Quick Roundup 186

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Do Soldiers Have Freedom of Speech?

If we consider the latest new Army regulations concerning electronic communications, it would appear that the United States Army thinks not.

The U.S. Army has ordered soldiers to stop posting to blogs or sending personal e-mail messages, without first clearing the content with a superior officer, Wired News has learned. The directive, issued April 19, is the sharpest restriction on troops' online activities since the start of the Iraq war. And it could mean the end of military blogs, observers say.

Military officials have been wrestling for years with how to handle troops who publish blogs. Officers have weighed the need for wartime discretion against the opportunities for the public to personally connect with some of the most effective advocates for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq -- the troops themselves. The secret-keepers have generally won the argument, and the once-permissive atmosphere has slowly grown more tightly regulated. Soldier-bloggers have dropped offline as a result.
The rationale for the new regulations is to improve operational security (OPSEC) by tightening controls over what military personnel are allowed to say via electronic media. This would be a sound reason -- if there were a major problem with soldiers giving away sensitive information through their blogs, which there hasn't been, to my knowledge. Besides, existing regulations would seem to have been sufficient for such cases anyway. And then, of course, its effectiveness at stopping compromises of sensitive information would still be open to debate.

Another rationale for restricting "mil-bloggers", as active duty bloggers are often known, would be concerns over what they say being mistaken for the official position of the military. However, I saw no mention of this concern in my brief readings about the subject and this is something that most people would not be confused about, and which a standard disclaimer could fix in any event.

This former member of the armed forces sees the measure as superflous, and probably even bad for our military for the reason indicated by the mil-blogger Dadmanly: It will likely harm morale.
The AR not only directs Commanders (BN and above) and OPSEC Managers to ensure that no communications in a public forum or media (to include email) occur without OPSEC review, but directs UCMJ action against military violators and criminal prosecution against anyone else.

Worse than that, as written it also means soldiers need to have their commanders review/censor every single email or IM they want to send. To comply, commanders would have no choice but to forbid their soldiers from using email or IM via the internet, or the Commander would have to go with them to the internet cafe.

Completely impractical, unrealistic, worse by far than prohibitions that are widely ignored, such as gambling. This one can only be complied with by severely curtailing one of the few highly successful MWR initiatives in combat theater -- internet cafes. [bold added]
I have heard it said of the American military that one of the things that distinguishes it from many others is the degree of responsibility entrusted even to many of its lowest-ranking individual soldiers. It is unsurprising that we can do this given that our military is all-volunteer, consists of men fighting to preserve their freedom, and relies on technology enough to require intelligent recruits.

While I think it is a waste of time and a pointless sacrifice for us to have soldiers doling out welfare in Iraq rather than, say pummeling Iran or Saudi Arabia, I think we should treat them like the rational, freedom-loving adults we recruited rather than as traitorous conscripts. If our men on the lines can drink technical training from a fire hose in preparation for their roles in combat, their leaders could return the favor by putting a lot more thought behind the regulations our men will be expected to follow.

Massachusetts to Ban Pit Bulls?

One thing first: I dislike most dogs and viscerally hate pit pulls. The breed is designed to be extremely aggressive and I even agree a little with the state representative who equated pit bulls with weapons.

After once having a neighbor's escaped pit bull take up residence in our carport for a few days and start randomly attacking people before we even knew about the animal, I also agree that there ought to be some way to make the animals less dangerous -- by causing their owners to become more responsible.

Nevertheless, I do not think the breed should be banned.
State legislators will hold a hearing later this month on whether to outlaw pit bulls, though Walsh said lawmakers hope to look into broader issues regarding dog safety.

State Rep. Vincent Pelone said the state may consider either banning pit bulls outright or requiring owners to get training or a dangerous dog license.

"If you want to own a pit bull, which in my estimation can be the same as owning a weapon, the owner and the dog should receive training," said the Worcester Democrat.
As far as I am concerned, an escaped pit bull falls under the category of "fair game". I wonder what elements of weapons control and liability law Massachusetts could get rid of that might allow its own citizens to protect themselves better from escaped pit bulls. And what about holding careless dog owners responsible for what their animals do on the loose, perhaps by changing or abolishing the "One Bite Rule"?

I would like to see, for once, a state legislature look to what superfluous laws it can get rid of and what laws that protect individual rights it could better enforce before it simply enacts yet another piece of obtrusive legislation to fix a problem created by the fact that the government is increasingly focused on babysitting rather than protecting rational adults from the initiation of force.

John Lewis Audio

I need to find out why I can't play this for myself, but I suspect that if you use Windows, you'll be able to listen to the audio of John Lewis's recent talk ("No Subsititute for Victory") at George Mason University.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Sid said...

