June 14, 2003

Weekend mailbag

Just a few from the Inbox clutter. I've been backed up because of a side project I've been doing; you'll hear more about it if it ever actually gets completed and (gasp!) published somewhere.

Scott offers an opinion on e-mail fees that by reading you can understand why I never found the time to reply. It's all complicamated and stuff:

[A] problem with collecting those fees is the vary nature of email. With good old fashion letters there is a tangible object being delivered, so it is fairly simple to assess a fee on its transport.

But email isn't physical, it travels with a bunch of other bits. Either
we change SMTP or we wedge something new (the stamp
processor) in front of it. New protocols would need to be devised
and installed. Given the normal process of standards development,
and the way politicians work with an election coming up, we'd likely
have a requirement put into place with no good way to implement it.

International nature of email would seem to cause problems, while
there are international postage agreements they usually are/were
not quick to work out. Plus it drags in all the other countries' politics
and their elections, and thus their "solutions", as well.

That same international usage also causes problems. For the US to
enforce such a regulation, and all email servers in the US would not
accept "unstamped" email, then mail from anywhere else in the
world would be bouncing - at least until the originating country put
similar regulations into effect and everyone there upgraded their
servers.

It gets worse in that servers and email patrons do not have to reside
in the same country. I use 3 US servers and one UK server, for an
account given to me by a friend (it's a silly .org, just a lark). But how
do you handle mail sent to a server in country B from country A,
and retrieved by someone in country C?

The 5000 (or some similar number) message threshold is also a
problem. I assume that the regulations being proposed would place
a fee on each piece of mail to an individual address. I'm on several
social email lists, each of which processes around that many
messages a year; 30 people on a list times 1 message a day is over
10,000 messages a year. An more serious organization has much
larger lists. The local blood bank must do 10k+ a month, as an
example. Then there are the many small companies that have opt-in
mailings for periodic news and specials that go out to hundreds or
thousands of people; I've communicated with some and they say
that they can only afford to do so because email is nearly free (they
get a traffic charge but it's much less than a penny per
message)and it's what is making the difference between making and
loosing money these days. Ah - and if you are a news junky and opt-
in on new flash email, or similar services, then the source of those
could be doing many thousand per day. I'd be pissed if I stopped
getting the weekly NeedToKnow mailing because they were being
charged for it.

But there are bigger concerns.

There is the difficulty of the potential for political control of email.
Oppressive regime X mods the stamp processing software to log
every mail message processed, with the true sender's ID and the
recipient. They could do more and hold off sending the mail if it
triggered watchdogs, perhaps never sending it. Snail mail gets
stamped with a physical stamp, email would need a "signature"
attached on sending and a check for that on receipt. The
"stamping" process would have to monitored to prevent forgeries of
stamps, thus letting regulatory agencies get their hooks into all email
servers.

Considering how much email is used these days by political
opposition groups, some of whom may be declared illegal by
oppressive governments, what might the impact of e-stamping be on
such groups. Would the Soviet Union gone down as soon if the push
in the US and Europe to have every copy machine and printer
place a unique "watermark" on every page been carried through, so
that the Soviets could tell which machine was used to print which
publication?

It is my belief that you would need a change to the fabric of "the
`Net". E-stamps would need true e-cash - anonymous and
untraceble, and there would likely be a need to truly anonymous
email (again) as well. I could purchase an e-stamp with 'cash', put it
on a e-letter, drop it in the e-mailbox, and no one would know that it
was I that sent it. The current trend is away from that, various people
in the US and British governments have spoken out in favour of "fully
auditable network access" - everyone's net access is registered and
logged. While this also would stop spam, it would stop a great deal
more and be worse than simple e-stamps. But the point is that what
I've seen proposed so far just puts more monitoring of individuals in
place.

An alternative might be voluntary e-stamps, and modify email
programs to not directly display unstamped mail who's sender was
not on a user defined "accept" list. This would be a bit like the bulk
mail buckets on some Web mail sites. The potential junk mail can be
reviewed if desired -quickly, if people think to just read the sender
and subject line before opening the mail - and read or discarded.
I'm doing so with HTML containing mail at one server, as most spam
seems to contain HTML.

