Thursday, January 27, 2011

public relations: addendum

Looking at the statistics for my blog yesterday I noticed the following:

Number of Entries: 3
Entry Page Time: 26th January 2011 02:35:07 AM
Visit Length: 2 hours 20 mins 41 secs
Returning Visits: 0
Location: Apo, Armed Forces Europ, United States
IP Address: Kellogg Brown & Root Ltd (
Entry Page:
Exit Page:
Referring URL: No referring link

Number of Entries: 1
Entry Page Time: 26th January 2011 11:25:27 AM
Visit Length: 0 seconds
Returning Visits: 0
Location: Houston, Texas, United States
IP Address: Kbr (
Entry Page:
Exit Page:
Referring URL: No referring link

Number of Entries: 1
Entry Page Time: 26th January 2011 12:22:34 PM
Visit Length: 0 seconds
Returning Visits: 0
Location: Houston, Texas, United States
IP Address: Halliburton Company (
Entry Page:
Exit Page:
Referring URL: No referring link

Number of Entries: 1
Entry Page Time: 26th January 2011 04:35:38 PM
Visit Length: 0 seconds
Returning Visits: 0
Location: Houston, Texas, United States
IP Address: Kbr (
Entry Page:
Exit Page:
Referring URL: No referring link

So I guess many corporations have bots crawling around the internet to alert them whenever someone mentions their name? And I guess someone who works for them has the job of going around and reading what's been said, perhaps to gauge public opinion, or, more likely, to see if anything needs to be passed along to their lawyers...

Also, after looking at the edit history of the Jamie Leigh Jones Wikipedia article, I noticed this:

3 (3/0) (anon) 2008-03-16 16:13 2008-03-16 16:14

Three edits by an IP very similar to one of the ones I had listed for KBR ( I ran it through a program and sure enough:

NetRange: -
RegDate: 1992-05-27
Updated: 2005-01-14
OrgName: KBR
OrgId: KBR-3
Address: 4100 Clinton Drive
City: Houston
StateProv: TX
PostalCode: 77020
Country: US
RegDate: 2004-11-15
Updated: 2007-02-21

I know this kind of things happens all the time, but it's still interesting. And of course I have no idea what they edited (it was innocuous: see comments section), but it seems wrong for anyone involved in an ongoing legal case (on either side) to be able to edit the Wikipedia page that concerns it.

I wonder to what extent certain companies are involved in writing their own Wikipedia entries? Luckily for now, the encyclopedia is still publicly funded, which will help keep moneyed interests at bay, but I imagine this might change one day (long after people have come to think of Wikipedia as being fairly reliable).

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

public relations

Do you remember hearing about the woman who spilled McDonald's coffee on herself and then sued the company, winning 2.8 million dollars?

Did you know that the woman was 79 years old at the time?

Did you know that the coffee in the average home brewer is between 142 and 162 degrees, and that McDonald's required the temperature of their coffee to be held around 187 degrees (probably because coffee lasts longer at a higher temperature)?

Did you know that the structural integrity of Styrofoam is compromised at that temperature?

Did you know that when the woman placed the cup between her legs and peeled off the lid, the whole cup collapsed?

Did you know that she suffered 3rd degree burns on over 16% of her body from the spill?

Did you know that she had skin grafts due to the severity of the burns?

Did you know that after she realized that Medicare was only going to cover 80% of her medical bills, her daughter and son-in-law wrote a letter to McDonald's asking them to cover her remaining bill and to check the temperature of their coffee?

Did you know that, with left-over medical bills already in excess of $10,000, McDonald's came back with an offer of $800?

Did you know that it was McDonald's who then decided to go to jury trial after the woman and her family turned down their offer?

Did you know that McDonald's was not interested in settling for $50,000, but the family was?

Did you know that, up until then, New Mexico had never ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a product liability suit?

Did you know that, during trial, McDonald's brought up the fact that 700 people had been scalded by their coffee over a ten year period -- over one person a week -- to show that it was an insignificant occurrence?

Did you know that it was the judge who recommended to the jury to consider punitive damages because he was so incensed with what had gone on with McDonald's?

Did you know that the jury's award of 2.8 million was two days of coffee sales for McDonald's?

Did you know that, in the final decision, the judge reduced the amount of punitive damage to "three times compensatory"?

