Court kills FCC plan to regulate internet providers

A court rules that the FCC may not regulate internet providers, so as to require “net neutrality.”

The Federal Communications Commission does not have the legal authority to slap Net neutrality regulations on Internet providers, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. unanimously tossed out the FCC’s August 2008 cease and desist order against Comcast, which had taken measures to slow BitTorrent transfers before voluntarily ending them earlier that year.

Because the FCC “has failed to tie its assertion” of regulatory authority to an actual law enacted by Congress, the agency does not have the power to regulate an Internet provider’s network management practices, wrote Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Tuesday’s decision could doom one of the signature initiatives of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat. Last October, Genachowski announced plans to begin drafting a formal set of Net neutrality rules–even though Congress has not given the agency permission to do so. That push is opposed by Verizon and other broadband providers.

Comcast welcomed the ruling in a statement that said: “Our primary goal was always to clear our name and reputation.” The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the cable industry’s lobby group, elaborated by saying that Comcast and its other members will “continue to embrace a free and open Internet as the right policy.”

Supporters of Net neutrality claim that new Internet regulations or laws are necessary to prevent broadband providers from restricting content or prioritizing one type of traffic over another. Broadband providers and many conservative and free-market groups, on the other hand, say that some of the proposed regulations would choke off new innovations and could even require awarding e-mail spam and telemedicine the identical priorities.

Net neutrality proponents responded to Tuesday’s ruling by saying the FCC should slap landline-style regulations on Internet providers, which could involve price regulation, service quality controls, and technological mandates. The agency “should immediately start a proceeding bringing Internet access service back under some common carrier regulation,” Public Knowledge’s Gigi Sohn said. The Media Access Project said, without mentioning common carrier regulations directly, that the FCC must have the “ability to protect the rights of Internet users to access lawful content and services of their choice.”

via Court: FCC has no power to regulate Net neutrality | Politics and Law – CNET News.

Both sides wrap themselves in the mantle of freedom of the internet! Which has the better claim?

It seems to me that if users do not like their internet provider preventing them from going to a download site that will tax the system, they could get another internet provider.  This sounds like exactly what could be regulated by the free market.  It further seems that  government regulation like this is can only harm the internet and the economy.   Why should the government  force all providers to offer everything on the internet?  I would think there would be a market for an internet provider that, for example, agreed to block pornography.  That does not restrict freedom, since users would be free to go to another provider that gave them what they want.  And surely private businesses should have their own freedom to operate as they see fit.

Am I missing something?

3-D, or not 3-D

That is the question in today’s film industry. “Avatar” was a huge hit, with ground-breaking technological innovations that brought 3-D filmmaking back to life.  But now scores of movie makers are rushing to convert movies already in the can to 3-D.  That’s what happened with “Alice in Wonderland” and now with “Clash of the Titans.”   “Avatar”-director and innovator James Cameron, along with other purists, are scorning these 3-D effects on the cheap, claiming they are inferior.  But many movie goers can’t tell the difference.  “Prince Caspian” and the upcoming Harry Potter movies are all converting to the 3-D illusions.

Can you tell the difference?  Does it matter?  Are people just going to otherwise bad movies just to see the 3-D spectacle?  How long before that gets old?

See Conversion of Movies to 3-D Draws Mixed Reactions – NYTimes.com.

Global warming policies vs. Africa

The veteran civil rights activist Roy Innis is blasting the administration for the way its policies to combat the alleged global warming are devastating Africa:

The president signed an executive order requiring that the Overseas Private Investment Corp. (OPIC) and other federal agencies reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with their projects by 30 percent over the next 10 years. The order undermines the ability of sub-Saharan African nations to achieve progress in energy and economic and human rights.

Ghana is trying to build a 130-megawatt, gas-fired power plant to bring electricity’s blessings to more of its people, schools, hospitals and businesses. Today, almost half of Ghanaians never have access to electricity, or they get it only a few hours a week, leaving their futures bleak.

Most people in Ghana are forced to cook and heat with wood, crop wastes or dung, says Franklin Cudjoe, director of the Imani (Hope) Center for Policy and Education, in Accra. The indoor air pollution from these fires causes blindness, asthma and severe lung infections that kill a million women and young children every year. Countless more Africans die from intestinal diseases caused by eating unrefrigerated, spoiled food.

