Google is Trying to Get Into Your Pants

Google doesn't make many mistakes. Google controls its image fiercely.

And according to a new radio spot, Google wants to get in your pants.

It's the latest marketing campaign from Helio, Earthlink's sassy new partnership with a South Korean wireless giant. In May the two companies teamed up to promote new wireless smartphones, then struck a deal with Google to use their GPS-enabled maps. But to promote their latest device — the Drift — they created a "provocative" radio campaign.
I got Google Maps
in my pants
in my pants
in my pants

Put Google Maps
in your pants (get a Helio)
in your pants
in your pants

We have to wonder if this move was officially sanctioned by Google's marketing team, or if it was, perhaps, the result of a third party ad company's over-zealousness.

Google's corporate web site specifies that their goal is to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible..." And how can it be universally accessible if it's not in your pants? It could be argued that Google's publicists should be thrilled that their mapping solution's mobile capabilities are getting widespread promotion in a major ad campaign for a cutting-edge smartphone. But damn if this spot isn't extremely cheesy. Sure, it's radio, but a jingle? This isn't 1975!

The Helio ad is set to a soulful lite-rock rap.
Tough boys are you ready to....

CHORUS: Harm-o-nize!

Girl you've got me all tied down
Now I never get around
Spend Friday nights on the couch
Girl I think I'm done with you (All done!)

Helio's lyrics cry out for some deconstruction. They describe a man apparently dumping his girlfriend in his newfound excitement over a $225 GPS-enabled smartphone. This seems implausible already — leaving aside the additional unlikely premises that he's a) someone who knows how to rap and b) has a girlfriend. But that's the image they're selling, trying to impress that elusive new market of device-enabled social networkers.
I got the whole world to see
I want to find the world's tallest tree
The bomb-est B.L.T.
Google maps will set me free

In the ad jingle, the marketer's message is made clear. The phone aids in his quest to travel the world searching for tall trees and sandwiches. It's a metaphor, of course, for the thrilling freedom that awaits the device-enabled social networkers when they escape the world of desk-bound monitors. Although all Helio really does is bundle GPS services into a slick consumer package.

This includes the ability to broadcast a map with your location to any friends with the same Helio device — and Helio is pitching it to a young demographic of early adopters. "Just turn on the Beacon and you'll show up on your buddy's Drift," Helio's web site explains. "Turn it off and you'll be... wait, where did you go? Stop. Seriously, I can't see you...."

The youth-targeted marketing attempts to convey social networking with the image of abandoning unhappy Friday nights spent on a couch. The lite-rock rap is just an additional marketer's cue for hip-ness, signaling their intention to create an advertising campaign that gets up in your face. (Or is that up in your crotch?)

Ultimately the real drawback to Helio's image-branding campaign is how little information is actually conveyed about the device itself and its monthly $65 service fee.
(Rap) I got a new toy
and it's really insane
It's called the Helio
and it's got a huge brain.
It knows where I am and
I tell it where to go. It's got
Google maps with the GPS

Wait, I'm confused. Bad rhyming aside, "Where to go" would presumably be "in my pocket". Or are there a few words deleted because they didn't scan?
I tell it where [it is that I want] to go [and am wirelessly provided with driving directions].

We'd dismiss this as a brief stumble by Google's marketing team if we weren't so impressed by Helio's aggressive marketing campaigns so far. In June they even created a MySpace page which has already accrued 163,980 friends and 9,131 comments. It offers handy promotional come-ons for trendy device-enabled social networkers — Helio ringtones, sticker patterns, icons, and wallpaper. And they're sponsoring concerts with Pharrel, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco, and Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps we are all just pawns in Google's great game of global domination. But in a final irony, Google's next move may be brokering ads to radio stations.

Curse you, Google, and your clever, unbeatable marketing strategies. In a futile attempt to balance the scales, we'll strike back with one last impotent piece of media criticism:

CHORUS: Don't call it a phooooone

"’cuz it's got maps. Word. Peace out to all my gadget-slangin' homies."

See Also:
How the iPod Changes Culture
iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
Hype Smackdown: iPhone v. Paris Hilton
Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks

Is It Fascism Yet?

Bush Salute

In 2005, Lewis Lapham, former Editor of Harper's magazine, and a towering figure in "relatively mainstream" American journalism, wrote an editorial for Harpers, titled, Welcome to American Fascism.

The notion that America is now a fascist state is pretty widespread among dissident types, mostly on the left, but some also on the right. Various lists have been floating around that try to define what qualities make for a fascist state; the general implication being that the United States, under Bush, qualifies. One popular idea is that Mussolini reduced fascism down to corporatism. In point of fact, Mussolini's vision seems to have been of a highly disciplined martial society — a culture of spiritual warriors that doesn't readily equate with a corpulent culture where most "fascists" are happy to dial up Fox News on the remote and leave the discipline and self-sacrifice to a small, underpaid sector of the underclass.

I thought it would be interesting to ask a few folks representing a variety of views whether they think America is now a fascist state. Somewhere in the back of my mind, was the auxiliary question, "Does it matter?" In other words, certain levels of repression and intolerance are being manifested in various public, political, and legal spheres. If we can legitimately label it all fascism, will that help to generate a successful opposition? I always wonder when I see some protester carrying one of those (relatively rare, actually) "Bush = Hitler" protest signs: How do they think that's helping? Do they think somebody walking down the street who is sort of neutral is going to see this sign and say, "Oh, Bush equals Hitler! Why didn't you say so? I'm going to revolt now."

OK, some people are easy targets of ridicule, but the question that I emailed to our panelists: "Do we live in a fascist state? Why, or why not?" is a serious one. Let's see what they have to say about it.

(NOTE: Many of these answers were written before the recent mid-term elections.)

Featuring (click to jump to their answers):
  • Ken Layne
  • Rabbi Michael Lerner
  • Douglas Rushkoff
  • Norman Solomon
  • The guy who told Dick Cheney to "go fuck yourself," and others.

    Allen Hacker
    Campaign consultant for Michael Badnarik, 2004 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate and 2006 candidate for Congress in Texas; Libertarian Party activist

    Do we live in a fascist state?

    Are you kidding? Yes. Absolutely, and very unfortunately, yes.

    Let's analyze the definition of fascism. It begins with "a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power." George Bush and his administration are assuming vast powers not delegated to them by the Constitution. President Bush has developed a habit of issuing "signing statements," declaring what portions of legislation he chooses to enforce or ignore.

    Fascism, "forcibly suppress[es] opposition and criticism." There is growing concern and mounting evidence that the 2000 and 2004 presidential election results were manipulated using electronic voting machines and physical intimidation. As the 2004 Libertarian Presidential nominee, I joined with Green Party nominee, David Cobb, to challenge the vote totals in Ohio. One precinct in Ohio recorded 4,000 votes for George Bush, 2,000 votes for John Kerry, in a precinct with only 600 registered voters. There are numerous reports of people being handcuffed and escorted away from George Bush's campaign events simply because they wore pro-Liberty t-shirts, or asked the President embarrassing questions.

    Fascism includes "regimenting all industry, commerce, etc." which can be summed up nicely by mentioning NAFTA, GATT, and the "Free Trade Area of the Americas" (FTAA). Our government has been subsidizing the oil and automotive industry for nearly a century, and now the pharmaceutical companies are getting blatant assistance in a vast array of regulations that put smaller drug companies out of business. If patients in the United States are not allowed to purchase drugs from Canada because "they're not safe," then why did American companies sell the drugs to Canada in the first place?

    The definition ends with, "emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism." How many times does George Bush have to say, "You're either with us or against us," before people realize that anyone critical of our government is now viewed by the administration as a potential terrorist? The government already controls and manipulates our health care system. The National Animal Identification System (NAIS) will soon give the government control over most of our food supply by requiring Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags on all farm animals. The REAL ID Act has already been passed, and will require every drivers license and passport to contain an RFID chip as early as 2008.

    In my book, Good To Be King: The Foundation of Our Constitutional Freedom, I analyze the ten planks of the Communist Manifesto and draw the disturbing conclusion that the United States is already a communist country, a position that I have held for over a decade. Keep in mind that fascism and communism are philosophical twins, both of them emphasizing collectivism over individualism. People need to understand that there is no such thing as "community rights" because communities are abstract collections of individuals. Every individual in the community has rights, but no more or less simply because they are alone or surrounded by others.

    The good news is that the government is growing so fast, and taking so much control over people's lives, that discontent with the status quo is growing even faster. The real question is not whether the United States has a fascist government, but whether enough people will be willing to stand against it, potentially risking their lives to assert their individual independence.

    Only time will tell. "I know not what course others may take, but as for me... give me Liberty, or give me death!"

    Douglas Rushkoff
    Media theorist; author; host of Frontline documentaries "The Merchants of Cool" and "The Persuaders."

    Yeah, for sure we do. I'm actually just starting a book on this subject. The weirdest part, though, is that it's not all bad. That's what's so pernicious about it. The corporatism envisioned by Ford and Mussolini came to pass, but without the starkness of the racial purity sought by Hitler. It's more of a Borgification — assimilation of all. Even the work of folks like us who call it what it is.

    Adorno saw it clearly, as did Walter Benjamin. But if we're really going to understand it, I think we have to analyze it from pop culture up, rather than from the halls of the White House down. They're just players in this game — not the true rule-makers. The rules for this particular game scenario were written back in the 1500s.

    Or better, look at the article I wrote the month before Lewis Lapham's, saying basically the same thing:

    Howard Rheingold
    Digital culture legend; author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs.

    I don't think that it is useful to reduce complex issues to simple answers. I certainly see that the elements of fascism — centralization of authoritarian power over policy, close coordination with private industry, divisive propaganda, criminalization of dissent, extensive state surveillance — are being put into place. Who could deny that? Extreme conservatives like Bob Barr and Richard Armey as well as ex-generals and ex-intelligence managers have said as much. Books have been written about it. I don't see the slide toward fascism, accelerated by this administration, as inevitable. I believe it can be stopped and reversed. It's not too late yet. I've contributed dollars and hours to the mid-term Congressional elections.

    John Shirley
    Science fiction author; script writer ("The Crow"); occasional Blue Oyster Cult lyricist

    Is the first gust of wind from a hurricane itself a hurricane? It is not. And like a hurricane, this storm of right-wing extremism may "change direction" and pass us by, blow itself out. But also like a community in the path of a hurricane, we're in serious danger.

    The right to have opposition parties which can be voted into power is not characteristic of fascism. Before the recent midterm election I was quite worried about the GOP stealing the vote, which to me is a precursor to a fascist state — and I'm still worried about it. According to Marc Baber of Truth in Voting:
    The only reason the Democrats did so well in 2006 is that Democrats actually won by margins of 6-8% greater than the official results showed.

    I ran through the list of close races where Republicans won and there was only one race (Tennessee Ford(D) vs. Corker(R)) on the Senate side, however in the House, at least 15 races were within 6%, meaning that the Dems probably should have won an additional 15 seats or so in the House if the Republicans hadn't rigged the system this year, assuming that the error is in the official results (not the exit polls) and that the bias was a fairly uniform 6% nationwide. These are, of course, very rough estimates. And alarming too.

    So the GOP will try again, with more voting fraud, in 2008 — just more broadly, more desperately, more emphatically. We could still lose democracy. And that would leave us with something like fascism.

    There's still a good deal of freedom of speech in this country — even though it was revealed recently that the Pentagon is monitoring antiwar email, because it's "subversive" and might represent a danger, e.g., the dangerous, scary Quakers they've been monitoring. Freedom of speech is not characteristic of fascism.

    Right now, we're in a borderline theocracy, a near-theocracy cynically manipulated by our real overlords, the pharmaceutical companies, the oil companies, big business in general. They spend hundreds of millions on lobbyists on K Street, pulling the strings on Congress, consolidating their control. We'll see if it changes in the next few years — the national will is there to make it change. If it doesn't, we will find ourselves in an early stage of the 21st century version of a fascist state: a country with few freedoms, controlled by multinational corporations.

    Ken Layne
    West Coast Bureau Chief, Wonkette

    Fascism is such a twisted, loaded and abused word. We need a completely new term.

    Humorless liberals yell "Fascist!" at anything they don't like: NASCAR, Wal-Mart, or especially somebody enjoying a nice hamburger.

    The Neocons have made the bizarre decision that Fascism is actually a 1,400-year-old Semitic religion from Arabia, even though that religion is virtually indistinguishable from the monotheistic Semitic religions they claim to follow. Of course, the Neocons are the closest thing to a purely Fascist party in America.

    And my beloved libertarians have the bad habit of believing Fascism is a mom asking grandpa not to blow cigar smoke on the babies, or the cops asking some target shooters to point away from the pre-school.

    So what the hell is Fascism in 2006? Russia provides a pretty good example: Media directly controlled by the Kremlin, ethnic minorities literally deported by the military (re: Georgians), oil companies nationalized (and their executives jailed), official skinheads attacking farmers markets, faux-terrorist apartment bombings in Moscow used to justify aggressive wars against bordering ethnic states, and the murder of investigative journalists.

    It isn't so obvious in the United States. There are only a few hundred people in America (that we know of) being tortured and jailed forever due to alleged "terrorist" activities. A handful of powerful government/corporate insiders are assassinated each year — see Philip Merrill — and the corporate media ignores these murders because it's just too horrifying to go down that bloody path.

    But the laws have changed since 9/11, and those laws were drawn up before 9/11. Today, even a U.S. citizen can be locked up and sodomized forever by a robot just for turning up on some government list. Yet the multi-ethnic character of America's urban elite makes it tough to lock up all the Asians or Mexicans or Muslims or Negroes or Homosexuals or Presbyterians or Atheists — old-school Fascism needs an internal ethnic enemy.

