Monday, February 28, 2005

"Why?" "It's the law." "What law?"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | Grounded: Millionaire John Gilmore stays close to home while making a point about privacy
SAN FRANCISCO -- John Gilmore's splendid isolation began July 4, 2002, when, with defiance aforethought, he strolled to the Southwest Airlines counter at Oakland Airport and presented his ticket.

The gate agent asked for his ID.

Gilmore asked her why.

It is the law, she said.

Gilmore asked to see the law.

Nobody could produce a copy. To date, nobody has. The regulation that mandates ID at airports is "Sensitive Security Information." The law, as it turns out, is unavailable for inspection.
There are things, I'll grant, that the government may conceal from general knowledge. I'll further concede that some of those things it shouldn't even explain why they are secret, because that would reveal too much.

But the law that gives them the power to do it is - must be - in the public domain.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"Ancillary does not mean you get to rule the world"

The Register | FCC 'crosses the line' with broadcast flag - court
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overstepped its authority by requiring devices capable of receiving digital TV broadcasts to recognize data called a 'broadcast flag' that can prevent copying, a federal judge has said.

US Circuit Judge Harry Edwards told the FCC that it had "crossed the line" when it required DRM technology to be included in all DTV devices on sale in the USA from 1 July. This would include TVs, set top boxes, PC tuner cards, VCRs, DVD players, and similar devices.

The FCC argued that its ancillary powers authorize it to regulate the reception of broadcasts, not just their transmission. While Congress did not authorize the Commission to regulate the proper designs of the devices, it also didn't expressly forbid it, which FCC takes as a license to issue specifications.

"Ancillary does not mean you get to rule the world," judge Edwards observed.

Judge David Sentelle wondered if FCC thought it could regulate washing machines, since Congress didn't expressly forbid that, either.
Warms the cockles of my heart, it does.

Where is that dusty old document... Ah, there it is:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
Seems pretty clear to me.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Great minds

I used this concept (the natural extension of linked databases for looking up customer information) in a parody bank commercial for ARTC back in 1997, but I have to admit that I've been topped. This new version, a flash animation commissioned by the ACLU, starts with a pizza order. (Heard it from Neal Boortz.)

You could think of it as a glimpse of the near future, if it makes you feel better, but the technology to do it is in place right now. And given the recent attempt to have public schools include your child's body fat index on his report card (not to mention having the kids wear radio frequency ID badges to track their movements), it's obvious that the inclination to use it in this manner is there too.

Ooh, that last story. "Nobody on this campus knows every student," the principal says. Well, who decided it was more efficient to have six hundred kids in an elementary school? (There's no law that says elementary schools have to be that big, but that's the current trend. Why? Because certain kinds of federal matching funds are only available to schools of that size, and most local school boards will jump through any hoop to get those matching funds. Don't get me started.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Unintended Consequences

CBS News | States Mull Taxing Drivers By Mile
College student Jayson Just commutes an odometer-spinning 2,000 miles a month. As CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports, his monthly gas bill once topped his car payment.

"I was paying about $500 a month," says Just.

So Just bought a fuel efficient hybrid and said goodbye to his gas-guzzling BMW.

And what kind of mileage does he get?

"The EPA estimate is 60 in the city, 51 on the highway," says Just.

And that saves him almost $300 a month in gas. It's great for Just but bad for the roads he's driving on, because he also pays a lot less in gasoline taxes which fund highway projects and road repairs. As more and more hybrids hit the road, cash-strapped states are warning of rough roads ahead.

Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."

...The new tax would be charged each time you fill up. A computer inside the gas pump would communicate with your car's odometer to calculate how much you owe.

The system could also track how often you drive during rush hour and charge higher fees to discourage peak use. That's an idea that could break the bottleneck on California's freeways.
And wipe those smug smiles off the hybrid owners' faces. I probably shouldn't even mention that car prices will go up, since they'll be required to include a GPS to facilitate highway tax collection.

