group launched an online campaign to raise public awareness...
"With Wikipedia continuing to try to get their project used in classrooms across the world, it's important to note the danger inherent in the public accepting the project as being factual considering their acceptance of even extremist special interests such as pedophile activists as legitimate editors of their 'encyclopedia.'"

Sunday Wikipedia reacted to the announcement — though not without a tremendous debate.

"I've just gone through Perverted-Justice and removed all outbound links to their site..." announced a Wikipedia administrator named Sarah. (After temporarily locking the entry from being edited.) Another editor pointed out that the site was clearly an attack site, and "There's no place for ideological witchhunts on Wikipedia," while a third editor suggested a temporary blacklisting of the site.

But more viewpoints joined the discussion. A fourth editor asked "Is there some reason why we're trying to hide criticism from a legitimate and active organisation?" Noting that Wikipedia does accept pedophiles as editors, they asked "Why are we trying to hide this fact and label the site that respectfully and politely points that out as some kind of vicious attack site?" Another editor shared an interesting detail. One week ago, Perverted Justice founder Xavier Von Erck was blocked indefinitely from any editing of Wikipedia articles

The discussion continued over the next 48 hours...

"Ten thousands people are being slandered because we refuse to acquiesce to his point of view in our articles and policies? Wonderful."

"[T]his is America, and P-J has every right to criticize Wikipedia in general for what they see as failings of the project."

"I just don't see how this can be treated any differently than a rant on some mildly successful blog."

One editor even posted an email about the controversy, saying it came from Xavier Von Erck himself. The email lent a fierce new perspective to the debate.
We're quite pleased with the links being removed from Wikipedia. This will do two things. One, it will reduce the Google relevancy of the Wikipedia article about us, an article rife with error and editors whose sole purpose is to try to use Wikipedia to attack us. Secondly, having the article without links to our organization but links to other organizations that attack us will make the average person, unaware of the problems of Wikipedia, wonder why the hell the article has such a overt bias.

Lastly, the idea that websites cannot "respond" to a Wikipedia article by redirecting is quite curious. The policy itself is nonsensical. It is Wikipedia saying that their editors, no matter who they are, can write whatever they wish about a subject and that subject has no right of response. 'Tis an unjust, silly policy and one we have no interest in cooperating with.

Ultimately, Wikipedia compromised. They kept all of their pointers to the Perverted-Justice site — but not as hyperlinks. This meant Wikipedia's readers would have to cut-and-paste the URLs into their browser to access the Perverted-Justice site — which would pull up the requested page rather than re-directing the users to an anti-Wikipedia announcement.

But Perverted Justice left their announcement online anyways, pointing its readers to another site called "Corporate Sex Offenders .com."

In fact, Wikipedia was the sole reason that Perverted Justice created their "Corporate Sex Offenders" site in February, according to their announcement. The site lists two web companies as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" — YouTube and LiveJournal. While applauding YouTube for removing some "advocates" of pedophilia, their page argues that YouTube "is still rife with pedophiles and predators on their service." (And they add that YouTube has yet to clarify their policies for pedophiles.) LiveJournal's offense is similar, according to the site — they've failed to delete the accounts of pedophiles. "LiveJournal is as welcoming of pedophiles as they are kids, adults and teens."

Their Wikipedia page also alleges that one pro-pedophile activist labelled Wikipedia's pedphilia page an "important platform for us," since it's Google's top search result. (And that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales once personally banned a pedophile editor.) It concludes with a condemnation of Wikipedia for having a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy about pedophilia.

And then it includes their list of Wikipedia's suspected pedophile editors.

See Also:
Jimmy Wales Will Destroy Google
The Perversions of "Perverted Justice

Read More

Sex Panic! — An Interview With Debbie Nathan

Woman Screaming

Editor's note: We experienced some hesitation at publishing this piece. We know that people have strong emotions about these topics and, obviously, the sexual abuse of children is no trivial matter.

But given the players, including the New York Times, the Justice Department, the Internet, and Free Speech itself, we feel confident that it will start an important debate on a number of issues that are usually dominated by hysterical, reactionary voices.

About the author: Susie Bright is the host of the weekly podcast, "In Bed With Susie Bright," and is the editor of Best American Erotica, 1993-2008.

For a free month's subscription to "In Bed With Susie Bright," click here. Links to the full audio versions of this interview can be found here: Part 1, Part 2.

Debbie Nathan is the expert on sex panics and is perhaps best known for her book, Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt, about some of the widely covered sex panic cases that rocked the U.S. in the '80s and '90s, such as the McMartin preschool case in California. Susie and Debbie share a deep distrust about former New York Times journalist Kurt Eichenwald's much talked about articles on Internet child pornography.

SUSIE BRIGHT: First of all, you uncovered the bizarre so-called "satanic abuse scandals" that were happening in Southern California in the 1980s, and I remember thinking, "How could people re-create the Salem witch trials in this day and age?" And the next time you popped up in my life, I was reading these sensational stories in the New York Times about child pornography, which the reporter described in amazing, titillating detail — and of course he was on a campaign to stop it.

Nevertheless, I put down the newspaper I was reading, and I thought, "How does this guy get to look at anything that is remotely like 'child pornography' when the whole genre is utterly and completely illegal in the United States? What is the deal... Did he do a deal with the Justice Department? And what are they showing him?" And, "How come he doesn't talk about any of this?" (Ed: Former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald has denied ever looking at illegal pornographic images.) The very next day, there's an article in Salon — by you, Debbie Nathan. And it had this provocative title, Why I Need To See Child Porn.

DN: And then the next day, it was gone.

SB: And then the next day, it was gone! Because the reporter who'd written the original piece just blew his stack and threatened Salon with legal action if they didn't take this piece down. Well, I want to get back to your rebuttal — the very first thing you said, which is: If child porn is such an immoral outrage, then why does anyone need to look at it? Why is it anybody's business? Aren't we just supposed to say, "My god, that's aberrant," and turn our heads away?

DN: Well, there are two reasons for that, and I'm not sure which one is more important. But the first one has to do with technology. It has to do with the fact that in this country — not all countries, but in the United States where we respect the First Amendment — the reasoning behind outlawing child pornography is that it is the record of the victimization of a real child.

SB: The photographic record.

DN: The photographic record. Now, we don't outlaw photographic records of other crimes. For example, we didn't outlaw looking at the Abu Ghraib torture pictures...

SB: Boy, I'll say.

DN: ...which were sexual tortures. But we do outlaw looking at photographic records of sexual crimes against children. Now, of course, that brings up a whole other can of worms, which is that a lot of child pornography involves 17-year-olds or 16-year- olds. It used to be that you could make pornography in this country if you were over 16.

SB: How recent was that?

DN: You know, I can't tell you the exact year, but it seems to me that it was changed in the 80s. It might've been the late 70s. But the age of model consent used to be lower than it is now. So then you get into the whole argument and controversy about what is a child? We have statutory definitions, but in the real world, I think we know that there's a huge variation in emotional development.

SB: Let's say it's non-consensual, it's basically rape on camera. You know, there'd be no question that everyone would be horrified.

DN: Let's say an 8-year-old who's being raped. Okay?

SB: Oh, god. Okay... Why does anybody need to scrutinize that, aside from the Department of Justice?

DN: I still haven't even finished my first point. And my first point about the technology is that it might not be a real child. Because we now have morphing. We have ways to take pictures of adults, for example, and fiddle around with pixels in Photoshop. We have ways to make adults look like children. You can actually make a young adult look like an 8-year-old. You can do cartoons.

SB: This is reminding me of when I was a good Catholic, and we discussed venal sin. There, somebody might say, "Okay. So you didn't really do this. But you thought it."

DN: You thought about it! That's right.

SB: "And we should lock you up forever and chop your balls off for even thinking about this!"

DN: Yeah, — well, that's where we're at. Now we've got the technology to produce sexualized representations of children where there's no children. So it's not a record of the exploitation of anyone. It's just a piece of art. You might consider it tasteless and repulsive, but it's just a representation and it's not a representation of reality. Now in this country, that is not illegal. In other countries it is, but not in the United States. So how do we know what's on the internet? This is question #1. The government goes around saying there's a tremendous amount of child pornography on the internet. No one really knows how much of it is photographic records of real crimes against real children and how much of it is morphing imagery. So that's question #1. How much illegal stuff is on the web? We don't know. People need to know. And somebody needs to be able to look at that stuff who's not in the Department of Justice, because they've got their own agenda.

SB: At this point, the Department of Justice's reputation is so bad, I wouldn't give them authority to walk across the street.

DN: The thing is, this is the last frontier of authority for the Justice Department. And that's the second point — not only do we not know how prevalent child pornography really is, the government is claiming that it's a multi-billion dollar industry and it's huge. And they're now using that claim to justify the Patriot Act.

And we all know Gonzales is in big shit right now because of a bunch of things including illegal use of the Patriot Act and the firing of all of these attorneys. So he's trying to divert attention by saying, "Well, I'm not so concerned about all that because I'm still following my agenda, which is to attack this terrible problem of child pornography on the internet."

And when the DOJ puts this stuff out, nobody makes a peep. Because this country, this culture, is so ready to believe anything that the government says about child pornography. And that's why you need people outside of the government to be able to look around on the internet. No one has any idea what's really on the internet except maybe — you know, the FBI. Although I'm not sure what they know either. But they're very quick to make claims. And that's dangerous!

SB: Well, when it comes to how to get at the perpetrators of child abuse, why isn't the law completely focused on the criminal act, as it happened, as opposed to whatever record there is of it?

DN: Well, the DOJ will tell you that it's very hard to go backwards and find the child. I mean, there are a lot of people in the world who like to look at representations of children having sex. And most of them, it turns out, never touch kids. It's just like most of the sort of more far-out pornography — people don't do the stuff that they look at. You know? And that's true, apparently, with people who like looking at child pornography. They never touch kids. So there is a lot of stuff out there that's consumed by people who don't touch kids, and the government claims that they can't go back and they can't find the kids.

But the government also makes this argument, which is completely specious in terms of any research, that child pornography causes or incites people to molest children. There's no evidence for that whatsoever.

SB: Maybe I should get to the big picture question behind a lot of this — the notion of sexually taking advantage of an innocent. Child porn boils down to the ultimate taboo. The ultimate "big picking on little" — sometimes the incestuous thing is brought into it — the notion of somebody who has all the power taking advantage of someone who has nothing. It is a classic, epic taboo. Yet, if it's so taboo, then why do we hear about it all the time as if it was a tuna fish sandwich? I mean, how do those two things reconcile? Something that cannot be spoken — unspeakable, makes people's stomachs turn. And yet, oh — child porn here, child porn there, kiddie porn, massive billions. You know, where is the truth in those two completely opposite pictures?

DN: I think they go together. Censorship goes together with the proliferation of porn and this incredible fascination with porn. But it's even moreso with child porn. And, you know what's interesting, Susie — if you look cross-culturally, and you go way back in history, you'll see that whenever a culture is worried about something, or feeling guilty, it puts kids up as a symbol of the ultimate innocence of the culture. And it also posits kids as the symbol of its future. So if it's worried about the future, and it feels culpable — then people just really zero in on the endangered child. And then you combine that with Western, and particularly modern Western fears, since the last couple hundred years of sexuality — and you get this incredibly potent, overloaded symbol in the sexually abused child. And also, over the last couple of generations, there's the increasing use of sexuality as a consumer god.

SB: My own political roots are as a feminist. And part of the way feminists changed public conversation was to say, "You know what? Next time people start blithering about the plight of women and children..." — and of course, they're always put together. They're infantilized together — "...we're going to take a different tack. We're going to talk about this differently. Not just for women's sake, but also for children's sake." And I was wondering — you're a feminist. What do you think would be a healthy way for anyone to discuss young people's sexuality — whether they are children or teenagers?

DN: I highly recommend a book by one of my good friends, Judith Levine, which is called Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. It's a wonderful book about the fact that children really do have sexuality. Children are not "innocent" in the way that term is used in our culture. And how do you deal with children's emerging sexuality? Well, I think the first thing you have to do is acknowledge it. The second thing you have to do is teach kids how to own their own sexuality, and I think you start that immediately. Children are conscious human beings from the time that they're born. But of course in this country, we have this complete crisis — this total attack on sex education. So the first thing you have to do is have a national conversation about the fact that children are sexual beings.

That's a Freudian idea that's completely out of style now. And I'm not saying Freud should come back, but the actual baby got thrown out with the bath water when people started critiquing Freud.

SB: That's ironic, isn't it? In some ways, I was part of the rejection of Freud that went on during early feminism. But we had our own version of claiming one's sexuality, as the rhetoric put it, which had a lot to do with masturbation, and the idea that this is your body, it's yours to decide — your virginity does not belong to somebody, it can't be sold to the highest bidder. You know, it's not something that your father is protecting, to hand to another man in marriage. All those kind of ideas were getting the big heave-ho with the notion that you have your own sex stuff. It belongs to you. And I don't see that kind of consciousness being very popular today. It's more like, oh, you're growing up? You're starting to come into your own? Well, how can you look sexual? And then, how can you pitch that look to your advantage? That is what I notice in popular culture now.

DN: That was certainly true when I was a teenager. I think it's gotten exacerbated because every year consumerism becomes more powerful. People express themselves more and more through consumption, through commodity consumption. And sex has been colonized by —

SB: The aliens?

DN: the aliens who make all these commodities! Whether it's clothes or makeup. 15-year-olds who are virgins are now getting Brazillian waxed. It's like, every single part of the body and every form of expression is being colonized by the idea that you've got to buy something. And sex is the way that you convince people to buy things. Because, you know, you terrorize people by thinking that if you don't buy this product, you're not going to be sexy!

SB: When the words "child porn" or "kiddie porn" are referred to as a business or some sort of industry that's in progress — I feel a little suspicious. Because there are millions of kids around the world who are being used as slaves, basically — they're forced to work in a factory, or in someone's home. Or just sweat labor. And they have no out. They have no passport. They have no wages. Nothing. This is monumental. And certainly, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised, considering they have so little power, they might be sexually exploited at many ends of their situation. But it is not a child porn business, per se. It is an "exploiting children" business — it's got a lot tentacles, it goes in every direction. It's not like it's a cut-out. Do you know what I mean?

DN: Absolutely. Anyone who has spent any time in a poor country knows that there's a continuum of exploitation. Everyone is exploited, and kids go to work early. Kids go to work in a country like Mexico, working class kids, when they're 8 or 10 or 12 years old. And they can be working in a factory for $4 a day. They can be out on the street selling pumpkin seeds for $5 a day, or they can be in a red light district for $50 a day. So, for women in the third world, it's more lucrative to do sex work. And I've talked to poor women and to poor children. They don't even consider themselves children any more! You know? They're out working by the time they're ten years old. So in their minds, they're not children. They're contributing to the livelihood of their families. They have "agency" — that's that word that sociologists use. They will sit and talk to you — they're very rationale, in their own 10-year-old, or 12-year-old, or 15-year-old way. They've figured out how to support their families the same way that older women try to figure out how to support their families. And, you know, it's a political/economic problem. It's not, to my mind, a moral problem. Unfortunately, the sad thing is no one cares about girls who work in factories. And no one cares about girls who sell pumpkin seeds. And no one cares about women who work in factories.

I wrote a piece in The Nation a couple years ago suggesting that there was far more slavery in this country involving non-sex work. (Actually, two years or three years after I wrote that piece, the Government Accounting Office has just released a study suggesting that's probably right.) It was a very controversial piece. And the biggest attacks I got were from self-described feminists who want all prostitution to be defined as slavery, even when it's voluntary. So it's very hard to get people excited about people being forced to pick broccoli in a field, but they will get really excited about the idea of sex slaves. It sounds prurient. It gets people excited. It's another one of those S&M fantasies.

SB: You have a new book out called Pornography , and it's part of a learning series for young adults to grapple with issues of the day, but it's a good primer for anyone who might want to look at some of the basic arguments about porn. And what amazes me is, when it comes to the huge majority of porn that is produced and consumed, it is the same banal sucking and fucking over and over and over again that dominates the market.

