no cyber-censorship, please

Today on I said:

When I was young, freedom wasn’t such a big issue.
Life experience has shown me how really important freedom is.

That is so true. Freedom is important to me on many levels: as a citizen, as a parent, and as a writer.
But the Internet is ultimately a series of tools:   hardware and software strung together. The problem is,
of course, that tools can generally be used for good or ill. Which is why we must all strive to ensure it stays free. That means all of us, not just programmers but all of the users.

World day against cyber-censorship

Reporters without Borders are very concerned with freedom. Naturally. It’s hard to do a good job of reporting without freedom, which is why Reporters without Borders is holding the 3rd annual:

World day against cyber-censorship

Visit the Reporters without Borders World day against cyber-censorship webpage.   The site has been mirrored to allow netizens in blacked out countries to access this information at

The site has goodies such as a map showing global geographic boundaries incidence of cyber censorship and the pièce de résistance the 2011 The Enemies of the Internet list.

I have to admit I was more than a little surprised to find the United States absent after all their efforts to take out WikiLeaks. The fact that the United States is not on the list is most likely due to the strong freedom advocacy offered by freedom fighting organizations like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation), Public Knowledge (PK), and KEI (Knowledge Ecology International).

Twitter tightens its grip

Ironically, today readwriteweb brings word about Twitter’s decision to cut out 3rd party developers. Existing apps will be allowed to continue… on probabation. Last week my favorite writing live chat on Twitter didn’t work because none of the various third party apps people use to make live chat work could log in. Some of the regular participants gave it up because Twitter does not lend itself to live chat. In the light of this new announcement, the chat problem probably resulted from changes made to the Twitter api to discourage 3rd party apps.

My personal recommendation is that no step is to small to be the first step into freedom.

If you use Twitter, set up an account on

Setting up on is very much like setting up on Twitter, and you can link Identica to Twitter to stay in contact easily enough. will automatically send your notices and local “@” replies to Twitter, as well as subscribe to your Twitter friends on Identica. [Hint: it is best if you can use the same @name on both services.]

At least for now.

Twitter can pull the plug on that at any time. That is one of the biggest problems with proprietary web platforms… some one else owns it, controlling your access, as well as having access to all of your information. Proprietors like Facebook (or Darth Vader) retain total control, and can alter the rules in a flash. logo logo

Unlike Twitter, Identica is a service that makes up the central part of a growing federated network of microbloggers using the open source Statusnet software. Because the number of individual hostings of StatusNet is growing all the time, Identica far freer than Twitter in much the same way that a federated network of mirrors allowed WikiLeaks to survive the onslaught. You can set up your own, or connect to on their site or download the free version to use on your own. I strongly recommend that anyone concerned with net freedom should set up their microblog home on Identica.

personal security

For some excellent ideas on how to protect yourself, I recommend reading netizen @jimmorgan’s blog about his foray into security: Tor, XMPP, GPG, Internet security


Copyright is another incredibly important issue, particularly as the copyright maximalists are pushing for laws that allow copyright to be used as a tool of censorship. For some insight in why this is a problem in the here and now, I highly recommend watching the important film RiP: A Remix Manifesto I have much more to say about copyright, but the main thing is that it is an issue that we need to rethink. Allowing corporations to impose laws about how we access our own culture is both disturbing and detrimental to the common good.


I have been compiling lists of free culture and Creative Commons options available in the sidebar as I come to them. If you find any such links that you’d like to share, please forward them to me. Allowing corporations to control our freedom may in fact be worse than allowing governments to do so. Big Brother may in fact be wearing mouse ears. We must stand up for our rights, and encourage others to do the same.

We all must do whatever we can to fight for our online rights.

[and now back to editing/proofing my novel]


@lessig: unfollow?

One way I keep up with interesting stuff and learning more about important issues is through the microblogging services and Twitter. I subscribe to feeds from people who can keep me up to date on what’s happening in the world.

