Tuesday, July 15, 2008

And when they came for the bloggers, no one was home

You know there is a series of books and probably a television show on the theme of "what would you do to survive X" where X is something dreadful most of us would expect to kill us. X is things like a shark attack, a lion stalking you, your car going into a skid on an icy road, the elevator you are in suddenly snapping its cables etc.

Here is a modern media problem: you get a subpoena about the forum or blog you run, requesting the identities of commenters or posters ... and you are under threat of jail if you even reveal that you have been asked to reveal names. What would you do to survive that? Its not a hypothetical question.

In the case of the operators of the website Room 8, a forum for talking about NYC politics, the game played out thusly...
This, of course, is a blogger’s nightmare: enforced silence and the prospect of jail time. The district attorney eventually withdrew the subpoena and lifted the gag requirement after the bloggers threatened to sue. But the fact that the tactic was used at all raised alarm bells for some free speech advocates.

So maybe you could sue the DA, but the "but" in that paragraph tells you that if you blog or even just comment on blogs, you might want to read the article and learn how to cover your ass. Beware of the advice you find linked in the article however: the date on their linked technology story is 2006. Check around for more up-to-date software for identity protection. The feds probably do not have to be as overt at the DA in New York...they don't need a warrant or a subpoena, they can just bust in to your packets and see who is saying what to whom. For instance, don't you suppose then Attorney General Alberto Gonzo sorely wanted to subpoena anyone who was in touch with Paul Kiel and Justin Rood around Jan. of 2007?

I find it oddly incompetent or naive of Mr. Smith, one of the proprietors of Room 8, that he runs web site yet doesn't know what the police would want with an IP address. If you use, for instance, sitemeter.com, to count the hits on your blog, poke around in the user interface to the stats. Even if you don't pay for the service you get the first three fields of the IP, the portion that maps to a domain usually. If you pay, you get to see the full server log entry and it would tell exactly which machine if the user was not using some kind of cloaking measure. The ISP will mask the location, maybe even lie about the town just to protect the privacy of its customers from stalkers but trust me, the ISP can be pressured to provide the correct details and now that the carriers are immune from lawsuit or prosecution for privacy violations, how long until ISP's get the same dispensation. You know a democratic congress including a certain democratic senator running for president passed the present swiss cheese version of FISA. I think means the imminent departure of Bush guarantees no rights in this matter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Kinda like The Cream but with a lot of garage bands just off stage

Huffington visits Marshall. These two comprise my first-reads of the day more often than not. HuffPo is getting a Webby award. Well, someone has to get them.

There are a million more of us out here scribbling away and I think that is good just to make sure nobody who isn't in a coma misses the import of peril, perfidy and possibility of our precarious times. You may be one person reflecting, repeating and writing...but always distilling the broad stream, even if only by choosing what to link or paste: You are voting, by emphasis, for what you think matters most. If you have one reader or only a few, you still strengthen the synapses of the hive mind around the knowledge that matters and you still hammer your little blow to forge the more sane and informed consensus that keeps the elections and legislation from sliding toward fascism. Do the courts, the State department, the Congress, the regulators of banking, commerce and communications hear us? They certainly won't if we don't speak up.

First the crowd hears itself, then the leaders hear the crowd. Most bloggers are more audience than artist or author but they really do get to be a bit of both. That exemplifies the two-way conversation between authority and subject that should mark all aspects of a democracy. But MSM has eschewed real dialog for the profit of an assembly line of news. Assembly lines only flow in one direction, most of their output briefly in our hands on its way to a landfill somewhere. Huffington is asking for suggestions for a five-word "acceptance speech". I wish I could find five words to say "news factories broken, dialog prevails"...but those particular five words only work at the end of a blog post.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

