Monday, November 11, 2013

Julia O'Dwyer – Hacking Politics


The following interview was conducted in November 2012 for the book Hacking Politics: How Geeks, Progressives, The Tea Party, Gamers, Anarchists and Suits Teamed up to Defeat SOPA and Save the Internet. Compiled by Demand Progress, Hacking Politics is a firsthand account of how a ragtag band of activists and technologists overcame a $90 million lobbying machine to defeat the most serious threat to Internet freedom in memory. It features contributions from Aaron Swartz, Lawrence Lessig, Cory Doctorow, Ron Paul, Kim Dotcom, and many more, and is available now via Tor Books.

Anyone who’s ever posted a link online without thoroughly investigating its providence should be concerned about the fate of a British student who is facing extradition and a ten year prison sentence in America – despite the fact that the crimes US prosecutors allege he is guilty of were not committed on US soil or servers and are not considered by experts to be against the law in the UK.

Richard O'Dwyer, a 24-year old from Chesterfield, England, founded TVShack.net in December 2007 while studying for a degree in computer science at Sheffield Hallam University. The site, which O'Dwyer started as a hobby, was essentially a boutique, entertainment-orientated search engine, which provided users with links to streaming movies, TV shows, documentaries, anime and music. TVShack.net hosted no content on its servers, it merely pointed users in the direction of third party sites that did.

Without warning, on June 30, 2010, the TVShack.net domain was seized by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] and a boilerplate copyright notice was posted on the site. Since Richard wasn’t operating from within the US, he wasn’t alarmed by this setback. Unperturbed, he switched over to TVShack.cc – a Top Level Domain based in the Cocos Islands (an Australian territory) – and soon had the website back up and running.

Richard continued to run TVShack.cc unimpeded, until one day when he got a rather unexpected knock at the door. The very long arm of the law, in the form of two American ICE officers, had come a calling at his university accommodation in the North of England, accompanied by an escort of Her Majesty’s boys in blue. Richard was arrested, but the investigation in the UK was subsequently dropped.

However, the Southern District Court in New York is attempting to prosecute Richard on one count of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and one count of criminal infringement of copyright. The application of existing intellectual property law in this way stretches it far beyond the boundaries – and borders – that lawmakers could possibly have originally envisioned. Furthermore, the US Government’s determination to prosecute this test case – at the MPAA's behest – is chilling when you consider how it may affect the very fabric of the web.

Even though Richard has committed no crimes that the British legal system is remotely interested in prosecuting, on January 13, 2012, a UK magistrate ruled that Richard could be extradited to America to face charges there. The judge was acting under the auspices of the highly contentious Extradition Act of 2003, a lopsided piece of legislation that was drafted in the wake of 9/11 and was sold to the public as an anti-terrorism measure.

Richard, and his mother Julia, a National Health Service nurse, are currently in the process of appealing this autocratic extradition ruling. As the legal process sluggishly moves towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion – since very few extradition requests from the US are declined – Richard is attempting to keep his head focused on his studies and his e-books. I therefore spoke with Julia, who has been spearheading the fight to keep Richard in the UK, about her son’s situation and the implications it could have for all webmasters and denizens of the net.

Nicole Powers: Were you aware at the time that Richard was doing this website?

Julia O'Dwyer: Well I knew he had a website, but he was at university. He wasn't actually living at home all the time, so I wouldn't be seeing him working on it that often because he wasn't here. He would come home every few weeks or at the end of the university term. I knew he'd got a website. I didn't really know the details of it…He did the website as a hobby. That's all it was. One of his mates made a suggestion to him and he said, “Alright, I'll do that.” So he did it.

NP: Had your son ever been in trouble before?

JD: No, no, never.

NP: When did you first realize something was wrong?

JD: I think it was in the summer of 2010. He was actually at home because it was the college holidays. I remember him saying, “Somebody's taken down my website.” He was here in the room with me and he was like muttering away [saying], “Well, I'll fix that.” America had put on this big red banner that is still on the website onto his original domain name, so he just fixed it and got it up and running on a new domain name. I can remember him saying, “America has nothing to do with me.” That was the end of it. He had it fixed and up and running again within a day or two.

NP: I've seen the banner. It just looks like one of those standard notices that you see and ignore at the start of a DVD. Aside from that, at the time, did anyone from the US government contact him?

JD: Nobody had contacted him at all. He'd said he’d had a couple of take down requests, which were not correctly formatted, so that meant he couldn't find the links that they were trying to refer to. He had a take down request to remove a link from a British film company, and he complied with that request. But apart from those, there was no correspondence or communication from anybody in America to Richard about his website. All his mail would come to this address. When he's at university, because he changes accommodation every year on the course, he always gives his home address as his mailing address. I know that nothing came here because I always open the mail in case there's anything urgent…So I can safely say that no correspondence came to this address, and they did have this address because his domain was registered in his name with his home address. After they took down his first domain name in July we never heard anything from anybody until the police arrived in November wanting to question him about his website…That very same day he closed down the domain name and any of his email addresses that were associated with that website

NP: So before the police knocked on his door, he had no way of really knowing what he'd done wrong.

