Censorship Feed

Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging

I have decided to come back to blogging. I am returning at a point of happiness and strength with a new book out which is successful in ways I had never imagined an anthology could be. I have been having an amazing time these past few weeks.

I find that I have made my decision to resume just at the moment when Kathy Sierra's blog post Why the Trolls Will Always Win, commemorating ten years of over-the-top harassment, is published in Wired

Continue reading "Give Peace a Chance: My Return to Blogging" »

Wiscon program item noted without comment: "Something Is Wrong on the Internet!"


Program Item
NameSomething Is Wrong on the Internet!
Track(s)Feminism and Other Social Change Movements (Reading, Viewing, and Critiquing Science Fiction)
DescriptionWhat keeps you going at 4 a.m. when there's so much fail, and only you and your fellow Internet drama addicts stand against it like stubborn superheroes? Let's talk about why Internet drama is important to us as activists and as fans, why we engage or disengage, and what it all means when ideas and personalities clash in public discussion of sf/f books, tv, fic, and culture.
LocationCapitol B
ScheduleSun 10:00 - 11:15AM
PanelistsM: Vito Excalibur, Piglet, Liz Henry, Julia Sparkymonster
UPDATE: Two accounts of the panel, one from Laura, in the audience, with several unattributed quotes about mobbing:

Hint of a fail is when a person says “There is a mob after me!”

. . . and . . .

If you never shut up about things, then you will continue to be mobbed.

And one from Liz Henry:

danny: what seems to spark a particularly bad reaction is a bunch of people's reactions being called a "mob" - it is not a mob it is a lot of individuals having their own valid reactions.

Clay Shirky has an excellent post on #amazonfail

ShikybyDoctorow The Failure of #amazonfail (I have quoted extensively, but read the whole thing):

In 1987, a teenage girl in suburban New York was discovered wrapped in a garbage bag, smeared with feces, with racial epithets scrawled on her torso. She had been attacked by half a dozen white men, then left in that state on the grounds of an apartment building. As the court case against her accused assailants proceeded, it became clear that she’d actually faked the attack, in order not to be punished for running away from home. Though the event initially triggered enormous moral outrage, evidence that the event didn’t actually happen didn’t reverse that outrage. Moral judgment is harder to reverse than other, less emotional forms; when an event precipitates the cleansing anger of righteousness, admitting you were mistaken feels dirty. As a result, there can be an enormous premium put on finding rationales to continue to feel aggrieved, should the initial one disappear. Call it ‘conservation of outrage.’

A lot of us behaved like that this week, in our fury at Amazon. After an enormous number of books relating to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered (LGBT) themes lost their Amazon sales rank, and therefore their visibility in certain Amazon list and search functions, we participated in a public campaign, largely coordinated via the Twitter keyword #amazonfail (a form of labeling called a hashtag) because of a perceived injustice at the hands of that company, an injustice that didn’t actually occur.

. . .

So it is here. Whatever stupidities Amazon is guilty of, none of them are hanging offenses. The problems they have with labeling and handling contested categories is a problem with all categorization systems since the world began. Metadata is worldview; sorting is a political act. Amazon would love to avoid those problems if they could – who needs the tsouris? — but they can’t. No one gets cataloging “right” in any perfect sense, and no algorithm returns the “correct” results. We know that, because we see it every day, in every large-scale system we use. No set of labels or algorithms solves anything once and for all; any working system for showing data to the user is a bag of optimizations and tradeoffs that are a lot worse than some Platonic ideal, but a lot better than nothing.

We know all that, but we’re no longer willing to cut Amazon any slack, because we don’t trust them, and we don’t trust them because we feel like they did something bad, even though we now know, intellectually, that they didn’t actually do the bad thing we’ve come to hate them for. They didn’t intend to silence gay-themed work, and they didn’t provide the means for groups of anti-gay bigots to do so either. Even if the employee currently blamed for the change in the database turned out to be a virulent homophobe, the problem is in not having checks and balances for making changes to the database, not widespread bias.

We’re used to the future turning out differently than we expected; it happens all the time. When the past turns out differently, though, it can get really upsetting, and because people don’t like that kind of upset, we’re at risk of believing false things rather than revising our sense of what actually happened.

We shouldn’t let that happen here; conservation of outrage is the wrong answer. We can apologize to Amazon while not losing sight of the fact that homophobic bias is wrong and we have to fight it everywhere it exists. What we can’t do, can’t afford to do if we want to think of ourselves as people who care about injustice, is to fight it in places it doesn’t exist.

Yes. Yes. And yes. Rushing to judgement does not justice serve.

See also Darren Barefoot.

Photo of Clay Shirky by Cory Doctorow.

Background to the Stuart Pivar Lawsuit: Money as "a Form of Behavior"

I've been following with some puzzlement the strange tale of millionaire businessman and art collector Stuart Pivar's lawsuit against science blogger PZ Myers claiming "Assault, Libel, and Slander" over Myers' negative review of Pivar's foray into evolutionary theory, a book entitled Lifecode:The Theory of Biological Self Organization, the only book published by one "Ryland Press, Inc."

I first read about the lawsuit on Making Light, but it has also been written up on Scientific American's blog, where Myers comments,

Huh. I'd heard some noise from Pivar threatening to sue, but this is the first I've heard of any formal action being taken. Since I'm a defendant (one who hasn't been notified of his status!) I suppose I should just shut up at this point and let justice run its course.

Since I'm a blogger, though, I can't completely shut up. I will just say that this is Pivar's attempt to squash a negative review of his book, which I posted here. Nothing in the review was motivated by personal malice, and I actually am inclined to favor structuralist arguments in evolution ... but I'm afraid my honest assessment of Pivar's work is that it does not support his conclusions. I still stand by my review, and now I'm a bit disturbed that someone would think criticism of a scientific hypothesis must be defended by silencing its critics.

One of the very first things I was ever told when my first book came out was never to respond to negative reviews. I have not entirely resisted the temptation, but have (I think) managed to limit myself to polite notes making what I felt were factual corrections. My first reaction, when reading about this lawsuit on Making Light was how much it reminded my of the Monty Python skit containing the line, He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire.

Of course, life is stranger than fiction; stranger, even, than Monty Python. I've spent most of the day reading for our Year's Best volumes, but spent a few minutes looking further into the discussion of the lawsuit, and found some really odd stuff.

Pivar, it seems, is used to being noticed and making waves, though in very different circles than biology or blogging. According to The New York Times (2004) he has a "long-running feud" with the New York Academy of Art which he helped found and where he alledges  that "organized crime" has taken over.

In 2006, he alleged that Sotheby's showed negligence to its stockholders in relation a refund given a Japanese collector for a statue for which Pivar had obtained a 1 million dollar appraisal.

But  the most interesting material relates to his friendship with Andy Warhol, which he wrote about for the Sotheby's Andy Warhol Collection 1988 auction catalog. The Warhol-Pivar relationship merited a really startling passage in an essay published by Artnet entitled "What Art Says about Money" by Charlie Finch:

That is the call of money, the fear of art as exchange value. Conversely, Claude Monet, the original Andy, would crank out his haystacks, take a small number to Marseilles, telling his buyers, "There are only a few, buy them while you can." Then he'd float another dozen stacks back in Paris.

This is more than making a living, or refusing to: It is the love call of currency at its most fetishistic. Steve Rubell famously showered Andy Warhol with buckets of bills at Andy's birthday bash. No artist was more the victim, and yet exploiter, of money lust than Warhol, wandering the souks of Soho with Stuart Pivar buying up everything in sight then dumping the unopened packages in his closets at night, full of unsatisfied shame. The pull of mammon was murderous even on someone so intelligent. For money is a form of behavior, abstract, hidden and irrational.

Here's more on the Andy and Stuart social scene from accounts by Heli Vaaranen, a Finnish model:

What united Stuart and Andy was that they appreciated success, and only it. If someone tried to get started with his or her career, Stuart and Andy were certainly the wrong persons to try to use. Stuart Pivar had a very exclusive taste in his social life. For instance, he used to arrange classical concerts once a week in his home, in which artists like members of the New York Philharmonic performed. Only the best was good enough for Stuart.

Both Andy and Stuart selected the company they associated with. Very carefully. Andy used to say that 'It's great to buy friends'. Vaaranen agrees that Andy's famous friends were bought with his fame.

In the past few days, there are any number of people who have called Pivar an idiot for filing this lawsuit. That seems to me too easy an assessment.

The truth seems to be much more novelistic in a Jamesian sort of way: Pivar strikes me as a feisty, confident man, a fighter, who has honed his tactics in intellectually and aesthetically complex circles, who is unable to understand why his visual sophistication is not taking him where he wants to go, and why money can't take him the rest of the way if visual sophistication isn't enough. (I hope for the sake of everyone involved that he is a quick learner.)

So. Do we think people will stop asking where the women bloggers are?

Following the right-wing group assault on Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan for having the audacity to take jobs on a Democratic presidential campaign and Michelle Malkin's video proving that Malkin is descended from a screech owl, do we think, maybe, people will stop asking where all the women political bloggers are?