    Habeas corpus is gone. Military tribunals have been officially authorized to sentence those who go against White House policy. Much of the news media is either directly owned or covertly financed by the Not So Secret Elite. Idiots and Jesus Freaks are paid to stir up the yokels. Election machines are increasingly owned and operated by the GOP interests, and vote stealing is all but ignored. American culture has intentionally become idiotic, as American education has become both widespread and anti-intellectual. Today's college graduate is much dumber than an 8th grader from the 1940s.

    New passport laws restrict even going across the Mexican and Canadian borders. Proposed "homeland security" laws will make it impossible for any dissident to travel by sea or air to other nations.

    It's not fascism, yet. And it's unlikely that the USA's post-9/11 dystopia will ever be called Fascism by future historians. It will never become outright Fascism if enough of us take our guns to D.C. and clean house.

    Ben Marble, MD
    During a photo op in New Orleans during the Katrina debacle, Ben Marble was heard on national TV saying, "Go Fuck Yourself, Mr. Cheney. Go Fuck Yourself, Asshole." He is also a doctor, a punk rock musician and a writer.

    Yes! The U.S.A. is now ruled by a Dictator. His name is Dicktator Cheney. We all know the delusional optimist, Dubya Gump, is the world's most famous cheerleader, i.e., the cheerleader-in-chief who is sent out to raa raa the BUSHEEP. Surely you can't tell me with a straight face that you honestly believe that Dubya Gump is the real decision maker in this administration? If you believe that I have some water front property on the moon I want to sell you! So yes, The Dicktator Cheney is the "real" president. His most esteemed advisers are Karl "Sweet Cheeks" Rove, Ronald Donefailed, [ed: written before Rumsfeld's departure] and Condhoeasy Rice.

    So how is this consortium of circus freaks fascist? Well let's look at the definition of "fascism":

    a. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

    b. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

    Well for those who don't understand, they should realize that we have a rare situation in U.S. history on our hands in that these assholes control all three branches of the U.S. government (executive via the presidency, legislative via the majority in Congress, and judicial via Dubya Gump's lame Supreme Court appointments). [ed: written before recent election] So there is no question that the Dubya Gump administration is a dictatorship! Also for those doubters, I would encourage them to look into Dubya Gump's "signing statements." A signing statement is where the president chooses to not follow the law and writes a statement explaining why he is not going to follow the law. It turns out that Dubya Gump has more signing statements than all other presidents combined!... No other president has abused power in this way before. Only those in denial (BUSHEEP go "baaaa") would argue against what is so obvious to the rest of the world, i.e., the entire power of the U.S. government is in the hands of the Dubya Gump administration.

    Who can forget how, after 091101, the entire world was on our side? Well, Dubya Gump made the entire world forget by taking his eye off of the ball in Afghanistan and invading Iraq. Now the entire world loathes us much the same way people loathed Nazi Germany.

    These asses have wiped their holes with the bible, the American flag, and the U.S. constitution over and over. It is truly amazing that they still have some die-hard followers and maintain an unbelievable amount of support via the BUSHEEP. Yes they do have some really powerful brainwashing techniques.

    I personally blame the "duopoly" for this problem. Because in the U.S.A. we have the PSEUDO-CHRISTIAN BUSHEEP MINORITY running the Republican party and the PC UTOPIAN FASCIST MINORITY running the Democratic party. So with MINORITY EXTREMIST agendas controlling both sides of the duopoly, the MAJORITY of Americans were forced to vote for the "lesser of two evils" in 2004, giving us the re-election of the single worst president in the history of our nation, and proof that the DUOPOLY is a miserable failure...

    Perhaps by 2008 we shall have a viable 3rd party that is willing to compromise instead of sticking to extremist minority agendas, and shall represent the MAJORITY OF AMERICANS, i.e., THE REAL PARTY.

    Norman Solomon
    Media critic; founding member of Fairness and Accuracy In Media (FAIR), a left-liberal media watchdog organization; author, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (Wiley, 2005)

    No, "we" — residents of the United States — are not living in a "fascist state." There are elements of fascism in our midst, including the Bush administration's largely successful efforts to undermine habeas corpus. But elements of fascism do not necessarily add up to fascism. As I write, in October 2006, we have significant elements of democracy — which doesn't make us "a democracy" any more than the existing elements of fascism make the USA a "fascist state."

    (Lewis Lapham's essay a year ago, "We Now Live In A Fascist State," is disappointing. It conveys more look-down-the-nose elitist anger than persuasive analysis. I'm angry too, and I've been actively working against militarism in the United States since the mid/late 1960s. I don't see how the essay helps us understand clearly where we are and what we need to do.)

    Rabbi Michael Lerner
    Founder and Editor of Tikkun; progressive Jewish activist; author; National Chair of The Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP)

    If you are talking about "we" as the people of the U.S., then no, we are not living in a fascist society yet, though we are not far from it and are on a slippery slope in that direction. But if the "we" is the people of the world, under the global economic and military system ruled by the U.S. with the other G8 countries as major lieutenants, then yes, there is much of the world that is in fact already living in a fascist society, and we cannot separate ourselves from them and say, "no, we are not in a fascist society," because in fact their fate is imposed by the indifference, ignorance, fear, and sense of futility that characterizes many of the people living in the U.S. today.

    Inside the U.S., the similarity to fascism is in the power of corporations to control government, media, universities, and the economic lives of most of our citizens. Plus the massive power of these institutions working together and through the mass media to shape a world view and filters in the individual consciousness of many Americans. That is massive power, beyond anything that has ever existed in the history of the human race before.

    It would be best to have a different name for this massively oppressive reality, rather than to use a term developed to describe a different reality in the first half of the twentieth century, a reality whose memory gets invoked in the hope of making people tremble at how bad the current reality is. But it would be far more impactful if we simply described this reality and did not seek to draw historical comparisons which may shake and rattle the consciousness of historians and intellectuals but which are increasingly irrelevant to people born after 1960 and who do not have the same associations with this word.

    The truth is that if we lived in a fascist society as it used to be, we'd be trembling at having this conversation and having our names attached to it, knowing that we might be subject to prison for even raising this topic. The fact is that America retains much of its democratic and human rights for most (not all) of its citizens, and that is more than we can say for many of the countries on earth. Such a society cannot be fascist.

    Yet we can be on the path. The recent torture bill was a significant step, and the failure of Democrats to wage a filibuster against it once again demonstrates to those who would move more quickly in the direction of a full-scaled fascism that their opponents have no backbone and hence are not to be worried about. It seems unlikely that the Democrats in power will revoke that bill.

    Some have invented the term "friendly fascism" or "soft fascism" to describe the contemporary reality. Well, perhaps. But if you want to use that term, you want to because you want to milk the remaining negative energy toward the word "fascism" while in fact acknowledging that the situation is qualitatively different. When a full-scale fascism arrives in all its authenticity, you will know it by its deeds and there will not be an argument among progressives about whether it is here or not. Chances are great that instead we will be locked up in some modern style concentration camp, or possibly even subjected to torture. I'm not looking forward to such a period — I was sent to prison by the Nixon White House for my role as a national leader of the anti-war movement at that time, and it wasn't fun, and yet it was easy compared to what we may face when fascism fully arrives.

    Meanwhile, I'm building a Network of Spiritual Progressives precisely to speak to people who can yet be won away from the tendencies toward fascism. It is that conversation that is deeply needed in the contemporary Moment — check it out by reading my book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right and by joining our network at

    Scott J. Thompson
    Director of Research, Walter Benjamin Research Syndicate; taught courses at New College of California including, "From Berlin Bohemia to Hitler: The Weimar Republic's Crisis Democracy & The Emergence of German Fascism" and "The Virulent Phoenix: The Theory and Practice of Fascism."

    HAS THE U.S. GONE FASCIST?!@$%!?&$*?!!!!

    Serious theorists and intellectuals have posed this question for quite some time.

    Writing a review in 1942 of Franz Neumann's classic analysis, "Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism," C. Wright Mills wrote the following:
    The analysis of Behemoth casts light upon capitalism in democracies. ... if you read his book thoroughly, you see the harsh outlines of possible futures close around you. With leftwing thought confused and split and dribbling trivialities, he locates the enemy with a 500-watt glare. And Nazi is only one of his names.

    Seven years prior to this, Sinclair Lewis had written a novel, a bad one, entitled, "It Can't Happen Here," a rather thinly veiled reference to the MacGuire Affair, i.e., the 1934 attempt by the DuPonts, J.P. Morgan, the Remingtons, and others to enlist Gen. Smedley Butler in a coup d'etat. Lewis made the comment that when fascism came to America, it would come draped in the flag and carrying a bible.

    Prescient words.

    In his The Anatomy of Fascism, Robert Paxton considers the Ku Klux Klan to be perhaps the first example of "the earliest phenomenon that can be functionally related to fascism..."
    By adopting a uniform (white robe and hood), as well as by their techniques of intimidation and their conviction that violence was justified in the cause of their group's destiny, the first version of the Klan in the defeated American
    South was arguably a remarkable preview of the way fascist movements were to function in interwar Europe. (Paxton:2004)

    There have long been fascistic elements alive and well in the United States. Depending on who you are, your ethnicity and your class, you may come into contact with these elements more often than other people. For a poor and uneducated illegal immigrant, for a poor black kid in the ’hood, the U.S. remains Amerikkka, and the Klan are still in power. But a privileged upper-middle class white woman shopping in Needless Markup might not have any idea what you're talking about because she can do whatever she wants. If you're an Arab Muslim man getting ready to board an airplane in Los Angeles, you wonder whether fascism has come to America when you're told that you will not be allowed on the plane, etc. And what about all these American Arabs who have simply disappeared over the past few years?

    In my opinion, however, this word "fascism" is used much too recklessly. All too often "fascism" and "fascist" is simply invective. It has come to mean "violent, intolerant, racist reactionary." That's not good enough. The Italian communist theoretician Togliatti warned against confusing the word as a theoretical term with its use for "agitational purposes."

    Was the Roman Sejanus a "fascist"? He certainly instituted a police state in Rome replete with sophisticated surveillance system, like the Gestapo. Everybody was ratting on everybody else.

    Unfortunately, precious few people have any idea what "fascism" is. More and more, it is equated with very simplistic formulae: a merger of the state and corporations. Were that the basis of fascism, as a generic category in political science, one would still have to account for all the horror associated with it.

    How many people know what the platform of Mussolini's first Fascist Movement stood for? Let's take a look: proposed women's suffrage and the vote at 18, abolition of the upper house, convocation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for Italy (presumably without the monarchy), the eight-hour workday, worker participation in "the technical management of industry," the "partial expropriation of all kinds of wealth" by a heavy and progressive tax on capital, the seizure of certain Church properties, and the confiscation of 85 percent of war profits. (Paxton: 2004:5)

    The problem is that particular examples of what is generically called "fascism," such as Mussolini's Partito Nazionale Fascista (PNF) and Hitler's NSDAP, continually redefined themselves: on the road to power, in power, and at war.

    When faced with this question of whether the U.S. has "gone fascist," commentator Bill Mandel a few years ago answered in the negative. He was of the opinion that the essential paramilitary element was totally missing here. I completely agree with him.

    What about the Black Shirts? Mussolini's paramilitary squadristis. What about all that castor oil and truncheon action? Hitler's Sturm Abteilung? Where's the parallel here? Can you name paramilitary squads on that scale at play in the U.S.A.?

    I defy anyone reading this to point to a threat like that. Yes, there are plenty of small groups like the Michigan Militia and Dominionist types. Yes, Battle Cry is scary. But, get real. No real parallel... at all.

    Could we have this discussion if the U.S. were a fascist totalitarian dictatorship? Could I write what Cheney & Co. would consider "subversive" emails all day long in such a regime? Could I do my radio show on KPOO in San Francisco? Would the Democrats, whatever you think of them, have ousted the Republicans from Congress under a fascist dictatorship? Would Rumsfeld have been forced out?

    There has been a tendency for far too long to equate generic fascism with the last rung on the ladder, the very worst, a synonym for kakistocracy, "the rule of the worst."

    I suggest that it would be possible for the US to outdo the Nazis in their atrocities without being fascist.

    The U.S. is not a fascist state, but there are fascistic elements alive and well in our society. The U.S. is, for want of a better definition, a neo-liberal, plutocratic National Security State.

    The "authoritarian personality" investigated by Theodor Adorno and earlier by Wilhelm Reich (Mass Psychology of Fascism), however, can be found throughout the United States today. Abu Ghraib prison and the ongoing torture atrocities being practiced in state and privatized penitentiaries are an area for investigation here. These infernal regions also need to be seen within the context of the explosion of heterosexual and homosexual BD/SM pornography all over the world, but mostly emanating from the USA. I think Hans-Juergen Syberberg was quite correct in seeing a link between sado-masochist pornography and Nazism. The image of the inflatable plastic "fuck-me" doll with open mouth in his film "Hitler: A Film from Germany" and the narrator's words "Hitler, here is your victory" accompanying this image, is pure brilliance.

    By reducing love and affection to disposable kitsch, we are mass producing sociopaths out of our soldiers, and inculcating what I believe to be the real essence of a fascist personality structure. My own provisional definition of fascism, a mere paraphrase of Wilhelm Reich and Roger Griffin, is the following:

    Fascism is the progressively all-inclusive and martial re-organization of society according to a violent re-assertion of masculine stereotypes through symbols of nationalism and ethnicity. Fascists call for a re-awakened virility to rejuvenate the nation.

    This assertion of "virility" is the reaction to what fascists fear: everything feminine. Historian Roger Griffin has written that the fascist reality is "a radical misogyny or flight from the feminine, manifesting itself in a pathological fear of being engulfed by anything in external reality associated with softness, with dissolution, or the uncontrollable."

    The avenue of research for this subject should follow the lead of Klaus Theweleit ("Male Fantasies", 1977) and Dagmar Herzog ("Sex After Fascism", 2005).

    And people serious about pursuing this subject must stop being afraid to look at and refer to internet pornography for their evidence and proof. It's ubiquitous and taboo at the same time, and scholars act as if it didn't exist.

    The Road from "" to Abu Ghraib may be a tortuous stretch, but it is not a long one.

