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Free speech wins out in online anonymous criticism case

What happens when you’re upset about a business dealing with Massachusetts real estate developer Paul McMann? One anonymous critic put up a web site about the man, inviting other people to share their own stories. McMann wasn’t real pleased about this development, and he filed suit against the anonymous proprietor of the site and issued subpoenas to learn his (or her) true identity. An Arizona judge has just ruled that McMann is not able to use the compulsory discovery process to unmask his accuser unless he can show that his anonymous opponent actually committed a crime.HangZhou Night Net

The saga began back in Massachusetts, where McMann first filed suit agaist his detractor in early October. In his complaint, a copy of which was seen by Ars Technica, McMann told the court that he was being defamed. He specifically pointed to statements on the web site which said that he “turned lives upside down” and that people should “be afraid. Be very afraid” of McMann. He also claimed that the site was damaging his career in real estate; one potential lender and another potential business partner both told McMann that they were not interested in working with him after seeing the site.

At the end of the month, Judge Joseph Tauro tossed the case. He pointed out that the two statements cited by McMann could hardly be considered defamation because “these two statements are not provable as true or false, but rather are opinions.” The judge recognized that such cases could easily be used to identify critics, even if such critics had done nothing illegal. He also dismissed McMann’s claim that a photo of McMann published on the website was a violation of McMann’s personal copyright (the photo has apparently been replaced by the picture of a grinning jack-o’-lantern).

A week later, McMann refiled his suit in Arizona. The nonprofit group Public Citizen helped in the defense of the Arizona case, and they claim that McMann made no mention of the Massachusetts case. The state of Arizona was a strange choice, as McMann did not live or do business there and had no reason to think his anonymous critic did, either. It was apparently chosen because the paulmcmann.com site was registered with Domains by Proxy, which is based there. McMann’s attempts to learn John Doe’s identity from Domains by Proxy were unsuccessful; the company told him that he needed a court order.

On January 18, Judge Christopher Whitten sided with Judge Tauro and dismissed the case. Whitten ruled that “the Plaintiff must show that its claim would survive a Motion for Summary Judgment before being entitled to discover the identity of an anonymous speaker through any compulsory discovery process.” In other words, McMann had to provide solid, upfront evidence of illegal behavior.

“This victory is a win for the First Amendment right of free speech on the Internet,” said Public Citizen attorney Greg Beck. “The Court correctly recognized that people’s right to speak anonymously online should not be violated without good cause.”

The two decisions reinforce a set of recent rulings on Internet anonymity. At the end of 2005, for instance, the Delaware Supreme Court ruled that anonymous bloggers should receive strong protection from exposure, and also ruled that a plaintiff would have to pass the “summary judgment” test before a subpoena would be authorized. But those who have been criticized find it hard to resist trying their luck in the courts, even though many such cases turn out to reveal nothing more interesting than the hourly rate charged by the plaintiff’s lawyer.

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Zune 2.0: The Empire strikes back

Microsoft hopes to launch the Zune in Europe before the end of 2007, the company told Reuters over the weekend, and hinted that there would be "more devices, more features" by that time. Acknowledging that Apple is a tough competitor in the music-player market, Microsoft’s marketing director Jason Reindorp said that the company was still happy with the Zune’s launch numbers and hopes to sell 1 million units by June.HangZhou Night Net

What’s in the future for the Zune? Here’s what we know from comments both public and off the record from Microsoft sources. Speaking at the Midem Music Expo in Cannes, France on Saturday, Microsoft’s media business chief Chris Stephenson also indicated that more versions of Zune are on the way. These will include a flash-based version of the player, which is currently expected to arrive in the fourth quarter of 2007. Sources say that the flash-based Zune will compete against the iPod nano and other diminutive flash-based players. Sources tell us that Microsoft also hopes to roll out a 12GB model if the NAND flash memory market can make the jump. The irony in this is that the next jump in NAND flash storage will likely be caused by the success of the iPod nano, which is already driving a significant portion of all NAND flash memory sales.

Stephenson also said that he envisions the proliferation of music "filling stations"—retail locations that already host WiFi hotspots—where Zune users could fill up on music over the air. He also said that the company is looking into more ways for users to "cache and download on the go." This all but confirms the company’s plans to fully enable WiFi in the way that many potential buyers have hoped—the ability to purchase music directly from the Zune. Also rumored is the possibility that Microsoft will enable full sharing of subscription music over WiFi, despite recent reports that users can’t even share all songs under Microsoft’s current three-play limit.

