Kathy Sierra and the limits of free speech

I’ve always been against anonymity on the web because it facilitates impostors and because it emboldens people, and brings out the worst in them. It’s made the internet into a dictatorship of idiots.

Years ago, a let a friend’s teenage son use my laptop to cruise the web, and within 15 minutes, this mild-mannered kid was publishing all sorts of offensive remarks.

In my book Web Stalkers Book, I expose criminal tactics, and note that the web has a serious problem, and it all centers around anonymity.

Most folks don’t know that 17 states have criminal libel laws for the web defamation.

Tim O’Reilly says, “If you start making offensive comments, they will be deleted from a blog. Don’t give people that platform.

Unfortunately, many people disagree, pushing the limits of free speech. Even major web sites like Oracle Corporation host offensive lies about my wife, but it’s legal, especially since Section 230 of the DMCA exempts publishers from liability.

But as Tim points out, just because it’s legal does not make it right.

In this world of mob rule where the number of hyperlinks constitutes “credibility”, it’s interesting to know that Hyperlinking to libel is republishing the libel, and can get you sued.

Where are the limits to free speech?

Voltaire once said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”. However, even in the USA there are limits to free speech, especially when it defames or libels a person or group, and you cannot scream “fire” in a crowded theater. For example, this is defamatory to a whole group of people:

A blogger must follow the laws anywhere that their blog may be read from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. For example, in Zimbabwe “insulting the President” is by statute (Public Order and Security Act 2001) is a criminal offense.

Also note that a man was recently extradited from the USA to a foreign prison for his web site content.

In general, these types of statements are not protected free speech, but it’s the tort of libel, not criminal:

  • Statements regarding improper sexual conduct. (For example, printing that an unmarried student is pregnant.)
  • Statements that associate someone with a vile disease.
  • Statements that accuse someone of illegal behavior.
  • Statements that hurt someone’s livelihood.

Statements that allege racial or religious bigotry.

Those are fighting words

The US Courts have the right to restrict speech if the speech constitutes “Fighting Words”. Fighting Words means speech usually intended to be a personal insult and directed to a specific person, which by their very utterance inflict injury and tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.

The latest assault as noted in Kathy Sierra’s blog brings this issue to a head, and it’s about time.

Frankly, I don’t understand why Kathy Sierra is hosting publications on her web site that she claims to terrify her, but it sure looks actionable to me. Perhaps it’s a “honey pot” put up by the FBI to catch the scum.

Here are some samples, published in the Kathy Sierra blog. Judge for yourself if they are protected speech, or threats:

  • f**king fascist bi**h
  • Sounds like you’re just a dumb bi**h who needs to learn to keep her mouth shut. If we were muslims then I’d gouge your eyes out with my fingers and skull f**k you.
  • You are going to use the publicity of being an innocent victim of a hate crime to sell more books and dishonestly and unfairly besmirch a literary rival. I have to hand it to you, Kathy, you know an opportunity when you see one. It’s just a shame you have to resort to lies because you’ve seen an opportunity to get rich quickly.
  • Better watch your back on the streets wh**e… Be a pity if you turned up in the gutter where you belong, with a machete shoved in that self righteous little c*nt of yours…
  • Your use of the phrase “death threats” in this post is an insult to people who have actually been threatened. You were the subject of a single anonymous e-mail from someone who found you “boring,” and some sophomoric jokes from a group of old hand bloggers making fun of other old hands. Nobody has called you at two in the morning warning you to stay home. Nobody has thrown rocks through your physical window.
  • Well, it’s clear you’ve sf**kered in a lot of people who just don’t know any better. Like I said before, it’s a marvellous PR campaign you’ve launched and no doubt you’ll get very wealthy very quickly because your adoring fans have been taken in completely by your peculiar brand of codswallop. You have learned the lesson of never giving a sf**ker an even break to absolute perfection.
  • i smell a PUBLICITY STUNT
  • What a pretentious c*nt you are. Stop wasting the police’s time because the internet was mean to you.
    SANE adults don’t lock themselves in their houses because someone on the INTERNET said a few bad words. Get a f**king grip.
  • None of what you listed are threats.
  • what a bunch of crap. grow up, lady. i don’t even know who the hell you are, and like more than 99% of the people in the world, could care less.
  • if you no likee teh internetz, maybe you should try M O D E R A T I N G your f**king blog. IDIOT. stay home. nobody cares.
  • Thanks for making the internet one step shi**ier!
  • I thought the first “death threat” she posted was funny. I think this lady needs to get over herself, people say some shit on the internet, cry me a river, build me a bridge and get over it.

