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Guest Post: Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis On The Rule of Law

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Today's guest author, Jim Ardis, is the Mayor of Peoria, Illinois.

Ladies and gentlemen, the rule of law is what separates us from animals and barbarians and people from Joliet. It is that rule of law that I now invoke to prevent so-called "satire" from being used to abuse my person and position.

By now you have heard that someone pretending to be me on Twitter has breached the peace by suggesting that I am some sort of corrupt, disturbed drug fiend. The statements attributed to me have been scandalous, personally hurtful, and textually ambiguous.

Let me clear some things up right now:

  • I am devoted to my loving family and have not "shacked up" in a motel with a so-called "notorious furry."  I do not visit motels because their low thread-count sheets make my skin chafe.  I have not been observed at any motels and if I had been it would have been to visit with community leaders about growing jobs in Peoria's business climate.  I had a soiled fox costume in my car because I was going to participate in a pantomime for children at a local cancer hospital.  My staff's nickname for me is "Swift," not "Yiff."
  • I have not hired any sex workers.  I have nothing against them, and feel our system should do a better job protecting them from harm and providing them with opportunities to better themselves and stop being such fucking liars about important people.
  • I do not have a "drug problem."  Drugs are a scourge of impoverished, powerless, and dark people everywhere.  I am fortunate to be affluent, to have friends, and to know many people in the criminal justice system.  Throughout my career I have strongly advocated that people, including myself, avoid the ruinous consequences of drugs.
  • Interns hallucinate and are prone to sudden unconsciousness.  It's a thing.  You can Google it.
  • I have not accepted cash in low denominations for political favors, as has been claimed.  That's ridiculous.  I am reliable and honest.  Look — I have a lapel pin!

People may believe that they can get away with mocking me or saying unpleasant things about me because of the "First Amendment."  They are mistaken.  Here in Peoria we have a system that respects the law — and respecting the law means respecting the Office of Mayor.  When I was victimized by satire — abused by someone with no regard to my right to self-esteem and dignity — my good friend Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard sprang into action. Could you get the police to devote substantial resources to investigating someone being making fun of you on the internet? Probably not — but frankly you don't carry the burdens of state that I do. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, and all that.

With the help of Steve, your tax dollars, scores of police hours, and other resources, we were able to present search warrant applications. First we got a warrant for Twitter from Judge Kirk D. Schoenbein. Good old Kirk understood that "satire" is no excuse for disrespect here in Peoria. Then we went to Judge Lisa Wilson to force Comcast to cough up the subscriber information associated with the Twitter account. Lisa gets it too: who does this punk think he is, making fun of the mayor? Finally we went to Judge Kim Kelley with an application for a warrant to search this asshole's home, and to toss it for drugs while we were at it. And what do you know? They found drugs! Time for this little shit to face some real consequences.

You hear all the time about judges getting all bent out of shape about the First Amendment. So why did three judges issue warrants here? Well first of all, they all understood that as the Mayor of Peoria I am an important man, and my reputation is something that should be protected under the law. Second, I made it clear in the warrant application how just plain mean some of those "satirical" tweets were. Now, some eggheads out there might say that the warrant suggested, on its face, that the tweets were not meant to be taken seriously, and that there's no articulated basis to search for drugs in the warrant. You just remind those eggheads that a Mayor in a town like Peoria can get things done. I know people, and people know me, and when I want a warrant, then by God I get a warrant. I know all of these judges. This is exactly why you cultivate relationships, my friends. That kid in your fourth grade class eating paste and wetting himself during story time may seem worthless to you now, but you never know when he's going to wind up having the power of life and death over people because he's got an inoffensive name and photographs well.

In conclusion: this is a case of the system working the way it ought to. Someone disrespected me, a man of respect. The system turned around and bit him in the ass. That will teach you to think twice about mouthing off about people like me, won't it?

Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords: Bergen Community College Freaks Out Over "Game of Thrones" T-Shirt

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Tragedy is inevitable. Our reaction to tragedy is not. We cannot govern every risk, but we must govern our reactions to risks. Here's the question we must ask ourselves: when awful things happen in the world, will we abandon reason and accept any measure urged by officials — petty and great — who invoke those awful things as justifications for action? Or will we think critically and demand that our leaders do so as well? Will we subject cries of "crime" and "drugs" and "terrorism" and "school shootings" to scrutiny? Will we be convinced to turn on each other in an irrational frenzy of suspicion, "for the children?"

If we don't maintain our critical thinking, we wind up with a nation run more and more like Bergen Community College in New Jersey, where we may be questioned and sent for reeducation for posting a picture of our daughter in a popular t-shirt on Google+.

Naturally the FIRE has the story, sourced from Inside Higher Education.

Francis Schmidt is a popular professor of design and animation at Bergen. Schmidt posted to Google+ a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat. The t-shirt was this one, bearing the phrase "I will take what is mine with fire and blood," a quote from Daenerys Targaryen, a fictional character in a series of fantasy novels (which has sold tens of millions of copies) turned into a hot TV series on HBO (with close to 15 million viewers per episode.) Googling the phrase will instantly provide a context to anyone unfamiliar with the series.

So: a professor posts a cute picture of his kid in a t-shirt with a saying from a much-talked-about tv show. In the America we'd like to believe in, nothing happens. But in the America we've allowed to creep up on us, this happens:

But one contact — a dean — who was notified automatically via Google that the picture had been posted apparently took it as a threat. In an email, Jim Miller, the college’s executive director for human resources, told Schmidt to meet with him and two other administrators immediately in light of the “threatening email.”

Although it was winter break, Schmidt said he met with the administrators, including a security official, in one of their offices and was questioned repeatedly about the picture’s meaning and the popularity of “Game of Thrones.”

Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase, which he did, showing approximately 4 million hits. The professor said he asked why the photo had set off such a reaction, and that the security official said that “fire” could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.”

Despite Schmidt’s explanation, he was notified via email later in the week that he was being placed on leave without pay, effectively immediately, and that he would have to be cleared by a psychiatrist before he returned to campus. Schmidt said he was diagnosed with depression in 2007 but was easily cleared for this review, although even the brief time away from campus set back his students, especially those on independent study.

So. That happened.

Pressed for an explanation of this lunacy, Bergen Community College Kaye Walter retreated into the first refuge of a modern authoritarianism, "think of the children":

Walter said she did not believe that the college had acted unfairly, especially considering that there were three school shootings nationwide in January, prior to Schmidt’s post. The suspects in all three shootings were minors targeting their local schools (although three additional shootings at colleges or universities happened later in the month).

This — this — is the core demand of the modern Fear State. Tell us what to fear, leaders, for the night is dark and full of terrors. Tell us what we have to do. Tell us what to think, and how to assess risks. Tell us "if you see something, say something" so we may feel duty-bound to vent our fears and insecurities about our fellow citizens rather than exercising judgment or compassion or proportion. Assure us that you must exercise your growing powers for our own safety, to ward off the terrible things we worry about.

Is Bergen some sort of unlikely citadel of irrationality? At first glance it may seem so. After all no well person would interpret the t-shirt as a threat and report it. That takes irrationality or dysfunction. No minimally competent or intelligent or honest school administrator would pursue such a report upon receiving it; rather, anyone exercising anything like rational discretion would Google the thing and immediately identify it as a mundane artifact of popular culture. No honest or near-normal intellect would say, as Jim Miller did, that the "fire" in the slogan might refer to an AK-47, a profoundly idiotic statement that resembles arguing that "May the Force Be With You" is a threat of force. Nobody with self-respect or minimal ability would claim that this professor's treatment was somehow justified by school shootings.

But Bergen isn't an anomaly. It's not a collection of dullards and subnormals — though Jim Miller and Kaye Walker could lead to think that it is. Bergen is the emerging norm. Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is unremarkable in a world where we've accepted "if you see something, say something" as an excuse to emote like toddlers, and where we're lectured that we should be thankful that our neighbors are so eager to inform on us. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like "cyberbullying" to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right. Bergen exists in a country where our leaders realize how powerful those fears are, and therefore relentlessly stretch them further and further, so we get things like the already-Orwellian Department of Homeland Security policing DVD piracy.

