The Illusion of Internet Intermediation

The BBC has printed a short essay by Michael Geist, Ottawa law professor and cyber-dreamer [Ed.: that is unkind] of some renown. Unconvincingly, it is based on an alarmingly obvious inclusion of a useful premise of convenience – in this case the “internet intermediary” – which is not founded in anything under Canadian or Commonwealth law but (perhaps and to be fair) ecumenically inserted to assist in the desired end within the argument:

The case places the spotlight on the liability of internet intermediaries. The importance of the issue extends well beyond just internet service providers – corporate websites that allow for user feedback, education websites featuring chatrooms, or even individual bloggers who permit comments face the prospect of demands to remove content that is alleged to violate the law. The difficult question is not whether these sites and services have the right to voluntarily remove offending content if they so choose – no one doubts that they do – but rather whether sites can be compelled to remove allegedly unlawful or infringing content under threat of potential legal liability.

Since when is a publisher in any medium an uninvolved intermediary? The act of publication is just that – an act. I publish this website and even get meagre ad revenue for doing so. I am actively involved with the process of writing, editing and controlling what you see here – even in the comments that I do not author. I monitor and I remove. That is my responsibility. Some believe that there is a new order in which responsibility is no longer part of presenting a civil public discourse. Mr. Geist is one of the most fervent evangelists for this faith. Yet there is no basis for the proposition in fact – the law is still the law and those responsible for publication are responsible. Hate law and child porm crimes as well as civil libel are still legal structures in place to respond to all ill-advised publication. Who ever promised that they were somehow inapplicable simply because the text appeared on a cathode ray tube and not mashed and rolled out tree fibres?  The best analogy I can find is the party that sells items that need to be in compliace with safety standards and then complains when the product turns out to be a lemon that the pre-existing standards are “red tape”.

This is nothing more than “outta be” law. Wishery.  Short reference is made to the fact that there are legal tests in Canada and the US which ensure a level of responsibility exists – that there is no neutral intermediary status.  And the fact that the US has a law of some nature, the details of which were beyond the scope of the essay, does not make it wise or even relevant for other jurisdictions.  Without an analysis of how the neutral internet intermediary role would/could/should operate and its effect on other forms of publication, the simple allusion to its existence is not very useful.  Alluding to it out as a fully formed alternative simply does not seem appropriate.

Some related links:

Compact Living

Ahh, the suburbs. The nice visitors agreed it is a nice place. And it is. Tree out front. A little landscapery out back. In fact, I have to get some fiskars¹ to get the place a little in order. Lawn is good. A lawn you can lay on and stare at a patch of sky framed by trees and shingled roof-tops as practicing small prop planes share a bit of their arc. We have to work on the closets a bit but that is about it. Compared to the days of the great estate in the valley of the creek amongst the potato fields (and the associated agricultural industrial complex) it is a postage stamp. But I have greater goals than mowing 4 acres twice a week now.

The compact living that we leave is good, too. The place of the twenty-five surrogate grannies, the good man who minds the furnace and the pool. The pool.

¹Fiskars I tell you – can you imagine the Flea with fiskars? I am going to break the whole fiskar blogging scene wide open.

Rob Moves Past The Tipping Point

Rob has written something very interesting and has packed in his faith that a tipping point is coming. I suppose my first inclination to find this interesting is based on the fact that I have never been a tipping-pointer or a dichotomist. The world and human participation in it is too complex. But the human perception and reaction to the world often is not. Because we like to sift for clues and establish principles mainly to give us comfort and get us through the day.

You only have to look at the reaction in Canadian political blogs over the war in Lebanon to witness the drive to simplify and give oneself comfort. Canada has a large Lebanese population in the area of the bombing and shelling so the natural reaction is to distance ourselves from their Canadian-ness as the reason for the bombing is justified. So these citizens for some become “Canadians of convenience.” Both sides in the conflict have endured misery for decades but as it is too hard to carry the weight in ourselves for all of them, we pick a side and give more validity to the life and death of a baby born to one side or another…but not both. With the news this morning of the death of a Canadian soldier at a UN post under Isreali bombardment, I am now bracing to read some fool say that it was somehow the fault of the generic boogieman socialism or even the fault of that soldier at his or her post – look out for the obscenity “heh, peacekeeper“. There is no end to what one can think when one has abandoned shame in favour of the need to simplify and justify for our own comfort.

