Archive | March, 2011

Silent movie stars, presidents and queens

Last week I stayed at the St Francis Hotel in Union Square, San Francisco. Currently operated by the Westin Group, it is a hotel full of history.

Pictures, July 23 1921, Roscoe

Image via Wikipedia

It was the hotel where Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle stayed, in room 1221, on fateful night which resulted in the death of Virginia Rappe during a party. It is also the hotel where Al Jolson, during a poker game, passed away. Also in Room 1221!

Some years back, the Queen and President Reagan both stayed there at the same time. (Behave!). Bill Clinton was there at the same time as me.

More recently, because of a labour dispute, the hotel was invaded by a flashmobbing brass band and people singing ‘Don’t Stay in a Bad Hotel’.

But my experience was different. There were annoyances, like the exhorbitant cost of sandwiches at the lobby coffee shop, but generally, the attitude of staff to guests was genuinely friendly and concerned and they didn’t seem exploited to me.

There was also another picket (this one was by the hotel workers union — not the one by porn stars) but you know, from a foreigners point of view what I found curious, is that none of the people picketing seemed to be staff.

Bill Clinton

Of course I might be wrong. But from what I’ve seen I would certainly stay there next time I’m in SF.

I wouldn’t mind being caught in a (reasonably) good hotel.

But not in Room 1221.

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‘We like porn — no to .XXX’

Sometimes, it seems, the capacity of apparently sane and rational individuals to hold irrational and self-inconsistent views reaches new heights.


Image by kieren mccarthy via Flickr

Take the strange case of the .XXX domain which was finally approved a couple of hours ago, after many stops and starts over the last few years, though for people outside the rarified world of Internet Governance, it won’t have made much impact.

.XXX was a proposal, hotly debated for many years now, by British-born, Florida-based businessman Stuart Lawley to create a web address suffix (just like .COM for companies or .GG for Guernsey)  to allow content publishers in the euphemistically-named ‘adult entertainment industry’ to create website and email addresses ending in .XXX (e.g.

Let’s get one thing straight – whether or not there is such a new extension is a matter of amused indifferernce to me. — it’s somewhat unlikely I should ever want an XXX domain name, but you never know.

What I do see as important, are the rights of internet users to free expression without disproportionate interference in those rights.

Mr Lawley’s plan which he has been promoting for 6 or 7 years,  was fiercely opposed, as you might imagine.

But it was opposed by a most curious coalition.  An unholy alliance between religous and moralist fundamentalists and porn producers.

Yes, that right. Unbeleivably, a part of the industry that the new web address is planned to serve doesn’t want it. (Part does self-evidently).

Now I’ve recently been attending the international meeting at which .XXX was  finally approved.  (I’m not part of the group of people – the ICANN Board – which made the actual decision). Andt the whole meeting was picketed. Even those of us, like me, that werenot directly involved in the decision making process.

The group doing the picketing was the ironically-named ‘Free Speech Coalition’ whose sole message appeared to be ‘Ban .XXX’.

I kid you not, they were chanting ‘Free speech now- no to XXX‘.

Is it only me that can see the irony in a group calling itself the Free Speech Coalition trying to ban some one from using what, after all, is simply a short, three-letter string. They really are confusing labels with content. But that is par for the course in the internet naming industry.

There are well advanced plans for ‘.GAY‘.  Will the the African Bishops get together with Stonewall to oppose .GAY?

Or perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous will join with the Licensed Victuallers to ban .BOOZE

And this is deeply concerning for free speech. It is a fundamental right that we should be allowed to say what we like, within lawful, necessary and proportionate limits.

One of the opposing voices was an attorney and former pornographer, who through an impassioned speech opposing .XXX on free speech grounds, stated that he had the First Amendment tattooed on him.

We took up the argument in the lobby on the way out. Although measured and courteous, he was still impassioned — at one time partially disrobing to show me the actual tattoo.  It was on his bicep, for the curious, not the other place I’d imagined. And it was nothing like how you might imagine someone in the porn industry taking off the clothes in front of you might be

There is no compulsion whatsoever for pornographers to stop using .COM so can someone please tell me where is there any interference with their free speech rights. Yet, these so-called Free Speech advocates  are arguing, dangerously, in my opinion, to suppress a form of expression — the use of a three letter string as top-level domain name by Mr Lawley.