This is not a simple issue, and it will conti
nue to evolve. For the whole story, check out my book “Web Stalkers”:

The web is becoming a dictatorship of idiots

The dumbing-down of America

This NEWSWEEK article titled “Invasion of the Web Amateurs”, blasts the current trend of citizen experts, and I just love the term “a dictatorship of idiots”, how true:

“Wikipedia, the popular Internet-based encyclopedia written and vetted by anyone who cares to contribute, as no more reliable than the output of a million monkeys banging away at their typewriters”

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s I worked hard and I was paid for writing technical articles and books.

Back then, the competition was fierce.

Authors were carefully vetted, credentials checked, and the editor chose only the very best people to become authors. It was not random, not the pushy, only the people who deserved to be in-print.

On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog

A dictatorship of idiots

Today, any jackass can label themselves an “expert”, regardless of their qualifications. In the database arena, I’ve seen loads of “fake” experts, people who put-up a front as an expert, yet refuse to publish their resume, lest people know that they are not what they appear to be.

“sites like Wikipedia, along with blogs, YouTube and iTunes, are rapidly eroding our legacy of expert guidance in favor of a “dictatorship of idiots.”

Reliable sources of information (like Encyclopaedia Britannica, your local newspaper and even your beloved NEWSWEEKly magazine) are under siege from an explosion of self-appointed writers, broadcasters and filmmakers whose collective output, charges Keen, is garbage.”

British Airways upgrades a Corpse to first class

Those whacky Brits

In a news report that sounds like a Monty Python skit, this article notes that British Airways upgraded a dead passenger to First Class, tying-up her decaying corpse into a first class seat and upgrading a grieving relative to First Class, where she screamed and wailed loudly for hours, disturbing all of the first-class passengers.

Dying to ride in First Class

Now, I’ve noted a decline in the quality of first class travel, but it’s reached a new low when dead corpses are moved from economy into the first class cabin and strapped-into seats:

“The body of a woman in her seventies, who died after the plane left Delhi for Heathrow, was carried by cabin staff from economy to first class, where there was more space. Her body was propped up in a seat, using pillows.

The woman’s daughter accompanied the corpse, and spent the rest of the journey wailing in grief.

Evidently, British Airways did not even bother to warn the first class passengers that they would be sharing the long ride with a body that had not even gone into rigor mortis yet:

Paul Trinder, who awoke to see the body at the end of his row, last week described the journey as “deeply disturbing”, and complained that the airline dismissed his concerns by telling him to “get over it”.”

Excuse me? “Get over it”? Hm . . . I smell a lawsuit brewing . . .

““She kept slipping under the seatbelt and moving about with the motion of the plane.

The woman’s daughter and son-in-law arrived soon after and began grieving. Trinder said: “It was terrifying.

I put my earplugs in but couldn’t get away from the fact that there was a woman wailing at the top of her voice just yards away. It was a really intense, primal sound.”

Putrification in-flight

It appears that this corpse was not served chilled, and we know that decomposition quickly begins right after rigor mortis sets-in. Oh, and lets not foorget that dead people void their bowels:

“He became particularly concerned about the state of the body. “When you have a decaying body on a plane at room temperature for more than five hours there are significant health and safety risks,” he said.”