But when Ghana turned to its U.S. “partner” and asked OPIC to support the $185 million project, OPIC refused to finance even part of it – thus adding as much as 20 percent to its financing cost. Repeated across Africa, these extra costs for meeting “climate change prevention” policies will threaten numerous projects and prolong poverty and disease for millions.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 800 million people, 80 percent of whom live on less than $2.50 per day. More than 700 million people – twice the population of the United States and Canada combined – rarely or never have access to the lifesaving, prosperity-creating benefits of electricity, Mr. Cudjoe notes.

Even in South Africa, the most advanced nation in the region, 25 percent of the populace still has no electricity. Pervasively insufficient electrical power has meant frequent brownouts that have hampered factory output and forced gold and diamond mines to shut down because of risks that miners would suffocate in darkness deep underground. The country also suffers from maternal mortality rates 36 times higher than in the United States and tuberculosis rates 237 times higher.

And yet Mr. Obama told his Ghanaian audience last July that Africa is gravely “threatened” by global warming, which he argues “will spread disease, shrink water resources and deplete crops,” leading to more famine and conflict. Africa, he says, can “increase access to power while skipping – leapfrogging – the dirtier phase of development,” by using its “bountiful” wind, solar, geothermal and biofuels energy.

via INNIS: Obama keeps Africa in the dark – Washington Times.

Mr. Innis and his co-author (I believe his son) go on to explain why that just doesn’t work. Africa just needs electricity, like the rest of us. Meanwhile, those of us who have electricity, along with virtually everything else we need, have the luxury of ideological purity applied to others, though not ourselves.

China’s decree to journalists & bloggers

We have posted about the conflict between still-communist China and Google.  The “Washington Post” has obtained a translation of the instructions from the Chinese government to its web journalists and bloggers, explaining what they will not be allowed to talk about. From China’s instructions on reporting on Google:

All chief editors and managers:

Google has officially announced its withdrawal from the China market. This is a high-impact incident. It has triggered netizens' discussions which are not limited to a commercial level. Therefore please pay strict attention to the following content requirements during this period:

A. News section:

1. Only use Central Government main media (website) content; do not use content from other sources.

2. Reposting must not change title.

3. News recommendations should refer to Central government main media websites.

4. Do not produce relevant topic pages; do not set discussion sessions; do not conduct related investigative reporting.

5. Online programs with experts and scholars on this matter must apply for permission ahead of time. This type of self-initiated program production is strictly forbidden.

6. Carefully manage the commentary posts under news items.

B. Forums, blogs and other interactive media sections:

1. It is not permitted to hold discussions or investigations on the Google topic.

2. Interactive sections do not recommend this topic, do not place this topic and related comments at the top.

3. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which attack the Party, State, government agencies, Internet policies with the excuse of this event.

4. All websites please clean up text, images and sound and videos which support Google, dedicate flowers to Google, ask Google to stay, cheer for Google and others have a different tune from government policy.

5. On topics related to Google, carefully manage the information in exchanges, comments and other interactive sessions.

6. Chief managers in different regions please assign specific manpower to monitor Google-related information; if there is information about mass incidents, please report it in a timely manner.

We ask the Monitoring and Control Group to immediately follow up monitoring and control actions along the above directions; once any problems are discovered, please communicate with respected sessions in a timely manner.

This is what it means to live in a totalitarian country, one that recognizes none of the rights that we take for granted here.

Google stops censoring itself for China

Google may have stopped being evil, deciding to stop kow-towing to  still-Communist China’s demands that it block searches on forbidden topics, such as “Tiananminh Square” and “Tibet.”  Why?  Google is responding to what appears to be a Chinese attempt to hack into its operations and steal its technology:

Google Inc., following through on a pledge to stop censoring search results in China, began serving mainland Chinese users via its unfiltered Hong Kong site, a move that could prompt the government to block the service.

The company began redirecting traffic from its Google.cn site to Hong Kong, a part of the country that isn’t subject to censorship laws. The move, which escalates a two- month dispute with the government over censorship, was “totally wrong,” the official Xinhua news agency said.