Other Zune rumors include the possibility that a pocket version of Internet Explorer will run on the next version of the Zune. Apple’s upcoming iPhone will allow web browsing via WiFi, as does the Sony PSP. If WiFi ends up becoming fully-enabled on the Zune for music purchasing and sharing purposes, it would only sense to enable web browsing via the Zune as well.

Reindorp said that the company was not trying to play catch-up with Apple in a market where the iPod is so entrenched, but attempting to give the Zune a name for itself. "We are very realistic, we have what is essentially a three-year plan to firmly and solidly get on the radar," he told Reuters. Microsoft seems to acknowledge its slow start with the Zune, but like the original Xbox, has big plans for sneaking the Zune in as a big player in the future.

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Parallels acknowledges SWsoft ownership

What do Parallels and enterprise virtualization software maker SWsoft have in common? More than we thought, it turns out. Parallels acknowledged today that the company is, in fact, owned by SWsoft, an acquisition that happened three years ago before most of us had ever even heard of Parallels. HangZhou Night Net

Does this public disclosure mean that anything will change for Parallels—seemingly the public favorite for virtualization software on the Mac these days? Marketing manager Ben Rudolph told Ars that the answer to that is a big fat "NO."

"Parallels will still have its own brand, site, and team," Rudolph told us. "We will simply be leveraging SWsoft’s substantial experience, talent and resources to make our products even better, and get the out the door even faster."

But why did Parallels and SWsoft keep the partnership a secret for so long?

"We have different skill sets and different approaches to virtualization, so we wanted to make sure that we maintained our own identities so we could stay focused," Rudolph said. "Now that we are moving to server virtualization, and SWsoft is expanding its virtualization management tool sets, there's a lot more overlap, so we wanted to be sure to let customers know that we're a 'one stop shop' for virtualization. We have their needs covered top to bottom, be it server or desktop, Windows, Linux or Mac, hardware virtualization, OS virtualization, or virtualization management."

SWsoft CEO Serguei Beloussov acknowledged to Fortune that the next version of Parallels, expected to be released this spring (we assume he is referring to the next "major beta" that we discussed with Rudolph at Macworld), will "by coincidence" make it easier to run OS X on non-Apple hardware.

This would be, of course, a move that Apple would not be thrilled about, but an inevitable (and tempting) development now that Macs share similar processor structure to their non-Mac bretheren. VMWare CEO Diane Greene told Fortune that they face the same temptations and challenges with Apple: "We were trying to do it the way they wanted to, but in hindsight we should have just gone ahead. I wonder what Steve Jobs is going to do, because there is so much pressure to run Mac OS on non-Macs."

All this being said, it seems that we (as consumers) have a lot of exciting things to look forward to in the world of virtualization on the Mac this year. Parallels seems intent on keepin' it real with the small-company feel, but for how long can they keep up that front while the software continues to gain momentum and, with it, an inevitably large user base?

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isoHunt.com taken offline by ISP

Fans of BitTorrent search site isoHunt discovered yesterday that the popular site had gone offline. According to a statement posted on the site, isoHunt’s US ISP took the site offline without warning late yesterday afternoon. The site has since moved to a Canadian ISP and the front end is temporarily occupied by status messages posted by the site’s administrators HangZhou Night Net

isoHunt was targeted by the Motion Picture Association of America last year with a lawsuit alleging massive copyright infringement. Along with isoHunt, the MPAA also went after Torrentspy and a handful of USENET content aggregators. The temporary shutdown may very well be the result of the MPAA’s legal action, although the movie industry group has yet to make a statement as is customary after big legal wins.

Since launching its initial round of file-sharing lawsuits, the MPAA has succeeded in bringing down some of the more popular BitTorrent web sites. One such site, LokiTorrent.com, was shut down by a federal judge with the torrents replaced by a somber notice about how it had been shut down for facilitating the illegal downloading of copyrighted materials.