Getting tied-up in First Class

This is not the first time that a passenger has been tied-up in first class, it hapens to live passengers too.

Marcelle Becker, a Beverly Hills socialite who traveled first-class with her 8-pound Maltese. The dog got loose in the first-class cabin and when flight attendants tried to Fido back into its carrier, Becker became so unruly that the captain ended-up tying her to her seat with dogs leash!

The revulsion response

It’s Revolting!

I just got back from seeing the movie “300”, a 90 minute gore-fest with all sorts of revusions, from deformed people, decapitation and lots of Gore (i.e. “bloody”, not the fellow who invented the Internet).

This movie is approaching 100 million dollars in sales and it got me wondering about the instinctive and cultural nature of human revulsion.

What is the nature of revulsion and disgust?

– What is it about a festering corpse that invokes the gag reflex?

– Why is it funny when your boss farts loudly in a crowded elevator?

Dead rat, found in pickle jar

Personally, some of my grossest experience are related to working with horses.
Horses occasionally develop “projectile diarrhea” and they can shoot a stream of liquid poo up to 12 feet behind them. It’s still warm when it hits you, and most folks vomit, while bystanders usually laugh!

I also recall a situation where I was riding a horse with sinus congestion (a horses nasal cavity can be a foot long) and I’ll never forget my revulsion when the horse reared-back his head and lobbed a softball-sized wad of gooey phlegm firectly onto my face.

Lets face it. people love to become disgusted, and there are even kids books like “Gross Universe” dedicated to gross things for kids:

My son once found a dead chicken in an old barn when he lifted an over-turned bucket. (Evidently, the chicken knocked the bucket down from a high wall and it happened to land right on her, where she died from thirst.)

She had been dead awhile and was very putrid, with dripping gelatinous goo replacing the torso. Ewww . . .

Festering wounds are universally gross

American Media and the revulsion factor

The movie industry is making zillions of dollars, delivering gross-out masterpieces such as “Apocalypto”, “300”, and “The Passion”, movies with the sole intent to invoke the human revulsion behavior.

On TV, we see shows like “South Park” that relish in the realm of the revolting, where almost every episode features revolting images.

In one episode, squeamish South Park viewers were treated to a medical film documenting the “cutting” during a male-female sex-change surgery (According to comedian Tim Allen, the medical term for this member removal procedure is “Lop-it-off-o-me”).

The cultural impact on the revulsion response

Babies and toddlers appear in have no sophisticated gag reflex (although they will readily refuse spoiled food). Having raised a few kids, I’m confident that toddlers don’t have the same standards of revulsion as adults.

Kiddies seem to find poo fascinating, and they have no qualms cleaning-out the the cat’s litter box by-hand. I’ve seen kids who will eat whatever unfortunate insects who happen by, and I’ve seen more than one toddler who will reach into the back of their diaper and show you a surprise.

Poo revusion is a learned reaction

And lets not forget the local rednecks, which their poor oral hygene:

Human parasites are a universal revulsion

Here is my list of common revolting acts, along a spectrum from “Wuss” to “Macho Man”:

  • You don’t gag while changing a nasty-bad poopy diaper.
  • You can watch yourself getting an injection
  • You can watch someone stitch-up your gaping wound
  • You can clean and gut a fish
  • You can watch Apocalypto without averting your gaze
  • You can clean and gut and eat a mammal (squirrel, deer)
  • You can eat trout with the head-attached

For the whole revolting story, see my full research into the instinctive and cultural nature of human revulsion.

The movie “300”: The real battle of Thermopylae

Gates of Fire

One of the finest books I’ve read in the past decade is David Pressfield’s “Gates of Fire”, the amazing story of the defense of Thermopylae by brave Spartan soldiers, a gripping read and still popular, judging by it’s Amazon Sales Rank:

Now we have a new movie based on the same subject, “300” which is a top-grossing film this week with box office at over $84m. I can’t wait to see it:

It’s a great tale of courage and hardship, as we follow the life of a young Spartan as he learns the values of a true hero. Of course, the invasion at Thermopylae was impossible to defend, with zillions of invaders and only 300 young Spartans who knew that they would never walk-away from the field of battle.