JD: I think he just thought, well I'm not in America; I'm not subject to the laws of America. That's how he would think. That's why he said, “They're nothing to do with me, so I'll fix it.” Which he did. Then they didn't like that so they came after him.

NP: Where was he when the police arrived?

JD: He was in Sheffield at his student accommodation. It was early in the morning. He was just getting ready to go to classes and some police knocked on his door…There was police from the City of London, and two American agents. We assume it was ICE agents. They weren't present when Richard was being questioned. I don't know why they were there, but they didn't come in on any of the questioning.

NP: So they took him down to the police station.

JD: In Sheffield, yes.

NP: I was watching an interview that Richard did with The Guardian in which he talked about how he asked if he should have a solicitor present and they brushed him off by saying it’d take too long.

JD: Yeah…They said to him it's going to take a few hours to get one here. Because they said that, and because he had no previous dealings with the police, he didn’t ask for a solicitor. And he wanted to get to his classes. He didn't want to be late.

NP: What's your understanding of what was said during the questioning?

JD: Well I have the transcript of the police interview...It wasn't a long interview. It was about 40 minutes…[They said] they were arresting him under copyright, designs and patents offenses. They said the website is streaming films and TV, and that's infringing copyright legislation, so therefore the money you're making is effectively money laundering; it’s the proceeds of your criminal activity.That's why you're being arrested. They asked him about the website, when he made it. They asked him did anybody else help him with the website. They asked him about how he managed the website, and if he generated an income from it. They asked him how it technically worked. It was just links on the website, there was no copyrighted content…They asked him how people would go on it, select a link, would be directed to Youtube or some other video sites. They asked him about how it gained popularity…They asked him more technical stuff about the website, where the servers were. No servers were in America. He told them it was all his own work, nobody helped him. He did it as a hobby. That's about it really…He was actually in tears for most of the interview. I didn't find that out until I got this transcript. I was a bit annoyed about that.

NP: How old was he at this time?

JD: He was questioned in 2010, so he was 22…The police were also here at my house at the same time questioning me. They probably had this address down for Richard as well you see.

NP: So simultaneously to the police knocking on Richard's door at his digs they're knocking on your door?

JD: Yes…Same time, early in the morning. I wasn't going to work that day because we had the joiners here. They were taking out the staircase and putting new stairs in. They came and I was really worried and thought Richard had been in an accident. That's the first thing I thought when I saw these police. It was about half 6 or 7 in the morning. It was dark. Anyway, they said they wanted to speak to me about a website that Richard had.

NP: Under what circumstances did Richard finally get released?

JD: When they finished questioning me I just sent him a text telling him to come home or he texted me and said he was coming home, and so he did. Nobody mentioned extradition at this point. That wasn't even something that entered our minds. So I just said, “Don't worry about it, Richard. We'll get a solicitor, we'll sort it all out.” He was told that he was on bail and that he would have to go back to the City of London Police Station, which is where those police came from, six months later, which he did. We both went there.

NP: What happened when you went down to London six months later in May of 2011?

JD: It was just to go to the police station to answer to the bail. Richard by now had got a solicitor who also knew nothing about extradition. He got us somebody to meet Richard at the police station…He went in with Richard, and then quickly came out and said the criminal investigation in the UK had been dropped. I felt an immediate sigh of relief, but then in the next sentence he said, but we've got this extradition warrant instead, and we have to go straight to the courts. That happened quickly. Richard was put straight into a police car and taken to the court. I had to go and find my way to the court, and that's the first we heard about the mention of extradition.

NP: So with no warning, all of a sudden you're in a UK court fighting extradition.

JD: Yes. Richard was put straight into a cell at the police station. He was locked up. I had to make my way there and the lawyer said that a barrister would meet me there…I had to be there for 2 and I don't think the barrister came ‘til about 4. Richard was locked up all this time so I couldn't have any contact with him.

NP: I’m guessing your lawyer would have had to scrabble around to find a barrister because he didn't even know he was going to need one.

JD: Exactly, yes. While Richard was locked up and I was waiting to go to into this court, loads of people were there waiting for the same purpose, not to go America but to Europe…I went into the court to wait Richard's turn. They just keep coming in, one after the other…they were all just being processed through…And I was just thinking, oh my God, this is going to happen to Richard next. We didn't get any information. Nobody gave us a leaflet about what happens if you're given an extradition warrant. I only knew what I could see going on there. The fact was everybody was getting their extradition requests rubber-stamped.