    Susie Bright

    My response would be, "it's a reasonable question to ask." It's not hysterical. Does one understand that something is definitively "fascist" these days only in retrospect? What would it mean to use the term in a descriptive, accurate way today?

    In terms of the recent legislation we've seen, the post-911 shredding, the constitution, particularly the first amendment and the right to a fair trial, have been gutted. Our elections are rigged, our Supreme Court is stacked... what alternative are we left with?

    And yet Americans are still so complacent, apathetic, and invested in the middle class American dream — regardless if it has an economic basis or not — that they haven't notice there's no THERE THERE anymore. But ultimately they will.

    I do have one concern about my objectivity, and that is my age and the perhaps innocent naive I bring with it.

    I can remember interviewing older folks who suffered under the worst of McCarthyism, or Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps. I have family and friends who saw the most frightening elements of the Kennedy/MLK assassinations or watched the high circus of the Chicago 8 trial and Mayor Daley's thugs in Chicago.

    And if we looked back at our grandparents' and our great-grandparents' histories, similar disgrace and outrage would continue to be cataloged. Was our constitution any stronger when "pioneers" were shooting Indians on sight like vermin? Were the Depression and the violent attacks on the early labor movement some shining hour for the Bill of Rights? Just open your history book and pick a bloody page.

    Maybe, as Byrne once sang, "it's same as it ever was," and I've just finally reached the age where I can't take it anymore. Or maybe it's because I WAS a child of the 60s and saw such a remarkable, progressive renaissance. This nation has always been about violence and prejudice and hypocrisy. What was unusual was the moments when it was SOMETHING ELSE, when peace, love, and compassion were celebrated and practiced.

    I was in the New Left and everyone was constantly running around with their history books trying to decide the precise SECOND when you could say that fascism was officially in motion. Nixon had a lot of people shook up, that's for sure. Now I tend to see history in motion with the worst of authoritarianism always in play, always aggressive. Global capitalism without a leash doesn't amount to anything else. The more interesting question to ask is, "Is there anything to counteract it?"

    See Also:
    Prior Permission From Government To Be Required For Each Flight
    Iraq YouTube Battle Footage
    Art or Bioterrorism: Who Cares?
    Did Bush Spin Like Nixon?
    The QuestionAuthority Proposal
    Don't Go There: Top 20 Taboo Topics for Presidential Candidates
  • Is Iraq really THAT bad?

    This roundup of YouTube clips is meant to give a small sense of what it's like for the people who are killing and getting killed in Iraq — a view that, limited as it is, one can't possibly get from the mainstream newsmedia.

    1. Insurgents Shoot U.S. Soldier

    According to the slate at the opening of this footage, it takes place on the 4th of July, 2005, so the fact it's from the perspective of a couple of insurgent snipers makes it all the more poignant. There are at least two males stalking the lone soldier, who is standing next to a Humvee on the far side of an automobile thoroughfare. They mutter to one another, perhaps discussing the optimal time to fire. We hear a sudden metallic clunk and then the soldier falls straight to the ground.

    On a pro-Marines website also hosting the video, text reads, "Thank God for Body Armor!" and as the hit infantryman gets onto his feet, we see that he's unhurt. He quickly scuttles to the opposite side of the Humvee as the insurgents mutter praise to Allah. Their praise does not sound celebratory, but rather, fearful. Perhaps they expect an inevitable and massive retaliation.

    2. Apache Gun Kill

    This one has been around a while; it's from December 2003. But this extended near-4-minute footage gives an interesting glimpse into the thought process of people on the triggers of some of the biggest guns in the world. Note the very calm, clinical voices trying to discern what the two targets are doing, what they're carrying and, ultimately, when to "smoke ’em." The men seem to be aware that they're being watched, but it's unclear they know exactly what awaits. (The Apache has the ability to monitor and track targets even when concealed.) Adding to the detachment is the Terminator-like view through the Target Acquisition and Designation System. When the guns finally go, the destruction to the human bodies is sickeningly complete and obvious, even through the infrared scopes.

    3. Mortar Attack on U.S. Troops

    Here, a small group of troops are outside a military compound in a vehicle when mortars start to rain down. The footage is from a soldier's camcorder, and we hear them saying, "Damn!" as the explosions go off near by. We hear the whistling of incoming mortars, and the shock & awe of the guys when mortars go off inside the compound (“Ohh, right inside the fuckin' base!"). They rush to pack up and go into the compound to help with emergency aid. In the distance inside the compound, we can hear the chaos of urgent voices and we can see plumes of smoke rising. (“We obviously pissed somebody off in the last few days.") The clip has footage of a roadside explosion spliced onto the end; U.S. troops are jovial as they pass 3 apparently civilian cars, smile and wave, and then get hit.

    4. Counter-ambush Operation

    This dash-mounted video is straight out of Hollywood, and it makes you wonder whether war movies tell us about reality, or help shape it, or both. After an ambush, retaliation is called for. "Shoot those motherfuckers! Get some! Get some!" shouts one soldier as we zip down tight residential roads after an unseen enemy. "Get yer Sixteen up there!!!" Gunfire. "You stupid motherfuckers!" It's chaos, and adrenaline, and of course, death in the streets.

    5. Apache Voyeur

    It's not all artillery and death, though. The last two clips are glimpses of the lighter side of war. Here, the troops catch another sort of hot Iraqi action. "That's a chick." A dark figure in a convertible car with a ponytail is visible. "What's she doin'?" "She's bouncin' up and down. On him!" A burst of laughter. "I swear to god, man, this chick is going crazy on this guy, it's incredible." Indeed, with the night-vision we see it clearly. The clip is over 7 minutes long, but who knows how much time and fuel was wasted on this "operation." The woman switches positions. "Stop moving," says someone to the helicopter pilot. An official voice says, "We got activity out here but I don't think we really need to report it...appears to be fornication in the convertible." "Do a target/store and I'll be there in a second." "Oh, we're tapin' it."

    6. Night Vision Donkey Sex

    No commentary needed for this one.

    Not all of the above items are new, but as a series, we find them powerful. We decided to exclude montages set to music. (It is possible to find these from Coalition and insurgent perspectives.)

    Know of better clips? Leave links in the comments, but please do not embed them.

    See Also:

    Hallucinogenic Weapons: The Other Chemical Warfare
    Catching up with an Aqua Teen Terrorist
    Lost "Horrors" Ending Found on YouTube
    Homeland Security Follies
    5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters

    Robert Altman’s 7 Secret Wars

    Robert Altman's career started with corporate training films in Missouri. The experience landed him Hollywood work filming TV shows in the 1960s — but his personality rebelled against creating false fables of comfort. Before M*A*S*H and The Player, Altman had forced his fierce honesty onto unsuspecting television characters. It marked the beginning of a forgotten march through America's cherished archetypes, challenging one beloved hero after another.

    For example, when network executives handed him the characters from Bonanza, his first impulse was to torture them.

    1. Bonanza (1961)

    Hoss, Adam and Little Joe were a happy all-male family on a Nevada ranch in that magical TV west. Altman opens his episode Silent Thunder with rednecks sexually harassing a deaf mute female (played by Stella Stevens). Good son Little Joe intervenes, and later teaches her how to read, but then she falls in love with him. In a series of painful scenes, Little Joe struggles to convey rejection to someone who doesn't understand, can't communicate, and is full of the rawest emotion.

    Altman directed eight episodes of Bonanza, all but one in the show's second season — and they're some of the darkest in its 14-year run. In The Rival, gentle Hoss loves a woman, but she loves a fugitive. In a typical Bonanza plot, a showdown seems inevitable, but Hoss agonizes over the ambiguity. Is he hunting his rival because of his crimes — or to vindictively avenge his scorned heart? There's no easy answers as a lynch mob starts forming, and even before any triggers are pulled, a devastated Hoss knows that the woman he loves will never, ever be his. Altman heightens the episode's tension with evocative lighting tricks. In one scene, a gun emerges from the shadows for several agonizing seconds before the triggerman is revealed — Hoss himself.

    2. Combat (1962)

    Altman's dark style was better suited for the gritty war stories in the series Combat. In one episode the survival of the entire unit rests on a single captured prisoner not giving away their position. Pinned down in a chateau, the soldiers can escape by swimming down a river at night — but they can't haul their prisoner underwater. The commander faces an impossible choice. He can kill the young Nazi conscript before escaping — or risk all their lives on the soldier's pleas and promises of secrecy. Again — there's no easy answers. Altman used the chateau to good effect, including long shots to show the soldiers on its upper level with the lone Nazi below.

    Altman's TV career would be short-lived. It was reportedly hobbled by his clashes with TV executives, but there were other controversies. Wikipedia notes that Congressional hearings were held over an episode of a forgotten TV show called Bus Stop which showed a murderer successfully escaping both capture and punishment — a favorite Altman theme.

    3. Countdown (1968)

    Even before M*A*S*H the maverick director took a special delight in confronting the media's traditional heroes with muddier dilemmas that exposed their all-too-human weakness, whether it was soldiers, cowboys — or astronauts.

    In Countdown James Caan and Robert Duvall played astronauts challenging everything but outer space. There's jealous co-workers, organizational indecision, and the all-too-real friends who don't understand. If the astronaut makes it to space — alone, in his space capsule — will this din of endured opposition ultimately cloud his judgment? The final press conference is chaired by Ted Knight, who later played the vacuous newscaster Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. In a friendly, empty TV voice, he's the one who delivers unsettling news about the mission's status. Would the astronaut successfully launch and reach the safety of a moon base? Or would Altman strand him alone on the moon, ending the film within maddening proximity to what could have been a happy ending.

    This is considered Altman's first major feature film. A string of successes followed — including M*A*S*H and the critically-acclaimed Nashville. But after the disappointing box office for Popeye in 1980 (along with rumors of libertine excesses on the set), Altman was effectively exiled from major Hollywood productions.

    4. Secret Honor (1984)

    During these "wilderness years," Altman filmed a remarkable one-man show in which a lonely, drunken and suicidal Richard Nixon looks back over a secret plan he'd orchestrated to provoke his own impeachment and escape his war-mongering corporate handlers. ("Secret honor...public shame.")

    As Nixon descends into drunken bitterness, he has trouble working the tape recorder, and rambles through an alternate history of his political career. As Nixon prowls the room, so does Altman's camera, and in one of the most disturbing moments, the screenplay revisits a famous story about young Nixon writing his mother a letter in the voice of Richard's pet dog (signing it, "Your faithful dog, Richard.") As he addresses his enemies, real and imagined, the disgraced and tortured ex-President roars out, "I'm not your dog, Mother!" Altman ultimately magnifies the image of a raging Nixon across multiplying TV screens responding to a nation he feels is urging him to suicide with a heroic, "Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em! Fuck ’em!"

    5. Tanner '88 (1988)

    Would Altman ever acknowledge a true act of goodness? He teamed with Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau to create a counter-candidate in the 1988 presidential race. In half-hour episodes on HBO, Jack Tanner interacted with real political figures like Bob Dole (during the New Hampshire primaries) and Kitty Dukakis (at the nominating convention) — but only to make the point that the primary process buries any meaningful passions with political consultants and sound bites. Tanner's true fervor is only visible when he privately addresses his campaign staff. In a rare happy twist, Tanner's private thoughts about what the 1960s had meant are surreptitiously taped, making him a viable candidate and bypassing the political consultants altogether.

    But Altman still plagues Tanner with a bewildering array of opposing and arbitrary forces — both political and media — which come between Tanner and his friends, his wife, and his daughter. And like the characters in Nashville, Tanner's campaign strategist remains haunted by the ultimate arbitrary political event — the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

    Future Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon plays Tanner's daughter (she was 22) — and the show ultimately received an Emmy.

    6. The Gingerbread Man (1998)

    When handed an unpublished John Grisham story, Altman gave the studios exactly what they didn't want. Robert Duvall's portrayal of a mentally challenged stalker fits Altman's unsettling world view too well. Though the womanizing lawyer (Kenneth Brannagh) tries to do the right thing, in an Altman world there's nothing but chaos — so the script's final redeeming fight on a rainy night becomes just one more turmoil of emotions. Dissatisfied studio executives tried to re-edit the film, but when test audiences didn't respond any better, they apparently decided to under-promote it.

    The move was so little-known that when Internet Movie database listed the film, they mistook its title for a series of children's stories, and included this picture:

    7. The Long Goodbye (1973)

    When remembering Altman in his heyday, people point to his early 70s triumphs like McCabe and Mrs. Miller or M*A*S*H. (Someone once even uploaded the entirety of Altman's remarkable 1970 film Brewster McCloud onto YouTube in ten-minute installments.) But often overlooked is Altman's bold 1973 re-imagining of the ultimate American archetype — the lonely detective.

    Philip Marlowe clings to a personal code of honor in a world that has gone wild — but Altman transplants the character into the 1970s, so his world includes protesters, feel-good health clinics, and topless neighbors sun-bathing. The detective becomes everyman Elliott Gould, who moves through a Raymond Chandler underworld still filled with cops and petty crooks, but ultimately reaching a dark irony in its dime store message about loyalty. The noir-ish jazz in its title theme works on many levels, seeming to acknowledge that people everywhere were changing and, like Altman himself, moving further and further away from the simple answers of the 1950s. It could almost be an epitaph.

    "There's a long goodbye, and it happens every day..."

    5 Lamest Charlie Brown Cartoons

    I love Charlie Brown — but be honest. Cartoon producers led his Peanuts gang through some truly disturbing stories. As the cartoonist's manic-depressive imagination focussed on his newspaper comic strip, studio executives fumbled for new ways to fill the 40 years after A Charlie Brown Christmas. Now, even though Charles M. Schulz is dead — the cartoons keep coming.

    If there's one thing Peanuts specials have taught us, it's that Charlie Brown was still loveable, even when he failed. So let's give that same appreciation to his five worst cartoons....