Nah. I doubt it.

By the way, screech owls are descended from dinosaurs you know.

PS: Can someone explain to me why William Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Liberties is getting paid over $300,000 a year to use a 501C3 corporation to harass Amanda Marcotte and Melissa Ewan?

(His employment history does not seem to justify this level of compensation.)


UPDATE: See also Melissa's tale in the Guardian. And do read the comments for the Republican Rape Machine you have and orifice so we can fill it; you were begging for it girl mob psychology.

See also Jesus General. (Just why does loyalty to Catholicism make men think about what they could do to women bloggers with their penises? I missed that part of the Bible. If her blog offend thee, send her lewd sexual suggestions via email.)

Food for Thought, Served in Several Courses

This is Year's Best season for us, and so I've been reading lots of short fiction, which ought to give me a lot to say in this space, but instead leaves me sort of stunned. If you have a favorite science fiction or fantasy short story published in 2006, now is the time to tell me about it.

Mathlove800_1 One thing I found out about this weekend is Rudy Rucker's podcast of his fine story, "Chu and the Nants" published in  Asimov's. I told David about it and he was pleased I liked it because it is part of Rudy's next novel, Postsingular, which David is publishing at Tor in a year. Meanwhile, Rudy's new novel, Mathematicians in Love, just came out. Put it on your Christmas list.

On a not entirely unrelated topic, I have been surveying the Nerdosphere for worthy math and computation-related blogs, and have noticed the interesting phenomenon that there is a new generation of math and physics grad students who blog. Most of these are very low traffic sites  that would raise hardly a blip on the Technorati rankings, but seem to me indicative of an interesting technological shift.

Historically, physicists were among the first to have web sites (my father had the second in the State of Washington), however scientists have been a bit slower to embrace blogs than they were the web as such. When I've had more time to survey them, I may provide more targeted links.

Here are some blogs that caught my attention while I was surfing for math and math-related blogs:

  • Cellular Automata in Bio-Medicine by Prof. Gershom Zajicek M.D.who is "exploring ways to boost healing processes in a diseases, and particularly in cancer."
  • Anima ex Machina: (has an interesting pic of my friend Kovas presenting a paper last week)
  • Gooseania: My friends invited me over for dinner on Tuesday, just after my theorem was pronounced dead and so I immediately rejected their offer, worried that I'd better get working on something new.
  • NeverEndingBooks: A very pretty blog. The author has two categories for his posts: On Topic and Off Topic, and . . .
  • Backreaction, the blog of Canadian theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder and Stefan Scherer, a physicist who now works in scientific publishing in Germany.

Further to the subject of data, I've had a look at David Sifry's much discussed State of the Blogosphere post. The part I found most interesting  is the discussion of splogs and how Technorati deals with them.

. . . some of the new blogs in our index are Spam blogs or 'splogs'. The good news is Technorati has gotten much better at preventing these kinds of blogs from getting into our indexes in the first place, which may be a factor in the slight slowing in the average of new blogs created each day.

The spikes in red on the chart above shows the increased activity that occurs when spammers create massive numbers of fake blogs and try to get them into our indexes. As the chart shows, we’ve done a much better job over the last quarter at nearly eliminating those red spikes. While last quarter I reported about 8% of new blogs that get past our filters and make it into the index are splogs, I’m happy to report that that number is now more like 4%. As always, we’ll continue to be hyper-focused on making sure that new attacks are spotted and eliminated as quickly as possible.

This relates to something I have been worrying a bit about lately, which is astroturf blogs in quantity founded for an unpleasant and possibly illegal, though not commercial, purpose. I won't link to the example of the phenomenon I have in mind, because that would give them traffic.

If, for example, sometime in the near future, a cult were to order its members to all found blogs to attack a particular individual or institution, how would search engines like Technorati or Google react? Would this be seen as covered by freedom of expression, or would it be seen as analogous to to the founding of many erection-enhancement pill blogs? How will this be dealt with? Could offending an organization with fanatical members ruin your reputation on the web permanently? Or is this something that people like Dave Sifry will have to start monitoring? 

And, if it were happening now, and you were to know about it, what would you be able to do about it? 

And what if you were a target?  What would you do?

Write to Dave Sifry? Call the FBI? Hire an attorney? Hire a publicist? How relevant and enforceable are, for example, the cyberstalking laws?

Food for thought.

Well, this really rips the lid off the seamy underbelly of the story of the wild & crazy Armenian brothers in Kenya . . .

Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargsayan, colorful Armenian characters who are apparently brothers, about whom I blogged extensively a while back were arrested and then deported from Kenya, according to news reports. And in the process, some very interesting items in their possession came to light. These guys first came to my attention in the context of the Kenya media raids in which they seemed to be central figures, and are notable for their what's-yer-problem, we-already-bought-this-country attitude when strutting around Kenya.

First, the story of the arrest: Kenya: Artur Brothers Arrested After Airport Gun Drama

Margaryan and Sagarsyan forced their way out of the airport with over 12 bags they yanked from the baggage's conveyor belt before they could be opened up for inspection.

Investigations by the Saturday Standard revealed that the passes for the brothers were issued on February 10 while the other three for their "aides" were issued on Thursday morning hours before they turned up at the airport to receive their "brother" and "sister" from Dubai.

The man and woman arrived with the bags with unidentified cargo and it was on their arrival that the airport drama began. Sagarsyan and Margaryan were allowed into the airport without screening, a privilege the KAA security booklet last revised in 2004 says is reserved for President and Cabinet members. The only other category of people exempted from this stringent rule is foreign envoys, and special groups who must be escorted to the plane's elevator by armed police.

When the police later opened one of the bags following a commando raid at their plush Runda home, they found several fake local, foreign, diplomatic and Government vehicle registration plates.

They also found black balaclavas, the kind of which the hooded policemen who raided the Standard and KTN offices donned. The bag was also stuffed with pistol holsters and camouflage military jackets.

In the compound were 11 cars, some bearing GK plates. The vehicles included a BMW, three Toyota Harriers and other luxurious saloon cars.

An official Criminal Investigation Department (CID) letter granting Margaryan the powers of a police officer was also found in the house.

The police team also seized three computers and videotapes, which insiders revealed were similar to those taken away by the police during the March 2 media raid on Standard Group offices.

. . . and the deportation: Kenya: Artur Brothers Deported After Gun Drama At Airport

The two controversial Armenian Artur brothers were dramatically kicked out of Kenya yesterday.

The brothers Margaryan and Sargsyan left on a Kenya Airways flight at 7.30pm for Dubai.

The sudden move, came without even the customary court hearing, following their arrest during a midnight operation triggered by an attack on a Customs officer at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

When their home in the upmarket Runda estate was raided, police found a cache of guns and ammunition, plus balaclava helmets and a number of T-shirts branded QRU (Quick Response Unit).

The brothers Margaryan and Sargsyan and two of their accomplices were declared persona non grata and prohibited from returning to Kenya.

The four were deported as police announced in an official statement: "The Government has declared their continued presence in the country undesirable and ordered their immediate deportation."

The two men thrown out with the brothers were named as Mr Arman Damidri and Mr Alexander Tashchi.

Announcing the decision, police spokesman Gideon Kibunjah stated: "Their deportation follows a serious breach of airport security at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport involving both Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargsyan and their colleagues,"

It went on: "At a time of enhanced aviation security all across the world, incidents that compromise security at international airports can neither be tolerated nor taken for granted."

I still would like to know what that pair were really up to. The whole thing had a kind of start-up with venture capital feel to me, and I continue to wonder who was paying for their attempts to buy the place with beads.

Wonder what will become of their menagerie of attack dogs and attack crocodiles.

"What we are witnessing is a political purge of the CIA."

Safariscreensnapz115Larry Johnson has a another good post on Mary McCarthy ends with a powerful passage that bears wider broadcasting:

What we are witnessing is a political purge of the CIA. The Bush Administration is working to expel and isolate any intelligence officer who does not toe the line and profess allegiance to George. It is no longer about protecting and defending the Constitution. No. It is about protecting the indefensible reputation of George Bush.

The firing of Mary McCarthy and her trial in the media is a travesty. Particularly when George Bush continues to harbor leakers who put selfish political motives above the welfare of this nation. It remains to be seen if Mary McCarthy had anything to do with the leak of secret prisons. There is no doubt, however, that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, Stephen Hadley, Dick Cheney, and George Bush directly participated in a campaign to leak misleading intelligence information to the American people. Patrick Fitzgerald's court filings make that point abundantly clear. Under George Bush, America is being asked to tolerate Gulag Politics. That is something I find intolerable and unconscionable.

And it is worth noting also that this was the week in which Bush apologized to the Chinese President for a protestor during the White House welcome ceremony and pushed the issue by making sure she was criminally charged.

Scam Agent on the Rampage!