DN: I think the stories that you hear in the media, the gloom-and-doom, scary stories about the bukkake and the donkeys — that's all coming from the so-called clinical samples. That's coming from the people that are in therapy because they consider themselves to be porn addicts, and they've spent all their time finding the weirder and weirder stuff. That's the story, right? "I lost control of it. I wanted to see weirder and weirder and weirder stuff." And that's the porn consumer in the popular imagination now.

SB: I totally reject the notion that that's the cycle. Most people don't sit around with their porn having to have more and more and more extreme...

DN: No, but that's the clinical tale. That's the tale that the media likes, because it's the scary tale.

SB: Well, it's funny you should call it "clinical." Because it's not even accepted by most of the psychiatric profession. There is no such thing as porn addiction in the DSM manual.

DN: I know. And if you look in my book, you'll see that I debunk that. But that's the story the mass media likes to tell. That's what they hang the problem on — the weirdo stuff.

SB: Explain that, because people hear this all the time. "Are you a porn addict? Are you going to become addicted to porn?" Why is that an inappropriate word to use?

DN: Addiction is a physical thing, like nicotine is an addiction, and alcohol is an addiction, and heroin is an addiction. These are things that your body becomes physically dependent on. And people reject the use of the word "addiction" for things like brushing your teeth, or as Leonore Tiefer puts it, "spending too much time reading the New York Times."

SB: Guilty!

DN: Or spending too much time at work, which is a huge problem. Or spending too much time, in your own estimate, watching sports on TV. Or spending too much time in the garage, playing with your drills and making boats in bottles. And now we have spending too much time watching porn. These are just — as Leonore calls them — "bad habits."

SB: What's the difference between a bad habit, or maybe feeling like, "Gosh, I really wasted too much time doing that," and what would be diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder?

DN: I think that's pretty subjective. I mean, if you look in the DSM, it says most disorders have to do with whether the person feels troubled by the behavior. Even if you look at pedophilia, the definition of pedophilia is that you have an attraction to pre-pubertal kids and it bothers you. If it doesn't bother you, then it's not a disorder.

SB: What if it it bothers everyone else?

DN: Well, they wouldn't know if you didn't go out and act on it. If you go out and act on it, then you're a child molester. But not all child molesters are pedophiles, and not all pedophiles are child molesters. The same thing with porn. Certainly, if you're the president of Vivid, and you have to look at 14 hours of porn a day to make your $300,000 a year, I don't think anyone would call you a porn addict. That would be a useful thing to be doing!

SB: What do you say to people who say, "Debbie, look! I personally feel like I look at porn too much, and it's upsetting to me, and it's upsetting my life."

DN: I'm not a therapist, but the therapist that I talked to for the book said that...

SB: Don't they ask you anyways? They don't care whether you're a therapist or not!

DN: They only call me the evil journalist who doesn't care about kids.

SB: But when you're not an evil journalist, I bet you get treated like a shrink sometimes.

DN: Okay, so here's what the therapists say. They take that very seriously. And what they say is, "We need to look at what the problems are in your life that are causing you to sooth yourself?" They see looking at a lot of porn as a self-soothing activity, in the way that many activities are self-soothing when you're anxious, or you're suffering from anxiety, or from depression. And so they try to get the person to look at the behavior in terms of — "Why did I decide to look at porn on the net instead of read the New York Times all day?" Or "Why did I decide to look at porn on the net instead of watching too much basketball?" And if you really look at the meaning of your habits — because everyone's a complicated individual, with a complicated, intra-psychic past — you can come up with some pretty good stories about yourself, and what your attraction is to this particular self-soothing activity.

The therapists that I've talked to have said, "If the person's depressed, you treat the person for depression. If the person's anxious, you treat 'em for anxiety." And you also work on trying to understand what the behavior is, and what the fantasies are that lead to the behavior. And again, I mean, it's a wonderful thing to explore your fantasies. And not all fantasies have to do with pornography. Some of them do, some of them don't, right? We need to understand all of our fantasies.

SB: I often say "sexual expression" rather than using words like "pornography" or "eroticism." Because I'm so tired of all the baggage those words carry.

DN: Well, Leonore Tiefer has a lot of patients who come in complaining that they're addicted to pornography. And she says, maybe the person started looking at pornography on the web because he came from a very restrictive, strict background, and it's a way of rebelling against an overly-strict authoritarian father. So then the fantasy is not so much sexual as it is rebelling against that father. Now, of course, you get a whole sexual overlay, because the bad habit happens to be porn-viewing. But the real profound thing might be what happened in childhood with the father that has nothing ostensibly to do with sex. People are just very complicated.

SB: Also, porn is typically discussed in terms of whether it's harmful, or it's benign.

DN: Yeah, it's so utterly overloaded with moral stuff. And that makes it even more troubling to people.

SB: I come from a place of saying, "Well, I'm an artist. And I'm interested in including the sexual part of creativity in the work that I publish or produce." And so it's not a matter of me deciding whether something is harmful or benign. But rather, in an artistic work, a creative work — sexuality is going to make all the difference in understanding it — its pathos, or its comedy, or its tragedy. It's hard to imagine a lot of the greatest artistic works that people revere if you took the sexual element out of them. That doesn't seem to get discussed in political debates.

DN: It's really weird that you just made that statement, and juxtaposed it with this sort of really sad conversation we're having about people in deep distress. You know? Because your statement is a very joyful, aesthetic statement, and what we just talked about is people coming in hating themselves, feeling that they're evil and out of control. It's very sad. And porn is just so completely overloaded with moralism that the therapist that I spoke with said, "It's really hard to get people to even think deeply about what their relationship is with it, when they're in therapy and they come in with these complaints. Because they're so ashamed!"

SB: Well, as a fellow professional journalist and a researcher into this sort of thing, you have this tendency — like I do, to just throw yourself into the most volatile situations! And then you say, "What's a nice girl like me doing in this anyway?"

DN: Yeah. It's really true. You've heard me kvetching, haven't you? (Laughs)

SB: Yeah, I have. But I understand it, because I often tell my friends, "I'm so scared." You know, I took on this monster. I've put myself right in the middle of it. And I can't handle it. I can't handle it! And they're like — are you kidding?

DN: You know what it was with me, Susie? The first time I got involved with this — what I call sex politics and sex panics around children — was with the Satanic daycare panic.

SB: And did you know what you were getting into?

DN: No. I had a two-year-old when I first heard about the Satanic daycare centers. I remember hearing about the McMartin case. I was sitting in a rocking chair, giving my kid something or other — like maybe a bottle or a book. And on the radio, they were talking about the little old lady at the McMartin pre-school — the 80-year-old who killed rabbits while she brutalized children sexually. And I believed this! I can remember sitting there saying, "Oh my god! Oh no! I can't send my kid to daycare..."

I can remember this so well. I thought, you know what? People will do anything. They're capable of anything. Well, then Ellen Willis, god bless her, who just died last year, started getting suspicious about this stuff. And she asked me if I looked into McMartin. It's a long story, but there was a case in my own community in El Paso, Texas. The first two women to ever be convicted were in my little city. And I was supposed to spend six weeks — but I spent eight months looking at this case. And I had no idea what it was when I first started. But I was just knowing that there's certain ways that kids act, and that you probably wouldn't be able to put a 14-inch knife up a 2-year- old's rectum...

SB: Oh, god!

DN: ...and then have the kid come back from daycare smiling and telling you that he couldn't wait to get back the next day. You know?

SB: And yet those were the stories.

DN: Now do you need to have a two-year-old child to know that? I don't know. But the thing is, I was a mom, and — you know what? I didn't feel guilty about critiquing the believability of these cases. A lot of the reporters back then were men, or they didn't have kids. And if they would have asked any questions about those cases, people would have said, "You don't care about kids."

SB: Or you're a pervert yourself.

DN: "You're a guy." You know? "You're a man, you're a pervert, you're supporting the molesters..." Fortunately I was a woman and a mom. When I read the interviews of the kids, I could see the way the cases went forward forensically. The adult interviewers, whether they were detectives or social workers or psychologists, brainwashed the kids. They interjected their own fantasies into those kids by asking them leading questions over and over and over and over. I heard some of the tapes of kids who would walk into the room loving their teachers. And they would walk out utter basket cases, thinking that they'd been brutalized by Miss Mickey or somebody that they loved before. And I would cry. I would say — these kids have been brutalized by the investigation and by this whole panic. So were the women that were working in public daycare. That pained me to no end, the fact that public child care was under such assault. And it pained me to see women so guilty about going to work. But the thing that really got to me was the fact that relationships that were really beautiful were destroyed. You could hear it on the tapes. It was horrible to hear those interviews. And then you're like, "Oh my god. I have to tell the world about this."

SB: Well now that you've seen and researched a number of these stories, do you have any conclusions about what the seeds are for a sex panic? Like, can you recognize certain things that are in play before it blows up? Or is it still kind of unexpected when it happpens?

Some people said, after these daycare scandals were exposed, "This is to try to get women to be afraid of using daycare." You know — an anti-child care plot. I thought, well that's interesting, but how would anybody have known that to begin with? What is it about a community where the beginning of a Salem witch trial is just bobbing underneath the surface?

DN: I cannot predict it. In fact, what's happening right now is a panic about kids and the internet. And there is a panic about teenagers having sex with each other. Those two things are working off each other. Did I predict those? No! I didn't predict them. And it seems to be happening since 9/11, actually. I think that the most proximate thing is fear of the internet. There's always a panic over a new technology. There are moral panics all the time. I mean, there was a moral panic over the telephone when it was first introduced.

SB: That's right! Because strangers would call you...

DN: Yeah. Male voices would call up young women in their homes.

SB: And god knows what would happen from there.

DN: There was a panic about comic books. There's always a panic about new technology. We're looking at it in hindsight. We're looking at a panic, and we're looking back and saying, "Oh, the internet."

SB: Oh yeah. Remember when that was such a big fright? And now it seems like nothing. That's what always happens as soon as the technology ages.

DN: But it's not nothing for a lot of people with kids today, you know?

SB: Well, I had another interview on our show with a social scientist named Mike Males. And he has these great papers that say, "Look, your kid statistically is in greater risk being in church or at the shopping mall than they are on their MySpace page." The notion of the actual risk that young people are facing on the internet is completely blown out of proportion.

DN: Right. And are people going to listen to that? I mean, that's not what a panic is about.

SB: They're going to, because I'm going to say it until I'm blue in the face!

DN: That's right. Say it! Yes.

SB: The thing that gave you a little bit of liberty to speak out was the fact that you were a woman and a mom, and people couldn't easily toss you aside and think you had bad motives. But have you ever felt the sting from a different direction — people saying you're unfit to be a mother? How dare you speak about this? You know, "You're crazy, you need to be discredited." How do you cope with attacks from people trying to undermine you?

DN: When I was doing the daycare work, I actually had the cops at my door.

SB: That must've been terrifying.

DN: It was pretty scary. Yeah. Back then I had little kids. Now my kids are big, so nobody can use my kids against me, because they're adults.

SB: Did you ever feel like "Gosh, I'm going to have to join the Daughters of the American Revolution" or the PTA?

DN: I was already in the PTA! I was living in El Paso, Texas. I was a Brownie Scout leader. Come on! I had street cred down there.

SB: This reporter who you called into question at the Times, Mr. Eichenwald. He got your story thrown out of Salon [with] a phone call to the editor.

DN: It wasn't one phone call, believe me.

SB: Well, okay, continuous screaming phone calls and emails. Suddenly, you're put into the limelight as...

DN: The flake?

SB: Well, you were not just described as a flake, but it was — "she's obsessed with looking at pornography. And here this reporter (Eichenwald) is just trying to save the children. Why doesn't she care about saving the children?" What do you do when people get that picture of you as cold and unfeeling and just ready to trample over all these poor sex slaves with your calculated attempts to defend the first amendment. I'm trying to conjure up some of the stuff you might have heard.

DN: You know, I don't mind criticism, when it's honest criticism conducted in a normal, democratic forum — i.e., letters to the editor. Things like that. I mean, somebody threatening to sue you is really beyond the pale. But when people criticize me, there's always a whole bunch of other people — there are never as many as the people who criticize me, but the people who defend my point of view are often quite eloquent. In the Salon piece, for example, there was a very active discussion going on before that piece was pulled. There was dozens of letters that came in, just in the first few hours. I was very gratified by them. And my biggest regret about that piece being pulled, and that there were legal threats made — was that the discussion got shut down. And I'm really looking forward to starting that discussion again.

I think it's a really important discussion. I think child pornography needs to be de-mystified, and all the politics need to be broken down. And all of the First Amendment issues need to be laid out on the table. And the criticism — I don't know. I'm just getting too old to worry about it.

SB: Are you a First Amendment absolutist? Or do you feel like there is a certain place where you want to kick in a certain exception for those under 18?

DN: I don't know. I mean, honestly? This is where people who I have great respect for have taken issue with me, because in the Salon piece I said that there should be a vetting system put in place by the government so that legitimate researchers and journalists should be able to review what's on the web. There were critics who were very sympathetic to my opinion that child porn really needs to be looked at by civil society, who nevertheless said, "That's a terrible idea. To call for the government to put in place a system that decides that some people deserve to do that and other people don't. That's a lousy idea!" But I've also said before that I just don't know. I haven't come to a position about whether everyone should be able to look at child porn — that we should all just be able to look at records of assaults against children.

SB: Well there's a lot of scrutiny going on right now about who are the bodies of people who make decisions about what can be seen, or can't be seen — like the motion picture ratings association. It's always been shrouded in secrecy. Who are these people that decide that something's an "R," and something's an "X"? As it begins to get peeled away, and you look at the actual fallible human beings who are selected to these bodies, you say, "What the hell do they know? And this has nothing to do with democracy.

DN: Yeah. And, you know, really, when you look at the content of child porn, to the limited extent that people in civil society have been able to study child porn, a lot of it is older minors. A lot of it is a 14-year-old standing in a lake with her breasts exposed. Some juries and some judges will say that's not pornography, that's just simple nudity. Other judges and juries will say it's obscene and exploitative. So the definitions are very hard to parse out. But this is my irrational spot. I haven't got this all figured out yet. Because there is really awful stuff, too, of little kids, and there was no consent whatsoever. It's very horrible stuff. Some people talk about civil suits. There should be a way to bring civil suits against people who make this stuff and publicize it, because it's embarrassing, potentially. I just haven't figured it out yet.

See also:
The Perversions of Perverted Justice
Sex Expert Susie Bright Lets It All Out
Sex & Drugs & Susie Bright
World Sex Laws
My Opponent Pays For Gay Teen Bestiality

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Anarchy for the USA: A Conversation with Josh Wolf

Josh Wolf (photo by Steve Rhodes)
Photo by Steve Rhodes

Josh Wolf spent more time in prison than any other American journalist in U.S. history for protecting his source materials — videotapes taken at an anti-globalization demonstration in San Francisco. He was finally released on April 3 of this year. Press reports about Wolf have described him as an anarchist, and he has described himself as an anarchist sympathizer.

Wolf has been all over the media talking about his free speech struggle with the U.S. Government. He was on "Democracy Now!"; received a now-traditional media hazing on "The Colbert Report"; and even had a brief but fairly sympathetic interview in Time.

While we conversed about his case, we also wanted to delve more deeply into the issues that motivated the case in the first place: anti-globalist activism, anarchism, and his new projects to "Free The Media" and give prisoners a voice in the blogosphere.

Scott J. Thompson, Director of Research at the Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate, and Jeff Diehl joined me in this conversation, originally recorded for The RU Sirius Show.

To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: There's been plenty of talk about your case, so we're going to go into some other things, but I think we should talk a bit about the conclusion. I think people found it a bit confusing and anti-climactic.

