Object Lessons: Rantings of a Lone Pamphleteer
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Constitutional Blogging?

A judge in California recently sided with Apple Computer in its lawsuit against bloggers who published confidential trade secrets. It seems Apple Computers wanted the bloggers to divulge their source, bringing up the painful and probing question: are bloggers entitled to journalistic protections?

David Shaw of the LA Times doesn't think so. In an opinion article, he states:

"Given the explosive growth of the blogosphere, some judge is bound to rule on the question one day soon, and when he does, I hope he says the nation's estimated 8 million bloggers are not entitled to the same constitutional protection as traditional journalists — essentially newspaper, magazine, radio and television reporters and editors."

First, the legal question posed by Apple's court case is not whether bloggers have the right to constitutional protections, as Shaw implies, but whether they can publish material protected under other laws, such as trade secret law. (Apple wanted a ruling against shield law protections for bloggers, so it could fire the unnamed employees who leaked trade secrets. The judge sidestepped it.) Certainly a blogger couldn't publish an entire book by their favorite author on their website if it's protected by copyright law (other than public-domain works). But an individual's critique of the book is perfectly legitimate and protected under copyright.

The main question for bloggers' protections is, where is the line drawn? Blogging is a "print" forum insofar as it's written rather than spoken. Obviously the fact that bloggers publish online is not in and of itself a determining factor. If publishing online were the criterion, LA Times' own website would not be protected. So that's not it.

Is training the line, as Shaw suggests at length? Is a journalist with an MA from UNC-CH's journalism program more protected than a journalist with a BA from Podunk U., or a journalist trained on the job? Of course not. Just because bloggers aren't necessarily trained writers doesn't mean that they aren't entitled the same print protections already guaranteed to the new medium. Certainly the Supreme Court has already ruled that online work is protected by copyright.

Is the line drawn only around "legitimate news sources?" Shaw's implication that the formal editing process increases traditional journalism's cache (or improves their right to constitutional protections) is ludicrous. Read the corrections page, sometime, for a laugh. It's a hoot. Shaw also addresses the quality issue. If the quality of the magazine is the determinant, is the Weekly World News less protected than the LA Times? Now, I think they print drivel, but it's still constitutionally protected drivel. As the decision in Hustler v. Falwell implies, it's all protected, even if it's crap.

What about freelancers? Is a journalist with training who leaves their "legitimate" paper to freelance for various journals any less protected than when they were employed by a mega-publishing house? No.

And if that freelancer took his/her degree, training, and rights and started self-publishing a magazine that s/he distributed to friends and neighbors, is his/her work protected? Of course it is.

The point is, in this country, we may not agree with what you say, but we'll defend your right to say it in whatever medium you see fit. Certainly someone who prints out a journal and distributes it by hand has as many rights as the journalist sleeping in his city room, whether or not anyone proofread their work. Just because it's online doesn't make it less worthy of protection. Neither does its quality.

Shaw reference's Shield Laws (First-Amendment protections to journalists) which protect even private citizens from government interference into the publication of an individual's thoughts and ideas. Mr. Shaw misses the point -- a point a lot of journalists miss -- that constitutional protections are not the privilege or purview of any one group, but apply equally to us all.

Of course there is a great deal of trash on the Web, as Shaw points out (both in his text and by example). But journalism, like capitalism, gets weeded by the public. We know a great deal of what's blogged is unchecked and unverified. It's up to the consumer to weed through it, decide on what to believe, and judge a site based on its content and yes, its delivery. Obvious errors or poor grammar steer me clear of crappy sites. Doesn't it you?

Shaw is also forgetting one of our founding father's main tenets in creating journalistic rights. The First-Amendment rights apply equally to the "lone pamphleteer" as to a trained journalist with N degrees. Just because modern media makes it easier for individuals to have their say doesn't make what they have to say any less... protected. Any individual can string together sentences and pay for 'Net connections, true. But we don't forgo our rights as "lone pamphleteers" just because it's easier to self-publish now than it was in the 18th century.

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Is the government the arbiter of good taste?

A recent NY Times article details the hard line new FCC chief Kevin J. Martin is taking on indencency. Now, the FCC and Republicans in congress are trying to dictate decency standards on pay-tv channels. In a letter sent to L. Brent Bozell, president of the Parents Television Council, Martin states:

"Certainly broadcasters and cable operators have significant First Amendment rights, but these rights are not without boundaries," he wrote. "They are limited by law. They also should be limited by good taste."