A "literary agent" who took exception to the blog Making Light mentioning that she had made someone's list of the 20 worst literary agents, seems to have tried to get some of the blog's authors fired. Go read Making Light to find out how you can help.

You might also want to visit the following pages:

Mitläufer in the Caucus-Race: Google Helps Keep China Safe from the Indecency of Democracy; Intel to Help, Too.


Here are two news stories to be read side by side.

Xinhua (China): Central news websites back Internet self-censorship (via Rebecca MacKinnon & Imagethief)

  BEIJING, April 11 (Xinhua) -- China's central news websites on Tuesday backed the proposal of major Beijing-based portals for self-censorship and the eradication of pornographic and violent Internet content.

    In a joint announcement, 11 news websites vehemently supported the initiative, saying it represents the aspiration of China's Internet users.

    "Chinese websites are capable and confident of resisting indecent Internet content," the announcement said.

  The websites also vowed to play a leading role in self-censoring Internet content in compliance with the "Eight Honors and Disgraces", a new concept of socialist morality set forth by Hu Jintao, president and general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, recently.

    "We will make the Internet a vital publisher of scientific theories, spread the advanced cultures and promote decency, so as to boost economic growth, maintain social stability, and promote the building of a socialist harmonious society," they pledged.  . . .

    "We are in a stern opposition to indecent on-line messages that undermine public morality and the culture and fine traditions of the Chinese people," the proposal acknowledged.

. . . and the New York Times: Google Chief Rejects Putting Pressure on China

BEIJING, April 12 — Google's chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, whose company has been sharply criticized for complying with Chinese censorship, said on Wednesday that the company had not lobbied to change the censorship laws and, for now, had no plans to do so.

"I think it's arrogant for us to walk into a country where we are just beginning operations and tell that country how to run itself," Mr. Schmidt told reporters from foreign news organizations.

Mr. Schmidt is visiting China this week to promote Google's new Chinese search engine and to meet with officials of government ministries. He announced the opening of a research and development center in Beijing's high-technology district and also introduced a Chinese-language brand name for the company's domestic search engine — Gu Ge, which roughly translates as "a harvesting song."

But in briefing sessions that involved both Chinese and foreign reporters, Mr. Schmidt faced questions about the censorship controversy that has involved Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Cisco Systems.

At a Congressional hearing in February, executives from the four companies were criticized as collaborating with the Chinese government to silence dissidents. Google's Chinese search engine, introduced in January, blocks subjects restricted by the government, including searches for "Tibet" and "democracy."

On Wednesday, Mr. Schmidt defended the decision to cooperate with the censors, saying that accepting the restrictions of Chinese law were unavoidable for Google to enter the Chinese market. "We had a choice to enter the country and follow the law," Mr. Schmidt told the foreign reporters. "Or we had a choice not to enter the country."

Interestingly, Google Inc. is having a few issues with democracy of  its own. From the San Jose Mercury News: Google shareholder wants two-tiered stock structure dismantled

A pension fund that owns 4,735 Google shares -- out of a total of 297 million -- filed a proposal Wednesday asking the Mountain View company to dismantle its two-class stock structure. That arrangement gives co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and Chief Executive Eric Schmidt control of Google.

But to pass, the measure would require the support of those from whom it wants to strip power -- Brin, Page and Schmidt hold nearly 70 percent of the voting control of the company. . . .

Google has two classes of stock. The class B shares held by the three executives count as 10 votes for every share, compared to one vote for every share of class A stock held by most other shareholders. The proposal will be voted on during Google's annual shareholder meeting on May 11.

As of March 17, Brin, Page and Schmidt owned 76.1 million shares of Google stock, almost all of it class B. The shares represented 25.6 percent of all shares outstanding, but gave them voting power worth 68.8 percent.

But returning to the matter at hand, Google's co-option into the Chinese censorship apparatus, I can't help but be astonished how easy it is for smart guys like Schmidt to be transformed into Mitläufer.

MEANWHILE, not wanting to be left out of the Caucus-Race, Intel Corp. has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai company Baidu: Intel and Baidu 'join hands' in China

HONG KONG (MarketWatch) -- Intel Corp. and Internet search engine Baidu.com have signed a memorandum of understanding to develop search applications for Intel platforms in a deal that could have important branding and technology implications for the two companies in China's high-stakes online market.
According to a press release issued by Baidu's (BIDU : 56.80, +1.22, +2.2% ) offices in Shanghai, the two companies will cooperate in developing search applications for laptops, handsets, personal computers, and other home appliances.

Baidu is basically viewed as a direct competitor to Google's (GOOG : 408.95, -0.71, -0.2% ) growing aspirations in China. The Shanghai-based startup is widely viewed as having a better search engine for Chinese text, however, its ability to search the international web pages lags behind Google. . . .

Intel spokesman Thomas M. Kilroy said the cooperation would "provide optimized search performance".

Um. Optimized for what?

I think it's time for a quote from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Chapter III - A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale

Alice09a_1'What IS a Caucus-race?' said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

'Why,' said the Dodo, 'the best way to explain it is to do it.' (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn't matter,' it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,' but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!' and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?'

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, 'EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.'

Ah, capitalism! As Richard at The Peking Duck remarks:

Now that China is (or at least seems to be) the place to go to get rich, this seems to be everyone's attitude. "Who are we to impose our cultural beliefs on another country...?" All such complex ethical issues dissolve in front of the one god worshipped by everyone, money.

Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!

From the Kenya Times, this entertaining passage:

After a long silence, Artur Margaryan, now says he has brought to his residence more dogs and crocodiles to beef up his security. This is in addition to the ten dogs he had imported earlier. Westlands legislator Fred Gumo and his Makadara counterpart Reuben Ndolo should probably be warned not to take their threats to storm his residence, lest they be devoured by the crocodiles.

There's something reminiscent of The Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly here. I've been wondering where this story is going. Perhaps it will end with the the Arturs being eaten by their, er, security forces.

(Who is cleaning up after all the animals, anyway? They have how many killer dogs? Wonder how it smells in there.)

I remain really interested in finding out who these guys are and where they came from.

On a more somber note, while these clowns hole up with large but untraceable amounts of cash, famine spreads across East Africa. And meanwhile Kenya is also having an outbreak of measles because of lack of vaccinations.

See also my previous posts:

Below the cut is an abundance of related links along with what I thought was the best line from each.

Continue reading "Update on the Wild & Crazy Armenian Brothers in Kenya: Send in the Crocodiles!" »

The Global ONLINE Freedom Act of 2006 (HR 4780)

There are two very different bills with very similar names that are sometimes being discussed interchangeably. Short version: Global ONLINE Freedom Act of 2006 (HR 4780) mostly good; Global INTERNET Freedom Act (HR 4741) lame.

HR 4741 attempts to address the problem of Internet censorship, but its authors seem innocent of the fact that the US is exporting the tools to do the thing the bill's authors want combated.

On  the other hand, HR 4780, on a quick read through, looks pretty good and would sort out a lot of the Google-China type issues, and also seem to me to lay the groundwork for restricting exports of SmartFilter-type stuff, and also some of the most worrisome DRM enforcement tools that may be developed. (Wouldn't it be great to kill DRM by keeping the enforcement tools from being exported from the US into the global market?)

Before leaping into the fray, I want to have HR 4780 explained to me by someone who really knows how to read this sort of thing, but it looks awfully good to me.

Both Rebecca MacKinnon and the EFF have weighed in and have misgivings with the part of the bill specifying that would require US Internet companies to hand over all lists of forbidden words provided to them by "any foreign official of an Internet-restricting country." But I find one passage of Danny O'Brien of the EFF's discussion of what he'd like to see instead at least as problematic as what he intends to replace.

Don't Do Direct Business with Forces of State Oppression

Companies should be prohibited from providing intentional ongoing support and assistance to those who abuse human rights in foreign countries. While many products such as filtering software, Internet monitoring programs and programs to unlock protected data can have multiple uses, American companies should not be actively and knowingly providing services that facilitate censorship or repression.

This is sufficiently vague as to allow for implementation along the lines of a trade embargo in which individuals needing access to US technology to overcome their oppression might be denied it in the name of not doing business with oppressive states.

And MacKinnon remarks,

But we must act in a way that respects the rights of people in other countries as much as we respect our own rights.

These are nice ideals, but I don't see how any kind of Internet filtering technology could be meaningfully restricted without ways of monitoring what was being filtered. My preferred tactic is adding censorware and related technologies to the Munitions List such that their export would require State Department approval, which would be given or not on a case-by-case basis. This would also require a recognition on the part of the US firms creating censorware that it is in a sense a military-type technology and needs to be handled accordingly.

Even if it is not perfect, HR 4780 has a lot to recommend it. Reporters Without Borders apparently supports the bill, and I am tentatively inclined to do likewise. Also, while HR 4780 does not specifically add censorware to the Munitions List, it lays the groundwork for that possibility.

Certainly, we don't need yet another situation in which the US plays global cop, but the bill is aimed mostly at policing our own technology exports in a situation in which we are exporting the tools for dystopia.

