Tales of the Sausage Factory

Susan Crawford and the Spirit of Cincinatus

Susan Crawford is now back blogging again, looking forward to teaching next semester at Michigan Law and getting back into the blogging game. Because those of us in public policy land cannot imagine anyone ever wanting to do anything else, and because the folks on the right have wanted to claim a kill for their “anti-Czar Campaign,” a number of folks want to claim she was pushed to leave. I would ignore this on the right, but it has a distressing tendency to get picked up and believed on the left as well.

I’ve known Susan for over 10 years now, and consider her a friend, so I am hardly impartial. But I personally believe that Susan always meant to stay a year for the transition — no more no less — just as she told her Dean and everyone else at the beginning of this process. Because Susan is an example of a breed long thought vanished from America — one moved by the spirit of Cincinatus.

In ancient Rome, it was the custom in times of crisis for the Senate to appoint a supreme leader, a dictator (this being the origin of the term), who would wield absolute power for the duration of the crisis, then step down afterward. According to legend, in a time of crisis, the Senate elected the retired Consul Cincinatus to act as dictator, and dispatched messengers with the news. The messengers found Cincinatus plowing on his farm. When he heard that Rome needed him, he left his plow and returned with the messengers to take up his duties in Rome. When the crisis passed, he gave up his position and returned to his plow — picking up precisely where he left off.

Public policy is not a quiet way to make a living. It involves long hours on things ranging from the mind-numbingly complex to the even more mind-numbingly complex. People do not play well with one another. There is little understanding of the work, little credit for doing a good job, and plenty of people who will tell you to your face (and even more who will say behind your back) how they could do a better job. Some folks do it for money, and there are no lack of examples of folk who have done well for themselves after a stint in policyland. Some do it for ideology, or for the fun of it (I confess to falling into the later category myself; much as I often find the work wearing and difficult, I find it enormously engaging and intellectually challenging).

But a handful do it because they are asked, and because they understand that they can do something that will benefit people and their country by devoting some portion of their lives to a process they do not find enjoyable or potentially profitable. They serve as genuine public servants, acting where they believe they can do good, returning to what they really want to do with their lives when their service is complete.

Susan Crawford has enjoyed a very successful career as a law school professor and as the founder of One Web Day. She agreed to join the ICANN Board when asked not because she got anything out of it (other than a great deal of work and little thanks), but because she believed she could make a difference for the better. She did not seek it out, but did not decline when asked, because she knew that her talents were needed. Similarly, when the Obama people came calling, she agreed to help with the transition and to get the ball rolling. This she did splendidly and selflessly. Work done, in the best spirit of Cincinatus, she returned to her normal life.

As I say, those of us who live in Policyland — including the wags, talking heads, bloggers and hosts of others who follow the doings in Policyland with the same fervor as football fans prepping for the Bowl Season — may have a difficult time grasping this. In our modern age, the false wisdom of cynicism has far more appeal than the belief that someone would come for a year, do what she felt was her duty, then simply leave. But knowing Susan, I believe it. So I am grateful she set aside her life for a year, grateful for what she did, and glad to see her back where she wants to be. My one regret is that the spirit of Cincinatus, which was once the ideal to which citizens of this country aspired, has passed so into obscurity that we cannot recognize it when we see it.

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

My Simple Net Neutrality Fix.

In what Rob Friedan accurately describes as an obtuseness so thorough it looks suspiciously like deliberate misinformation, the Wall St. J. has yet another piece on what it imagines the network neutrality fight is about and why the best thing in the whole wide world is to do nothing.

Rather than rehash old ground (Rob does a fairly good job of it in his post), I will move on to my handy and simple network neutrality solution. “Simple,” in the sense of being a fairly straightforward piece of legislation. It would pass the buck back to the FCC for implementation — with all the attendant hassle and complications that brings. But from a Congressional standpoint, it is really quite straightforward. In fact, Congress already resolved this problem once a long time ago, back when the FCC was struggling with them new-fangled mobile wireless networks.

How did they do it? And what would I do for broadband? See below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Pass the Popcorn! CRTC Offers Great Opportunity To Watch Someone Else Play With Critical Infrastructure.

According to this official news release, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) denied a request from the Canadian Association of Internet Providers (CAIP) to stop Bell Canada from throttling without notice the traffic of rival ISPs leasing access to Bell Canada’s network. Instead, CRTC punted to a general inquiry on traffic shaping.

According to Michael Geist, expert on all things telecom and Candian and general super-smart guy, this is not the last word from the CRTC on the question. But since — according to the public notice — the first public hearing on the subject is scheduled for July 9, 2009, Canadian ISPs can look forward to a considerable period of time when they live at the mercy of their largest rival.

This does not depress me, as I do not live in Canada. Rather, I am excited at the prospect of some other country (for a change) deciding to make offerings to the Gods of the Marketplace and play games with its critical infrastructure while I get to watch. Until now, Canada has generally been outranking us in the international rankings on penetration, although it ranks less well on affodability and only so-so on speed (as compared to countries with real broadband). Those who see such things as relevant (and not everybody does, the situation is complex and the data messy, hard to come by, and subject to multiple interpretations) generally regard this as a consequence of bad policy choices by the FCC (again, not everyone agrees, the data — to the extent we even have data — is very messy and complex). In particular, a lot of us think that the decision to eliminate mandatory wholesale access and rely on “intermodal” competition was a phenomenally bad idea.