Users have been contacting isoHunt’s administrators to suggest that they move their servers offshore to avoid a similar fate. Citing their "philosophy as a search engine and aggregator," the admins say in a message currently displayed on the site that they have no plans to head for pirate-friendly waters like Sweden or Sealand.

Although the content creationg industry has scored a some significant victories in its fight against peer-to-peer sites, some of their legal actions only serve to raise their target’s profile. Such was the case with The Pirate Bay, which was knocked offline late last May. The Swedish BitTorrent site’s trackers were unavailable for a few days afterwards, but it soon returned and by its own accounts, traffic is better than ever.

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New Jersey, New York to reap the benefits of Vista

With Windows Vista's release looming, Microsoft is doing all it can to spread the good word about the new operating system and the trail of revenue it leaves behind. Recently, Microsoft commissioned two studies through analyst group IDC. The studies found that Vista will generate a total of $9.5 billion in revenue for the New York and New Jersey IT industries through 2007. HangZhou Night Net

For New York, IDC analysts predict that Vista will generate US$7 billion in revenue leaving New Jersey with the other US$2.5 billion. John Gantz, chief research officer and senior vice president of IDC, believes that Vista opens up possibilities for everyone in the IT sector.

"Windows Vista's footprint in the state will be wide, as original equipment manufacturers sell PCs that run on it, software companies sell applications that run it, and services and distribution firms deliver, install, support and train on it. We expect that in the first year of Windows Vista shipments, this ecosystem will sell more than $7 billion of Windows Vista-related products and services in New York."

In a separate press release, Gantz said the same exact thing about New Jersey, except the revenue amount was lower.

Overall, the IDC is predicting that Vista will find its way onto 3.5 million PCs in New York and another 1.2 million in New Jersey this year. People on the Eastern Seaboard looking for new work will also be happy to hear that the IDC estimates that Vista will also create 16,000 new jobs in New York and 5,000 more in Jersey. Right now, Monster.com is showing a total of ten jobs in the two states that match the search term "Windows Vista."

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Ballmer on the iPhone, or whatever it will ultimately be called

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Microsoft Steve is not impressed with Apple Steve's iPhone "or whatever it will ultimately be called." Speaking to InformationWeek, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer said that the iPhone is just like any other phone, except it sports an Apple logo.

"I don't think this would be a very interesting announcement if anybody else had announced exactly the same product. If you didn't put the Apple name in that equation, I'm not sure how people would assess it."

Ballmer also noted that Windows-based mobile phones are fully capable, not to mention cheaper.

"Today, you can buy phones for $100 that do e-mail, browsing, video, Office productivity. Those are the Windows Mobile phones… If you want to send e-mail, touchscreens are okay. We have touchscreen-based devices, but I think keyboards are generally preferred for people who do much typing."

With all the anti-Microsoft ads being run by Apple, someone at Microsoft has to stand up for the company, right? Ballmer's been doing it for years. In 2004, the Microsoft CEO was quoted as saying that Apple couldn't create a "digital home", or a place where audio, video, and computers would converge for entertainment purposes. That same year Ballmer branded iPod users as thieves. Before Steve Jobs announced Apple's Intel deal in June of 2005, Ballmer commented on Apple's miniscule market share as compared to his Redmond overlord. "We've been competing with Apple every day for the last 20 years and we have about 50 times as many users," he said. And let's not forget the whole iPod brainwashing saga.

All that bad blood between Apple and Microsoft, but there's little question that Apple knows how to promote its products. Even Ballmer can't resist throwing them a compliment. "Apple does nice execution." It's not much, but at least it's something.

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MySpace offers limited parental tools; critics not impressed

MySpace is, according to one conservative author I spoke with last year, a “porn hole.” A group of state attorneys general labels it a “towering danger to kids.” And of course there’s the occasional rape and subsequent lawsuit against the site. Given the level of bad press it draws (and the threats of legal action against it), MySpace has been under pressure to do more to make the site safe for kids to use.HangZhou Night Net

Their new plan, to be rolled out this spring, is to let parents download a software program currently called “Zephyr.” The Wall Street Journal reported the story on Wednesday, but the system they described is unlikely to placate critics.

Zephyr will allow anyone who installs it to see a list of all MySpace users who have logged on to the service using that particular computer. It shows only limited data, though, including usernames, addresses, and ages, allowing to parents to see exactly who their children (and their children’s friends) are claiming to be. It does not provide access to a user’s private messages or other personal features, making it of fairly limited value for trying to decide whether a teenager’s use of the service is legitimate.