By relying on Hong Kong, Google is trying to find a way to fight censorship laws while still keeping a presence in mainland China. The approach may not work for long because the government will probably block the site, called Google.com.hk, just as it has before with the main Google.com page, said Ben Schachter, an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech Inc. in San Francisco.

“It’s very likely that Google.com.hk will be blocked at least as aggressively as Google.com was and, more likely, probably more aggressively,” he said.

The company challenged the government of the world’s most populous country in January by threatening to allow all search results to be shown on its China Web site, including references to Tibet and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Google has about 600 employees in the country. Google.cn included the search engine, Google News and Google Images.

“The Chinese government has been crystal clear throughout our discussions that self-censorship is a non-negotiable legal requirement,” Google said in a blog post. “We believe this new approach of providing uncensored search in simplified Chinese from Google.com.hk is a sensible solution to the challenges we’ve faced — it’s entirely legal and will meaningfully increase access to information for people in China.”

Google fell $2.50 to $557.50 in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. The shares have declined 10 percent this year. . . .

Google, the world’s top search engine, threatened to stop censoring content after reporting that its computers had been hacked from within China. The company said its systems were targeted by “highly sophisticated” attacks aimed at obtaining proprietary information, as well as personal data belonging to human-rights activists who use the company’s Gmail e-mail service.

The Chinese government denied that it was involved in the attacks, Xinhua reported.

At least 20 other international companies in technology, finance and chemicals were similarly targeted, Google said at the time.

“We also made clear that these attacks and the surveillance they uncovered — combined with attempts over the last year to further limit free speech on the Web in China including the persistent blocking of Web sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google Docs and Blogger — had led us to conclude that we could no longer continue censoring our results on google.cn,” Google said on the blog.

via Google Stops Censorship, Making Block by China Likely (Update1) – BusinessWeek.

Technology to detect art forgeries

Dartmouth researchers have devised a way to use technology to detect art forgeries:

Sparse coding technology has long been an important tool in neuroscience research, allowing scientists to quantitatively determine how optical information is represented by neurons in the brain. Dartmouth researchers have recently extended its use to the field of quantitative art authentication, or stylometry.

By using sparse coding technology to mathematically analyze and compare drawings by famed Flemish artist Pieter Bruegel with a known set of imitations, the researchers were able to distinguish between the genuine works and the forgeries. James Hughes, Daniel Graham, and Daniel Rockmore in the computer science and math departments describe their findings in the paper, “Quantification of artistic style through sparse coding analysis in the drawings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder” recently published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sparse coding technology was developed to emulate the human visual system. To translate the complex images first detected by eyes to the simpler models found in the brain, our visual system uses a number of “filter” neurons. These neurons are triggered by specific patterns in the image. The brain has evolved to efficiently identify many predictable patterns found throughout the natural world and is consequently able to minimize the number of filters required per natural image. Conversely, the brain requires many more filters to model images that it has not been previously exposed to.

Hughes, Graham, and Rockmore applied these ideas to their own art authentication technology. Essentially, they imagined a visual system that had evolved while being exposed only to Bruegel drawings. Thus, it would process Bruegel drawings using few filters but would have to use many more when looking at anything else—including Bruegel forgeries.

To create this model the researchers obtained a number of genuine and fake Bruegel drawings. They digitally broke the authentic works up into smaller pieces and using sparse coding technology identified the smallest or “sparsest” set of those pieces that could be used as filters. This set of filters essentially quantified Bruegel’s unique artistic style by capturing properties repeated throughout the artist’s works.

via DUJS Online » Dartmouth researchers spot art forgeries using sparse coding technology.

Good invention! It might not catch all forgeries, though. A problem in the modern art market is how to detect a genuine Jackson Pollock, whose major works consist of random spills of paint on canvas. Forgeries have come on the market that were made in exactly the same way and so look essentially the same. A genuine Pollock is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A fake Pollock is worthless. But how to tell them apart?

There actually is a way to tell sometimes.
This account of the Pollock forgery below describes how the fake painting was found to contain paint compounds that did not exist until after the artist’s death.

Which is the real Jackson Pollock?
The work on the left is a fake; the one on the right is genuine.

Why does it matter? If a fake Rembrandt looks as good as a real one, why can’t we just enjoy it anyway? (There is an answer to that.)

HT: Joe Carter


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