Kosovo Deserves Digital Independence 

When I did my LLM in Italy, I got sat at the “Muslim Table” during a dinner. They plunked down three bottles of wine. I said “well, as long as you guys don’t mind me drinking here, I’ll be happy to be at the Muslim table.”

The guy next to me says "I can not allow an American to drink alone. May Allah forgive me.” Then we drank all the wine. Then we realized that we actually look a lot alike. Like creepily so. A long friendship was born.

He happened to be from Kosovo.

Well, anyhow, I was emailing with him, and noticed that his government email address ended in .com. I asked “what the hell is up with that?” He explained that ICANN wouldn’t give Kosovo its own ccTLD because they don't recognize it as a “real country.”

That grinds my gears.

Kosovo gained political independence, but it remains a digital vassal of its former master, Serbia. Despite Kosovo’s political independence, won through armed conflict and international diplomatic recognition, ICANN denies the new country its online independence by refusing to grant it control of its own top level domain.  ICANN’s refusal to do so does not seem to have any degree of intellectual honesty, but seems more rooted in political expediency and a desire to avoid offending Serbia (and thus by extension, Russia).  After a full exhaustive study of the legal and political issues, I published Kosovo’s Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo’s CCTLD.

In the article, I discuss the fact that this is not just a matter of national pride – although national pride should be a sufficient justification.  The real justification is that Kosovo deserves full digital independence.  A ccTLD is not merely a symbolic indicator of independence, however. Control over ccTLDs allows a nation to control an essential part of their information and technological infrastructure that can affect telecommunications, power grids, banking, and electronic surveillance. National governments recognize ccTLDs as a component of their sovereignty and a vital national interest.

Kosovo broke most other technological ties with Serbia. For example, Kosovo and Serbia agreed that Austria could apply on behalf of Kosovo for an international country calling code as part of the 2013 Brussels Agreement.  Up until 1999, Kosovo was covered by the Serbian cell phone network and used the +63 dialing code.   Without its own dialing code but with a need to distance itself from Serbian control, Kosovo could use the old Yugoslavian +381 code or could “borrow” a code from another country.   In 1999, Kosovo began using Monaco’s +377 code.   The Kosovo government essentially regards +63 as illegal since 2008 and kicked out most of the Serbian cell network.

As for its ccTLD designation, Kosovo cannot get out from under Serbia’s thumb so easily.  Kosovo continues to remain under Serbia’s ccTLD, even if as a practical matter Kosovo refuses to use it. Kosovo government websites are all on other TLDs, usually “.com” “.net” or “.org.”  While this is superior to using a hostile foreign government’s ccTLD, it places these TLDs at least partially under the laws of the United States, as they are privately administered by Verisign52 and Public Interest Registry.   Legally, if someone wanted to take action against these domains, they could do so in the Eastern District of Virginia, even though American courts would normally have no place meddling in the affairs of any other independent nation.

Ultimately, this renders Kosovo as an online anomaly. It violently broke free from Serbia, and no reasonable observer can likely see it ever returning to Serbian rule.  Since its official ccTLD remains .rs (Serbia) its online presence is still under the Serb National Internet Domain Registry.  To evade the censorship and cybersecurity issues that would arise from using “.rs,” Kosovo places its online flag in Virginia. Given the revelations of what the U.S. government and U.S. corporations consider to be fair game when it comes to surveillance and the commercial and governmental use of personal information, one might imagine that this is an inappropriate state of affairs for a self-respecting independent country.

While ICANN refuses to give Kosovo a TLD, it lacks any justifiable reason.  Is it controversial?  Of course it is.  But is it any more controversial than granting the Palestinian State its own TLD?  The Soviet Union fell decades ago, but Lenin's old empire remains active online under .su.  East Timor, before and after independence, had its own “.tp” and then “.tl.”  And, most analogously, Taiwan is at .tw, despite being recognized by fewer nations than Kosovo and both it and China continuing to maintain that it is not actually “independent.”  Finally, even insignificant specks of land like Saint Helena Island and Pitcairn Island have complete digital independence, while ICANN refuses to give it to Kosovo.

As Kosovo’s recognition as an independent state grows, Kosovo still has to struggle to fully escape Serbia’s orbit. The Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations provides that as a matter of international law, “it is a bedrock principle that every state ‘has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems.’”  The international and technological communities have the ability to help Kosovo along this path to full digital independence—or to at least get out of the way. Kosovo’s full and complete independence requires that it have its own country code top-level domain.

ICANN could easily remedy the situation by granting a ccTLD to Kosovo as it has done for many countries (and for a number of less- than countries) in the past. ICANN relies on its general practice of using ISO 3166-1 country codes to refute any discussion of granting Kosovo its own ccTLD, although it has also made clear that this practice is not its official standard.  Support from 111 of the UN members and the United States’ backing of Kosovo make it inexplicable that Kosovo remains without its own ccTLD.  Kosovo gained its territorial independence through armed struggle and international recognition. Objections to its independence lack intellectually honest justification, and its digital independence should not be held hostage by old Balkan rivalries. The time has come for Kosovo to be given a full seat at the Internet, international, and independence tables.

The full study of this issue can be found at Kosovo's Digital Independence: Time for Kosovo's CCTLD, Wisconsin Int’l Law Journal, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2754182 I hope you'll enjoy reading it.

Marc Randazza Wrote An Amicus Brief About Klingon, And It's Magnificent

So a while ago my friend and co-blogger Marc Randazza texts me. "If a 1 is 'I banged any chick I ever just winked at' and a 10 is 'I can recite hamlet in the original klingon,' how much of a Trekkie are you?"