When Richard came into the court there was a prosecutor there for America and this barrister that we had. Of course, she knew nothing either. Nobody knew about the case because we didn't know there was a case. The prosecutors wanted Richard to be kept in prison, so they were arguing for that. It was really terrifying because they were so nasty. Because Richard had got exams the following week, and we’d told all this to the barrister woman. She managed to get bail for Richard, but he had to go in prison overnight because they wanted his passport. We didn't go to London with a passport, it was here at home, and they wanted some cash as well. Then it was 5 o’clock, and the court was closing. We couldn't physically get the money and get the passport by 5 o’ clock when we didn't even go into the court until 4, so Richard had to go to Wandsworth Prison. Luckily my sister lives in London so I was able to give her a call. I went to her house and then the next day we got the money and I phoned home and got my partner to get the passport. None of it was straightforward.

NP: I can imagine; Chesterfield’s 150 miles away from London.

JD: You have to take the passport to a local police station, and they have to contact the prison. But the trouble is I was trying to do this at 5 o’ clock after Richard had gone off to Wandsworth Prison. They make them sit in a van for hours outside, they take hours to process them into the prison, and until they're actually processed into the prison and moved onto their computer system, they wouldn't accept the passport. My partner…he was in Worksop [a town 16 miles from Chesterfield] at the time, and the police were like, “We don't know how to do this. We can't take your passport.” It was just hopeless, the whole thing. But by the next day, we got that sorted, and he was able to come out in the afternoon.

The other thing was they didn't know what bail conditions to impose on him. The judge was like, “We've got the money, we've got the passport, what else can we do to him?” The barrister said we could say that he mustn't access the internet, but then the judge was saying he's got exams the next week, he's at university, so we can't do that, can we? And how could we police that anyway, he could just go in an internet café. So Richard had to tap on the glass, because he was behind this glass wall in the court, to get somebody to come over so that he could make suggestions to them about his bail. He just said, “You could tell me not to access the TV Shack website” – which he'd already taken down anyway – and “You could tell me not to buy any new domain names.” So he chose his own bail restrictions because they didn't know what to do. It was funny. Well it would have been funny if it hadn't been so frightening.

NP: So now he's back studying at university and you're fighting extradition, which is just a ridiculous thing because he's not committed any crime that anyone’s interested in prosecuting him for in the UK, and it’s arguable that he’s committed no crime at all.

JD: Yes, that's right. He never went to America. America is claiming jurisdiction over somebody who has never set foot in their country. They don't allow it to happen to their own citizens. We can't do it to them. I have a freedom of information request which shows that not one American has ever been extradited to the UK for something that they'd done in America. And the UK has never asked for an extradition of an American for something that they've done in America. So it's mad.

NP: What's the process to fight the extradition? And where are you at with it right now?

JD: Well we’ve just received a date for the appeal in December…The main argument is that Richard's website operated in the same way as the TV Links website…and the TV Links case was thrown out of court. It was dismissed…It was thrown out because they said that linking to any content is not a crime basically.

NP: As I understand it, they were claiming the difference with Richard's case was that he was curating content?

JD: No, they didn't say that actually. In fact it was quite a cock up at the court…We had a few hearings where we presented the arguments through October and November of 2011…In order to be extradited the alleged crime must be a crime in both countries. We were trying to prove that it is not a crime in the UK. If we had won that argument, then Richard couldn't be extradited. At that court hearing the judge was saying yes, you've got a good, strong argument. And so was the prosecutor. We had another hearing booked, because there's other arguments that you put forward like human rights…

The next court appearance, the night before we were going to London we got a late submission from the other side. When you get a document through, you have to read it and you're meant to rebut it, provide a response. But it came to us at something like 7 o’ clock at night; we were going to get on a train at 5 in the morning. Normally we would look at these documents for a week or so and with the solicitor write a response. I was really cross about this…I just sent a bit of a ranty email saying, “Why are we getting this crap? It's full of inaccuracies. The prosecution clearly don't have the technical knowledge to understand what it's all about.”

The next morning, we got to London, I was still mad about this, because we had to do a very quick response to it. The barrister came and he said, “Oh, I've sent your email to the prosecution barrister, and he's decided not to submit that document.” It was rubbish anyway. We weren't afraid for him to submit it, just annoyed that it was sent so late. But he'd decided not to [submit it]. Because of that, the barrister said let's leave it now as we left it last time, which is when the judge said we've got a good strong argument. We still had some other material to send in, but he said let's leave it. I didn't want to leave it. I wanted to carry on because I wanted it done good and proper, so that they wouldn't be able to come back. But because he felt that the judge and the prosecutor were agreeing that we had a good argument, he thought we would win it, so we didn't then submit this extra stuff…But then it all changed. Six weeks later the judge changed his mind. So we have to appeal against that decision, and this is the date that we're waiting for, the appeal.