Melbourne IT Censors Political Satire at the Request of the Office of Australian Prime Minister John Howard

200406033_p4124003jpg343vSurely, Melbourne IT, home to any number of phishing sites [P O Box 99800, EmeryVille, CA linked to is Melbourne IT's privacy protection address], and the company that allowed the Panix domain hijacking a while back, had to draw the line somewhere. And here's where they drew it: political satire. From the Sydney Morning Herald:

One of the many online newsletters and blogs I consume regularly is written by Richard Neville, a social commentator and, to people of my generation, one of the driving forces of the Australian counter-culture in the 1960s. . . . On March 8, Neville posted a spoof website on the internet, purporting to be a speech by John Howard apologising for Australia's involvement in the Iraq war. It was just the sort of speech Howard might have made if he had apologised and many believed it to be genuine.

That impression was exactly what was intended. That's how satire works. It was greatly heightened by the website (http://www.johnhowardpm.org) being a direct copy of the Prime Minister's website (http://www.pm.gov.au). Neville's spoof immediately received thousands of hits, helped along by his own email marketing and word of mouth.

Then, a day later, the site disappeared. . . . He tried to contacted Yahoo! which had sold him the web hosting package and the domain name for $9.71, but no one got back to him.

    In that email, he asked six questions:

    · Who ordered the closing of the site?

    · On what grounds?

    · By what authority?

    · Through what mechanism?

    · Why in secret?

    · Will I get a refund from Yahoo!?

After a few days Neville found that the problem was not with Yahoo! but with Melbourne IT, the domain name registrar.  . . . Melbourne IT shut down the site after it received calls from the Prime Minister's office and the Australian Federal Police, through its agency called the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. Melbourne IT's chief technology officer, Bruce Tonkin, says the registrar acted only because Neville's site looked like the Prime Minister's real site and infringed on intellectual property rights.

What, after all, will innocent children think if they were to see the Australian Prime Minister satirized in public! We must think of the children!

Neville writes:

The domain name, johnhowardpm.org, is hosted by Melbourne IT. In less than 36 hours of its launch, following 10,500 visits to the site, the plug was pulled. By who? On what grounds? It took three days for Melb IT to make contact with me and help lift the veils of confusion. After receiving a phone call from Greg Williams of the People, Resources & Communications Division at the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet, Melb IT put the domain name on HOLD, where it remains. This domain cannot be transferred to another, more resilient host, for 60 days. In addition to the complaint from John Howard’s office, Melbourne IT said they had received calls from THREE Federal Police, and provided the name of an agent from the Australian High Tech Crime Centre. As far as I know, my passport has not met the same fate as my domain name.

See also Tim Longhurst.

[Advisory: as a Panix customer, I am unsure why Melboure IT remains in business.]

"Affordable" Transplants in China

This morning, I happened across a really subtle page on Flickr with a screenshot promoting the idea of going to China for one's organ transplants on the basis that it is easier to get a transplant match and is cheaper than a transplant in the US. All the photos on the site from which the screen shot is taken are of caucasians, and the target market for these transplant services seems to be Americans. I was seaching on the tag "censorship" and at first I didn't get it. When I did, I nearly choked on my coffee.

Here's the screenshot:


Though the issue of where the organs come from is never really addressed on the pages of the Yeson site I read, there is the general implication that matches are not too hard to come by in China as compared to the US. In his blog, Dr. Yeson remarks:

Currently, more than 17,000 people in the United States are waiting for liver transplants. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), about 5,300 liver transplantations were performed in the United States in 2002.

Also, there is a discussion of using living donors.

The site never does explain why it might be easier in China to finding matching donors for Americans than it would be in the US. The general implication is that there is a far larger pool of available organs to draw upon. But the fellow on Flickr helps out with this link:
Majority of China's Transplants Come from Prisoner's Organs

Increasing numbers of patients with liver cirrhosis or renal failure from regions including South East Asia, North America, Europe and Australia are flying to China for organ transplants. China has become the world's center for organ trade and transplants. But, what China may not be revealing to the world, is that the main source for organ transplants come from executed convicts.

According to the U.S.-based China Information Center, due to higher survival rates of liver and kidney transplants, China's hospitals are experiencing a boom in this business. As such, recently, there have been moves to expand facilities and make liver treatment and transplant more accessible to patients.

Think about this the next time you hear a story about Yahoo getting someone in China arrested.

See also this document, Sale of Human Organs in China, from the website of the US State Dept.

(On the other hand, sometimes grim tales of organ transplants are not true.)

Insitutionalizing the Kenya Media Raid: A proposed bill to turn the current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya into a statutory media council, "essentially becoming a censorship body."

Over the past few days, I've spent a lot of time combing through the media overage of the aftermath of the Kenya media raids, which were an appalling spectacle of a corrupt government attempting to choke off the Kenyan public's access to information about the functioning of their own government. The crux of the issue is whether it is proper for the press to question the actions of the government: this is one of the most basic issues involving freedom of the press and the need for transparancy. The current Kenyan government does not wish to be criticized.

What emerges from the aftermath of the media raids is that one piece of what has gone very wrong with the current government there is the arrival of two very strange Armenian investors, Artur Margaryan and Artur Sargysan, who strut around Nairobi with an I already bought this country; what's your problem? attitude, when asked questions about their business and their involvement by the media. The details are floridly jaw-dropping; really over the top. And the media raids seem to have come about not because the Kenyan media is irresponsible, but rather because the sitting government has so much to hide.

So now the Kenyan Parliament has reopened. And on that opening day, Kenya's President Kibaki remarked:

Although the freedom of the Press cannot be over-emphasised, it is clear that it must be exercised within the bounds of responsibility.

SO. What are those bounds to be? Hmm? Well. There is this "Media Bill" which will turn the Media Council of Kenya into a censorship body. From Embassy: Canada's Foreign Policy Newsweekly:

So far, a total of six Kenyan journalists have been arrested and charged in court of publishing rumours likely to cause alarm. They are two from the Standard group and four from a weekly newspaper, The Citizen.

The media fraternity is gripped with fears that it's facing a chilling period. The government has published a Media Bill due to be tabled in parliament for enactment. According to the Bill, press accreditation of those considered rebel journalists is to be withdrawn. The current self-regulated Media Council of Kenya would be transformed into a statutory media council, essentially becoming a censorship body. The Bill will also allow for the creation of a media content commission that, with a fine tooth comb, will check on content in both electronic and print media to ensure the media toe the government line. Toeing the line will also be expected of public publications published by the civil society and the faith community.

Faced with this uncertain future, the Media Council of Kenya has called for a media stakeholders meeting to be held Friday, March 24 to launch a campaign against the Bill. . . .

The Chairman of Media Council of Kenya Board of Trustees Dr. Absalom Mutere described the raid on the Standard group as "exhibition of raw power," adding "my take is we ain't seen nothing yet."

Scary stuff. In the past few weeks of combing through this stuff, I've become rather fond of the Kenyan media. If the media raids were to become institutionalized through this legislation, it would be a loss to all of us. So let's do something about it.

How about the rest of us try to find out what is going on there. Who are these Armenian "investors"? I think we can find out. What is their real business, and how is the money flowing through the Kenyan political establishment? I think we should help out by taking a worldwide interest in this.  I think we would all be better for it.

(I would be very interested in hearing from anyone with expertise on Armenian organized crime.)

CensorWare for Australia?
Plus Who decides what stays & goes? Is this all yet another move to make the Internet more like TV?

Just when you thought that censoreware was only for oppressive goverments, and for use with children, and institutions by that treat their employees like children -- the US Military, General Electric (GE), Procter and Gamble, Exxon Mobil, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Bayer, Conagra Foods, Lockheed Martin, British Telecom, Fujitsu, Volvo, Kohler, and Tiffany & Co.)* -- politicians in Australia propose to turn censorware on their population: Labor to force porn block

(We already know that where such systems are in place, for example Secure Computing's SmartFilter, they block a whole lot more than what any reasonable person would consider porn.)

Internet service providers (ISPs) will be forced to block violent and pornographic material before it reaches home computers if Labor wins the next federal election. Under the policy, announced by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley today, international websites would be banned by the Australian Communications and Media Authority if they contained graphic sexual or violent material, rated R or higher. The bans would be maintained by ISPs.

The policy aims to protect the two-thirds of Australian households where no internet filters are in place because of a lack of technical knowledge or cost. Mr Beazley said all households would be included in the policy unless there was a specific request for access to such material.

It was "too hard" for many parents to install internet blockers on their computers to prevent offensive material being downloaded, he said.  . . . Any user can also report material to Australian Communications and Media Authority and if it is found to be hosted in Australia and banned, an ISP is ordered to take it down within 48 hours or face penalties. If the content is illegal, but hosted overseas, it is referred to federal police and filter providers add it to the blocked list.

"No child in Australia need be exposed to harmful and offensive content," Mr Coroneos said.