    1. It's Flashbeagle, Charlie Brown

    Disco had been dead for years, but in 1984 Snoopy suddenly discovered the joys of boogie fever. He slapped on a headband, sweats, and a bad case of 80s attitude, then did his best Stayin' Alive strut towards the discotheque, where he met Franklin — the cartoon's only black character — breakdancing on the sidewalk. In the creepiest scene of all, the discotheque is filled with adult-sized Peanuts spinning in narcissistic oblivion.

    "All Flashbeagle really consists of is a foursome of thinly strung-together music videos," wrote one viewer, "with very little of the beloved Charles Schulz dialogue filling in between." And forget the familiar jazz soundtrack; this special is mostly dance loops and synthesizers.

    This felt old the day it was released — but don't tell Charlie Brown's sister. After Snoopy spontaneously ignites her first grade classroom into a disco inferno, she insists Charlie Brown give his dog some credit. "That's the first time I've ever got an A in Show And Tell."

    2. Linus's Towering Inferno

    My uncle, the baron, hates strangers, and he will be very upset eef — ooh la la! He is back! He mustn't find you here!

    We always knew Linus was a chick magnet, but his dalliance with a stereotypical French girl ends badly, as an overturned candle traps him in a burning Chateau.

    Charles M. Schulz had served in World War II — his unit was behind the tanks that liberated Dachau — and he'd wanted to include his unit's village in a Charlie Brown cartoon. To reach this improbable moment, the entire Peanuts gang procures passports, then travels through Europe with Snoopy as their chauffeur. Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown is an artificially sweet travelogue that ends with a melodramatic fire sequence which consists mostly of Linus shouting "Help! Help! Help, Charlie Brown!" over and over again.

    The baseball-challenged blockhead successfully rousts the villagers — including one token French Peanut — and as Snoopy wheels out a fire hose, Linus repels away from the flames using his blanket. After a particularly wooden reading of the line "Use my blanket! To catch us!" they all successfully escape a grisly death from smoke inhalation.

    The only thing more depressing is the infamous Peanuts Memorial Day special in which Linus again visits World World II battlefields, then recites the poem "In Flanders Fields. " ("We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow...") He then turns to Charlie Brown and asks accusingly: "What have we learned?"

    3. Why, Charlie Brown, Why?

    Charlie Brown endorsed everything from Zingers to sandwich bread. In fact, the newspaper comic strip accounted for less than a fifth of all Charlie Brown-related revenue, most of which came from merchandising. (Case in point: the commercial in which an exhausted Charlie Brown suddenly perks up after eating "tasty low-sugar Cheerios" before facing certain doom in the boxing ring...)

    But sometime in the 70s, Charles M. Schulz took a break from creating children's programming altogether, and began illustrating life insurance brochures. Those weird TV commercials in which Snoopy played a lawyer were only the beginning. The online version showed Charlie Brown illustrating the proper procedure for mourning the death of a family member. ("Immediate care of the body," it read, next to a picture of a very depressed Charlie Brown. "If the deceased has made provisions to donate his or her organs...")

    Elsewhere Lucy proudly brandished her discharge papers in an essay about leaving the military, while Schroeder continued his Navy tour of duty and Snoopy continued his career as a Marine. (Complete with buzz cut). Two cute yellow birds were shown getting married, followed by a brochure illustrating the logistics of divorce. One page even showed Woodstock imprisoned for failure to pay child support. But no one really wanted to know why Lucy was carefully scrutinizing her health insurance's pre-natal coverage, and eventually it was replaced by a picture of Woodstock clipping out the phone numbers for an OB/GYN

    Only after reading these disturbing brochures were you ready to watch Peanuts: Why Charlie Brown Why — the angstiest cartoon ever, in which a little girl fights leukemia. This 1990 special was nominated for an Emmy, but it's never been clear why Charles M. Schulz wanted to tackle the subject. (Although Charlie Brown was named after a boyhood friend who later died of cancer, a disease which also claimed Schulz's mother.) At one point the hymn "Farther Along" is sung gently in the background of this cartoon. "When death has come and taken our loved ones, It leaves our home so lonely and drear..."

    In its tear-jerking conclusion, the little girl's baseball cap flies off her head, revealing that all her hair grew back after her chemotherapy.

    4. Snoopy, Come Home

    Umberto Eco once wrote about how Snoopy failed to bring Charlie Brown the tenderness he needed. "His solitude becomes an abyss," the deconstructive Italian novelist wrote. "...he proceeds always on the brink of suicide, or at least of nervous breakdown..."

    That's the feeling you get watching Snoopy abandon Charlie Brown in Snoopy, Come Home. Charlie Brown stands alone, sad circles around his eyes, not just depressed but actually crying. He returns alone to his joyless room, as a 4-minute ballad chronicles his uncontrollable descent into depression with histrionic violins.

    Someone named "TickleMeCthulhu" has uploaded the video to YouTube, along with another clip from the same movie — although it's not particularly cheery either. In the 1972 film the beagle's original owner, now confined to her sick bed, writes him a letter wondering if she's been forgotten. She cries, looking longingly out her window, then sends the letter to Snoopy.

    "What could possibly be sadder," one commenter posted, "than a little girl in the hospital missing her dog?!"

    5. Bring Me the Head of Charlie Brown

    Family Guy isn't funny — except when it is — but you've got to acknowledge the audacity in their mean-spirited parody. A miserable grown-up Charlie Brown crashed a reunion of his old gang — sporting tattoos and piercings — then blusters, "What are you looking at? Yeah, it's me, your old punching bag, Charlie Brown. Everybody wish Snoopy and Woodstock were here? Well they're dead!"

    The sweetness of Peanuts presents a too-obvious target, and even Simpsons director Jim Reardon took a whack at it. Back when he was an art student in 1986, he created "Bring me the head of Charlie Brown" — an underground three-minute short with the Great Pumpkin offering a bounty for the death of his arch nemesis. The bounty sends Lucy, Schroeder, Linus, and Snoopy on a hunt for Charlie Brown, so when watching the ultra-violent climax you'll probably want your security blanket.

    If you search YouTube today for Charlie Brown, you'll find the top matches are amateurish re-dubs of the holiday specials into race-baiting parodies like A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa, or simply, Suck My Black Ass, Charlie Brown.

    These parodies are useful only to demonstrate how the Peanuts cartoons would look if you threw away everything that made them so endearing — their gentleness, artfulness, and philosophical humor. Even at their worst, the real Charlie Brown cartoons always had a simple, bittersweet honesty. They didn't always end happily — but maybe that was the point.

    The world is full of kite-eating trees.

    See Also:

    Six Freakiest Children's TV Rock Bands
    The Cartoon Porn Shop Janitor: Carol Burnett vs. Family Guy
    Five Freaky Muppet Videos
    The Simpsons on Drugs: Six Trippiest Scenes

    Counterculture and the Tech Revolution

    Back in the day, when people were still asking me to explain "Mondo 2000," I used to tell them that we were doing this psychedelic counterculture magazine called "High Frontiers" in the mid-1980s and we were shocked — just shocked — when we were befriended by the Silicon Valley elite. Suddenly, we found ourselves at parties where some of the major software and hardware designers of those early days were hanging out with NASA scientists, quantum physicists, hippies and lefty radicals, artists, libertarians, and your general motley assortment of smart types.

    I was being a bit disingenuous when I made these comments. "High Frontiers" already had a tech/science bias, largely because we'd been influenced by the "Leary-Wilson paradigm." So we were technologically progressive tripsters. I'd also followed Stewart Brand's work with interest through the years.

    The connection between the creators of the driving engine of the contemporary global economy, and the countercultural attitudes that were popular among young people during the 1960s and 70s was sort of a given within the cultural milieu we ("High Frontiers/Mondo 2000") found ourselves immersed in as the 1980s spilled into the 90s. Everybody was "experienced." Everybody was suspicious of state and corporate authority — even those who owned corporations. People casually recalled hanging out with Leary, or The Grateful Dead, or Ken Kesey, or Abbie Hoffman. You get the picture.

    But these upcoming designers of the future were not prone towards lots of public hand waving about their "sex, drugs and question authority" roots. After all, most of them were seeking venture capital and they were selling their toys and tools to ordinary Reagan-Bush era consumers. There was little or no percentage in trying to tell the public, "Oh, by the way. All this stuff? This is how the counterculture now plans to change the world."

    And while there has been plenty of implicit — and even some explicit — talk throughout the years about these associations, no one really tried to trace the connections until 2005, when John Markoff published What the Dormouse Said: How the 60s Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer.

    Markoff's narrative revolved largely around the figures of Douglas Engelbart and Stewart Brand. His book, according to my May 2005 conversation with him on the NeoFiles podcast, covered "the intersection or convergence of two cultures around the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, California throughout the 1960s. One was a psychedelic counterculture and the other was the anti-war movement; and then you have the beginnings of computer technology intersecting them both." Engelbart, in contrast to the mainstream in computer science back then, started thinking about computers as something that could augment and expand the capacity of the human mind. At the same time, another Palo Alto group was researching LSD as a tool for augmenting and expanding the capacity of the human mind. And then, along came the whole anti-war, anti-establishment movement of the sixties and all these tendencies become increasingly tangled as a "people's" computing culture evolves in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

    What the Dormouse Said is a marvelous read that gives names and faces to an interesting dynamic that helped give birth to the PC. The story is mostly localized in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley, and it's largely about how connections were made. In this sense, it's a story that is as much based on proximity in physical space and time, as it is a story about the evolution of the cultural ideas that might be associated with that word: "counterculture."

    Fred Turner's From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism digs more deeply into how the seeds of a certain view of how the world works (cybernetics) was planted into the emerging 60s counterculture largely through the person of Stewart Brand, and how that seed has succeeded — and how it has continued to exfoliate in new and unexpected ways. While Markoff's book blew the cultural lid off of a partly-suppressed truth — that computer culture was deeply rooted in psychedelic counterculture — Turner's book takes a broader sweep and raises difficult questions about the ideological assumptions that undergird our counterculturally-inflected technoculture. They're both wonderful reads, but Turner's book is both more difficult and ultimately more rewarding.

    What Turner does in From Counterculture to Cyberculture is trace an arc that starts with the very mainstream American interest in cybernetics (particularly within the military) and shows how that implicit interest in self-regulating systems leads directly into the hippie Bible, the "Whole Earth Catalog" and eventually brings forth a digital culture that distributes computing power to (many of) the people, and which takes on a sort-of mystical significance as an informational "global brain." And then, towards the book's conclusion, he raises some unpleasant memories, as Brand's digital countercultural elite engages in quasi-meaningful socio-political intercourse with Newt Gingrich's Progress and Freedom Foundation and other elements of the mid-90s "Republican Revolution."

    While I welcome Turner's critical vision, I must say honestly that, although I was repulsed by the Gingrich alliance and by much of the corporate rhetoric that emerged, at least in part, out of Brand's digital elitist clan — I think Brand's tactics were essentially correct. Turner implies that valuable social change is more likely to happen through political activism than through the invention and distribution of tools and through the whole systems approach that is implicit in that activity. But I think that the internet has — palpably — been much more successful in changing lives than 40 years of left oppositional activism has been. For one example out of thousands, the only reason the means of communication that shapes our cultural and political zeitgeist isn't COMPLETELY locked down by powerful media corporations is the work that these politically ambiguous freaks have accomplished over the past 40 years. In other words, oppositional activism would be even more occult — more hidden from view — today if not for networks built by hippie types who were not averse to working with DARPA and with big corporations. The world is a complex place.

    In some ways, Turner's critique of cyber-counterculture is similar to Thomas Frank's criticism of urban hipster counterculture in his influential book, The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. It, in essence, portrays hipsterism as a phenomenon easily transformed into a titillating, attractive, libertine whore for big business. Frank argues that American businesses felt stultified by the conformism of the American 50s and needed a more expansive, experimental, individualistic consumer base that would be motivated by the frequent changes in what's hip and who would desire a wider variety of products. So the hippie culture, despite its implied critique of consumerism that they inherited from the beats, actually energized consumer capitalism and, through advertising and mainstream media, the business world amplified the rebellious message of sixties youth counterculture, encouraging consumers to "join the Dodge rebellion" and "live for today."

    These books by Frank and Turner raise interesting questions and challenge most folks' usual assumptions about the counterculture. But one of the interesting questions that might be raised in response to these critiques is, "So what?" In my own book, Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House (with Dan Joy), on counterculture as a sort of perennial historical phenomenon, I identify counterculturalism with the continual emergence of individuals and groups who transgress some of the taboos of a particular tribe or religion or era in a way that pushes back boundaries around thoughts and behaviors in ways that lead to greater creativity, greater enjoyment of life, freedom of thought, spiritual heterodoxy, sexual liberties, and so forth. In this context, one might ask if counterculture should necessarily be judged by whether it effectively opposes capitalism or capitalism's excesses. Perhaps, but complex arguments can be made either way, or more to the point, NEITHER way, since any countercultural resistance is unlikely to follow a straight line — it is unlikely to reliably line up on one side or another.

    These reflections may not be directly related to one of Turner's concerns: that an elite group of white guys have decided how to change the world. On the other hand, one might also ask how much direct influence the last decade's digerati still has. The "ruling class" in the digital era is an ever-shifting target; all those kids using Google, YouTube, the social networks, etc., don't know John Brockman from John Barlow, but a good handful of them certainly know Ze Frank from Amanda Congdon. Meanwhile, the corporate digital powers seem to be pleased to have an ally in the new Democratic Speaker of the House. And that may be the coolest thing about the world that Stewart Brand and his cohorts have helped to inspire. In the 21st Century, the more things change, the more things change.

    I interviewed Fred Turner recently on NeoFiles...
    To listen to the full interview in MP3, click here.

    RU SIRIUS: Would you comment on the differences between your book and John Markoff's 2005 book, What the Dormouse Said?

    FRED TURNER: The books have different ambitions. John's book focuses heavily on the late 60s and early 70s and lays out a series of relatively anecdotal connections between the social world of computers around Doug Engelbart's lab and around Menlo Park and the social worlds that Stewart Brand was a part of. It's a neat, fun story.

