We can’t decide if it’s mendacity or incompetence

The US Justice Department, apparently tired of fielding lawful Freedom of Information Act queries, has denied a request seeking access to their database on foreign lobbyists on the grounds that copying the information would crash the system housing the data, which is wrong on so many levels as to defy description. This response basically says “making backups will make it crash,” which implies they have no backups, which implies widespread negligence in DOJ’s IT halls.

Of course, they could just be liars who don’t want to share information with the public about what they do. But I’m sure our government would NEVER lie to us, right?

We’re going for a drink now.

In Which Engadget Helps You Out

In a delightful feature, Engadget’s Phillip Torrone walks us through something we geeks have known for a long time: Windows defaults to allowing any inserted CD to run whatever it wants when inserted. This is an enormous security hole, and in fact will be disabled in the next version/patch of XP. This article will allow you to get ahead of the game and disable the behavior — called “autorun” — for yourself. Everyone using a Windows computer should do this.

That disabling autorun also disables most kinds of CD copy protection is not a coincidence; for those DRM tools to work, they have to install software on your computer that explicitly prevents you from, say, copying the CD to your hard drive to listen to at work. Such software is always installed on the sly, of course, because few of us would allow the installation if they were honest with us. Because such DRM programs are unwelcome payloads installing and executing without our permission, they fall into exactly the same category as all sorts of other spy programs and malware, and consequently are blocked by precisely the same security measure. Remember, it’s your computer, and your CD.

(“But wait!” you must be thinking. “Aren’t the DRM folks and record labels smarter than this? Surely, Mr Heathen, they’re not this stupid.” I’m afraid they are, gentle reader; in fact, the author of one DRM system — the one used on the aforementioned Velvet Revolver disc — were going to sue a Princeton student for $10 million when he wrote a paper noting that pressing the shift key at the right time (which temporarily disables autorun) bypassed their system.

Politics vs. Science Yet Again

According to the LA Times (registration required; see below):

The Bush administration has ordered that government scientists must be approved by a senior political appointee before they can participate in meetings convened by the World Health Organization, the leading international health and science agency. A top official from the Health and Human Services Department in April asked the WHO to begin routing requests for participation in its meetings to the department’s secretary for review, rather than directly invite individual scientists, as has long been the case.

So far, WHO has refused to play along, saying it could compromise scientific independence. One scientist, Dr. D. A. Henderson, said he could not recall ever needing to go through such a step in 11 years working for WHO, except in the cases of some “small, Eastern European countries.” For their part, the Administration says the WHO’s longstanding policy has “not always resulted in the most appropriate selections;” presumably, we should trust politicians for that selection over the scientific community.

As for registration, use BugMeNot.com, which will give you a username of “registrationsuxxx” and a password of “regsux” for the LA Times. They’ve got logins for everywhere. The Heathen love BugMeNot.

What happens when actual journalists interview Bush

Irish RTE correspondent Carole Coleman submitted her questions three days in advance, and then got this interview. Bush faired predictably poorly, as you can see (8mb Real file).

The White House responded to this interview by lodging a complaint with the Irish embassy over Coleman’s “rudeness,” which in this case means “actually being a reporter who tries to get actual answers instead of the pablum US officials are used to providing.” RTE (Coleman’s employer) stands by their reporter.

At one point, we had real journalists who asked hard questions of officials in our country. Apparently, they’ve all moved to Ireland.

(More commentary at Madison’s Capital Times as well as at lies.com.)

Orrin Hatch wants to make iPods illegal

No, really. The INDUCE act is pretty broad in language, and I think we’ve learned at this point to NEVER believe bill authors who say “but we’ll only use this in special context XYZ, so you don’t have to worry! Of course, there’s no need to codify that in the bill! Trust us!”

There’s more coverage of Congress’ coddling of the RIAA/MPAA cabal at Wired. Not all these proposed laws are scary, but many are way out there. The PIRATE act will open the door for the Justice Department to file copyright infringement lawsuits, theoretically freeing the RIAA from the time and expense of suing all those 12-year-olds and grandmothers. Pay attention!

Update: there’s also an obsessively annotated version of the INDUCE act online, natch.

Pay attention. The computer you save could be your own.

There is now an Internet Explorer based virus that is so dangerous and virulent that the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), a division (since 9/11) of the Department of Homeland Security, is formally suggesting that “Explorer users consider other browsers that are not affected by the attack, such as Mozilla, Mozilla Firefox, Netscape and Opera.”

You can easily download Mozilla, or its browser-only sibling, Firefox, from Mozilla.org. Do so. They’re free.

Because they’re, you know, all about Family Values and shit

Two items:

  1. Illinois pretty boy and GOP senatorial candiate Jack “Not the Tom Clancy One” Ryan has had a bad week, as a media lawsuit to open his divorce record released statements from his ex-wife, Jeri “7 of 9” Ryan, complaining that he’d taken her to sex clubs in New York, New Orleans, and Paris and pressured her to “perform” with him in front of other people. We’re all about getting our freak on here at Heathen, but we’re also pretty sure the platform Ryan supports doesn’t include doing so in sex clubs. The only way this story would be better would be if he’d pulled these stunts at Trekkie conventions.
  2. Watch for Cheney’s poeple to spin this one like mad, but yesterday on the Senate floor our esteemed Veep suggested to Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont that he should “fuck himself” after Leahy took Cheney to task for war profiteering through Halliburton and for calling Leahy a “bad Catholic” for maintaining a pro-Choice position. Classy move, Dick, and yet another example of the fine Family Values exemplified by the GOP.

Surely Jupiter can do better than this

We covered Cory Doctorow’s DRM talk here last week. It’s clear, well-reasoned, and covers a lot of ground. It’s also structured in such a way that both experts and neophytes can follow his analysis.