Gotta love that bit about giving members of the public the opportunity to block "offensive material" for the whole country. The possibilities for that are endless: evolution, birth control, liberal politics, breastfeeding. Even if the Internet were merely held to the standards of television and not as harshly censored as it is by such systems as SmartFilter, a whole lot would disappear.

Think I'm kidding about them maybe pushing breastfeeding off the Internet? I'm not.Note also that Kirstie Marshall, a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly in Australia, was ejected from parliament for exposing her breast breastfeeding her newborn child.

Think of all the stuff you see on the internet that you almost never see on TV; think of it gone.

(Via Anthony Baxter.)

Flashman at Electron Soup has a few suggestions:

The flip-side of 'opt-out of the clean feed' is 'opt-in to the dirty dwarf-porn bukkake feed'. Put your name on our list, dear citizens, if you want to declare that you don't like our censorship, and that you want access to all the nasties on the net. Yeah, sure, I'm totally fine with that intrusion on my privacy. . . .

If Kim Beazley wants to offer peace of mind to parents, he should at most mandate that ISPs maintain an opt-in clean feed. Additionally, he should ascertain whether the nation's children are being taught healthy internet habits, in the same way that 'stranger danger' and other safety issues are addressed.

Here's a simple solution that's much more workable and costs virtually nothing: use your parenting skills.

UPDATE: Cory Doctorow has a really interesting post on the subject of the application of "local" community standards to the Internet in the context of the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act in the US:

Online sexual material is obscene if any community in US objects
The Supreme Court of the United States has declined to hear an important case about obscenity and the Internet, leaving anyone who publishes sexual material on the Internet in uncertainty about whether they're open to federal penalties.
At stake is the obscenity section of the Communications Decency Act, which bans publishing "obscene" material on the net. The problem is that US courts use "local standards" to determine whether something is obscene -- so if in the eyes of some local community, the material is obscene, then you can't distribute it there.

But the Internet can distribute material into all communities in the country, and because the Communications Decency Act is federal, prosecutors can bring their charges in the most sex-o-phobic corner of the country (say, the conservative Catholic private town that the guy who founded Domino's Pizza is building in Florida).

And to echo the point I keep hammering on, zero-tolerance for something like the abstract concept of nudity is not necessarily even of benefit to children, as "local community standards" can prevent women from the most basic of mamalian acts: breastfeeding their infants.

MEANWHILE, an Australian firm out of Perth, Scotland has made a deal to "provide its 'broadband condom' service in Guatemala." Tracking this stuff is becoming like a game of whack-a-mole!

UPDATE: See Mark Pesce's Op-Ed: Net filters lose battle in the end.

The BSA, MPAA and RIAA have officially objected to a proposal to let the public break DRM that "threatens critical infrastructure and endangers lives."

I've got a lot on my plate today, so I don't have time to do more than just mirror this post from BoingBoing, except to say that what is at issue here is extremely serious.

MPAA/RIAA/BSA: No breaking DRM, even if it's killing you (literally!)        

        The BSA, MPAA and RIAA have officially objected to a proposal to let the public break DRM that "threatens critical infrastructure and endangers lives." They argue that if it becomes legal to break DRM that could kill you that it might harm their business:

In order to protect their ability to deploy this dangerous DRM, they want the Copyright Office to withhold from users permission to uninstall DRM software that actually does threaten critical infrastructure and endanger lives.

Link (via EFF Minilinks)

Even without this wrinkle, I think DRM has some serious human rights implications for human rights if force-exported throughout the world. This current bit seems to me clear evidence that the music and entertainment industries are being willfully ignorant and negligent about the human rights issues.

Secure Computing: Fulfilling a Wish for the Censor

189015919001_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_I bought a book this morning for Secure Computing's  SmartFilter censor Tomo Foote-Lennox and videotaped the experience. I was Googling his name to see if my posts mentioning him had been indexed by Google, and I made an interesting discovery.

I noticed that there was a link to a review he'd posted on Amazon and I decided to learn a little more about his tastes, which are apparently very interesting. As it turned out, he'd only ever reviewed that one item.

But he did have a Wish List, which I did have a look at. While it contained only two items, I decided to grant one of his two wishes and buy him a copy of The Mistress Manual: The Good Girl's Guide to Female Dominance, which he had listed. I decided I would buy it for him, and I would videotape myself fulfilling his wish, and then I would blog it.

Imovie_hdscreensnapz001_1My sexual quirk is that I am turned on by intellectual excitement; specifically, I find ferreting out weird facts and then acting upon them sexully exciting. One of Tomo Foote-Lennox's many quirks seems to be masochism. And so the act of publicly fulfilling this wish for him is an odd species of Internet sexual act: a moment is which he and I -- who otherwise would be quite incompatible -- have a strange moment of resonance. I very much enjoyed blowing nineteen bucks to publicly buy him the book he said he wanted; I hope he enjoys receiving it just as much. I made sure Amazon wrapped his present.

I tried uploading the video to YouTube, but it isn't uploading. So probably I need to go back and re-edit to make it shorter. I'll let you know when it's up.

Shifting back into my usual social persona, I want to say that the problem with a fetishist playing censor for millions of people is that the fetsishist's gaze is a sexualizing one, and so much material which is not inherently smut will look dirty to someone viewing the world through that lens. I had an unsatisfactory correspondence with Tomo on the subject of what material about breastfeeding would make it through their censorship. Many things I could do in the lunchroom of my son's elementary school or in broad daylight on the streets of NYC would not have made it. I find this unacceptable, and I attribute part of the problem to the point of view (and arrogance) Tomo brings to the issue.

UPDATE: This Domini person thinks I've been bad, very bad. He thinks that I should have called Tomo to ask — "hey Tomo, do you want me to buy you the Mistress Manual?" — rather than turning a loaded credit card on him. (When Tomo responds to my most recent email message to him, maybe I'll ask. But I don't think he's speaking to me right now.) I gotta say that the credit card purchase, Amazon order # 102-9375069-1924901, is leaving an awfully nice paper trail to Maple Grove, Minnestota.  (Hmm, has Domini go a problem with my lifestyle as a dominant female blogger?)

Find Out How Your Site Rates on SmartFilter

If you've been wondering how to find out what SmartFilter thinks of your site and the sites you regularly read, here's how to find out what their censors think of you and your reading habits: the SmartFilterWhere URL Checker:

I love the stock-art lady wit the curls in their graphic. What is she finding so fascinating on the screen? Has she perhaps found something they missed in their attempts to sanitize the web?

Kenya Roundup: With Press Freedom Under Seige, the Kenyan Government Hires an Ad Agency to Educate the Public about Corruption

A lot was happening yesterday with Kenya and the aftermath of the media raids, and I didn't really get a chance to get a look at what was up. So here goes:

The Independent, Saatchi hired to help Kenya's 'war on corruption'. Oh, what amazing timing. Oh my goodness you just can't make this stuff up.

The Kenyan government has hired the Saatchi and Saatchi advertising agency to handle its nationwide anti-corruption campaign.

President Mwai Kibaki launched the country's anti-corruption campaign in Nairobi last month. It began with the creation of a logo - an eye with a tiny Kenyan flag superimposed on the pupil - and a catchphrase which urges people to "see Kenya through proud eyes".

Saatchi says it envisions a campaign stretching over three years. The first phase aims to "change mindsets" and the second will show how corruption affects everybody. A third - as yet undefined phase - is expected to be "more positive" and will be launched sometime in 2008.

Saatchi's creative director, Samira Mathews, said one of the problems in Kenya was that people did not know how to identify corruption. "People have no idea that identity documents and birth certificates are freely available. They don't know their rights," she said.

Part of Saatchi's approach will be to try to mobilise people into acting against corruption. Cathrine Kinyany, a spokeswoman for Saatchi and Saatchi in Kenya, said: "We need to demonstrate the cost of corruption by saying these are the roads we could drive on, this is the building we could have, this is what our schools could look like. There must be a clear demonstration of the success of the campaign to keep people believing in the value of honesty."

However, the launch of the campaign comes at a time when the Kenyan government is embroiled in a series of corruption scandals.

From the Financial Times, World Bank anger over Kenya raid:

The World Bank's top official in Kenya said yesterday that a police raid on a leading media group was inexcusable, adding that the unprecedented media crackdown could affect relations between donors and the government.

Colin Bruce, the bank's country director, told the Financial Times the bank was waiting for an explanation for last Thursday's night raid on the Standard Group, which forced a tele-vision station off the air for more than 12 hours.

"I recognise there have been statements made about internal intelligence and matters of that sort, but frankly I cannot think of a scenario under which that kind of action as it turned out can be excused," Mr Bruce said. "It's very serious, and in fact we are awaiting an explanation . . . and it could in fact affect that relationship [with the donors]."

From African News Dimension: Central Bank Boss could face corruption charges

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission has completed investigations on Central Bank governor Andrew Mullei over corruption allegations and asked the Attorney-General to take action against him.

It means Dr Mullei could face court charges arising from allegations concerning his management, which had caused a major split between the Treasury and the Central Bank Board.