A lot of trouble to go to, just to be sure all those scofflaws with their hybrid gas/electric cars still pay their "fair share". I wonder how they plan to hit the all-electric drivers? Maybe they figure that with their limited range between rechargings, they don't cover enough miles to be worth it.

Hey, this should lower the taxes for those evil SUV drivers, shouldn't it?

One man's terrorist is another man's... neighbor?

Yahoo News (AP) | Rooster Recording Terrorizes Neighbors
BERLIN - A couple in northern Germany terrorized their neighbors by playing sounds of a rooster crowing in the middle of the night, police said Tuesday.

Sleep-deprived, the neighboring couple reported to police in the town of Wacken three times over the past week, saying the pair in the other half of their semidetached house seemed to have left a rooster in their home while on vacation.

The animal crowed "at an enormous volume" for 20 minutes between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., the couple told police.

Police entered the home Monday and discovered a recording set on a timer to play daily, with the speaker placed directly against the neighbors' wall. The 55-year-old man and his 50-year-old wife, still on vacation, were cited for causing bodily harm and disturbing the peace, police said.

Investigators said the motive was unclear because there was no known strife between the neighbors.
I'd be the first to admit that this would be extremely annoying, and I'd've called the police myself. "Disturbing the peace"? Surely. "Causing bodily harm"? That's a bit of a stretch.

But "terrorized"? Is that what the AP stylebook calls it these days?

Friday, February 04, 2005

"Artist Stan Lee"?

I don't watch a lot of TV, none of it on Wednesday nights, so I didn't see the big show... by which I mean, of course, 60 Minutes and its story about Stan Lee's lawsuit against Marvel Comics. (What's that? Something else was on? State of the... what?)

But Mark Evanier did see it, and has some comments and follow-up. As with most mainstream media, CBS News' reporters don't understand how comics are created, and referred to "artist Stan Lee" without knowing or caring (pick one or both) that Stan is a writer. It's possible they don't know comics have writers.

The show also perpetuates the myth that Stan created Marvel Comics singlehandedly out of thin air. This Mark blames on CBS, not Stan. Stan Lee is not shy about self-promotion, it's true, but (according to Mark, who would know) he's also sensitive to charges that he takes credit for things he didn't do, and is careful to point out in interviews that (to pick two conspicuous examples) Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had a lot to do with it as well.

It's not Stan's fault that, in the few minutes of footage they used, they chose not to mention that Stan even had colloborators, let alone name them.

But here's the part I like:
It's the responsibility of any TV reporter to do at least a little independent fact-checking on their interviewees. Can you imagine a newsman going out to do a story on Paul McCartney who didn't know of John Lennon? I don't know how you could fact-check Stan Lee in the slightest and not discover that Spider-Man has been hailed by everyone, including Stan himself, as the joint creation of Lee and Ditko.

...And just think: As I write this, these people are covering the State of the Union address, the War in Iraq and the proposals for revamping Social Security...all, probably, with the same dedication to accuracy.
Every bit of it, I'm sure. It's a wonder they get George W. Bush's job title right. That's probably why they put it on the podium when he speaks.

UPDATE: See also Variety's Bags and Boards and's The Beat.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I'll take "The Flippin' Obvious" for $100, Alex

Yahoo News (AP) | Bush Pushing Agenda in State of Union
I thought he was going to discuss whether Mickey Mouse was cuter before they started drawing pupils in his eyes.

Sorry, you didn't phrase it in the form of a question.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Not an Onion headline

Yahoo News (AP) | DiCaprio Gets Lifetime Achievement Award
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - On the heels of an Oscar nomination, "The Aviator" star Leonardo DiCaprio wrapped a high-flying week by accepting the Platinum Award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

... "It's a lifetime achievement award, which is completely and utterly surreal, given I'm only 30 years old," he continued, with a laugh. "But, you know, what has it been? Almost 17 years now. I've done quite a few films. But what's really exciting, for me, is that this is what I really love doing. It's what I want to do for the rest of my life."
You know, this could be a subtle way of telling him his career is over. Or should be.