Today, these brave warriors are honored with a memorial, at the site of their death in Thermopylae Greece:

The Spartans were famous for their athletic ability, unmatched anywhere in the ancient world, and even the local critters looked like Spartans.

This is a good review of 300 that notes that even though it’s a take-off on a kiddie comic, the film has merit:

“300 preserves the spirit of the Thermopylae story.

The Spartans, quoting lines known from Herodotus and themes from the lyric poets, profess unswerving loyalty to a free Greece.

They will never kow-tow to the Persians, preferring to die on their feet than live on their knees.
If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny, they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus — who long ago boasted that Greek freedom was on trial against Persian autocracy, free men in superior fashion dying for their liberty, their enslaved enemies being whipped to enslave others.”

The Mpemba effect and the Coriolis effect

Rules of Thumb rule!

The Dilbert Blog had a “rule of thumb” today that discussed the Coriolis effect today, and the allegation that water runs out of a sink in a different direction when south of the equator.

Scott Adams rule-of-thumb is to discount any scientific asertion where anyone chalenges to scientific proof:

“I’ve noticed that whenever there are two sides of an issue that sound like this…

1. The fact is true
2. The fact is complete bulls**t…

…you can safely bet that the fact is complete bulls**t.”

Ha! Scott and I think alike, but it’s interesting that something so ubiquitous could be disputed . . . .

My experients on the Coriolis Effect

I was at the equator a few months ago, and witnessed a “demonstration” of the alleged “Coriolis Effect” at a roadside show on the equator, and it’s quite an interesting “myth”.

She said that a simple, repeatable proof can show the fact that water drains in a different direction in each hemisphere (I’m always suspicious of proofs).

At equatorial sites in South America (Brazil and Ecuador) they commonly have a pail of water and a wash basin so skeptical folks can test the Coriolis Effect for themselves.

The rigged “proof” started at the exact equator where the water drained straight down without a vortex. Fifteen feet into the southern hemisphere, the water circles clockwise. And 15 feet into the northern hemisphere, the water circled counterclockwise.

In this case, like many scientific proofs in the real world, their “proof” was rigged! See my notes on the Coriolis Effect, for the whole truth.

Anyway this discussion led to a discussion about counterintuitive results like the Mpemba Effect.

Inside the Mpemba Effect

Back in the days of the ancient Greeks, Aristotle wrote about a strange event where hot water froze faster than cold water:

“The fact that water has previously been warmed contributes to its freezing quickly; for so it cools sooner.

Hence many people, when they want to cool hot water quickly, begin by putting it in the sun. . .”

This is called the ““, a counterintuitive “fact” that hot water can freeze faster than cold water, but not always . . . .

That’s why science needs “rules of thumb”. Nothing is ever absolute in the real world, and it’s naïve to think that pure science can establish pure rules to govern any situation.

The real world is driven by probabilities, and the real scientists know that only the predictive value of rules of thumb have value.

This is especially true in predictive analytics, where historical data is used to predict future trends and signatures.

Interspecies Breeding Photos

Trading genes

Interspecies breeding and genetic exchange is underway and becoming commonplace. First it was adding Shark genes to tomatoes to keep them from freezing on the vine, and now we see human genes being used in vegetables!

Did you see the reports that we have developed rice with human genes?

They claim that the human genes produce the same ingredients as found in human breast milk and this human-infused rice can be used to treat third-world children with diarrhea.

Inter-species breeding programs

Anyway this gene splicing reminds me of the work on interspecies breeding programs. Back in the old days before genetic splicing, interspecies genetics required the cooperation of live subjects, not always an easy chore:

Researchers are underway with an exciting inter species breeding program that attempts to create genetic crosses between common mammalian species.