Since when does the government have the right to dictate American "taste?" It's as outlandish as a government agency setting literary cannons.

Film, television shows, even commercials are more art than information. The government has no right to attempt to dictate good taste. Good taste, like capitalism, is weeded out in the marketplace. Certainly the FCC has no right to tell the viewing public what they can bring into their homes on their own dime.

Martin is right, however, in that the broadcasters have constitutional protections. Is he forgetting that individuals do too?

What worries me most is that it doesn't take long for Americans to lose a few rights, it takes years to get them back.

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Grandbaby Lobster Liberated

Recently, I posted about the Granddaddy lobster found off the coast of Maine. He survived a week in captivity.

His Grandson fared better. Read all about the purchase and re-release of this 35-year-old lobster here.

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The Unofficial Obit

Mrs. Mildred Ivy, 88, March 15, 2005 in Winston-Salem, NC, after a short illness.

Mildred Pauline Jennings was born in 1916, in Attalla County, MS to Willie Palmer and Anna Irene (Gordon) Jennings. One of nine children, Mrs. Ivy was raised in the Ozarks, and attained only a sixth-grade education. She met and married Hamilton Ivy, a man who gave up liquor for her, as she consistently refused to marry a drinking man. The couple married at the height of the Depression, in 1934.

The family lived in Arkansas and Mississippi, where they farmed, ran a daycare out of their home, and raised two daughters, Sue and Janie Pauline, born 10 years apart. Mrs. Ivy ran the cafeteria at a Naval bomb factory during WWII.

The Ivy’s ended up in Huntsville, TX, where both worked for the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, Goree Unit. The Goree Unit was a women’s prison almost until her retirement. She was proud that she only ever got “jumped” once, and was saved by her husband, a guard at the same facility. Captain Ivy was famous among female inmates for giving people a fair deal. Even the Chaplain who cheated with the inmates (“and him a married man”) was treated with the respect his office deserved. It took her years to get rid of him.

During her Texas years, Mrs. Ivy obtained her GED, and took college courses in psychology to advance her career.

In 1980, the prison system reassigned the Goree Unit as a men’s prison. Unwilling to give up her “20 years,” Mrs. Ivy went so far as to retrain on new artillery to maintain her position. The 5’ grandmother shot a bazooka at age 64, an experience she didn’t regret, though after keeling over backwards, she switched from the dress to the pants uniform.

During her 20-year tenure, she received several “Never Missed a Day” awards, which hung on her wall until her death. Mrs. Ivy attained the rank of Captain, Night Warden, a position she held until retiring in 1981. Tragically, her husband, 8 years her senior, passed away only a few months later. Mrs. Ivy lived with Janie’s family in Miami and Brazil before settling in North Carolina. She traveled to Mississippi and Texas for extended stays with her sister, and daughter Sue.

She lived her belief that cleanliness was next to godliness. Her mantra’s resonate simple wisdom: “A place for everything and everything in its place,” and “Nothing to it but to do it.” She lived her life according to her strong Baptist faith, but never judged those who practiced differently, so long as they practiced “in a good, honest church.” She encouraged hard work and education among her family. In her last days, she spoke often of the siblings she had lost. Mrs. Ivy was also proud of having read the Bible in its entirety three times through.

She often said her one regret was not getting all the education she wanted. She is survived by 3 Masters, 6 Bachelors, and ten great-grandchildren, ages 9 to 19.

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Catch of the Day

Yesterday, off the coast of Nantucket, a miracle was hoisted onboard one of Robert Wholey & Co. 's fishing boats. A 22-pound lobster (pictured here with your average Lobster-Fest 1.5 pounder) estimated to be over 100 years old has been relocated to the Philadelphia Zoo, awaiting transport to it's final destination, Ripley's Believe it or Not "Museum."


Here is a grandaddy lobster, who has survived several wars, global warming, pollution, and predators only to be rudely snatched up by a fish market's boat.

I say we send him back from whence he came to live out his life. He should die in the wild. I mean, we seriously have the freakshow mentality when we snatch every lovely thing, every awesome sight, take it out of daily, organic cycles and stick it under glass. Poor thing's shell, when he dies (I give him a month at Ripley's), will be gawked at in their charnel house for eons.

I felt the same way when the Smithsonian suggested stuffing Hsing Hsing, who passed away on November 28, 1999. (They didn't.)

But hey, this is just a big lobster, right?

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