Tag Archives: new york times

Pentagon Papers vs Cablegate and wikileaks as the new porn

I’ve been trying trying to play around with a graphic to show the difference between the wikileaks driven cablegate and the pentagon papers (ah to live in an era before the suffix gate appeared everywhere).

Here is the best I’ve got so far – would love to hear others suggestions or their own versions.

PP-vs-Cable-Gate

While doing this yesterday, something came over my desk that showed me how completely backwards parts of the US government has become around dealing with wikileaks. Turns out that the US Airforce has banned access to the New York Times and the Guardian because of wikileaks. Of course discussions about the leaked documents and their contents are not limited to these websites… one presumes that banning access to the Internet is what comes next?

The Air Force “routinely blocks Air Force network access to websites hosting inappropriate materials or malware (malicious software) and this includes any website that hosts classified materials and those that are released by WikiLeaks,” she said.

Apparently wikileaks is malware. Or it is porn.

More importantly, the government is telling its employees to blind themselves. That they should pretend like the information about wikleaks, the leaked documents and how the world is reacting to it – the type of information an organization whose mission it is to engage with allies and a public that care about this a great deal – doesn’t exist. If some information is bad… more information must be worse!

The attempt at thought control is all kind of Orwellian. It’s also doomed to fail. In the 21st century, information and knowledge is power. Cut yourself off from it and you cut yourself off from your capacity to think and react effectively. In other words the US Airforce has been played. They are doing pretty much what I think wikileaks was trying to accomplish.

Wikileaks, free speech and traditional media

I find it fascinating how US government has chosen to try to dismantle the support network that makes wikileaks possible – pressuring paypal, amazon and numerous others into refusing to enable wikileaks to work.

They have pressured pretty much every stakeholder with one exception. The traditional media.

Why does the US government rail against wikileaks and pressure paypal and yet is silent about the New York Times involvement? (or the Guardian’s or the other media partners involved?). The NYT had advance access to the materials, they helped publicize it and, in the case of the Guardian, have been helping users get access to the wikileak documents when wikileaks website went down.

This fact, above all else, demonstrates the weakness the government’s legal case. They aren’t going after those who have a clear mission and the (legal) capacity to protect themselves. They are trying to go after those who can be pressured. This is not a sign of confidence. This is a shakedown. More importantly, it is a sign of weakness.

The fact that organizations like Amazon and Paypal have caved so quickly should also be a red flag for anyone who care about free speech. Essentially, these companies have conceded that – regardless of whether you break the law or not – if the government tells them to not serve you so that you can operate on the net, they will kick you off their platforms. As one great tweet put it: “If Amazon is uncomfortable with free speech they should get out of the book business.”

I see three outcomes from all this.

Winner: Traditional media. They establish one area where they have a competitive advantage: the capacity to marshal legal forces to not only protect their free speech rights, but to pre-emptively prevent the government from even contemplating attacking them. That’s powerful stuff, especially in a world where governments not appear happy to not attack those they disagree with directly but simply attempt to shut down the infrastructure that enables them.

Loser: Paypal, Amazon and others who caved. Maybe the long term effect of this will be negligible but it is also possible that a number of people who are choosing their cloud computing provider right now will be looking at Google which (eventually) stood up to China and Amazon, which caved like a house of cards at the mere breadth of dissatisfaction from the US government. Do you really want a company that is that susceptible to outside pressure running a core component of your business?

Biggest Loser: The US government. The worse part of the US government’s strategy of shutting down Wikileaks is it is has made the story (and the organization) more popular and better known. But more importantly it is counterproductive. Watching the US government deal with wikileaks is like watching the record labels try to fight Napster in the 1990s. Even if you win the battle, you will lose the war. Even if wikileaks gets shut down, 10 more lookalikes will pop up in its place, some of which will be more mainstream (and so harder to discredit) and others which will be more radical (and so more damaging). So all the US government has managed to do is make itself look like China when it comes to the rule of law, the governance of the internet, and the issue of censorship. You don’t have to be a rocket scientists to see the hypocrisy of the US government encouraging Twitter to not do maintenance during the Green Revolution in Iran so that people can communicate, while busily trying to shut down Wikileaks when the internet and network communication doesn’t serve its own interests. The US has damaged its brand and credibility with little to show for gains.

In the end, the system will react (it already has) and this will prompt new infrastructure on the net that better protects freedom of speech and places the capacity to control content even further beyond the reach of governments. There are downsides to all this, including the havoc of organizations like wikileaks can wreak on businesses and governments, but from a free speech perspective, it will be a good thing.

