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Subject: [IP] House Passes Bill to Raise Indecency

  • From: David Farber <>
  • To: Ip <>
  • Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005 19:13:36 -0500

Title: &nbsp;House Passes Bill to Raise Indecency

------ Forwarded Message
From: Bob Frankston <>
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2005 18:48:10 -0500
To: Dave Farber <>
Cc: David Isenberg <>
Subject: House Passes Bill to Raise Indecency

I realize the etiquette is to just forward stories with little comment but this, coupled with my comments from these weekend and the evolution controversy are part of a whole and it's important to see their relationship if we are not to cede on particulars just because there are &quot;bigger&quot; issues. There are just a lot of small issues that accumulate.

This is a depressing postscript to Powell's talk. He emphasized that &quot;we&quot; voted for decency laws. I remember Larry Lessig trying to pin him down on this issue last summer. I was hoping then that he was merely being political but listening to him and speaking to him it seems to go far deeper.

On one of the panels a speaker said that Supreme Court had &quot;red lined&quot; the principle that the FCC trumped the first amendment. I tried to look up the term but couldn't find a definition (I presume that all words are in legalese and not English). Is it similar to Black Letter Law -- something that is just assumed without there being a doubt?

To those who wonder why I care so much about educating people about how systems evolve .. this is just a depressing reminder of how fundamental the concepts are. A key concept in evolution is that there is no intrinsic meaning in the bits be they DNA or IP packets. Intelligent design presumes meaning is fundamental and you can't reinterpret the intent. But the hidden hand, it is demonstrably false because we do this kind of reinterpretation all the time and ambiguity is fundamental.

Only those at the end points of an exchange know if 7 (AKA 111) &nbsp;is a color or a day of the week. Unfortunately because we communicate in the clear, it's too easy to read the ASCII and presume that the meaning is inherent in those bits. It's one more reason to encrypt -- it's not that we are hiding anything -- we are just preventing misunderstanding.

Suppression of knowledge in the name of decency does real harm as in the current jihad to suppress knowledge of sex and replace it with moralistic lies. See Kristof's column on Bush's Sex Scandal ( in today's NYT.

I purposely refer to the Federal Speech Commission since it interprets it's &quot;communications&quot; mission in terms of regulating the meaning of communications. This is a correct definition of the term but the mission is based the false assumption that the transport and meaning are one. I am curious about what it means to teach the FSC staff about &quot;IP&quot; if the basic concept of separating meaning from transport is not emphasized let alone explained. Can anyone who has been through this training tell me what they are really taught?

As George Lakoff has pointed out, we are dealing a conceptual gulf and a framing problem. After all, so what if kids are confused about evolution -- as long as they can do calculus why does it matter? And so what if we ban certain sounds from the airwaves just because they offend people? After all, Powell has said he wasn't going to regulate subscription broadcasts because ... well, what is the distinction? It's harder to accidentally hear such a broadcast because the v-Chip will protect us? Or because only rich people can subscribe so the poor folk can remain complacent and ignorant -- and left behind.

I find myself arguing against exceptions for XM as I do for excepting Vonage from being treated like a phone company. As a strategy it is often better to fall back to a defensible position and I do agree with starting a fresh with an &quot;IP freedom&quot; bill rather than reworking telecom and maybe today's services are write-offs.

But if the support for decency is far deeper there's no reason to assume that speech over any particular transport is safe nor is access to knowledge.

I'll close with one comment on evolution -- the problem with I/D is that it seeks to explain what doesn't exist. In my updated analogy --- when one asks why is it safe to cross streets (in general) the answer is that's a silly question -- why would we have streets if they weren't safe. We don't build streets we can't cross. What does it mean to ask &quot;why&quot; -- is one looking for the proximate cause or a deeper meaning. I/D is about finding solace in the one true meaning rather than being able to accept fundamental ambiguity. One keeps asking till one finds a comfort rather than understanding.

&quot;we&quot;, as Powell said, want decency -- or, to put it another way, we will punish those who make us uncomfortable at half a million dollars a word. At least we have a price for free speech.

From Reuters. <;storyID=2005-02-16T224039Z_01_N16213684_RTRIDST_0_NEWS-CONGRESS-DECENCY-DC.XML>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation boosting fines on broadcasters and entertainers who violate on-air decency rules to as much as
$500,000 per incident.
For the second time in 12 months, House lawmakers voted to increase fines and require the Federal Communications Commission to consider revoking a broadcaster's license after three violations of indecency rules.

The current maximum fine is $32,500. Last year the House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise on legislation to boost fines despite several high-profile incidents

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