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Chris Dodd's imaginary topsy-turvy history of Hollywood

Former senator Chis Dodd is now the CEO of the MPAA, and was the primary moving force behind SOPA.

He's a bit weird.

His latest act of performance art, or fabulism, or whatever, is to make up a completely bullshit story about the history of Hollywood, in which the Hollywood film industry sprang into being because of strong "IP protection." He's sorta right. The founders of studios like Universal and Fox and Famous Players came to Hollywood so that they could violate Thomas Edison's film patents in peace, far from New Jersey and Edison's patent enforcers.

But that's not what Dodd means. In his imaginary world, it was the (nonextistent) heavy law enforcement in the wild west that gave birth to the industry that gives him millions of dollars today.

Perhaps some quotes from A Fish Called Wanda are in order:

Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "Every man for himself." And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.

To which we can add, "Hollywood was not founded on the principle of vigorous IP enforcement. That is a mistake, Chris. I looked it up."

Chris Dodd Rewrites Hollywood's History To Pretend That It Came About Because Of IP Laws

What dropping DRM across the industry would do for publishing

My latest Guardian column, "Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers," looks at the wider consequences of Tor Books' dropping DRM on its ebooks, and what it would mean for writers and publishers if DRM was dropped across the industry:

oat. Back when ebook sales began to kick off, most major publishers were still DRM believers — or at least, not overly skeptical of the claims of DRM vendors. They viewed the use of DRM as "better than nothing".

When queried on the competitive implications of giving control over their business relationships to DRM vendors, they were sanguine (if not utterly dismissive). They perceived "converting ebooks" as a technical challenge beyond the average book buyer. For the absence of DRM to make any kind of difference in the marketplace, they believed that book buyers would have to download and install a special program to let them convert Kindle books to display on a Nook (or vice-versa), and they perceived this to be very unlikely.

But it's only the widespread presence of DRM that makes "converting ebooks" into a technical challenge. Your browser "converts" all sorts of graphic formats — GIF, JPEG, PNG, etc — without ever calling your attention to it. You need to take some rather extraordinary steps to find out which format of the graphics on your screen right now are using. Unless you're a web developer, you probably don't even know what the different formats are, nor what their technical differences are. And you don't need to.

Why the death of DRM would be good news for readers, writers and publishers

Texas politician's internet ad features gentleman electrocuted while peeing (video)

Roland Sledge is a 66-year-old Houston energy lawyer running for a seat on the Texas state commission that regulates the oil and gas industries. In the YouTube ad above, the Republican candidate stares into the camera while standing in a pasture, and riffs on a Will Rogers quote: “Isn’t it about time we elected political leaders that have sense enough not to pee on electric fences?” You'll want to read the New York Times story here. (via Michael Roston)

Update on killing of elderly black Marine veteran by police: no charges will be filed

No criminal charges will be filed in the fatal police shooting of Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., a 68-year-old Marine vet. He was shot to death in his White Plains, NY apartment after his medical alert device accidentally went off and signalled police to his apartment. According to reports, audio recordings captured by that device showed that a responding officer used racial slurs in addressing the man.

Coverage around the web: CNN, Associated Press, CBS NYC, NY Daily News, The Journal News, NY Mag.

Anthony Carelli, the White Plains police officer who killed Chamberlain, has been accused in a separate racially-charged incident of police brutality.

YA legal thriller about civics and the US judicial system

Joel sez, "'Wainwright for the People' is a young adult book for ages 10 and up that teaches basic civics, with a focus on our judicial system, in the form of a legal thriller, accompanied by Student and Teacher Guides, made available as a free download under a Creative Commons license. Co-written by a former Assistant District Attorney and a former high school English Teacher, Wainwright for the People builds on the tradition of using literature to educate. Ten years after No Child Left Behind left civics instruction behind, 'Wainwright for the People' will offer schools a way to use an exciting story to teach students about our fundamental rights and system of justice."

