Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

December 6, 2002

The inaudible majority

This sort of thing scares me:

For example, under authority it already has or is asserting in court cases, the administration, with approval of the special Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, could order a clandestine search of a U.S. citizen’s home and, based on the information gathered, secretly declare the citizen an enemy combatant, to be held indefinitely at a U.S. military base. Courts would have very limited authority to second-guess the detention, to the extent that they were aware of it.

That’s from a recent Washington Post article pointed out by Doc Searls. Keep in mind that the administration asserting this power is the executive branch of the United States government, not, say the Soviet Union or China. Our own government is trying to claim the authority to detain anyone with no oversight.

The arrogance of the Bush administration continues to astound me. First, consider the way they claim that this sort of thing is expected during wartime. Consider also these facts: (1) only the Congress can declare war, (2) the Congress has not declared war. Conclusion: we are not at war. We can talk about the War on Terrorism all we want, but it is ultimately no more an actual war than the War on Drugs or the War on Poverty.

Second, consider this bit from the article:

Civil libertarians insist that the courts should searchingly review Bush’s actions, so that he is always held accountable to an independent branch of government. Administration officials, however, imply that the main check on the president’s performance in wartime is political—that if the public perceives his approach to terrorism is excessive or ineffective, it will vote him out of office.

Uh-huh. So, if the Bush administration abuses its power, we don’t need to worry because we can vote them out of office. In 2004. Yeah, that sounds like a great plan. Heck, why even bother with those other two branches of government? All we need is the executive, and if it acts up we can vote it out of office! Why didn’t our founders think of that?

If the administration really intended to use its power only against terrorists, why would it be fighting so hard against judicial oversight? Why is it trying to keep everything as secret as possible? The public has an image of George Bush as a well-meaning idiot, and while it’s true that the man can’t seem to speak English, I suspect the whole truth is much worse. At best, Mr Bush simply wants to make sure no damaging information ever gets out about himself. That’s why he resisted creating an independent investigation into the World Trade Center attacks, and then appointed Henry Kissinger to lead it. That’s why we’ll never know who was at Dick Cheney’s secret energy task force meetings.

Where is the opposition? Why aren’t the Democrats fighting this? Why aren’t the conservatives fighting this? Isn’t this exactly the sort of invasive, Big Government thing the militia were warning us about? As Britt Blaser points out, conservatives and liberals have plenty of common ground here:

It’s not Republicans vs. Democrats or conservatives vs. liberals, it’s us vs. THEM. People vs. big organizations using people’s money against people’s interests. If you’re against big government-as you should be-then also oppose companies big enough to influence governments.

We can’t let the Bush administration get away with chanting “War on Terror!” whenever someone tries to criticize them. There is seriously scary stuff going on—I haven’t even mentioned the Total Information Awareness project—and we need some checks and balances, fast. (via Doc Searls) #

Stereo of tomorrow

Let me describe for you a possible future. No, not a scary political future; I’ve complained enough about that today. Instead, let me talk about a consumer product that we could build today. In essence, it’s a CD player (and maybe audio DVD, should those ever become popular) with two key differences. First, it has a big internal hard drive. Second, it has a fast Ethernet port on the back.

You’ve probably have an idea of where I’m going with this, but let me continue. The hard drive, obviously, is for storing music. You put a disk in, push a button, and it compresses the tracks and stores them. They’re only intended for internal use, so we can afford to use something currently uncommon, like MPEG-4 Advanced Audio Compression.

Right away, this is a tremendous advantage. If you’ve ever stored MP3s on your computer, you understand the power and flexibility of not having to switch albums all the time. But we’re just getting started.

The Ethernet port gives the box network connectivity. In particular, this lets us get around the lack of track information on CDs by querying a database over the Internet. Emerging technologies like zeroconf will let us simply plug the box into a network without having to configure it. It will find its own IP address and figure out its own route to the net, if one exists.

Using DNS service discovery, it can advertise itself to the local network as an audio source. If you have another network-enabled device, perhaps a surround sound system, all you would need to do is to tell that device to request an audio stream from your player. Alternately, if your player has speakers attached, it will be able to receive and play audio from other devices on the local network. There’s no limitation to one or two auxiliary inputs here, you can pick from any device on the network that provides sound.

I’m glossing over details here, but trust me: The technology not only exists to do this, but to do it in a way that’s easy to use. If you’ve got one of these players attached to your network along with a hypothetical, Ethernet-enabled TV, radio, and DVD player, all you would need to do to get them to play sound through your player’s speakers would be selecting their name from a list. If the devices work well enough together, you could have a true universal remote: one which doesn’t need to switch between modes or perform complex incantations to make sure your TV and your speakers are synchronized, because the devices it controls can communicate with each other and make sure they’re working together properly.

The question of course, is whether this promotes unauthorized copying. I suspect not. The player should have a fairly limited interface to the network to make hacking in difficult, and it won’t be designed to send streams beyond the local network. Granted, there’s no way to prevent someone from grabbing the stream and copying it to another device, like a computer, but that’s no more convenient than what we have today.

Think of how many cables are attached to your stereo and other devices right now. If you have a friend with a home theater system, go check how many cables are involved with that setup. Imagine instead a world where each device only needs one cable, which connects it to a network hub. Plug everything in, turn it all on, and let them figure out who can talk to whom. Ethernet networks can get very large, so you can have all your TVs hooked up to all your PVRs and your satellite descramblers. No more going to channel 3 and making sure all your devices are on or off appropriately, just turn on the TV and select the DVD player downstairs.

All this is possible today. All it needs is for a manufacturer to think it’s worth making. #