Marc's been my friend for quite a while now so this text wasn't off-putting in the least. For the record, I told him a 6.

Marc needed some translation help. Why? Because he was writing an amicus brief for the Language Creation Society to argue that Paramount Pictures may have a copyright on Star Trek but it can't have a copyright on the Klingon language. The legal point is a fascinating one: if a language is created in connection with a copyrighted work of fiction, can there be a copyright on other use of the language, even if it's not to speak the lines from the copyrighted work?

This is not a case about Defendants using specific, previously used Star Trek dialogue, such as “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot”, but rather about precluding Defendants from creating original dialogue that happens to be in the Klingon language. Plaintiffs provide no authority supporting their assertion that Klingon (or any language) can be copyrighted. “[T]here is no Klingon word for ‘deference’”, and Plaintiffs are entitled to none. Norwood v. Vance, 591 F.3d 1062, 1074 n. 4 (9th Cir. 2010) (Thomas, J. dissenting).

Whether you like law, or language, or Star Trek, the brief is a joy. Marc continues to demonstrate that legal writing can be entertaining, irreverent, and persuasive at the same time.

Graphic Novels and Web Comics I Put on Patrick's Reading List

Some of which he even read.

At Popehat, we  celebrate our core beliefs.  To achieve victory, one must attack.  But one cannot attack without a plan.  A plan cannot be formed without mastering fundamentals.  And nothing is more fundamental than reading.  We even think pictures occasionally enhance the experience.  As such, here's a slice of my standing list of recommendations to Patrick.  With bonus material covering Patrick's thoughts where applicable, or he can just comment in the thread like a big boy.  Waxing poetic is not my strong suit, but here goes anyway!

Planetary – Warren Ellis.  Archaeologists of the Impossible!  Planetary are an organization dedicated to charting the secret history of the twentieth century, in a world with super heroes and many other sorts of insane, fantastic things.  It's both a love letter to 5+ decades of pop culture as well as an interesting treatment of those things.  It's entire premise was based on one of those geeky exercises "if Reed Richards is the smartest person in the universe, why is Earth-616 as bad off as our own", though you'll have to read it to discover the answer (which is satisfying). Patrick started and I believe finished it and loved it.

Morning Glories – Nick Spencer.  A group of seemingly random brilliant and troubled teenagers is "invited" to attend a prestigious prep school.  There are no safe spaces at Morning Glory Academy, and I mean that literally.  You have no idea where this is going, and won't at the end of the first six issues.  Except that it's crazy and if you liked it like I did you'll be dying to know what happens next.  Though I have fallen behind (my disposable income is not unlimited, and it's not the only thing I read, I think I'm 3 or maybe 4 trades behind now), it's high up on my "things to catch up on in 2016" list.  It's a different and interesting comic and the characters are never far from my thoughts.

All Star Superman – Grant Morrison.  Widely hailed as one of the best Superman stories of all time.   If you're the sort of person that doesn't like Superman because a lot of Superman stories come off as badly written fanfic, this is a comic for you.  It's a deep and thoughtful take on a character who needs to be in deft hands but usually hasn't been.

Nextwave: Agents of Hate – Warren Ellis.  As comics matured and moved out of the silver age, a few things became inevitable.  People like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Warren Ellis showed us that comics might have started out as male power fantasies, they could be other things to.  Lots of other people tried to copy them.  Or tell "mature", "gritty", "dark", "complicated" stories.  Most people failed, and failed horribly.  What we got was often worse than mere power fantasy.  Nextwave is the polar opposite of these things, I am happy to report.  Nextwave is not, to quote, about Learning and Character Arcs and Morals and Hugs.  It is about things blowing up and people getting kicked.  It is about healing America by beating people up.  It's Stephen Chow meets vintage action Arnie at the drive in.  It features violence against broccoli, robots, sort of "other beings" and the six greatest two-page panels (lain out back to back) in the history of comics.  Did I mention explosions and kicking? It is especially about THINGS BLOWING UP and PEOPLE GETTING KICKED.  All of the delight you might have once felt when rising on Saturday morning to begin the ritual viewing of cartoons but later discovered was fake because it turned out all of those beloved cartoons were bad?1  It's real, and it exists in Nextwave.

Wytches – (Scott Snyder and Jock) – horror series that debuted this year.  What would you trade to the things out in the woods for immunity to cancer, or prolonged life (while looking young and fit)?  Their price is high.  The first trade is out, and proved to be an interesting twist on a this very old formula.

Atomic Robo – Brian Clevenger (writer and co-creator) and Scott Wegener (artist and co-creator). Now available as a free web comic (Volume 1 Chapter 1).   I guess I might try to describe Atomic Robo as a golden age comic done in a 21st century style.   It's not gritty or dark but it's gleefully ridiculous, often thoughtful, sometimes touching.  Robo and the Fightin' Scientists of Tesladyne battle evil in all it's forms throughout the decades (often with nods to the age in the process).  Features one of the greatest comic book villains ever, bar none.   If you had been 15 when finding Atomic Robo you would have immediately moved to set all of your table top gaming in it's universe (unless you were doing it in the Planetary universe instead, which is understandable).

Selling out: you can support us by purchasing any of the above through Amazon using our affiliate link over on the right.  If for some reason one of these is not available through the store let me know and we'll add it.  Or just order it on your own, that's cool too. Even better if you have a fun local place you can go through.  Tell them we said hello.