Gideon Wainwright is suspended from school when he takes the fall for pulling a fire alarm while breaking up a bully attack. Forced to intern for his Assistant District Attorney mother while under suspension, Gideon is thrust into the middle of an investigation that seems just a little too close to his troubles at school. Gideon’s adventure propels him through the justice system as he, and readers, learn the fundamental concepts behind the Bill of Rights and our legal system.

Co-written by a former Assistant District Attorney (Joel) and a former high school English Teacher (Stacey), Wainwright for the People builds on the tradition of using literature to educate, in the same way To Kill a Mockingbird forced us to confront racism. Joel regular speaks to middle schools on Law Day and Constitution Day about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and our system of justice. In need of a story to engage kids and provide a context in which learning can flourish, Joel sketched out the ideas for Wainwright based on his real life experiences as an A.D.A. in the Bronx...

American Bar Association Publishing has agreed to publish the story of Wainwright for the People upon completion. The manuscript is due in October of 2012. By the end of this year the curriculum will be developed. Publication is expected in March of 2013.

Consistent with ABA Publishing’s practices, no advance has been offered. In addition, because Wainwright for the People is way outside the ABA’s normal catalog of law books, marketing will largely be our responsibility. ABA has encouraged our Kickstarter campaign and generously donated the ePub edition of Wainwright for a reward, but it will be through our own efforts that Wainwright will get into the hot little hands of student readers.

Wainwright for the People (Thanks, Joel!)

Dude reading entire Bible in 100 days, tumblogging neat stuff he finds

A Tumblog of greatness: Craig Kanalley decided that reading the entire Bible, cover to cover, would be an interesting challenge. He has committed to doing that within 100 days, and he's documenting interesting stuff he finds here. Update: David Plotz of Slate also did something like this in 2006. (via @producermatthew, thanks Gastronaut!) Xeni

Black-light acrobats Fighting Gravity send trademark threat over unrelated fantasy novel called "Fighting Gravity"

That Neil Guy sez, "Writer Leah Petersen received a Cease and Desist notice. Seems the title of her debut novel, Fighting Gravity, is also the name of a live performance group that appeared on America's Got Talent. As Leah writes on her blog, the claim is that 'the title of my science fiction novel about a couple of teenage guys in a romantic relationship is an infringement on the trademark for their black-light, gravity-defying illusion performance group.' Now she gets to pay for a lawyer. Lucky her."

Update: And it's off: "Fighting Gravity To Leah Peterson and her fans: Disregard the cease and desist letter that was issued by our lawyers. Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, some people have taken that too far and we have had to deal with it. By no means is Leah Peterson one of those people, our lawyers were just doing their jobs and trying to protect our name and trademark. We wish the best for Leah and hope her book becomes a great success! " Cory

Obama vs. Marijuana: What is the deal?

Michael Scherer writes about President Obama's medical-marijuana policy and the increasing federal intervention on medical marijuana on TIME.com. For the online piece and a related magazine feature, Scherer spoke with "nearly a dozen people" in the medical marijuana industry, three U.S. Attorneys, White House officials and local officials who oppose the federal crackdown.

Snip:

Despite Obama’s promises during the 2008 campaign, federal prosecutors have lost faith in the ability of state and local officials to control a booming commercial industry for a drug that is still illegal to grow, possess or sell under federal law. As a result, a once broad exemption from prosecution for medical marijuana providers in state where it’s legal has been narrowed to a tiny one.

Read the rest

Shep Smith makes a political funny

Say what you will about Shep Smith's politics and personality, he pretty much nailed the cognitive dissonance of Mitt Romney's reaction to Gingrich dropping out of the GOP race.

Shep Smith reacts to Mitt Romney reacting to Newt Gingrich quitting (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

US requests for secret spying warrants rose to nearly 2K in 2011, and not a single one was rejected

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) reports today that the US Justice Department made 1,745 requests last year to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) for permission to wiretap electronic communications or search for physical evidence in counter-terrorism cases.

That's up from 1,579 requests in 2010. Every single one of the requests submitted in 2011 were accepted, though 30 were modified by the court.