JOSH WOLF: It was a bit anti-climactic. And it was also reported incorrectly all over the place in the press. The stories ranged from things like: "The government decided they have no interest in Josh Wolf and therefore they are letting him go" (that would've been nice) — to "He finally caved under the pressure." Both of those are factually inaccurate.

Basically, there were two things that the government wanted. One of those things was that tape. I felt that I shouldn't have had to turn that over to the government, but at the same time there was absolutely nothing sensitive or confidential on it. So it was worth fighting for, but once I had lost my fight in the district court level in the 9th circuit, there wasn't really any reason not to publish the tape and simultaneously turn it over to the government. I mean, yeah, those shots of my shoes are a bit embarrassing but they're not worth going to jail over. So once we had exhausted our appeals, we offered to turn over the tape in exchange for my release. But the U.S. Attorney said he wouldn't accept anything but full compliance with the demand of the subpoena. That would have involved testifying before a grand jury and turning over my documentation for my video-editing software... there was a pretty exhaustive list of demands in the subpoena. But on February 14, the judge suddenly ordered the case into mediation with a magistrate judge. During the course of two mediations, we came to an agreement – I would publish the tape and then turn it over to the federal government, and they would not object to my release. And they decided to call this full compliance with the subpoena, although it wasn't full compliance at all.

So that's where we stand right now. The government still has the option to re-subpoena me to try to make me testify about the content of the tapes or what I saw there that night. But I don't think they're going to because they know that I'm not going to testify. I'll go back to jail and it will be an even bigger public fiasco for the U.S. Attorneys office. And they're not really short on public fiascos right now.

RU: You got a fair amount of support from the mainstream press on this. I assume that the government figured you were some punk blogger, and they could yank you out of all social circumstances and throw you deep into the hole, and there would be very little discussion about it. But quite a few journalists expressed their concern in terms of the protection of journalists. Did this surprise you at all?

JOSH: The reception from the journalistic community has been very much mixed — especially in the mainstream journalist community. Even from the alterna-press, there were some mixed receptions. Some journalists realize that if they're coming after me — they're next. And they realize that this whole concept of objective journalism is kind of a misnomer. You can never be objective. But some get very offended by the idea that I should be protected, because protecting me makes it easier for them to be attacked as being part of the same group. And I think that's one of the things at the crux of the public's reception to protests in general. I mean, in this particular protest, there was one violent incident where one police officer was injured probably by one protester. And because of that. the 150 people that were there now get described as terrorists.

RU: The big mainstream media question is "Can bloggers be journalists?" In fact, you wrote an essay with that name. And I think the counter-argument would be that nearly everyone could become a blogger, and then everyone would be protected from giving evidence. So a group could conspire to break laws and members who blog could be protected. Karl Rove could become a journalist and make the same kind of claim!

JOSH: That argument's flawed, because if you are involved in a criminal activity, you don't have to testify because you're protected by the Fifth Amendment.

RU: Good point!

JOSH: But it's true that in Grand Juries they like to get rid of the Fifth Amendment. They say, "Here's a waiver. You no longer have the Fifth Amendment." But I've been reading the Constitution over and over again, and I can't find any section on giving waivers to the Fifth Amendment. And consider the First Amendment — freedom of speech. Why doesn't that include freedom of silence? Why does the freedom to speak not include the freedom not to speak? And so, yes — journalists should be protected in order to protect the act of journalism. But in a larger context, why do we have coercive custody to force people to testify? I mean, it's really a form of very low-grade torture — we're going to hold you in custody until you break down and speak.

RU:: It's definitely something we don't accept from gangsters, but we do seem to accept it from the state. Tell us a little about your prison experience. What kind of prison were you in and what kind of interactions did you have with the prisoners?

JOSH: I was in a federal detention center, which is sort of like a…

RU: (jokingly) It's a country club!

JOSH: It wasn't a country club but it was kind of like being in a really, really low-rent camp. But you can never leave. I kept waiting for the fishing trip, like when you're at camp, you're thinking about the fishing trip. It never came.

SCOTT THOMPSON: That's torture.

JOSH: It was kind of like being in a college dorm, except there were fewer choices. There weren't any girls. Unlike college, there was not much in the way of drugs or alcohol. The guys were all pretty cool. They were mostly a combination of bank robbers, drug dealers, a few white-collar criminals.

The most interesting segment of the prison population are the "Piezas." (A "Pieza" is a Mexican Roadrunner. The term has been adapted to those that are here from Mexico.) Most of these guys had no prior criminal history. They were in jail for crossing the border — an imaginary line. We've decided that's a felony. And they've been getting between three and five years in jail. And while they're incarcerated, they have to work. And they're often fined for their crime. They're fined an amount that just happens to add up to the 12-cents-an-hour that they make while they're incarcerated. So our government has time-share slaves. Instead of getting our slaves from Africa, we're getting people that come to America to build better opportunities for themselves. And they end up spending three-to-five years building government furniture.

RU: This kind of slavery or serfdom becomes even more interesting when you have privately-owned prisons. I imagine that you were in a state-controlled prison.

JOSH: It was a federally-owned prison. I think there's somewhere between three and five privately-contracted prisons in the federal system. A lot of states, particularly in the south, have more private prisons than public prisons. It's very disturbing that we have contracted out our prisons because there's a certain public oversight that's expected — or at least should be expected — when it comes to a government-run operation. But when you give prisons to the Wall family to run, it becomes a private business. And lots of things that are private in private businesses remain private. When that involves controlling human movement, it becomes really dangerous

RU: I think having a profit interest in incarceration is about as skeevy as you can get. Although I certainly know some libertarians who would disagree with me. Did you wind up finding any compatriots in prison? Did people discuss politics? And did people there know why you were there?

JOSH: Most everyone was aware of it. Of course, the level of understanding varied. In its simplest terms, I was there for refusing to cooperate with the government. I was going to jail for not being a snitch. Having not committed a crime and then also "not snitching" – that's pretty respectable in the prison hierarchy. I think the only person above that was probably Greg Anderson because he's a friend of Barry Bonds. Not snitching on Barry Bonds… that was like… "Whoa! And he's a trainer! And people in prison are into working out so that's a sort of demigod-like position.

In terms of the politics, I found compatriots at different levels. I spoke about political activism. I had a few books about anarchism that were sent to me that were passed around the prison. It's kind of interesting that those got in. They didn't try to censor it.

RU:: They didn't understand what they were, probably.

JOSH: They weren't going to allow a press release to come out that the prison was censoring reading material.

RU: Tell us about the project you are developing involving prisoners.

JOSH: I've started We want to pair up individual prisoners with sponsors on the outside who agree to type up what they have to say and post it on their own blog. There are lots of military blogs, which the government's currently trying to crack down on. So now we'll have prison blogs. The media oftentimes can't get access to what goes on behind those walls. And the people I've encountered have amazing stories about prison culture and their oppression at the hands of the guards – stories that don't get out to the public.

RU: Are they ever allowed to blog at all? Also, wasn't there a law passed against interviewing prisoners — a sort of blockade against prisoners communicating to the media?

JOSH: It can be different between the states and the feds. In federal prisons, you can interview prisoners — I've seen prison interviews. At the facility I was in, they refused any filmed interviews, but they permitted phone interviews. I don't know exactly what the state rules are, but I know Schwarzenegger just vetoed a bill that would've opened the gates a little further. But I'm dealing with what prisoners can do, in terms of self-publishing. I know they can't get publish with a byline and they can't get paid for it. Now I don't know whether a blog counts as publishing with a byline, but...

RU: …Is there evidence that this will be allowed?

JOSH: There's no evidence so far to indicate that they won't allow it. Some prisoners have blogs right now. We've found about a couple-of-hundred. But there are no avenues for prisoners who want to blog but don't necessarily come from tech-centric backgrounds or families. They don't have a chance to get their voice and artwork out there. So this will sort of democratize the media for a class and a group of people who are cut-off and denied all the opportunities that, say, middle-class Americans have – people who already have their YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr accounts.

RU: There's been a lot of talk about your case in the media, but there hasn't been a lot of discussion in the media about the demonstration that lead to the case. How would you characterize the issues that were at stake at the demonstration and your interest in that?

JOSH: The demonstration was against the G8 Summit that was going on in Gleneagle, Scotland at that time. I happen to align myself philosophically against globalization. With The WTO, the G8 and these other sort of private groups, large governments plan how to exploit smaller governments and small helpless communities and individuals. It's a winner-takes-all, king-of-the-hill sort of approach to planning our future. So I'm opposed to that. And I did take to the streets with my camera in order to document this demonstration that I knew wasn't going to get a lot of attention. In terms of the activities that were used in this demonstration, I think most of them were not necessarily tactically sound. I think there's a time and a place for people to drag newspaper stands into the streets in order to stop, say, a threatening stream of riot cops that are about to attack. I don't think it makes a lot of sense to drag a newspaper stand in the street when the cops have already called off the riot squad. So there were numerous things going on there that I felt were not tactically sound. I wouldn't have engaged in them myself. But I do support a diversity of tactics. And I feel there should be balanced between the privacy of those involved and the need to expose the news of what they're doing to the world.

RU: Some of these tactics have been associated with a concept or a group that's called "black bloc." Basically, the idea seems to be what we used to call "trashing" back in the early 70s – when I did it. (Laughs) The idea is violence against property. Is it ever effective? Was it effective in Seattle? And isn't it stupid to keep doing the same thing over and over again?

JOSH: Any discussion about the effectiveness of tactics that involve breaking the law becomes very sensitive. Just describing what is effective is opening the door to conspiracy to commit terrorism. So it's a very shaky topic to get into.

I think it's not effective to try to cause economic damage to large corporations, because the amount of isolated damage that is done at these sorts of protest is really a rounding error. It's like, "Oh, we had to spend $500 to fix this window and cover up this spray paint."

RU: It's sort of embarrassing, really.

JEFF DIEHL: It's the public exposure. It suddenly gets the media eye looking at this movement or…

RU: It worked once in Seattle, maybe.

JOSH: I think if a Starbucks is coming into your town, and it's the first Starbucks, and some people who don't like it decide, "We're going to do something to prevent this Starbucks from being built" — then I think that could be tactically sound. I'm not saying that people should do it, but it does make some tactical sense.

But to simply go and hit all these windows — you know, smash up a few Starbucks — it can create some attention. In the post 9/11 world, that attention is too easily connected to groups like al-Qaeda. So I don't think it's going to further the cause of trying to achieve a non-hierarchical, mutually fair, non-capitalistic society.

RU: That's the question. Do these tactics have any place at all in successfully changing things, or are they really just getting their rocks off?

SCOTT: Around 1987 - '88, on Haight Street, there was an attempt to build a Walgreens. That nascent structure was dynamited by malcontents. And it turned into...

RU: We're not getting a confession here, are we? (Laughter)

SCOTT: No, I was living in Chicago at the time. Anyway, they realized that the community really doesn't want a Walgreens.

JEFF: There was a philosophical argument after the Battle of Seattle. That action basically got the mainstream — and the public's attention around this whole anti-globalization issue. Hardly anybody had even heard about it. Some would argue that there wasn't much of an anti-globalist movement before Seattle

JOSH: Not in America, no.

JEFF: And some would argue that the spectacle of the damage created the success there, so the damage was necessary.

RU: But it was also mixed with the fact that a lot of demonstrators showed up. That – in itself — was unusual. But a peaceful demonstration definitely could've been ignored, like many other large protests.

JEFF: Right.

JOSH: Look at what the Weather Underground was able to accomplish during the Vietnam war. They had a tactical place and were somewhat effective. But the enemy has been changed from communism to terrorism. So acts that the government can easily label as terrorism can very quickly become counter-productive. I think that's part of the reason that we have this vague war on terrorism — anyone that does anything disruptive can be treated as a terrorist.

SCOTT: Right now, the government is attempting to label any oppositional show of force of any kind as terrorism.

We're surrounded by cops of all stripes. We're surrounded by security guards of all kinds. We're surrounded by all sorts of military people, and they are the only ones that are allowed to use brute force against an unarmed populace that dare not even organize on a premise without a permit. It's just completely a violation of the whole idea of the right of freedom of assembly in the United States

JEFF: Josh, obviously it's not to your benefit to be thrown in jail again. But if we can't even talk about tactics, then the authors of the Patriot Act have won, right? This whole area has been bracketed off for people who are involved in opposition. And historically, this has been the only type of activity that has ever caused any significant social change – confrontation, destruction of property, or violence.

JOSH: Our founding fathers were engaged in terrorism or direct confrontation during the Boston Tea Party. That would be labeled terrorism now. If the Boston Tea Party happened last week, what do you think George Bush would say about it?

RU: They'd be in Guantanamo.

It's interesting that you brought up the Weather Underground, because there are two things to think about with their tactics. Number one: historians show that the reason Nixon didn't nuke Hanoi during the Vietnam war was because he was frightened of what the anti-war movement would do to America. He wasn't thinking of the Quakers. He was probably thinking of the Weather Underground; the freaks who burned down the Bank of America and stuff like that.

But on the other hand, fear is a very effective tactic for organizing reaction. We see it now, particularly, under the guise of terrorism. Basically, the current unofficial Republican slogan is "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

The Weathermen sort of had this theory that youth was a class that could be excited and organized for revolution. It was possible to believe that in the early 1970s. I don't know if there's even a receptive audience for this kind of thing any more.

SCOTT: I think there's actually a very receptive audience. I think that many people might be experiencing a real disappointment and disaffiliation from the "mainstream left" — these people that organize some of the mass demonstrations that are always held in the same place. And we all get together and we all get photographed by the same helicopters flying overhead. They've seen us all before. Nobody ever thinks, at the last minute, let's change tactics. Let's hold it n front of "The Chronicle" building, and scare the hell out of those people.

JEFF: Well, you wouldn't have a permit for that.

SCOTT: Of course. You must have a permit. The populace dare not spontaneously get together and show its discontent with the powers that be.

JOSH: Protests have been reduced to nothing more than processions. They have a cathartic effect. Everyone feels like they're doing something. And in a sense you're doing more than just voting. But civil engagement begins at voting, it doesn't end there. And protests are just one step further. But in order to really make a change, people have to actually really get their hands dirty and do something. That could involve writing a law, and then working your butt off to actually get it passed, if that's the course of action that you choose. Or you could make a blockade around a business that you think needs to be shut down; you could start a picket line and yell at people when they cross it and make it so that business can't continue its enterprise. Or maybe you think it's most effective to burn down the bank like they did at U.C. Santa Barbara in the late '60s. All of these tactics have limitations and they all have values. It really just depends on what you think is going to work and why you think it's going to work.

RU: I question whether any of these things — demonstrations, riots — are really effective anymore. And you've been involved recently in trying to work with the system. You've been helping to create a law to protect journalists. Do you see any contradiction between being an anarchist sympathizer and trying to get the federal government to create a law to protect journalists?

JOSH: I'm sure many other people do. My political philosophy is that the best society would be one where the precepts that we followed were formed through consensus. But we don't live in that society. We live in a system of laws made by people who claim to represent us, but so often don't. For instance, on the night Nancy Pelosi was elected, her own constituents passed a law saying that they want the President impeached. And Pelosi immediately made a statement that impeachment was off the table. So clearly, these people don't represent us. But at the same time, they still make the laws that we live under. If I can help pass a law that would've prevented me from going to jail for seven months — a law that defines journalist as anyone who's gathering and disseminating information (with a very limited exceptions that involve imminent harm to human life) — then why shouldn't I work for that? Sure, it's a band-aid. It doesn't deal with the fact that we have a repressive grand jury system that needs to be abolished. It doesn't deal with the fact that the right to a fair trial just doesn't exist.

RU: I agree with you because I'm a reformist. The way I view human nature — I don't think that the anarchist ideal is very likely to work in the foreseeable future. But still, any attempt at change is a discussion of tactics. I mean, Nancy Pelosi's argument is about tactics too, really. She's saying, "Well, I'm actually in the Congress and in order to pass laws, I have to use these tactics. I have to take impeachment off the table because it's not going to be accepted in mainstream discourse and if I go for it, I'm not going to be able to change anything."