How Science Is Rediscovering "Open" And What It Means For Government

Pretty much everybody in government should read this fantastic New York Times article Sharing of Data Leads to Progress on Alzheimer’s. On one hand the article is a window into what has gone wrong with science – about how all to frequently a process that used to be competitive but open, and problem focused has become a competitive but closed and intellectual property driven (one need only look at scientific journals to see how slow and challenging the process has become).

But strip away the talk about the challenges and opportunities for science. At its core, this is an article is about something more basic and universal. This is an article about open data.

Viewed through this lens it is a powerful case study for all of us. It is a story of how one scientific community’s (re)discovery of open principles can yield powerful lessons and analogies for the private sector and, more importantly the public sector.

Consider first, the similarities in problems. From the article:

Dr. Potter had recently left the National Institutes of Health and he had been thinking about how to speed the glacial progress of Alzheimer’s drug research.

“We wanted to get out of what I called 19th-century drug development — give a drug and hope it does something,” Dr. Potter recalled in an interview on Thursday. “What was needed was to find some way of seeing what was happening in the brain as Alzheimer’s progressed and asking if experimental drugs could alter that progression.”

Our government’s are struggling too. They are caught with a 20th-century organizational, decision-making and accountability structures. More to the point, they move at a glacial speed. On the one hand we should be worried about a government that moves too quickly, but a government that is too slow to be responsive to crises or to address structural problems is one that will lose the confidence of the public. Moreover, like in healthcare, many of the simpler problems have been addressed. citizens are looking for solutions to more complex problems. As with the scientists and Alzheimer’s we may need new models to speed the process up for understanding and testing solutions for these issues.

To overcome this 19th century approach – and achieve the success they currently enjoy – the scientists decided to do some radical.

The key to the Alzheimer’s project was an agreement as ambitious as its goal: not just to raise money, not just to do research on a vast scale, but also to share all the data, making every single finding public immediately, available to anyone with a computer anywhere in the world.

No one would own the data. No one could submit patent applications, though private companies would ultimately profit from any drugs or imaging tests developed as a result of the effort.

Consider this. Here a group of private sector companies recognize the intellectual property slows down innovation. The solution – dilute the intellectual property, focus on sharing data and knowledge, and understand that those who contribute most will be best positioned to capitalize on the gains at the end.

Sadly this is the same problem faced within governments. Sometimes it has to do with actual intellectual property (something I’ve recently argued our governments should abandon). However, the real challenge isn’t about about formal rules, it is more subtle. In complex siloed organizations where knowledge is power the incentives to maximize influence are to not share knowledge and data. Better to use the information you have strategically, in a limited fashion, to maximize influence. The result, data is kept as a scarce, but strategic asset. This is a theme I tackled both in my chapter in Open Government and in blog posts like this one.

In short, the real challenge is structural and cultural. Scientists had previously existed in a system where reputation (and career advancement) was built by hoarding data and publishing papers. While the individual incentives were okay, collectively this behavior was a disaster. The problem was not getting solved.

Today, it would appear that publishing is still important, but there are reputational effects from being the person or group to share data. Open data is itself a currency. This is hardly surprising. If you are sharing data it means you are doing lots of work, which means you are likely knowledgeable. As a result, those with a great deal of experience are respected but there remains the opportunity for those with radical ideas and new perspectives to test hypothesis and gain credibility by using the open data.

Unsurprisingly, this shift wasn’t easy:

At first, the collaboration struck many scientists as worrisome — they would be giving up ownership of data, and anyone could use it, publish papers, maybe even misinterpret it and publish information that was wrong.

Wow, does that sound familiar. This is invariably the first question government officials ask when you begin talking about open data. The answer, both in the scientific community and for government, is that you either believe in the peer-review process and public debate, or you don’t. Yes, people might misrepresent the data, or publish something that is wrong, but the bigger and more vibrant the community, the more likely people will find and point out the errors quickly. This is what innovation looks like… people try out ideas, sometimes they are right, sometimes they are wrong. But the more data you make available to people the more ideas can be tested and so the faster the cycle of innovation can proceed.

Whether it is behind the firewall or open to the public, open data is the core to accelerating the spread of ideas and the speed of innovation. These scientists are rediscovering that fact as our some governments. We’ve much to learn and do, but the case is becoming stronger and stronger that this is the right thing to do.

The Web and the End of Forgetting: the upside of down

A reader recently pointed me to a fantastic article in the New York Times entitled The Web and the End of Forgetting which talks about the downside of a world where one’s history is permanently recorded on the web. It paints of the dangers of a world where one can never escape one’s past – where mistakes from college rear their head in interviews and where bad choices constrain the ability to start anew.

It is, frankly, a terrifying view of the world.