Did you know that corporations went on to use this "frivolous" incident to promote tort reform, which essentially restricts peoples rights to go to court and bring a lawsuit?
("tort reform is a term drummed up by some of the advertising people for the business sector." [...] "Ralph Nader calls it 'tort deform.' So, I guess reform is in the eyes of the beholder.")

Did you know that during the congressional hearings on tort reform, the McDonald's case was a primary reference? (ie, "[E]verybody knows the McDonald’s coffee case, therefore we need tort reform." [...] "It became the poster child for what’s wrong with people going to court and suing.")

"There has been a huge public relations campaign over the last 25 years to convince the public that we have too many frivolous lawsuits, that we have out-of-control juries, that we need to change our civil justice system, which is our third branch of government, where an average person can go head-to-head with the rich and powerful, with corporations. And people have a completely distorted view of our civil justice system because of this public relations campaign."

* * *

AMY GOODMAN: And yet, there was a very different reaction all over this country. I want to play again what we played in the billboard. I mean, you had every comic making fun.

CHARLES ALLEN: Absolutely.

AMY GOODMAN: Made famous on Seinfeld.


: On Letterman.

JUDY LIEBECK: Still. Toby Keith has a song out right now called the "American Ride." And it says, "Spill a cup of coffee, make a million dollars."

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the clip.

CRAIG FERGUSON: Every minute they waste on this frivolous lawsuit, they’re not able to waste on other frivolous lawsuits, like, "Ooh, my coffee was too hot!" It’s coffee!

MAN ON THE STREET 3: The woman, she purchased the coffee, and she spilled it on herself. I mean, it wasn’t like the McDonald’s employee took the coffee, threw it on her. Now, that, in itself, then she would have had a lawsuit.

WOMAN ON THE STREET 2: It’s just people just are greedy and want money, and they’ll do anything to get it.

* * *

Did you know that 19 year old Jamie Leigh Jones, who went to work for Halliburton in their IT department, was asked to sign an employment contract wherein there was embedded a mandatory arbitration clause?

Did you know that these clauses are in almost all of our contracts now? (Cell phone contracts, credit card contracts, car loans, mortgages, even some doctors are putting them in their consent clauses.)

Do you know what a mandatory arbitration clause is?

"[T]hey are literally contracts where people are asked to sign—oftentimes they don't even have a choice to sign. If you get a credit card, for example, and you use it, you’ve agreed to mandatory arbitration. People don't even know what it means, because it's something—no dispute has happened yet. But if you have agreed to that and then you have a dispute with the company or the entity, you have waived your right to the court system. And people say, "Well, why should I care about that?" Well, why you should care is because the company that you are having the dispute with, once you’ve signed that, they pick the decision maker, the arbitrator, they pay for the decision maker, the decision maker doesn't have to give a reason why they've come up with the decision, it's completely secretive, and there's no right to appeal. And what everyone is doing these days is they are literally voluntarily giving up their right to access the court system, and they don't even know they're doing it."

* * *

Did you know that Jamie Leigh Jones was drugged and gang-raped by several of her fellow employees at KBR, Inc. (a subsidiary of Halliburton, and formerly Kellogg Brown & Root)? [X]

Did you know that she was then confined (by armed guards) to a shipping container under the orders of her employer? (She was removed from KBR custody when US Agents were dispatched from the US Embassy in Baghdad and rescued her.)

Did you know that Jones' account was confirmed by U.S. Army physician Jodi Schultz, but the rape kit and evidence Schultz gave to KBR/Halliburton security forces subsequently disappeared? ("It was recovered two years later, but missing crucial photographs and notes.")

Did you know that when Jones filed a civil lawsuit against KBR, Halliburton, and Charles Boartz (the alleged known rapist), KBR requested a private arbitration, claiming that it was required by her employment contract?

Fortunately, on September 15, 2009, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans "ruled Jamie Leigh Jones' federal lawsuit against KBR and several affiliates can be tried in open court."

"On January 19, 2010, KBR petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the 5th Circuit decision allowing Jones to bring her case in a civil court rather than in arbitration." (Click HERE to read why the US Department of Justice has not brought criminal charges against the alleged assailants.)

"Jones testified before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary on October 7, 2009, concerning Senator Al Franken's amendment to the FY 2010 Defense Appropriations Bill, to restrict contracts with companies which use mandatory arbitration in their employment contracts. This measure was passed by the Senate, prompted by her case."