This could answer age-old questions like why the Easter Bunny hides chicken eggs:

The possibilities of inter-species genetic exchange are amazing. Imagine a dog with Racoon genes to give it an opposable thumb:

Interspecies genetics can unlimited possibilities . . . .

Richard Dawkins would be proud.

What non-human characteristics would be desirable for humans?

Daylight Savings Ttime computer date crisis!

Date problems on computers

Computer people can be so weird. They are fully self-absorbed and for reasons that are not clear to me, computer people love to panic. Remember all of the panic about Y2K?

Even today, there were dire warnings about the possibility of widespread database corruption from a “MINI Y2K” big! According to the Gloom and Doom computer jockeys, the USA change to daylight savings time (DST) requires something called a “patch” (patches? What, the software has holes?).

There are even threats from the quantoid world of Linux. This web site claims that there is a date bug waiting in UNIX.

“January 19, 2038 is a date which will live in infamy. It is on that day that the 32-bit integer storing the number of seconds since the beginning of The Epoch will overflow, causing death and destruction unseen by the world since the Y2K Bug”

Actually, the 32-bit servers of the early 21st century are rapidly going to the same scrap heap as our Timex Sinclair, Commodore 64 and 8088 PC’s. By “scrap heap”, I mean that they will be in high demand on eBay.

Wow! This eBay search shows that you can your old Timex Sinclair for up to $20, cash!

But the threat of logical database corruption from the DST problem are very real and widespread. Read the technical details of database corruption from the DST bug.

$3m paid on eBay for fake Kennedy assassin window?

Window framed for $3m?

eBay is the theives den, with thousands of fakes and frauds offered up every day. But every now and then we see something special, like the alleged Hitler oil painting that was offered on eBay.

This eBay auction closed for over $3m, prompting a debate over the authenticity of the window frame allegedly used in the Texas school book depository when Oswald assassinated President Kennedy.

“Up for auction for the first time, the actual window and frame from the shooter’s nest on the 6th floor of the Dallas Texas School Book Depository where Lee Harvey Oswald fired off those fatal shots that took the life of our 35th President of the United States – John F. Kennedy.

Here is your opportunity to own a piece of history. This window and frame was on display for over ten years at the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas, Texas.”

However, this fellow claims that it’s a fraud and he owns the real window:

“Aubrey Mayhew wants to warn potential bidders that they’re about to get fleeced out of $3 million-plus.

Mayhew, a longtime collector of JFK memorabilia as well as a country-music producer (he produced a new CD by Dale Watson which comes out this spring), challenges the authenticity of the eBay auction because he claims to have it himself, and promises that the seller is perpetrating a fraud.

“Anybody that is connected to the Kennedy situation knows that this is a fraud,” Mayhew says, from his home in Nashville, Tenn.

“I’m a collector and have been for 40 years. I don’t go out in public, I don’t have an ego, and I don’t exploit my collection. I’m not trying to prove anything. I don’t collect for profit. But I know it’s the original window. I know it’s real, like everything else I have.”

Interesting, the winning bidder us now NARU, and their purchase history does not include big ticket items, mostly stuff under $100. Looks like a publicity scam to me . . . .

Funny presidents on coins

This CNN article notes that the mint is planning to put the faces of all dead presidents on the new one dollar coins:

“At the same time, general use of the Presidential $1 Coins is expected to increase use of all dollar coins as Americans become more familiar with using them,” Fields said

The Federal Reserve has ordered 300 million George Washington $1 Coins for its initial run.”

This site has some great coin ideas. It all started with the individual State coins, like this Louisiana coin featuring Mari Gras:

I wonder what the other presidential coins might look like? Remember the Ike dollar?

Ah, President Clinton would make a great coin:

And President Bush? Here is a design, of him roping-up Osama:

And how about Governors next? This Arnold Schwarzenegger coin might be nice:

It will interesting to see these new coins . . .