This is a far cry from what the group of state attorneys have been pushing MySpace to do, and Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal made his displeasure clear. “Children can easily evade the software’s purported protections by creating profiles from computers outside the home,” he said. “This software does noting to stop predators or protect kids from inappropriate material.”

Blumenthal went on to demand “real age verification” that would include some form of parental involvement and verification for children under 18. He also called on the site to stop taking registrations from kids under the age of 16.

MySpace has so far chosen not to do either of those things, and Blumenthal said that if the site persists in its current practices, he and his fellow attorneys general would consider legal action.

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Beatles to finally arrive on iTunes in February. Maybe.

Yes, yes, we know that this rumor has been floating around for some time now. The Beatles showing up on iTunes is almost as old a rumor as the iPhone (almost). The buzz, however, has been growing lately (especially with Steve Jobs' inclusion of some Beatles music at the recent keynote at Macworld), and I've received enough requests to write this that I've finally broken down. HangZhou Night Net

A Beatles fan site was among the first this week to post unconfirmed claims that Apple and Apple (get it?) had come to an agreement. The announcement that Apple will receive a 3-month exclusive agreement to the remastered Beatles albums, according to their sources, would come on Valentine's Day, which is February 14 for those of you who are bitter about love don't follow abstract holidays. The site says that they're unclear on when the non-iTunes albums are expected to come out.

The Toronto Sun also picked up on these rumors, but presented a few possibilities for a release date (or dates). They say that there will be a minimum of remastered 11 UK albums released (we're talking real albums here, not on iTunes), and if released chronologically, they could come out in a string between March and June of this year. Another possibility, the Sun says, is that the entire catalog will come out at the beginning of June "to commemorate the 40th anniversary of what many call the Fabs' finest hour—the release of their ground-breaking 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' album." Despite all this, they acknowledge that they too have heard that Apple will have a 3-month exclusive agreement to make these albums available on iTunes, possibly even before the albums are released elsewhere.

Finally, Apple is expected to make some sort of "special announcement" on February 4, which falls squarely on the US Super Bowl. What could it be? Everyone seems to think that it will at least somehow reference the rumored Beatles deal. I say it's a good possibility, but I'm not necessarily putting money on it. What do you think?

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Microsoft announces direct downloads of Vista, family licensing

When we first told you about Windows Anytime Upgrade, I observed that Microsoft was taking a confident stance against piracy. By packing all four operating-system versions into a single retail disc package, Microsoft can rely on its own antipiracy tools to validate on-the-fly upgrades. Once installed, a quick trip to the Windows Anytime Upgrade application presents you with the opportunity to upgrade from Home Basic all the way to Ultimate, for a fee.HangZhou Night Net

Yesterday Microsoft announced an expansion to their online sales efforts in the form of direct downloads for both Windows Vista and Office 2007. Starting on January 30, Microsoft will sell the retail editions of Windows Vista and Office 2007 on the Windows Marketplace. Customers will be able to purchase software keys and download the installation software. At launch, the program will only be available in North America, and will only support the English versions of these applications.

"With the consumer launch of Windows Vista so close, we're excited to announce three new ways to make the purchase and upgrade experience easier than ever," said Brad Brooks, general manager of Windows Client Marketing at Microsoft. "These new programs give our customers more flexibility and choice to ensure they get the edition that's right for them."

Windows Anytime Upgrade can be tapped by OEMs who can then set up their own software offerings for their customers. According to Microsoft, these partners can establish their own upgrade pricing, but Microsoft has made the following recommendations: Home Basic to Home Premium $79, Home Basic to Ultimate $199, Home Premium to Ultimate $159 and Business to Ultimate $139.

Family discounts

Microsoft also announced a family license plan for US and Canadian users aimed at giving users reduced licensing costs for multiple machines. Until June 30 2007, customers who purchase Windows Vista Ultimate (upgrade or full version) can purchase up to two additional Vista Home Premium licenses for $49.99, a discount of $350 from the MSRP of $399.99.

It's a shrewd move by Microsoft. Windows Vista Family Discount will give Vista Ultimate buyers with multiple PCs in the home a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade their machines while costing Microsoft relatively little.