JOSH: But whether impeachment is accepted or not, she's elected as a representative. And this is one of the clearest cases where the city she represents voted for a resolution to impeach George Bush on the very day she became Speaker of the House? Is she a representative of the Democratic Party? Is she a representative of San Francisco? It doesn't look like it. How indirect is this representation, and how indirect should it be?

RU: She's either sold out or she considers herself wiser, tactically, than the people she's representing. And you can have either interpretation.

SCOTT: I think this highlights the bankruptcy of representational government in this particular time. I think you can count on one hand the number of representatives who actually pay attention to their constituency. These people in Congress are only taking orders from very wealthy donors or powerful corporate people. They don't really listen to the people that don't make a certain amount of money, or don't have any money. They don't listen to the people they should be listening to. It seems to me that that there's no sense of civic responsibility in this country. We're not taught civics. People have a tendency to think, "Well I just don't really want to think about that. I don't want to worry about that. I elect X, and he or she will take care of everything for me." And he or she is actually totally in the hip pocket of the powerful interests.

JEFF: Josh, you had this thing happen where you got a lot of attention. And this was maybe a big chance to publicize a lot of the views of the circles that you were in before the protests – people with certain shared goals related to anarchism and so forth – stuff that doesn't get much publicity in the mainstream media. I could see some of them being a little bit disappointed that you're focused on passing a law.

JOSH: The way I see it — there are a lot of things you can and should do. And to embrace as many of them as possible really can't hurt. I mean, maybe you can say, "Hey, we shouldn't pass a law because these band-aids – these reforms – because they are going to make the system more livable, more tolerable. And we should actually do things to increase suffering in order to foment a revolution." A lot of people take that view. But I don't see it that way. I think anything that reduces suffering shouldn't be ignored.

RU: Some people might not object from that old "heightening the contradictions" argument. They may just make the argument based on decentralization. Don't ask for the protection of the federal government. (Of course, as we know from the medical marijuana situation, the federal government trumps everyone else.)

JOSH: I think it would be a great thing if San Francisco absolved itself from the federal government. It didn't work in the Civil War, but that was fourteen states trying to go. If San Francisco said, "Yo. We're sick of the Patriot Act. We're sick of you raiding medical marijuana clinics. We're sick of the fact that two people that love each other don't have the right to get married. We're doing our own thing now, what would the federal government's response be?

RU: Armed invasion?

SCOTT: The federal government will soon be dealing with that and not just from California. Many states are going to move away from a federal system. Or that's always a fear…

RU: I think that's going to be a while. (ironically) The Balkanization of America could take a few days. It might happen someday.

SCOTT: But you know, in 1986 - 87, if you had suggested the Soviet Union would not exist in three years, people would've said you're out of your gourd. That's not possible. Now look at it.

RU: I just saw Chalmers Johnson on PBS yesterday. He has a book out that is basically about the fall of America. It's apparently coming up next Tuesday, right after you listen to the R.U. Sirius Show.

SCOTT: The fall of America's coming up next Tuesday?

JOSH: Let me put it on my calendar.

RU: Tell us a little bit about your Free The Media project.

JOSH: I'm trying to build something called the "Free the Media" coalition. It will be at (There's an alpha site up right now.) Basically, I'm trying to create an environment for discussing issues of media literacy. I'm planning a sort-of Open Source forum as well as meat-space satellites at various college campuses. We'll get into the role of the news media. We’ll talk about how independent or alternative media – along with established media — really fill in the marketplace of ideas. So we're trying to build a dialogue with independent journalists, establishment journalists, and then everyday viewers to try to shape the future of the media. And we'll look at what sort of protections and new formats and new ideas should exist. And it will also involve raising public awareness of issues and gathering funds for worthwhile stuff. The next time, a journalist in a legal situation like the one I found myself in might not have the backing of The Chronicle or the New York Times.

RU: There seems to be a sort of techno-anarchist paradigm, if you will, that has emerged over recent years. You might call it the decentralization of the means of production of reality. You have democratization through open source and Wikipedia and blogging and all those kinds of things. Do you see the use of this technology as a tactically effective way of bringing about a post-hierarchical society or is it peripheral?

JOSH: Well, that breaks into all sorts of schisms very quickly. I mean, we have blogs that allow people to post their own radio shows and put up their own videos. And that really does democratize the information. But then, simultaneously, we have these large corporate constructs coming in and controlling and censoring much of that dialogue. When Digg decided that they weren't going to permit the copyright code for the HD-DVD...

RU: Well, their was a popular revolt and they backed down.

JOSH: They did back down. But how often do things get censored without any revolt happening at all? Flickr was deleting someone's comments, at some point, because they said they were combative in nature.

RU: Well, wait a second! You just deleted somebody's comments.

JOSH: I actually never deleted any comments...

RU: Oh. But you kicked somebody off your site, didn't you?

JOSH: Someone made a particularly vile comment, and I said I'm reserving the right to delete comments that look like this.

JEFF: Did you set a principle about what type of comments you would allow in the future?

JOSH: I basically set a principle that I was reserving the right to remove comments, rather than saying what I would allow. I haven't actually removed anything. But when one commenter attacked another commenter with a sexually vile comment about sand in her vagina with no provocation – I start to wonder. I mean…

RU: Well, was it consensual sand, or... (laughter) forced sand. [Awkward silence] Errr… let's move on.

JEFF: What more is there to say, really, than "sand in the vagina?"

See also:
A Conversation with Justin Kan of
Dispatch From a Surrealist Autocracy
Dear Internet, I'm Sorry
The Perversions of "Perverted-Justice"

Read More

The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor — Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy

A porn shop in a cartoon unexpectedly triggered a lawsuit.

In the Family Guy episode "Peterotica," Peter and his friends go to the local adult bookstore. What happens next was apparently determined by the following sequence of events.

1. Family Guy asks Carol Burnett if they can use the theme to her 1970s variety show.

2. Carol Burnett says no.

3. They draw her into the cartoon as the adult bookstore's cleaning woman.

And then comes #4 — Carol Burnett sues them.

The Fox Network has expressed surprise, since she appears in the cartoon for only four seconds, but Burnett's lawsuit reportedly claimed violations of copyright and trademark law, plus a misappropriation of her name and likeness. This weekend a judge revealed what happens in step 5: Carol Burnett loses that lawsuit. According to news reports, a judge signed a ruling Friday that while the the Family Guy episode may offend her — the First Amendment allows parodies. (After all, her original variety show was famous for its own parodies.)

Carol Burnett is a pioneer in celebrity lawsuits. In 1981 she surprised legal observers with a successful lawsuit against the National Enquirer over a report that implied she'd been drunk in a restaurant with Henry Kissinger. (“In a Washington restaurant, a boisterous Carol Burnett had a loud argument... But Carol really raised eyebrows when she accidentally knocked a glass of wine over one diner and started giggling instead of apologizing...") She may have been vindicated over that slight to her public image, but as a public figure she's also fair game for ridicule. And thanks to Family Guy, an animated likeness of the 74-year-old comedienne can be glimpsed in some very unsavory company.

Like most Family Guy episodes, this one was a series of loosely-connected jokes, but this time they were tied together by the theme of adult books. Peter's disappointment at the adult bookstore's offerings drives him to write his own porn novels. (Including Angela's Asses, Shaved New World, and Harry Potter and the Half Black Chick.)

Ironically, in this episode of the cartoon, it's the Family Guy himself who is eventually sued — though for different reasons. Peter's own erotic novels are so steamy that they prompt one driver to remove his shirt while driving. (He'd been listening to the book on tape version of Peter's adult book, The Hot Chick Who Was Italian. Or Maybe Some Kind of Spanish.) This scene may include another dig at Carol Burnett, since the tape version of that book is being read by a regular guest on the Carol Burnett Show — Betty White.

Peter's career ends after the disgruntled motorist's lawsuit — and he also gets a surprise visit from... Betty White.

Perhaps foreshadowing the legal showdowns to come, she tells him, "I just got a subpoena for an erotic novel, and I'm looking for the son of a bitch responsible."

Click here to buy a DVD with this episode!

See also:
Top 5 Cartoon Hunks
Screech's Sex Tape Follies
The Celebrity Breast Conspiracy
The Porn Star, the Diva, and the World Wide Web
5 Sexiest Apple Videos
Dustin Diamond vs. Sgt. Harvey
5 Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons

Read More

A Conversation with Justin Kan of

Photo by Scott Beale

It all started with Andy Warhol. He took a look around at the equipment available during the 1960s – tape recorders, video cameras, 8mm film – and realized that it wasn't necessarily about producing new narratives in the traditions of theater, opera and so forth. In fact, this was the stuff for documenting life right up to the point of tedium and beyond it, and it would be increasingly democratically accessible. This was, in fact, the context for his most famous quote: "In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes."

Warhol was, of course, excoriated by both art traditionalists and committed political artists for presenting every day banality as art. But since he approached it all with such deadpan irony, others viewed his approach as the epitome of cool.

Today, Socrates' famous dictum, "the unexamined life is not worth living" has been surgically altered to read, "the undocumented life is not worth living." By the time Justin Kan clipped a mobile camera onto his cap on March 19, 2007, opening, it was just another step along the way to the inevitable – the fully mediated life.

On arrival, caught a media buzz. Justin appeared on "Nightline," "The Today Show," and "MTV News," and various blogs, newspapers and magazines covered his occasional travails (pranks, evictions, etc.) Not wanting to miss our chance at some camera time, we coaxed him into appearing on The RU Sirius Show.

Justin Kan showed up at our former studio in San Francisco's lower Haight with a small entourage that included his brother (who contributed a funny and cool rap song to the show). He proved to be funny, smart, self-aware, and entirely likeable.

Since we interviewed Kan last month, has started to spread its franchise. "Justine," a cute blonde freelance graphic/web designer and video editor from Pittsburg seems to keep the camera pointed mostly at herself, for obvious reasons. And "Parrris Harris," who calls himself a "fashion conductor" has also been added to the roster.

Pretty soon, there may be hundreds of people broadcasting their lives 24/7 via; or through some other "channel." Watching them must be somebody's idea of a good time.

Futurist Jamais Cascio and Jeff Diehl joined me for this conversation with Justin Kan.
To listen the full interview in MP3, click here.

RU SIRIUS: You're sort of a walking security camera — the democratization of surveillance. Have you thought about the implications of that?

JUSTIN KAN: I've thought a lot about the implications of where we're moving as a society. We're losing our privacy, whether we like it or not, right now. It's partially voluntary — through blogs and things like, or through exposing your life on social networks like Facebook or MySpace. And it's partially involuntarily, through the prevalence of closed-circuit TV cameras everywhere. Camera technology and cameras in cellphones are getting so cheap that they're everywhere, and people are taking pictures of everything.

I guess the question in my mind is: how do we want to move to that? I think the worst thing that could happen is that there's a huge power disparity, with certain people having access to all these video cameras, and the large majority of people not having access.

JAMAIS CASCIO: I've written about "The Participatory Panopticon." David Brin refers to that as "reciprocal accountability."

RU: Brin also says "Privacy is dead, get over it." We are Big Brother!

JAMAIS: Indeed. You don't have Big Brother; you have scores of Little Brothers and Sisters.

JUSTIN: Exactly.

RU: So Justin, you're planning a sort of franchise thing.

JUSTIN: Exactly. I want everyone out there to be broadcasting their lives online!

JAMAIS: It's Justin.NN — The Justin News Network.

JUSTIN: Yes. (Laughs) I don't know if it counts as news.

RU: What's the most interesting thing that's happened to you since you strapped on the camera?

JUSTIN: One of the weirdest and maybe the worst was, right when we started, a couple days in, our viewers called the police on us. They used VoIP to spoof our phone number. The cops burst in, guns drawn, expecting to see this horrible crime going down when actually it was just three guys on laptops. I think they were a little disappointed!

JEFF DIEHL: You can do some horrible crimes on a laptop! Didn't they realize?

JUSTIN: They did not, actually. When we were trying to explain how someone spoofed our number with relay, one of them said, "I don't understand technology. I just shoot people!" (Laughter)

JAMAIS: Since you mentioned the police activity, what immediately strikes me is: you will, at some point, record a crime in progress. Whether it's somebody being mugged on the street, or something like that...

RU: You are such a pessimist! (Laughter)

JAMAIS: It's just the real world! You do this long enough, you will eventually record something that's illegal! And then you're therefore a witness — or more to the point, your archives become a witness to this crime. And the question then becomes: can the recordings be subpoenaed by the police? Have you given any thought to that?

JUSTIN: I expect they'd be able to subpoena our archives, just like the prosecution can subpoena archives of a security camera. They call in the surveillance company — or whoever is responsible for the tapes — as the witness, to testify how the camera was set up. I'd probably be in a similar position.

JAMAIS: Right.

RU: There's so many weird and interesting events going on in San Francisco. You could go to insane performance art stuff where people are putting nails through their organs, or...

JEFF: What?!

RU: I guess that was in the 90s – people like Mustafar were always performing. Or you could go to underground sex clubs and stuff like that. Are you staying away from the really weird stuff? Does it just not appeal to you?

JUSTIN: I kind of go for the weird-but-fun San Francisco stuff. Like there was that Lombard Street Big Wheel race, so I participated in that. You got to see the Big Wheel view of me, tearing down Lombard Street, ramming into people...

RU: Your greatest controversy was when you switched off your gear when you were with a young lady. This is, of course, the thing everybody was waiting to see! And it sparked much debate about whether you sold out on your promise to keep this thing going, consistently and constantly. How do you view that?

JUSTIN: Well, the bottom line is, it's my life, and I'll do whatever I want!

RU: (Laughs) Opportunity struck, and...

JUSTIN: Opportunity strikes, and... You know...

JEFF: "What's more important: this camera or getting laid?" If she's not going to do it with it on, then...

RU: But if you look around the net, there's obviously a lot of women who want to show off for the camera. Have you been approached by, uh, you know... women who want to make a reputation?

JUSTIN: I don't know. We're still trying to figure out what we can show and what we can't show. And I think that, right now, the safe play is definitely being family-friendly. We always like to encourage advertisers to approach us. And something like that might be a little over-the-top from a corporate perspective.

JEFF: Can't you just make an immediate fuzz filter, so — you know, the guy on the control just hits a button and it goes fuzzy. But you still see stuff moving around...

JUSTIN: We might be able to do that, actually. We'll have to hire an intern to sit there and move the little bubble around.

JEFF: The naughty bits.


JEFF: Isn't there going to be a big scandal for your franchise when the first person starts broadcasting themselves naked or having sex or something that's considered obscene? How do you regulate that?

RU: I thought that was the idea! (Laughter)

JEFF: Well, of course it is! But nobody's done it yet! I'm surprised nobody's done it publicly yet. I'm surprised you haven't done it publicly…

JUSTIN: has been R-rated at best, so far.

JEFF: But isn't that going to be a problem? It will probably become some kind of a free speech issue. You'd have to force people through some channel where whatever they're going to be webcasting — it's okay. Because otherwise, anybody can just load up their browser and watch people having sex!

JUSTIN: Well they can already do that. Just not on!

JEFF: You're going to make it a lot easier...

RU: So whatever people are going to do with their Justin franchises is OK to you?

JUSTIN: Well honestly, shouldn't be a platform for the (sort of) "bad stuff" out there on the internet. Whether it's hate speech or obscenities of whatever. So we'll almost definitely do some censorship. If someone's using their channel to broadcast themselves committing a crime – well, that's not something we want to promote. You know? We would definitely shut that down.

JAMAIS: Have you run into any intellectual property disputes — recording something that someone else claims as their own copyrighted material?

JUSTIN: Not yet. I guess if we were issued a takedown notice from someone who's music I listened to… but we haven't gotten anything.

RU: It seems like the one thing that you need to avoid is watching a lot of other media.