I still don’t get it.


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Thunderbirds are go!

I’m writing this from the Privium lounge at Amsterdam Airport.

For those of you (probably most) who have never heard of it, Privium is a program – open to all EEA nationals (the EU, Liechtenstein, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland), which allows high-tech border passage, bypassing the Koninklijke Marechausee‘s passport control checkpoints on entering or leaving the Netherlands to/from a non-Schengen state.

You have a card, which you have to pay for, on which is stored your biometrics (not in any database).

You use an iris recognition device which opens a turnstile which lets you bypass the passport checks.

The look on the faces of US and other visitors to Europe as you use the device and sail past the massive queues is priceless. 

It’s actually open to US citizens too so long as they are Global Entry vetted (There’s a reciprocal deal with Global Entry, although at the moment, European can’t get Global Entry privileges unless they are Dutch citizens).

Privium also has its own dedicated lounge, for which there is an extra fee (this is called Privium Plus). But if you only use it once or twice a year, it costs in with the quality of the food and the ambience, compared with the cavernous KLM Crown Lounge.

The Privium lounge is intimate and cosy,. It’s decorated in a 1960s UFO chic and even better the uniforms worn by the staff seem to have been designed by Gerry Anderson!

Naturally the lounge has its own Privium turnstile, giving instant access to airside, so you have the benefits of being either landside or airside right up until the last moment. (Security checks are at the gates for non-Schengen flights, so you need to add a few mins extra for that).

The only disadvantage is that it’s not open at weekends. But if you transit between Schengen and non-Schengen at Schiphol more than twice a year, its cheap insurance against a missed connection.

(And the lounge is the height of cool!)


Name that tune?

(This is song was a big hit when originally released, and was showcased in an animated feature with a well-known cartoon character, but it’s actually a morality tale about the evils of drug abuse. The song reappeared in an iconic movie of the 1980s, sung by the original artist, re-introducing the musical genre to a new generation).

zoot suits

Image by istolethetv via Flickr

The song concerns a young lady who was a very attractive prostitute, as hard as women get, but she really was a nice person inside.  She was having an affair with a disreputable gentleman who she really loved despite the fact he was a cocaine user. They went out together in to the Chinese ghetto, where he introduced her to smoking opium. In her opiate-induced fantasies, she dreamed about being being part of upper-class society, having a lot of money and being given nice things. She then became a successful marijuana dealer but was never confident of her success.

Name that tune?

(As an extra bonus .. the extended lyrics of the song, not often heard of, continue her story …)

She and her boyfriend went on a binge, and got arrested. They were put in the back of a police van and taken to gaol. She gave the bail money to her boyfriend who kept it and disappeared, leaving her incarcerated. Whilst in prison, she was visited by a religious gentleman who preached moderation. In response she made suggestive pelvic movements, implying the offer of sexual congress.  So she was taken to the insane asylum, where she died, which was pretty much the
end of the matter.

Our protagonist was really a good girl, but was the unfortunate victim of circumstances.


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Public policy input to new domains

I’ve just found the time to read the GAC  communiqué from the ICANN-Brussels meeting.

It’s a mark of the maturity of the whole private-public sector co-operation that is ICANN that in comparison to some of the similar documents I read in 1999 that it is so reasonable in tone.

In particular, the GAC’s observations on the Rule of Law and existing rights (a subject I’ve written on elsewhere on this site in respect to the Cybercrime Recommendations) are entirely sensible to include. While taking the time necessary to get things right is inconvenient, and costly to those who are investing time and money in new business models, NOT getting it right will be incredibly more costly and inconvenient.

Registrars and registries (existing and potential) must welcome public policy input in this fashion, since by working together (in the original spirit of the Internet) something much greater will be achieved than either sector (private industry on the one hand and Government on the other) could acheive alone.

Next week’s ICANN meeting promises to be quite interesting!



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