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iPhone’s expected profit margin to top 50 percent

How much will the iPhone really cost Apple to make, and how much of a premium on top of that will consumers be paying for it? A preliminary analysis by iSuppli of Apple’s recently-announced iPhone shows that, based off of the estimated cost of materials, Apple has priced the iPhone with over a 50 percent profit margin on both models. HangZhou Night Net

iSuppli estimates that the hardware Bill of Materials (BoM) for the 4GB version of the iPhone will be $229.85, and with the addition of nonhardware costs (such as royalties to EDGE, an operating system, and various software), comes out to a total price of $245.83. With a projected retail price of $499 from Apple and Cingular, that puts the 4GB iPhone at a 50.7 percent profit margin. The 8GB model’s profit margin is slightly higher—with an estimated hardware BoM of $264.85, total cost of $280.83, and retail price of $599, the 8GB iPhone will have roughly a 53.1 percent profit margin. iSuppli says that the company has a "high degree of confidence" in these figures, but that until an actual teardown of the iPhone takes place, the numbers are considered preliminary.

Can Apple survive in the cutthroat mobile phone world with such high margins? The company has succeeded in the past in charging similar margins on the iPod nano and the iMac (45 percent, according to iSuppli), so the iPhone’s apparently hefty margins come as no surprise. However, the mobile phone market has so many players and so much competition (about 835 new models are expected to come out this year, with at least 14 models that have features similar to the iPhone) that Apple may have a hard time thriving in such a vastly different market.

iSuppli Director and principal analyst Jagdish Rebello said that "With a 50 percent gross margin, Apple is setting itself up for aggressive price declines going forward." The fierce competition is only exacerbated by service providers who are always pushing deals on handsets as a part of new contracts. Apple’s multiyear tie-in with Cingular will limit Apple’s reach in the market too, since there are still entire states that have yet to be blessed with Cingular coverage.

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Recognizing the errors of our ways

Most researchers have an ambiguous relationship with statistics. We realize that it’s a necessary tool for a lot of what we do, but it’s also a distinct discipline that can require a graduate degree to fully understand. An unfortunate result is that either the statistical tools we use are often somewhat simplified, or we work with someone else who does the actual statistical analysis. Two different papers came out recently that point out the dangers of not having a firm grasp on statistics. One suggests an improvement over standard statistical tests, while the second contains a whole list of common errors and cautions in the application of a recently developed technology. HangZhou Night Net

The first looked at what are called observational studies: large collections of patients that are undergoing medical treatments and are tracked for whether the treatments have an effect. Unlike randomized clinical trials (which are needed before new treatments are used), however, the results of observational studies can be complicated by decisions made by doctors and patients. It’s possible that only a subset of patients ever get a given treatment, which could have more to do with their long-term health than the actual medical intervention.

The authors look at a cardiac catheterization procedure used to reopen blocked heart arteries. In early randomized clinical trials, the decrease in mortality following the procedure was in the 10-20 percent range. But once the procedure was put into common use, doctors only tended to perform it on younger patients with less severe heart problems. Observational studies with three different types of standard statistical controls suggested that the decrease in mortality was nearly 50 percent, but was this due to the procedure or the patients?

The authors redid the data using what’s called “Instrumental Variable Analysis,” a technique developed by economists that acts to re-randomize the data. As they put it, “An instrumental variable has 2 key characteristics: it is highly correlated with treatment and does not independently affect the outcome.” They found that geographical location provided such a variable. The use of catheterization was more common in some locations—in those regions, the procedure was more commonly performed on older and less healthy individuals. In effect, where you had the procedure done acted a bit like the random assignment of similar patients to groups who did or did not receive the procedure. This analysis placed the mortality benefit in the neighborhood of 16 percent, about the same as was seen in the randomized clinical trials.

The second study was far broader, and produced a large set of recommendations for improved analysis of a specific class of study. The experiments these authors looked at involved DNA chips, technology that allows all of the genes expressed by a tissue to be examined at once. In many cases, chip technology has been used to look for differences between cancerous and normal cells, in the hope that specific sets of genes may correlate with outcome or response to targeted treatments. The authors looked for studies dating from 2004, and found nearly 100 studies of this sort that fit their criteria. They then looked at all of the things these studies did wrong, and found that they fell into three main categories.