Certainly the Miller-Walter mindset is not unique in American academia. We've seen a professor's historical allusion cynically repackaged as a threat. We've seen a community college invoke 9/11 and Virginia Tech and Columbine to ban protest signs. In pop-culture debacle much like this one, we've seen a college tear down a "Firefly" poster as a threat. We've seen satire and criticism punished as "actionable harassment" or ""intimidation."

As a nation, we all need to decide whether we will surrender our critical thinking in response to buzzwords like "terrorism" and "drugs" and "crime" and "school shootings." On a local level, we must decide whether we will put up with such idiocy from our educational institutions. So tell me, students and teachers and alumni of Bergen Community College. Are you going to put up with that? Because institutions that act like this are not helping young people to be productive and independent adults. They are teaching fear, ignorance, and subservience.

If you feel strongly about it, you could tell Bergen Community College on its Twitter Account or Facebook page.

Update: Bergen made a statement doubling down:

"The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College. Since January 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States. In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern."

There are at least two maddening components to this. First, they didn't just "investigate" — they suspended the professor and made him see a psychiatrist because he posted a picture of his daughter in a wildly popular t-shirt from pop culture. Second, the statement is an implicit admission that the college refuses to exercise critical thinking about the complaints it receives. There is no minimally rational connection between school shootings — or any type of violence — and a picture of someone's kid in a pop-culture t-shirt. The college is saying, in effect, "complain to us about your angers or fears, however utterly irrational, and we will act precipitously on them, because OMG 9/11 COLUMBINE TEH CHILDREN." Shameful. Ask yourself: what kind of education do you think your children will get from people who think like this?

A Perspicacious Passover / Happy Easter

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This poem is the second part of a diptych. To read the first part, already posted, follow this link.

A Passover/Easter Exhortation

When winter, winter days, and dramatic rains,
Arrange with memories in ink and fiction,
Ascribing each benediction to the reigns
Of blessed change and heavenly restriction,
Their season’s preferred font of color let
Bestow with frigid hand a painted touch,
Chromatically whispering even its palette,
And reason a distraction to the brush.
In essence winter day too long decrying,
Thy lip and constancy’s eye, by short diction, tear
The given center. Why, wonted sky denying,
With word take aim, selection and objection their
Reaction? Whether winter be loss, the other teach,
Meet me, thy mate, in the periphery of each.

~David Byron for Cathie

An Election is Simply a Festival for the Majority!

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I speak now to the minority:

I apologize for not posting more. I've had many interesting ideas swirling around my head, each of them the potential kernel of a good blog post.

…but I've strangely lost the urge, energy, or whatever to turn ideas into bytes-on-the-page.

I still hope to sit my ass down and generate some content at some point, but until then, feel free to watch this video of me before I was expelled from Japan and emigrated to America. My opinions have changed not a whit.

A Story About Low-Key Policing and Corduroy

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A couple of people have asked me to explain an odd corduroy reference I made on Twitter last night.

Yes, arguably corduroy references are inherently odd. But this one involved blood, and police officers, so it caused some inquiry.

The facts were these: one evening in the late 1980s I was at a friend's house in my home town. Were were on the low roof of his garage. Alcohol was present. We were singing. Neither of us had very good singing voices. That may be why I felt obligated to accompany us on my friend's mother's accordion. That is what we had back then, instead of autotune. If you want to be unpleasantly technical I am not familiar with how an accordion is operated, at least as narrowly defined by uncharitable social convention. However, I believe that unbridled enthusiasm can make up for lack of formal training in many pursuits. There is evidently a difference of popular opinion on this point as it pertains to playing the accordion on a roof at one in the morning.

Eventually a neighbor called the cops, and a police cruiser drove up the street. The officer directed his spotlight on us. We did not stop singing, and I did not stop playing the accordion. Wikipedia explains that intertia is the resistance of a physical object to a change in its state of motion; inertia applies to playing the accordion on a roof. I was committed to it is what I am trying to convey. I remember the officer stood there motionless for several moments, as if evaluating the course of his life that had brought him to this particular circumstance. Eventually he used his car-mounted loudspeaker to say, firmly and slowly,

PUT. THE ACCORDION. DOWN.