 

May 25, 1983

My dear Wormwood,

Judging from your most recent letter I have to wonder exactly what they have been teaching young fiends at the tempters’ training college since old Slubgob took the place over. In your excitement at your patient’s decision to confront his father over this problem and that, you rhapsodize at the “bold” opportunities this transient event presents for turning the patient over to “our” side.

[Read more…]

In Space, No One Can Hear You Threaten Lawsuits

I like computer games, and I like defamation law, but when the two collide the result is never your-chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter goodness. Whether it's flailing developers or consumer movements apparently schooled in jurisprudence via a distracting hand gesture and a shovel, game culture makes bad legal culture.

This story is not a departure from that trend.

Star Citizen is an ambitious crowdfunded space sim under (lengthy) development. Like many highly anticipated games, it has fanatical devotees and critics. Recently it drew the unwanted attention of Derek Smart, a name familiar to old gamers like me.

Who is Derek Smart? He's the Orly Taitz of computer gaming. He's a game developer — technically — and a career lawsuit-threatening troll. His team of lawyers is like a fundamentalist preacher's God: they're frequently invoked to terrify, but their existence mostly taken on faith. He's a multi-millionaire, apparently, but then so are Carrot Top and that awful TV woman with the eight cute kids. It's been a long time in American culture since self-made wealth signified someone to be taken seriously.

Anyway, hearing of crowdfunder complaints about the awaited Star Citizen, Smart criticized it. He invoked his vast experience in having produced the Howard The Duck, the Edsel, the New Coke of space sims, a monstrosity called Battlecruiser 3000AD, which is distinguishable from a computer virus in that it was promoted more douchilly. When Star Citizens' developers failed to respond with the adulation to which he is entitled under natural law, Smart characteristically waded in with extravagant and self-promoting lawsuit threats. Smart styled himself a crusading consumer advocate, which would be an apt label if Ralph Nader had appeared before Congress and said "Mr. Chairman, these vehicles are unsafe at any speed. And now, I invite Congress to admire my balls. RELEASE THE LAWYERS."

Controversy and flamboyant figures mean clicks, and gaming-website The Escapist wanted some of that action. They published a hit piece portraying Cloud Imperium Games (developers of Star Citizen) as awful employers driving a doomed project, and sourced it to both unnamed and anonymous sources.

Chris Roberts, CEO of Cloud Imperium, responded by posting a five-page legal threat from his "Co-Founder, Vice-President, and General Counsel" Ortwin Freyermuth, a California lawyer. Mr. Feyermuth argues rather convincingly that Escapist has become the tool of some unnamed evil (Smart, one assumes) and has seriously wronged the company by (for instance) not grasping that more than one person can tell the same lie at once, and by taking a blacked-out ID card as proof that a "source" works for a company that does not, technically, use ID cards.

If he had stuck with the factual refutation, Mr. Freyermuth would have done well. But he had to go and (sort of) act like a lawyer. His letter is full of quasi-legal references, has a closing threat to file suit in both America and the United Kingdom, and includes a cc: to two lawyers. And so Mr. Freyermuth stepped in it.

Freyermuth is a founder, Vice-President, and in-house lawyer. He's a fact witness to what's going on at Cloud Imperium. When he writes a five-page semi-legal rant, he's just creating cross-examination fodder. Moreover, "look, I am referencing lawyers, and even cc'd them" doesn't convince anyone who knows how litigation works. If competent outside litigators are substantively involved, they write the threat letter, not the personally-involved fact-witness client. "Do what I want or I'll bring in our outside counsel" and "look at me cc'ing lawyers" is the "my brother will beat you up" of the business world. Freyermuth cc'd the head of the Litigation Department in the Los Angeles office of Cooley LLP, an 800-lawyer firm. Dropping his name signifies that (a) he's citing a big scary lawyer to seem serious even though the lawyer is not substantively involved, so he should not be taken seriously, or (b) the head of LA litigation for Cooley is involved, but has no client control whatsoever because his client is writing five-page rants, which means the client is not to be taken seriously, plus (c) if Cooley is actually involved it signifies that Cloud Imperium is going to spend a truly stupid amount of money to pursue a defamation case against a hit piece that doesn't actually impact its core function, right at the time that it's fighting rumors that it is in financial trouble. So: some messaging issues.

If you know what you're doing, you bring in the litigators before you start running your mouth. The litigator is there to tell you, in the most supportive and affirming way possible, to shut the fuck up. That way your CEO and key fact witness isn't writing long, angry emails about the facts of the situation, probably getting some of them wrong and probably saying things the legal significance of which he doesn't know. It's not easy to tell the CEO to shut up and stop writing things if you're his underling. Some people get to be CEO by having a Trumpian level of self-regard that makes Derek Smart look like Dobby the House Elf. If you're a sensible GC, you use your outside litigator as the bad cop to control your difficult executive. That way your executive doesn't do don't-take-me-seriously things like post angry messages referring to written statements as "slanderous."

Plus, while Freyermuth makes a fairly convincing case that the Escapist was gullible, that's not the relevant standard. The company, and Chris Roberts, are almost certainly public figures, or at least limited-purpose public figures in the gaming world. That means they'd have to prove actual malice to win a defamation case. Constitutional "actual malice" doesn't mean ill-will, as Freyermuth's letter seems to imply. It means knowledge that the statement is false, or reckless disregard for the truth — that is, publishing despite serious doubts about its truth. Cloud Imperium isn't going to satisfy that standard.

Finally, the threat to sue in the United Kingdom is an empty one unless the Escapist has assets there. It's much easier to get a defamation judgment in the UK, but fortunately under the SPEECH Act such judgments aren't enforceable in America unless the plaintiff's case satisfies the requirements of American law — which it won't.