The first mistake is hanging on to inappropriate standards. Many researchers continued to use the most common standard of probability (p < 0.05) to judge relevance, despite the fact that even the smallest DNA chips now represent over 20,000 genes. That means over 1,000 of these data points are going to be false positives unless people use a more stringent standard. Other publications built up a panel of potentially diagnostic genes using a set of patients, and then included these same patients in tests of whether those genes really were diagnostic, which obviously would skew the results. But the biggest problem seemed to be a basic mix up of cause and effect: "the most common and serious flaw was a spurious claim that the expression clusters were meaningful for distinguishing different outcomes, when the clustering itself was based on genes selected for their correlation with outcome."

They also pointed out some more general flaws. Many studies lacked a clear goal, meaning that their results tended to reveal vague correlations, rather than producing usable conclusions. Possibly as a result of the lack of a clear goal, many of the studies evaluated simply threw every tumor sample they had on the DNA chip, without regard to the general health, age, or treatment received by the patient. These differences made it impossible to correlate the outcomes with anything.

Both of these papers provide a wealth of potential cautions regarding the interpretation of clinical data from the fields of cancer and heart disease, two of the biggest killers in the US. They also highlight one of the strengths of science: it is potentially self-correcting. Hopefully, these papers will receive sufficient attention within the field for corrections to be made.

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New lobbying bill to criminalize political bloggers?

One of the Democratic priorities for the new Congress was passage of a lobbyist reform bill, but the introduction of S.1 into the Senate has caused a veritable firestorm of controversy. That’s because section 220 of the bill introduces disclosure requirements for “paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying.” The Traditional Values Coalition calls this section the “most expansive intrusion on First Amendment rights ever proposed in the United States Senate,” while GrassrootsFreedom.com chairman Richard Viguerie says that if it passes, “We’d be living under totalitarianism, not democracy.” But are these accurate statements, or is truth the first casualty of rhetoric?HangZhou Night Net

S.1 would change the rules for lobbyists. It bans all gifts from lobbyists, imposes restrictions on trips and accommodation offered to elected officials, and requires all “earmarks” to be identified in spending bills, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the bill also wants to bring disclosure requirements to the murky world of astroturf groups (so-called because they mimic real grassroots organizations). This is certainly a noble goal; undisclosed corporate money washes through so many front groups now that it can be difficult to tell when opinions are genuine and when they are bought and sold.

Section 220 of the bill “would require grassroots causes, even bloggers, who communicate to 500 or more members of the public on policy matters, to register and report quarterly to Congress the same as the big K. Street lobbyists,” said Viguerie in a statement, but the truth isn’t that simple.

First, a couple of facts: though groups like the Family Research Council claim that “the liberal leadership in the US Senate seeks to silence groups like the Family Research Council,” the bill was actually cosponsored by Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the top Republican leader in the Senate. What’s more, the bill appears to be an exact reintroduction of last year’s S.2349, which was introduced by Trent Lott (R-MS) and actually passed the Republican-controlled Senate, complete with section 220.

So much for the liberal plot. In fact, some liberal groups oppose the measure, including the ACLU. The group argues that the reporting requirements are “onerous” and that “people must be able to disseminate information, contact their representatives, and encourage others to do so as well.”

So what’s in the bill?

Section 220 introduces a series of modifications to the 1995 Lobbying Disclosure Act. The most important is that “paid efforts to stimulate grassroots lobbying” now counts as “lobbying” under certain circumstances. Currently, lobbyists are only considered as such if they have contact with elected officials or staff members. Should the new bill become law, disclosure and reporting requirements for lobbyists would be extended to groups who attempt to influence the general public to contact legislators.

This is what has inspired claims that bloggers and activists of all stripes will suddenly be classed as lobbyists and will be monitored by the government. What the bill says, though, is that the rules only apply to people who are paid by clients to encourage the public to contact Congress about specific legislation. The rules do not apply to any communication directed at less than 500 people, they do not apply to any communication directed at a group’s current membership, and they do not impose any speech regulations (all that is required is a quarterly report describing where one’s money came from and what bills were worked on).

