American Elephants


The Administration Will Not Surrender U.S. Protection of the Open Internet—for Now. by The Elephant's Child

The Obama administration has backed off from its plan to abandon U.S. protection of the open internet in 2015, only a month after announcing its plan to do so. Objections from Bill Clinton, a warning letter from 35 Republican senators, and critical congressional hearings and the administration now says the change won’t happen for years, if ever.

The proposed change is an agreement under which the U.S. retains ultimate control over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as Icann. Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling told Congress last week they can extend the contract for up four years.

A House panel voted along party lines on Thursday to delay the administration’s plan to surrender oversight over certain internet management functions. Republicans worry that the proposal to transfer power to an international nonprofit group could open the door to an Internet takeover by authoritarian regimes.The bill would block the transfer of Internet powers for up to a year while the Government Accountability Office investigates the administration’s plan. The bill now goes to the full Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) argued that the United States should carefully study the proposal before moving forward.”We know what China has done to silence dissent and Vladimir Putin wants to use the powers of the [International Telecommunications Union] to control the internet.”

Democrats accused Republicans of being paranoid. Ranking Democrat Anita Eshoo said “It is not a conspiracy or a digital black helicopter.”

The policy in question is the protection of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS) and the vital Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (ANA)— functions that are the lifeblood of the free flow of information online—linking easy-to-remember domain names to numerical Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. Bill Clinton issued a directive to Commerce in 1997, to maintain “a market-driven policy architecture that will allow the new digital economy to flourish while at the same time protecting citizens’ rights and freedoms.” Icann has worked under the auspices of the federal government since 1998 to perform the oversight role.

Obama wants to forsake these essential protections in the name of global accommodation, potentially allowing countries or even bodies like the United Nations to impose their own definition of internet “freedom.” Obama’s decision would be consistent with his views on net neutrality, recent efforts of the FCC to place monitors in U.S. newsrooms and the Justice Department’s surveillance of professional journalists.

There is significant evidence that international groups are big on the “international” or “we are the world” idea, and not so much concerned about freedom and equal access. Many authoritarian countries already try to control and censor the internet. Not everyone believes in freedom of information—and we have considerable evidence in our own country of the current struggle to control speech that is unpopular or provocative or simply disagrees. The recent flap about NSA surveillance has made many international activists concerned, although Internet freedom would seem to offer Internet surveillance free to all comers.

When Icann’s contract with the federal government expires in 2015, it simply means that one government contractor is no longer responsible for the administration task. It does not mean the federal government has agreed to cede the oversight role. Only a vote of the U.S. Congress could do that.



Too Much Information! Too Much Information! by The Elephant's Child

This has been called “the Information Age,” but that is a misnomer. Think of it this way. Prior to Gutenberg, who came up with the printing press in around 1440, information came in the form of what people said to each other and in material written by scribes. Books written by scribes were not available to ordinary people, who couldn’t read anyway. I suspect our imaginings of their conversations are completely false.

Skimming through centuries you get more efficient presses, eventually powered presses; and books, newspapers and pamphlets becoming more common. Somewhere in there was a town crier. Printed materials had to be carried from one town to another by horseback or wagon. Information was s-l-o-w. Signal flags, mirrors, telegraph, telephone and radio, and of course improved means of transportation — fast clipper ships, and then steam, and railroads. It meant a faster flow of information and more information in the flow.

Think of the subtle changes with the first intercontinental radio transmission, and the Atlantic cable. Our knowledge of Europe, once dependent on the length of time it took a ship to cross the Atlantic suddenly became instantaneous. No wonder Lindberg’s flight was such a big deal. That happened within living memory, in 1927.

Add TV, computers, and cell phones — all going worldwide. We have learned how to use the new inventions as they come along, but our ability to manage the flow of words, pictures, graphs, studies has not even begun to keep up with the technology.

I’m not sure that what we are taught has changed all that much from what we might have learned in 1930. There are changes. The schools no longer think basic math is so important because kids will always have a calculator available, and cursive writing is no longer necessary because all you need is to learn keyboarding. Our young people will be in big trouble if there is an EMP-burst.

But that’s not really what I’m talking about. I’m talking about training in managing the flow. How do you categorize, decide what is important, learn what is true and how to discard the false and silly? Where do you learn how to find accurate information?

Those we once regarded as authority figures have lost their claim to our attention. The media, in general, has abdicated their job as watchdog of the government. Their task has subtly shifted from reporting the news to one of changing the world in their preferred direction. They are partisan and willing to slant the  news, cover-up, and report that which suits their prejudices. But this is true for teachers, professors, clergy, and politicians as well. Our schools are failing to turn out educated children, ditto our universities. Libraries are changing, not always for the better.

Internet use began in 1995 —only 17 years ago, and everything is changing at a speed unimaginable. Huge desktops to tablets to — implants? When radio first came upon the scene they thought it would be a great learning experience. News and symphonies; that’s what they thought television would be too — and that worked out well. So we don’t know where we’re going, but it would be nice if we were getting more intelligent because of it, and I’m not sure that’s the case. I’m not at all sure we’re not getting dumber.



Bill Gates Talks About the Potential for Education and Technology. by The Elephant's Child
August 13, 2010, 6:58 pm
Filed under: Education, Freedom, Science/Technology | Tags: , ,

Everyone except College professors agree that college is too expensive.  Articles have been appearing to that effect in greater frequency recently, some suggesting that big college loans are no longer worth it.  Others suggest that higher education is only the latest of the bubbles waiting to explode.

Bill Gates suggests that education will increasingly become web-centered.  If we can have full-length movies online, with special effects and full color, we can certainly have college-level classes.  The potential for a few supremely effective professors to reach millions over the internet with far more effective presentations than the usual classroom, should have a lot of tenured professors shaking in their tweed jackets.

Education’s interaction with technology has been for the most part unfortunate.  At least in our district, kids no longer learn cursive writing.  The theory is that with an always present keyboard, they don’t need to learn anything beyond printing.  But keyboards are not always present, and the act of writing fixes and clarifies things in the mind.  It allows you to consider what you have written and see where you have been stupid.  Boring math drill is considered no longer necessary when everyone has a calculator.  Silly reasoning.

The potential for transforming education is breathtaking.  The first priority is to get the fingers of the federal government out of public education.




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