Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Daily Freep - Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Liberate and disseminate
Free information freely available is the rallying cry of Erik Ringmar, who wants others to join in putting restricted documents on the web

The Internet Archive is an amazing place. Most famous for maintaining the net's largest repository of old web pages - some 2 petabytes of data - it also collects many other kinds of material: old movies, radio and television shows, books. The Americans have put entire libraries online, one scanned volume after the other. It's all for free and you don't need any particular credentials to get access. A search for "China" provides 1,628 titles (mainly 19th-century books); a search for "Tocqueville" gives you 67 hits (lots of rare secondary sources). Although the past may be a foreign country, the friendly border guards at the Internet Archive hand out free visas to all travellers.

A neat feature of the site is that it allows uploads. As a result, you can treat the Internet Archive like an academic version of YouTube, a place where you can share material and promote your work. Remember your book on the transformation of Spanish political parties in the 1990s? The one that didn't sell that well? Why not deposit it online so that someone may actually read it? And why not be generous to fellow scholars and upload your source material once you've finished your research? Scholarship is all about collaboration, after all. And think of colleagues in less well-resourced locations who don't have easy access to fancy research libraries.

Not uncharacteristically, British research institutions are far behind the Americans when it comes to public online access to material. The contents of Hansard, which publishes the proceedings of the Houses of Parliament, are available online only from 1988. If you want access to older debates, bizarrely you have to visit a website at the University of Florida. Meanwhile American Congressional records dating back to 1774 are, naturally, available for easy browsing at the Library of Congress.

However, other British parliamentary papers are available online. All reports produced by the House of Commons have, for example, been scanned by a company called ProQuest. Its site is great - pages are searchable backwards and forwards. The only problem is that access is restricted and comes with a charge. Each downloaded parliamentary report bears a little inscription: "Copyright 2006, ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved."

Think about this for a second. Here is a company that lays exclusive claim to material produced by the elected representatives of the people. A company whose business idea it is to restrict access to our common heritage. This is upsetting first of all because it goes against the rights of citizens in a democracy to have the documents produced by their parliament freely available. Second, ProQuest is claiming copyright to material whose copyright has long expired. And finally it makes academic research far more difficult. Unless you belong to a university that's prepared to pay for the stuff, you won't get to read it.

So, I've taken it upon myself to start an organisation called MLOP, the "Movement for the Liberation of Old Papers". What I do is hack into restricted websites, download the documents I'm interested in, and then use my favourite open-source paint program to remove the copyright statements from each page. Next I assemble the pages into one single pdf file and upload it to the Internet Archive, where it will become universally available to both researchers and citizens. Yes, it does take a bit of time, but it's a very worthy cause (and I have a hardworking research assistant to help me).

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8-Year-Old Colorado Boy Suspended For Sniffing Marker
by Rhonda Erskine

A Colorado school district is defending its decision to punish a third grader for sniffing a Sharpie marker.

Eight-year-old Eathan Harris was originally suspended from Harris Park Elementary School for three days.

Principal Chris Benisch reduced the suspension to one day after complaints from Harris' parents.

Harris used a black Sharpie marker to color a small area on the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

A teacher sent him to the principal when she noticed him smelling the marker and his clothing.
"It smelled good," Harris said. "They told me that's wrong."

Eathan's father, John Harris, says the school overreacted for treating Eathan as if he was huffing, or inhaling, marker fumes.

"I think it's outlandish," John Harris said. "It's ridiculous."

Eathan shyly shook his head "no" when a reporter asked if he knew about "huffing."

Benisch stands by his decision to suspend Harris, saying it sends a clear message about substance abuse.

"This is really, really, seriously dangerous," Benisch said.

In his letter suspending the child, Benisch wrote that smelling the marker fumes could cause the boy to "become intoxicated."

A toxicologist with the Rocky Mountain Poison Control Center says that claim is nearly impossible.

Dr. Eric Lavonas says non-toxic markers like Sharpies, while pungent-smelling, cannot be used to get high.

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Navajo Towns Still Without Internet

By Felicia Fonseca

All of seventh-grader Nikkolas Page's school assignments are done on the Internet.
He logs on to a computer each day at 1 p.m. at the Inscription House Chapter on the northwestern side of the Navajo Nation in Arizona, downloads his assignments, and when he's done, submits the answers online.

Twice a week, he's required to attend live sessions with other students and teachers.