NP: I presume this is all costing an incredible amount of time and money…

JD: Well Richard has legal aid, because he's a student, so we don't have to pay legal costs. We've had to pay for a couple of things, like we had a video made to explain to the judge how linking works. Because you get judges who are not technically literate…There's been the costs associated with traveling up and down to London quite a lot. That's expensive.

NP: And I understand that you had to temporarily give up work.

JD: Yes, I was off work for about six months as soon as this started happening.

NP: This is so chilling, because what Richard's done, putting links on a website, if America is successful in this case, the way it could be extrapolated will mean that virtually anyone that's ever put a website up could be extradited and/or subject to similar prosecution.

JD: I've checked the American Department of Justice website, I've checked ICE's website, I've checked the British Home Office website, they all have links on, and what do they say? We are not responsible for any content on any third party links…which is what Richard said on his website. Because when you go to a link on somebody's website, you leave that website and go to elsewhere – don't you? You don't stay on that website. The content that you link to isn't on your website. It's like if you have an email that somebody sends you with a link on, if you click on the link, you get sent somewhere else. It's not lodging on your email is it? So yes, it's worrying, isn't it, certainly?

NP: Do you have a sense that what you’re fighting isn't just for Richard? It's for thousands of people just like Richard, and also for sanity to reign on the internet.

JD: I've had to educate myself more about the internet and about extradition law as well. In the course of that I found out all about SOPA and PIPA and all that. So, yes, it is a very important issue isn't it? And I think you're right by saying if this is allowed to happen, then there are implications for many others worldwide, and for the internet. So yeah, it's very important, but obviously I do have to put Richard first. He's only a little fish really. I'm sure they've got bigger fish to fry than a little lad from Derbyshire.

NP: The US Government has virtually unlimited resources, so to drag a 22-year student through the courts like this, it feels like they’re choosing a test case that they thought would be easy pickings.

JD: Well this happened when they were doing this big clamp down called “Operation in our Sites” in America. I only know this now, afterwards…They seized several domain names on that same day, the 29th of November, 2010. After this had all happened, after the police came here, we received through the post documents about the domain name seizure. It wasn't just a document about Richard's website, it was a big document where all these other websites were listed as well. It was like a group thing, and it showed the addresses of the owners of all the websites. Richard's was the only one that had his name and address at the side of it. All of the others had post office box numbers. So in that group, he was easy because they had his name and address, whereas the others, they didn't. Because Richard did it as a hobby, he wasn't thinking he needed to conceal anything….If it was criminal, he wouldn't put his name and address on it would he?

NP: It’s also chilling that the website was seized first and questions were asked later. It was seized and shut down without any due process. They wouldn’t do that to a terrestrial business.

JD: Well he wasn't running it as a business. It was a hobby. He did make money out of it, but he didn't set out to make money from it. The ad companies approached him. He didn't go looking to make money. When the advertising companies, who by the way were American, approached him, he just thought, “Yeah, that will be all right. It will pay for my servers and stuff.” He didn't think it was going to grow into this massively popular website – that just happened by the fact of how the Internet works and how things spread. He never set out to make money from it at all. So yes, they did, they seized the domain with no due process.

NP: Basically it would be the equivalent of seizing a shop and all its contents and closing it down without so much as a court hearing, or even a formal mailed warning.

JD: No warning, no take down notice. I mean when these documents came…eventually, we got one saying if you want to show any interest in this domain name you'll have to come over here. He just signed to say he wasn't interested in it because we obviously didn't want to go over there. But yes, no warnings, no takedown, just that banner slapped on his domain…No correspondence, no communication about takedowns or anything.

NP: Again, this is worrying for anyone who run a website anywhere in the world. If you apply the precedent America is attempting to set, other countries could start doing the same with the various other national domains, and any online business that falls in the sights of a government agency can just be taken down without any due process and people's livelihoods ruined.

JD: Yes, I mean they have been doing that, haven't they? I know they have. I've been watching. There have been lots of domain seizures and I've seen people having to go to court to get their domains back.

NP: How let down do you feel by the UK government? Because they don't seem to be standing by their own citizen – which is unconscionable when you consider Richard hasn't done any crime that any English court is remotely interested in prosecuting.

JD: Very let down. But I'm not the only one in that position. They're just following the law that the previous government created. That's what I'm doing as well, campaigning for that law to be changed…I thought extradition was for fugitives, people who had gone to America, committed a crime, and then ran away. That's what a fugitive is. Not to go and get somebody who's never set foot in America, which is what they’re doing. America can do that because the British side of the extradition law allows them to. They protect their own citizens in America; the UK does not. If an American was to be requested to be extradited to this country, they would have the right to a proper hearing and bit of a trial beforehand…The government, they've done nothing…There's a few good MP's who are fighting for reform, and they have been very good. But, historically, nobody wins this fight because the British government and the judiciary have got an obligation to stand by their extradition arrangements with America.

NP: Which are one-sided.