Now we may get a chance over the next few years to test this hypothesis, and at someone else’s expense! Go Canada!

More below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Telcos Find Link Between Google, Net Neutrality, and Al Qeda

As others have chronicled, the people who brought you “Net Neutrality Is In Its Last Throes” and “Deregulated Telecoms Will Be Greeted As Liberators” have now launched a new campaign based on the highly successful tools of this administration and the conservative noise machine generally. This is perhaps unsurprising given the paucity of arguments the anti-net neutrality folks have at this point.

The fear of Google is attractive. Any huge entity attracts concern, and rightly so. I’m pleased that Google has “don’t be evil” as a credo, and that by and large it has done a good job sticking to that. But they are a large corporation like any other, and if they become convinced that something contrary to the public interest is in their best financial interest, I know which way to bet. For this reason, you find a number of perfectly reasonable folks, such as industry observer Robert Cringley (whose push for local ownership of infrastructure hardly makes him a telco or cable enthusiast) is now worried that Google has accumulated a sufficient mass of resources to take over the internet the same way Microsoft took over the desk top.

Please note that this has nothing to do with network neutrality. In fact, if Google really did have an evil plan to leverage its network assets and services to dminate the internet, thelast they would want would be network neutrality. Network neutrality means treating everyone equal, so if Google became the uber-Tier 1 carrier — what Cringley alleges is Google’s ultimate plan — the last thing Google would want would be a requirement to carry everyone’s traffic equally. It would be like Microsoft fighting to keep its monopoly by making the GNU GPL mandatory for all desktop operating systems.

But, as the current Administration has discovered, we don’t need logic. We just need a big old cloud of anxiety and the power of repetition. If you fear Iran and its nuclear ambitions, you must support a surge in Iraq , because Iran supports U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, and Iran has nuclear ambitions. If you fear Google invading your privacy or dominating net applications, you must fear network neutrality, because Google supports network neutrality and they’re big and scary. Network neutrality is a plot by Google to take over the internet, because Google wants to take over the internet and they like network neutrality. And did we mention they’re big and scary? Biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigggggggg and scaaaaarrrrrrryyyyy!!!! And they like network neutrality. So Network neutrality is scary and bad, like Google, but without the “I’m feeling lucky!” button.

Mind you, you can find plenty of examples of this kind of logic in the mainstream media. You can see this amazing (as always) clip of Stephen Colbert demonstrating how the mainstream media uses this technique on Barack Obama. In a world where the mainstream media apparently believes that voters will make their decision on whether his middle name is Hossein or whether his “business casual look” is too much like Iranian President and fashion plate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we can expect the cable cos and telcos to push the link between Google, net neutrality, and Al Qeda

I’ve been at Media Access Project snce 1999. Long enough to remember when America Online and the telcos supported not just network neutrality, but “open access” (letting ISP resell broadband capacity). A fair number of folks accused open access supporters of being AOL shills or tools of the telcos. But after AOL merged with Time Warner, and Michael “deregulate them all and God will know his own” Powell took over the FCC, the companies that had backed open access switched sides. But the public interest community, including MAP, kept fighting the same fight (which has now morphed into the ‘net neutrality’ fight) long after the industry folks switched sides or dropped out.

As I have said many times before, citizen movements must stay citizen driven. Corporations will act in their best interest. They will spend money if they think it will help them earn more money. But that’s as far as they go.

You can’t get a million people or more in this overworked, busy 24/7 world to fight for something — in the face of a continued barrage of advertising, push-polling and the pervasive corrosive cynicism that you can never hope to win in our corrupt political system against the corporate powers that be — unless they believe in it. And you can’t get people to believe in it — especially in the face of the barrage of misinformation — unless there is really something to it. Especially when we are talking about a geeky technical policy issue that no one outside Washington ever heard of a year ago.

So yeah, Google supports network neutrality, and for their own reasons. But chosing to support or not support a cause because Google does is about as stupid as deciding whether or not to vote for Obama because both he and Ahmadinejad hate ties.

For the record, I hate ties too, and I support network neutrality. Just like Obama supports network neutrality. So I guess I must have links to Ahmadinejad. Hopefully, this will not scare away too many readers. But for those unafraid of the frightenng link between network neutrality, me, Barack Obama, and Ahmadinejad,

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Commissioner Adelstein Kicks Off Academic Pre-Conference in Memphis

Hello all from the Memphis Tennessee Convention Center. While the Free Press National Conference on Media Reform does not officially open until tomorrow, Free Press and the Social Sciences Research Center (SSRC) have co-sponsored an academic pre-conference for today, with a goal of promoting greater coordination between academics and activists and encouraging more academics to get involved in the substantive policy debates.