The 12-year-old was in Flagstaff this past week doing standardized tests required of all Arizona public school students, but he might find his online schooling is not as easy to do this week.
The chapter house, which operates like a city government, was one of about 70 where Internet service was shuttered a week ago. OnSat Network Communications Inc., the company that had provided the service, said that's because it has not received $2.1 million in federal funds needed to pay a subcontractor for satellite time.

The Universal Service Administration Co., which administers the E-rate program, is withholding the funding because of a tribal audit that showed OnSat may have double-billed the tribe. The audit also raised questions about how the tribe requested bids for the Internet contract.

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Guilty Before Proven Innocent
How police harassment, jailhouse snitches, and a runaway war on drugs imprisoned an innocent family
by Radley Balko

The Colombs live on a mostly black street in a mostly white section of this mostly segregated town of 4,700 in Acadia Parish - the heart of Cajun country. James Colomb spent the bulk of his career working in an oil field, then was injured. The family's sole source of income now is his disability check. Ann Colomb - Miss Ann to those who know her - is a homemaker.

It was from this unlikely setting, the United States alleged, that Ann Colomb and three of her four sons ran one of the largest crack cocaine operations in Louisiana. Over the course of a decade, prosecutors said, the Colombs bought $15 million in illicit drugs with a street value of more than $70 million. Judging solely from the indictments, the governments case seemed formidable: a trail of police reports throughout the 1990s accusing the Colomb boys of possessing or selling drugs; a 2001 raid on the Colomb home that turned up 72 grams of crack, a Titan .25-caliber pistol, and a rifle; and more than 30 prison informants who were prepared to testify that they had sold crack to one or more members of the Colomb family. In 2006 a jury in Lafayette, Louisiana, convicted the African-American family on federal drug conspiracy charges. Ann and her sons served almost four months in a federal prison while awaiting their sentences, which would likely have ranged from 10 years to life.

But in the ensuing months, the governments case unraveled, exposing some unsettling truths about the way jailhouse informants are used in Americas courtrooms. In December 2006, all charges against the family were dismissed. The federal judge who presided over the trial was so upset about what happened in his courtroom that he has since taken the rare step of speaking out about it publicly.

The legal fiasco was partly attributable to familiar themes of racism and overly aggressive prosecution. But Ann and James Colomb the Colomb story is mostly about the war on drugs. It shows how the absurd incentives created by the unaccountable use of shady drug informants by police and prosecutors can quickly make innocent people look very guilty.

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Hillary WASN'T LYING! Bosnia gunfire footage discovered...

Is Content Worthless?

by Jonathan Handel

"Content is king," many people believe, meaning that films, television shows, music, news and information are more profitable assets than the technology used to deliver them. But there's an older, cautionary aphorism that applies as well: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." Content may be king, but, ironically, its perceived value today is being driven towards zero. In the eyes of consumers, content is becoming a commodity -- more a commoner than a king.
Everyone focuses on piracy, but there actually six related reasons for the devaluation of content. The first is supply and demand. Demand -- the number of consumers and their available leisure time - is relatively constant, but supply -- online content -- has grown enormously in the last decade. Some of this is professional content set free from boundaries of time and space, now available worldwide, anytime, and usually at no cost (whether legally or not). Even more is user generated content (UGC) -- websites, blogs, YouTube videos -- created by non-professionals who don't care whether they get paid, and who themselves pay little or nothing to create and distribute it.

The second is the loss of physical form. It just seems natural to value a physical thing more highly than something intangible. Physical objects have been with us since the beginning of time; distributable intangible content has not. Perhaps for that reason, we tend to focus on per-unit costs (zero for an intangible such as a movie download), while forgetting about fixed costs (such as the cost of making the movie in the first place). Also, and critically, if you steal something tangible, you deny it to the owner; a purloined DVD is no longer available to the merchant, for instance. But if you misappropriate an intangible, it's still there for others to use. That's why, even before the Internet, sneaking into movie theaters -- stealing the right to view a movie -- seemed a mere rite of passage, whereas shoplifting a video did not.

The third reason is that acquiring content is increasingly frictionless. It's often easier, particularly for young people, to access content on the Internet than through traditional means. When it's easier to get something -- when transaction costs decline -- the thing costs less and loses value.

Fourth is that most new media business models are ad-supported rather than pay per view or subscription. If there's no cost to the user, why should consumers see the content as valuable, and if some content is free, why not all of it? True, ads impose a cost in the form of user attention, but many online ads are easily ignored, and, today, even television advertisements can be skipped using TiVo.