I also think it is both overblown and, imagines a world where the technology changes, but our social condition does not. Indeed, the reader sent me the piece because it reminded him of a talk and subsequent blog post I wrote exactly a year ago on the same topic.

But let’s take the worse case scenario at face value. While the ability to start anew is important, at times I look forward to a world where there is a little more history. A world where choices and arguments can be traced. A world of personal accountability.

Broadcast media fostered a world where one could argue one position and then, a few months later, take the exact opposite stand. Without easily accessible indexes and archives discerning these patterns was difficult, if not impossible. With digitization, that has all changed.

The Daily Show remains the archetype example of this. The entire show is predicated on having a rich archival history of all the major network and cable news broadcasts and having the capacity, on a nightly basis, to put the raw hypocrisy of pundits and politicians on display.

The danger of course, is if this is brought to the personal level. The NYT article identifies and focuses on them. But what of the upsides? In a world where reputation matters, people may become more thoughtful. It will be interesting to witness a world where grandparents have to explain to their grandchildren why they were climate change deniers on their Facebook page. Or why you did, or didn’t join a given political campaign, or protest against a certain cause.

Ultimately, I think all this remembering leads to a more forgiving society, at least in personal and familial relationships, but the world of pundits and bloggers and politicans may become tougher. Those who found themselves very much on the wrong side of history, may have a hard time living it down. The next version of the daily show may await us all. But not saying anything may not be a safe strategy either. Those who have no history, who never said anything at anytime, may not be seen relevant, or worse, could be seen as having no convictions or beliefs.

I loved the New York Times article, but it looked at society as a place where social values will remain unchanged, where we won’t adapt to our technology and place greater emphasis on new values. I can imagine a world where our children may say – how did you have friends with so little personal history? It may not be our ideal world, but then, our grandparents world wasn’t one I would have wanted to live in either.

And now, the international laughing stock phase of our debate…

And now it has just become depressing.

The international media has picked up on the census debate and they’re just mocking it.

There is this priceless quote in a New York Times article:

“I wouldn’t call this political interference,” Professor Prewitt said. “I would call this government stupidity.”

Yes, the beauty for all of America to read from Kenneth Prewitt the former director of the United States Census Bureau and now Columbia University professor.

So, in the space of 1 short year our government has gone from model regulator of the banking industry to world laughing stock on policy. If only it ended there.

The Wall Street Journal – that left wing rag owned by that hippy Rupert Murdoch – has a piece as well. It opens up its article on the subject with a sly:

The government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is under fire from a range of opponents for an unusual privacy initiative—making participation in his country’s census largely voluntary.

Even the Christian Science Monitor pokes fun at the decision.

Interestingly, even as people outside the country are starting to take notice, apparently the rank and file Conservative MPs continue to believe this story will blow over:

“It’s just another dead news-cycle story,” said one Conservative MP. “Most people will look at it, and say, what’s the difference?”

Ah, there is nothing like relying on the ignorance of Canadians to inspire confidence in leadership. This from a party who roots are allegedly in believing that the Canadian public has a way of learning about things and then forming judgments that are none too pleasant. Especially, when they think politicians are trying to pull a fast one.

Given that a diverse coalition of forces never before seen in this country has assembled in opposition to this idea, such a view smacks of arrogance. Possibly even hubris. Indeed, it is the same time of arrogance that the Conservatives have, for so long, claimed distinguished them from the Liberals. The kind of hubris that leads to decisions that wind up putting plans for a fall election on hold…

And yes! I do look forward to a day when I won’t write about this. Sorry about this folks… just sad to see billions upon billions of dollars of Canadian of taxpayers money spent over the last 100 years, and a multibillion dollar asset, destroyed by a government that doesn’t want reality to interfere with the decision making process. I promise this will be the only post on the census this week (barring some dramatic news).

Articles I'm Digesting 16-11-2009

BC Budget Visualizations – DIY Transparency & Local Government by Jer (via David Ascher)

When I think of Open Data many ideas come to mind. Applications like Vantrash were an early success, but what Jer has done with the BC Government’s Budget is another piece I hope will emerge: data that is transformed into educative and compelling graphics that border on art. On the CBC Power & Politics last week (1:50:36) I made this my “blog of the week.” And as I said on the show, if the Globe and Mail wants to compete with the New York Times and its cool multimedia work (like this piece on the Berlin Wall), get a guy like Jer on contract,

The Bitch is Back by Andrew Corsello (via David Hume)

A scathing piece in GQ magazine (have I ever read a GQ magazine article before?) about Ayn Rand. It pretty much sums up everything you’ve ever thought about Ayn Rand but were too polite to say. Bonus points go to this piece for the great Hitchens quote:

“as a fiction writer, she’s absurd,” says author and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens, who is arguably the most opinionated Homo sapiens since Rand herself. “But if you’re young and not particularly wanted and not particularly brilliant, reading Atlas Shrugged provides all the feelings of compensation one might need for any period of terrifying inadequacy.”