    I think my book is substantially more ambitious in its size and its scope. It starts in the 1940s and extends all the way until the 1990s, and it makes a different argument. For John, counterculture and LSD are essentially the same thing.

    That's not the case, in my view. I'm proudest of the way this book shows how a particular wing of the counterculture that Brand spoke to grew very directly out of cold war and World War II research culture. It was not entirely a counterculture. I think that's been a historical mistake that I hope the book clears up.

    Also, I think John would argue that the experience of taking LSD shaped the design of the personal computer. I think that's demonstrably false. On the contrary, the design of computing machinery and other kinds of information machinery in the 40s and 50s shaped what we thought minds were good for, and when LSD came on the scene it was read by some in terms that had already been set by 40s and 50s techno-culture, the same techno-culture that ultimately brought us computing machinery. And this counterculture, in my book, doesn't end in the '60s. It fades away and gets reborn in a way that is closely attached to the libertarian movements of the 1990s; movements that are arguably not countercultural at all. I think the book makes an effort to explain how and why that happened.

    RU: LSD in some sense was a tool for understanding the same things that cybernetic theorists were understanding, because both things are, in some sense, about pattern recognition. Thankfully you go into the influence of Norbert Werner's actual work on cybernetics on Stewart Brand, since "cyber" is a much abused prefix.

    FT: Pattern recognition, in the 1940s and '50s, was very literally about saving the world. We tend to forget that, in the '40s and '50s; the arrival of the atom bomb and the experience of World War II made it absolutely imperative that we enhance our consciousness and literally extend our abilities to monitor the world so as to prevent nuclear war.

    If we could spot patterns of invasion, we could literally prevent ourselves from being destroyed. If you look at Brand's diaries in the late 50s, he's terribly afraid that the Soviet Union is going to invade and literally overrun Palo Alto. That fear was very powerful. And I think what he has wanted to do for 30-odd years now is save the world through making patterns very visible. That's a mission that grows very directly out of the cold war.

    Brand found cybernetics in a funny way. He was in the New York art world in the 1960s and he started hanging out with a group of artists called UsCo — the Us Company. This was the avant-garde in New York in the 60s — people around John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg — and all those guys were reading cybernetics. They were reading Norbert Wiener. So Brand picked him up as well. And, as far as I can tell, Brand was the person who brought cybernetics back to much of the Bay Area counterculture and very specifically to the pranksters.

    RU: Brand works his way through Wiener to Buckminster Fuller, another systems thinker.

    FT: Brand has had a series of very powerful intellectual inspirations. Fuller would be one, Kesey would be another. For Brand, Fuller was a model in two senses. He was a model of systems thinking, and he was also a model of an intellectual entrepreneur. Fuller moved from university to university, from setting to setting, knitting communities together. That's what Brand learned to do. He learned to do it partly by watching Fuller.

    RU: Fuller was, in a sense, one of the first cyber-Ronin, the wandering techno-entrepreneur type that is much touted later in the 1990s by people like John Brockman and "Wired" magazine.

    FT: Absolutely. I think of Fuller and Kesey and Brand as P.T. Barnums. They are people who can't ride a trick horse, can't ride an elephant, can't ride a trapeze. And yet they build the rings of the circus; they bring the performers in; and they learn the languages and the styles of the circus. And they speak the circus' meanings to the audience. Brand has very much been the voice of a series of very important circuses.

    RU: So, into the hippie era, Brand is part of the Merry Pranksters for a while; he does the "Whole Earth Catalog," but he's never really a hippie. And most hippies are not, generally, systems thinkers. "Hey man, spare change, I'm going to Woodstock" isn't systems thinking. Brand is very much off on his own distinctive trip. And yet there is this through-line that takes Brand from the avant-garde through the Trips festivals to Whole Earth and on to the Global Business Network and then on through the creation of "Wired." Can you describe what those memes or through-lines are?

    FT: There's a misapprehension that has plagued a lot of Americans, including a lot of historians, about the 60s counterculture. We tend to think of the counterculture as a set of anti-war protests; as drug use and partying. But we don't tend to differentiate between two groups that were very importantly differentiated in that time: the New Left, and the group that I've called the New Communalists. Brand speaks to the New Communalists. Though it's mostly forgotten now, between 1966 and 1973 there was the largest wave of communal activity in all of American history.

    Between 1966 and 1973, conservative estimates suggest that 10 million Americans were involved in communes. Brand speaks to that group by promoting the notion that small-scale technologies like LSD, stereos, books, Volkswagens; are tools for building new alternative communities.

    The New Left wanted to change the world by doing politics in order to change politics. They formed SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). They protested. Brand and his group turned his backs on all that. Brand said, what we need to do is go out and build these communities, and my job is to build a catalog of tools through which people can gain access to the technologies that they can build communities around. So the core idea that migrates from the 60s to the 90s is the idea that we can build small-scale technologies and communities of consciousness around those technologies. So we no longer need to do politics per se. That idea kicks in again in the 80s around the rise of the personal computer, the ultimate in small-scale technology. It gives us the idea of virtual community, a distributed community gathered around small-scale technologies. And it ultimately plays very directly into the beliefs of Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

    RU: OK. You're jumping ahead to the collision of certain cyber-libertarians and the mid-90s Republican right. At the same time, you're sketching a line that leads to open source. Going back to Whole Earth, the idea was access to tools and tools for access. And in some sense Brand nailed the whole platform back then at the end of the sixties for everything that computer culture comes to stand for.

    FT: I think there's a confusion that is plaguing our understanding of the internet right now. We tend to think the internet's arrival changes everything. My own sense is that the internet arrived in a cultural context that had already begun to change things. And the cultural context substantially shapes how we use the internet, and what we use it for. That said; open source has roots both in the New Communalist wing — and to some extent, through Richard Stallman — very much in New Left activism. Wanting to change the regulation of copyright, for example, is a very New Left kind of thing.

    RU: I also think there's a punk influence in this whole thing that gets ignored. Stylistically, Brand couldn't be more different than the punk culture. But there's a direct and important link between Whole Earth and punk culture and that's DIY — Do It Yourself; start your own institutions, anybody can grab a tool and use it.

    FT: Very definitely. And Brand briefly embraced punk in his late-70s magazine, "Co-Evolution Quarterly." And got a lot of hate mail from his audience.

    RU: The new communalist movement failed pretty much entirely. The idea of leaving behind the urban and suburban settings and going off and starting your own world failed. Even in terms of ecological or environmental ideas, the hip idea now is urban density. The attitude about tools survived, but the idea of back-to-the-country was pretty much useless.

    FT: The idea of back-to-the-country didn't work. But I think something deeper didn't work, and it haunts us today, even as it underlies a lot of what we do. The notion that you can build a community around shared style is a deeply bohemian notion. It runs through all sorts of bohemian worlds. The notion that if you just get the right technology you can then build a unified community is a notion that drove a lot of the rural communal efforts. They thought by changing technological regimes; by going to 19th century technologies; by making their own butter; sewing their own clothes — they would be able to build a new kind of community. What they discovered was that if you don't do politics — explicitly, directly, through parties, through organizations — if you don't pay attention to and articulate what's going on with real material power, communities fail.

    So I argue that there's a fantasy that haunts the internet, and it's haunted it for at least a decade. And it's the idea that if we just get the tools right and communicate effectively, we will be able to be intimate with one another and build the kinds of communities that don't exist outside, in the rest of our lives. And I think that's a deep failure and a fantasy.

    RU: I agree with that to some extent, because I don't think it takes into account the effort of human beings like Stewart Brand and like the punks in creating a fecund culture before the internet came around. So that there were generations of people who grew up with the idea, "Yeah, I CAN do it myself. I don't have to wait for Eric Clapton or Timothy Leary to tell me what to do. I'm not just a consumer. I can do my own stuff." I have advocated the idea to a few people that this so-called Long Tail really wouldn't have happened nearly as quickly without the punk counterculture coming before it, creating the attitude that you didn't have to be a professional to have something to say. I generally get dismissed by tech people.

    FT: I think technologists and economists both tend to believe that it all revolves around barriers to entry — people have things they want to do, and if you just lower the barriers to doing them by changing the technology, those things become possible.

    RU: I think eventually that will happen. It happens a lot faster if you create a cultural environment for it.

    FT: You can see that just in the geographical distribution of the kinds of things we're talking about. There's a reason Silicon Valley is in California and not in Montana. Part of it's density, but part of it's also culture.

    RU: It's peculiar that ideas from something called "New Communalism", and that's all about group mind and shared tools, winds up being absorbed not only into the libertarian trip but also by elements of the Republican right.

    FT: And Newt Gingrich always rejected the drug culture. Just loathed it.

    RU: He once wrote that either drug use should be legalized or drug users should get the death penalty.

    FT: (sarcastic) Charming man. I didn't know that. He did loathe drug culture, but he embraced many of the ideals that were circulating in those worlds. Part of what we forget about the communalism of that period is that it wasn't entirely idealistic and selfless. People wanted to build communities around themselves. The art world that Brand was most invested in during the early 60s — the Us Company — had a sign above there door that said "Just Us." It's the idea of a collaborative collective elite. That works very well for people who want to be in charge of their own lives and in charge of sections of the world. One idea that travels through the thirty or forty years covered in the book, from the counterculture to the libertarianism of the 90s, is this idea that we can form collective elites together.

    RU: And that's fine if a group of thirty white guys get together and do a project that creates value in the world. But when that project says, "We're re-making the entire world," other people will stand up and say, "Hey wait a minute."

    FT: Right. And when it provides a kind of guiding logic for people on Wall Street or Republicans in Washington, that's when it really gets scary. When Kevin Kelly, who was a "Whole Earth Review" editor, writes "New Rules for the New Economy," that becomes the bible for the internet bubble, and for people who behave in an extraordinarily rapacious manner, in Washington and New York alike.

    RU: There are attractive aspects to this sort of anarcho-capitalism — "Throw out the rulebooks! Go with the flow!"

    FT: But there's another thing that haunts the anarcho-capitalist world, despite the parts that you and I might like. There's the notion that getting the right friends together is sufficient for politics.

    RU: And you also simply don't think about those who are excluded. But there's been a lot of movement in the direction towards distributing the tools and being concerned with those who have been excluded.

    FT: I think that the notion that distributing tools and granting access is sufficient for making social change is a deeply new communalist notion, but it doesn't work. Because there are cultural and social conditions, social capital, that you require to be successful.

    RU: We're into different types of politics that emerge from the sixties. And one type is oppositional and another is collaborationist. Stewart Brand is one counterculture person who mixes it up with corporations and the military right from the start. He shares info with the Pentagon and brings all kinds of people into these sort of think tank situations — people ranging from hippies and environmentalists to establishment types. And that distinction between his branch of counterculture and a broader, more militant counterculture is still reflected today in the differences between anti-corporate counterculturalists and the more compromised cyber-counterculture.

    I think that Brand is more sophisticated than the pure oppositionalists. But there is also much that is questionable about his approach. For instance, if you question the military policies of the US, then you maybe should question how much you want to help them.

    FT: One of the things that bubbled up in the new communalist movement and haunts a lot of techno-cultural work today is a shift in rhetoric from the language of politics to the language of science. So now we have the language of learning, the language of emergence, the language of self-organization. Brand and his cohorts — groups like the Global Business Network and the Santa Fe Institute — are creating a politically neutral language for gathering together potentially controversial kinds of networks. So suddenly, if I'm a player and I have anti-military leanings, and there's a general in the mix, I think to myself, "Well, he's part of our learning organization. We'll learn together." That substantially neutralizes any opportunity I might have to disagree with him.

    RU: One expression of this is the idea of Bionomics — economics modeled by biology. I have less objection to that idea than I have to its conclusions. I think the "and therefore" is premature. But the idea that our behaviors are deeply rooted in biology...

    FT: Biological models in the social sciences have a horrible history. We tend to forget social Darwinists called for, among other things, the eugenic erasure of people who weren't evolving properly. Bionomics' problem is a different one. I don't necessarily mind the migration of metaphors from biology to other fields, as long as they're recognized as metaphors. What I mind, specifically, in the case of Bionomics is the fusion of two metaphors, one scientific and one market-based.

    RU: But it isn't entirely a metaphor. We can't ignore biology.

    FT: Sure. There are things that work one way or another at the species level that can be shown through science and biology, and that's terrific. But with Bionomics — there's a habit of translating species-level learning, species-level principles, to much smaller social worlds and arguing that those are the principles that drive those worlds. And I think that's a nasty habit.

    RU: It's the habit of abstraction, which political radicals on the left do as well. In Brand's interactions with the corporate elite, how would you say he taught them to look at things?

    FT: That's the wrong way of putting it. Brand has a theory of power that comes out of cybernetics. It says, I can't instruct you to do anything. I can't do that hierarchically. What I can do is build a forum in which you're likely to bump into some kinds of folks, and then I can watch and see what bubbles out of that forum. And I can speak it. Brand gathers people around certain questions and selects the site for activity and he sees what happens.

    RU: He established a connection with Kevin Kelly at "Co-Evolution Quarterly." And that sort of becomes a partnership that runs through their participation in "Wired" and on through the Long Now Foundation.

    FT: Very much so. Kevin Kelly has his own sensibility, it's very much a kind of Whole Earth communalist sensibility, but filtered through a born-again mind. It's very important to remember that Kevin Kelly is an evangelically religious man, and there's a kind of Messianism in his work.

    RU: Wired publisher Louis Rossetto seems like the more messianic one.

    FT: I'm speculating here, but I think that's more a matter of temperament.

    RU: Let's close out with some thoughts on how this river runs from cybernetics through to Wired magazine.