Not really, it's just an mp3 file. I think you can paste the URL in the podcast streamer/media player of your choice and listen to it. Or you can just download the file.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thank you, Sid! I've downloaded it and can now listen at my leisure.

Normally, I'd just do something like what you did, but I could not figure out where the file was by my usual methods. For example, on Firefox (running under Linux) all I see when I hover my cursor over the link (or open it in a tab) is something like "javascript:DoNothing ()". And no mp3 file shows up in the source of the blog entry's page. How'd you find it?

Sid said...

Hmm. I clicked on that doNothing() link. Seems like it really does do something. It opened a new browser popup, with the file playing in an embedded Windows Media Player plugin. I simply viewed the source of that page, and got the URL from there.

Gus Van Horn said...

Ah. My popup told me to install a plugin, then said there was "no suitable plugin".

There's no toolbar on that popup window, but by right-clicking THAT (which I hadn't thought to do until just now), I could get the page source you mentioned.

Good. I have a new browser trick now.

Thanks again!

Sid said...

Ah. My popup told me to install a plugin, then said there was "no suitable plugin".

That would be because the code was specifically for WMP. They really should start using Flash for streaming mp3s.

It's also a trouble because embedded WMP takes a second or two to load on XP (it surprisingly loaded instantly on my Vista machine) and it freezes IE in that while.

Oh, and last I checked, WMP support is quite horribly broken in Firefox on Windows.

Gus Van Horn said...

"They really should start using Flash for streaming mp3s."

I completely agree.

While Microsoft certainly has the right to attempt to gain and keep customers, including by such dubious methods as vendor lock-in, its refusal or inability to "play nice" with competitors (or often, as we see here, even provide decent support for its own products) makes it a less-than-desirable brand when one's desire is to "spread the word".

Sid said...

This is getting a bit off topic, but I'll have to retract my statement that WMP doesn't work in Firefox in Windows. Apparently, Microsoft itself recently released a plugin for Firefox.

Back on topic: This trend of creating laws for every small purpose or exigency isn't good. Several laws in India actually contradict each other because of such short-sighted legislation. I guess that when you're in a place as irrational as a legislature, contradictions do exist.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for letting me know about the new plug-in. (This in no way detracts from my more general complaint regarding the incompatibility, shall we say, between Microsoft's strategy of vendor lock-in and the needs of its paying customers to be able to reach as many people as easily as possible.)

Darren said...

I don't know the history behind the EMBED tag, but I don't think it is designed specifically for WMP. I think that whatever mp3 file is included in the embed tag is passed to the browser, and then the browser can interpret that however it wants. Some browsers (especially IE) will want to use WMP, but others might not. Or perhaps, maybe some browser don't know what to do with it at all.

For example, when I open the page in IE, WMP will start up. If I open it up in Firefox, Quicktime will play it.

I hope that the the Objective Standard doesn't switch to using flash audio, specifically so I can download the mp3 file by pulling it from the HTML. I can then put the file on my mp3 player instead of having to sit in front of my computer.

Gus Van Horn said...

You are correct that the EMBED tag is not specific to WMP. I use it here for Youtube videos all the time and I never blog using a Windows machine.

Your point about there being a file to download is a very good one that I hadn't considered WRT flash vs MP3.

Were TOS to shift formats, I would prefer one that would allow me to continue downloading the files as sitting around and listening to things is the last thing I normally do at the computer anyway.

The problem created by Microsoft is that its formats do not necessarily work with products from other vendors. To look for an alternative, one must find something that either complies to industry standards (and Microsoft has not made difficult to use) or has so much market penetrance that it is very easy to get it to work on Windows (e.g., PDF files).

I haven't fooled around enough with audio files to know what the audio equivalent of, say a PDF (from the desktop publishing world), would be, and I haven't contacted TOS about this myself. Any other thoughts?

Jennifer Snow said...

Prohibiting soldiers from communicating online without commander approval is not a new thing . . . it actually reflects a trait I've noticed in any large organization with poor management. Instead of dealing properly with single instances of a problem (like people abusing their internet access), they enact some "policy" to make it "impossible" for the problem to occur.

A good, rational boss or commander doesn't have to resort to this kind of stuff . . . the word usually descends from "on high" because the upper echelons believe that their grunts are crazed thieves and their middle managers are incompetant. I say, if you really can't trust these people to do their jobs properly then you shouldn't have hired them in the first place.

The funny thing is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: treat your good employees like trash and they will either bail or become disgruntled and embittered and only willing to put out the minimum effort required to keep their job.

You have to hire people you can trust and then trust the people you hire. There's no other way.

Gus Van Horn said...

Excellent points, especially, sad to say, this one:

"The funny thing is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: treat your good employees like trash and they will either bail or become disgruntled and embittered and only willing to put out the minimum effort required to keep their job."

And yes, that can happen even in the military, and even with good people.