I did: not because I had lost inertia or enthusiasm, but because this struck me as so very funny at the time that I doubled over in laughter, dropped the accordion, and rolled off the low, sloped roof into a patch of cacti in my friend's yard. My friend's mother was well before her time with respect to sustainable, drought-resistant landscaping.

The police offer turned off his spotlight, climbed slowly into his car, and drove away. He had accomplished his mission — the neighbors were no longer bothered by someone on a roof playing the accordion — and no further exercise of law enforcement power was warranted.

It took a while for my friend to find me; he was somewhat confused when I abruptly vanished from view on the roof, and for a brief moment he was not certain whether I had fled or possibly been arrested. Eventually, though, he helped me into his kitchen. I was wearing corduroy pants. The cactus needles had driven many durable corduroy threads into my leg, and we sat in the dim light of the kitchen, me in my underwear, picking threads out of my leg, each leaving a disappointing trickle of blood and a puff of corduroy fuzz. This sounds more traumatic that it was; bear in mind that it was the 1980s.

In the years since, I have thought about the police officer. I'm pretty sure he's the same one who used to ticket my late mother occasionally as she veered down Descanso Drive, engine racing in second gear, bringing home take-out to an impatient family. These days, I would likely be arrested, or at least put in the back of the police car for a while. There are formalities to respect and care to be taken and safety to be enforced and there might be an inquiry or a lawsuit if a police officer doesn't fully investigate in such circumstances. But back then, the officer was content to stop the noise, and having stopped it, drive away into a cool evening scented of skunk and honeysuckle.

I have not played the accordion again, although I am not ruling it out.

On Dying

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My father-in-law passed away this weekend after a long struggle with Alzheimer's when his body (finally, one might say) caught up to his mind. Though I couldn't go to join my wife's family at his bedside, my wife did. She's a better writer than I am, so I'll get out of the way.

I used to think that dying of old age was like falling asleep. You lose all your strength, close your eyes, wait a while, then… done. It's not like that at all. Just like the cliches of birth — where moms are rushed to the hospital upon the first signs of labor and babies come out resembling perfectly formed 3 month olds — what we see and tell ourselves about death has little connection to reality.

My parents died of different causes. My mom, from cancer or chemo (as with any cancer patient, it's impossible to say which), my dad from Alzheimer's. But what struck me when I first saw my dad after he slipped into unconsciousness was how closely he resembled my mom on her last day: his body was bony and colorless; mouth agape and twisted; breaths shallow and forced. You could hear him gasp over the oxygen tank, which is saying something. It was noisy, with plodding, arrhymic but no less robotic bursts. After my mom passed and they took the oxygen mask off, we could see that her mouth was caked with blood. She looked like a skeleton. I didn't recognize her.

One of the hospice workers the night I arrived told us he bet Dad would die within an hour, maybe two. (None of the other hospice workers, who were unbelievably kind, would have said anything nearly so blunt.) Everyone was offended but I secretly appreciated his candor. Having been through this last year with my mom I wasn't sure how long I could hold out watching my father's tortured breaths. My brothers, their wives, and I stayed all through the night holding my dad's hands, watching him breathe, and waiting for him to die.

No one would ever admit it but you end up hoping that each violent contraction will be the last. That this excruciating fight will end. After it's over, we cover this lie with another lie, telling people that he died peacefully so that we don't have to talk about it. But when one suffers from Alzheimer's, "peacefully" means merely "unconscious." I don't have to worry about coming to visit my dad at his nursing home and finding him slumped over a wheelchair or soaking in his urine, his skin so dry it's cracked and bleeding in places.

The idea that anyone would have to go through this for a child is unthinkable. But I couldn't help but think of my son during this process: if losing a parent is so difficult, what must it be like to lose a child? Will my son one day have to go through this for my husband and I? He has no siblings. Would he be alone? Would I want to have him staring at me, this horrific image seared in his brain? My instinct is to spare us all from it, securing some kind of "kill pill" to take when the time comes. I took an epidural when my son was born and have no romance for pure pain or suffering. Is a kill pill similar? Is it cowardly? Or consumerist?

