Ideas for Saturday’s BloggerCon?

Due to the unavailability of a more qualified/desirable moderator I have been drafted to lead a session at Saturday’s BloggerCon.  Supposedly there will be nearly 100 people in a single room at Harvard Law School from 1:30-2:45 pm and we’re supposed to talk about the concentration of readership among a tiny handful of blogs.

An article by Clay Shirky is the original source for the session.

This assignment frightens me for a number of reasons.  First the original proposition does not seem sufficiently surprising.  We are all familiar with the fact that NBC has more viewers than the local public access channel.  Second I’m not sure what issue is amenable to a free-form unanchored discussion among 100 people but this one doesn’t seem like it.  That’s one of my stock refrains in the online community world, actually, is that the publisher needs to frame the discussion with articles or the whole site loses focus because nobody can figure out what the purpose is.

Anyone have an idea for breaking the participants up into groups of 10, having them do something for 10 minutes, and then report the results to the whole crowd?  I think many people there will have laptops and Harvard Law School has wireless access (MIT does too but visitors have to donate a kidney to the I/S department before they are authorized to use it).

Full post, including comments

Your friend: the FBI

Thoughts for Tax Day:  A friend sent this article on various rules that restrict the U.S. government from investigating terrorists.  The implication of the article is that we’d all be better off if the CIA and the FBI could work unfettered.  Certainly the widows and orphans of September 11th would be better off.  Yet our government has a history of pouring tremendous amounts of effort in the wrong areas, often resulting in months or years of misery for innocent people.  One of the more humorous recent examples is Booker Prize winner Ian McEwan’s detainment at the Vancouver airport.  We want the Federales to be strong enough to hunt down Saudi terrorists in flight schools but sufficiently weak that we can throw them off our own backs when necessary.

[As noted on Prairie Home Companion on Saturday, if you’re sending a check to the IRS this year put a couple of extra stamps on the envelope because it’s going all the way to Iraq.]

Full post, including comments

Saudi computer science grad student makes the news

This story on Sami Omar al-Hussayen is worth the pain of (free) registration at  Here are a couple of excerpts:

Defense attorney David Nevin portrayed his client as a well-liked leader of the university’s Muslim Student Association who had been quick to publicly condemn the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Hussayen, the father of three young boys, is not an angry Muslim who hates the West, he said. On the contrary, Nevin added, he comes from a well-to-do family that has traveled the world. “He doesn’t hate the United States. He doesn’t hate Western values. That’s not who he is,” Nevin said.

Hussayen, 34, a doctoral candidate in a computer science program sponsored by the National Security Agency, is accused of creating more than a dozen jihadist Web sites and of moderating a global e-mail group that in February 2003 posted an “urgent appeal” for Muslims in the U.S. military to supply information about American forces and facilities in the Middle East that could be selected as targets for acts of terrorism.

Displaying a chart that showed the links among more than a dozen Web sites, [federal prosecutor] Lindquist told the jury that Hussayen managed “an Internet network — a platform,” and that “the content of this platform was extreme jihad — terrorism.”

The Saudi Embassy has pressed for Hussayen’s release and is paying for his top-flight legal defense team, which includes Joshua Dratel, who represented Wadih Hage, a former aide to Osama bin Laden.

The case is interesting because Mr. Hussayen’s main defense is based on the First Amendment though he is not a U.S. citizen.  If the U.S. government doesn’t like someone residing in a foreign country it is free to shoot a missile at the guy’s car and summarily kill him.  If, on the other hand, an enemy manages to score himself a student or tourist visa and arrives on our shores we can’t touch him because he is now entitled to a variety of protections under the Constitution that were designed for (presumably loyal) citizens.  In a global economy where location isn’t supposed to matter one’s rights under the U.S. Constitution depend exquisitely on location.  If you’re one meter outside the border you can be imprisoned indefinitely without being charged or tried.  If you’re one meter inside the border you have all the rights of someone born in the U.S.

Continuing the theme of techie terrorists named “Sami”, Sami Al-Arian, the computer engineering professor from University of South Florida, attempted a First Amendment defense as well [Mr. Al-Arian, a Kuwaiti national whose application for U.S. citizenship was turned down based on his fraudulent registration to vote in the early 1990s, is a great example of the American Dream because the taxpayers of Florida are still paying his salary while he sits in federal prison awaiting his trail in January.]

The Ancient Greeks took the rules of hospitality, xenia, very seriously.  Certainly running off with your host’s wife was out of the question and thus the abduction of Helen was a sufficiently serious breach to warrant the Trojan War.  Most of our recent troubles with terrorism stem from Arab guests in or immigrants to the United States.  So far the government’s response seems to be an attempt to reduce the number of guests and/or screen them more thoroughly for existing connections to terrorist organizations.  In the long run, however, this seems doomed to fail.  You can’t expect someone to abandon his beliefs simply because he is visiting the United States or has immigrated here, even if one of those beliefs is hatred of American society.  My prediction:  within the next five years there will be calls to restrict constitutional rights to citizens.  It will be noted that in 1787 everyone in the U.S. was either a citizen, the property of a citizen (slaves), or expected to become a citizen.  It will be argued that times have changed.  Thanks to commercial airlines millions of people land on our soil every year with no intention of joining the society.  Thus a distinction should be made between U.S. citizens and guests.  The counterargument will be that the rights of the Constitution are universal and should not only be extended to guests on our shores but also to human beings anywhere on the planet.  We shouldn’t be supporting dictators in poor countries if they won’t guarantee U.S.-style rights to all of their citizens and certainly we should not be engaging in extrajudicial assassination of our enemies.

[A more concise restatement of the above is “Guantanamo Bay might be just the beginning.”]

Full post, including comments