JD: Which are lopsided, yes.

NP: How can people help Richard?

JD: Well we've really had loads of support. Richard keeps out of the way mostly. I just wanted him to make sure that he continued his university courses and that that wasn't going to be disrupted. He is doing that; he's on his final year now.

There's a few other people in the same position, and people that have been extradited and come back. We're all working together lobbying the MP's and getting plenty of stories into the media. A friend has launched a fighting fund recently, we're just trying to get some money together...I have had lots of offers through Twitter from American lawyers who have said don’t worry, there's loads of people here who would take this case for free. I'm not worried about that, but I am worried about other costs that might appear if we have to go there.

If you get extradited, you are put straight into a Federal prison in America, because they consider that you're a flight risk – even though they take your passport. You are taken straight to a Federal prison and you have to fight then to get bail. And if you haven't got an address in America, somewhere to live, then you're not going to get bail. And if you don't get bail, they leave you there to stew in until they are ready for a trial. Part of the rationale for doing that…Well firstly, they're not ready for a trial, and secondly, they leave you in prison until you get so fed up and want to go home that you agree to a plea bargain. That's how they resolve 97 percent of their cases in America. Also, if they did grant him bail, they'd want a load of money. So it's going to be costly enough going to America, because if Richard goes to America I'm going to be going there…I'm just trying to anticipate and plan ahead really…If you fail your appeal, they don't give you long before they take you. You can be gone within two weeks.

NP: I cannot imagine what you've been through and how much of a shock this must be.

JD: It was terrifying at the beginning…I've got a bit used to it now because I've spent the last six months of my life on the internet finding out more, finding out about copyright law in America, about copyright law in the UK, finding out about the extradition law.

NP: It’s just staggering, the fact that lobbying by bodies such as the RIAA and MPAA have turned something that would otherwise be a civil matter into a criminal one.

JD: Yes. They buy what they want, don't they, from the government, from the law enforcement agencies by lobbying and stuff. It's legalized bribery, isn't it? And they have got people working for them that used to work for the Department of Justice and vice-versa. It's all a bit incestuous that relationship between America's law enforcement agencies and the MPAA. I'm not saying that people should commit copyright infringement, but that organization, those industries need to move with the times…Richard in one of his Guardian interviews said there's nothing better than watching a movie at the cinema. He has always been a big cinemagoer. He still is. He was there yesterday. He goes there as often as he can. He loves movies. Yes, he'll watch movies on his computer, but if he wants to see a movie proper, he'll go out to cinema like everybody else does.

NP: People may think that this is never going to affect them, that this is some arcane copyright infringement case. But if they can go after Richard. they can go after anyone with a Wordpress blog. No one is safe.

JD: That's right. I mean, what is Richard to them? He's just a little nobody in England. He's nothing really. Why pick on him? He's small fry…It's not even clear that Richard has broken a law in America. It's questionable whether he's broken one in the UK. But you see you just get shipped over there and you have to fight that in a court.

NP: In effect, it's guilty until proven innocent.

JD: That's the way he's being treated. Because extradition is another punishment, which is given to you before you've even had a chance to go into a court to defend yourself. Putting you and your family through this whole process, and then taking you to America and putting you in jail when you haven't even been found guilty of anything…And just for something like this. He's not a murderer or a rapist or terrorist or anything.

***

A month after this interview was conducted, in December 2012, Richard O'Dwyer’s ordeal came to an end when a settlement deal was reached. O'Dwyer traveled to the U.S. voluntarily to appear in a New York court and signed a deferred prosecution agreement. Under its terms, he agreed not to break any U.S. laws and was ordered to pay a £20,000 fine. As long as he complies with this agreement, the extradition request will be dropped.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chester Bennington of Linkin Park and Stone Temple Pilots

On October 8th, Stone Temple Pilots released the five-song High Rise EP, which featured the band's first post-Scott Weiland recordings. With Linkin Park's Chester Bennington now fronting STP, the remaining original members, Eric Kretz and brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, hope to breathe new life into the band.

I caught up with Bennington (whose other band Linkin Park have just released their Recharged album) to talk about the epic collaboration, and the music that's more than worthy of STP's legacy that it's already spawned.

