We Have Lost Our Minds

From yesterday’s LA Times:  Measure would outlaw Islamic law in Oklahoma — where it doesn’t exist

Supporters of the initiative acknowledge that they do not know of a single case of Sharia being used in Oklahoma, which has only 15,000 Muslims.  “Oklahoma does not have that problem yet,” said Republican state Rep. Rex Duncan, the author of the ballot measure, who says supporters in more than a dozen states are ready to place similar initiatives before voters in 2012. “But why wait until it’s in the courts?”

Other Oklahoma ballot initiatives:

  • Law requiring unicorns to be leashed within city limits
  • Law barring in-state manufacture or importation of anti-matter
  • Law requiring use of American-accented voices on GPS devices
  • Law outlawing soccer
  • Law declaring war on Mars, Klingon, and Mordor (“None of these places or peoples exist, as far as we know” said the initiatives’ Republican sponsor, “but you can’t be too careful.  Why wait until the Dark Lord attacks Norman?”)


Here’s another question I’ve heard countless times from students:  “How can a court rule in favor of [x} if the other party lies in court?”  I posted about it here just a few weeks ago.  It comes up again because, as I said to a student after yesterday’s class, more students have asked a variant of this question this semester than ever before.  I think I’ve heard it more this semester than in the past three semesters, combined. Why, I don’t know.  I’m sure there are many explanations–it’s can’t be answered with binary thinking–but I wonder if students are asking “since everyone lies if they can get away with it, isn’t everything you’re teaching us bullshit?”, or “enough with the rules, tell me how to get around them” (although most students interested in knowing this ask without a smidgen of subtlety).   Perhaps it’s my imagination.  I just reread All the President’s Men and the amorality of the Nixon White House may color my perceptions.  Perhaps this semester’s questions are an anomalous blip.  Whatever the causes, the question has my attention.

LimeWire Shut Down

“If file-sharing copyrighted songs is against the law, why is LimeWire still operating?”  Students have asked this question countless times, and countless times I’ve answered it. There are no copyright police; copyright holders must pursue civil lawsuits to remedy claims of copyright infringement; they must prove their claims in court; civil litigation is slow.  Some imagine that all a copyright holder need do to shut down a file-sharing site is to show the court a copy of the decision shutting down Napster.  It’s not that simple, efficient, quick, or inexpensive.

Students can discard the question because yesterday a federal judge ordered LimeWire “to disable [its] ‘searching, downloading, uploading, file trading and/or file distribution functionality.'”  This injunction does not end file-sharing, of course.  It moves the RIAA’s focus to its next litigation target.

One More Privacy Post

From an article two weeks ago in the WSJ’s What They Know series:  ‘Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on Web:

At 1 a.m. on May 7, the website PatientsLikeMe.com noticed suspicious activity on its “Mood” discussion board. There, people exchange highly personal stories about their emotional disorders, ranging from bipolar disease to a desire to cut themselves.  It was a break-in. A new member of the site, using sophisticated software, was “scraping,” or copying, every single message off PatientsLikeMe’s private online forums.

The scraper?  Nielson Co. “a global leader in measurement and information.”  Of course by mentioning Nielson in this blog and visiting Nielson’s website  they can add one more bit of clickstream data to my database entry.

Monday’s Privacy Two-Fer

Another WSJ headline about a privacy breach:  Google Snared Emails During Data Collection It begins

Google Inc. acknowledged Friday the cars its uses to collect data for its online mapping service had inadvertently gathered entire emails and passwords, a disclosure that prompted the Internet giant to appoint a privacy chief and tighten its policies.  The Mountain View, Calif., Internet search giant said it wanted to delete the information as quickly as possible. It also announced several steps its (sic) would take to improve its internal privacy and security practices.

Oops, We Did It Again

The Wall Street Journal’s ongoing What They Know investigative series, about online marketing and privacy practices, is a must-read for anyone interested in commerce and privacy.  Every week the Journal reports on some widely-used but little-known aspect of electronic tracking and data collection, and it seems every week the Journal article reveals one or more companies violating their internal data-disclosure policies.  The companies sing the same refrain:  Oops, we didn’t mean to do that; because of the mistake we’ve changed our software/data collection/security protocols; now it’s all better.  Today’s article–A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name–reports that tracking company RapLeaf maintains the holy grail of online data collection, a detailed database containing users’ real names and home addresses.

[P]ossessing real names means RapLeaf can build extraordinarily intimate databases on people by tapping voter-registration files, shopping histories, social-networking activities and real estate records, among other things.

RapLeaf has 1 billion email addresses in its database, not all of which are linked to real names.

RapLeaf acknowledges collecting names. It says it doesn’t include Web-browsing behavior in its database, and it strips out names, email addresses and other personally identifiable data from profiles before selling them for online advertising.   Nevertheless, the Journal found that, in certain circumstances, RapLeaf had transmitted identifying details about Mrs. Twombly—such as a unique Facebook ID number, which can be linked back to a person’s real name—to at least 12 companies. The Journal also found RapLeaf had transmitted a unique MySpace ID number (which is sometimes linked to a person’s real name), to six companies. MySpace is owned by News Corp., which publishes the Journal.   RapLeaf says its transmission of Facebook and MySpace IDs was inadvertent and the practice was ended after the Journal brought it to the company’s attention. The company says people can permanently opt out of its services at RapLeaf.com.

The article contains too much to summarize or excerpt here.  It’s worth a look.

After finishing the article I checked my computer for a RapLeaf cookie.  I did not find one, but I’m not confident it’s not there.

Red Pen in the Morning, Students Take Warning

I learned from Legal Blog Watch (which learned it from Legal Writing Prof Blog) that “because red pens are closely associated with error-marking and poor performance, the use of red pens when correcting student work can activate these concepts” and “people using red pens to correct essays marked more errors and awarded lower grades than people using blue pens.”   So, to be fair, I will use one color ink when grading a big pile of papers.  If I start with red I’ll stay with a red.  Ditto with blue.  And if I’m grading with red pen I’ll wear a blue shirt, blue jeans, and blue socks and loop Dylan’s Tangled Up in Blue until I’m done.