JUSTIN: Well, I don't go to movies. And I think I've watched TV like one time in the past 56 days, and the camera wasn't pointed at the screen. But honestly, the quality from the camera (recording other media) is such that you're probably better off BitTorrenting it anyways.

JAMAIS: That doesn't matter.

JUSTIN: I understand that it doesn't matter from a legal perspective. But, for instance, I've been invited by ClearChannel radio stations to come in the station and listen to music. I think they view it more as a promotional tool.

RU: But the music industry might start displaying their hunger for reward as this gets more distributed — just like they're doing with internet radio. A lot of people who use your equipment are going to be listening to music all the time — or else they're going to have to change their lifestyles.

JUSTIN: Right. But I wouldn't be surprised if the music industry realized that this is something more along the lines of radio.

RU: Yeah, but they're attacking internet radio right now!

JEFF: It's the same thing as people using it for sex. As soon as you democratize it and make it available for everyone to use for free — they're going to start going to concerts, and they're going to start going to movies. How do you police that?

JUSTIN: That's something we'll have to figure out as we go along.

JAMAIS: And how do you control it? Right now the camera that you're wearing is maybe the size of a small Mag-Lite. Within the next few years, you'll be able to wear something the size of a lipstick tube. Or maybe even something that's smaller than that.

JUSTIN: You can already do that. There are glasses that have built-in cameras that you could actually use with this. We made the conscious decision to make the camera visible; partly, to promote the celebrity of it, but also to let people know they were on camera. I think that's much more ethical than the alternative.

RU: Have you had anybody become upset about being on camera? I remember when I was walking around in the 1970s with a video camera — one of those ancient Portapacks that you strapped to your back. Some guy got really paranoid and upset that I was randomly videotaping people.

JUSTIN: I got kicked out of the Gap. That was probably the worst response. And some people request… you know, "Oh, I don't want to be on camera." So I kind of turn away and don't talk to them. And that's generally been okay. Most people — I'd say 29 out of 30 — have been really excited or positive about it.

RU: They want to be on camera.


RU: They think what you're doing is a cool thing. It's interesting.

JUSTIN: Exactly. And I think part of it is my attitude about it. I'm not an investigative reporter! I try to approach people in a way that makes them comfortable. I'm not "in your face" about it.

RU: Do a Mike Wallace trip on people! That would be a sudden turn for Justin!

JEFF: I was just imagining flocks of skaters downtown wearing these things and going around and pulling Mike Wallaces all over the place.

RU: Did you go to that movie that you were advertising?

JUSTIN: Disturbia. Yeah, we went to the movie. We took the camera off and played the trailer while I was in the theatre. So there was another two-hours where you didn't get to see of Justin's life. Mostly I was sitting in the theatre.

JAMAIS: So you say.

JUSTIN: So I say.

RU: I would think that the company that made the movie would've wanted you to sit there and view...

JUSTIN: I don't think they wanted the recording of video out there. I guess they could've turned the camera on me or something. That would've been cool.

JAMAIS: It would've been interesting to have a recording of your reaction to the movie.

JEFF: That's something that you could do during sex, too!

JUSTIN: (Laughs) Just put the camera on myself, like this, I guess...

JEFF: Just her view! Yeah!

RU: Justin's smiling face...

JUSTIN: It'll be like [makes a face]. (Dryly) Yeah, that would be great. I'm sure the viewers would appreciate that...

JEFF: Your "O face," close up.

RU: From what I understand, quite a large majority of your viewers are male. Does that...

JUSTIN: I don't know if that's true. A surprising amount of our viewers are outside the demographic that I thought they would be in — which was 13 to 35-year-old males. They seem to be… everyone. Mothers, fathers, older women, girls in their 20s... It's amazing that we've hit all over the map like that.

RU: What do you think is appealing to them? And do you think it can continue to be appealing over a long period of time?

JUSTIN: Well, I think the appealing thing about something like is that you get an inside view into someone's life. It's kind of a low-commitment way of having a real relationship. And you know, people want to talk to other people, and people like watching other people — fundamentally.

JAMAIS: It's very primate.

JUSTIN: Exactly. It's something everyone does, instinctually. So being able to just go to a web site and automatically have video of one guy — day after day — and you can see what he's doing and check up on him – that's something that appeals to a lot of people.

RU: It's like an extra relationship.

JUSTIN: Exactly. What's cool is the way that communities have formed around the video. People log in the chat room, and talk with each other. People with the same faces show up and they recognize each other. It's cool. After the first week, I stopped going to the chat room much. And then when I came back, maybe three weeks later, I was like the outsider. In my own chat room!

RU: Do you monitor what viewers like, what some of their favorite moments are?

JUSTIN: I get viewer updates every fifteen minutes to the cellphone so I can see —"Oh, this caused a spike." I was at the Halo 3 premier, and we plugged the live feed of us playing it into the transmitter. And we instantly got around 80 viewers. Everyone wanted to check out the demo!

RU: There has been some note that your viewership has been going down.

JUSTIN: (Joking) It might be because I'm not attractive enough!

RU: Do you have plans to do some things to bring people back? Or are you just going to let it flow...

JUSTIN: Well, we had this huge spike after we were on Nightline and The Today Show. Now after a huge press wave, we've basically stabilized. So we're working on viral tools to let people share their videos more easily; and to access the archives. We have this huge library of content. But am I going to do some horrible stunt? We'll have to see.

RU: If you get this franchise going, and there are a bunch of people doing this — are you going to want to watch a lot of them? Or are you going to be like me? I never really listen to other podcasts...

JUSTIN: You know, I don't watch For one reason, it's...

RU: (Laughs) Can't watch that damn thing!

JUSTIN: Yeah. (Joking) Everyone on it is irritating!

JAMAIS: It gets a bit recursive.

JEFF: The infinite regress is disconcerting...

JUSTIN: People don't want to see me watching myself. Over and over.... I guess when we do launch a bunch of other channels, I won't watch those very much either. I'll just get feedback from other people — let them tell me who's interesting and who's not.

RU: Rake in the percentages!

JUSTIN: Yeah, something like that.

JEFF: (Joking) Just don't give Josh Wolf your technology. God knows what kind of trouble he'll get into with it.

JUSTIN: He'll be back in jail, two months later!

JEFF: Do you ever want to unplug?

JUSTIN: That's a very common question. It's just like anything. There are times you want to and times you don't.

RU: Do you ever feel deeply depressed, and feel "Oh shit! What did I get myself into?"

JUSTIN: No, that hasn't happened yet. We're saving that for when we need some good drama!

See Also:
Worst Vlogs of 2006
ABCNews Amanda Congdon - Rocketboom = Whuh?
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Virtual Screech, Sexual Superstar
Screech's Sex Tape Follies

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Venezuela: Dispatch from a Surrealist Autocracy

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez was once Venezuela's media darling. The love affair has taken increasingly bad turns. Now, he is the media.
A note about the author:
Rodrigo L. Arcaya is a 36-year-old Venezuelan who owns a web development company in Caracas. He is an iconoclastic, anti-authoritarian opponent of excess state power.

As the world now knows, Chavez shut down Venezuela’s respected 53-year-old TV station RCTV, accusing it of "subversive activities." Out in the streets of Caracas, and in many other cities, people have been taking to the street — particularly the high school and college students. This has caused incredible traffic jams here in Caracas, as the most common form of protest is to close the streets, leaving only one lane for the cars. Many of the drivers that have been trapped in these traffic jams show their support for the dissenters by keeping their emergency lights on, shouting slogans against the government and even stopping their own cars on the only open lane.

But why are people here so upset? Because Chavez is clearly making a play to control the national TV media as a mouthpiece for his government. He is doing this using a little-known law that resembles the U.S.'s Emergency Broadcast System.

Some background on the relationship between Chavez and the Venezuelan TV media is needed. In Venezuela, we have four TV channels that have national coverage, and about twelve local ones. Of the four national channels, we have RCTV (whose license was just revoked), Venevision and Televen, which are privately owned, and VTV, which is owned by the government. At the local level, the most important is Globovision (which Chavez is threatening), a 24 hour news channel. It has coverage in all major cities (it's pretty spotty in rural areas). It's also worth mentioning the Asamblea Nacional channel (think C-Span, owned by the government), and TeleSur, a 24 hour news channel that is co-owned by the governments of Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and other Latin American countries.

We don’t really have many local cable channels. Most cable channels are Spanish language versions of U.S. networks (FOX — the entertainment channel, and MTV. We also get the U.S. versions of Fox News and CNN in English) or channels oriented toward Latin America as a whole.

Venezuela has an odd little law that most international analysts don’t comment on. But the law plays an important role in this narrative. It allows the president to order all TV (including local stations going through cable) and radio station to transmit the same signal that is being transmitted through the government channel. The idea is that the president can have a way to talk to all the country in an emergency. In theory, it is not much different from the U.S. Emergency Broadcast System, but it's centralized through the presidency. We call it a “chain” — as all the signals are chained to one.

However, the idea is not the same as the application, as we will see in a moment.

Hugo Chavez is truly a Media Phenomenon. He entered Venezuela's collective psyche when he led an unsuccessful coup against Carlos Andres Perez in the year ’92, while he was an active officer in the Venezuelan army. After he was captured, some of his army accomplices did not put down arms, so the government put him on camera to prove that they actually had him in custody. He was shoved in front of live news cameras, and he said, “Comrades, I assume all the blame for the failure of our operation. We have been defeated. For now...”

With those words, people fell in love with him. Not only had he assumed responsibility for his failure (an uncommon trait among political leaders everywhere), but even in his defeat, he had the courage to see a future where he would be victorious.

And if the people fell for him, the private TV channels positively swooned. The private TV networks were instrumental in getting the idea out that Chavez and his people were not actually traitors to their oath to protect Venezuela. In fact, they were young idealists who — by following that oath to its last consequence — had to rid Venezuela of its corrupt ruling government. In that climate, Chavez and his co-conspirators were pardoned by then President Caldera. The love affair was not surprising. Since the end of the ’80, most of the private media had turned really critical of the government.

Fueled by this media frenzy, Chavez created his party MVR, and against all prognostics, managed to win the ’99 election.

For the first two years, the relationship between private media and Chavez can only be described as a honeymoon. The happy marriage started to fray when, after having a new constitution approved, Chavez started to demand “legislative powers.” The idea was that the presidency could draft up new laws and get them approved, bypassing congress. Private media was critical of the move, but Chavez had a convenient way to retaliate. Every time he wanted to tell his side of the story, he just ordered a “chain” and started talking through all the TV and radio channels.

Things quickly became quite surreal. One time, I was driving to work and turned on the radio. The only thing I could hear was a “thump-thump-thump” noise. I flipped to the next station, and the next one, and the next one. "Thump-thump-thump." Was my radio broken? Had aliens attacked, jamming all the radio waves? I got to my office, turned on the TV, and found that the president had decided to “chain” a live broadcast about the inauguration of the construction of a tunnel where Chavez worked on a hydraulic hammer for about half an hour. "Thump-thump-thump."

This brings to mind the strangeness of the April 11, 2002 "coup." I’m not even going to try to explain that Gordian knot of surrealism in this dispatch — but let me introduce a few basic facts.

On that morning, quite a few people in Caracas took to the streets (the numbers range from the Government estimate of 20,000 to over a million claimed by the opposition — judge for yourself from this picture or this one.) This throng of dissenters had decided to march to Miraflores (think the White House) to show the President that they were real. (You see, Chavez' government had claimed that there were only a few people at previous protest marches. They claimed that the TV channels were using special effects and most of the protesters were actually “virtual people.”)

The crowd on April 11 got a little out of hand. In fact, it was a bit of a riot, but the demonstrators were essentially unarmed. (Venezuela is a bit like Texas, so we have to assume that some folks may have had guns).

Just as the march was approaching Miraflores, Chavez “chained” the broadcast, and started giving a speech. He told the people that the situation, which people had been watching on their TVs, had been calmed. He appealed to the few "misguided people" that were coming to Miraflores to think twice. At the same time, open warfare had come to the streets of Caracas. People on both sides were dying. A group of Chavez supporters that were “guarding” Miraflores opened fire on the march. The police and some people on the march started firing back. Or, maybe the government narrative was correct and the marchers started shooting the government supporters first. Either way, el Presidente was on live TV saying everything was under control while, less than 6 blocks away, people were firing guns at other people.

At this point, all the TV stations came to a decision: They would respect the spirit of the law, and keep the president’s feed, including the audio. But they split the screen, so that people could see what was actually going on at the same time. This is the main reason the government now says that RCTV was behind the coup. You see, if those images hadn’t been broadcast, people would not have started rioting all over the country.

Of course, RCTV, Venevision, Televen and Globovision all did this. So why did Chavez single out RCTV? This one is a no brainer: over the last two years, there has been talk about the end of the concession to RCTV, Televen and Venevision. And in these last two years, both Televen and Venevision have been letting go of their hard-hitting journalists. They have stopped reporting things that the government doesn't like. This self-censorship hasn't been at all covert. Everybody here knows. It is telling that the ratings of Televen and Venevision have dropped, while RCTV’s ratings climbed to over 40%. It is also telling that cable subscriptions have jumped to 60% in urban areas and is rapidly increasing.

The concessions for Televen and Venevision have been renewed for five years. And, as everyone now knows, RCTV – Venezuaela's first network — stopped broadcasting this Sunday, May 27.

Many naïve, foreign “Chavistas” seem to believe that the government “only” stopped a concession, and that they did not interfere with a private, independent media company. That is false. This is particularly illustrated by what followed.

On Thursday, May 24, a group of “concerned citizens” entered a plea with the Supreme Court. They claimed that shutting down the RCTV signal was unconstitutional, because RCTV was the channel with the greatest coverage in the country. The litigants claimed that if their signal was to disappear, a lot of people were going to be left without TV. The intention of this suit was devious. On Friday (less than 24 hours later — it usually takes a year to get a case before the court) the Supreme Court ruled that, in defense of the citizen’s rights, RCTV had to give, without payment of any kind, all their broadcast equipment to the new government channel that was to operate in their old frequency.

So the government has a brand new channel. This is not about a concession. This is about a Government taking control of a private media company. They claim they're doing this to “increase the free speech in the country.” Here's the logic: before Sunday, we had two strongly critical networks (RCTV and Globovision, which is local), two uncritical but indifferent networks (Televen and Venevision), and one strong Chavez supporter (VTV). With RCTV out of the picture, the number of strong opposition messages are reduced. According to government spokespeople, these voices are somehow replaced by something they call community messages: “Messages produced by The People, for The People”, as they say. Thus, of course, there will be more free speech. (I’m not making this stuff up. These are actual arguments used by government spokespeople.). Of course, when you realize that one of the principal party slogans of the government is “Chavez is The People,” this message turns even more sinister.

As of today, there are still people who refuse to give up. They are willing to keep the protest going for as long as it takes to bring RCTV back. Meanwhile, a YouTube channel, created by the news crew of RCTV, continues to post news content, including footage of protests that no other TV channel here is showing. It has had more than 71,000 views in just two days — an enormous number when you consider that Internet penetration here is below 15%. As of this writing, it is number two on YouTube's "Channels" listing for new subscribers.

It looks like things will get worse. The President is talking about shutting down Globovision for — and I swear that I'm not making this up — "subliminal association." His evidence: during a talk show with the head of RCTV last Friday, every time that they cut to commercials they showed a little clip of the most important news events that have been covered by their news department: the first landing on the moon, the return of democracy to Venezuela in 1958, and so on. During one of these segments they showed the Pope's assassination attempt, while playing Ruben Blades song that says, “Everything comes to an end” as music background. The regime claims that they were subliminally inciting people to kill President Chavez. Yesterday the General Attorney announced that both the General Director of Globovision, and the anchor of the talk show have been summoned to be “interviewed” regarding this “plot”.

Hugo Chavez is a world-class authoritarian. Those of us who are anti-authoritarian and who have seen it up close, tend to know more than those beyond our borders, about what he has done and how he has done it in his almost 8 years of government. It seems that there is a sort of racism underlying some of the sympathies and excuses made by American and European dissidents (who should know better) for the Chavez regime. They imagine that Latin American people are backwards and need an authoritarian government. In fact, most educated Latin Americans are quite accustomed to free speech and basic human rights. We don't really need the paternalism… but thanks anyway.