Look, Cloud Imperium, here's some free advice: leave the next-I-call-my-lawyers routine for Derek Smart. Stick to factual refutations without legal bluster, or else shut up and get your scary lawyer to write the letter. The middle ground makes you look foolish.

Satire vs. Potentially Defamatory Factual Statements: An Illustration

Earlier today, author John Scalzi posed this question:

TLDRItsBadParody

I am incapable of passing a question like this without answering it. Moreover, as luck would have it, I just finished a brief on the subject yesterday.

So: here is the short answer. The book title is almost certainly parody protected by the First Amendment, because an audience familiar with the circumstances would recognize it as parody and not as an assertion of fact.

Now: cry havoc, and let slip all the ones and zeroes.

The book cover — here on Amazon — has its roots in an ongoing war of words between Theodore Beale, self-styled as Vox Day, and John Scalzi. I will spare you an assessment of who started it or who is continuing it. Nor will I discuss at any length how I generally like Scalzi and his writing (though he's considerably to the left of me) and how I hold Beale and his admirers in low esteem. That's my bias.

Some time ago, Scalzi wrote an essay in the voice of a rapist thanking conservative politicians who seek to limit the ability of rape victims to secure abortions. Nobody rational could interpret it as Scalzi admitting to rape. Whether you agree with it or not, it's clearly a satirical broadside against a particular political viewpoint that parses which rapes are "legitimate" and which aren't.

Beale and his admirers, as a rhetorical device, launched a tendentious and tiresome meme treating the piece as serious and accusing Scalzi of actually having done the things he talked about in the satirical piece. Scalzi discussed it here.

Amazon self-publishing has become a popular method of pandering to audiences. Recently various figures have begun publishing elaborate manuals on how brave people can stand up to the terrible Social Justice Warriors who will mock and criticize them and such. To me this is a paradox: if you need a manual to stand up, no manual will help you. But never mind that. This e-book — titled "John Scalzi is a Rapist," and echoing various memes that Beale followers like — is part of that trend.

Here's why it's almost certainly protected parody.

The Law

Only a statement of fact can be defamatory. “Rhetorical hyperbole,” “vigorous epithet,” “lusty and imaginative expression of contempt,” and language used “in a loose, figurative sense” are all protected by the First Amendment. (Greenbelt Pub. Assn. v. Bresler (1970) 398 U.S. 6, 14.)

How do you tell the difference? A court will look at the "totality of the circumstances" — that is, not just the statement in isolation, but all the facts and circumstances surrounding and leading to it. The court will also look at the statement in the context in which it was made, not in the abstract. Finally, the court will look at the statement from the perspective of the audience to which it was directed, taking that audience's knowledge and understanding into account. (Seelig v. Infinity Broadcasting Corp. (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 798, 809-10.)

That's why satire and parody are protected even when directed at a fairly narrow audience. For instance, when the proprietors of WorldNetDaily sued Esquire for a parody suggesting they were withdrawing one of their birther tomes, Esquire won because the piece was viewed from the perspective of someone familiar with Esquire's history of satire and WorldNetDaily's history of nuttery, not from the perspective of a person encountering all these figures for the first time. Similarly, my post about the case is protected satire even though I made up excerpts from the D.C. Circuit opinion suggesting that WorldNetDaily staff routinely molests walruses.

Many other factors also contribute to determining whether something should be treated as hyperbole, insult, and satire or as a statement of fact. Those include the tone (measured tones are more likely to be taken as fact, fiery and bombastic tones as opinion), anonymity (anonymous or pseudonymous statements are less likely to be treated as factual), the formality, the intelligibility, whether it is labeled as fact, whether the author suggests a basis for knowledge or evidence to support the statement, whether the statement is specific rather than general, and whether the statement is in the context of a dispute that one would expect to generate heated rhetoric. California courts have recognized that internet dwellers are less likely to view statements online as assertions of actual fact, especially when they are in a forum known for bloviating. That doesn't mean that everything on the internet is automatically opinion rather than fact: things on the internet can still be treated as fact when they contain factors like assertions of lack of bias, assertions of specialized knowledge, labeling as fact, specifics, signals of reliability and factual nature, etc. (Bentley Reserve L.P. v. Papaliolios (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 418, 433.)

So. If someone wrote an article saying "Ken White's legal analysis should be disregarded because dresses up in a rubber suit on the weekend and hunts ponies with a handmade crossbow," and says it on their trash-talking blog, to an audience that knows them and knows about my blogging here, it's almost certainly parody, because the relevant audiences would be familiar with our in-joke about responding to spam emails with rants about ponies and would therefore not take it seriously.

The Facts Here

Here the factors point very strongly to the book being treated as parody, and protected by the First Amendment, rather than as a defamatory statement of fact. With all respect to Scalzi, his question is wrong: you can't analyze the book title in isolation. You have to look at it in the context of the whole. In that context, the intended audience (both fans of Beale and fans of Scalzi) would recognize it as a reference to Beale's tiresome meme. Plus, the Amazon description explicitly labels it as "a blazingly inventive parody," and the descriptive text is mostly nonsensical and evocative of ridicule of "SJW" concerns, and references some of the topics that anger Beale's coterie in connection with Scalzi like the Hugo Awards.

I think this one is protected parody, and I don't think it's a very close call.

Could the meme be defamatory if uttered in a different context? Yes, potentially.