"We did receive some complaints, allegations, which we did investigate some time back," Mr Nicholas Simani, the spokesman of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) told reporters.

"We came up with specific recommendations, which we forwarded to the Attorney-General for appropriate action," he added but refused to divulge details of the recommendations.

Mr Mullei is at the centre of a series of allegations raised in an anonymous letter by staff, which were first raised in May last year. The Treasury, which sits on the bank board, took exception to the way the complaints, were handled by other directors and suggested there was a risk of a cover-up.

IOL: Angry Kenyans swarm through streets in hordes

Nairobi - Thousands of angry Kenyans, including prominent opposition politicians, paraded through Nairobi on Tuesday protesting last week's police heavy-handed raid on the country's second largest media group.

More than 2 000 people took part in the demonstration organised by opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), a coalition of parties opposed to President Mwai Kibaki, and poured scorn on last Thursday's raid, which saw a Standard Group's printing press damaged, thousands of newspapers burnt and its television station taken off the air for several hours.

"We are demonstrating in order to protect press freedom in Kenya. Press freedom in Kenya is under siege," former roads minister and ODM leader told the crowd that had gathered outside Kibaki's office.

And from Flickr, a photo of the March 2nd raid on the East African Standard taken by Fredrick Onyango:

The caption reads:

Standard newspaper employee run past copies of the newsprint bundles ready for distribution as he flee from the security personnel called the "Kanga Squad" which raided the printing plant and destroyed copies of newsprint that was to be circulated to the public the next day. The squad destroyed newsprint worth millions of shillings and switched of a television station owned by the standard media group.

Secure Computing: My Letter to Paxworld

This is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter.

I just sent the following letter to Anita Green, V.P. for Social Research at Paxworld, a socially responsible mutual fund with significant investments in Secure Computing (SCUR):

Dear Anita Green:

I am writing to express concern about one of the companies in the Paxworld Balanced Fund's portfolio, Secure Computing (SCUR). While I am not one of Paxworld's investors, I support the general philosophy of companies like yours. I am an investor in the New Alternatives Fund which emphasizes alternative energy.

I have several concerns about the SCUR. Chief among these is that it is my understanding that they are licensing their censorship software, SmartFilter, to the oppressive governments of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Tunisia.  It really ought to be illegal for them to export content restriction software to governments that restrict freedom of speech and freedom of the press. It isn't yet, but this practice should be strongly discouraged on human rights grounds.

Secondly, this same software has been licensed to the US Military and is in use controlling what military personnel and security contractors can read overseas. If all they were filtering out was hardcore porn, that would be one thing. But their filtering is much more expansive and includes, for example, the popular weblog BoingBoing which no reasonable person would consider smut. Also there seems to be a political bias to which sites are available for viewing and which are not. And the company seems to have a very aggressive idea of what constitutes pornography and nudity. I had a very unsatisfactory correspondence with Tomo Foote-Lennox of Secure Computing yesterday about what kinds of depictions of breastfeeding might make it through their filters, for example. Mr. Foote-Lennox seems to have a very sexualized concept of the mother infant relationship which bears some examination in light of the censorship power he exercises and his claims that he is protecting the interests of children.

I would like to encourage you to consider divesting Paxworld of their SCUR holdings.


Kathryn Cramer

I suppose I should also have mentioned SCUR's unsubstantiated claims in their 2004 report about various domains hosting vast troves of porn but I didn't want to go on too long.


Secure Computing, Smart Filter, & the Female Breast

MbThis is part of a series on Secure Computing and SmartFilter. The image to the right is via the Got BreastMilk? Project.

Following the New York Times story Popular Web Site Falls Victim to a Content Filter, concerning Secure Computing's product SmartFilter blocking BoingBoing,  I wrote the following letter to Tomo Foote-Lennox, of Secure Computing, who is apparently the guy in charge of deciding what is smut and what isn't. He claims to be a defender of the interests of children:

In an e-mail message to Xeni Jardin, another of Boing Boing's chiefs, Tomo Foote-Lennox, a director of filtering data for Secure Computing, asked why the bloggers were starting a war. "We discussed several ways that you could organize your site so that I could protect the kids and you could distribute all the information you wanted," Mr. Foote-Lennox wrote.

One of the BoingBoing posts that Secure Computing used to justify classifying involved a shot showing a cat attempting to nurse on a woman's breast: Japanese TV show about cat that loves human milk. The image was very blurry and involved less actual nudity than your average shot of an Oscar-night dress. As a very experienced nursing mother, my hunch was that nursing, not an interspecies relationship, nor the expanse of cleavage, was at issue. So I wrote to Secure Computing's Censor-in-Chief to ask about this issue.

Nursing_1Regular readers of this blog are aware that I write with some frequency about breastfeeding issues, and may even be aware that when BBC Radio needed a Representative of American Womanhood to talk about nursing in public, they picked me. I have spent hundreds of hours nursing in public and have nursed on most major airlines and even nursed from the podium while doing public speaking. This is not a political stance, but rather a matter of pure practicality. The BBC pitted me against a man who said over and over that Public nudity is not socially acceptable, in the context of arguing that a nursing mother (Margaret Boyle-White) who refused to stop when confronted by UK police should have been arrested. I was followed on the program by Scottish MP Elaine Smith, who had introduced the bill recently passed at the time of the program making it an offense to stop mothers breastfeeding in public. (Preventing a woman from breastfeeding is already illegal in the State of New York.)

So I wrote the following letter to Foote-Lennox, to try to tease out whether what I suspected was true:

Dear Thom Foote-Lennox:

I am writing to express concern about your remarks concerning BoingBoing in the New York Times. As a long time BoingBoing reader, I am quite certain that it is by no stretch of the imagination a porn site. But I am also a nursing mother, so I am also concerned about what exactly causes you and your company to draw the conclusion the the nursing cat post was porn.

Nursing is not a sexual act. While there exist adults who sexualize children and the activities of children such as nursing, that is not what is going on in that image. The nursing cat seems to me simply a stand-in for a breast pump. Breast engorgement is a real phenomenon and dealing with it is a practical, not a sexual problem.

So what exactly about the nursing cat is sexual?


Kathryn Cramer
Pleasantville, New York

He replied:

We never called it porn.  We have categories for pornography, but we rated this as nudity.  Some of our customers want to limit the viewing of nude pictures in their schools or offices.  We give them the ability to make that choice.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

So a site that, say, depicted public breast feeding would make your list as nudity?


He replied:

Look at our categories on our web site.  Medical diagrams (women nursing cats on television don't count) are rated as nudity if they are explicit, but also as health, educational or consumer information.  Many elementary schools choose to block all nudity, but high schools usually exempt health and education, meaning if it is health or education, you ignore any other category it may have.

- Tomo

I wrote back:

You are aware that in some countries where women are not even allowed to expose their faces in public, it is socially acceptable for women to bare their breasts to feed their infants, yes?


It strikes me when I read his replies that, first of all, my basic intuition is correct. It was exposing the human breast in the context of nursing that was perceived as sexual and inappropriate, not the surreal twist given it by Japanese TV.

Nursey_1When breastfeeding in public for those hundreds of hours (sometimes even in elementary schools [gasp!]; always with at least one child present), I utterly failed to to provide health, educational, and consumer information. Here's voice-over I forgot to give: You know, dear, using breastmillk as eye-drops works as well for clearing up pink-eye as commercial pharmaceuticals! And it works pretty well in clearing up ear infections when used as ear drops as well! I assumed you knew. You did know that, didn't you? Mothers: always remember to educate the public while nursing in public, lest your public nursing be taken as some kind if sexual act!

Secondly: here I am talking to the Internet Censor-in-Chief for the US Military and their overseas contractors and for three countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar), and he has this oddly sexualized idea of breastfeeding. He's just this guy, and he's entitled to his personal quirks, but exactly how did this situation evolve to put him in charge of deciding what is sexual and what is not? What is porn and what is not? What he was giving me was distanced by being a description of how software works, but was really very close to the rantings of that strange little man the BBC pitted me against who just kept repeating "nudity is not socially acceptable."

Combining this with questions about the legitimacy of Secure Computing's claims to have found vast quantities of porn on some sites, I conclude that the awarding of these sweeping contracts to them was really quite premature, even if you accept the idea that the military and three whole countries need their Internet censored (which I don't). What exactly qualifies this guy to evaluate what is and is not nudity, porn, inappropriate, etc.? Did he have some special training? Even Justice Potter Stewart was reduced to trying to define porn by saying "I knowing when I see it." Secure Computing offers much more than a definition: multiple categories of inappropriate material, each with their own definition. So just where does this guy Tomo get off telling the world exactly the manner in which the female breast may and may not be displayed on the Internet?

What I think we have here is censorship practiced as a kind of fetishism: Secure Computing employees read the Internet with a dirty mind and then have their way with it based on what they read into what they see.