Of course, this regime is no ordinary Autocracy. If it were, probably most of the people in Venezuela (and in the rest of the world) would have wised up and recognized it as one. What we are living now down here can only be described as a Surreal Autocracy.

Frankly, I've kind of enjoyed this government. Its comedic moves have provided daily amusements. If I wasn’t aware of the really terrible consequences of continuing down this road, I’d be trying to prop up this regime and find it an agent in the entertainment industry. If people outside the country really knew what is going on here, they could make an astounding reality show and sell it on pay-per-view. We have members of the Congress who claim they have discovered that the DirectTV set-top boxes have bi-directional communication capabilities and that they had cameras and microphones that transmit, by satellite, to the central headquarters of the CIA. (Actually, I guess some American conspiracy freaks wouldn't find this claim the least bit nutty.) Then there was the very serious announcement from Chavez about how the government managed to stop a plot to kill the president. You see, they found this bazooka in an empty lot that lies kind of near the flight path of Venezuela's biggest commercial airport. And — ohmygod! — it's the very same airport that the presidential plane uses. They also found a picture of Chavez. Aha! This was a plan to hit the presidential plane — the picture of the president was for “obvious identification purposes." No one was ever arrested for this clever and devious plot.

These sorts of things happen here at least on a weekly basis. Indeed, I've developed a morbid obsession with the entertainment value of this government. But now, I think it's time for a new show.

See Also:
Closing Pandora's Box: The End of Internet Radio
Homeland Security Follies
Is It Fascism Yet?
Detention and Torture: Are We Free Or Not?
EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
The Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech

Read More

EFF Attorney Jason Schultz vs. Stephen Colbert

Starting with a whiteboard and a teacher’s instincts, Jason Schultz makes the Michael Crook free speech case as clear as a flowchart. He also explains why the EFF made a video apology part of the settlement.

Please note that this video was posted to Blip days before Stephen Colbert ripped Jason Schultz off, using a whiteboard to diagram the problems of the EFF’s case against Viacom to John Perry Barlow!

Colbert and Barlow

To watch the Schultz video, click here.
To watch the Colbert video, click here.

See Also:
Crook Apologizes
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Case Against Crook
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

Read More

Official Launch: 10ZM.TV

One of the reasons for the "video apology" term in the settlement agreement with Michael Crook is that we were already planning to launch a video property. Having Crook's apology in video seemed an appropriate format, and its wide viewing would help get some visibility for this new effort. We figure he owed us that much. There are a few things we're going to experiment with in the show, called 10ZM.TV, and hosted on the video sharing network. First, we'll be collecting video commentary from web figures on stories and themes we explore on our various other properties, such as this site, The RU Sirius Show, NeoFiles, Destinyland and Pastor Jack. Second, we'll record bits from our own writers and commentators. And finally, we're going to publish hot little bits from the continuous series of mind-blowing interviews conducted by RU Sirius. Rudy Rucker's interview is the first one we videotaped, so you'll see several clips from that in the coming weeks. So stay tuned, subscribe via RSS or iTunes, or watch Rudy Rucker now:
Science fiction writer Rudy Rucker, author of the book, Mathematicians In Love, claims that any natural process can be regarded as a computation, and that computers are not "digital."

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“Dear Internet, I’m Sorry”

Crook on Fox News

Even while delivering a video apology "to all bloggers, webmasters and other individuals" as part of a settlement agreement with 10 Zen Monkeys, he somehow seems determined to be the most hated man on the internet — if he could just get people to stop ignoring him. (You'll find that video further down on the page.)

But, let's back up a bit first...
I'm writing a new story for 10zen tonight.

Dana Plato?

Nah, the piece is about that Michael Crook guy.

That's how it started last September. We'd already written about a Seattle prankster named Jason Fortuny, who'd pretended to be a woman on Craig's List and then published horny male respondents' private info on the internet. In the fateful 27th comment on that story, a new site popped onto our radar.
He's inspired a website that exposes people nationwide —

That web site was registered to Michael Crook, and to this day I'm convinced Crook himself left the comment, hoping to skim off some of the attention. Sure enough, the site showed that Crook had duplicated Fortuny's stunt; he'd posted a fake ad on Craig's List pretending to be a young woman seeking sex in Syracuse, New York. But no one even noticed; according to Crook's own blog, he only got a few dozen responses. He tried posting more fake ads in more cities — Las Vegas, Dayton, South Jersey, Kansas City, and Anchorage — and created a web site with the results.

We noticed, but we weren't impressed. The original title for our article about Crook was "wannabe asshole," although we later changed it to In the Company of Jerkoffs, calling Crook "another sad member of the 'griefer community'... not only pathetic, but a pathetic copycat."
As an after-thought, I'd sent Jeff Diehl, our editor, a screenshot from Crook's appearance on Fox News to accompany the story. ("I think the bad hair and stiff tie and collar say a lot about the guy...")

We knew Crook wouldn't like it — but that's life on the internet. (I'm sure the men who answered his fake Craig's List ad didn't like it when he called them at work, either.) Life continued at our up and coming webzine — our next story questioned the press coverage about Willie Nelson's September arrest for possession of mushrooms. And then something weird happened...

Our internet service provider got a nasty email from Michael Crook. Crook wanted the embarrassing picture taken down, and to make that happen, he was pretending he had a copyright over the screenshot from Fox News, citing the "Digital Millenium Copyright Act" (or DMCA). I suggested a new headline for Jeff. "Syracuse jerk uses heavy-handed DMCA mumbo-jumbo to try to intimidate web pages he doesn't like."

We were clear that Crook had no legal claim. But his amateurish legalese spooked our spineless (pre-Laughing Squid) ISP, who asked Jeff to remove the image anyways. Jeff knew there was something wrong. In the world we live in, internet services can absolve themselves from future legal liability — if they quickly remove the suspect material. This means if someone wants an embarrassing picture taken down, simply masquerading as its copyright holder can be enough. So Michael Crook was pretending he owned a copyright on someone else's picture of his face.

Crook's legal interpretation was as laughable as the Batman comic book where the Joker claimed a copyright on a fish that looked like him.

But deep within the DMCA law is a counter-provision — 512(f), which states that misrepresenting yourself as a copyright owner has consequences. Any damage caused by harmful misrepresentation must be reimbursed. In 2004 the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a six-figure award from Diebold Election Systems, who had claimed a "copyright" on embarrassing internal memos which were published online. So not only was Jeff Diehl legally free to publish Crook's picture; Crook was in violation of the law for pretending he owned a copyright.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation now agreed to represent us. Crook hadn't just issued a copyright notice to 10 Zen Monkeys; he'd sent them to other web sites, again pretending to own the copyright on Fox News' image, to trick the sites into taking his picture down. (There were even cases where he served DMCA notices to websites that published Fair Use quotes from his blog.) Crook was a serial abuser of the copyright law — and so far his misuse of it had been rewarded every time. Some webmasters and bloggers obeyed the takedown notices without considering the counter-claim process, to avoid having to give Crook their identifying information — which he'd publicly demonstrated he enjoyed using maliciously.

But it was a mistake to try his stunt anywhere near Silicon Valley, where people closely follow how technology is evolving, and care deeply about protecting free speech online. Local web stars cheered on the lawsuit at sites like BoingBoing and Valleywag (where Nick Douglas wrote, "This Emo Kid is Getting Sued," and later begged Crook for a DMCA takedown notice of his own — which he got and displayed proudly). Someone had finally noticed Michael Crook — but for all the wrong reasons. Web sites were now re-posting even more copies of the picture he hated.

Crook tried hiding from the delivery of the legal documents — then later blustered on his web site that he'd successfully re-structured his business holdings to make it hard to collect. In a futile go-for-broke strategy, he then sent even more bogus DMCA notices — to other web sites which were reporting on his original bogus copyright notice. "I wonder if this is another one of his stunts for 'bad attention,'" I asked Jeff. "Everyone online hates the DMCA; maybe he's deliberately abusing it, the way Andy Kaufman used to bait professional wrestling fans."

For a brief moment it was Michael Crook versus the internet — until Michael Crook lost in a blow-out. Ignoring Crook's amateurish legal posturing, users created over 50 versions of the supposedly-forbidden photo, photoshopping Crook's face into even more embarrassing poses. Someone tracked down Crook's high school yearbook photos (which, ironically, ended up being mocked in the blog of the original Craigs List prankster, Jason Fortuny.) Someone even uploaded the photo into the virtual gaming world Second Life. (Crook then tried unsuccessfully to issue a DMCA notice against a photo of that photo.) The ongoing mockery became a kind of online seminar, reminding web surfers to stand up to copyright law abusers, and to never pay attention to the Michael Crooks of the world.

In November, web writer Tucker Max called out Crook for an online debate. Crook accepted — though he only made three short posts, apparently caught off guard when Max refused to take Crook's weird positions seriously and instead attacked Crook himself. "You are desperate for attention," Max wrote, "and the ability to feel something, anything, you are willing to be the most ridiculed, hated person on the internet. Look at yourself dude. Look at your life." Max even claims he used his contacts as a law school graduate to guarantee that Crook, who says he wants to one day be a lawyer, will never pass the bar.

But abusing copyright law was only Crook's latest attempt at provoking attention. He'd previously claimed to hate the military, Jews, gays, immigrants, non-whites and children. Max noted that Crook tried to join the army, and had been rejected; and that Child Protective Services had taken his children away. Were Crook's attacks just a misguided lashing out over his own bitter failures?

The online world was faced with the griefer paradox: that griefers want bad attention, and the only real answer is ignoring them. Behind the scenes, the EFF was working to establish the only true point of the case — that web sites didn't have to buckle in the face of bogus copyright threats, and that abusing the DMCA would bring consequences.

Because Crook proved himself to be legally indigent, and was representing himself in an incompetent way that would likely have lessened the impact of an official judgment, it was decided that a settlement agreement could accomplish just as much, possibly more. Crook eventually signed such an agreement. It requires him to 1) take a course on copyright law basics; 2) never again file any cease and desist notices concerning the image of him on Fox News; 3) withdraw each and every DMCA notice he served regarding the image; 4) refrain from filing any DMCA notices for 5 years unless the material in question is personally authored, photographed or originated by him; 5) include in any DMCA notice during that 5 year period, URLs pointing to the EFF's web page summarizing this case; 6) turn over ownership of any domain names to Jeff Diehl and 10 Zen Monkeys if he is caught violating any of the terms of the agreement.

And, finally, he had to formally apologize to those he harassed. In video. Here now, is that video:

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See also:
EFF's Jason Schultz Explains the Crook Case
EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
Settlement Agreement
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Case Against Crook
Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued

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Is Yahoo/Flickr DMCA Policy Censorship?

Mashup of Michael Crook by Thomas Hawk

Reflections about the Michael Crook affair will surely be all over the web soon. People will look back in anger, although the prevailing sense of outrage may be tempered by many notes of caution — it's not all fun, being hassled by a griefer. I probably leaned more towards that sense of outrage in this recent conversation with Thomas Hawk, popular community photographer, prominent blogger and all-around evangelist for the digital revolution.

Jeff Diehl: So I guess the first thing is to offer you a chance to disclose some stuff.

Thomas Hawk: I'm CEO of Zooomr. We would be considered a competitor to Yahoo's Flickr photo sharing site. I've been very active on Flickr both before and after joining Zooomr.

JD: Explain precisely what happened when Crook DMCAed you.

TH: I posted a photo of Michael Crook on Flickr. I've got a reasonably popular Flickr photostream and so I posted an image of him there using a mashup that I made with the image of Crook. After posting these images of Crook I received DMCA take down notices from Crook for the images on Zooomr and Flickr also received a DMCA notice and used it to take down my mash up of Crook.

I don't so much have an issue with Yahoo taking down the image (at least temporarily until the legitimacy of the claim could be investigated) but I do have a problem with Yahoo taking down all of the conversation and meta data around the image and permanently deleting it. There was a long conversation on the image by many different people about Crook and this case. Public discourse, opinion, ideas, etc. that was just wiped out by Yahoo without telling me first.

After they took it down they sent me a threatening email. I responded back to Yahoo staff about it and pointed them to a Boing Boing link where Fox News in fact had given Boing Boing, and anyone else, permission to use the images, but that email went unanswered. They never did put my stuff back up and now an important discourse is permanently lost.

JD: Do you feel the discourse is especially "important" because it's about free speech? Or does that just make it ironic?

TH: This is most certainly about free speech in my opinion. It sucks that all anyone has to do to kill a conversation at Flickr is to claim a DMCA violation. Irrespective of the fact that Yahoo should have done a better job actually investigating the claim before deleting the image, there was no reason to delete the words and comments associated with the image.

I'm a strong advocate of free speech. Especially on a community based photo sharing site. Especially one like Flickr where people frequently use their photostreams to express opinions, thoughts and ideas.

JD: It seems that Yahoo has an extreme policy regarding DMCA takedown notices; even beyond what the law stipulates.

TH: I don't know how many photos of Crook Yahoo wiped out but there was no need to wipe out the metadata, comments, descriptions, posts, etc. And there was no need to permanently delete this stuff. Yahoo went way beyond what the DMCA requires and I don't like that anyone can just send in a bogus DMCA notice on my Flickrstream and have hundreds and thousands of lines of text deleted that might be associated with an image.

Yahoo needs to change their policy on this.

JD: Do you know of any other community sties (other than Zooomr!) that have a different, more reasonable approach?

TH: Unfortunately I'm not as familiar with other sites so I'm not sure how they would handle all this. Eventually Yahoo sent me a notice after Crook rescinded his bogus DMCA notice. But when this happened they didn't put my old photo and all of the commentary and dialog that went along with it back up, they merely said I could reupload it if I wanted because he rescinded. He held the power. Not me, not Yahoo. And he largely succeeded at least there because he wiped out tons of negative personal criticism about him and his behavior. This is censorship to me.

JD: I know my host, Laughing Squid, handled it brilliantly, but it's a small company; it's more complicated with a behemoth like Yahoo, isn't it?

TH: Well yeah, Scott Beale handled it really well. But Yahoo's being big and corporate and all that shouldn't be an excuse. I pay them money for Flickr. Lots and lots of people pay them money for Flickr. If they need to hire a few more people to better review DMCA takedown notices I'm not going to lose any sleep over it. They are a billion dollar company and certainly have the resources to do the right thing here. In any case, irrespective of investigating the bogus claim there is simply no — zero — reason to kill the text that accompanies an image. Ideas are important and ought to be protected.

JD: You say in your comments: "My biggest problem is that they destroyed *my* metadata associated with the image." That's a powerful way of putting it.

TH: Well some of it was mine. The post that accompanied the image for instance. And lots of comments that I made in a public discussion about this. The metadata also belongs to others at Flickr as well though. In fact anyone that commented on the photo and expressed their thoughts and opinions had their metadata destroyed.

The biggest distinction between my vs. Yahoo's, though, is that I consider the stuff I post on the site to belong to me. They are profiting from my data no doubt, but all of the images, text, comments, thoughts, ideas expressed on Flickr don't belong to Yahoo, they belong to the users and the users should be treated with more respect than I was when I just had my stuff unceremoniously deleted.

JD: I'm not sure when exactly the take down and safe harbor provisions of the DMCA were drafted, but it seems possible that sites like Flickr, where original images are intertwined thematically with original words, weren't on anyone's radar.

TH: Maybe not, and I certainly understand that Yahoo can find itself in a dilemma and feel that they don't have much choice about it. But they still shouldn't allow just anyone to kill speech attached to an image. I've posted many many images on Flickr that are political. Images where I've run into harassment from security guards while shooting out in SF. Images associated with what I've considered child abuse. Images of a sleazy camera retailer that almost ripped me off, etc. In these cases, like the Michael Crook case, the commentary that accompanies the image is super important and should be protected. There is no way that Yahoo could be held liable for free discussion. They take things too far by deleting all of the commentary with the image.