    FT: I think "Wired" is a magazine in which small-scale technologies — digital technologies in that case — are thought to be changing the world by allowing us to finally communicate with one another, and to build communities of consciousness. And those communities of consciousness are going to change the world. That is an idea that emerges first in the research worlds of World War II, and the cold war, gets picked up and culturally legitimated by Stewart Brand by the "Whole Earth" crew in the 1960s and travels with them into the 1980s, onto The Well, into the Global Business Network, onto the pages of Wired, and ultimately into our public life today.

    See Also:
    Steve Wozniak v. Stephen Colbert — and Other Pranks
    Google Heard Me, Now What?
    iPhone Debate: I'm a Mac vs. Bill Gates
    How the iPod Changes Culture

    Sorry ‘Bout That, Nick!

    We like Nick Douglas. A lot. He's funny, playful, unafraid to say crazy shit. So we naturally stayed as up-to-date as we could with the situation surrounding his departure from Valleywag. Little did we know the role we played in his exodus.

    Today, a leaked internal email surfaced on the New York Times' Dealbook blog. It's from Gawker executive Lockhart Steele to Gawker staff, and here it is:
    We let Nick Douglas go from Valleywag yesterday.

    As you know, we don't make moves like this lightly, so let me explain our thinking, and the lessons from it.

    Gawker sites are designed to be written from an outsider perspective. That's one reason we're game to hire writers like Nick Douglas, who came to San Francisco last January straight from college as a near-total outsider to the web scene. But anytime a writer settles in too closely with the subjects he/she's writing about, there comes the inevitable tradeoffs: favor trading, and an elevated sense of one's own importance to the field at hand. Both, to some degree, ended up being the case here.

    We were also concerned by Nick's repeated misunderstanding of the purpose of our sites. Here's a quote from a recent interview with him, after we'd asked him to lay off the press interviews:

    We haven't gotten a serious legal threat so far. Well, a couple of minor ones, but we're still waiting for a good solid cease-and-desist and a good lawsuit. We're really trying to get News Corp. to sue us.
    They tried to stop the publication of some article [ed: originally intended for publication by someone else] calling MySpace a spam factory. And the author was revealing some of the background behind the company — that it wasn't really started by these two guys in their basement. And, since News Corp went to such lengths to stop the original publisher from publishing the article, we were hoping that if I actually published it on Valleywag, we could finally get sued. (Sighs) It didn't happen yet. I'm really disappointed about that. alleywag-nick-douglas/

    We don't report stories to "finally get sued." We report stories because we think they deserve to be out there. Whatever follows from them is whatever follows from them. Sarcasm or not, it's quotes like these that could make us look really foolish — or worse — down the road.

    I don't want any of these problems to be misinterpreted as one-strike-and-out situations. These are issues that we repeatedly spoke to and warned Nick about. It finally reached a break-point where changing editors was the only solution. That said, I'll miss working with Nick — he was a hellishly funny writer, and I don't doubt he'll go on from this to grander things in the Valley.

    Beginning today, Valleywag's editor is someone we've worked with before — Nick Denton. Nick's been in San Francisco for the past week, and will stay out there until a new full-time Valleywag is installed. His intro post, reflecting on Valleywag past and future, is here: e-candidate-2-214343.php

    Let me know if you have more questions about this — happy to discuss.


    It's all a little confusing because, in his audio interview with RU Sirius, Destiny and myself, Mr. Douglas indicated that he was working on new projects, though he declined to say what they were. But since the announcement of his departure from Valleywag, we didn't really believe the speculations that he'd been fired. And never in a million years would we have thought he was, at least in part, fired because of what he said to us.

    For what it's worth, consider this a public apology to Nick Douglas. But, maybe it's not something Nick regrets.

    Based on the content of the above email, I'd say Gawker made a mistake. A big mistake.

    What do you think? Comment here.

    Update (11/30/06): Nick has been hired by the Huffington Post to do "real journalism" for it's Eat the Press section. Good luck in your relationship with the (inverted) inverted pyramid, Nick.

    See also:
    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?
    Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?

    Hours after the upheaval at Valleywag, recently-released blogger Nick Douglas issues his first comment. In fact, in an effort to learn the truth, we talked to all the players — Nick Denton, Nick Douglas, Rocketboom's Andrew Baron and Amanda Congdon, and even Dave Winer.

    Nick Douglas by Thomas Hawk

    Our story so far: Gawker hired Pennsylvania college student Nick Douglas in February to pen sexy gossip about Silicon Valley — until Monday, when Gawker's publisher Nick Denton took over the writing duties himself. Monday night blogger Douglas made a surprise appearance in the comments of that thread — but only to heckle commenter (and blog publisher) Jason Calacanis.
    JasonCalacanis: Someone tell little Nicky that I have a job for him running all Denton all the time.

    NickDouglas: Jason, calling me "little Nicky" is an AWESOME way to make me consider a professional relationship with you.

    Was Douglas still considering new professional relationships? With snark flying in all directions, and the gossip columnist suddenly gossip fodder, we decided to track Nick down ourselves.


    Let's start with where he's not. "I'll be 'on tour' until January 2, 2007," his cellphone told callers Monday, and — in case you're missing the hint — the voicemail message adds, "I'll be returning to the U.S. on January 2." But just last week he was spotted at a San Francisco Web 2.0 conference, and his profile shows him attending a San Francisco party this Saturday.

    "I'm working on a project," he'd told us in an interview published 11 days ago. "There's a sort of video news thing that I'd love to do..."

    So theory #2 begins when Dave Winer posted a month ago that Douglas "was leaving Valleywag to do a web video show with one of the big video producers." We'd specifically asked Nick about the rumor.

    "First off, I'm surprised that — if Winer is still blogging — that anyone reads him," Nick replied saucily. "And secondly, I'm surprised that people believe him!" Nick responded to Winer's post by saying cryptically that "Rocketboom is hiring, and so there are always rumors about that," adding that, "I'm working on a project..."

    Ah-ha! Maybe Nick struck a deal with Rocketboom, the reputedly popular video blog. Monday we tracked down the site's creator Andrew Baron, and demanded that he spill the beans.

    "Are you kidding?" he answered dismissively. "He hates Rocketboom."

    Putting two and two together, we deduced that Nick may have struck a deal with former Rocketboom correspondent and producer Amanda Congdon. She recently left the popular video blog to create her own online video shows. So we located Amanda Congdon, who answered our query with an emphatic: no.

    "Nick and I aren't working together," she emailed 10 Zen Monkeys. "He has never approached me and I have never approached him."

    But in our earlier interview we'd learned significantly that Nick had at least reviewed the current online video offerings, and concluded, "There's not really a show out there yet for your average person who goes to Yahoo as their home page... The typical example is your mom, right, or the average guy on the street... There really needs to be one show that comes out that is like The Daily Show for the internet. I think if one show came out that was half as witty, and probably shorter — that would be good."

    At this point Nick added, "It has to be short because it's like watching porn... You're really only interested for quick blips," which de-railed our train of thought altogether. But it's worth pondering Nick's final words on the need for a short summary of online news.

    "If I did anything in video, it would probably be something short like that."

    One commenter on Valleywag hinted (without evidence) that Nick may have gotten a deal with Adam Curry's Podshow network....


    Enough is enough! We demanded Nick send us a comment — and sensing our frustration, he obligingly complied, although speaking in tantalizing gossip-columnist koans.
    My only on-record comments are:
    "I still like Nick Denton."
    "I'm wide open for job and gig offers."

    Sometimes the truth lies between the lines. But does this mean the blogger didn't leave the site because he'd already lined up a juicier gig? Our own network of sources tell us Gawker's publisher (Nick Denton) was already looking for a replacement writer last week.

    There was only one thing to do. We asked Denton for the other side of the story. Late Monday he mailed us a comment, offering his own tight-lipped perspective on the incident.

    "Valleywag was growing," he conceded. "But there's a bigger audience for tech news and gossip than we had tapped." But did he fire Nick? How was their relationship over those last months?

    "Not saying anything more about Nick Douglas," he huffed, adding: "I think he may move to Wired."

    Wired? Did Nick Douglas leave the Gawker media empire for Wired? At this point we realized there was an even bigger question. Was Nick Denton giving us firsthand information — or just repeating a rumor he read on someone else's site.

    No matter how much you think you know, there's someone who still knows more. We asked Dave Winer today how he'd known Douglas was leaving over a month in advance, but he wasn't telling. "No comment on how I knew," he wrote, "other than I had an anonymous (good) source who shall remain anonymous." But he did offer his last thoughts on Nick's tenure at Valleywag. "I think overall Douglas did a good job."

    Supporting sentiments echo from around the web. "I'm sure wherever Nick ends up next will have a similar rebellious feel," one blog commented, adding "i'm looking forward to signing up as a daily reader for the new gig, whatever it might be..."

    The positive sentiments were echoed by Valleywag contributor Paul Boutin. He confided to us that he feels Douglas "is exceptionally talented, has a bright future, and most important he's nowhere near as mean as he pretends to be on Valleywag." (Adding that he was sure Gawker publisher Nick Denton feels the same way.) Sensing that his words would be carefully scrutinized, Boutin hinted only that "I think the enterprising Mr Douglas needs to join an A-team where he can get some direct mentoring rather than working alone. Wired did that for me when I first started writing and it made all the difference."


    Meanwhile, Valleywag limps on. Over on the site, publisher Denton had mumbled the news Monday morning in a short blurb. ("Some changes, design, personnel, and mission... Nick Douglas, editor since launch earlier this year, is leaving. And we're going to change the mix of stories, slightly.") With only a few additional remarks in a longer hyperlinked entry, Denton found his announcement receiving negative reviews.

    "[Y]ou can do better than that," one reader complained in the comments, joining a mostly-negative chorus of 53 responses to the news. Another poster speculated that the Gawker publisher had been pushed to fire Douglas by a powerful Silicon Valley company like Google or Yahoo. And others simply carped about Denton's new look for the site. ("With all due respect, I am unthrilled with the new design." "IBM just called from 1955, they want their Courier font back.")

    Denton promised he'd address all the comments by Monday evening — but then failed to show up. "I guess that plan didn't work out," posted technology blogger Thomas Hawk, agreeing that Denton should roll back his unpopular new design and give a better reckoning of his plans for Valleywag. But by Tuesday morning Denton was back in the thread, acknowledging the design criticisms, but saying he'd leave the mystery of Douglas's fate as something for Douglas to address. Although he did offer one last piece of gossip. "I know he's already had a few job offers."

    Denton has already offered hints on the site's possibly-less-interesting new direction. "We're still going to break open secrets," he blustered in his Monday post. "However, I suspect we're going to tone down the personal coverage of civilians, because they haven't done anything to seek out attention, and their personal lives aren't that interesting. Unless they are." The site's new mantra for gossip?

    "More money, a little less sex."

    In Silicon Valley, personnel shuffles are just part of the territory. But after 9 months of dispensing trashy beat-downs to the tech industry's climbers and its falling stars, Nick finds himself at the center of a poignant irony. Even his targets seem to have recognized that it's all just part of the game.

    Despite Nick's nasty commentary about Rocketboom, their former correspondent Amanda Congdon couldn't end her email to us without adding one last thought.

    "I wish Nick the best."

    That was where the story ended — until suddenly Tuesday afternoon, when Nick re-appeared on Valleywag like a Silicon Valley ghost.

    Saying everything, saying nothing, he performed the traditional Gawker good-bye dance. "I don't have anything to get across, other than that I'm free for lunch and gig offers for the next few weeks..."

    A gracious round of thank you's to his readers and tipsters ended with one last wisecrack.

    "I guess what I really mean to say is — I prefer Italian, maybe a little sushi, and if you want any gossip about Nick Denton you'll have to pony up for some wine."

    See Also:
    Sorry 'Bout That, Nick!
    Interview with Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Mondology Volume 1 Free Audio Download

    Over the past 18 or so months, The RU Sirius Show and MondoGlobo Network have been sharing audio evidence of the sometimes illuminating dementia that possesses your humble host (me); my many frequent or occasional co-hosts; and our gracious and astonishing array of brilliant guests and musical contributors.

    With this Creative Commons collection, we've singled out some particularly fine, funny, poignant and rockin' moments from the RU Sirius Show. Some of these readings, mash-ups and tunes tap gently on your head; some tickle your funny bone; and some, we hope, will drill a hole right through your skull.

    I listened to the whole thing, through headphones, in one sitting, and I feel pretty confident that you will find that it conveys a terrible beauty; a hideous absurdity; a deflating irony; a sense of wonder; a confrontation with truth; a nefarious web of deception; and the profound certainty that there's... like... some kind of noise in your ear.

    And although I recommend that you too bite off the full Mondology experience in one gulp at some point, I also invite you to taste those morsels that appear the most appetizing. Like what you hear? Cool. Then, pass them around. Share them with the other kids in the playground. It's OK. Just don't tell the Principal.

    Election Fallout: 24 Hours Later

    The drunken celebrations are over, with startled Democrats realizing that they've finally won. Now it's time to cast woozy eyes on the shimmering future ahead and the crazy campaign behind.

    But a cautionary tale for celebrating Democrats: One Democrat got so happy that his night of celebrating "ended with pepper spray and handcuffs." The son of Florida Senator Bill Nelson was "involved" in a fight with 20 other people just before 3 in the morning in Orlando, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Using code words like "slurring his words," "poor balance," and "a strong smell of alcohol," the police report describes the apparently-drunk 30-year-old telling police officers, "No — you need to leave!"

    "In the moments that followed, the police officer grabbed one of Bill Jr.'s arms and forced him onto the sidewalk in what's commonly called a 'face plant,'" the paper reports.


    This cycle saw Americans elect their first Muslim Congressman, and a bunch of openly gay people. Nancy Pelosi becomes the first female speaker of the House, prompting blogger Bob Harris to dream, "Someday, we may even elect a gay Muslim black woman to something. I want to see this, just to watch Sean Hannity's forehead burst open and his demons scatter across the floor." (He then locates a female college student in Indiana who is black, Muslim, and bi-sexual.)

