The press:Internet::sailing ships:modern navies

My esteemed colleague Blair Atholl has made a point in his posting about the printing press that goes deeper than disaffection with the spinelessness of Canadian journalism, or its reflexive collective leftism.

Observations about the leftism of the press are accurate but do not address the major point of Blair Atholl’s, which is that the printing press, as a means of distribution of news and opinion on an industrial scale, is finished, and that as a means of delivering the advertizing that pays for the news, the press has been displaced by a technology which targets ads much more accurately to specialized tastes and interests. That technology is one you are reading now.

You will note that opinion of the kind you like to read, such as ours for instance, is delivered free by four people who among them have between 10 and 12 university degrees.

This rivals what either the Globe or the National Post could deliver on any given day.

All you have to do is show up at Barrelstrength, or any of your favourite opinion sites.

The price of a subscription to Barrelstrength, or Watts up with That, or Matt Ridley, is zero. How we make our livings is not your concern, nor should it be.

The doomist premise is that news of City Hall will not be collected in the new post-print dispensation; the likely outcome is that news will be collected and disseminated whether for free or for pay as long as anyone wants to know about the doings of City Hall. The technology whereby this is done is changing, and the mourning for the printing press and the journalism it generated is akin to the mourning for the navy of wooden sailing ships. They were magnificent in their time and they have gone. Navies persist.

Britain wants every book people read recorded

Sorry, wrong headline but what if that was true? How does that differ from this headline “Britain wants every website people visit recorded”?

The British government plans to make telecommunication firms keep records of every website that customers visit under a new law regulating cyber-snooping.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill is designed to regulate authorities’ access to Internet activity, replacing a patchwork of laws, some dating from the Web’s infancy.

Our driverless future?

A young engineer was speaking to me about the future of cars and roads. The addition of artificial intelligence to cars is ongoing, and will soon reach the stage, he says, where it will become clear that cars in certain urban areas will not be allowed to drive with human drivers at the wheel.

Such an outcome assumes a great deal of progress in resolving a host of issues, technical, social and political.


The implications of increased intelligence in cars – up to the point where humans can be replaced as drivers – go on and on.

  • ownership versus renting

If cars can be rented by the hour or by the occasion, the incentives to own a car may go down. Cars usually sit in the driveway or the parking lot for most of the day. Imagine that cars are basically taxis, and that the ownership (whoever they or it may be) cleans, maintains and provides cars on much the same basis as taxis, but with no taxi driver. You would summon a car as you would an Uber taxi, and it would show up at your location, but without the driver. Step in and the car will drive you to your destination.

  • traffic signals

Your community is strewn with stop signs, lights, and painting of signals on the road. Imagine that the driving rules for every intersection are communicated by local networks to the cars within reach of the signal, and that cars communicate by networks to each other in constant Bluetooth-style to adjust momentum (direction and speed). Once cars are self-directing, if the destination has been selected by the passenger, then a huge infrastructure of visual signs would be replaced with an electronic infrastructure. As a pedestrian, you may need a sign as to where you can cross, but the governing software of cars will ensure that, within the limits of the laws of physics, cars will not be able to hit you.

  • legal compulsion

It will be argued that the full benefits of the driverless automobile system will only be realized when people are legally obliged to switch over from the human driver to local network control. The law will compel drivers in certain areas to surrender control, and in all likelihood the car will simply adjust by becoming integrated with the local network, on the supposition that there is a private automobile entering the local network space.

The sign saying “you are now entering Such and Such” municipality also acts as the point where the car – not your car but “the” car – passes from the control of one network to another, just as a cell-phone call is passed from one tower to another. The car in which you are riding has become a physical instantiation of a telephone call.

The consequences  of this driverless system are expected to be:

1) drastic reduction in the amount of society’s resources dedicated to automobiles, as the use of each car intensifies. This may mean fewer cars, or less social investment in related automobile technologies, or lowered energy consumption. It may allow for quicker transitions to newer propulsion technologies.

2) legal liability will be need to be worked out between the software makers (General Motors, Toyota, Apple whoever) that make the car control software, the cities which install the driverless networks, and insurance companies for both sides.

Some of the negative effects will be:

1) loss of autonomy and privacy, but as computer technology invades everything, the loss of autonomy will long precede the transfer to the automated driverless system spoken of here. You are already being followed by your GPS and other technologies in your car, even if you still drive it. Mandatory guidance systems will not change the trackability of cars.