I'm not concerned with any kind of retribution on this. I'd just like to see Yahoo apologize, admit the mistake, put my old photo and the commentary back up if they can (if they still have backups, hopefully). And I'd like to see them change how they handle DMCA stuff in the future by only taking down the image (not the commentary, metadata, etc.) and doing it temporarily so that someone could dispute it.

JD: Did you have any final thoughts?

TH: No, but just want to say thanks to you for really being a catalyst around this entire issue as it relates to Crook and his behavior. You played an important role in bringing up a very important issue, DMCA abuse. The conversations around this are important ones and have important implications for both free speech and democracy.

Details of a settlement will be announced on this site soon. Also, there will be a party and fundraiser for EFF in San Francisco on March 22nd.

See Also:
"Dear Internet, I'm Sorry"
The EFF's Diehl v. Crook page
The Case Against Crook
Craigslist Sex Troll Gets Sued
Thomas Hawk versus Rent-a-Cops

Read More

“Scientology Fugitive” Arrested

Keith Henson

On Friday, Arizona police arrested a 64-year-old man — a fugitive since 2001 in a bizarre war that mixes free speech, copyright law, and the Church of Scientology.

Keith Henson's journey began seven years ago while innocuously watching another critic mock the group on an internet newsgroup. In a gonzo discussion about procuring a "Tom Cruise missile," they'd joked about working with "Secret Agent 99, wearing a stunning black leather biker outfit." Other posters joined in the internet discussion, asking whether Tom Cruise missiles are affected by wind."No way," Keith joked. "Modern weapons are accurate to a matter of a few tens of yards."

The police were informed of his "threatening" posts, and Henson was arrested.

The police tipsters were the Scientologists themselves, who had already been the targets of an annoying picketing campaign by Henson over the death of a woman near their complex. Besides Henson's inability to acquire long-range missiles, his wife notes bitterly that it would be impossible for any church members in the complex to feel threatened by the internet posts, since they aren't even allowed to access the internet. Scientology officials have also claimed Henson followed their employees home — though Henson counters that "the same people who claimed to have been 'terrorized' by the picketers offered to take them to lunch on June 25, 2000, evidently to distract them from the death scene being cleaned up."

Though Henson was found innocent of long-range missile terrorism, for his activities he was convicted of interfering with a church — a California hate crime for which he received a six-month misdemeanor prison sentence. But Henson said he feared his life would be in danger from Scientologists if he were imprisoned - and he fled to Canada in 2001.

He was already bankrupt from an earlier ruling that he'd infringed on Scientology copyrights. But Henson continued picketing Scientologists in Toronto, and they apparently retaliated by informing Canadian police of his presence. (Henson believes the Scientologists told police he was a terrorist and bomb maker.) L.A. Weekly reported two unmarked vans pulled up and "a handful of emergency-services task-force officers — Canada's version of a police SWAT team — spilled out, wearing body armor and carrying submachine guns." Describing the event, the EFF reported Henson was "arrested in a shopping mall parking lot, by a heavily armed paramilitary unit."

EFF Executive Director Shari Steele argued that Free speech was at stake in his case: "This trial seems intended to punish Mr. Henson for his opposition to a powerful organization using the barest thread of legal justification to do so."

His wife added in an interview with a Canadian newsweekly that "It's horrifying to me and to his friends how they've managed to twist his words."

Henson was ultimately released from a Canadian jail after filing an application for political asylum — reportedly the first ever accepted for review by the Canadian government, and for the next three years he lived as an expatriate in Canada, awaiting their decision.

When asked to describe life in Canada, he replied "colder." As the years rolled by, Henson explained his picketing strategy evolved out of a desire to have a real impact. In a 2005 interview he argued that heavy-handed legal tactics intimidated police from acting against the organization, and "Starving Scientology of new members is perhaps the best we can do."

But when Canadian officials reached a decision in 2005, Henson was suddenly filled with concern. The hearing could result in his deportation back to the prison where he feared for his life. He reportedly said, "I'm not going to be shoved across the border into the hands of Scientologists," Henson slipped out of Canada, returning to fugitive status, and joked that he was hiding in the Mortmain Mountains — the treachorous range in Lemony Snicket books.

For 17 months he lived on the lam. Yesterday, in the small town of Prescott, Arizona — the law finally caught up with him. Henson had been driving his wife's car, and when stopped by police, was soon informed of the outstanding warrant for his arrest. He was taken into custody, and faces extradition back to the California prison he's feared for the last six years. Saturday morning Henson's wife, identifying herself as a "soon to be widow," issued a plea asking the public for legal help, publicity — "anything but the usual Scientology private eyes who have harassed her for years."

Henson has a long history of activity within tech culture. He was one of the founders and leaders of the L5 Space Colony movement in the 1970s. (California's new Attorney General, Jerry Brown, was also in the L5 orbit when he was Governor of that state.) He was a close associate of K. Eric Drexler while Drexler was conceiving nanotechnology. He has also been active in the digital encryption movement, and has been associated with the Transhumanist movement — particularly Extropy Institute.

Former Extropy Institute members and other well wishers have already created a legal defense fund. There is also now a "Free Keith Henson" blog where people can keep track of new developments. Henson has many friends and late Friday night one supporter even called the jail, according to a Usenet post, and spoke to a prison staffer.

"I asked if he'd tell Keith that Tory sent her love. And I asked him to please watch after Keith."

See also:
Interview with Keith Henson
California Cults
Adopt an African Hottie's Clitoris
Crooks of the World Hurt Free Speech
Keith Henson Back in Jail — Space Elevator Will Have To Wait

Read More

Has Michael Crook Harassed You?

Note: The above screen capture is from a 2005 Fox News Channel appearance. The image has been re-inserted on November 15th, 10 business days after filing a counter-notice (PDF) in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by Michael Crook which forced its removal soon after it was originally published.

Are you a blogger or webmaster who tried to cover the story of DMCA fraudmeister, Michael Crook, only to be served a DMCA takedown notice by him? Maybe you covered the antics he's performed with websites he owns such as forsakethetroops.orginfo,,, or

Did you choose to comply with his DMCA notices in order to avoid the possibility of legal action? If so, then your story could help 10 Zen Monkeys and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in our civil lawsuit against Crook.

Please take some time to tell us your story. It's the best way to help ensure that nefarious griefers like Crook are no longer able to use the DMCA to violate Free Speech and silence critical commentary.

We would also ask that you post a link to this page on your website(s) to help broadcast our call as far as possible. Below is a graphic and HTML that you can put on your site:

Crook vs. the Internet

<a href=""> <img src=""> </a>

For all the latest on the lawsuit and related events, start here.

Please contact us now with the details of your Michael Crook experience!

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The Crooks of the World Hurt Copyright, Free Speech

Note: The above screen capture is from a 2005 Fox News Channel appearance. The image has been re-inserted on November 15th, 10 business days after filing a counter-notice (PDF) in response to a DMCA takedown notice filed by Michael Crook which forced its removal soon after it was originally published.

Michael Crook claims to be a "friend" of copyright law, but he takes his twisted notion of friendship to a dangerous extreme. On his "Facts vs. Fiction" page, he says that, while he supports free expression, "copyright holders have stronger rights than the idiots whining about 'free speech.'"

However, his recent abuse of the DMCA has not only jeopardized free speech rights, but also the rights of copyright holders on the Web. In addition to being a blatant attack on the free expression of critical commentary, Crook's false DMCA filings may make it harder for Webmasters with legitimate copyright issues to resolve them efficiently and effectively.

Crook's antics, in the long run, may even lead to new legislation that will make it more difficult to fight scraping, content theft and plagiarism.

Safe Harbor Abuse: A Brief History

The safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, when compared to the anti-circumvention provisions, have largely escaped controversy. However, abuses of the provisions via the notice and takedown procedure Crook is so fond of, did not begin with Crook.

The most famous case of DMCA abuse involved the Church of Scientology (COS) who, in 2002, filed a DMCA notice with Google to get many of their critics delisted from the search engine. Though the content was re-listed following counter-notices, the issue drew a great deal of attention to the potential for abuse that came with the safe harbor provisions.

Sadly, the Church of Scientology's abuse of the DMCA has continued since then. At least one site was the recipient of a DMCA notice in September 2005 and the Church has sent so many that they have been nicknamed “Avagrams” after Ava Paquette, the COS attorney that signs most of them. There is even a song spoofing Avagrams.

The potential for safe harbor abuse was brought to light again in November of 2005 when the University of Southern California released a study (PDF) that claimed 30% percent of all DMCA notices “presented an obvious question for a court (a clear fair use argument, complaints about uncopyrightable material, and the like).”

Though the study had several flaws in it, especially in regards to its sample, it raised several questions about the viability of the safe harbor provisions and was widely circulated in copyright circles.

When put in this context, it appears that the Michael Crook notices are just another in a long string of DMCA abuses. However, as the EFF lawsuit shows, this is no ordinary case of safe harbor abuse — it is something much larger and much more dangerous.

Extreme Abuse

The Michael Crook notices are not a simple matter of a copyright dispute that should be settled by a court. He didn't just omit information on the DMCA notice or make an honest mistake in the complicated world of copyright law. There are with Crook no intricate fair use debates, or nuanced questions about complicated copyright issues. It's about as cut and dry as copyright law gets.

Michael Crook does not own the copyright to the image in question. It is that simple. With photographs and videos, copyright law protects the photographer, not the model. It even says so on the United States Copyright Office Web site in plain English. Despite his claims of holding a “copyright interest” in the work, its copyright belongs squarely to Fox News, who has given clearance to use it.

However, even if Michael Crook did own said copyright, the use is almost certainly fair. Transformative uses, uses which are for a different purpose than the original, are almost always protected as fair use, especially if they are for commentary/criticism and do not impact the potential market for the original work. It's almost impossible to imagine any judge deeming this use to be infringing.

The problem with such a flagrant abuse is that it creates a backlash that, while understandable, often goes too far. While there is certainly a need to change the DMCA to add protections against false notices and hosts should be more intelligent about how they handle DMCA notices, there is still a need for hosts and copyright holders to work together to fight cases of infringement that go beyond what is generally considered acceptable on the Web.

Without cooperation, the Web becomes even more ripe for spam blogs, massive content theft, plagiarism and other abuses of the liberal ideas about sharing that have become the norm on the Web. However, the Michael Crooks of the world only breed mistrust, making hosts more hostile, instead of merely skeptical, about copyright infringement claims. This can prompt them to reject potentially valid complaints, leading to both headaches for Webmasters and legal troubles for the host.

It can also prompt both hosts and users to move their servers to countries with weak copyright laws, even if they have no plans on engaging in copyright infringement. Though the EU, Canada and Australia all have some form of safe harbor legislation, many other nations do not and if false DMCA notices become a problem major hosting operations might shift to or start up in those countries, meaning that no recourse will be possible for those with legitimate concerns.

This could recreate the lawlessness that was common when the Internet first started, making the Web not just easier for those that wish to infringe copyright, but also for those that want to peddle scams and generally pollute the Web.

However, the greatest problems with these false notices might start at home.

The Voters Are Restless

Free speech is probably the most valued right in the United States. Though both free speech and copyright are protected by the U.S. Constitution, it's the first amendment that most, including myself, hold the closest to their hearts.

When free speech rights are attacked, people respond. If false DMCA notices become enough of a problem, it is only a matter of time before voters take notice. If that happens, then politicians will take notice and the law will likely be rewritten.

However, the United States safe harbor provisions already provide a great deal of protection against false notices, especially when compared to the EU system (PDF). If hosts were wiser about how they handled notices rather than simply rubber stamping them as they crossed their desk, false notices would be much less of an issue.

Still, some changes to the DMCA would be welcome. However, there is always a risk that Congress will make things many times worse on the second try. If they slip up either way, throwing up too many roadblocks or offering too little protection, the effect on the Web could be catastrophic.

Copyright is a delicate balance and it is a balance generally best set not by lawmakers, but by public consensus and market forces. Those with smarter copyright policies will go farther than those with bad ones.

However, dramatic shifts in the law might make it impossible to find such an equilibrium. The current system isn't perfect by any stretch, but individuals and organizations have done a great job expanding on it to find a more realistic balance.

For that kind of building to continue, copyright law cooperation and consistency, both in law and practice, will be key.


The best possible outcome for this case would be a swift victory by the EFF and Diehl. Hopefully that will deter future abuses of the safe harbor provisions and encourage hosts to develop more intelligent processes for handling DMCA complaints.

Fortunately, that outcome seems all but certain. The copyright issues are about as clear cut as they can be and Crook seems to be doing very little to further his case.

In the end, Michael Crook himself is not much of a threat to free speech or copyright. However, the Michael Crooks of the world, are.

Other 10 Zen Monkeys articles on Michael Crook

Jonathan Bailey is the author of the Plagiarism Today blog.

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Crook’s Internet Club

The Internet's most hated figure, Michael Crook, who is on the verge of being legally humiliated in court thanks to griefer dumbfuckery using nefarious websites, belonged to the Internet Club in high school, where he trained students "on how to use the Internet properly."

It makes one wonder what the curriculum must have consisted of... Who could've known, back in the year of 1997, to what heights Mr. Crook's life would lead? Somehow, a modest start showing newbies the basics of internet technology allowed him to, less than 10 years later, rise to the position he holds now: President and CEO of Michael Crook Internet Properties!


In the last five days millions of web surfers have learned the legend of Michael Crook — his story, his image, and his attempts to squelch it by abusing a badly-written copyright law.

Crook objects to the use of a goofy picture taken from his 2005 appearance on the Fox News network. But Xeni Jardin, a BoingBoing writer, posted that she's since contacted a producer at Fox News, saying they'd "laughed, asked why Crook was claiming rights to an image that Fox produced, then said Fox had no problem with BoingBoing or anyone else posting the thumbnail image online."

It's becoming a giant parable — showing people online how easily copyright law can be mis-used. But in a new twist, they're responding, rising up in an an impromptu celebration of free speech. TailRank CEO Kevin Burton re-published the photo, urging Michael Crook: "Please send me a fake DMCA takedown notice... I'm going to auction it off on eBay and give the proceeds to the EFF!" Fellow griefer Tucker Max also republished Crook's photo, writing that he was calling Crook's bluff and adding "Fair warning: I OWNED the last lazy-eyed douche to come at me." (A debate has apparently been scheduled between the two for Wednesday at 3pm Eastern time.)

The writers at TechnOccult not only re-published the photo on their blog and MySpace page — they urged others to do so as well, even including the necessary HTML text. "By standing up to intimidation and spreading the word about this case," they wrote, "you can help the fight for free speech online." And soon the image was appearing on blogs around the world. Pranksters at even started a contest, photoshopping Crook's picture into new satirical settings, showing him assassinating President Lincoln, tormenting William Shatner, and appearing as the photograph on a box containing a douche.


Also republishing Crook's photo was the original CraigsList sex pranker, Jason Fortuny, who also dared Crook to send him a DMCA notice. ("Operators are standing by.") Ironically, Crook first gained the attention of 10 Zen Monkeys after mimicking Fortuny's Craig's list experiment of republishing the responses he received to a fake ad pretending to be a woman seeking casual sex. Now the two men are apparently locked in a weird online rivalry. Friday Fortuny went to the trouble of adding a new entry to his official blog scrolling 20 copies of Crook's photo, along with more abusive commentary. ("This is Michael Crook. He has AWESOME hair. In his spare time, he likes to DMCA websites.") How did Fortuny handle the DMCA notices he received? "I send the counter notification to my webhost, who then notifies your attorney, and your attorney notifies you and follows up with something like 'this will cost thousands of dollars to follow through.' And then you swallow, and smack your forehead, and you don't respond within the alloted 14 day period specified in the counter notification and my shit goes back up...Thanks for playing. All contestants on the RFJason Show get 'The Craigslist Experiment' home game and free turtlewax."