Fifth is market forces in the technology industry. Computers, web services, and consumer electronic devices are more valuable when more content is available. In turn, these products make content more usable by providing new distribution channels. Traditional media companies are slow to adopt these new technologies, for fear of cannibalizing revenue from existing channels and offending powerful distribution partners. In contrast, non-professionals, long denied access to distribution, rush to use the new technologies, as do pirates of professional content. As a result, technological innovation reduces the market share of paid professional content.

Finally, there's culture. A generation of users has grown up indifferent or hostile to copyright, particularly in music, movies and software. The reasons for this vary, but in music, for instance, some blame lies at the feet of the music labels, which maintained unrealistically high CD prices and attempted to sue piracy out of existence. Only now, almost ten years after Napster, are the labels offering the non-copy protected MP3's that consumers demand.

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Manifest Destiny?
by Uri Avnery

NEXT MONTH, Israel will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The government is working feverishly to make this day into an occasion of joy and jubilation. While serious problems are crying out for funds, some 40 million dollars have been allocated to this aim.

But the nation is in no mood for celebrations. It is gloomy.

From all directions the government is blamed for this gloom. "They have no agenda" is the refrain, "Their only concern is their own survival." (The word "agenda", with its English pronunciation, is now fashionable in Israeli political circles, pushing aside a perfectly adequate Hebrew word.)

It is hard not to blame the government. Ehud Olmert speechifies endlessly, at least one speech per day, today at an industrialists' convention, tomorrow at a kindergarten, saying absolutely nothing. There is no national agenda, nor an economic agenda, nor a social agenda, nor a cultural agenda. Nothing.

When he came to power, he presented something that sounded like an agenda: "Hitkansut", an untranslatable word that can be rendered as "contracting", "converging", "ingathering". That was supposed to be a historic operation: Israel would give up a large part of the occupied territories, dismantle the settlements east of the "Separation" Wall and annex the settlements between the Green Line and the Wall.

Now, two years and one war later, nothing of this remains, even the word has been forgotten. The only game in town is the "negotiations" with the Palestinian Authority, which were a farce to start with. Like actors on the stage drinking from empty glasses, all parties pretend that there are negotiations going on. They meet, embrace, smile, pose for photographs, convene joint teams, hold press conferences, make declarations - and nothing, absolutely nothing, really happens.

What is the farce for? Each of the participants has his own reasons: Olmert needs an agenda to fill the void. George Bush, a lame duck who leaves behind him nothing but ruins in every field, wants to present at least one achievement, fictitious as it may be. Poor Mahmoud Abbas, whose continued existence depends on his ability to show some political achievement for his people, clings to this illusion with all his remaining strength. And so the farce goes on.

BUT ANYONE who believes that the government has no agenda, and that the State of Israel has no agenda, is quite wrong. There certainly is an agenda, but it is hidden. More precisely: it is unconscious.

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Pope won't break bread with Bush
by Nick Juliano

Pontiff not attending dinner in his honor, White House says
The White House has scheduled a dinner next week in honor of Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the United States, but one guest will be conspicuously absent from the proceedings: the pope himself.

There are no competing events listed on the pope's schedule, and the White House was unable to explain Benedict's absence from the dinner.

The pontiff will be greeted by the president and first lady upon his arrival to the US Tuesday and participate in a Rose Garden appearance and Oval Office meeting with President Bush the next day. A dinner scheduled for later Wednesday night didn't make it onto the Benedict's schedule, White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Friday.

From Friday's press briefing:
Q Just to clarify, for the pope's visit to the White House, you said that now there's a dinner in the East Room in honor of the pope?
Q Will the pope actually be attending that dinner?
MR. STANZEL: I don't believe so, no.
Q Okay. Thank you.
Q I'm sorry. The pope doesn't attend a dinner in his honor?
Q (Off mike.)
MR. STANZEL: He doesn't come into the building.
Q Well, then it's not a dinner for the pope, is it?
MR. STANZEL: It's in honor of his visit. There will be leaders from the Catholic community from all over the country who are in town for that visit.
Q Is there a reason the pope doesn't attend the dinner?
MR. STANZEL: I don't know. I don't have the full extent of his schedule.
Benedict's schedule does not indicate any events that would conflict with his ability to attend the 7:30 p.m. dinner that Wednesday. He is just scheduled to return to the Vatican embassy in Washington at the same time after a meeting with US bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington.

It's unclear why the Pope won't be attending the dinner in his honor, but he is expected to touch on issues upon which he and President Bush disagree during the visit, especially the Iraq war.

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