Lawrence Lessig is an Internet luminary. He’s a legendary copyfighter, one of the founders of Creative Commons as well as founding Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society . He’s on the board of The Software Freedom Law Center as well as a former Electronic Frontier Foundation board member.

Having blogged a bit about Mr. Lessig’s LIVE! Wireside Chat on Twitter in February I am aware of his advocacy for government reform. So naturally when I found @lessig on Twitter and I subscribed to his feeds.

But today on I was surprised to see @lessig posting this:

Totally seriously: don't follow me if you've not taken the pledge @lessig on today

So I thought I’d check into it. After all, if it’s something Lawrence Lessig thinks is important it’s probably worth checking out, right?

So what is this “pledge”?

When I looked, what read like four different links in @lessig’s posts all take you to the same place which is actually a movie promotion website.

The site’s opening screen gives you a multiple choice question, most commonly one like this:

What percentage of students in Alaska will not graduate in four years?

  • a. 30%
  • b. 34%
  • c. 12%
  • d. 25%

And the answer is:

In Alaska, 34% of students will not graduate
from high school with a regular diploma in
4 years. Dropouts from the class of 2008
alone will cost Alaska almost $1 billion in
lost wages over their lifetimes.”

Every pledge counts and together we can save our schools.

Waiting For Superman

If you refresh the screen, you’ll usually get the same question about another state. Once in a while it is some other appalling statistic, like:

Since 1983 over 10 million Americans have reached 12th grade without learning to read at a basic level”

Waiting For Superman


Each School Day 7000 students in the US drop out ”

Waiting For Superman

It wasn’t difficult to figure out that the multiple choice question with the highest percentage is always the correct answer.

I refreshed it a bunch of times and came up with this partial list:

In Virginia 31% of students will not graduate from high school with a regular diploma….
22% of students in Pennsylvania
in Texas
in New Mexico
in West Virginia
in South Dakota
in Utah
in Delaware
in Massachusetts
in Indiana
in Louisiana
in Arkansas
in Maine
in Colorado
in Idaho
in South Carolina
in North Carolina
in Ohio
in Tennessee
in Hawaii
in Kentucky
in California
in Nebraska
in New York
in Georgia
in New Jersey
from Nevada
in Florida
in North Dakota
in Connecticut
in Maryland
in Iowa
in Washington
in Kentucky
in Missouri

Puzzle Map of the USA

If I was an American parent, I’d be seriously looking at moving to New Jersey. Their 18 percent looks especially good coming right before Nevada’s 53%

Clearly the American education system needs some help. It’s in pretty bad shape if these statistics are to be believed.

Waiting for Superman is a feature length documentary, apparently an exposeé of the American public education system made by Oscar Winning documentarian Davis Guggenheim, most famous for his 2006 film made An Inconvenient Truth.

In Canada…

Red Maple Leaf graphic
Education is managed provincially. In my early years of PTA membership fundraising and all authority over education was wrested from individual school boards by the provincial government, supposedly to ensure all schools got the same funding. In spite of tremendous protest against this sweeping change the law passed because we had a majority government.

The Government did tell the truth: all Ontario schools now get the same funding. Of course they didn’t increase funding for poorer schools, but rather decreased funding for richer schools, who are still ahead of the game thanks to fund raising.

Before that, education used to be funded according to the need, now it’s funded according to the funding formula. All the tax dollars, which used to be kept separate, now disappear into the provincial coffers. Poorer schools are probably worse off since the introduction of province wide testing gives bonus funding to the schools that do well on the tests. I’ve spent many years in the education trenches as a parent volunteer, a PTA member, and a fundraiser. I do understand how important education is for our kids.


The point of this website is to convince people to:

Make a Difference: Pledge to see the Film

When you go to the pledge page, you discover that the pledge is to see the movie.

exterior movie theatre

This is where they lost me.

And I can certainly understand the power of a good documentary, especially if the message can receive wide release. It’s a wonderful way to get a message out.