Oh, and just in case those on the left are starting to feel smug about the Right’s tautological hero and her prescribes a path to superiority, I caution you to pause. It is still early days but I’m beginning to feel like Ken Wilbur is the Left’s emerging Ayn Rand and Integral Theory is its Objectivism. The material cannot be tested or proven, its lengthy and inaccessible, its definitely uncompromising, and for more extreme adherents, both theories lay out a theory of hierarchical development that I fear allow those at the “top” to be, at best, paternalistic and at worst, contemptuous, to those below.

Can D.I.Y. Supplant the First-Person Shooter? by Joshuah Bearman (via Lauren Bacon)

For those who believe video games could be art. More interestingly, it hints at how the future of entertainment may either be flatter than we thought, or the long tail of the market could be richer than many supposed. Either way, the video game is going to play a bigger role in our fragmented culture. Bonus points in this one for money quotes, insights and positive role contributed to the discussion by local boy and video game superstar Clint Hocking.

It’s Time to Rethink Forest Management: More Subsidies Will Not Succeed by Susanne Ivey-Cook

I’m a policy wonk. And this piece is bang on. It’s long past due that rethink how we allocate and use our forests. These are public owned goods and we need to ensure that they get used in a way that maximizes their value to tax payers and meet our ecological/sustainability goals. Definitely worth the quick read.

Closed Border, closed economy, closing opportunities

The other day Tim O’Reilly tweeted about this New York Times article. Entitled – Chicago’s Loss: Is Passport Control to Blame? – the piece struck a chord with me since my last two efforts to cross into the United States from Canada have been dramatically unpleasant experiences. Turns out that others – including IOC selection committee members – feel the same way:

Among the toughest questions posed to the Chicago bid team this week in Copenhagen was one that raised the issue of what kind of welcome foreigners would get from airport officials when they arrived in this country to attend the Games. Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, in the question-and-answer session following Chicago’s official presentation, pointed out that entering the United States can be “a rather harrowing experience.”

Border-SecurityHarrowing indeed! I crossed the border two weeks ago on my way to French Lick, Indiana, to attend a bio-informatics conference. I wasn’t paid to attend, and had been invited by the founders of OpenMRS to whom I occasionally volunteer some advice and just think are all around great guys who I’d do pretty much anything for. Is a conference work or pleasure? Not really either, but to be safe, I said work. Big mistake. The border security officer said he didn’t care if I was not getting paid, work is work (don’t even bother trying to explain to him what an open source community is) and he was inclined to red flag my passport and take away my TN (work) visa. It was a terrifying experience (and frankly, on the scale of what people can be accused or suspected of at the border economic issues are important but relatively less concerning than political or criminal ones – although don’t underestimate the fear generated by seeing part of ones livelihood flash before ones eyes).

All this is made worse by the fact that there is, effectively, no appeals process. Yes, maybe you can talk to somebody higher up, but the will likely take hours (long after your flight is to depart in 90 minutes) or even days (once the conference or event you intended to attend or speak at has long since ended). You are at the mercy of the person you’re in front of.

All this may sound unfortunate but it has significant implications, political and economic implications. International travel to the United States is down 10% in the first quarter of 2009 – a big part of this is likely related to the economy, but I suspect that fewer and fewer people are choosing the United States as a destination. But vacationers are minor in comparison to the impact on innovation and economic development. Today, it is harder and harder for the best minds in the world to work for American companies and to do graduate work at American universities. This means America’s elite will interact less and less with leading thinkers from elsewhere and its companies will have to rely on American talent, and not international talent, to succeed. 

Already the cracks are showing. Google has employees who are forced to work in Canada since they can’t work in the United States. And Microsoft recently opened a software development facility in Vancouver because US immigration laws made it too difficult to bring in top talent. Indeed, I’m increasingly persuaded that the new convention centre in Vancouver was a smart investment. If you are hosting a conference with Americans and internationals in attendance there is no way you are going to host it in the United States.

Do Americans understand what is going on? Probably not. While some of the above articles have appeared in the news section of the newspaper the Olympic story appeared in the Travel section – hardly the place to raise a red flag for politicians. At least the President seems to now understand that it is an issue:

President Obama, who was there as part of the 10-person team, assured Mr. Ali that all visitors would be made to feel welcome. “One of the legacies I want to see is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world,” he said.”

I hope he’s successful since the consequences of the status quo will be ugly for the United States. A closed border is like a closed mind – over time you become less receptive to new ideas or information and begin to atrophy.