Crook joined the online conversation, and Friday even created a new domain - Lambasting "the almighty Electronic Freedom Frontier," he decries the group's lawsuit as malicious prosecution — then 15 words later writes "I will go broke ensuring [Jeff Diehl] incurs eternal financial misery for going after me."

Crook says the action against him will "expose arrogant hippies such as the EFF and Jeff Diehl" — not as defenders of free speech, but as "arrogant abusers of the legal system." Apparently confused by the word "frontier," Crook free associates that the group is "renegades who feel the Internet is the Wild West, and that they can do whatever they wish." Jeff Diehl and the EFF are "hippies," he writes again, but thwarted by the DMCA, they cannot "rule the internet."

"All of this fuss could have been avoided," he writes wishfully, "had they simply shut up, asked no questions, adn [sic] complied with the law." Calling the DMCA a "wonderful law," Crook argues that the EFF suit "is about publicity and pity-whoring..." (Although his own official statement on the matter includes contact information for any media outlets seeking to interview him.) In fact, later his position on attention-seeking becomes more clear. "It's unfortunate that their true movitation is intimidation, publicity, and pity-whoring" he writes — above four Google AdSense ads.

To draw more traffic from search engines, Crook augmented his anti-EFF page with over a dozen different hidden keywords in its HTML code, including "hippie lawyers," "jackasses," and "whiners."

And he's also helpfully includes a banner ad where you can download Firefox. At the bottom of his web page he's posted that it's copyrighted to "Michael Crook Internet Properties" — so don't get any funny ideas. Although ironically, all four of his AdSense ads are recommending attorneys. ("We Fight For and Defend Your Rights! Call 24/7....")


As Crook voiced his opinions about image control, the online world apparently decided to join the discussion. Saturday someone sent Michael Crook's dorky high school yearbook photos to 10 Zen Monkeys in a show of support, saying they'd gone to the same school as Crook and remembering that "he was always kind of a spaz." (In the yearbook's section for a quote or favorite memory, Crook offered "I'm the great Cornhuho!")

It's just one of many responses to the original article. "Been there, done that," wrote a director from Black Box Voting, adding he "beat Diebold Election Systems Inc. when they were going nuts trying to DMCA-slam websites."

Another commenter challenged Crook's argument that his presence in the photo grants him a copyright, saying it raises an interesting question "about the photos he published of men who had answered his CraigsList ad. (Who would presumably then enjoy the same copyrights.)"


It's an exciting moment, as the tubes of the internet fill up with dozens of conversations, all about the same topic: a flaw in online copyright law.

A law student at New York Law School writes that the legislation "promotes a 'shoot first, ask questions later' response from ISPs," but notes that the counter-notification policy also creates a "game of chicken" situation in which "the ISP is only obligated to listen to the last party to speak on the issue." He identifies the problem as the default assumption that a copyright infringement is taking place. "If an ISP were to contact users of DMCA takedown notices before removing the material, this assumption isn't that strong, but most ISPs don't behave this way... once the ISP gets a takedown notice of any sort it will usually just pull the material down and let the user know in due course." And even if a counter-notification is filed, the ISP still observes a 10-day period of time where the contested material remains offline.

Technology writer Thomas Hawk writes "I think it's abusive to use the DMCA, a law that was meant to be used for copyright owners to have their copyrighted material taken off the internet, abused and used as a tool of censorship." And Plagiarism Today links to an academic study from earlier this year offering statistics showing the DMCA being mis-applied. The study shows 30% of the DMCA takedown notices being marred by obvious issues like fair use or the targeting of material which couldn't be copyrighted. Nine percent are incomplete. And apparently over half the notices sent to Google were targeting competitors, with over a third targeting sites which weren't even in the U.S. Thursday Plagiarism Today observed that "The problems with Crook's DMCA notices are so numerous that it is hard to know where to begin." Calling the mistakes "a sign of extreme recklessness, or malice," they argue that Crook holds no claim to the image's copyright, and points out the existence of a well-known exemption for the "fair use" of copyrighted materials.

"In the end," they add, "it appears that Crook has done the most damage to himself. The photograph he sought to bury is now plastered all over the Web, his name is now eternally connected with this matter and, perhaps worst of all, he's on the wrong end of an EFF lawsuit."


Crook has started using new wording in the DMCA notices he's been sending, now claiming he enjoys a "jurisdiction" over the photo, simply because he appears in it. Significantly, in the earlier notice which first caught the EFF's attention, Crook had written: "I swear, under penalty of perjury...that I am the copyright owner or am authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive copyright..." Crook now swears only that he is the copyright owner "in that the image, though belonging to another source, is of me, thereby giving me certain copyright rights...."

"Feel that?" one BoingBoing reader responded. "It's as though millions of photojournalists suddenly began laughing hysterically at once..."

A new fight has also erupted over the video footage where Crook's image originated. Thursday TailRank's Kevin Burton was surprised that YouTube had removed a movie showing Crook's disastrous appearance on Fox News. Burton contacted a friend at YouTube who apparently restored the footage — but by Saturday night had removed the video again, displaying its standard red-box warning. ("This video has been removed at the request of copyright owner Michael Crook because its content was used without permission.")

But the post-Google era may ultimately bring a new willingness to challenge any perceived mis-handling of copyright claims. Burton simply linked to another copy of the footage he'd found elsewhere online — and hosted another copy himself.

Update: Tucker Max de-constructs Crook

See also:
In the Company of Jerkoffs
EFF vs. Crook

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EFF and 10 Zen Monkeys vs. Michael Crook and DMCA

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is representing 10 Zen Monkeys in a civil lawsuit against griefer Michael Crook for abusing the DMCA and violating our free speech rights.

In September, we published an article about Crook when he mimicked Jason Fortuny by trolling CraigsList and sex-baiting guys into giving him private information which he then revealed on his site (now offline), He apparently did not like what we had to say. In a brash and hypocritical (though not at all surprising) move, Crook filed a fraudulent DMCA take-down notice with our then-ISP, knowing that the "safe harbor" provision would compel the ISP to take immediate action, even before proof of copyright ownership was examined.

I was personally given an ultimatum to remove the material cited in the notice (a TV screen capture of Crook's appearance on Fox News Channel), or have my account canceled. Needless to say, Crook did not own the rights to the image, and even if he did, there's a little thing called "fair use" in the context of critical commentary.

Appalled that he was able to so easily, and without any onus of proof, jeopardize my standing with my ISP, I immediately set about moving the site to local San Francisco ISP Laughing Squid, owned by my old pal, Scott Beale — his services are more expensive, but I knew Scott would understand and respect free speech at least to the point of asking me for details before threatening to pull the plug on my site.

The first thing I did after migrating 10 Zen Monkeys was re-insert the image of Crook into the offending article and, sure enough, within 24 hours he had sent another DMCA take-down notice to Laughing Squid's upstream provider. I'm sure he was emboldened by his success at forcing me to relocate my website once, and was trying for a repeat. But this time, Scott indeed called me to get the story. He was as angry as I was, and said I should contact the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (As an ISP, Scott hadn't seen this particular abuse before, and was concerned — it showed just how easy it is under the current DMCA provisions to intimidate a website, for any reason whatsoever.)

"This is yet another case of someone intentionally misusing copyright law to try to shut down legitimate debate on an issue of public interest," said EFF Staff Attorney Jason Schultz. "Crook certainly doesn't own the copyright to the news footage — Fox News does."

The "safe harbor" provision of the law is meant to shield service providers from liability for any copyright violations that might be committed on their clients' websites. It basically states that, upon being notified by letter or email that there is content in violation of copyright, they can avoid any legal consequences by immediately removing it. (The reason the "safe harbor" is even necessary is because of the draconian copyright "protections" built into the DMCA — ones which sacrifice fair use among other things.) But since the take-down notice doesn't require a court order, or any type of judicial scrutiny, it means that shady individuals or organizations can easily use the law to stifle free speech.

"Crook has used a bogus copyright claim as a pretext to squelch free speech," said EFF Staff Attorney Corynne McSherry. "Unfortunately, it is easy to abuse DMCA takedown provisions and most internet speakers don't have the ability to fight back."

I removed the original image in the Crook article and instead linked to a similar image residing on someone else's server (Crook is widely reviled on the internet, so it's not difficult to find materials criticizing him on Google).

Surprise! Crook didn't like that either, and on October 24th, he filed yet again, this time thinking that the DMCA could be used to intimidate an ISP for a site that links to content that doesn't reside on their servers!

Crook seems to have a particularly malicious interpretation of the DMCA. He has declared on his blog his own campaign to serve take-down notices on sites he doesn't like, regardless of whether he owns the copyright on the material in question. From his blog:
One site has gone completely down. It currently routes to a "Suspended" page. This site has remained down because the webmaster hasn't responded to the complaint. I can't be responsible for that.

None of this is surprising from someone who has devoted so much time and energy finding others in a compromised state — whether it's horny men online, or wounded soldiers — and then systematically hurting them further, for nothing more than a fleeting, self-defeating publicity.

Until now, the instances of social griefing made famous by Jason Fortuny and aped by Michael Crook have brought up mostly privacy issues. In the case of Crook's abuse of DMCA, we see the same childish, ill-intentioned publicity-seeking, but that's not to say there's no difference between Fortuny and Crook. Fortuny has never tried to stop anyone from saying anything about him — in fact, he seems to enjoy the direct negative criticisms he's received. Crook, on the other hand, is clearly operating on a level of complexity that is far beyond his capacities — he wants to be notorious, but then uses unrelated, legalistic (though illegal!) manipulations to silence those who speak out against him. Despite his comical claim to the title of copyright defender, he is creating a real chilling effect on free speech.

Some of the targets of Crook's DMCA exploits have self-censored, in part because to give him attention is a reward he doesn't deserve, but also because they don't understand their rights and cannot afford to fight. The takedown provision of this law is bad for publishers and anyone who cares about free speech, and Crook has clearly demonstrated a reason why. He has also stupidly underestimated the resolve of this publication; we hope to set an example of what can be done when First Amendment rights are fully understood, nurtured, and worn into battle.

Crook taught students how to properly use the internet
Crook serves DMCA takedown notice to BoingBoing. (BB gets permission from Fox News to post image.)
Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

See also:
EFF's press release
PDF of complaint
In the Company of Jerkoffs
The Secret Life of Jason Fortuny
Jason Fortuny Speaks
Good Griefers: Fortuny vs. Crook

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The Perversions of Perverted-Justice

Von Erck"To Catch a Predator" on Dateline introduced sex baiting to the popular mind. Fortuny and Crook may have adapted it to their own psychological obsessions, but clearly, NBC's relationship with "" is the established and refined model for the freelance bad-guy sting.

On Friday, NBC ran the fifth installment of the pedophile-trapping news segment. The stings are choreographed by a community college drop-out and his group of "trained citizen contributors" who have, in the name of protecting society from its most reviled deviants, also aimed their vigilante arsenal at rival web sites, personal enemies, and even Google and Wikipedia.

It's got to be a little heady these days for Xavier Von Erck, the Director of Operations for In an online essay, he talks about growing up with a mother who "worked everything from Taco Bell to gas station jobs to warehouse jobs to parts delivery jobs." His group now rakes in over a hundred grand for each episode it's involved with.

A recent New York Daily News article cited another article on RadarOnline identifying him as a 27-year-old Oregon community college dropout. But when the article linked to his blog, Von Erck redirected it to his original emails to the magazine's reporter. "I completed some college before what I would call a 'productive internet addiction' ruined my studies," he'd commented, "which I were not all that interested in anyways."

There are people who oppose's methods. There's even an opposing site that calls itself ("Number of INNOCENT people harassed and terrorized by volunteer vigilantes...with no police involvement since January 2003: 2704.") This in turn spawned a counter-counter site called whose sole function is to criticize

It all culminated in a bizarre incident involving an Arkansas pilot — a married man (and non-pedophile) who still vehemently opposed the group. He'd threatened everything from online computer attacks to investigations from the IRS. The response? Erck says his group lured the married man into an online romance by pretending to be a sympathetic female and then continued the online relationship for several months, leading to the collection of thousands of lines of chat containing personal information used to out the straying man to his wife.

Fighting pedophiles has brought with it still more enemies. For instance, they have a problem with Google. Their site argues that pedophiles "have infiltrated legitimate businesses to try to spread their pro-pedo message to the masses" — if by "infiltrated legitimate businesses," you mean "posted on a blog." Google is their #1 target for its ownership of Blogspot, which is guilty of not removing sites advocating sex with children. Perverted-Justice concedes that "We love Google," yet the company is #1 in their "Corporate Sex Offender registry" for failing to remove pedophilia-advocating blogs, including two blogs by a user named Rookiee.

Both Google and (Rookiee's podcast host) are listed as "aggressive corporate sex offenders" on Perverted-Justice for giving Rookiee a platform. The first name on their list of passive corporate sex offenders is Wikipedia, which it describes as the "'wild west' of encyclopedias" with "a vast pedophile cabal seeking to undermine it." Their main objection was that Wikipedia's articles could be accessed and edited by Rookiee. (Although not any more. Last week his Wikipedia account was blocked from updating the site's articles, though not without some spirited discussion.) "We've left Wikipedia in the 'passive' category," Perverted-Justice states, "because they still have not taken a clear and unambiguous stance disavowing pedophile advocates from editing 'encyclopedic' pedophile articles."

This Saturday they added a new name at the top of their corporate offenders list: Verizon/MCI Worldcom. (Perverted-Justice argues that an obscure Canadian hosting company named Epifora hosts dozens of sites advocating sex with minors — and is getting its internet connectivity from Verizon's pipes.)

So who do they like? Well, there's YouTube — for removing Rookiee's account; Xanga — for pulling Rookie's web site; and CafePress — for pulling Rookiee's online store. (They're now listed as "the Rehabilitated.") In fact, elsewhere on the Perverted-Justice site they write that entire list was created because "Rookiee made the mistake of attacking our organization online." That was enough to get him their attention, along with the companies enabling him to speak. Perverted-Justice argues that the writings of Rookiee offer a "snapshot" into the online pedophile world.

In their own bizarre form of exploitation, every page of the site now also includes an ad for their official store, which offers to give visitors a chance to raise awareness of the growing problem of online pedophilia "by shopping." The store sells merchandise bearing the site's logo, including underwear, women's thongs, and a baby doll t-shirt. There's also coffee mugs and beer steins. For the t-shirts they've even come up with catchy pedophilia-busting slogans.

"See you later masturbator, after a while, pedophile."
"Squeeze no child's behind"
"Coast to coast, we make predators toast"

Publicizing their pushback against online predators may or may not offer another way of discouraging online predators — but it's ultimately bringing its own set of challenges. The article in Radar cited a controversial blog post Von Erck made over two years ago, arguing a hostage who signaled his weakness to an al Qaeda captor failed to understand that "Arab culture is quite sick in many respects.... Spinelessness and negotiation only encourage Arabs to attack and harass western society further." Von Erck's emailed responses to Radar's reporter also hint at other criticisms he's faced. ("[W]e have not posted the log of anyone prior to conviction in almost over nine months now.") He's angry about the way the article portrayed him and rationalizes any personal flaws by citing his site's victories in the war on pedophiles:
One was a doctor and a vice-president of a biotech firm. One was a software developer for Apple. Two were guys in IT (who likely could have figured out how to log into Yahoo chat on a Mac) And yet another had a very successful job running a fairly successful business

He may be a community college drop-out — but for the fifth time he's also busted pedophiles on television. It's worth noting, though, that before he ever dreamed of hooking up with Dateline, he posed as children in chat rooms and chatted sexually with adults. He hasn't admitted that it's one he entertains himself, but this is an established role-playing fetish in itself.

In any case, we once again have a self-congratulating sex baiter who rains righteous anger down on everyone — except himself.

See Also:
Web Fight: Wikipedia, YouTube vs. Perverted Justice
Sex Panic: An Interview with Debbie Nathan

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