If 50,000 people make the pledge, the website promises 250,000 books will go to programs across the U.S.

From my fund raising days, I can tell you schools don’t just want any old books, they want the specific books needed to fill the holes in their curriculum that exist because of funding cuts. In fact, schools and school libraries get rid of books they don’t need or that are inappropriate or factually out of date.

So my question here is:

What books?

250,000 inappropriate books isn’t going to help anybody’s kids.

What programs?
It doesn’t specify public school programs. Maybe Private school programs? Literacy programs? YMCA programs? Weght loss programs? What? This is an incredibly vague promise.

The books might be great, or they might be useless. Certainly their value will be far less than the income Paramount makes from ticket sales.

The lowest rung on the pledge scale is for Paramount Pictures to get 50,000 bums in theatre seats for this movie.

It’s been a while since I’ve been to the movies, but lets say ten bucks a ticket, that could be $500,000 in ticket sales. The scale goes up to 1,000,000 pledges… $100,000,000 gross? Even if Paramount has to spend a few million on school books, that is still a heck of a return on a documentary. So we can see what Paramount is getting out of it.

But that’s not all.

Personally Identifiable

To make the pledge, you must surrender your email address, your zip code and your Date of Birth…. Hmmm… Isn’t it the EFF that cautions people about giving out personal identifiers, because it only takes three identifiers and it’s hasta la vista privacy?

Law Degree Necessary

The personal Information submitted there will be shared by Paramount Pictures, Participant Media, TakePart and Walden Media

You agree to the TakePart website’s terms of use and TakePart Privacy Policy , and if you have any stamina left you can see the Paramount Pictures Privacy Policy and the Walden Media Privacy Policy to know what you are agreeing to.

There are three, count them THREE privacy policies as well as a website “Terms of Use” agreement that you are committing to if you make the pledge. You pretty much need a lawyer to protect yourself before signing this thing. What is this? Data mining?

Has Lawrence Lessig’s account been hacked?

Lawrence Lessig has worked long and hard fighting for sane copyright reform. Creative Commons is an awesome accomplishment. He has helped many of us to understand some of the problems facing the future. He has worked long and hard to try to safeguard the Internet.

If the account hasn’t been hacked, if this is really Lawrence Lessig, why would he be making such a dubious suggestion.

Although I guess it wasn’t really a suggestion. It sounded more like an order actually.

@lessig said:
“totally seriously: don’t follow me if you’ve not taken the pledge”

If Lawrence Lessig wants the kind of “follower” that will blindly do whatever he says that lets me out since I’m in the habit of thinking for myself. I suspect “the pledge” wouldn’t work for me because I’m a Canadian, but of I was an American I wouldn’t sign it either.

But maybe I’ve interpreted this wrong.

So I haven’t clicked “unsubscribe” just yet. Perhaps I’m missing something. Perhaps it was a hack, or an error in judgement. Maybe he’ll respond to my question, or this.

education funding?

Fund raising for Paramount Pictures is a backward way of funding education.

Paramount Gate

Particularly at a time when the MPAA, which certainly includes Paramount in its membership, is spending vast amounts of industry funding lobbying for A.C.T.A. around the world. In fact, right now many Canadians are anxiously waiting to find out of our government is going to try to foist a Canadian DMCA on our legislature.

If the only a fraction of what the MPAA spends lobbying for A.C.T.A. was spent on schools, every American public school could be a charter school.

I’m not sure how it works in the United States, but a lot of the erosion in Canadian public services– like education– over the past few decades seems a direct result of the fact that these days big business pays little or no tax.

Maybe we should be challenging the way education is financed rather than fund raising for the MPAA.
Side view of Yellow Laidlaw school bus

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[Photo Credits:
Flickr Photo by Marxchivist/Tom: A.M. Walzer Co. United States Inlay Puzzle

Laidlaw School bus (released into the public domain by Dori

Paramount Pictures photo by Smart Destinations