More Speech Wars

A student recently posted this announcement to the school-wide email list, asking students to join in protesting the annual “Boston Celebrates Israel” event (for Palestinian rights issues). A series of angry responses ensued. One person called for a “unified response” from the Jewish Law Students Association, and another called the message “hate speech” that “shouldn’t be tolerated by our community or administration.” A similar “flame war” already occurred on this same topic on this same list last year.

I wrote the following response to the Jewish Law Students list. It has been edited slightly to remove the identities of the poster of the original message as well as a pro-Israel professor. I am sure these sorts of incidents are being played out all over the country, and many people in the academy have not come to terms with the information environment that results from the ease of reaching a wide audience with a mass email.


I’ve steered clear of this whole discussion, but I am uneasy about the prospect of a “uniform response” from JLSA et al. I could not sign on to any statement condemning this person’s postings, and a unified statement coming from JLSA criticizing this speech would seem, to me, to be misrepresentative of the views of many Jews I know at NUSL.

I consider myself a Zionist. I have lived in Beer Sheva, and have relatives in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My father taught at Ben-Gurion University. Like almost any Jew, members of my family perished in the Holocaust. Yet if I had to chose between the positions staked out in e.g., some of Prof. X’s postings and this person’s, I would have to pick the latter, although I won’t go into detail since that’s not the point of this message. (Of course I fully support Prof. X expressing his viewpoint in the ways he does).

It’s quite dangerous (and in my mind, inaccurate) to brand these positngs at hate speech. Even the pseudonymous “John Faggart” postings (attacking same sex marriage rights, etc.) of the last two years are only questionably hate speech. Just because you find speech deeply offensive does not make it hate speech. If we define hate speech based on the subjective effect on the listener, and then sanction such speech, we live in a very limited speech environment indeed.

The rherotic in this person’s emails is quite similar to that targetted against any number of institutions that are viewed as oppressive by some—e.g., the World Bank/IMF, South Africa, the United States, George W. Bush. When these institutions are attacked, it is common to “personalize” the attack—”George W. Bush, how many Iraqi children have you killed today?” In fact, if you look at Supreme Court First Amendment jurisprudence, I suggest that you’ll find this person’s postings would easily fall within speech that warrants the highest level of protection—core political speech.

Just by contrast, I would consider it hate speech for someone to draw Swastikas on lockers of Jews (or anyone); to send out an email: “Jews have no place at NUSL. They are dirty pigs and should be put in gas chambers.” (or substitute Zionists for Jews); or, as is far more common: “Niggers, go back to Africa.”; or, a burning cross in the courtyard (see Virginia v. Black). Many of us would agree that none of speech should be protected. If you compare these examples to this person’s postings, I think you’ll find they come up woefully short of speech that should be punished.

Although NUSL may not be a State Actor and thus directly constrained by the First Amendment, the Academy has traditionally afforded speech greater protection than that provide by the Constitution. Note also 20 USC 1011a:

“It is the sense of Congress that no student attending an institution of higher education on a full- or part-time basis should, on the basis of participation in protected speech or protected association, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination or official sanction under any education program, activity, or division of the institution directly or indirectly receiving financial assistance under this chapter, whether or not such program, activity, or division is sponsored or officially sanctioned by the institution.”

Note also that other States do apply First Amendment-type protections against private actors. For example, the Leonard Law in California bars non-religious private colleges and universities from disciplining students for speech unless the government could prohibit the same speech.

I strongly oppose any request by JLSA for the administration to sanction this person’s postings, and I also believe that such a sanction may be illegal.

Defend Palestine Announcement

The following posting was sent to my school-wide email list, and originally appeared here, on the New England Committee to Defend Palestine email announcement list. I discuss the fallout here.

DEFEND PALESTINE!
Protest the “Boston Celebrates Israel” Festival
Sunday, June 15
Gather at 11 AM – Old Northern Ave. Bridge, Boston

(Atlantic Ave. between Rowe’s Wharf and South Station, by the James Hook Lobster Co.) for a March to the World Trade Center

The protest of “Boston Celebrates Israel” on June 15 represents the third straight year that activists will confront the Zionists on their day of celebration. We demonstrated against Israel Day in 2001 in Brookline. We marched and rallied right next to the Zionists on the Boston Common last year. This year, these celebrants of racism, murder, colonialism, oppression, and genocide have been driven inside, and we will take our protest to their venue at the World Trade Center on the South Boston waterfront.

We protest because Israel has maintained its murderous occupation of Palestine for more than half a century, devastating the Palestinian people. Israeli “independence” has meant misery and deprivation for the indigenous Palestinians whose land was stolen to create the Israeli state.

We are outraged that this public celebration should take place in Boston. We protest the Israeli state, the U.S. government that backs, arms, and controls it to safeguard the profits of the U.S. oil companies, and the violent military occupation of Palestine.

End the occupation of Palestine!
End all U.S. aid to Israel – military, economic, and political!
Human rights for all Palestinians – including the right to resist and the right to return!

Sponsored by the New England Committee to Defend Palestine
www.onepalestine.org
necdp@onepalestine.org

Everyone on Spam

Spam is now the biggest tech/society news item. Earthlink won $16.4 million and an injunction in federal court suing a spammer (stories in news.com.com, siliconvalley.com). At the same time, Earthlink is accused of patent infringement for their new challenge-response anti-spam technology (news.com, New York Times). SpamCon has established a legal defense fund for anti-spam groups (news.com story). Oregon is just one of many that states that has recently passed anti-spam legislation (requiring ADV to appear in subject lines for spam). AOL is blocking email that originates from cable modem/DSL dynamic IP addresses, as a kind of “scorched earth” spam prevention technique. Microsoft just announced new anti-spam tools (news.com).