2) Every car will become like a taxi. The cleanliness, appearance, and maintenance level of your car will depend on the previous occupants, and on which company owns them, and some companies will be better than others. Given the human propensity for status distinctions, people will pay for better cars by belonging to better car-cooperatives.

Cultural and social resistance will take a long time to be overcome.

First, the software to run all this must work seamlessly and efficiently to figure out the dozens of social and safety rules that govern human transactions in every driving situation. Consider four-way stops which can be a ballet of mutual recognition.  The mutual interchange of signals among cars and the successors to stop signs and traffic lights must work out in a faultless protocol. WIll drivers be allowed to assume control, and in what circumstances?

This leads to the second huge issue: trust. It is likely that failures will become as rare and nearly as deadly as airplane accidents. Imagine a breakdown of signals, or the failure of protocols, on a highway where hundreds of cars are hurtling on autopilot. It will take a long while before people can trust the state of the system to be sufficiently  faultless that getting into a car is as safe as getting into an airplane.

Inconvenience is the third major reason for resisting. Private ownership of cars may be as irrational as the private ownership of power tools, from the perspective of efficiency of use, but people do not like systems of common or collective ownership for good reason. Some people are slobs, others neatfreaks. Some use their cars as mobile filing cabinets. So private ownership will likely continue, even in the brave new world of automated driverless cars. Thus the argument for the driverless car system is not an argument for the abandonment of private ownership, but it will increasingly make private ownership look as anachronistic as a CD or record collection.


They know; you are transparent to them

Here is something that might interest you.

First an article on the amazing success of some highly successful hackers – likely the NSA – who have been undetected for 15 years, called “the Equation Group”.

“How omnipotent hackers tied to the NSA hid for 14 years and were found at last”.

Then, an article on the significance of part of what they did, which was to hack hard drives. Also courtesy of Ars Technica.

The significance of these hacks is to allow someone able to do it to become a “superuser”, thereby entitling him to modify, access, read or otherwise manipulate nay aspect of the computer’s functioning.

If you want to read the insanely clever way this can be done, I refer you to Jeroen Domburg’s blog, with 8 pages of incomprehensible (to me) technobabble.

Ezra Levant on the media

Ezra was at his most gracious and reflective in this interview in the Post. He will not be silenced.

See the interview here.

He is correct in his appreciation that the Internet is undercutting the licenced broadcast media. If Sun News had started as a pure Internet operation, it might still be with us. But then only the fanatics – sorry, devoted conservatives – would find it. It would have been just like PJ Media, or Pat Condell, or Jihad Watch, or Barrel Strength.

Many people wonder why the CRTC did not licence SunTV on lower, more favourable channels, or make it mandatory for cable companies to carry, like CBC Newsworld, or the CTV equivalent, or APTN. That means that, whether you watched it or not, you would be subsidizing it at a fixed rate per subscriber per month, as the channels I just mentioned are. It would have required SunTV to join the ranks of licenced mendicants, called “broadcasters”, who appear before the CRTC and argue for their subsidies, and perpetuation of their licences.

Try to appreciate the irony. Let us use state regulation to cause the Canadian consumer forcibly to subsidize the expression of political views. Does that not sound like the mainstream media?

Can you imagine SunTV up before the CRTC pleading for a renewal of its licence, saying it was moderate, responsible, and worthy of an expensive legal privilege, such as mandatory carriage?

I can’t.

Compulsory news watching? More broccoli from the elites

Tasha Tasha Tasha. What in earth are you thinking?

I quote the lovely lady’s column this morning in the National Post:

As more of us embrace the luxury of choice in our television viewing, we should make the conscious effort to tune in to political news. Like vitamins, we need a daily dose of that reality, to keep our politicians accountable and our democracy strong.

This smacks of an “eat-your-broccoli” regime. Watch political news because it is good for you, good for politicians, and good for for our institutions.

I disagree. A very few people should concern themselves with politics most of the time, a few people should concern themselves some of the time, and all people should concern themselves with politics very rarely.

In a well-run democracy, most of us should have the ability (whether it is a right or a privilege I do not know) NOT to concern themselves with politics.