Immediately following-up that lengthy and well-researched e-mail is this one from Gordon, which I reprint in the exact grammatical context to which it was delivered:

I'm glad to see that you have the courage to use the word "fuck" in your website, rather than using "f*ck."

You k*ck *ss!

You're welcome, Gordon.

Several have written to ask me about the Bush Segway photo issue; some have formulated their own ideas as to what caused the accident: the news revealed this morning that it was because Bush didn't realize you had to turn the scooter on. That's right.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:09 PM

June 13, 2003

Oh. Oh my.

It is very important that you look at this right now. (via Oliver Willis)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 12:22 AM

June 12, 2003

This is, above all other posts, ridiculously not safe for work

Dan (Not Michael Weiner) Savage, the sex columnist of questionable mentality and even more highly questionable taste, has concluded a reader contest he started in his column a few weeks ago, in which he asked for a somewhat-commonly-occuring event during some form of sexual activity to be given the nickname "Santorum."

The result, noted in the final passage of Savage's weekly sex advice column, is apt in regards to mocking Santorum, but ultimately exceeds even this site's tolerance for taste and thusly shall not be quoted. Read it here if you want to, and do NOT bother writing me with your opinions about it, because frankly I'm worried that some of you might... well... have them.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 5:28 PM

June 11, 2003

Golly, that would make your rhetoric CRAP then.

Bob Harris posted an article over at Tom Tomorrow's site today noting how the hunt for Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction has slowed down:

In case you missed it, U.S. military units hunting for WMDs have run out of places to look, and so are now being assigned to other duties or simply given time off.

The final score: 230 sites visited, zero WMDs.

I think this is significant in light of the recent rhetorical spin-job the pro-war side has started to use in the last week: you know, the statement something like "all you anti-war leftists said the inspectors needed more time; now you're saying Bush is a liar after only looking for a month!"

Well, perhaps they can explain this now... if Bush needs more time to discover the WMD's he "knows" are there, why is the inspection staff claiming there's nothing left to be done? Instead, we're bringing in experts to verify insider claims and Iraqi sources... you know, something we might have wanted to consider doing before we bombed the hell out of the country.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:49 PM

A statement of apology

I have been notified by Matt Haughey, the owner/operator of MetaFilter, that Jeff Eddings, the CafePress employee who I claimed made a statement on MetaFilter in regards to endorsing Little Green Footballs, had done no such thing.

Eddings had made a comment in regards to a message thread about LGF with a statement "we like the green," which I and others who e-mailed me interpreted as an endorsement of the right-wing hate-site on behalf of the CafePress company. Eddings' comment was, apparently, in regards to another user commenting on their disapproval of the color scheme of the CafePress website. This mistake is classified, in technical terms, as "quite possibly the stupidest thing I've ever done."

Though I submit that it was a misinterpretation, I also admit that it was a mistake that was 100% completely on my part. I have, to be blunt, fucked up worse than I have ever fucked up in the year and a half I've been doing this website.

I have since deleted the post regarding the LGF matter, and am in the process of apologizing to a painfully large handful of people I have likely got into trouble in various degrees over this.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 4:08 PM

Not likely to beat Hillary's sales, ya think?

From Mikhaela's site:

As the years passed, and the scars healed, the debate, rather than drifting away, has intensified. It is the battle which has become the great "what if?" of American history and the center of a dreamscape where Confederate banners crown the heights above the town. The year is 1863, and General Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia are poised to attack the North and claim the victory that would end the brutal conflict.

Launching his men into a vast, sweeping operation, of which the town of Gettysburg is but one small part of the plan, General Lee, acting as he did at Chancellorsville, Second Manassas, and Antietam, displays the audacity of old. He knows he has but one more good chance to gain ultimate victory, for after two years of war the relentless power of an industrialized North is wearing the South down. Lee's lieutenants and the men in the ranks, imbued with this renewed spirit of the offensive, embark on the Gettysburg Campaign that many dream "should have been." The soldiers in the line, Yank and Reb, knew as well that this would be the great challenge, the decisive moment that would decide whether a nation would die or be created, and both sides were ready, willing to lay down their lives for their Cause.