    Amazingly, scandal-plagued Congressman Mark Foley still came within 1 point of his opponent — even though he'd already resigned. Foley's votes were conferred on the replacement candidate, Joe Negron — a Republican who had not been caught instant messaging under-aged male pages during House votes.

    And remember Mark Reynolds' notorious press conference on the Foley scandal, when he surrounded himself with children to embarrass reporters out of asking any PG-13 questions. Before the press uncovered Foley's antics, Reynolds had already received Foley's emails, discussed them with House Speaker Hastert, and even received suspicious campaign contributions from Foley himself. Tuesday he was re-elected.

    Then there's the case of Nevada governor candidate Jim Gibbons. Though he's tough on immigration, years ago he'd also hid an illegal immigrant maid in his basement. He was still elected Governor Tuesday — but an investigation is ongoing into allegations he attacked a cocktail waitress in a Vegas parking garage.

    "Arizona's gay marriage ban seems to have been rejected by the voters," wrote Glenn Reynolds, adding, "Good for them. Too bad it's the only place where that happened." Seven of the eight states passed bans on gay marriage — Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin. And in the midwest, Michigan banned affirmative action.

    Californians voted on an initiative requiring sex offenders to wear a satellite tracking device for the rest of their lives. "This is one of the more cynical election-year moves we've seen in a while..." wrote a San Francisco alternative newspaper. "The GOP hoped that Democrats would oppose it and thus could be accused of being soft on the worst kind of criminals."

    It passed with over 70% of the vote. Unfortunately, according to The Washington Post this initiative didn't last more than a few hours before it was challenged by "an unidentified sex offender," who filed a lawsuit arguing it should only apply to future sex offenders.


    Where Republicans contacted 3 million voters, Democrats contacted 3.5 million, according to National Journal's Hotline — and Democrats also knocked on twice as many doors.

    But Howard Dean also credited blogs for winning at least two House seats with their financial and political support — and applauded their work in uncovering campaign dirty tricks.

    Or maybe when voters said they were tired of "corruption," it was just a conservative code word for Mark Foley. The AP gushed in alarm that in this election, "almost a third" of white evangelicals voted for Democrats. While it represents an increase, nearly 25% of white evangelicals have voted against the Republican in every election.

    Bitch-slapped by voters, some conservatives whined that their losses meant they just hadn't been conservative enough. But Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher didn't want to hear that from her own party. "...this 'triumph of the centrists' meme is a Rahm Emanuel spittle-soaked fantasy. The country ran from conservatives like a bad case of crotch lice and no amount of PR spin can re-write that."

    The author of Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South, predicted this election would be the start of a new era. "The regional realignment over the past 40 years, which slowly converted Dixiecrats into Republicans, has now entered its final stage, as voters north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Mississippi provide a countervailing response to the southern-led Republican majority. Rust Belt Republicans will be replaced by progressive Democrats... For the first time in 52 years, the party with a minority of House seats in the South will be the majority party chamberwide."

    One DailyKos diarist saw this as a new era after a hundred-year war between liberalism and conservatism. "Like two heavy weight boxers stumbling into the 15th round of a championship fight, the two great ideologies of the 20th century stumble, exhausted, tattered and weakened, into a very dynamic and challenging 21st century..."


    "I have said it before and I will say it again: Impeachment is off the table," Nancy Pelosi announced at a news conference. Yet 75% of poll respondents chose "Start impeachment proceedings" in an unscientific online poll at the San Francisco Chronicle. RawStory even celebrated the Democrats victory by republishing Congressman Waxman's wishlist of Congressional investigations. Waxman heads the Government Reform Committee, and noted in 2004 that Congress has not fully investigated "the role of the White House in promoting misleading intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda." Other issues of concern to Waxman were detainee abuse, Cheney's role in contracts and energy regulations, and the outing of Valerie Plame.

    "That's what this election is all about," a Georgetown professor told USA Today. "Subpoena power."

    These giddy conversations lend new significance to old stories. Blogger Jonathan Schwarz pondered Donald Rumsfeld's departure with a passage from Bob Woodward's book. Vice President Cheney insisted that a Rumsfeld departure will be seen as hesitation. "It would give the war critics great heart and momentum, he confided to an aide, and soon they would be after him and then the president. He virtually insisted that Rumsfeld stay." And a British newspaper theorizes that the history of Rumsfeld's replacement, Robert Gates, means he's been selected to perform one clear mission. "Get American troops out of Iraq as quickly and cleanly as possible."

    Meanwhile, Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher noted Gates' ties to the Reagan administration's Iran-Contra scandal, writing "GOP zombies go home". And Wonkette linked to a vandalized Wikipedia entry in which Roberts Gates's history was summarized as simply: "a fag."

    Glenn Reynolds sees some good news for Republicans. "The economy is probably peaking, with record low unemployment, record high Dow averages, and low interest rates. If (when) things go downhill, there's somebody else to share the blame!" Rush Limbaugh actually said he'd been "carrying water" for people he didn't really believe in, and that he'd stop now. Feigning outrage, Stephen Colbert simply announced he was retiring.

    The next few weeks could be interesting. In October a nonpartisan polling firm speculated that "There is a realistic possibility that if the Democrats pick up at least five Senate seats on Election Night, several current Republican Senators could switch to the Democratic side of the aisle.... Arlen Specter is shunned by the GOP leadership and White House for his views on domestic surveillance while Olympia Snowe, John Warner and Chuck Hagel are shunned for their views on Iraq."

    Deep in the comments at TPM Cafe, someone whispered an interesting observation about 2008. "The Republicans have to defend 21 seats, the Democrats only 12. Considering likely retirements and state politics, I estimate at least 9 of the 'R' seats are contestable and only 2 of the Dems."

    It's a sign of how much things changed in the 24 hours since Tuesday. Though Democrats were virtually shut out of the legislative process over the last four years, in just two more years Democrats could move beyond a simple majority to one that couldn't even be filibustered.

    See Also:
    Here Comes the Judge's Porn
    War of the Candidate Music Videos
    Is It Legal Porn or Illegal Porn?
    5 Best Videos: Animals Attacking Reporters

    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

    Great Moments in the War Against DMCA

    The Digital Millennium Copyright Act has inspired a whole helluva lot of abuse in its short tenure. But it's also inspired playful reactions meant to instruct, annoy and protest. Let's review...

    In 1999, a 16-year-old in Norway had helped outwit the encryption on DVDs — but then a judge ruled his program violated the DMCA. DVD encryption wasn't particularly strong to begin with — according to Wikipedia hundreds of equivalent programs were created to do the same thing. (And in fact,the encryption's weird licensing scheme kept DVD-playing out of the reach of Linux users altogether.) But even worse, the judge ruled that the DMCA even prohibited linking to sites with the program.

    But could movie-industry goons eliminate every copy? Not if "Mr. Bad" had anything to say about it. The online activist created an innocuous piece of decoy software using the same name as the original program — then urged netizens to scatter them across the internet. "I figure if we waste just FIVE MINUTES of some DVD-CCA Web flunkey's time...we've done some small service for The Cause."

    "And a brief note for said Web flunkey: d00d, what are you DOING?" he added. "Send me email, and I'll personally help you to find a better job, with better pay, and WAY better karma."

    Mr. Bad's prank successfully baited the MPAA into issuing a legal notice against a high school student's innocuous web page (which argued that Austin Powers was "quite possibly one of the greatest movies ever to be made.") And six years later, there's still dozens of web sites sporting badges supporting his crusade.

    It's a general rule that if you tell a geek he can't say something, he'll make a point of saying it. In fact, geeks gleefully announced a "DVD Source Code Distribution Contest" searching for the most creative way of circumventing the restriction. One entrant copied the code to a CD, and then tied it to balloons launched randomly over Los Angeles, while several other protesters concealed it in tiny image files. (One even used an image of MPAA president Jack Valenti.

    But a Carnegie-Mellon professor's web page still houses an online gallery preserving the most creative examples, showing the code hidden in everything from an audio tape file for a Commodore 64 to a screenshot of the game Minesweeper. (Or at least, an open source clone.) One activist group even printed it on t-shirts.

    Joe Wecker may have found the most artistic outlet for his protest. He worked a chunk of the code into a 7-minute acoustic folk song — then uploaded it to

    In 2002, when Google received a DMCA notice from the Church of Scientology, all hell broke loose. Scientologists had been channeling a very negative legal energy towards an anti-Scientology web site publishing criticism (and some of the group's written materials). But Google got drawn into the scuffle because its search results provided links to the site. Of course, free speech enthusiasts saw this as a classic geeks versus freaks confrontation.

    In Round 1, much of the site disappeared from Google search results. But in Round 2, Google restored the site's main page to its search results. Round 3: outraged netizens linked to the troubled site, in a successful campaign to boost its Google page rank.

    Now, four years later, the site has become Google's #1 search result for the sacred Scientology word, "Xenu," and even the #2 result for the word "Scientology." (Google's excerpt reads: "The Church of Scientology is a cult that destroys people, so it needs to be exposed...") On the site itself, curious web surfers will find an anti-Scientology information packet, and even a link to the South Park episode about Scientology.

    I feel like I should say something sweeping here about the human spirit. I started writing a paragraph with five-dollar words like "future" and "passion" and "influence" and "civic debate." But maybe I should just leave it as a hypothetical question. There's nearly a billion people online; is there also a collective gut-level instinct about the "rightness" or "wrongness" of information sharing? Share your info in the comments.

    See also:
    The Great Wired Drug Non-Cotroversy
    10 Zen Monkeys and EFF vs. Michael Crook and DMCA
    Tucker Max deconstructs Crook

    Interview With Valleywag Nick Douglas

    Nick Douglas knows everyone — and he knows their secret quirks, too, thanks to the juicy tips readers send for his Silicon Valley gossip blog, Valleywag. So when faced with the disarming premise that we were recording a podcast, Nick opened up his vault, spilling the goods on Oracle's Larry Ellison, Google's Marissa Mayer, and all manner of California reporters, geeks, and venture capitalists.

    We got Ze Frank, the future of the internets, and the egos behind the Gawker empire out of the way, and then Nick shared his secret party-crashing strategy (and Kevin Burton's secret dating strategy). He finished us off with some psychoanalysis of Cory Doctorow.

    (Coincidentally, Mr. Douglas also talked about his desire, and failure, to get sued. We would have referred him to Michael Crook, but for legal reasons, we couldn't talk about the pending case then.)
    To listen to the full interview in MP3 click here.

    RU SIRIUS: So Valleywag is sort of thought of as the first gossip site for tech culture. Did any earlier sites inspire you?

    NICK DOUGLAS: Well, before Valleywag I was working on a site called Blogebrity, kind of making fun of a lot of big time bloggers including Gawker. And that's the best way to get a job at Gawker. Continue making fun of them, start writing about the personal lives of some of the editors — and then they hire you up to make it safe.

    RU: So I've got to find some really good dirt on Nick Denton? The nastiest stuff I can come up with?

    ND: The current managing editor of Gawker got his start because he was writing about Gawker. I think there are at least three people who have been hired into the company just because they were writing about it so much. It's a brilliant hiring strategy, really.

    RU: Does he have a nasty lifestyle that's easy to get underneath?

    ND: Denton? Geez, I doubt it. He probably has some secret lifestyle that he pretends he wants no one to know. That's how Denton works and how all of Gawker works.

    JEFF DIEHL: He cultivates it just for it to be discovered?

    ND: Exactly, for it to be some day discovered. To the secret delight of everyone involved.

    JD: Now, once you sign on with Gawker, do you have to sign some big long form that says you'll never criticize them again?

    ND: Oh yeah. I'm not supposed to talk about his secret days in Turkey and what he does at the Turkish baths.

    DESTINY: What form does that first contact take? Nick Denton comes to you and he says "Hey! I've been reading your blog, and you're talking about me!"

    ND: Well, I first was IM-ing him, just bugging him, asking him for stories. And then he would... you'll notice there's some series of entries where I've "found" and "discovered" things about some of Denton's competitors on Blogebrity — and who knows who had tipped me off to those, but l just happened to be talking to Denton around that time! It's just a fun way to work — a wholly illegitimate way!

    D: And then, at what point does he say, "Hey, I like your style, kid. Come work for me."

    ND: That was over IM too. That was kind of weird, because he pulled me out of college. I have not graduated and don't really intend to, because I think it's more fun to have one affected failure in life instead of all the unintentional failures — to have one that I knew I was going to fail at.

    RU: So if, implicitly, Nick Denton was giving you all these you must be getting all kinds of tips to slag other companies from various sources.

    ND: Oh, yeah, totally. There's no one better for gossip than a competitor...That's the thing about Gawker bloggers. We don't really have to write anything. We steal people's jokes! Jessica Cohen, who writes the New York blog, Gawker, said a couple years back that readers love it when she steals one of their jokes when they submit something. They're like "Oh! It's my joke, and it's on a big site!" And she's honest about it. She tells everyone, "Yeah, I'm robbing all the readers' jokes." It's just a chance for everyone to write something. There's just got to be one person sitting in their underwear all day at a computer. That's really my role. I'm just the guy who sits there and lets everything filter in. It's like being a code monkey, but without the computer science degree.

    RU: Any influence from ancient sites like Suck?

    ND: Um, well, the embarrassing thing is I think I was in grade school when that was coming out. That's my biggest problem. I have to go back and read all the people who did this better back when there was more going on. I'm still reading stuff like "Fucked Company," the little book by Phillip Kaplan.

    RU: Right. So you're catching up on ancient history?

    ND: Yeah, looking at numbers and thinking "No way!" The YouTube sale for a billion-and-a-half dollars is nothing compared to some of the stuff that went on — and I didn't realize some of that going in. is one of the great ones to read from back then...I like seeing how many names came up about ten years ago and are coming up again. Like reading about John Battelle and saying, "Oh! He was hot shit in the 90s too. Really? And that didn't really pan out?! Oh!" So it's great to see that he's going again. It's quite inspirational, really. Like, if I screw up, this will happen again in ten years. This is great!

    RU: We all get to be revenants! I've done it many times myself.