Referenda – on constitutional changes particularly – are examples of what happens when political issues are not being managed properly. Take as an example what happened to Canada when the public was asked to be  more interested in politics than it had any appetite for. The Mulroney regime engaged the nation in a scramble to appease Quebec by constitutional change, and in so doing Mulroney managed to arouse every interest group desiring a larger role in  the public’s attention: women, Quebecois, natives, and seekers of public funds. His reward was the obloquy of the country, the defeat of the Conservative Party, and ten years of Jean Chrétien.

I am not against referenda; I am against being forced to pay attention to politics when the cause is the elite’s desire to change things that do not need changing – the Constitution, Quebec’s status, the role of the Queen, euthanasia, and so forth.

The point of Tasha Kheiriddin’s concern is the decline of conventional political media: newspapers and cable news channels, and the assumption that the ability of politicians to connect with the public is declining alongside the media.

Far too many people are involved with politics in a most superficial way. If they face greater costs to participate – which is to say, having to exercise effort to inform themselves and vote – this is not necessarily wrong. Yet schemes that force the unqualified to pay attention and care – compulsory voting comes to mind – are just more broccoli, more attention-grabbing by the elites. It ought to be our right to ignore them lest they be incited to do more of the same.

All the information any one can want about political issues is freely available as never before. What has changed is the way we receive it or engage with it. The Internet has disrupted 20th century business models of paying for information through a combination of advertizing and subscriptions. It has disrupted the channels for receiving information, whether newspaper or television. In the case of broadcasting, channels involve government licensing, which is not necessary for Internet-based communications.

We are witnessing a disappearance of “channels” and the emergence of new forms of information, such as Buzzfeed. I fail to see how Buzzfeed is all that worse than the ever popular Daily Mail. As the “channel” disappears as a recognizable form, we do not lack for information or opinion. We lack the recognized aggregators of the 20th century.

The decline of “traditional” -over 30 years old – news media is not the justification for watching it as a civic duty.


Distributed cognitive stratification

There is a charming old grump of, I guess, my age, a former newspaper man who writes from some beach in Mexico, whose blog is called Fred on Everything. I recommend it warmly.

You might like to start with is latest, “Balkanizing the News: Separation of People and State”, for a deeply observant analysis of why the newspaper business is collapsing.


The major outlets (this will not be a blinding insight) as always are in near-lockstep—that is, controlled.  Reporters understand the rules perfectly. You do not, not ever, criticize Israel. You don’t say anything remotely interpretable as racist. Women are sacrosanct. Do not offend the sexually baroque. The endless wars get minimal coverage and almost nothing that would upset the public. Huge military contracts get almost no mention.

None of this is accidental….

This system is breaking down under the onslaught of the internet. Papers are losing both credibility and circulation. So are the networks.

Race is the obvious example of the decline in control. The spin and censorship have become so heavy-handed as to be comic….

The Internet is allowing lateral communication as he styles it, among the readership, which permits people to know that others are aware of the extent to which the papers are preventing discussion of, say, black on white crime, and the paltriness of the excuses for it, and the daily cover-ups [“youth”, “teenagers”] that seek to disguise the race of the attackers. Many elephants in the newsroom, none of them adverted to, all of them carefully avoided.

Another problem that the internet poses for papers is the divide between the intelligent and the rest. Again we see two opposed poles, though in this case blending imperceptibly into one another. The major media are not comfortable with intelligence. Television is worst, the medium of the illiterate, barely literate, stupid, uneducated, and uninterested. It cannot afford to air much that might puzzle these classes.

Newspapers can assume that their subscribers can at least read but, intelligence being pyramidal in distribution, have to focus of the lower end. They also have to avoid offending the advertisers, the politically correct, or the corporate ownership.

By contrast, web sites have few of these problems. Since they aggregate their readership from the whole planet, they do not have to concern themselves with grocery ads in St. Louis.  They cost little to run. They do not need the bottom end of the distribution. And they have become multitudinous. Collectively you might call them “a free press.”

There are for example Taki’s Magazine, leaning hard to the political Right but thoughtful, beautifully written, fearless, and possessed of a beguiling aristocratic snottiness; the Unz Review, leaning hard in all directions at once but written by and for a cognitive elite;, not sucking up to military industry; Tom Dispatch, extraordinarily informed analyst of imperial policy; Counterpunch, hard Left but highly intelligent, and the Drudge Report, half grocery-store tabloid and half unintimidatable teller-like-it-is, sort of America’s thermometer.