The truth is that if I live as long as my parents with my family intact, I'll be lucky if I need to answer this question.

Time for the Popehat Signal: Missouri Car Dealership Sues Over Criticism

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New Popehat Signal courtesy of Nigel Lew.  Thanks, Nigel!

It's time for the Popehat Signal, by which we seek pro bono assistance in defending the First Amendment. I learned of this case through Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, whose important work in support of free speech I've often praised here.

Dwayne Cooney took his car to Jim Butler Chevrolet of Fenton, Missouri. When most of us leave our cars to be serviced, we're left to guess exactly what the mechanics did to it. But Cooney, who works in security, has a dashboard camera, which he left on. He believed that the footage showed that Jim Butler Chevrolet overbilled and charged for work they did not perform. He posted the footage on YouTube.

Jim Butler Chevrolet claims that Cooney is wrong and has deceitfully edited the video, and that the video does not show all of the work that was actually done. They could have responded to Cooney's speech with more speech, but they took the censorious route and sued for defamation, even going as far as to seek an injunction to take Cooney's videos down. Incredibly, a judge issued a temporary restraining order, a plainly unconstitutional prior restraint of speech.

Missouri attorney Martin J. Buckley, with assistance from Paul Alan Levy of Public Citizen, convinced the judge to dissolve the temporary restraining order. But now Cooley's homeowner's insurance is refusing to cover his defense. The Jim Butler Chevrolet dealership is suing for damages and still seeking to have Cooley's criticism taken down. Cooley needs help. If you are an attorney in Missouri, please consider stepping up to assist him in defending this suit.

You can find Cooley's video here. Paul Alan Levy has the pleadings here. The dealership maintains that Cooley's video was misleading. Without prejudging that claim, free speech disputes are best resolved with competent counsel on both sides. Moreover, I am not inclined to believe a plaintiff who seeks a patently unconstitutional injunction against speech; rather, I'm inclined to view them as someone willing to abuse the legal system to silence criticism.

Anti-SLAPP Victory In Oregon: Anti-Telemarketing Blog Wins Big With Pro Bono Help

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Here's a hard fact about free speech: vindicating it in American courts takes either money (and lots of it), or lawyers willing to provide pro bono help. Right is right, and law is law, but court is court — and winning in court generally requires competent representation, which is ruinously expensive for normal people. It's not fair, it's not right, but it's true.

Therefore the vitality of the First Amendment depends not just on the law, but on the service of lawyers like Troy Sexton of Motschenbacher & Blattner LLP in Portland, Oregon.

Last August I put up the Popehat Signal seeking pro bono help for an anti-telemarketing blogger who writes at the Telecom Compliance News Press. The blogger was sued by an attorney named F. Antone Accuardi, who claimed that the blog falsely associated him with companies involved with robocalling and other telemarketing violations.

Troy Sexton stepped up. He filed a motion under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute in response to Accuardi's complaint, and this March, he prevailed. Accuardi's complaint is here, Sexton's anti-SLAPP motion is here, and the Magistrate Judge's lengthy and detailed order granting the anti-SLAPP motion is here. Sexton's work was absolutely top-notch. The main basis of the judge's order is that the blog's comments of Accuardi were statements of opinion based on disclosed and linked facts about the companies and Accuardi's connections to them, and therefore protected by the First Amendment. It's a very thorough opinion and worth a read if you're interested in First Amendment and anti-SLAPP issues.

This is a tremendous victory for the blog, and for Troy Sexton and his firm. Sexton has a motion for fees pending; though he stepped in pro bono, I hope that he winds up collecting at his full rate from Accuardi. I am more free, and so are you, because people like Troy Sexton are willing to step up and contribute their time and skill. Please join me in congratulating him.

Does The Internet Need A United Nations When It Doesn't Have A First Amendment?

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The Department of Commerce has announced that it will soon abdicate its responsibility for maintaining the internet's Domain Name System, the directory that allows translation of a plain English (or Russian, or Turkish) term like popehat.com into the string of numbers and periods that are this site's actual address. DNS is the internet's central nervous system, to analogize crudely.  If a site is removed from DNS, it may as well no longer exist.