Read my exclusive interview with Chester Bennington on SuicideGIrls.com

Friday, October 25, 2013

Clive Barker: Hellraiser and Artful Weaver of Worlds


It's impossible to pin down Clive Barker, the man who created the iconic Pinhead character. The multi-faceted and irrepressible filmmaker, video game designer, artist, and author travels through different mediums and genres with the kind of ease that a shapeshifter might exchange forms. Take, for example, his current diverse slate of creative output. He's recently released anniversary editions of two of his most popular novels: Weaveworld and Cabal, which respectively reside towards opposite ends of the fantasy/horror spectrum (something that Barker envisions as a boundaryless continuum). Meanwhile he's writing his next adult novel and applying paint to canvas for two more installments of his popular Abarat all ages adventure, which is told in words and pictures. A new comic series, New Testament, came out earlier this year, which Barker produced with Mark Miller, who also serves as his editor and the Vice President of his production company, Seraphim. And Barker is currently presenting an art exhibition at Culver City's Century Guild in association with the gallery's founder and owner Thomas Negovan. Entitled Grand-Guignol, the group show will feature Barker's paintings alongside other works he's curated with Negovan. In addition, on Saturday the Beyond Fest will present a special screening at Hollywood's Egyptian Theater of the Cabal Cut of Night Breed, which sees Barker's cult classic film restored to a form that more closely resembles his original vision and the book upon which it was based.

On a recent edition of SuicideGirls Radio, the British born and internationally acclaimed master of multiple light and dark arts joined us by phone from his Beverly Hills home to talk about the varied proverbial irons he's keeping warm with his creative fire.

Read the transcript of our 30 minute conversation with Clive Barker on SuicideGirls.com.

[Miller and Negovan also joined us in-studio - you can view the full two-hour show here.]

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Capital Cities' Sebu Simonian: In a Tidal Wave of Mystery

Like National Public Radio, Back to the Future 2, Daniel Day Lewis, Sunsets, and Farrah Fawcett Hair, Capital Cities' debut album In A Tidal Wave of Mystery, which was released in June of this year, is good shit. The funky and fun band was formed after founding members Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian were united via a Craigslist ad back in 2008. The duo had a successful career composing jingles before releasing their first tunes under the Capital Cities moniker in 2011.

The self-titled five-song EP came out via indie label Lazy Hooks. It featured the quirky yet highly infectious track "Safe and Sound" which did the rounds on the interwebs before being picked up by the likes of Vodafone, Smart Car, Microsoft, and HBO. Following the viral success of the song, Capital Cities acquired additional members (bassist Manny Quintero, trumpeter Spencer Ludwig, guitarist Nick Merwin, and drummer Channing Holmes) and hit the road, building an avid following of fans, who, to complete the feedback loop, were invited to contribute voicemailed vocals about their favorite things for the song "Farrah Fawcett Hair."

I caught up with Sebu Simonian to talk about the album and the band's upcoming tour.

Read my exclusive interview with Sebu Simonian of Capital Cities on SuicideGirls.com.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Diablo Cody: Paradise


Paradise is Diablo Cody's fourth full-length feature film, but her first as both a writer and director, and is perhaps her most gloriously entertaining endeavor to date.

The film tells the story of Lamb Mannerheim (played by Julianne Hough), a young girl from a highly religious small town in Montana who has a crisis of faith after she loses her fiancé and is badly burned in a horrific plane crash. Scarred inside and out, she denounces her belief in God in the most spectacular of ways - in front of her parents (Holly Hunter and Nick Offerman), family, friends, neighbors, and entire community - from the pulpit of her local church during a sermon in which she was supposed to announce a substantial gift from her multi-million dollar settlement check. Instead, she takes herself and her windfall off to the Devil's playground, otherwise known as Las Vegas.

On a mission to seek out the worldly pleasures she's missed out on, she befriends a lascivious and licentious barman named William (Russell Brand) and his cohort, a nightclub singer named Loray (Octavia Spencer). Though running away from God and the narrow-minded morals of her hometown, Lamb's spiritual journey through Paradise, Nevada (where the Las Vegas Strip technically resides) ultimately helps her find herself.

This is no heavy-handed morality/immorality tale however. Thanks to Cody's wonderfully witty script, intelligent observations, and sharp direction, and the comedic talents of her incredible cast, Paradise is enlightening in more ways than one. I caught up with Cody recently to talk about the film.

Read my exclusive interview with Diablo Cody on SuicideGirls.com.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Little Boots: Satellite

“I’m a pop junkie,” says Victoria Hesketh a.k.a. Little Boots, whose stated goal is to write the perfect pop song. It could be argued that the British singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist has already done that with the 2009 single “New In Town” from her debut album Hands, but Hesketh modestly insists she has yet to attain that songwriting holy grail.

The word “pop” when describing any artistic medium is often considered to be synonymous with shallow and disposable, but the music Hesketh makes is most definitely not of that ilk. Unlike many who seek popular music success, Hesketh has put in the work and refused to sacrifice her individuality. She’s learnt her craft, paid her dues, and stayed true to her somewhat geeky self, and in doing so has created a DIY electro-pop aesthetic all of her own. Rejecting over-polished pop, Hesketh incorporates lo-fi sounds from offbeat gadgets such as the Stylophone and Tenori-on into her well-crafted songs.

It’s this down to earth, quirky, and honest approach that resonates with fans, who appreciate that she’s never conformed to the pop princess mold – though conversely it’s something that no doubt frustrated her first major label Warner Music Group home. Creative differences led to an amicable split after the release of her first album, and now Little Boots is doing her own thing her own way.