Anti-Intelligence: Secure Computing (SCUR)

Before I begin, I want to say that there needs to exist something like the US Munitions List for the various types content restriction software and that it should be illegal to export content restriction software and various DRM enforcement tools to countries that do not respect freedom of speech and freedom of the press. There really ought to be a law --

This blog post started out as a remark on a headline from American Chronicle: New Anti-Intelligence Leak Initiatives Adopted by Gov't. The headline pertains to leaks involving the CIA. But before the ink was even dry on the post, I found a really fine example of what one might mean by "Anti-Intelligence."

If there is such a thing as anti-intelligence, it must certainly figure into the business model of the company Secure Computing, which is making money selling censorware to oppressive governments. (That'll teach the world to sing!)

Mark Frauenfelder writes:

It helps corrupt dictators oppress their people. In defiance of the US government's stated goal of promoting democracy around the world, Secure Computing has the gall to license its filtering products to totalitarian governments, such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. These countries, which have government-run ISPs, pass all their citizens' web requests through centralized filters. Can you imagine having a business model that includes selling tools of oppression to tyrants?

Their product description for SmartFilter, currently blocking BoingBoing and possibly also Google's translation tools, begins:

Protect your organization from the risks associated with employee Internet use with SmartFilter® Web filtering. By controlling inappropriate Internet use with SmartFilter, organizations can reduce legal liability, enhance Web security, increase productivity, and preserve bandwidth for business-related activities. SmartFilter puts you in control.

But given whom they are selling to and the purpose it's being put to, it might as well read:

Protect your country from the risks associated with citizen Internet use with SmartFilter® Web filtering. SmartFilter puts you in control.

Why wait for the Dystopian Future when you can have it right now?

Secure Computing’s executives are John McNulty, President, Chairman and CEO; Tim Steinkopf; Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; Vincent M. Schiavo, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales; Mike Gallagher, Senior Vice President, Product Development; Mary K. Budge, Senior Vice President, Secretary and General Counsel, Paul Henry, Vice President, Strategic Accounts, and Scott Montgomery, Vice President, Product Management. T. Paul Thomas has resigned after a "brief stint" as senior vice president, marketing and corporate strategy in early March.

Looks to me like the one possibly responsible for the worrisome international deals is probably Vincent M. Schiavo, Senior Vice President, Worldwide Sales.

Speaker_schiavoPrior to joining Secure Computing, Vince Schiavo was president at PolyServe, Inc., an enterprise software development firm, where he guided the company from concept to international presence with multimillion-dollar annual software revenues. With 21 years in the computer industry, Mr. Schiavo has a proven track record in OEM sales, distribution channels, direct sales, business development, marketing and team leadership. He served as Vice President, Worldwide Sales at Sonic Solutions, Inc. and has also held sales and marketing positions with Radius, Inc., Apple Computer, Inc. and Data General Corporation. Mr. Schiavo has a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Maryland.

Secure Computing is a publicly held company with ticker symbol SCUR. This is a chart of how their stock as done over the past year:


This Press Release came out from the company over Business Wire this morning:

Secure Computing's SmartFilter and Webwasher Products Help Customers Manage Internet Usage Policies While Preserving Bandwidth

SAN JOSE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--March 6, 2006--Secure Computing Corporation (NASDAQ:SCUR - News), the experts in securing connections between people, applications and networks(TM) today announced that its SmartFilter® and Webwasher® Secure Content Management suite can help companies manage important bandwidth and maintain employee productivity during high profile events such as college basketball's signature event, the 2006 NCAA Basketball Tournament, which is also known as March Madness(TM).

I imagine it also helps whole countries preserve bandwidth during public beheadings or while  filling mass graves, yes? I think I need a new category: Corporate Navel-Gazing.

Here are their major shareholders. Perhaps some could be pursuaded to divest themselves of SCUR on moral grounds.


To date, Secure Computing's press coverage seems to have been dominated almost entirely by their press releases. There seems to be almost no discussion of the company or the nature of its products on the financial discussion boards. Perhaps that needs to change.

Also, their execs do make public appearances from time to time. Someone might want to go see Paul Henry, VP of Strategic Accounts, and ask what is strategic about selling censorware to tyrants. Here are a few of his speaking engangements:

Finally, if any of the Secure Computing execs are reading this, I suggest they read about the recent media shutdown in Kenya, for example, before they license their products to any more oppressive governments. This isn't about whether the US rock'n'roll lifestyle can be exported, or whether  corporate employees or people in the milotary get to see nipples at work. This is about very basic freedoms: Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Thou shalt not export censorware to tyrants.

UPDATE: It appears that one of SCUR's major stockholders, Paxworld Balanced Fund, is a socially responsible mutual fund. We should all politely request that they request themselves of SCUR.

(See also Websites blocked by political stripes for Marines in Iraq? on BoingBoing.)

Kenya: The Standard Is Back Online

The East African Standard, a paper attacked during yesterday's media shutdown in Kenya, is back online and back in business. They have an impressive video of the masked men who attacked CCTV in Kenya taken by security camera, which is available for viewing. I'm going to try to arrange to mirror it so we don't suck up all their bandwith; it is well worth watching.


Media Shutdown in Kenya

See Mentalacrobatics for excellent coverage of the media shutdown.

I went to look at a news story on the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation site a moment ago, and on the page there was this ominous message, which I take to be a form of SOS:

BREAKING NEWS:  Kenya Television Network, KTN is off-air and Standard newspapers off streets after people said to be security agents conducted an overnight operation shutting down their facilities. Information Minister denies prior knowledge of the raid. KBCNewsAlert…


They also have a story on the raid on a newspaper printing plant there:

Raid on media House condemned
The Standard Group Chief Executive Tom Mshindi has condemned the invasion on the Group’s printing plant and offices, saying it was an unwarranted affront on Media freedom.

Journalism.co.za seems to have the most detailed account:

Close to 100 masked men, some armed with AK-47 assault rifles, raided the offices and printing press of Kenya's Standard Group, stopping the operations of its television station and newspaper, writes Eric Nyakagwa.

The masked men staged simultaneous raids on the editorial offices of Kenya Television Network (KTN) and the group’s printing press in a Nairobi industrial area, where they vandalized machines and carried away some machinery crucial for production.
At both premises, the raiders, who struck shortly after midnight on Wednesday night, roughed up security officers who were on duty and managed to access the group’s headquarters after one of the men in the group identified themselves as a police officer and demanded entry.

The security men were all herded into a corner as the attackers demanded access to the editorial floors and the KTN transmission room where they took away a computer, some power units and interfered with cables, effectively disabling transmission.

At the printing press, they vandalised equipment and burned most of the Thursday papers, which were either rolling off the press or were being packaged fordistribution.

See also

  • African News Dimension: Kenya : Police raid, shut down KTN and burn Standard newspaper
  • Reuters: KENYA: Leading media house shut down by armed men

    The men, who stormed the media house at 1.00 a.m. local time [10.00 GMT], took away computers and transmission equipment, damaged the presses and set fire to Thursday's editions of the country's oldest newspaper. "We have very strong evidence to suggest that these acts were carried out by the police," Mshindi said.

  • The BBC: 'Police' raids close Kenya paper

    Staff say they were beaten and forced to lie on the floor

  • AP: Gunmen shut down Kenyan paper, TV station
  • The closure came after three journalists were detained without charge for a story Saturday that alleged Kibaki met secretly with a key opponent. Kibaki and former environment minister-turned Kibaki foe, Kalonzo Musyoka, have denied the meeting took place.

    Mutua said police on Tuesday summoned The Saturday Standard Managing Editor Chacha Mwita, News Editor Dennis Onyango and journalist Ayub Savula and questioned them.

    The journalists remain in police custody, and authorities have yet to comment about the detentions. Mshindi has said no charges have been filed.

Alex at Yorkshire Ranter provides more details and Kenyan diplomatic contact info world wide. See also Xeni at BoingBoing.

CnnkenyaUPDATE: The kenyan government now admits to the raid. From CNN:

The police spokesman said journalists at the Standard had been paid to write a series of fabricated articles about the government, and that police were acting on intelligence information about "an intended act" that would threaten national security.

I've been trying to parse the politics of all this on the fly. There is an interesting Flickr photostream, also featured on BoingBoing, concerning governmental hostility to journalists in Kenya. In it figures Health minister Charity Ngilu. 105418887_67db38b9cb_mThe photo to the right is captioned:

Health Minister Charity Ngilu found herself in a tight spot when journalists blocked her way. They wanted to know which side she was supporting during the referendum elections in Kenya held in November last year. She voted 'Yes' but the government lost their quest for a new constituion by more than a three million voters who said 'No' against the government two.

There are some recent articles in which she is featured. One I found intrguing was this one from the Standard: Ngilu says all parties in Narc must be consulted

The National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) chairperson, Charity Ngilu, wants constituent parties to be consulted before party recruitment and elections are held.

The Health minister, who dismissed reports that her colleagues were forming another party, said none of the partners in Narc should be ignored.

"First, we must sit down and agree on modalities before anyone calls for member recruitment or elections," she said.