An action-packed and painstakingly researched masterwork, Gettysburg stands as the first book in a trilogy to tell the story of how history could have unfolded, how a victory for Lee would have changed the destiny of the nation forever. In the great tradition of The Killer Angels and Jeff Shaara�s bestselling Civil War trilogy, this is a novel of true heroism and glory in America�s most trying hour.

Yes, that's the jacket copy for the first book in a trilogy about an alternate universe where the Confederacy won the Civil War, all told through the eyes of that ever-loving bastion of objective thought, Newt Gingrich.

(On a side note, everyone local to New York should note that Ms. Reid will be one of many attendees at the MoCCA Festival on June 22nd in New York City.)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:23 AM

June 10, 2003

My god... it... it makes sense!

Some guy from the Weekly Standard- that's right, the conservative, anti-government and pro-Capitalist magazine- on the benefits of preventing Spam by Federal regulation and internet taxes:

The Internet economy, as spam shows, turns out to be like a garden: Leave it alone and you will not get (as you might assume in theory) a profusion of wild and interesting growth. No--you'll get the entire space choked off by the most noxious and aggressive weed. And spam has reached the point where it calls for a mighty pesticide. An entire range of federal regulations is going to be necessary if the Internet is to be kept usable; and enacting such regulations responsibly will take legislative prudence and care. A do-not-spam list is a first imperative. But it is also a social necessity that the principle of taxing the Internet be established soon. This will mean retiring the (in retrospect) absurdly named Internet Tax Freedom Act of 1998, which placed a moratorium on certain Internet taxes, and was extended in 2001 until November of this year.

It was always unfair not to tax business on the Internet, of course. There is no reason that Amazon.com should enjoy a pricing advantage (a de facto government subsidy) over a corner bookstore. But the most damaging part of the moratorium turns out to have been the most innocent-looking: that it banned charges for Internet access. Something like e-mail "postage" will be required if we are going to change the economic incentives that have invited pornographers, snake-oil salesmen, and other social predators into Americans' living rooms, in some cases hundreds of times a week. There are reasonable ways such postage can be collected. A penny-per-e-mail charge would drive most spammers out of business, subject them to jail time for tax evasion if they hid their operations, and cost the average three-letter-a-day Internet user just ten bucks a year. If even that seems too hard on the small user, then an exemption could be made for up to 5,000 e-mails per annum. If the postage were decried as a tax hike, then it could be used to fund one-to-one tax cuts in other areas--like sales taxes for the brick-and-mortar retail stores that have labored under such an unfair tax disadvantage for the past half decade.

Okay, I'm half-ready to vote for anyone who supports a plan like this. I can't think of anyone outside of spammers (and the GOP Team Leader site) who could possibly send more than 5,000 e-mails a year... and if you did, wouldn't the few bucks it costs you be worth it to fund the highways by taxing porn salesmen and casinos for millions?

(The full article here, via TAPPED.)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 9:18 PM

Sometimes bad, sometimes good

Likely to be scant posting today. Meetings in the city to discuss possible concepts of performing labor services for the purpose of financial compensation. Plus I'm cranky from another studio e-mailing me to tell me that they don't want to let me work for them, even, I shit you not, for free. (How does a studio have too many interns? Everyone loves coffee and blowjobs! Okay, harsh. But I'm bitter.)

Once again, thanks to all for putting up with the still-going transition phase of this site. I'll try to have more updates soon, and more pictures of stuff too. (To those of you who e-mailed about the bio photo: look, you're confusing me here, because half of you said you like it and half of you said you think reflections in a toothpaste-stained mirror are, umm, disgusting. Perhaps next week I shall compromise by updating the page with a picture of myself, but drawn entirely in toothpaste on a mirror.)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 2:44 AM

June 9, 2003

Golly, this doesn't underscore the U.S.'s complete lack of readyness for the long-term occupation of Iraq at all

...Iraq's interim U.S. rulers have been forced to print millions of new banknotes bearing the face of Saddam Hussein.

Officials sitting at makeshift desks in the plundered and fire-ravaged central bank building say printing presses began cranking out vast quantities of Saddam dinars last week to ease a cash crisis that has enraged Iraqis.