* * *

Except for the basic narrative of Jamie Leigh Jones' story, I learned all of this from today's Democracy Now! broadcast (the source of all the non-linked quotes). The details of the McDonald's coffee-spill-story, as well as the implications of the case, have been given recent attention by a documentary called Hot Coffee, which premiered this week at the Sundance film festival.

For an example of how corporations are starting to blatantly infiltrate and affect the judiciary, see the comments section.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

a blog game / experiment

An idea: a type of guest post where I send someone a topic and some (electronic) "materials" (excerpts, quotes, pictures, links), and the recipient is then challenged to turn it all into a post. Personal writing and thoughts, outside quotes/excerpts/photos/writing, or anything else, is allowed. The only rule is that everything I send must be used. The final result would be posted in a way that would alert the reader as to which specific things were supplied by me.

If anyone thinks this sounds like a fun idea, feel free to volunteer or ask questions (email me or post a comment). I can reveal the subject (or provide a few hints) if no one wants to go in completely blind. The basic idea would probably be even more fruitful with more than one participant (the results could be posted side by side), but just one would be great.

Another way of playing: sending materials without providing a topic.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011

wikileaks part 2: "Not to know is bad; not to wish to know is worse."

BRIAN WILLIAMS: ...You know they've been tested, they've been given a battery of exams. The military has to get as close as possible to kids they think are going to guard our secrets.

DAVID LETTERMAN: And that brings up the question, if this guy for some reason was disgruntled or unhappy... about what? I mean he enlisted. He wasn't drafted. What's the problem?

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Yeah, that's a tougher one to figure out. The motivation of someone who is patriot enough to raise their hand to put on the uniform in an all-volunteer force during wartime and serve their country, and yet become so soured on it.

—NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, interviewed by David Letterman, aired Jan 03, 2011 [X]

"I think the thing that got me the most, that made me rethink the world more than anything, was watching 15 detainees taken by the Iraqi Federal Police for printing "anti-Iraqi literature." The Iraqi federal police wouldn't cooperate with US forces, so I was instructed to investigate the matter, find out who the "bad guys" were, and how significant this was for the FPs. It turned out, they had printed a scholarly critique against Prime Minister Maliki... I had an interpreter read it for me, and when I found out that it was a benign political critique titled "Where did the money go?" and following the corruption trail within the PM's cabinet, I immediately took that information and ran to the officer to explain what was going on. He didn't want to hear any of it. He told me to shut up and explain how we could assist the FPs in finding MORE detainees. Everything started slipping after that. I saw things differently. I had always questioned the way things worked, and investigated to find the truth... but that was a point where I was a part of something... I was actively involved in something that I was completely against." —Bradley Manning, from his chat with Adrian Lamo, published June 10, 2010

"BAGHDAD, July 12 — Clashes in a southeastern neighborhood here between the American military and Shiite militias on Thursday left at least 16 people dead, including two Reuters journalists who had driven to the area to cover the turbulence, according to an official at the Interior Ministry.

The American military said in a statement late Thursday that 11 people had been killed: nine insurgents and two civilians. According to the statement, American troops were conducting a raid when they were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The American troops called in reinforcements and attack helicopters. In the ensuing fight, the statement said, the two Reuters employees and nine insurgents were killed.

'There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,' said Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl, a spokesman for the multinational forces in Baghdad." —The New York Times, July 13, 2007. [X] This is the article Bradley Manning read after seeing the Iraq "Collateral Murder" video. He went online to look for information about the event.

"I want people to see the truth... regardless of who they are... because without information, you cannot make informed decisions as a public." —Bradley Manning

* * *

"Defense Department spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said Friday that Manning has the same privileges as all other prisoners held in what the military calls "maximum custody." He said Manning is in a standard single-person cell and gets exercise, recreation, access to newspapers and visitors." —Associated Press [X]

"Due to being held on Prevention of Injury (POI) watch:

PFC Manning is held in his cell for approximately 23 hours a day.

His cell is approximately six feet wide and twelve feet in length.

The guards are required to check on PFC Manning every five minutes by asking him if he is okay. PFC Manning is required to respond in some affirmative manner. At night, if the guards cannot see PFC Manning clearly, because he has a blanket over his head or is curled up towards the wall, they will wake him in order to ensure he is okay.