The goal, we're told, is to spread governance of the internet from a United States agency to set of "stakeholders" from across the "global internet community." And that's what should worry everyone in the "global internet community" who is concerned with free speech. Unlike the Department of Commerce, the "global internet community" and its "stakeholders" are not constrained from abridging the freedom of speech.

Readers may recall the case of American talk radio host Glenn Beck, who in 2009 sued the owner of the parodic website GlennBeckRapedAndMurderedAYoungGirlIn1990.com, in the World Internet Property Organization (a United Nations body), arguing that the site's name was defamatory, and that it infringed Beck's trademark in the name "Glenn Beck." (The parody countered Beck's style of argument in which he demands opponents prove a negative: "Barack Obama must prove he wasn't in Indonesia on August 4, 1961!") How do we know Glenn Beck didn't rape and murder a young girl in 1990, after all? Beck hasn't proven he didn't. We have only his word to rely upon. The World Internet Property Organization, to its credit and thanks to the commendable advocacy of defense attorney Marc Randazza, denied Beck's claims, finding the assertion contained in the site's name to be an obvious parody that only a dipshit would credit as true.

What's telling about the Beck case is that Beck, for all his professed faith in the United States Constitution, chose not to file his claim in an American court. Beck certainly could have done so: the defendant, like Beck, was an American citizen and subject to the jurisdiction of United States courts. But the First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides broad protections to free speech, some of the broadest in the world, constraining courts and government agencies alike from infringing speech. And a website's name, just like its text, is speech.

No, Beck, or his attorneys, assumed he'd get better treatment from a United Nations agency in his efforts to quash free speech than he'd get in an American court. And for good reason: United Nations agencies are not constrained by the First Amendment.  And so, coming back round to the "stakeholders" of the "global internet community," to what legal constraints will they be subject? And to whom will they answer? The Constitution of the People's Republic of China, for instance, promises that:

Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration. … Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief.

Under the new internet order, Sina Weibo is undoubtedly a major "global stakeholder" in the internet. Does anyone believe that a representative of Sina Weibo, which already censors its users at the behest of its government, would not vote to obliterate a website glorifying Tank Man?

tank man

Of course China is not the only global stakeholder. There are plenty of European nations which also have a stake in the internet, such as the Russian Federation. Perhaps the most distinguished Russian holding a stake in the internet is Evgeny Kaspersky, the famed security expert, whose products are used worldwide. Another famed Russian on the internet is Garry Kasparov, grandmaster of chess and political dissident. For all of Kaspersky's integrity, does anyone doubt that if Kasparov created a website parodying Vladimir Putin, perhaps one called VladimirPutinOrderedTheMurderOfAnnaPolitkovskaya.com, Kaspersky would face intense pressure to vote that it be deleted as defamatory, an offense against the majesty of the Soviet Union Russian Federation?

Of course there are plenty of enlightened non-European countries whose citizens are global stakeholders, such as Thailand. Guarantors of international human rights, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

The Department of Commerce assures us that only private global stakeholders will be nominated to hold a stake in tomorrow's internet, and therefore to make decisions on who (if anyone) gets to have domains ending in suffixes such as .bible or .gay or .wine. We're assured that the new regime will be run much along the lines of the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (which coincidentally is holding its annual meeting for 2014 in Istanbul). But each of those stakeholders is, at least until we have anarchist floating cities, also a stakeholder in some government or state.  In a lot of those states, the government considers itself a "stakeholder" in its citizens, who'll know doubt vote accordingly. And while Commerce promises us that it won't support government involvement in the new DNS regime, once control has passed beyond Commerce, who's to say conditions won't change?

None of this is to suggest that the United States is somehow "deserving" of internet governance, that the internet is American property, or the American government's hands are clean. They're not. I could be reasonably content with an internet whose administration was controlled by other constitutional democracies, such as Australia, Costa Rica, Japan, or even the United Kingdom.

But it won't be. We've seen the others, and they're worse. The system isn't broken, and at least now there are some free speech constraints on the entity ultimately responsible for global DNS.