All of this is noted in a new annual report to Congress. More context from the FAS blog post today by Steven Aftergood:

The new report says that the government filed 205 applications for business records (including “tangible things”) for foreign intelligence purposes last year, compared to 96 in the previous year.

But the number of “national security letters” (a type of administrative subpoena) declined last year. In 2011, the FBI requested 16,511 national security letters pertaining to 7,201 U.S. persons, the new report said, compared to the 2010 total of 24,287 letter requests concerning 14,212 U.S. persons.

(via Associated Press)

Photo: Vladi/Shutterstock

Portland, OR considers ubiquitous CCTV surveillance


Devon sez, "Portland, OR is the next city to consider a plan to implement police surveillance cameras throughout the downtown area. The proposal is to have surveillance cameras that can be accessed and controlled by police officers through their mobile devices. Although the Portland Police Bureau has assured the city council that the mobile devices will be secure, they are proposing to have the system operated through a wi-fi network. This proposal is coming at a time of significant municipal budget woes, when Portland Police are facing the potential layoff of 56 officers. Mayor Adams maintains that this system will have a deterrent effect upon crime in downtown Portland."

Maxine Bernstein reports in The Oregonian:

Amid unaddressed concerns, the Portland City Council on Wednesday sent Police Chief Mike Reese back to his bureau to draft stricter policies before allowing police to place surveillance cameras on private property in Old Town and Chinatown.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman echoed concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon when he asked for assurances that police wouldn't use the cameras to peep into private residences.

Reese, who wants to put up the video surveillance cameras to help officers monitor drug deals, said "These cameras are not focused on anything but public right-of-ways."

The chief, though, did acknowledge in response to a question that the cameras the bureau has are able to "pan, tilt and zoom."

While Reese said any footage obtained from a private residence wouldn't be allowed in a criminal prosecution, Saltzman wasn't satisfied.

He said he wouldn't support the ordinance unless a clear policy was in place prohibiting the misuse of the camera technology.

Portland Council wants more assurances before allowing police to put surveillance cameras on private property (Thanks, Devon!)

(Image: CCTV camera, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from flem007_uk's photostream)

UK woman refuses to accept speeding ticket


[Video Link] The way this woman tried to talk her way out of a speeding ticket (police video starts at 4:42), reminds me of people who say they don't have a legal obligation to pay taxes. I'm not saying her defense is wrong or right because I don't understand it. I'm posting it because it's interesting to see how patient and polite the UK police officers are. If she would have tried this fancy talk in the US, she would have been maced, tasered, and zip tied in short order.

The diversity of particle accelerators

Today, I got to tour several particle accelerator research labs at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, including an inside look at a working accelerator, something I'd never seen up close before. Suffice to say, it was awesome, and I will be posting more on that here after I'm able to do a few more interviews.

I wanted to show you something real quick, though, from early in the tour. Postoc Daniel Bowring showed me a display, seemingly set up in the corner of a random hallway, where LBNL keeps a collection of segments from different types of particle accelerators.

If you're anything like me, when you picture a particle accelerator what you think of is something like the image above—a metal donut, or rather, a tube. What I learned today: Accelerators don't have to look like that. In fact, they come in a delightful variety of shapes.

Read the rest

Why water supply affects your computer

Between now and 2020, the greatest increases in population growth in the United States are projected to happen in the places that have the biggest problems with fresh water availability. This isn't just a drinking water problem, or even an agriculture problem. It's an energy issue, too. Most of our electricity is made by finding various ways to boil water, producing steam that turns a turbine in an electric generator. In 2000, we used as much fresh water to produce electricity as we used for irrigation—each sector represented 39% of our total water use. (From a poster at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.) Maggie

How To: Assemble a large hadron collider

One of my favorite parts about going on tours of laboratories are the signs and jokes that scientists post on office doors and lab walls. This gem comes from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The obvious question: How do you transport an infinite number of protons home from IKEA? Does that fit on the little cardboard roof rack?