Her second album, Nocturnes, which was produced by Mo' Wax co-founder Tim Goldsworthy (now of disco-punk label DFA records), was released via Hesketh’s On Repeat Records imprint earlier this year, and a video for the song “Satellite,” which she directed, debuted this month.

We caught up with Hesketh by phone as she was preparing for her upcoming US tour, which kicks off in Santa Ana, California this weekend.

Read my interview with Little Boots on SuicideGirls.com.


Little Boots album Nocturnes, featuring the single “Satellite”, is out now. Her US tour kicks of at the Constellation Room in Santa Ana, CA on Sunday, September 22nd, 2013. For more info visit littlebootsmusic.co.uk/.

Skye Edwards of Morcheeba: Head Up High

Morcheeba’s lush sound – which is topped off by singer Skye Edwards’ velvety soft, soothing and sensual voice – is like a warm bath. It’s something you should surrender and sink into.

Coming to the fore in the mid-nineties alongside such artists as Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack, Morcheeba helped define the trip hop genre with the mellow vibes and downtempo grooves of their seminal 1996 debut, Who Can You Trust. They’ve always refused to be confined by the tenets of trip hop however, and in the intervening years the UK trio – which is comprised of Edwards and brothers Paul and Ross Godfrey – have transcended the genre they helped create.

Though Morcheeba’s music is often supremely relaxing, it’s never tired, and their forthcoming studio album, the band’s eigth, is no exception. While retaining their unique warm and mellow sound, and delving back into their hip hop roots, the new release, Head Up High, has a subtle yet invigorating upbeat kick – something the band refer to as “Morcheeba with a pulse.”

On the eve of a string of North American and European dates, we caught up with Edwards to talk about the new album, which hits stores on October 14th.

Read my interview with Skye Edwards of Morcheeba on SuicideGirls.com.


Morcheeba are playing the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, CA on Friday, September 20th and the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA on Saturday, September 21st. For more info visit Morcheeba.co.uk/.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Adam Ant: Adam Ant is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter

“There’s only one thing worse in society than the poor house and that’s the mad house.” ~ Adman Ant

Back in the early '80s, Adam Ant was the king of the wild post-punk frontier. Mentored by former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and his fashion designer partner Vivienne Westwood, the London born art school dropout created a visually vivid world of pirates and dandies which brought color back to the palate of a culturally monotone and economically depressed UK.

Having amassed an avid US fanbase with his music, and after starring in a critically acclaimed West End production of the Joe Orton play Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Ant moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. However the price of fame took its toll. Alongside film and TV roles, he also aquired a stalker, which severely impacted his already fragile peace of mind.

Taking a break from the public eye, Ant moved to Tennessee before returning to London, where an altercation outside a pub thrust him back into the headlines again. Following the incident, Ant pled guilty to a single count of causing an affray. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 21, Ant received a suspended sentence and court ordered psychiatric care. Unfortunately, due to the relentless nature of the British press, he was forced to pull his life back together under the tabloid glare.

Though his recovery was very public and far from linear – with every setback being exacerbated by its salacious documentation by the less savory contingent of the UK press – Ant is clearly in a much better place these days. He completed a string of dates in the US and Europe in 2012, before releasing his first studio album in 17 years. The intriguingly titled Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter was released on both side of the Atlantic in January of this year.

I caught up with Ant by phone after a rehearsal with his new band The Good, The Mad & The Lovely Posse to talk about his new album and his upcoming US tour, which kicks off in San Diego on July 17th.

Read my interview with Adam Ant on SuicideGirls.com.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pierce Brosnan – Love Is All You Need

“I know something of the life that this man lives in this film,” says Pierce Brosnan, when asked what attracted him to Love Is All You Need. It’s without doubt his most personal role to date. He plays a character very different from the cool, calm and collected men of action that dominate his résumé, which includes the title role in the TV series Remington Steele, and leads in movies such as Dante's Peak, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama, as well as a four-film stint as James Bond, in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day.

Though still suave and sophisticated, in Love Is All You Need, Brosnan’s character Philip is also very vulnerable beneath his expensive suits and default crabby demeanor. Philip is an English businessman isolated by geography in Denmark, and cut off from love due to the untimely and sudden death of his wife. As a coping mechanism, he divorces himself from his emotions and thrusts himself into his work running an international fruit and vegetable import/export empire. However, on the way to his son’s wedding at a picturesque but neglected Italian villa, surrounded by orange and lemon groves, that he once shared with his late wife, love literally and metaphorically crashes into Philip's life.

The somewhat chaotic Ida, played with extreme candor and subtlety by Danish actress Tinre Dyrholm, is the last thing Philip wants in his well-ordered and controlled world. But she is everything he needs. They bump into each other when Ida reverses her beat up car into Philip’s pristine one in an airport parking lot. As they exchange information, to their mutual horror and embarrassment, they realize they are both en route to the same wedding since Ida is the mother of the bride.