Gamer Gate vs Anti Gamer Gate A Civil Discussion on Inclusiveness

Consider this post a teaser trailer. Randi Harper, author of a Gamer Gate block bot and I will be debating discussing the thesis

"are the virtues of an open society / inclusiveness / debate best served by excluding those who are not in favor of full inclusiveness?"

(I think the answer is "no").

Randi's busy for a week or two (and so am I), but hopefully next week she and I will have the email discussion, which will then be tidied up for formating and posted here.

In Randi's words:

this is going to be fun. ;)

Two Kinds of Freedom of Speech (or #Strangeloop vs. Curtis Yarvin)

Two kinds of freedom of speech

I've argued a few times (sometimes conveying my message successfully sometimes not), that freedom of speech is not merely a legal issue centering on the first amendment, but also a cultural issue, centering on our willingness to tolerate the presence and the words of those we disagree with – even when we know that those ideas aren't merely foolish (e.g. preferring Chocolate ice-cream over a good French Vanilla), but actively destructive to individuals, families, and nations (take your pick – abortion pro/con, immigration pro/con, etc.) ( I note in passing that I've been called an "Enlightenment fundamentalist" by one of my Popehat co-bloggers for my willingness to engage with people outside the Overton window, and, no, he didn't intend it as a compliment; quite the opposite.)

I've even argued for years something sillier – silly because it should have to be argued at all – that we should enjoy non-political products by people that we disagree with politically (I gave as an example how I read books by China Mieville – a member of the International Socialist Organization and Socialist Workers Party).

Culture considered more important than law

In my earlier Gamer Gate post I talked about "entryism":

As a poet once said: Cthulhu swims slowly, but he only swims left. Isn't that interesting?

The blue team has made amazing progress over the last three hundred years. Occasionally by force of arms, but usually by a much more clever strategy: entryism.

Entryism, for those not hip to the lingo, is "a political strategy in which an organization or state encourages its members or supporters to join another, usually larger organization in an attempt to expand influence and expand their ideas and program. In situations where the organization being 'entered' is hostile to entryism, the entryists may engage in a degree of subterfuge to hide the fact that they are an organization in their own right."

Since World War II the Blue team in the US has entered into the stodgy old universities (taking advantage of the GI Bill and the resulting explosion in size of secondary education institutions), and taken them over completely. It has taken over the media (now called the "mainstream media" or MSM by the red team), because of this. It has taken over many corporate boards (although not all attempts have succeeded).

Over the last few years blue team has been rolling up red team's flank in a new battle: the tech world (or, pace Scott Alexander, they're actually trying to roll up the flank of a minor Red faction / ally that should perhaps be called "Gray": techno-libertarians).

This is a really smart move for Blue, as much of the economy has stalled out over the last ten years, and tech is the only area of growth. Who wants to own 90% of a stalled boat, when you could own 90% of a boat that's going somewhere?

Entryism is not a political or legal or economic mode of warfare ; it is a cultural mode.

But what are politics, law, and economies other than cultural structures?

Once you control Harvard Law, you control the courts. Once you control the courts, you control the laws. Once you control the laws, you control the people.

Or, alternatively: once you control the technology conferences you control the team leads, once you control the team leads, you control the engineers, once you control the engineers, you control the tech industry, once you control the tech industry, you control the 21st century economy.

(Godwin lulz: you know who else tried to take over education?)

If enlightenment law is destroyed, but enlightenment culture survives, we can rebuild the law.

…but if enlightenment culture is destroyed, then law necessarily follows, and there is no foundation to ever rebuild the lost freedoms on.

Thus one mote in the eye of the culture of free speech bothers me more than a beam in the eye of the law of free speech.

An anonymous email

Perhaps because I've written about free speech, or perhaps because I've written about "Urbit" twice before, or perhaps because of both I received an email with a pastebin URL.

The timeline

As best I can tell the the timeline of events is this:

Some time on or before 1 June the Strangeloop tech conference threw open its submissions process and Curtis Yarvin of the Tlon corporation submitted a proposal about his Urbit network / functional programming language. (Note: the Urbit talk description is at archive.is, because it's been memory-holed at the StrangeLoop website).

On 3 June Alex Miller of the Cognitect corporation sent told Curtis that his proposed speech was interesting enough to be worthy of being heard by "the creators and users of the languages, libraries, tools, and techniques at the forefront of the industry."

Then around 1pm on 3 June @bobpoekert noticed, in a relatively calm way, that Curtis had some off beat politics.

The calmness didn't last; @aphyr declared

And @bodil perceives that an error – the error of tolerance – has been committed, and hopes that it occurred only by accident, and will soon be corrected:

@joescii wonders how such an error of tolerance could possibly have happened

And @kf suggests that the tolerance was accidental – perhaps the Party merely forgot to do its due diligence and failed to ask software engineers if they are now, or have ever been, a card carrying member of any party right of center:

And one social justice warrior, @steveklabnik noted that

…oh, that's odd … the tweet is gone and the account is protected.

I guess Steve didn't like his own words being quoted to show that he like violence? Anyway, no problem, I took screenshots:

Who is this Steve Klabnik, by the way? Oh, just your average rails coder and violent communist!

The point being: Steve really, really, really doesn't like fascism. But initiating violence against his political enemies? That's different, and ggggggreat! And up there with initiating violence is getting thought criminals banned from technical conferences, it seems.

So there was a bit of a tempest in an organic, fair-trade teapot, and after five or so tweets, Alex Miller realized that Strangeloop had invited someone to speak on functional programming languages who might not, in his heart of hearts, agree that Thomas Carlyle was a dead white man who should be forgotten.