He receives each of his meals in his cell.

He is not allowed to have a pillow or sheets. However, he is given access to two blankets and has recently been given a new mattress that has a built-in pillow.

He is not allowed to have any personal items in his cell.

He is only allowed to have one book or one magazine at any given time to read in his cell. The book or magazine is taken away from him at the end of the day before he goes to sleep.

He is prevented from exercising in his cell. If he attempts to do push-ups, sit-ups, or any other form of exercise he will be forced to stop.

He does receive one hour of "exercise" outside of his cell daily. He is taken to an empty room and only allowed to walk. PFC Manning normally just walks figure eights in the room for the entire hour. If he indicates that he no long feels like walking, he is immediately returned to his cell.

When PFC Manning goes to sleep, he is required to strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned to him the next morning." —U.S. Army Major and Iraq War veteran David Coombs, Army Court-Martial Defense Specialist [X]

"The U.S. is one of the world's most prolific practitioners of prolonged solitary confinement: unsurprising given that it enjoys the distinction of being the world's largest Prison State and the Western world's most merciless one. As NPR noted in 2006, there are roughly 25,000 prisoners in the U.S. kept in those conditions. But the vast, vast majority of them -- unlike Manning -- have actually been convicted of crimes. It is very rare (though, when it comes to Muslims accused of Terrorism, by no means unheard of) for these conditions to be imposed on people who have yet to be convicted of anything and never posed any threat to prison security. Prolonged solitary confinement is inhumane, horrendous and gratuitous even when applied to those convicted of heinous crimes, but the fact that it's being done to Manning here in order to "persuade" him to offer incriminating statements against WikiLeaks and Julian Asange makes it particularly repellent.

As is true for so much of what it does, the U.S. Government routinely condemns similar acts -- the use of prolonged solitary confinement in its most extreme forms and lengthy pretrial detention -- when used by other countries. See, for instance, the 2009 State Department Human Rights Report on Indonesia ("Officials held unruly detainees in solitary confinement for up to six days on a rice-and-water diet"); Iran ("Common methods of torture and abuse in prisons included prolonged solitary confinement with extreme sensory deprivation... Prison conditions were poor. Many prisoners were held in solitary confinement... Authorities routinely held political prisoners in solitary confinement for extended periods... All four [arrested bloggers] claimed authorities physically and psychologically abused them in detention, including subjecting them to prolonged periods of solitary confinement in a secret detention center without access to legal counsel or family"); Israel ("Israeli human rights organizations reported that Israeli interrogators . . . kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods"); Iraq ("Individuals claimed to have been subjected to psychological and physical abuse, including... solitary confinement in Ashraf to discourage defections"); Yemen ("Sleep deprivation and solitary confinement were other forms of abuse reported in PSO prisons"); Central African Republic ("As of December, there were 308 inmates in Ngaragba Prison, most of whom are pretrial detainees. Several detainees had been held for seven months without appearing before a judge"); Burundi ("Human rights problems also included... prolonged pretrial detention")." —U.N. to investigate treatment of Bradley Manning

* * *

"The United States government is perpetually guilty of the very things it claims to be against, namely authoritarian oppression of voice. However, the unique quality of the US is that it is not as obvious as its predecessors. America has no Minister of Propaganda or reeducation camps. America has constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly and press. America has free-market capitalism. Americans can say anything they want.

Yet, if we compare how the US government, press and private sector have responded to Julian Assange and Wikileaks with the Iranian Government’s response to Jafar Panahi and Muhammad Rasoulof, and the Chinese Government’s response to Liu Xiaobo, we may discover striking resemblances." —Andrew (The Fifth Terrace): Assange/Panahi/Xiaobo

"US politicians are no longer in a position to lecture other countries about their human rights. The kind of unlicensed, city-wide demonstrations being held in Tehran last week would not be allowed to be held in the United States. Senator John McCain led the charge against Obama for not having sufficiently intervened in Iran. At the Republican National Committee convention in St. Paul, 250 protesters were arrested shortly before John McCain took the podium. Most were innocent activists and even journalists. Amy Goodman and her staff were assaulted. In New York in 2004, 'protest zones' were assigned, and 1800 protesters were arrested, who have now been awarded civil damages by the courts. Spontaneous, city-wide demonstrations outside designated 'protest zones' would be illegal in New York City, apparently. In fact, the Republican National Committee has undertaken to pay for the cost of any lawsuits by wronged protesters, which many observers fear will make the police more aggressive, since they will know that their municipal authorities will not have to pay for civil damages.