A local dairy reported yesterday that President Kibaki’s allies were split on whether to form another party, Narc-Kenya, or hold elections for the ruling coalition.

Ngilu said despite the woes afflicting the coalition, those still supporting it must agree on whether to hold elections or not.

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has abandoned the coalition to join the Official Opposition party, Kanu, to form the Orange Democratic Movement. The two coalitions are fielding candidates in the Kasipul-Kabondo by-election scheduled for today.

Livestock minister Joseph Munyao has backed the move to form another party.

Munyao, who is the Democratic Party secretary-general, said they were trying to find ways of "working round" the issue.

"We are burning midnight oil to come up with a solid body for next year’s General Election. If we decide that it will be the same coalition then it will be," he said.

Burning the midnight oil? Looks to me like someone's been burning the midnight newspaper. There's also this story: Ngilu, Central MPs headed for NARC showdown

I have a few correspondents in that neck of the woods and am trying to get a sense of what to make of all this. I'll let you know what I find out.

It is now March 3rd there, and the new front page is up on the KBC site:

Police admit raid on media

GREAT BLOG COVERAGE of the media shutdown from Mentalacrobatics in Kenya. I'm just starting to read it.

There is a letter being crossposted on the blogs of Kenya which reads:

Press Freedom: Letter to Kibaki
Dear President Kibaki:

On March 2, 2006 government forces raided the headquarters and printing plant of the Standard Group. In addition to destroying equipment and newspapers, they shut down the KTN news station.

This latest attack follows the jailing of three journalists from Standard Newspaper, attacks on Citizen Weekly, and ongoing harassment of journalists by government-sponsored forces.

I urge you to condemn these attacks and to support freedom of the press.

**Please copy and paste a copy of this letter on your blog. You may alter the wording to suit your needs.

The rest of us outside Kenya should also urge President Kibaki to condem the attacks and support freedom of the press.

Mentalacrobatics has a number of really fine posts on the situation. I'm going to mirror two of them to get them to the larger audience they deserve:

Raid on EA Standard

The raid was a matter of State Security. When you rattle a snake you must be prepared to be bitten by it.
National Security minister, John Michuki

I had written this long post on the illegal raid on the EA Standard this morning when this quote by Michuki a man so detached from reality he should be not be holding any position of power, lit up my screen. The man has lost it completely. He needs to go now.

OK let’s just make this official, our government has totally lost it. An elite police force, set up to fight armed robbery, carjacking, outlawed sects, illegal paramilitary militias is used to shut down a media house? Madness.

A quick read of the story has identified two areas of concern for me:

  1. The raid was led by Mr James Njiru, assistant police commissioner in charge of operations at the provincial police headquarters. Njiru’s boss the Nairobi Provincial Police Chief Mwangi King’ori, claims that he did NOT know that the raid was taking place. Even more shocking, The head of the Police, the number one guy, Police Commissioner Major General Hussein Ali has expressed shock at the raid on the Standard offices. Ali, who called the ‘Standard’ newsroom from Seychelles where he is on official duty, said he was unaware of the raid and said he would be issuing a statement later after getting the full report from his officers in Nairobi. It looks like the raid was timed to coincide with Ali being out of the country.
  2. The raid was aimed at a media house, yet the Information Minister Mutahi Kagwe claims he did NOT know the raid was taking place.

Who ordered the raid? Who knew about the raid? Why wasn’t the police chain of command observed and informed? Or rather, who is powerful enough to ignore the police chain of command? All roads lead to State House as Michuki proudly boasts.

This has got to be the most stupid thing that the government could do. It is so stupid you start to look for a hidden story. There must be something else going on … but no it was just a stupid move.

What have they achieved? The EA Standard will still come out, this type of action seems to galvanise not intimidate Kenyan journalists, and with the power of the internet the whole world is talking about this story. Search for Kenya Police Raid on Google news and you will find that CNN, BBC, San Jose Mercury News - USA, Reuters, Xinhua - China, Financial Times - UK, Washington Post, Mail & Guardian Online - South Africa, United Press International, Pravda - Russia, African News Dimension, CPJ Press Freedom Online, ABC News, Los Angeles Times, Deutsche Welle, Al Jazeera, Hindustan Times, India all carry the story and those are only from page 1 of around 4 (and counting) pages on the story. 

What the hell is Alfred Mutua going to bang on about at his next press conference? How will he be able to look at his former colleagues in the eye?
Pictures from the BBC

    1 comment    March 2nd, 2006            

Press harrasement Kibaki style

Two Standard editors and a reporter were yesterday questioned and detained by police for hours  over a story, which claimed that Kalonzo Musyoka had met Kibaki at State House two weeks ago, published last Saturday … Afterwards, the three said they were not questioned but were asked to record what they knew about the story and disclose their source … they were then told to wait for instructions “from above” on the way forward.

This is ridiculous. The one thing that drives me mad about Kenya is the stupid, “orders from above” nonsense. Here we have professionals doing their job and they get harassed by police for no reason other than, “orders from above”. If anyone feels that the journalists have broken the law then let him follow due process and take them to court.  Kenya Democracy Project asks, “… how insecure can a regime be that they move in with a sledge hammer to stifle a story- especially if it is allegedly “not true”.”

Do not forget that this comes hot on the heels of last week’s move to muzzle the press when thirteen employees of the Weekly Citizen were arrested as dozens of police officers swooped on vendors and confiscated copies of the newspaper. The 43 newspaper vendors who were also arrested for selling the newspapers were behind bars for 3 days and then released without being charged. Kumekucha observers, “Reading between the lines, the whole objective was just to intimidate the poor newspaper vendors so that they’ll be frightened to sell the next issue of the Weekly Citizen.” I agree with him. All this at a time when the government spokesman is busy spending tax payers money on adverts about “Democratic Space” that President Kibaki has so kindly given us.

Kalonzo Musyoka should stand up and voice his disapproval with these latest arrests. That would be true leadership.

    7 comments    March 1st, 2006            

There is a webring of 159 Kenyan blogs. (The members of the Kenyan Blogs Webring are spread all over the world.) Links to them can be found here. Some of them are covering the media shut down. (As is usual with a bunch of blogs, many have not been upated in a while.) Poking around the in-Kenya discussions is interesting, in that there is a certain contingent saying stuff like I know where the government is coming from. I'm sorry, but that response smacks strongly of Stockholm Syndrome. There can be NO EXCUSE for the Kenyan government to behave this way.

UPDATE: From the Thinker's Room, blogging from Kenya:

Well! Whenever I say Mwai Kibaki is the type of man who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity, he grits his teeth in determination and exemplifies the notion. And then when I say that no matter how low the bar is set, the Kibaki Government will find a way to slither under.

For me, this photo by Fredrick Onyango just says it all:


The caption reads:

Journalist take to task former internal security minister Dr. Chris Murungaru over the Anglo leasing scandal that has fleeced the country billions of Kenyan shillings. The minister is said to have sanctioned the purchase of Military and naval ships during his tenure as a minister.With the vibrant and libralisation of the media in Kenya, most of the government official are being put on the spot on how they are spending the taxpayers money.

I just love the expressions on the faces of the members of the press in this photo and others in the photostream.

UPDATE: Mentalacrobatics has security camera pix from the raid on CCTV which I have taken the liberty of uploading to Flickr so that they may achieve broader distribution:


Mentalacrobatics comments on the pix:

Here are some stills taken during the raid from internal CCTV cameras. The raid were carried out by a rapid response unit code-named the Kanga Squad, detectives from Nairobi provincial CID headquarters and officers from the General Service Unit. They are wearing bright orange reflective vests with “QRU” for Quick Rescue Unit/Quick Response Unit which indicates their day job of fight hardcore criminals like carjackers, bank robbers and murder hit squads.

These pictures are very disturbing. In some of them they have an employee spread eagled on the floor with a gun pressed against his/her head and a boot in his/her face. Remember these are NOT criminals being man handled like this. These are Kenyan men and women who went to work only to be pistol whipped and roughed up by an elite police squad.

Here are some very-much-to-the-point comments from au lait in Kenya:

So, surprise, surprise. 'Our' dear government has once again proven that it is hellbent on its peculiar course of self-destruction. As one person said today, this government is surely "suicidal".

Enyewe seriously, what were they thinking?

That's the first thing that came to mind when I woke up today to the news that KTN and Standard offices had been invaded commando style by guys in masks and the police.

It really comes doesn't come as news that our government is not made up of the sharpest tools, BUT did the person who ordered this attack even stop to think? At all?

Who told those guys to attack after midnight? Is that the only time that those who sit in State House can find their way to I&M or Nation Centre (invoking precedent here). And then some bright guy, decided they should wear ski masks. I wonder if they bought them from the same store Al-Qai'dah frequents.

I've come across people defending the government's action but really? I mean really people really? Those guys were thugs!!!! Common thugs. Why the dramatic ski masks if this was all a clean exercise to rein in an out-of-control media house?