And thus, Alex Miller "fixed the glitch": he emailed Curtis and said that even though Curtis thoughts on functional programming were interesting enough to be heard at the conference, because of Curtis's thoughts on Carlyle and such, he was no longer welcome to talk to decent people about functional programming:

http://pastebin.com/e3X5xpNG

From: Alex Miller
Date: Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 5:45 PM
Subject: Re: Strange Loop 2015 submission "urbit, a clean-slate functional stack"

Hi Curtis,

When your talk was posted on the Strange Loop web site today, I had immediate and vigorous feedback about the fact that you would be speaking at Strange Loop. I do not generally make any attempt to audit or care about the particular opinions or ideology of the people that I accept as speakers; I am generally focused on the content of the talks themselves.

However, in this case it is clear to me that your opinions in areas outside your talk are concerning enough for a significantly large number of attendees that those reactions are overshadowing the talk and acting as a distraction for launching the conference as a whole. Because of this, I am sorry that I must rescind your invitation and I will not be able to accept or include your talk at the conference. My apologies if this causes you any inconvenience.

Alex Miller

Or, to be a precise, it was alleged by an email I received that Alex had said this. Had Alex actually?

I reached out on 4 June and asked Alex if it was true:

Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong. Can you hear me, Alex Miller?

Despite several tweets asking for confirmation, Alex never responded to me. (Or at least that's my belief – I checked my mentions closely, but it's possible that a response slipped through.)

However the next day I saw a link being tweeted around; Alex, it seemed, had finally responded.

Strangeloop conference doubles down

https://s3.amazonaws.com/sl-notes/yarvin.txt

Curtis Yarvin submitted a talk in the Strange Loop 2015 Call for Presentations. The talk went through the review process and was one of about 60 talks selected for the conference out of about 360. The subject of the talk was urbit (attached below). While we use a multi-stage review process, ultimately all final decisions are made by me.

Earlier this week we published the bulk of the 2015 Strange Loop session list, including Curtis's talk. I quickly received feedback that Curtis also has an online persona under the name "Mencius Moldbug" where he has posted extensive political writings.

A large number of current and former speakers and attendees contacted me to say that they found Curtis's writings objectionable. I have not personally read them.

I am trying to create a conference where the focus is on the technology and the topics being presented. Ultimately, I decided that if Curtis was part of the program, his mere inclusion and/or presence would overshadow the content of his talk and become the focus. This would not serve the conference, the other speakers, the attendees, or even Curtis.

Thus, I chose to rescind Curtis's invitation and remove him from the program…

Alex Miller

So there we have it: Alex Miller believes in the heckler's veto:

If several people contact him saying "person X will speak on topic Y, but is bad because of opinion Z which he will not speak on, but I – the emailer – dislike", then Alex will exclude person X from his conference.

I defend Strangeloop on legal grounds

Now, Strangeloop is a private conference, and if Curtis' speech was going to violate one of the Strangeloop policies, I'd entirely support the legality of their decision.

Heck, even though Curtis' scheduled speech was entirely in keeping with every single one of their policies, and Strangeloop blatantly made up policies ad hoc in order to achieve the desired result, I support their right to do so. I've long supported the legal right of free association. The law (i.e. the government monopoly on violence) should not force people to socialize, work, or do business with those they prefer not to.

So, while I might not throw myself in front of literal tanks to keep the government from forcing Strangeloop to accept Curtis, I'd surely throw metaphorically throw myself in front of some metaphoric tanks, while I sit in my easy chair and type.

Side note: Lefties are Ayn Rand Acolytes

I've noticed a fascinating phenomena: ask a stereotypical rightist about some private action he doesn't like, and he'll say "anyone who doesn't like it should take their money elsewhere". As in "if a baker won't make cakes for gay couples, gays should take their money elsewhere", or "if Starbucks doesn't allow open carry, gun owners should take their money elsewhere".

Leftists are often more nuanced than this. Instead of using just a few of the ethical bases that Jonathan Haidt identified, as conservatives do, they use more.

Thus, instead of only embracing the "exit" branch of the "loyalty, voice, and exit" fork, they also embrace the "voice" branch: Whole Foods should stop selling meat, stop carrying Eden Foods products, abjure security guards, and open a new location.

Well, they're nuanced up to a point. It's been my sad experience to run into a majority of lefties who, as soon as you suggest to a leftist that they might change how they're doing things to be more progressive and congruent with the goals of an open and freedom-loving society, turn into Ayn Rand acolytes: "this is my bakery, and if you don't like it, go somewhere else!"

Curious.

But, still, I agree with them.

A call for consistency

I'll make a deal with lefties: I'll keep throwing myself in front of metaphorical tanks to defend their legal right to exclude Curtis and other wrongthink badfun people, if they'll defend a privately owned bakery, or a hobby craft store, or a –

Hey, wait, where are you guys going?