If you care about free speech on the global internet, not just your provincial American corner of it, consider writing or calling your Congressman and Senators, and asking them to assert their authority against this ill-advised decision.

Chilling Effect, Next Steps, Final Steps, Hope

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Definition:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_society

open society
government in the open society is purported to be responsive and tolerant, and political mechanisms are said to be transparent and flexible.

Definition:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilling_effect

In a legal context, a chilling effect is the inhibition or discouragement of the legitimate exercise of natural and legal rights by the threat of legal sanction.

Definition:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_fear

Culture of fear is a term used by certain scholars, writers, journalists and politicians who believe that some in society incite fear in the general public to achieve political goals.

Definition:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intimidation

Intimidation is intentional behavior that "would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities" fear of injury or harm.

Data:

http://warrantless.org/2014/03/snowden-search/

A new empirical research paper
I have coauthored with Professor Catherine Tucker of MIT-Sloan [ Clark note: originally at http://warrantless.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Surveillance_Search.pdf ] examines the question of how Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations have shifted the way people search for information on the Internet. We look at Google searches in the US and its top ten trading partners during 2013. We identify a roughly 5% drop in search volume on privacy-sensitive terms. In the US, UK and Canada, the countries in our data who were most involved with the surveillance controversy, search volume fell for search terms likely to get you in trouble with the government (“pipe bomb”, “anthrax” etc.), and for searches that were personally sensitive (“viagra”, “gender reassignment”, etc.). In France and Saudi Arabia, search volume fell only for the government-sensitive search terms. This paper, though at an early stage, provides the first systematic empirical evidence of a chilling effect on people’s search behaviors that is attributable to increased awareness of government surveillance. I will be presenting this paper at the Privacy Law Scholars’ Conference in DC in May, 2014. I would welcome comments at alex@warrantless.org.

Clark's editorial additions:

1) Police states are not boolean: A society can be more or less of a police state. The presence of newspapers and absence of death camps does not mean that there is not something of a police state.

2) It is not necessary for anyone to to desire or plan a police state for a police state to arise. Men of good intentions can honestly attempt to solve problems on the ground and in doing so end up worsen the overall picture.

3) When people feel that they can't look up entirely legal information in the 21st century equivalent of a book because they fear know that their government

and based on this knowledge "voluntarily" curtail their own legal behaviors, we have some noticeable degree of a police state.

Clark's suggestion:

1) Do go read the Marthew's paper. I approach all social science papers with an attitude of skepticism…and in this case I was surprised (pleasantly so) by table 6, where statistical confidence is specified.

2) Add warrantless.org to your RSS reader and follow @rebelcinder on Twitter.

3) Put aside existing models of how and why the US government works and approach it as a forensic anthropology question:

  • Note that the NSA, the DoD, and the State Department are regulated by the government, but regulation does not work they way one might expect.
  • Note that no matter which party seems to win an election, the bureaucracy always stays in place, and has its own agenda.
  • Note that elections do not create moral government or consent.
  • Note that the DNA of the government is not just the Constitution, but the extended phenotype of defense oriented firms, police departments, bureaucrats, dependents, and more.
  • Ask yourself if people of good will tried to reform the government in 1980, and 1990, and 200, and 2010, and it has gotten larger and more intrustive every year, what effect people of good will trying to reform the government in 2014 will have.

4)Withdraw your consent from the system.

  • Note that just because party A is terrible does not mean that party B is any better, and refuse to ever say "this will be better after the next election" or "we just need the right guy in office".
  • Note that just because because a Constitution exists and a Supreme Court says that it will enforce the Constitution does not mean that it actually does so.
  • Note that this is not "your" government but "the" government, which you can choose to give loyalty to or not, as you see fit.
  • Note that the government can do whatever it wants to your body, because it has more men and more guns, but it can not force you to acknowledge its moral legitimacy.

The system is unreformable. It has more guns than the good guys (at least now). But if discontent grows and enough people start to stop talking about "our government" and start talking "your [ illegitimate ] government", at some point even the hard men look out at the swelling crowd, realize that they are on the wrong side of history, and go home.

Or at least we can hope.

Takei on Phelps

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On the topic of gay marriage, I'm pretty old fashioned.