Craig Calhoun of SSRC and Robert McChesney of Free Press did a good job introducing the conference. But the real star of the morning was FCC Commissioner Joathan Adelstein.

I couldn’t have wished for a better speech. If Adelstein doesn’t read my blog (and I rather doubt he does), I take it as prof that “great minds think alike.” He savaged the neo-cons and others who rely on “faith based” research and regulation, and an FCC that has allowed the corporations it regulates to control both the framing of the debate and the information used for policy. Because the FCC has consciously decided not to “burden” the industry with reporting requirements that would provide an accurate picture of the industry (altough they provide exactly this information to investors and the SEC), the “expert agency” is now “starved for information” and reduced to writing “advocacy pieces” for industry or reports devoid of meaningful data and analysis.

On the plus side, according to Adelstein, we have truth on our side and a massive reserve of talent and ability. We have already accomplished amazing things. With greater coordination and effort, we can do more.

Details below . . . .

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My Thoughts Exactly

OpenLaszlo to Java Mobile

OpenLaszlo is a platform for making Rich Internet Applications. The “production” version of OL (presently at release 3.3, I believe) allows you to compile to (Flash) swf7 or swf 8. OpenLaszlo version 4.0, project name “Legals”, will support, in addition, compilation to DHTML (aka “Ajax”). Legals is in “pre-beta”; an official Beta program will be announced soon. To see how far along the project is, you can go to the OpenLaszlo site and play with a variety of demos that run pretty much equally well in either Flash or Ajax. Sometime next year, probably in the spring, OL version 4.something will support Flash 9.

Now here comes an announcement of Project Orbit from Sun Mircosystems, to compile OpenLaszlo apps to Java Mobile Edition. Java ME runs on *billions* of devices, notably cell phones.

I work for Laszlo Systems, Inc, the creator and main supporter of OpenLaszlo. I’m responsible for all the OL documentation. It’s a good job. It’s cool to see the whole idea of “write once run everywhere” really starting to become real. Flash 9 which is based on the next version of ECMAscript/JavaScript, is different enough from earlier versions of Flash that it really constitutes a separate runtime. For those of you keeping score, that means that OL has active projects underway to support four distinct runtimes: Flash 7/8, Flash 9, DHTML (Ajax), and Java. Yes, there will be locally distinct differences in some applicaitons depending on the target runtime. But in general, OpenLaszlo applications truly are runtime-agnostic.

It’s also fun see the OL community growing and becoming real. There are now several developers who have “commit” priveliges to the code base who do not work for Laszlo Systems — including developers from Europe and Japan.

Note that OL is developed completely in the open. Anybody can sign up for the mailing lists on which we discuss architecture and implementation. The “nightly build,” which incorporates each successive day’s work, is avaible for free download. In other words, even though “Legals”, our Ajax port, is not yet in an official Beta program, you can still get your hands on the code if you’re the kind of person who likes to read code to see what’s going on.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

How Broadcasters Make Lobbying Lemonade Out of National Catastrophe Lemons

Jim Snider at New America Foundation has written an excellent piece extensively documenting how broadcasters leverage their response in national emergencies and support of charitable causes to get special regulatory goodies and rules that keep competitors out. You can dowload a copy here.

While in one sense not news to anyone in DC, most people are unaware how broadcasters shamelessly take the coverage of local charity events or other efforts (which (a) are local news and so worth doing anyway, and (b) other companies routinely do) and use them to justify many billions of dollars in privileges such as must-carry rights on cable systems and limiting the ability of rivals such as satellite radio or Low-Power FM to compete. A bit of advocacy expounding, and a few thoughts on Jim’s paper and policy recommendation, below.

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The GAO Makes the Case for Community Broadband

Not that you would know it either from the headline or the general coverage, but the the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, issued its own report that makes a strong case in favor of community-based broadband and against more regulatory goodies for the incumbent telcos and cable cos. Not that the GOA intended to make that case, and they word their conclusions carefully. But dig down into the actual report and you find a lot of good stuff beyond discrediting the FCC’s rosy numbers on broadband penetration and competition.

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My Thoughts Exactly

Wetmachine use marketing mixes for good marketing

By way of Slashdot I come across this marketing professor’s test case of bad prose that he uses against grammar checkers.

Actually I thought his paragraph contained some useful insights that I might profitably use in my unending quest to build the brand loyalty and success and memic mindshare of Wetmachine(tm) home of “One-stop-shopping for all your technoparainoia needs(sm).” I’ve modified the text below accordingly.

—————————Demonstration Paragraph Begins—————————-

Marketing are bad for brand. Wetmachine is good brand. Wetmachine’s is good brand. Wetmachine’s are good brand. Wetmachines’ are good brand. Finance good for marketing. 4P’s are marketing mix. Wetmachine use marketing mixes for good marketing. Internets do good job. Internets help marketing. Internets make good brand. Gates do good marketing in Wetmachine. Gates build the big brand in Wetmachine. The Gates is leader of big company in Washington. Warren Wetmachine do awesome job in marketing. Wetmachine eat Wetmachine.

—————————Demonstration Paragraph Ends——————————

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