A few questions for Alex and the other conference organizers

Questions for Alex Miller (@puredanger), Ryan Senior (@objcmdo), Mario Aquino (@marioaquino), Nick Cowan (@notetoself_stl), and Bridget Hillyer(@bridgethillyer):

  1. Alex says that he does not "generally" consider political opinions, but – apparently – he does at least on occasion. What are the boundaries of acceptable opinions that one may quietly hold inside one's head while at Strangeloop ? May one hold a belief in a flat income tax? In no income tax? May one be a professed communist, wishing for the proletarians to rise up in armed revolution?
  2. If the organizers of Strangeloop have not read Curtis' political writings, how do you know that his beliefs are outside the bounds allowable at Strangeloop?
  3. If the answer is "significantly large number" of people complain, what is that number? One ? Two ? More ?
  4. Will that numeric threshold be applied in the future? If two or three conference attendees email you to say that some presenter's advocacy of, say, polyamory, or lesbianism, or whatever would make the conference something other than a "safe space", will you disinvite the speakers so that your conference attendees aren't forced to be in the same building as people they disagree with?
  5. Do you support the legal right of other conferences to discriminate against speakers based on characteristics that have nothing to do with their presentations?
  6. As adherents of the dominant (and growing!) ideology in America (Progressivism) do you think that diversity of opinions is our strength, or would you think that we would be better served by an ideological mono-culture?
  7. If you think "no", would that stance change if American society suddenly lurched to the right?
  8. Alex told Curtis that Strangeloop was canceling his talk because "reactions [ to his presence would ] act as a distraction for launching the conference". In light of the last few days, do you (plural) still think that banning Curtis was the most pragmatic approach to keeping attention focused where you wanted it?
  9. As your conference is intended to help curious and open-minded developers "make connections with the creators and users of new languages", and you've decided not to let them meet Curtis or hear about Urbit, where do you suggest they go for more information ?

A few questions for the conference sponsors

Questions for the corporate sponsors of Strangeloop, including Sparx, Machinezone, Cisco, Twosigma, Basho, Engineyard, Wolfram, Criteo, Mandrill, 8thlight, Asynchrony, Oreilly, Oasisdigital, Riotgames, Context.io, and Adzerk:

  1. In any of your HR documents do you describe your firm and workplace as "tolerant", "diverse", "welcoming", or "open"?
  2. Do you ask prospective employees about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics anywhere in the hiring process?
  3. Do you ask employees post-hiring about their personal beliefs, religion, or politics ?
  4. Have you ever found that excluding conservative candidates from your hiring process increases your pool of candidates?
  5. Would you fire an employee for personal beliefs, religion, or politics if you received emails complaining about opinions they held, but never mentioned at work?
  6. Do you think that your sponsorship and financial support of strangeloop is consistent with your corporate culture of tolerance?
  7. What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian engineers who are looking for their next job?
  8. What message do you think your sponsorship of Strangeloop sends to conservative or libertarian customers who are considering your products?
  9. Do you think that your sponsorship of a tech conference that excludes people based on their personal beliefs is a net win for your firm?

tl;dr

The legal right of free speech is important and worth defending.

The culture of free speech is important and worth defending.

We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – speech that we disagree with.

We all profit in the long term if we tolerate – and even encourage – non-disagreeable speech from people that we dislike for other reasons.

Tolerating everything except the outgroup is no sort of tolerance at all.

It is valid to use cultural means (e.g. this blog post) to pressure people and groups (e.g. Strangeloop) to advance from the Dark Ages to the futuristic year 1650 and accept Enlightenment ideas.

Further reading on Strangeloop vs Curtis Yarvin

A partial list of news articles and blog posts that have caught my attention:

and finally – and ironically – a blog post by Curtis himself two years ago that is hugely prescient: Technology, communism and the Brown Scare.

Mad Max: Actually, It's About Ethics In Truck Driving

(note: nearly zero spoilers. perhaps actually zero.)

The three genres of the Mad Max trilogy

The interesting thing about the original Mad Max trilogy is that each movie belongs to an entirely separate genre. Mad Max is a 1970s biker film, Road Warrior is a western, and Thunderdome is NFL half-time show. In world-building, yes, they're all post-apocalyptic films (except for the first, which is perhaps during the very early stages of a grinding apocalypse), but genre conventions and associations matter a heck of a lot: they give us a structure to fit the pieces in to and a set of expectations about what comes next.

The original Road Warrior is, it's almost universally agreed, the best of the three, and I think the reason is not just the incredible visceral car chases and wrecks and stunts, but the western format. Echoing perhaps not only Star Wars and a bunch of Sergio Leone spaghetti, but the best western ever (Kurosawa's Seven Samurai) , the plot plays out like this: the drifter encounters a populace in need, insists that he's no hero, reluctantly is converted to serving the cause, and then – ronin-like – drifts away when the moment of need is over.

As a side note, the original Road Warrior also delivers on the important but unspoken requirement of a good western: good cinematography that displays a vast panoramic landscape. The shots where Max is looking down at the refinery camp and the desert looks so huge and empty under the infinite sky is breath taking. Later there's a second shot that always makes me catch my breath: the leaders of the refinery camp are deliberating under a single electric light against a wide purple sky. The juxtaposition of the small bright spark of technology (the first electric light we see in the entire movie, and, I think, the only one) against vast world gone dark is stunning.

Thunderdome sucked (although, after a re-watch recently, not as much as I'd once thought – it's actually the second best movie in the trilogy, and if only a few things were changed could be a lot better) for a lot of reasons, and one of them is that it departed from the Western genre for a Hollywood-ized, big-budget, campy halftime show.

Anyway, I take us down memory lane not merely for the sake of nostalgia, but as a jumping off point to explain Fury Road. Because until you understand what genre the movie is, you can't understand the movie.

A Western Super-Hero Movie

Fury Road has many of Road Warrior's strengths: it is at least half a western, and it is jam-packed with dangerous automotive mayhem.

Crucially, it did not make the same mistake as Thunderdome: taking its huge budget and using it for camp. Or, rather there are a few bits that could be campy in other contexts, but because they're so overwhelmed by gasoline, metal, and anger, they don't register as camp: one moment they're a distant dot on the horizon, and the next they're gone, behind, never to be seen again.

