Category Archives: Rants & Raves

Secretive Steve Jobs loves proposed federal shield

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If the proposed federal shield were already law, Steve Job (r)could have used the courts, not cash, to silence the blogger Nick Ciarell (l).

After a three-year legal fight Apple has silenced a product-rumor web site called Think Secret. A Wired News article suggests that the site’s founder, 22-year-old Harvard student Nick Ciarelli, sold the site to Apple, which shut it down. It is not clear from the article whether Ciarelli has not to start a new Apple rumor site (that would require a non-compete clause). Ciarelli told Wired:

“It’s great to put this behind us. It’s great that we got a settlement that satisfies both parties.”

My interest in this story relates to the proposed federal shield law that Congress is expected to take up when it returns to session in January. Wired reports that Apple sured Ciarelli:

“for posting Apple trade secrets and encouraging and inducing persons to provide product information in breach of agreements.”

The proposed shield law – the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 –  specifically directs the courts to compel disclosure of an anonymous source “to identify a person who has disclosed a trade secret.” (See text of law and use the find function to look for “trade secret.”)

Poor Steve Jobs! If only this sham of a shield were on the books, Apple lawyers would have been able to obtain a court order to shut down the Think Secret site years ago.

And lucky Nick Ciarelli. Had the sham shield been law, he would not be so satified with his settlement

At some point journalists will read the Free Flow of Information Act and realize that it’s the kind of a shield only secretive Steve Jobs could love.

 

 

he new law makes very clear that a company

Not again! FCC speeding toward consolidation?

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a sixth hearing in its ongoing media cross-ownership proceedings, giving five days notice to the general public, and thus corroborating fears that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has the votes (a 3-2 republican majority) to let mass media consolidate further by amending or repealing the current rules meant to discourage daily newspapers from owning television stations in their same metropolitan area. (My prior encapsulation of the argument made by mass media that they must get more massive to compete with Web 2.0 argument is here.)

 The hearing will occur on Halloween which should put to rest any suspicion that the FCC majority lacks a sense of humor.  FCC critics, who found no humor in the choice, blasted the five-day notice as being insufficient. So did the two minority FCC commissioners who suggested that the majority is rushing to give mass media a Christmas present by letting them satisfy their urge to merge.

The General Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, recently issued a report critical of the FCC for giving big companies an early peek at its plans and giving the public last minute notice.

Thankfully, however, this latest FCC action shows that the commission has taken tha GAO’s criticism to heart. While a five-day notice doesn’t leave enough time for the average citizen to get a special deal on a plane ticket (you could try saying that you’re flying back to watch your Uncle Sam finally and forever bury your old Auntie Fairness Doctrine) there is plenty of time for the hippie element that no doubt opposes this consolidation to assemble small teams of rabble rousers, load them into Volkswagen vans and carpool across the nation (probably having sex enroute so it’s all good).

One other thing. I did not see any media coverage of this yet. I may have missed it or the foxes may be guarding other hen houses at the moment. If you do see some coverage, please leave a link in comments. Oh, and if you are one of the folks in the van racing back East, please obey all speed laws and use protection. Safety first, people!

 

Think the Net means democracy? Not in China.

 This icon is from Chinese Law Professor Blog where we learn that Chinese officials will no longer harvest organs from prisoners, except under certain circumstances. (details)

 Waiting in an office in San Francisco recently I was thumbing through a book, ”The Art of Calligraphy in Modern China,” when a passage caught my eye. I copied it down. I assume these are the words of book editor Gordon Barrass:

“In China the power of the written word was never challenged by a culture of political oratory as it was in the west. Never in China’s long history has there been the equivalent of the Areopagus where the great Athenian debates took place or the Roman senate. Nor has there been a political orator such as Demosthenes or Cicero. Chinese rulers expressed their power and promulgted their through written edicts.”

That helps explain the ferocity with which Chinese rulers seem bent on squechling dissent on the Internet. Reporters San Frontiers recently exposed how an array of bureaucracies censor 1.3 million websites and 160 million Internet users. “The Internet’s promise of free expression and information has been nipped in the bud by the Chinese government’s online censorship and surveillance system,” according to the report. (download)

China has long been a fascination. I studied Chinese language and history at UC Berkeley, and recall in particular one class taught by noted Chinese historian Frederic Wakeman (obituary ) about the period after the Opium Wars. Defeat taught the Chinese that they needed to modernize. But Chinese leaders also worried that accepting Western technology might erode Chinese tradition. What they wanted, Wakeman said, was Western goods without Western ways.

Today Chinese leaders want Western technologies like the Internet while rejecting Western ways like free speech. Says Reporters San Frontiers: “the Chinese Communist Party and the government have deployed colossal human and financial resources to obstruct online free expression.” One anecdote from the report will serve to illustrate. When an editor at the Chinese site Netease ran a self-selecting poll that asked, “Would you like to be reborn Chinese,” about two-thirds of the 10,000 people who responded said no they wouldn’t want to be Chinese again because life was so grim, etc. The government forced the firing of the editor responsible and closed the section he had run.

This is one world, one network. Technologies do not stand still.  Either democracy moves East or control moves West.