But it is not only in crisis that we see this and, if you pardon the illustrative diversion above, that is where Rob has found himself:

Until very recently, I thought that the rules of the adoption curve or the Tipping Point would apply and that eventually everyone would “get it.” I no longer believe this to be true. I see no signs of any airline other than AMR going the Southwest Culture route. I see no signs of the US or Israeli military matching their asynchronous opponents. I see no signs of the Commercial media other than Murdoch making a shift to true particpation.

Interestingly, and to continue with the tangents, the same sort of idea struck me when I was reading Brewing Up A Business by Sam Calagione of the rightfully praised Dogfish Head brewery of Delaware. Throughout the book, which is more about being an entrepreneur than about the beer, the basic question is asked “how can I make the customer happy though my product?” The thing is your product will make the customer happy and it will also not. It will not provide complete happiness as the same customer will also like other beers – even maybe PBR at certain moments – or chewing gum or watching CSI reruns or junky used cars. But that complexity is not really the interest of the entrepreneur – all that matters is that entrepreneur’s success. This means addressing the particular need of the customer…but not all need.

Back to Rob, that is why there will never be a tipping point given a slow set of changes like the internet provides – and digitization and optic fibre and other innovations of the late 20th century before it. Most people will still like postcards, the telephone and email. Many people will still like to pay cash at the grocery for milk even if they are prepared to use paypal on eBay or give their credit card to Amazon. Many will kick at the wonder that is western-style socialism which they blame for everything (including in large part their own failings of imagination) and yet rush to the emergency room with a rough cough whipping out the medicare card, demanding service now. Many will consider their own children different than those dying in the Congo or Iraq or Lebanon. Because we are too complex and have to deal with ourselves in a too complex world.

So what does this mean for Rob? It is right that some will get it as only some get anything. Everyone gets something just that much of what is gotten has no commerical, social or political value. It is what we each like because it is what we are each like. Some apparently do not even get the fact that the Blue Jays are worth disliking. But if you get all that there is a way to get ahead…and not just by getting a hat. It has something to do with accepting the inherent belief system described above and how it provides infinite choice among all the variables to grant the dignity of singularity…and the Jays sucking.

Western Swing

When the Red Sox play the AL West it is worse than interleague. First, they appear able to lose against the AL West. Second, when they do lose it happens at 2 am EST so you have wasted an evening and gotten a rotten sleep thrown in for good measure.

By the way – and milking the double entendre for all it is worth – playing a guitar after a couple of weeks of mandolin is very weird. There is all this space between the strings.

Depressing Statistics

From the BBC and its Editor’s Blog (formerly and futurely known as an Editorial Page):

  • Around 30 to 40 people are killed every day in the current Israel/Lebanon conflict.
  • About 100 people are killed every day in the violence in Iraq.
  • And 1,200 people are killed every day in the war in the Congo.

Each is enough to daze you for the day. Together, worse. Being honest about the order of importance given and we give to each, worse still.

Beer Science: Pabst Against Pabst


Ever since my pal portland came up with the phrase beer-tasting water, I have been a little too obsessed with Pabst Blue Ribbon. But then I realized I had a unique opportunity to perform my sort of science experiment: a side-by-side comparison of a PBR from the US against one brewed under license in Canada by Sleeman of Guelph. Even though any possible outcome of this project will not advance the human condition one bit, I took on the challenge.

pabst1First, I noticed the price. A six of Canadian PBR is $7.50 at the LCBO. The US version was $4.60 at a gas station on 12E, east of Watertown, NY. I knew I was getting ripped off, too, as I had seen $3.29 for the six at another place that was sold out. Then I noticed the cans. There is clearly more blue ribbon on the PBR stateside. Does this matter? I suppose not. Both also have the River Plate red sash which is quite natty.

pabst3To be honest, the beers taste pretty much the same – sort of bland, the pablum of beers yet without off flavours and somehow comforting. Like pablum, no self respecting adult would look forward to the taste but, once presented with it (like a new father feeding pablum to his little baby for the first time and scraping it off his hands knees and forehead), one is less turned off than one might expect. Yet the Canadian version, right in all pictures, is clearly a notch lighter and by the end of the glass as it warms and the bubbles die away it maybe even more watery.

What have we learned? Not much. Except I have ten more in the fridge.