So, how well does Fury Road do as a Western? It does decently, but not great. The drifter arrives in town, he accidentally hooks up with the people in need, and he reluctantly agrees to help them. And then, at the end, like a tumbleweed, he drifts on. It checks all the Western boxes, but it does so perfunctorily, without passion …and, on one occasion, without a lot of sense.

Oh, and about the unspoken rule of good westerns? Yes, the amazing shots of the desert are there – boy are they there. But you knew that already, from the trailers.

If I had to put my finger on the one thing that disappointed me about Fury Road it was that it had a bit of superhero genre mixed in. In watching Road Warrior one feels concern for the protagonists and fear over their prospects. The villains are just real enough – one thinks that, yes, two years after the nukes fell and the gas ran out, the most brutal of the biker gangs and the renegade cops could have come to exactly this. In the first third of Road Warrior we see Humongous and his gang murder, rape, and loot outriders from the refinery camp, so we know exactly what they're capable of. Later, when our hero and his charges venture out into the wasteland and into conflict with the villains we know how it might very well end: the vehicles caught, destroyed, captives pulled out, brutally raped, and then crossbow-bolted when they're of no more use.

In contrast to this level of realism, Fury Road turns the dial one more, to eleven, for that push over the cliff. It was an inspired choice, in a way: I'm glad I saw these insane war rigs, I'm glad I saw the gouts of flame, the grenades, the spiked cars, the white skinned lunatics leaping off of moving vehicles to their certain deaths, and more. I've never seen anything like it before, and it was glorious.

…but necessarily, if you're serving up an apple, you're not serving up an orange.

The scale, the craziness, the everything – all at once, in every direction – is shocking, and aweing, and wonderful. …but because it's so much, and so hyper-real, the movie slips away from being a Western and into being a superhero movie. These villains are not what real biker gangs and real cops could have evolved into in the wasteland: these are comic book crazies. In the real world, no one would actually build these vehicles. No one would actually do these things. No one would actually set up this tribe or this economy.

…and thus, because it's so much larger than life, it is not life. In Blade Runner, when Deckard misses his jump at the very end of the movie and is hanging twenty stories above hard pavement I gulp, because the idea of falling twenty stories is a real one. I can picture it. My heart hammers. My palms sweat.

In Fury Road, when Max is standing on top of a war rig hurtling through the desert I'm mostly curious as to what will explode next. There is not a moment of fear about the shear insanity of standing on top of a moving vehicle doing sixty over rough terrain. Think about that: if you're anything like me, just standing on top of the tanker would scare you to the point of needing new underwear. Yet in Fury Road none of it seems real. The violence was glorious and picturesque and insane…but not once was it scary. …because not once was it real.

Fury Road is a superhero movie.

Who is the superhero?

Fury Road is odd. Unlike the previous films in the franchise, there's not one hero, there are two. And, in fact, Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa is at the center of the plot, and at the center of the heart of the film. She drives the action, she drives the truck, she drives the plot. This is a bit odd, given that the movie is called "Mad Max: Fury Road" and not "Imperator Furiosa: Fury Road", but what are you going to do?

That said, Max gets a lot of the action, and even if it's not 51%, there's more than enough to go around.

MRA boycott because Fury Road is feminist propaganda

Someone, I think Roosh V, has announced that Fury Road is feminist propaganda and should be boycotted. There are three reasons that I can think to call a boycott.

First, to put economic pressure on someone. Given the size of the movie industry and the size of the MRA world, I can't imagine that anyone thinks that this might work.

Second, to keep out badthink (the SJW tactic of blockbots, etc.). Say what you will about the MRAs, but I don't think that this is their style.

Third, to create a conspicuous cost to being a member of community, thus serving as an initiation ritual of sorts, and binding the members of the community together.

It's gotta be number three, right?

< shrug >

Moving on:

So, is Fury Road a feminist movie?

I can see why the MRAs say so. It does seem to go out of its way to hit a few feminist tropes – I felt like I was reading bad lesbian science fiction from the 70s once or twice.

Clan of wizened "wise women"? check.

…who live a simpler, more peaceful life? check.

…and have peaceful flower-power hippie names ("Initiating Mother", "Vuvalini of the Many Mothers", "Clan Swaddle Dog", etc.)

…and carry a bag of seeds with them, a symbol of the nurturing protective womb? check.

Pro-forma enunciation that women are not property? check.

Kick-ass heroine, because girls can be just as tough as guys? check.

So, yes, there is a bit of feminism shoe-horned awkwardly into the movie. But it's more silly than objectionable. And, in fact, conservatives will find a lot to chuckle over: the maguffin on the entire chase is the group of young breedable women…and yet not once does anyone suggest that they do anything other than breed. No, a just society, it seems, will still have these women cranking out babies…just under (heh) the good guys, and not the Ugly Old Coot.

Yes, but is Fury Road a feminist movie?

No. Not unless "blowing immense quantities of shit up in a vast barren desert" is a new form of feminism I'm unfamiliar with (and if it is, I promise to give feminism another look-see – that'd be a promising development).

To the degree it's got any ideology, it's about ethics in truck driving: "people should not be slaves, nor should they live under corrupt all-powerful kleptocratic dictatorships".

That strikes me as pretty damned libertarian.

Should you see it?

Yes.

In the theater.

Now.

It's not the perfect movie. It's not even the perfect Mad Max movie. But it is a spectacle of the best kind, and there's no substitute for seeing it the way every western is meant to be seen: spread across a screen as huge as the desert itself.