…by which I mean I believe what goes on in a marriage contract is between two or more people, their lawyers, and their goðar / non-governmental polycentric legal service providers.

As a non aligned bystander in the left-vs-right culture wars, I'm not as much a reflexively huge fan of George Takei as some people are.

Then I saw this:

George Takei

I take no solace or joy in this man's passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding "God Hates Freds" signs, tempting as it may be.

He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.

Well done, sir.

Michael Mann Files Anti-SLAPP Motion Against Mark Steyn's Counterclaims

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Last month I critiqued Mark Steyn's counter-claims against Michael Mann in Mann's defamation suit, and predicted that Steyn may have subjected himself to an anti-SLAPP motion.

Yesterday Steyn revealed that Mann has, indeed, filed such a motion.

The motion is here. It's colorable, at least. It makes many of the arguments one would expect when a pro se defendant counterclaims against the plaintiff for suing the defendant.

Do not misconstrue this as bragging that I was particularly insightful or clever. I wasn't. This was a consequence of Steyn's counterclaims that anyone reasonably acquainted with First Amendment law and anti-SLAPP statutes predicted.

Steyn's complaint seems to be that the anti-SLAPP statute hasn't protected him effectively even though his speech is protected by the First Amendment, that even with the statute the litigation has been lengthy and extremely expensive, and that the system is broken. I believe all those things are true. But I don't see that Steyn's approach of going pro se, railing against the court, and raising questionable claims is one that is rationally calculated to produce a better result. To me it too closely resembles the losing strategy of people who refuse to acknowledge the court's authority at all.

I acknowledge that I am a practitioner with a practioner's biases. Steyn, on the other hand, is a writer and advocate of political philosophies rather than of clients. He's free to abandon the strategy urged by lawyers of employing the dry and tedious procedural strategies available to him in favor of spectacle. Perhaps it will even produce a satisfactory result, eventually. But many, if not most, important American free speech victories have been won by time-consuming, expensive, and painstaking legal machinations. It may not be right, but it's true. Steyn would be better served by finding and listening to pro bono First Amendment attorneys. I'm confident there are some that would help him.

Meanwhile, you can support Steyn's legal fight against Mann here. Though I think Steyn's approach is reckless, I also think he is in the right on the free speech issue.

Crimea

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The most beautiful land I've ever stormed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….

All the beaches and dachas and woods where my army swarmed
Crimea, Crimea, Crimea, Crimea….

Putin-SingingCrimea!
I've just annexed all of Crimea,
And suddenly Ukraine
Will never be the same
To me.

Crimea!
I've just held a vote in Crimea,
And suddenly I've shown
How vain a threat or drone
Can be!

Crimea!
Take by force, and we're there in person.
By decree, and we're edging toward Kherson….

Crimea,
I'll keep occupying Crimea!

The most beautiful land I've ever stormed:
Cri-meeeeeeeee-aaaaaaaa.

Houdini Now and Then – Caught on the Web

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This article originally appeared in The Mandala Magazine (2:5), April 2012

Houdini Now and Then
:
Caught on the Web

It’s tough being a fan of the Great Houdini. Your non-magician friends quickly grow tired of hearing you say “Watch me escape from this” or “Tie me up! Tighter!” The patience of your significant other wears thin as you beckon “Look at this photo of the fourth milk can!” And your magician friends who are not fans of HH (a defect we fans describe with the phrase “just doesn’t get it”) are likely to respond with “You know, he wasn’t really much of a magician” or “You know, Vernon fooled him with a double” or “You know, he was sort of an arrogant bastard to… well… everyone.”

Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)

Houdini, Germany, ca. 1902 (John Cox Collection)

OK. Yes, we know. Even so, there’s just something about Houdini the man and the myth. And being a fan is no longer about becoming Houdini (though for some it once was). Nor is it about defending Houdini. (Well, maybe a bit.) It’s about appreciating two interwoven themes in the life of Ehrich Weiss: a tragically imperfect pursuit of the American Dream and a splendidly perfect example of magical theatrics. The actor lived a life, not always well, but the character he played projected a fiction, always magnificent. (more…)