These and countless others are all over the spectrum, any spectrum, every spectrum, off spectrum, but in most cases assume a post-graduate intelligence and knowledge. No newspaper of which I am aware comes close.

It amounts to distributed cognitive stratification.

Go to Fred on Everything to read the rest, it is quite first rate.

The Bell Curve is the invisible gravity of human life.Dalwhinnie

CRTC abandons position on regulating Internet

The CRTC retreated from an indefensible position today. It will not attempt to regulate an Internet content company.  It told Netflix that their comments are being struck from the record and that the Commission can decide the future of Canadian television without their participation. The letter is sniffy and tries to make it look like Netflix was rude, but the substance is that the CRTC is backing off the threat of ordering them to provide data.

I do not know whether to congratulate them for doing getting off a losing position so quickly, or reproach them for getting into trouble in the first place. On balance, Canadians who understand the issue appreciate that the war has been called off. If I were the Chairman of the CRTC, I might like to review the legal advice I was receiving about whether the Commission can regulate the Internet as “broadcasting”, and if I were acting as my own chief legal counsel, I would remind myself about the perils of a lawyer representing himself.

And maybe something like that imaginary call from the Clerk of the Privy Council to the Chairman of the CRTC did occur.



For once I would like to record that the Globe and Mail editorial board and I seem to be dwelling in the same universe. Which is to say that anyone concerned with preserving broadcast television is in the same place as those seeking to preserve bookstores and music record stores. A noble cultural goal for some people perhaps, but not for enough of us to sustain the commercial model.

About ten years ago, I recall the son of Sam the Record Man of downtown Toronto fame talking about why people would always want to browse through physical  records. Just the other week in Ottawa, one of the best and last record stores, CD Warehouse, closed its doors. I mourn its loss, but I buy from Amazon now, and I am a dinosaur for still buying physical media like books and CDs.

Do we really care that we get our news from an advertizer-supported television channel? Are we not informed enough?  I go occasionally to Law Society conferences where broadcasting lawyers and regulators grin and talk of broadcasting’s mission civilatrice, whistling past the graveyard. Moreover, do we need to subsidize this particular form of news dissemination at the cost of:

  • the CRTC declaring that all full-motion video content is “broadcasting” and therefore subject to licensing?
  • that we can exempt ourselves from their licensing by
    • obeying their general directives as to taste, range of acceptable attitudes, and decorum, and
    • sending to the Canadian broadcasters a little mordida in the form of a “broadcasting exemption order fee”

I am surprised we have not yet heard from OpenMedia? was the group that led the charge against usage-based billing in 2012. If usage -based billing was the outrage to Internet freedom because it priced bandwidth too high , what is this, which makes uploaders obliged to get a broadcasting licence, or obey an exemption order?

Apparently Google – that tiny little California hippy commune – considers the issue sufficiently important to protest the CRTC’s attempt at extending its jurisdiction to the Internet.

Michael Geist has some good articles on this dispute here.

Here is an interview with a former CRTC Commissioner on this issue by Don Martin of CTV’s “Power Play”.

There are billions of IP addresses, and millions within Canada. By contrast, the number of regulated broadcasting entities in Canada is in the low thousands. When you speak, or blog, or write an email or novel, you do not have to clear your work with the CRTC, the Jesuits, the Conservatives, the Department of National Heritage, or any authority whatsoever. You write or speak under laws of general application, and not because you hold a licence from the state. With broadcasting, you need a licence.

In the 20th century, the limited number of people who could occupy airwaves justified some control over them and what they said, because they held extremely valuable rights to “speak” to the many. That licence has become progressively less valuable as the number of speakers has risen to number in the millions and tens of millions, thanks to the Internet. No scarcity of voices, or Canadian voices, needs to be fixed or requires artificial protection on the Internet.

I keep wondering whether this conflict between the CRTC has been a deliberate provocation in order to offer the Harper government a convenient excuse to do something about the Broadcasting Act and the CRTC which implements it.

While I do not entirely discount this possibility, it is far more likely that the CRTC’s chairman just got sucked into a fight with stroppy little rebels like Netflix and Google. In any case, it is probably serving Harper’s interest to have this fight erupt at this time.