    D: So do you have any predictions on what's going to happen in the future? Looking back on ten years, what do you see looking forward ten years.

    ND: I tried making predictions a few months ago, and they're really good at not working out. So no, I have no idea. I'd love to see it get to a huge amount of money again, because I've got ideas, I've got lots of startups I would love to start. The sad state of affairs is that even now, I could probably walk out, go to three little gatherings of startups this week, pitch an idea, and get a million dollars. I'm pretty sure I could do that. And that's pathetic. That's awful. But it's awesome!

    D: Aren't you tempted?

    ND: Oh, I'm really tempted.

    D: Why don't you do that?

    ND: Because eventually, you know, they want more money back. And I have ideas; I just don't have ideas that are actually going to make ten million dollars out of the one million. I have ideas on spending the one million.

    D: Well, there's a word for that. "Exit strategy."

    RU: You need to be more ambitious in terms of wasting money. You need the late-90s level of ambition.

    ND: That's true. I shouldn't think about wasting one million. I should think about wasting ten million.

    RU: I mentioned in the introduction to the show that, way back when I was doing Mondo 2000 in the early 90s, we'd thought about doing a snarky sort of tech culture gossip column. And one of the things that entered into our conversation was the fact that people in that business are incredibly fucking thin-skinned. Much more so than rock stars or actresses and all that.

    ND: Oh yeah. I agree.

    RU: So what levels of outrage or prickliness have you run into?

    ND: It's usually just really uncomfortable conversations at parties. I'm learning that it's a great art — defusing conversations. I never had that skill before. I was too passive-aggressive to actually have someone confront me at a party. But now I'm able to at least make someone like me for a half hour. And that's all I really need.

    We haven't gotten a serious legal threat so far. Well, a couple of minor ones, but we're still waiting for a good solid cease-and-desist and a good lawsuit. We're really trying to get News Corp to sue us. They tried to stop the publication of some article [ed: originally intended for publication by someone else] calling MySpace a spam factory. And the author was revealing some of the background behind the company — that it wasn't really started by these two guys in their basement. And, since News Corp went to such lengths to stop the original publisher from publishing the article, we were hoping that if I actually published it on Valleywag, we could finally get sued. (Sighs) It didn't happen yet. I'm really disappointed about that.

    D: So what's your next move? How are you going to bait someone into suing?

    ND: Well, the problem is getting sued but also having enough of a case.

    RU: You have to know it's one you can win

    ND: Like I can't just run out and say, "Larry and Serge are gay lovers! We have photos!!!" And we don't, actually...

    JD: Oh, we'll be taking that out of context.

    RU: In terms of covering all this nastiness in the tech world, is there anybody that you've really come to despise?

    ND: Despise? No. Have a sick obsession with? Yes. It's weird that all the Gawker blogs end up obsessing on someone. We almost make a selling point out of it. We make banner ads flashing out our obsessions. Defamer is unhealthily obsessed with Lindsay Lohan, Gawker is unhealthily obsessed with any number of magazines magnates. For me, Marissa Mayer, this VP from Google — I cannot get over how bizarre she is, and how bizarre the story she presents to the press is. She says things like, "I'll sit down and I'll do my email for about 14 hours in one spell!" Who does that?

    RU: Has anybody seen her in person?

    ND: I've seen her. She ran away from me at a party. I tried to say hi. I was nervous as hell. We keep running articles on Valleywag... "This is not a real person. She has to be a cyborg. We're pretty sure, she's either a cyborg, or a Cylon from Battlestar Galactica. I'm pretty sure that she's number six."

    I think I actually show up in the first 10 search results for Marissa Mayer. And so that's great. I can say, "Oh, I can fuck with you, from your Google results!" It seems like a nasty thing to do to someone...

    D: I'm in your house, printing your gossip.

    ND: Exactly. But since I'm not condemning her — I don't really condemn Marissa, I'm just fascinated with the bizarre lies she's telling to the press.

    RU:Well, other than the fact that she emails 14 hours a day, what else is odd about her?

    ND: She claims she holds about 70 meetings a week, which I think boils down to — what, 14 meetings a day?

    RU: For a total change of subject, tell our audience who Kevin Burton is, and what he wants. What does he wish for?

    ND: Oh, gosh. See, now this came up last week, when I was on vacation. But Rick Abruzzo, who edited Valleywag that week, found some Craig's List ad that seems to be by this local entrepreneur, Kevin Burton. And he was looking for someone with dark hair who likes anime and Zen...

    RU: Hey! I have dark hair and I like anime and Zen!

    ND: Exactly! It basically looked like someone very awkwardly trying to say they wanted an Asian, but in such a stereotyped way that he would never succeed at his goal. He would only get 13-year-old goth girls who really had a thing for Yu-Gi-Oh. But we found the ad and connected it to him. He, of course, denied it. And then we ran the item, and then he admitted it was him. Then he wrote me an IM saying, "Can you not write about my personal life any more, it's kind of creepy?" And I said, "Yes! Yes, it's kind of creepy. That's why I ran it." That's exactly what was fascinating about it. But the thing is; Kevin has done things like this before. He was in Wired talking about one of his previous dating strategies which is going to a wireless cafe...

    JD: Wait, I'm getting my notepad out.

    ND: ...opening up something, Etherial, and sniffing the IM traffic of other women in the cafe. And he will find their IM name and IM them. And somehow, he claims, they find this impressive. "Oh! You stalked me! In a cafe!"

    RU: So has anybody accused you guys of entering Jason Fortuny territory with this?

    ND: Well, the thing was, we just originally posted that this looks like it's Kevin Burton. And then someone else tipped us and said, "Look. This screen name happens to be here." He put up his screen name. We did not post anything that he hadn't put out there openly on Craig's List. This wasn't some private email he had sent or anything.

    JD: Jason Fortuny would say the same thing.

    ND: But we didn't condemn. We never condemned. You know? If Burton had been doing something really illegal or something, that would've been more of a personal thing. I would've probably approached Kevin. I know him personally, you know? But it was nothing like the Fortuny thing. It was just some guy doing a weird Craig's List ad. It was fun.

    D: So is there anything you won't print? Anything where you'd say, "Oh, this is too sensitive, I can't touch this."

    ND: Well, there's stuff that's sensitive enough where I'd have to get actual confirmation. If someone accuses someone of doing a crime, usually I try to check that. If something that's libelous gets out, it's usually just me not thinking, "Wait a second! I'm accusing someone of fraud! I probably should check that before I publish!"

    RU: But this is something that you can do here, on our show. So go ahead!

    ND: Right. Brilliant! Well, usually there's not that much. I guess I'm just not a good enough investigative journalist yet. I haven't found stuff that's too good to print.

    D: Would you like to?

    ND: I would! I'm actually looking at something. It's kind of been known that Eric Schmidt is married and also goes on certain vacations with this other girlfriend. It's been in the news. He's been spotted with her. The real question is: is he actually planning on getting divorced and has he told his girlfriend that he's getting divorced? There's this great thing about following some of these techies. It's not like following Lindsay Lohan. Everyone knows Lindsay Lohan is trashy, and you just get to have the glee of pointing out how trashy she is. The thing about the guys from Google is they want to be dorky, they want to be sweet, they want to have really innocent photos everywhere, and here's Eric Schmidt taking his girlfriend out on vacation while his wife is somewhere else. These guys really are just like anyone else, and that's what's really fun to show.

    Larry Page, one of the co-founders of Google, when he's onstage somewhere, he always appears in this lab coat, and he acts really nerdy and he's not a good speaker. But at this one party that I kind of snuck into, he was there looking so L.A. and looking so slick. I was like, "Oh my god, you've really fooled everyone, haven't you!" That's great!

    RU: Speaking of rumors, Dave Winer is spreading a rumor that you're leaving Valleywag (I have the quote)... "To do a web video show with one of the big video producers." So what about this gossip about you?

    ND: First off, I'm surprised that — if Winer is still blogging — that anyone reads him.

    JD: Ouch!

    ND: Secondly, I'm surprised that people believe him. (A lot of people were IM-ing me about it.) But Rocketboom is hiring, and so there are always rumors about that. I'm working on a project...

    RU: Now you guys are going hammer and tongs after Rocketboom on the site, on their figures. Talk about Rocketboom and their figures.

    ND: Well, actually, this has more to do with the vlogger, Ze Frank. Usually, in any argument, I'd always take his side. Great guy. Never met him in person, but I just love his work. Huge fan. But lately, he's started going off on this campaign against Rocketboom because he noticed they had a lower Alexa score. He kind of has a point. They're inflating their numbers a little. Rocketboom is not the most popular show out there. It's just a lot of people know about it because they're so good at promoting themselves. And they pretend they're the Moses of some new culture that's going to totally shatter everything.

    That's why Ze Frank makes fun of them. Rocketboom thinks that just because they have a daily news show, this means it's the end of CNN. The end of old, dirty, nasty, wretched media. Andrew Baron can't pile on enough pejoratives about what he's overthrowing.

    RU: But they don't really believe that either. That's hype...

    ND: They're another show. They're another show with a pretty girl that covers news. They're kinda good, but revolutionary? I don't know what's really different there. They could get picked up on TV and they'd be another little slot on TV.

    RU: I would put them somewhere below the Daily Show in terms of their entertainment value.

    ND: Oh, hell yeah.

    D: Their real claim is that they're hugely popular. "Whether we're good or bad, we're hugely popular! We've got 300,000 visits."

    ND: Right. They got 300,000 downloads started. Ze's argument is, how many of those people watch it the whole way through, and how many people give up after 30 seconds and say, I'm gonna go watch Ze Frank instead!

    People are just running into the problem that you're never really going to be able to tell exactly how many people are watching your show. Unless you have an ad at the end. That's what Ze has. He's hosting with Revver and he can say this is how many ads were shown. Which is pretty damn great, because that's what you really need your numbers for.

    So right now, Rocketboom can just inflate their numbers and Ze is trying to fight it. But at the same time, I don't think anyone wants to hear that from Ze. Mostly we want the monkey to dance. And maybe he has a good cause. He's funnier than Rocketboom. He's much better than Rocketboom. I don't watch Rocketboom, I watch Ze every day. But do I really want to read an essay by him, about Rocketboom?

    D: So what do you think of the whole video-blogging space? Do you think that's the next big thing?

    ND: It's a next big thing. It's not like text blogging's just going to disappear. "Oh, there's video! Can't write any more!" Or, "We can't podcast! Damn!"

    D: "Curse you, video bloggers!"

    ND: Right! It's just another cool new thing. But yeah, it's going to get much bigger than it is now, just because more people need to switch over to new broadband connections, and more people just need to get used to the idea of watching a lot of video. It's this gradual thing. As people get used to it, and it becomes a not-nerdy thing to do.

    RU: You emailed me that you do have some project ideas. Why don't you talk a little bit about those.

    ND: There's one project I've been working on that... there's a sort of video news thing that I'd love to do, because right now we get stuff like Rocketboom. And we get stuff that kind of tries to do video news every now and then. It turns into talking about other video bloggers. That's not going to fly, long-term. I think there's not really a show out there yet for your average person who goes to Yahoo as their home page; they get their news from Yahoo; they do their email from Yahoo... The typical example is your mom, right? Or like the average guy on the street. There isn't a show online he watches all the time. He probably watches some YouTube clips of The Daily Show. So there really needs to be one show that comes out that is like The Daily Show for the internet. I think if one show came out that was half as witty, and probably shorter — that would be good. It has to be short because it's like watching porn. I think Slate said that it was like watching porn. It's not the same as watching TV. You're really only interested for quick blips. So if I did anything in video, it would probably be something short like that.

    RU: So therefore actual sex is like watching TV.

    ND: I think Baudrillard just spittled in his grave.

    RU: You promised in your email to psychoanalyze Cory Doctorow.

    ND: Okay, right. In all his science fiction, he seems to have this one thing going on. In all his stories, he has this male lead, And almost all the time, the character has some sort of cocoon-like space that he goes to. In this one short story that's a continuation of "Down and Out..." this kid goes to some re-charge station. And it seems like it's like those egg-shaped chairs in Men in Black. So he's in this sort of cocoon-like space, and one day he finds this female friend of his in that space. And in another story, this kid grows up in a cave. What's the one where the kid is the son of a mountain and a washing machine? I forget which book it is, but this kid brings his girlfriend to this cave where he grew up. And so that's his home. I have more examples, but I forget them all. But there's this pattern of females intruding in some male cocoon womb-like space. And the English major in me just can't get that out of my mind, or stop thinking, "Cory, is there something, something going on there? Something you want to share with the rest of the class?" Which is probably not the first thing I want to say to him, I hope this isn't the first thing he ever hears from me, is me psycho-analyzing him.

    RU: Well, there's a fairly good chance he will read this, actually

    ND: Damn. Great. [General laughter] Hopefully he's open to it. He's going to have some asshole 22-year-old blogger in his next story.

    D: In a cocoon-like space, all alone....

    ND: Trapped somewhere, for the rest of time. That'd be kind of flattering.

    He also has his female characters — who are almost always the love interest for the main male character — and they always abandon or betray the main male character with the secondary male lead.

    RU: Yeah. That came up when I interviewed him, actually. I noticed that theme.

    ND: Really? What did he say about it?

    RU: Well, he went into a discussion about the importance of trust and betrayal as a theme within the context of digital culture, and so forth.

    So before we let you go, I want to bring it all back around to gossip. Is there a particular sector within tech where the weirdest behavior is observed?

    ND: It seems like the weirdest behavior will always happen in the dotcoms, because that's where you get the people who don't necessarily know a thing about tech. It's kind of a random mix. You've got these start-uppers who aren't really sure how to handle all this money, the young kids who aren't really sure whether it's smarter to play the punk rock kid or the really humble kid. And the journalists don't know quite how to handle it, and they all get starry-eyed. It's fun, actually.

    See also:
    Sorry 'Bout That, Nick
    Where in the World is Nick Douglas?

    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