I don't mind paying for my news

I took a journalism course back around 1970. I don't recall what text we used but the prof did most of his teaching around our mandatory subscription to the LA Times. Nobody, not even the editor, agrees with every word printed in a serious news paper but a proper and progressive attitude for being an informed citizen demands that spectrum of coverage. To be so informed I consider as much an obligation of citizen-powered nations [we abuse the word "democracy"] as voting or willingness to pay taxes and serve in defense forces.
So, I am sad when an important news organization crosses a threshold of demise and heads towards the trash heap of trivialized "major media" mush.
I don't think there is any way to be a serious newspaper for a publisher who won't provide enough budget to send adept and knowledgeable sleuths among our businesses, politicians and other influencers of world events and enough freedom to write the complete and cogent exposition and analysis of what those sleuths find, regardless of the wishes of the subjects and sponsors [too often the same party] to spin news favorably. Those are two things that get me to pay any attention to a paper. Those are things I will pay for in cash because they ARE value to me and only such coverage actually satisfies my hunger to be realistically informed of the state of the world and our prospects in it.

NY Times recently polled on line readers to get a profile of the readers and their responses to various features of the Times' product. I had to add a comment that I was willing to pay for sound reporting since they took their premium content out from behind the pay wall. If you, as a consumer of news, insist on getting something for nothing, you deserve the pablum press and trite talking heads that are displacing real news sources. How long will you be able to change the channel to PBS and NPR?

I doubt they are listening to me but if Mr. Zell or the Board of Directors at NY Times, [you go to hell, Rupert, you are just a pusher] have any interest in keeping ME as a customer they had better not water down their news any further nor pander to politically powerful. Yes, the Wal-Marts of the world make money...but not from me. I would caution publishers strongly against the urge to become a Wal-Mart of news with an abundance of formulaic fluff you can print at a profit. Wal-Mart shoppers wind up with few choices. Josh Marshall's Talking Point Memo, for example, sometimes quotes mainstream media outlets but they have been freer than the mighty NY Times to dig and to disclose the dreck that Washington does and disguises ...so who is my first read in the morning? Who's ads do I see first? Its getting to be a toss-up.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Is Green the new Black?

Green as a fashion statement is corrupt and useless. I welcome Huffington Post to the market in environmentally conscious news with a mix of appreciation and skepticism. I hope the objective of Huffpo is to compliment, not harm, the longstanding promoters of green living and green economies by moving in on its trendy new find. The inaugural "green" page had 12 adds this afternoon, adsensed for relevance...that's more than they have on their politics page or their business page.

I am aware that HuffPo is more of a business than a cause and therefore the ad count raises red flags for me concerning the sincerity in putting up a "green" section. I am hopeful, since it marks at least a recognition that to run a paper in the black, you should go green, i.e. that is the direction in which the hearts and minds of readers are drifting. I am hopeful and watchful...

Green, if it means LEARNING to live with a less damaging net impact on the ecosystems is good. If it is mesostream medium cutting into the market of, or regaining the market lost to, those whose values [yes, it IS a values matter] had already made a tiny economy out of environmental awareness...then its a sham and not really helpful. If HuffPo will reach new audiences and change minds or at least awareness, all the better. If they are just selling Green hummers and green day spas, why bother? The awareness that we must all use less of the planet is not entirely consistent with strident commercialism. I wonder if the advertising rates are reduced for struggling but truly environmentally beneficial enterprises, dot-orgs and such.

As to the timing of this new enthusiasm... Some people have been working this beat since the 80's and earlier. The HuffPo writers critcized McClellan's new found honesty as "Scotty come lately" . Should people who want to move into a green house throw stones?

I love and I link the HuffPo...Arianna and company have dead accurate tone and damn quick presentation of news facts in politics. I just hope they use their reportorial muscle to make politics less of an obstacle than it has been to those of us who have made no money by trying to spare the planet...it really isn't a money making game. First comes the revolutionaries, then comes the traders. If HuffPo does not dedicate some of its efforts to making a difference in how consumers see their impact on the livability of the near and long term future, I will be pointing out the failures.

UPDATE: A. H.'s inaugurating post for the HuffPo green pages was taking comments. It has about 60 at this time, one of which is not mine. I submitted this post, sans links as a comment last night and it has not appeared. They want fans, not critics.