Yes, cuz, I’m still employed (at least for now)

tn_pope_of_greenwich_village.jpg Among the occasional contributors to MiniMediaGuy are entries from Der Cuz, aka Deep Cuz, a person whose geography shall remain secret, whose gender is of the belching, beer-guzzling sort, and whose genetic material contains, as does mine, a healthy dose of the pasta-twirling, hand-waving Italian-American DNA. The image (left) of the 1984 film, “The Pope of Greenwich Village,” has always been one of our shared memorie, for its lovely rendition of guinea culture (I’m thinking in particular of the scene in which the two protagonists, cousins as I recall, buy a pound of salami and a loaf of Italian bread and proceed to make and consume a three-foot-long hero sandwich while seated on a park bench — and they don’t need no stinkin’ Grey Poupon thank you very much!).

Anyhow, when we were young my father would not let me read comic books. He figured they’d rot my mind. So I’d walk down the block to visit Cuzzola — which is his civilian name when he is not contributing to this blog — and he would let me read from his vast comic collection (Wouldn’t that be worth something today?).

Fast foward 40 years and here I sit with brain rot setting in and I am still taking in reading tips from Der Cuz, who wrote:

“I saw this article in TechDirt – ”LA Times; Publishers think Google worse than Osama bin Laden,” which made specific mention of the SF Chronicle which, of course, made me think of blood who works there. You’re still hangin on, aintcha Cuz?”

I am sorry. I thought I had informed Der Cuz and any other readers who might have been aware of the one-in-four job cuts at my newspaper (achieved through buyouts as opposed to firings) that I remain in the three who still write news stories and not in the quarter of former colleagues forced into early retirement or else looking for other work.

In any event had I been laid off, I would proabably be minutes away from losing my house in which case I would have packed the entire family of five into our Taurus station wagon, loaded the pets (only three and thankfully all mammals) into the trunk, and presented ourselves at Der Cuz’s secret location to live off the fat of his land. This is exactly what I did in 1990 when the family was smaller (just one child and two pets then) and we mooched off my mom for the one year it took to get through graduate school and the second year it took to land this job.

So if any other readers are worried about my welfare and have spare rooms to accommodate me or my tribe (did I tell you about the gaggle of home schoolers, hippies and neer’do’wells who seem to make up our friendship group and tend to pay us extended visits) please do message me your whereabouts. And don’t worry about our dietary requirements. We eat like locusts.

Put Olympic pressure on China to free jailed journalists

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Reporters without Borders is pressuring the International Olympic Committee, meeting in Guatemala later this week, to force China to adhere to the promises that it made in 2001 regarding treatment of dissidents. A letter from the international journalists’ group says:

 

“it is not too late to get the Chinese organizers, who are for the most part also senior political officials, to release prisoners of conscience, reform repressive laws and end censorship”

It is not easy to find any contact information for the International Olympic Committee. I did find a regular mail address for Jaques Rogge, the Belgian aristocrat who is chairman of that body:

 

Mr. Jacques Rogge
President
International Olympic Committee
Château de Vidy
1007 Lausanne
Switzerland

I got that address here from the web site of Olympic Watch, a group established to “monitor the human rights situation in the People’s Republic of China in the run-up to the 2008 Olympic Games.”

 

In looking around for images I found an informative display of news photos from the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests assembled by Cyrptome CN, a New York group that “publishes information, documents and opinions banned by the People’s Republic of China.”

Yin, yang, net

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Poynter Institute commentator Fons Tuinstra, who is based in Shanghai, spotted a People’s Daily editorial that declared it is an issue “worth studying” how “the Internet has deeply changed the political environment in China . . . (forcing) . . . Chinese leaders to adapt.”

 

The editorial in People’s Daily, a semi-official organ of the Chinese government, reflected on the yin and yang of Internet politics:

 

“More and more officials are becoming accustomed to listening to public opinion . . . accepting rational comments and suggestions . . . A lot of officials even open their own blogs . . . . (But) Internet politics is a fairly new concept . . . it has its shortcomings. For example, false news and rumors can spread quickly throughout the Internet. It can also disturb the normal order with overly emotional opinions.”

How true. The Internet is such a disruption. I don’t how we’ll deal with it in the West which has a tradition of openness. How will it change China, which passed from emperors to commissars with hardly a free breath in between is a question worth studying, indeed.

You know how to whistle, don’t know?

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The best way to improve the federal government is to encourage people inside the bowels of the bureaucracy to step forward and reveal fraudulent, wasteful or illegal activities. But government whistleblowers more often than not earn “15 minutes of fame and 40 years of misery” as one Pentagon insider told Mother Jones magazine in an article titled, “Don’t whistle while you work.”

 

In March a bill authorizing strong protections for federal whistleblowers passed the House of Representative with a veto-proof margin.

Starting Monday (May 14) the lobbying effort moves to the Senate when a coalition of 45 groups will coalesce on Capitol Hill for Washington Whistleblower Week.

The most powerful advocates for better protections are the whistleblowers themselves. Read 10 short snippets about current whistleblowes who stepped forward to reveal things like fraudulent clinical trials and coverups involving drug smuggling — and got fired for their honesty.

 

This is not a partisan issue. Since 9/11 the tone and tenor of government has changed toward less openness and greater executive power. Just the other day a Boston Globe article reported that “The Pentagon has placed unprecedented restrictions on who can testify before Congress.”

At this rate Congress is going to need whistleblowers just to get a straight answer out of this and future administrations.

We must help Congress restore the checks and balances that lawmakers of both parties foolishly ceded to the Executive after the World Trade Center attacks.

Lets remind that Senate that it is supposed to be the world’s greatest deliberative body — not its most pompous rubber stamp.