That industry people with stakes in DRM disagree with Cory is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the amazingly half-assed way in which Jupiter Research’s Michael Gartenberg did so. Without saying how Cory is wrong about DRM’s fundamental conceptual problems, he insists that nevertheless Cory IS wrong, and that he’ll be happy to explain why to paying customers (he also positions his pseudo-argument in a “what customers will put up with” way, which says an awful lot).

Er, right, Michael. Of course, given that way the music industry seems content to buy snake oil, maybe this is all the sales pitch they need.

This, however, is

A coalition of tech heavyweights — including Intel, Sun, Verizon, SBC, BellSouth, and others — are supporting a proposal by Virgina Representative Rick Boucher to substantially defang the anti-circumvention provisions of the much-maligned, anti-Fair-Use Digital Millenium Copyright Act. The DMCA is the law that makes it illegal to bypass copy protection for any reason, even if the goal is something traditionally protected by the doctrine of Fair Use, such as copying a CD for use on your computer (or, in an earlier era, dubbing CDs to tape for use in the car). The anti-circumvention provisions are the sort of thing that give Jack Valenti wood, but they’re terrible for consumers — and for innovation.

CNET’s coverage is well worth reading.

Well, with McCain out, he’s clearly the logical choice

Scan through this content-free article to the end, and you’ll find a gem:

While in Colorado, Kerry made a quick stop in Aspen for a $500,000 fund-raiser at the home of Michael Goldberg, president of Miami-based airline leasing company Aerolease International. Kerry invited Aspen resident and writer Hunter S. Thompson to ride in his motorcade and brought three copies of Thompson’s book about the 1972 presidential race, “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail” for autographs. “Just to put your minds all at ease, I have four words for you that I know will relieve you greatly,” Kerry told the fund-raiser. “How does this sound — Vice President Hunter Thompson.”

Via jwz.

Dick Cheney is a Big, Fat, Shameless Liar

And our press corps SUCKS. Administration officials are lying with confidence that they won’t be called on it. See the discussion at Daily Howler (about halfway down to the BORGER’S RETREAT headline) or at Fair.org of his appearance on MSNBC with Gloria Borger. To summarize, here’s a bit:

Borger: Well, let’s get to Mohamed Atta for a minute because you mentioned him as well. You have said in the past that it was, quote, “pretty well confirmed.” Cheney: No, I never said that. Borger: OK. Cheney: I never said that. Borger: I think that is . . . Cheney: Absolutely not. (…)

Of course, there’s also this from his appearance on Meet the Press on 12/9/2001:

What we now have s developed since you and I last talked, Tim [Russert], of course, was that report that — it’s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.

And we impeach people for lying about blow jobs? Christ.

More on Velvet Revolver

Professor Felton has a few bits to say on the subject over at Freedom to Tinker.

Also, I’ll note that there is actually a way to get the tracks onto an iPod: buy the album in compressed, digital format from the iTunes Music Store. However, this gives you what is obviously an inferior copy, and the issues associated with Apple’s DRM are the same fundamental problems any such system faces.

In other news, it appears that the Beastie Boys have fallen into the same trap, making their new record another one I’d buy but for the DRM, particularly given reports that the disc installs software without asking upon being loaded in the owner’s computer (and this time, it’s true of both Windows and Macs).

“Etics. It’s what separates us from the animals, the beasts of burden, beasts of prey.”

Remember that “GOP aide steals Democratic memos” problem a while back that finally resulted in someone being forced to resign?

The guy who resigned — Manuel Miranda — has been named the president of the new Ethics in Nominations Project, the group whose job it will be to prevent such unethical behavior in the future.

I think Mike’s reaction is about right.

In which we find ourselves in an ethical quandry

BMG has released the eagerly anticipated — at least by me — Velvet Revolver CD with some goofball DRM on it which purports to prevent ripping to MP3. Instead, the CD has a CD-ROM area on it with some Windows Media format files on it, for use on computers and some portable devices.

Leaving behind for a moment how wholly wrongheaded DRM schemes are — see the other post, on Cory Doctorow’s speach, for more on this — the Windows files are useless to me and to anyone else who uses the most popular digital audio player, Apple’s iPod, which doesn’t play Microsoft’s format (big surprise).

The other point is even weirder: the DRM scheme in question (Sunncomm’s) is hopelessly broken. Much was made of it a few months back, especially when it surfaced that you could circumvent their “copy protection” by holding down the shift key at the right moment. Of course, doing so for any reason is technically illegal under the DMCA, even if your goal — say, putting the Velvet Revolver tracks on your iPod — is completely within the realm of fair use. (That’s what DRM is really about: limiting your choices as a consumer. No DRM yet exists, or can exist, that will stop truly motivated pirates — by this, I mean folks who seek to make money from the counterfeited goods; remember, if the content owners had had their way in the early days of the VCR, it would have been dead on arrival.)

So here’s the issue: I’m steadfastly opposed to any such DRM. I agree with Cory; I think it’s wrong and stupid, and it treats your customers like thieves. Do I stand on principle and refuse to buy the CD for this reason, or do I buy it and rip it anyway, since I know the DRM in place is a paper tiger?

And a bit more on Digital Rights Managment

SF author and EFF evangelist Cory Doctorow gave this talk at Microsoft discussing why DRM is a bad idea. His main points:

  1. That DRM systems don’t work
  2. That DRM systems are bad for society
  3. That DRM systems are bad for business
  4. That DRM systems are bad for artists
  5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT

Read the piece. Really. Pay particular attention to the first point: there’s a very simple reason why DRM cannot work as advertised, and he makes this point very, very clear.