The problem lies with the purple-and-yellow 10,000-dinar notes, worth about $10 dollars, that Saddam's government introduced in the last years of its rule.

Nobody wants to hold them. They are widely believed to be easy to counterfeit and persistent rumors say they will be declared worthless because large amounts were stolen during the anarchy that followed Saddam's overthrow on April 9.

Merchants are redeeming the notes at only around 70 percent of their face value, infuriating Iraqis who have received their wages in 10,000-dinar bills. Everybody wants their money in 250- dinar notes, even though large transactions require sackloads of them to be hauled around.

To meet the demand for the smaller notes, the central bank is printing millions, each bearing the picture of a youthful Saddam with neatly combed hair and a smart jacket and tie.

The full article here.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 2:48 PM

RRRRRRRRRROOOOOOOOOOCCCCK!

MTV HOME VIDEO RELEASING "THE STATE" ON DVD!

"THE STATE!" ON DVD!

RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHHH!

As you were. (via Scott Bateman's weblog)

Posted by August J. Pollak at 11:19 AM

This man may or may not be somewhat crazy

But he's got a few interesting points. From a transcript of an interview with John Gilmore, who is currently suing the government to repeal post-9/11 airline security measures:

Q. Isn't an ID check needed to stop known terrorists from flying?

If we knew who the terrorists were, we could just arrest them all, rather than stopping them when they try to fly. So what do you mean by "a known terrorist"? A previously convicted hijacker? A card-carrying member of Al-Queda? A Green Party member, who seeks to change our established form of government? Someone on probation, convicted of non-violent civil disobedience for protesting the Star Wars program at Vandenberg Air Force Base? A member of Earth First!?

There is good reason to believe that any list of "known terrorists" contains "suspected" terrorists, not actual terrorists, and is full of errors besides. Particularly when the list is secret and neither the press nor the public can examine it for errors or political biases.

"Johnnie Thomas" was on the watch list because a 28-year-old "FBI Most Wanted" man, Christian Michael Longo, used that name as an alias. But Longo was arrested two days after joining the "Most Wanted" list for murdering his family. After he had been in custody for months, 70-year-old black grandma "Johnnie Thomas" gets stopped every time she tries to fly.

Q. So then how should we figure out who is a terrorist?

It's a good question, that goes to the heart of the post-9/11 civil liberties issues.

Who is a terrorist? Any IRA member from the last twenty years? A member of the Irgun (led by former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin)? Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for sabotage for 27 years by the South African government? A WTO protester? The US Government killed more Afghani civilians in the last year than the number of US people killed on 9/11; does that make US soldiers terrorists? Israel and Palestine both claim that the other is terrorist. So do India and Pakistan. So do leftists and rightists in Colombia.

Ultimately the line between "terrorist" and "freedom fighter" is a political one. Our freedom to travel should not depend on a politician's decision about whether they agree with our aims or not. Every "anti-terrorist" measure restricts people based on their politics, not just based on whether they use violence. Violence was already illegal.

Q. Why is anonymity so important to the right to travel?

As Americans, we are pretty smug about our freedom; we don't even think about how we would take it back if suddenly a planned demonstration or political meeting was "canceled" because 90% of the attendees had been mysteriously stopped from flying or driving or taking the train or bus to attend. But the "transportation security" system and the profiling and databases behind it are all poised and ready to do exactly that. All it will take is a bureaucrat or politician who says "Do it", because all the mechanisms will already be built. It was only 60 years ago that hundreds of thousands of Americans were imprisoned solely for their Japanese cultural heritage. Only 40 years ago that anti-war and civil rights protesters were bugged, followed, smeared, arrested, impersonated, and disrupted by the supposedly lawful government. Only 30 years ago that a Republican President was bugging the Democratic National Committee. Only ten years ago that our prison population was half what it is today, with the increase coming from imprisoning black and Latino innocents over victimless crimes like drug use. Only two years ago that a Presidential election was stolen. I'm not talking about a banana republic somewhere else; I'm talking about our own country. Abuse of government surveillance, and suppresison of unpopular minorities, are documented facts right here in the US, not unrealistic or remote fears.

The full interview here.

Posted by August J. Pollak at 10:03 AM