Various thoughts on current events with an emphasis on politics, legal issues, books, movies and whatever is on my mind. Emails can be sent to email@example.com; please put "blog comments" in the subject line.
[Update: I went back to the blocked site. If one scrolls down the "this site is blocked" page, one sees that you can click a button certifying you are over seventeen and such, which lets you view the blocked site for ten minutes. This does give me some faith in the NYPL, though the page is set up as such that this option is not readily apparent. And, a library isn't required to offer such an option. Thusly, overall, mild chilling effect. Still a no no, but less so.]
There were two interesting essays at the Findlaw website (commentary section). One covers a recent German ruling that allows contingency fees in select cases, the country an interesting case study in that it provides some assistance for civil cases and allows third parties to pay for lawsuits in a fee based system (plus has a "loser pays" system). A second one discusses the NSL story, but in a somewhat annoying fashion -- it takes at face value the judgment that the problem was unintentional. Set up a regime with self-checks and a lower standard, and yes, you are taking a risk. It is why the Fourth Amendment has an independent check regime in the first place. Anyway, should we take anything coming out of the administration at face value.
We therefore have to take the statute on the understanding that adults will be denied access to a substantial amount of nonobscene material harmful to children but lawful for adult examination, and a substantial quantity of text and pictures harmful to no one. As the plurality concedes, see ante, at 11, this is the inevitable consequence of the indiscriminate behavior of current filtering mechanisms, which screen out material to an extent known only by the manufacturers of the blocking software [sounds like electronic voting!] ...
Anyway, at lunch time, I went to one of the main libraries in Manhattan to use the Internet. It provides over ten computers for the general public, two for about fifteen minutes, the rest (on appointment) for about forty-five. I find the former a good way to check up on things without spending too much time, though it doesn't let me post at Slate. Anyway, I checked a blog piece on Plan B. Reading up on the subject, the general pro-choice argument is that it stops ovulation.* The literature does suggest ovulation "may" happen in some cases, so Plan B might in effect block implantation. Many doubt this actually occurs. If it does, normal birth control pills would have similar effects, since Plan B is related. Likewise, it occurs naturally all the time.
Anyway, the first link [I just used it ... my home computer is not filtered] provided didn't work. I was blocked ... at a computer in the adult section (there is a separate young adult section), one with quite 'R' rated material. I was informed that in order to obtain federal funding, the library had to use filtering. Said filtering, it noted, can tend to be overinclusive. A link was provided to suggest the website not be blocked. When the Supremes dealt with this very issue, mention was made how trivial the whole thing is. Worse comes to worst, the filter can just be turned off. Of course, the ruling also noted the Internet doesn't provide a "public forum," which is also ridiculous.
[I missed it the first time, but the information page notes: "In addition, any user who is 17 years of age or older may disable the filtering software in order to obtain unfiltered Internet access for bona fide research or other lawful purpose by following the instructions provided on the computer screen or such instructions as the Library shall otherwise provide from time to time." I have to try it again and see how it goes -- but I'm with Souter, this serves as a barrier. What are these "instructions?" What is "bona fide research?" If it was on the screen, it wasn't THAT easy to determine. And, should this sort of page be blocked to sexually active teens? Oh, and why is censorship the default in the adult section?!]
The reason the site was blocked is probably related to some explicit photos -- not porn, but oh no, you see breasts -- elsewhere on the site. But, in the process, clearly worthwhile material is also blocked. And, the benefits of blocking mature erotica is unclear as well. Surely, some amount of nudity is allowed to go through, such as works of art and medical related material. We simply are not dealing with crud here. And, if anything, is there not a way to allow certain perfectly fine pages of a website etc. without blocking the whole thing? Guess not. On some level, the inconvenience was trivial -- another link was provided as well -- but there is something wrong with it occurring in the adult section of a New York City public library.
The Brethren cites Douglas' concern that obscenity rulings would lead to censoring in libraries. Well, his fears have come to pass. Given he spent much time bemoaning the illegality of certain sorts of hard core porn, my annoyance seems worthy of a bit of comment, huh? Seriously, this sort of thing is likely to occur if filtering is used badly, and simply should not happen in cases like this.
* Thus, rhetoric that it disposes of a "fetus" is ridiculous. The term is inappropriate for most abortions, since even then an embryo -- the stage of development quite important generally in personal morality etc. on the topic -- is usually involved. But, even after fertilization -- which appears not to occur in this instance -- it is simply silly to speak of a "fetus." It isn't even an "embryo" at that point.