The number of demonstrators arrested in Tehran on Saturday is estimated at 550 or so, which is less than those arrested by the NYPD for protesting Bush policies in 2004." —Juan Cole, June 2009 [X]

"In July of this year, U.S. citizen Jacob Appelbaum, a researcher and spokesman for WikiLeaks, was detained for several hours at the Newark airport after returning from a trip to Holland, and had his laptop, cellphones and other electronic products seized -- all without a search warrant, without being charged with a crime, and without even being under investigation, at least to his knowledge. He was interrogated at length about WikiLeaks, and was told by the detaining agents that he could expect to be subjected to the same treatment every time he left the country and attempted to return to the U.S. [...] To date, he has never been charged with any crime or even told he's under investigation for anything...

That campaign of intimidation is now clearly spreading to supporters of Bradley Manning. Last Wednesday, November 3, David House, a 23-year-old researcher who works at MIT, was returning to the U.S. from a short vacation with his girlfriend in Mexico, and was subjected to similar and even worse treatment. House's crime: he did work in helping set up the Bradley Manning Support Network, an organization created to raise money for Manning's legal defense fund, and he has now visited Manning three times in Quantico, Virginia, where the accused WikiLeaks leaker is currently being detained (all those visits are fully monitored by government agents). Like Appelbaum, House has never been accused of any crime, never been advised that he's under investigation, and was never told by any federal agents that he's suspected of any wrongdoing at all.

Last Wednesday, House arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, and his flight was met in the concourse by customs agents, who examined the passports of all deplaning passengers until they saw House's, at which point they stopped. He was then directed to Customs, where his and his girlfriend's bags were extensively searched. After the search was complete, two men identifying themselves as Homeland Security officials told House and his girlfriend they were being detained for questioning and would miss their connecting flight. House was told that he was required to relinquish all of his electronic products, and thus gave them his laptop, cellphone, digital camera and UBS flash drive. The document he received itemizing his seized property is here. He was also told to give the agents all of his passwords and encryption keys, which he refused to do. [...] He was told that he would not receive his laptop or camera back, and the agents kept it. To date, he has not received them back and very well may never. When he told them that he had roughly 20 hours of source code work in his laptop and would like to save it or email it to a saved site, they told him he could not do that. He subsequently learned from Agent Santiago that although Agent Louck identified himself as a Homeland Security agent, he is, in fact, with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.


I just want to underscore how abusive this all is. Totally independent of the intimidation aspects -- which are the worst part of this -- just consider what an absolute mockery this makes of the Constitution. If House (or Appelbaum) had been inside the U.S., the Government would have never have been able to search or seize their laptops because the Fourth Amendment prohibits that behavior without a search warrant, which they obviously can't obtain. So instead, the Government just waits for them to leave the country -- which many many people do these days -- and then seizes their belongings and searches all of their communications upon their return, without a shred of judicial review or any basis to establish wrongdoing. What conceivable purpose is there in having a Fourth Amendment if it can be so easily circumvented this way through the blatant abuse of border searching powers?" —Glenn Greenwald, columnist and constitutional attorney [X]

* * *

"Authoritarian regimes give rise to forces which oppose them by pushing against the individual and collective will to freedom, truth and self realization. Plans which assist authoritarian rule, once discovered, induce resistance. Hence these plans are concealed by successful authoritarian powers. This is enough to define their behavior as conspiratorial." —Julian Assange, State and Terrorist Conspiracies (2006), in which he likens authoritarian conspiracies to computational networks. [X] (pdf)

"Thus it happens in matters of state; for knowing afar off (which it is only given a prudent man to do) the evils that are brewing, they are easily cured. But when, for want of such knowledge, they are allowed to grow until everyone can recognize them, there is no longer any remedy to be found." —The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli (quoted by Julian Assange in State and Terrorist Conspiracies)