Would this apply to a political blogger? Not usually. Because section 220 is only a series of changes to the Lobbying Disclosure Act, that legislation’s other rules still apply. According to OMB Watch, a government accountability watchdog group, the LDA’s registration requirement is only triggered by groups that spend more than $24,500 on lobbying semiannually and employ a least one person who spends 20 percent or more of their work time on lobbying. The bill also concerns only the federal government; groups operating at the state level are exempt.

It might apply to groups like the Family Research Council and the ACLU, however, but that seems to be exactly the intent of the bill. These are major advocacy groups in the same league as the astroturf groups so often funded by industry, not tiny nonprofits operating out a rented storefront in a downtrodden Midwest town—or bloggers operating from a basement.

The measure will hardly “send critics to jail,” as Richard Viguerie warns, and it’s simply not true that the “Senate will have criminalized the exercise of First Amendment rights.” Sending in a form can hardly be counted as draconian government harrassment, much less criminalization of free speech, and it won’t apply to most small advocacy groups or bloggers anyway. (Note that Viguerie is referred to as the “direct mail titan of the right” by SourceWatch, and that he would need to disclose his clients and their payments to him in many cases if this law were to pass).

The legislation seems designed instead to give the public more information about who is funding public advocacy campaigns. Much as prescription drug makers have begun advertising their products directly to the general public, other corporations have found it more productive to disguise their interest in an issue, convince the public that it’s either good or bad, then let individuals contact Congress directly. This gives their message more credibility, but citizens first need to know that the sources for these messages are credible.

Sen. Robert Bennett (R-UT), though, is concerned that section 220 is overly broad. He has introduced amendment 20, which would kill section 220 but leave the rest of the bill intact. (It’s a sign of just how much interest the bill has received on Capitol Hill, it currently has 96 proposed amendments).

S.1 has not yet come to a vote, though debate has progressed vigorously and a vote could be called at any time.

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Game Review: Wario Ware: Smooth Moves (Wii)

We know what we're getting from Wario Ware titles: microgames shot at us at a machine-gun pace, using the best of whatever input device the game is put on. We started with a GBA game, added a tilt sensor, and then moved to the DS with Wario Ware Touched. The GameCube Wario Ware was a great party game, but unfortunately didn't have any fun controllers to play with. Wario Ware: Smooth Moves is what fans of the franchise have been waiting for: microgames that use the Wiimote. In fact, this game uses the Wiimote in more novel ways that you can count, but that is actually one of the bigger issues with the title. HangZhou Night Net

Smooth Moves has you hold the Wiimote in many different ways to play the game: from the Handlebars to the Janitor, the positions all sound like vaguely boring sexual positions and are introduced via hilarious voice-over narration with a graphic explaining how to hold the Wiimote. Horizontal, vertical, with your hand over or below it; there is a learning curve involved with keeping all these positions straight. The downsides are obvious: if you just came into the game, you'll have to learn these positions or you're at a disadvantage, and that takes away from the pick-up-and-play joy of past Wario Ware titles. Also, having to be told how to hold the controller breaks up the action. The Wiimote is sometimes held on your nose, head, and hip. I've included a picture of the Mohawk position so you get a sense of what I'm talking about. The game is still fast-paced, but with that extra screen game play is slowed down. It's a little disappointing, and takes a while to get used to.

That being said, this game proves how strong of a controller the Wiimote is; maybe even a little better than Raving Rabbids did. There is a boss battle where you have to catch and balance falling blocks on a platter, and the fine control you have on both left-to-right movement as well as tilt as impressive. The games themselves are also as crazy as we're used to: from putting dentures into granny's mouth to playing Starfox to shooting bananas from your forehead into a giant nose, you really don't know what you'll see next. The first play-through is therefore the best—and where you'll laugh the most. Of course, some games will take you one or two tries before you figure out what you have to do, but those are rare.

Even with the slightly slower play this is a great game, and awesome for parties. Smooth Moves has bright and easy-to-understand graphics while the game play is top notch. Unlockable minigames help to round out the experience. There is a game where you have to put the Wiimote DOWN and then pick it up like a phone when you hear a ringing sound. That's just awesome. If you have a taste for the ridiculous and want to show off the Wiimote's capabilities, it doesn't get much better than this.

Verdict: Buy
Price: $49.99
System: Wii
Developer and Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: E10

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