As a side note, Microsoft is charging $21.95 for the anti-spam service. I wonder if this suggests the kind of symbiotic relationship that currently exists between Microsoft, virus writers, virus protection companies (everyone profits) might be extending into new realms. Having a captive audience of millions of “free” Hotmail users, they can make it unbearable to continue to use the service without subscribing to these additional features (more disk space, spam filters). Since Hotmail doesn’t allow you to automatically forward to other accounts, you might just be stuck (of course there are ways around this).

Larry Lessig has dramatically staked his job on a solution which involves establishing a bounty for anyone who tracks down spammers violating the law.

I don’t believe this issue is as pressing as everyone makes it out to be, and I wish Lessig would stake his job on something else.

Usually, you’ll see spam described as an “onslaught” “plague”, “scourge”, etc.. But is it really costing us millions (or billions) of dollars to deal with? My email address has been available on the Internet since at least 1991, and probably longer. I imagine almost every spam database in the world has 10 of my addresses. Yet I only see one or at most two spam emails a day, and always recognize them from their subject line. It takes all of 1-2 seconds to delete them.

For me, SpamAssassin works great. It catches the 100 or so spam messages I receive every day and puts them in a separate folder. Occasionally, I glance in that folder to check for false positives, but at this point it’s been months since I’ve had a single one (once in a while there will be “semi-spam” in the spam folder, for example, offers from my credit card company that I don’t care about but aren’t truly unsolicited). Other tools like Vipul’s Razor use a collaborative approach to filtering (SpamAssassin works in conjunction with Razor). Bogofilter uses a modified Bayesian technique, originally described in Paul Graham’s article A Plan for Spam, to weed out spam based on messages you’ve received. In my experience, any of these tools work better than the latest technology deployed by Microsoft, Yahoo!, or Earthlink. They’re also relatively invisible to the user.

It seems to me that a combination of simple technological measures combined with enforcement of existing anti-fraud laws should really take care of the problem, and it’s not worth all this hand-wringing “what are we going to do about SPAM???” debate. Almost every spam you receive has some way to purchase the advertised item, and even if you can’t track down the sender of the email, you can track down the merchant, if they hope to do any business with you! The States have a well-defined infrastructure in place for dealing with misleading advertising or unfair business practices.

Internet Email has always been easy, flexible, and simple. By enacting a barrage of anti-spam legislation and adopting stupid spam filtering technologies, we’re ruining the simple end-to-end nature of email. We also risk treading on the 1st amendment, as political and other protected speech gets ensnared in the spam net.

I suggest we just keep it simple.

CoopOrder

CoopOrder is a free software web-based buying club cooperative ordering system written by Adam Kessel in perl 5.8. It is intended to work with United Northeast’s system (formerly Northeast Cooperatives), which is a bulk whole foods supplier, part of United Natural Foods, Inc., but could conceivably be adapted to other systems as well.

Why don’t you try it and see what you think? I always need comments and bug reports. You should log on as ‘guest’. You have free reign of the system as guest—try everything out, it won’t do any harm at all. You can even submit your order (it won’t really go in).

See the changelog for the latest updates.

There is also a low volume email list to which you can subscribe to talk about CoopOrder or other wholesale food buying club issues.

Here’s a list of some of the more recent features; in the near future I’ll organize this and present it more systematically:

  • Multiple Buying Clubs. CoopOrder can now support many buying clubs, each with their own delivery schedule, pricelist, contact information, message board, splits, etc.. Each club can has a coordinator who can clear, lock, submit, or archive the order. The coordinator can also add new members to the buying club, and deputize them as coordinators as well. A buying club coordinator can only effect her own buying club—she can’t interfere with anything with any other buying club. Note that both the New Oxford and Brattleboro pricelists are available.
  • Password protection. Although every member by default has no password, you can click ‘password and settings’ and set a password for yourself (except the guest user, who always has no password). If you forget your password, the buying club coordinator can reset it for you.
  • Export to FoodLink Format. I need someone to try this out and see if it actually will import into FoodLink! “Import From FoodLink” is coming soon as well.
  • Better (I hope) user interface all around. Clearer menus. More logical groupings of buttons. And a spiffy logo.
  • Better handling on invoices. This will need some testing, but I believe the program is smarter now about handling out of stock, ordered but not on invoice, price change, random weight, etc..
  • More stable/robust design. This is mostly internal but it should make it easier to maintain and improve CoopOrder.
  • You can now search for things in plural or singular. E.g., “apples” will return thing with “apple” or “apples” in it.
  • Categories are now searchable as a pull down list, so you don’t need to know the name of the category you wish to search in.
  • “Incomplete Splits Only”. If you check this box, you will see splits that still need to be completed within your buying club. It will tell you how much you need to order in order to complete the split and give you the option of doing it right there. Note that splits are done as fractions in CoopOrder: 0.5 = half a case, 0.25 = one quarter, etc..
  • You can do “google” like searches on description. For example, “apples -juice -pie” gives you everything with apple or apples but not juice and not pie.

My Photos

I have lots of photos of social justice events (Protests, Rallies, etc.) My personal photos have moved. If you know my mother’s maiden name, you can enter that as the username and password (all lower case) by clicking here; otherwise please e-mail me for access to these photos. I figure this way you’ll either be a friend of the family, or my credit card company. These photos are displayed using salonify, a free software program I’m working on.