"[Assange] decides, instead, that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make "leaks" a fundamental part of the conspiracy's information environment. Which is why the point is not that particular leaks are specifically effective. Wikileaks does not leak something like the "Collateral Murder" video as a way of putting an end to that particular military tactic; that would be to target a specific leg of the hydra even as it grows two more. Instead, the idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy’s information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire:

The more secretive or unjust an organization is, the more leaks induce fear and paranoia in its leadership and planning coterie. This must result in minimization of efficient internal communications mechanisms (an increase in cognitive "secrecy tax") and consequent system-wide cognitive decline resulting in decreased ability to hold onto power as the environment demands adaption. Hence in a world where leaking is easy, secretive or unjust systems are nonlinearly hit relative to open, just systems. Since unjust systems, by their nature induce opponents, and in many places barely have the upper hand, mass leaking leaves them exquisitely vulnerable to those who seek to replace them with more open forms of governance.

The leak, in other words, is only the catalyst for the desired counter-overreaction; Wikileaks wants to provoke the conspiracy into turning off its own brain in response to the threat. As it tries to plug its own holes and find the leakers, he reasons, its component elements will de-synchronize from and turn against each other, de-link from the central processing network, and come undone. Even if all the elements of the conspiracy still exist, in this sense, depriving themselves of a vigorous flow of information to connect them all together as a conspiracy prevents them from acting as a conspiracy. As he puts it:

If total conspiratorial power is zero, then clearly there is no information flow between the conspirators and hence no conspiracy. A substantial increase or decrease in total conspiratorial power almost always means what we expect it to mean; an increase or decrease in the ability of the conspiracy to think, act and adapt.. An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think is powerless to preserve itself against the opponents it induces.

—Aaron Bady, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy

"This is democracy's Napster moment, the point at which the forms of governance that have evolved over 200 years of industrial society prove wanting in the face of the network, just as the business models of the recording industry were swept away by the ease with which the internet could transmit perfect digital copies of compressed music files.

Napster was neutered by court action in the US, but its failure inspired peer-to-peer services that were far harder to control. The sharing of music is now unstoppable, and Wikileaks and the organisations that come after it will ensure that the same is now true of secrets.

Of course we should never underestimate the power of the state to reinvent itself, just as modern capitalism and constitutional monarchy seem able to do.

Wikileaks has exposed the inadequacies in the way governments control their internal flow of information, and organisations dedicated to transparency and disclosure will observe the tactics used to shut it down and adapt accordingly. But the state can learn too, and has the resources to implement what it learns.

I fear that Wikileaks is as likely to usher in an era of more effective control as it is to sweep away the authoritarian regimes that Julian Assange opposes.

He may look to a day when the conspiratorial power of the state is diminished, but I think we are more likely to see new forms of government emerge that exploit the capabilities of the network age to ensure their power is undiminished." —Bill Thompson, BBC [X]

* * *

"The Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010 is a bill introduced in the United States Senate by Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat, Connecticut), Susan Collins (Republican Party, Maine), and Tom Carper (Democratic Party, Delaware) on June 10, 2010. The purpose of the bill is to increase security in cyberspace and prevent attacks which could disable infrastructure such as telecommunications or disrupt the nation's economy. The legislation would create an Office of Cyberspace Policy and a National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications.

Senator Lieberman has been criticized for giving the President the power to use a "kill switch" which would shut off the Internet. He has called these accusations "total misinformation" and said that "the government should never take over the Internet". Lieberman further inflamed skeptics when he cited China's similar policy in a backfired attempt to show the policy's normalcy. However, the bill would allow the President to enact "emergency measures" in the case of a large scale cyber attack. The original bill granted the US President the authority to shut down part of the internet indefinitely, but in a later amendment the maximum time for which the President could control the network was reduced to 120 days. After this period, the networks will have to be brought up, unless Congress approves an extension." —wikipedia [X]

Dec 17, 2010: "A United Nations task force formed last week said it was considering the creation of a new inter-governmental working group to help further international cooperation on policies to police the Internet.

The discussion was undertaken to "enhance" and extend the work of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a UN-sponsored organization that makes recommendations on how governments should deal with the Internet. The IGF's mandate is due to expire soon, so members of the UN's Commission on Science and Technology for Development Bureau took up the issue and formed a task force to determine what the new IGF should look like.

The bureau's members, however, decided their task force would be limited to governments only, with no representation by civil or industry groups.

