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Posts Tagged ‘internet’

Eugene Volokh has a thoughtful post about the matter. There’s not much I need to add. A sad day for freedom.

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• The total download and install time is less than a minute.

• Browsing is lightning fast.

• It is minimal, in a good way.

• It has no add-on compatibility, no RSS handling capability and limited configurability.

It is mainly on account of the last point that I will not be using it as my primary browser. I mean, RSS and the Google toolbar are fundamental to my browsing experience. However, if you have an old machine, and do not need all that fancy stuff, go for the Chrome!

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If you, like me, think it is outrageous that the US government tells you that you may not indulge in internet gambling, you can call, fax or email House Financial Services Committee and let your views be known. For more details, click here.

If you decide to act, please do so by Tuesday. That’s when the house will consider the bill, co-authored by Barney Frank and Ron Paul, which aims to remove some of the most draconian aspects of the internet gambling ban. Here is what they have to say about the matter.

“These regulations are impossible to implement without placing a significant burden on the payments system and financial institutions, and while I do disagree with the underlying objective of the Act, I believe that even those who agree with it ought to be concerned about the regulations’ impact,” said Rep. Frank.

“The ban on Internet gambling infringes upon two freedoms that are important to many Americans: the ability to do with their money as they see fit, and the freedom from government interference with the Internet. The regulations and underlying bill also force financial institutions to act as law enforcement officers. This is another pernicious trend that has accelerated in the aftermath of the Patriot Act, the deputization of private businesses to perform intrusive enforcement and surveillance functions that the federal government is unwilling to perform on its own,” said Rep. Paul.

Indeed.

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Since the Judge Kozinski story broke three days ago, I have frequently visited The Volokh Conspiracy hoping that Eugene Volokh — an outstanding blogger who I frequently cite —  would post on the issue. My interest was piqued not only because I admire Kozinski — a brilliant judge with a libertarian streak — but because Volokh had once clerked for him. Here is the expected post, at last.

I’ve tried to avoid blogging about the Judge Kozinski story, because I’m so obviously biased on the subject. I clerked for the Judge. The Judge officiated at my wedding. I talk to him often. I consider him a close friend, he’s taught me a huge amount, and he’s helped me tremendously in my career, and not just by giving me a valuable credential. What I say on the matter will naturally and properly be discounted because of my bias. Still, I can’t help myself any longer, so I’ll pass along what I think, and you can give it whatever credit you think is due.

Here is a link to the rest of Volokh’s article, which I recommend. I agree completely with all his points. However, I am a tad disapponted that he places so much emphasis on the fact that the images on the judge’s site were tame. In other words, while I agree with his conclusion, 

We should all leave Kozinski to his own privately expressed sense of humor, as we’d like the world to leave us to ours,

I would have been happier if he had added it didn’t really matter even if that sense of humour was much racier than what it actually is.

It would be a great day for freedom when the obscenity law is finally repealed. The root of the current controversy is that Kozinski was also going to officiate this case.  Of course, because of the controversy, he has now recused himself from it. The defence, I suppose, would have fancied their chances if he had remained the judge — Kozinski has always known to be a staunch defender of free speech. The prosecution must be chortling with glee.

On another note, I really hope that the LA Times, which broke the story, publishes a retraction and offers Kozinski an apology. They have displayed an astonishing lack of journalistic integrity in their coverage of the matter. It has, to put it lightly, been full of misleading errors. For instance, they said that one of the images showed a man ‘cavorting’ with a donkey when it wasn’t even close to that. But if the LA Times did apologize to this supposedly conservative judge, it wouldn’t really be the LA Times any more, would it?

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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let’s talk about the echo chambers that you specialize in. These are the chambers that exist, both small and large, in cyberspace.

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. The internet has many great advantages from the standpoint of democracy, ’cause people can expand their horizons, but one thing that’s happened is that many people use the internet to narrow themselves, so that they end up speaking mostly to people who already agree with them. So one just fact about the operation of the internet is you get these Dean supporters, for example, speaking most of the time to fellow Dean supporters, and the same can happen for Bush supporters who hear only what other Bush supporters say about the Democrats or about France. And the internet really facilitates a situation in which people are in a way living in echo chambers that they themselves have created.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: And this phenomenon you’ve applied a new term to called “cyber cascade.” Does that relate to incestuous amplification only it’s on the web?

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. Cyber cascades are specifically a web phenomenon in which one fact or something that’s supposed to be a fact is stated to another person who then tells maybe another dozen people who then tell maybe another 10,000 others, and pretty soon people all over the world are hearing and potentially believing something that just isn’t so.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: At the risk of being obvious, state for the record what you think the long term impact of the proliferation of these echo chambers would be.

CASS SUNSTEIN: The greatest danger of the echo chambers is unjustified extremism. So it’s a well-known fact that if you get a group of people who tend to think something, after they talk to each other, they end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before, and the danger of that is you can make a situation where mutual understanding is, is difficult, and people don’t appreciate but instead demonize those who disagree with them. And that’s an ongoing threat to our democracy.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: So beware the echo chamber?

CASS SUNSTEIN: Yeah. If it turns out that we’re talking mostly to people we agree with, something’s gone wrong, and there’s a kind of obligation for citizens to leave their echo chambers at least some of the time and seek out dissenting opinions.

Assuming Prof. Sunstein isn’t actually advocating regulation of the internet to discourage these echo chambers, I find a lot to agree with in what he says. It is a human trait to seek out supporting opinions, or only listen to those whose views we already agree with. I myself am guilty of reading mostly blogs that I agree with ideologically. But the internet is a vast, vast place and there is some excellent stuff out there written by people whose philosophy differs substantially from ours. It would be a shame to shut them out completely, don’t you think?

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Some doctors did a study of the type of websites that come up when one enters suicide related queries in online search engines. The results were interesting – most of the sites are pro-suicide and many of them offer detailed prescriptions on how to commit the act.

While I strongly believe in an unalienable right to commit suicide, I am not pro-suicide personally — given a choice between apparent hopelessness and certain hopelessness, I lean towards the former.  Nevertheless, I do recognise that there exist situations when suicide is indeed the best of all alternatives, and for that reason it is useful to have the knowledge necessary for a quick painless end. For anyone wishing to have such a guide in your shelf, I highly recommend Derek Humphrey’s Final Exit — an excellent book on various methods of self-delivereance.

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