The decision drew a sharp warning from search giant Google, which insisted that the next IGF, if comprised only of governments, could result in them obtaining a "monopoly" on how the Internet is run, as opposed to the current model where innovation flows from the bottom up. Google's blog said the firm had joined a petition of other industry groups in opposing the composition of the UN's task force.


Open Internet advocates called the series of events, which triggered what some called an "all-out cyber war" against firms that tried to censor WikiLeaks, showed a need for a decentralized DNS system to make government takedowns impossible. One project, called dot-P2P -- based on the same peer-to-peer technologies that helped popularize "bittorrent" networks after the shutdown of the Napster music sharing service's first iteration -- was already well on its way to establishing a workable, decentralized system for connecting domain names to servers.

Another project called P2P DNS, headed up by one of the founders of The Pirate Bay website, aims to take on ICANN and spread DNS registries on the .p2p domain to as many computers and servers as possible. The Pirate Bay has been castigated by governments and trade groups worldwide for hosting torrents that allow files of any variety to be shared, much like the US music industry's response to Napster." —Stephen C. Webster, The Raw Story [X]

* * *

" is a planned whistleblowing website. [...] The organization intends to be democratically governed, rather than being run by one person or a small group. 'Our long term goal is to build a strong, transparent platform to support whistleblowers — both in terms of technology and politics—while at the same time encouraging others to start similar projects,' says a colleague wishing to remain anonymous."


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

death of a nom de plume: Hectocotylus (2008 - 2011)

Luisa Casati painting
casati painting brooks
Luisa Casati by Romaine Brooks (1920)

* * *

For my new picture I was going to use the agonized face (far left, center) found in Agnolo Bronzino's Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time (Allegory of Lust)...

Bronzino venus cupid time

I decided not to, but it's quite a painting, so I figured I'd share it anyway.

Then, after looking at the painting some more, I wondered if cupid's ass might be a more appropriate way to represent myself digitally. Yes, I thought, and just as I decided to mock myself with such a selection, my ego vetoed the idea. (How unfortunate!)

Finally, and for no particular reason, I settled on Bronzino's portrait of Giuliano de' Medici. I saw it for the first time a few moments ago after looking up Bronzino in Google image search, and it just felt right. (I don't know the first thing about Giuliano de' Medici; I selected it based solely on how it looks.) Now I'm starting to wonder if it has some resemblance to Louis Garrel...

And of course my new name is... my name.

Edit: Nevermind. I'm just going to change my profile picture whenever I feel like it!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

People in glass empires shouldn't fly drones

The cold-blooded killing of Pakistani civilians in a push-button, PlayStation-style drone war is not just immoral and perhaps illegal, it is futile and self-defeating from a security point of view. Take Faisal Shahzad, the so-called Times Square bomber. One of the first things the Pakistani-born US citizen said upon his arrest was: "How would you feel if people attacked the United States? You are attacking a sovereign Pakistan." Asked by the judge at his trial as to how he could justify planting a bomb near innocent women and children, Shahzad responded by saying that US drone strikes "don't see children, they don't see anybody. They kill women, children, they kill everybody." [X]

(Sadly I cannot take credit for the title of this post; I snatched it from the comments section of an article on Bradley Manning.)

I had planned on posting part 2 of my WikiLeaks post yesterday but I got caught up in a whirlwind of related articles and videos. After many hours of reading nearly every link I came across, I ended up with little but a giant mess of quotes. I'm burnt out at the moment, but I'll polish it up soon. In the meantime, here are a few interesting numbers to interpret however you see fit.

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By looking up "list of terrorist incidents" in Wikipedia (selecting each year individually) I was able to count up the number of attacks on America during the period 01/01/93 - 12/31/10. Atop the article for each specific year Wikipedia notes the incompleteness of the corresponding list, so take the numbers I've compiled below with however many grains of salt you wish, though keep in mind that nearly every attack on U.S. soil is likely accounted for (save for possibly the tail end of 2010). Included are thwarted attempts - such as the shoe bomber - as well as the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

(See the comments section for a few more details.)

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Terrorist attacks in/on the United States before (and including) 9/11 (9 year span):

By Islamic fundamentalists: 10
By Americans: 8
Total: 18

Terrorist attacks in/on the United States after 9/11 (9 year span):

By Islamic fundamentalists: 11
By Americans: 10
Total: 21