Ida’s vulnerabilities are far less well concealed than Philip’s. Indeed her wig is knocked off when her car airbag inflates, revealing a scalp left hairless due to the rigors of chemotherapy. But her hair – and a breast – are not the only losses Ida’s recently endured. Her husband has also just walked out on her, and into the arms of a younger woman. As a result, Ida is barely able to keep it together as she suffers the weight of Philip’s frustration and scorn. But her kindness, dignity, and cheerful spirit in the face of adversity prevail, and ultimately chip away at the stone that surrounds Philip’s heart.

Though dealing with the grim realities of breast cancer in an unusually honest way, the film –– which was directed by Academy Award-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and produced by Vibeke Windeløv, who has worked extensively with Dogme director Lars von Trier –– is very much a celebration of life and love. The two central characters ultimately come to terms with their respective losses, and find a way to move past them, and it’s this aspect that resonates deeply with Brosnan’s own experience.

The Irish born actor lost his first wife, Cassandra Harris, after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer in 1991. She was just 43. Like Philip, Brosnan eventually allowed himself to love again, and married journalist Keely Shaye Smith after a 7 year courtship in 2001. The couple have now been together for over 19 years and tirelessly campaign to raise awareness and money for environmental causes and women’s healthcare issues.

I recently met up with Brosnan at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel to talk about Love Is All You Need, which is in theaters now.

Nicole Powers: You must have been at this all day.

Pierce Brosnan: I have actually. All day, all yesterday, all week, but it’s good, because the film is a beautiful film.

NP: I was just going to say how beautiful it was. It’s a very unusual love story too, because it’s not just about the transformative power of love, it’s about the transformative power of a little honesty and a lot of kindness.

PB: It is. You’re absolutely right in that regard. It is about kindness, it is about affairs of the heart, it’s about the humanity of people’s lives who are mangled by love or by their own infidelities. It’s also about a woman who’s dealing with the rigors and the stress of breast cancer and trying to cleave her way through the healing of that, and a man, like myself, who is dormant within his own widowdom. That’s the power and the glory of Susanne Bier, she’s a really fantastic writer, a fantastic director.

NP: I love the brave choices she made. I mean, there’s the traditional Hollywood portrayal of cancer, but she chose not to take that route. There’s a particularly powerful bathing scene where you actually see…

PB: Her breast.

NP: And her wound. And that was important, to see that and have that honesty in the portrayal.

PB: Yes. I think it’s one of the most gorgeous scenes in the movie. I think it’s probably the epicenter of the movie. You see the vulnerability of this magnificent woman played by Trine Dyrholm. You see the joy away from the pain of cancer [as she’s] just bathing in these gorgeous waters – naked and abandoned to life. Then he thinks she’s drowning, it’s very tender and really beautifully done. It was an amazing setting to play the scene out in, and to see Trine do it with such courage and be naked. It’s not easy to be naked and have a camera on your as well.

NP: I also think it was a very courageous film for you to take on, because it must have brought back some painful memories from your past.

PB: It was come the day for the memories to go there, to go back to the loss of a wife that you loved, to go back and touch into that space and time and heart. But one does that in many different ways in your work. That’s what the job and the art of acting is, to go back to places that you don’t necessarily want to go back to and to bring them alive. That’s the challenge. And if you have a piece like this that is so supportive for those memories, and you have a director like Susanne Bier, who’s directing you through the piece, then you can surrender to it. And you have actors like Trine before you who make you real.

NP: Yes, she’s incredible. When you first saw the script what attracted you to it?

PB: Because I could identify with the emblems that were in this character’s life. Losing a wife, being a single parent, being a widower, being, not necessarily a workaholic – because I do like to do work. I love working, I love acting, and it’s what I do.

NP: And finding love again?

PB: And finding love again, I knew about that. I’ve got a great girl, a great woman who’s my North Star, nineteen years together going down the road. So, you know, I know something of the life that this man lives in this film. It’s about faith, new beginnings, all in the celebration of a wedding. Everyone can identify with a wedding. It’s the bringing together of two families, it’s a bringing together of a man and a woman, a boy and a girl, their love in the eyes of god, so there’s all of that ceremony that is timeless, generation after generation. And then the crazy, madcap world within that when they clash and the alcohol flows and the music flows and the resentments come out and people really begin to show themselves.

NP: The whole thing with family is that you have to love them despite their flaws.

PB: Yeah, you do. Because we’re all cracked and fractured, that’s love and only love really. It’s the essence of being human, being kind with whatever you do – writing, painting, being a dentist or being an accountant or whatever – I think it’s to be kind, to be loving.

NP: How long did you get to spend in Italy? The location was stunning.

PB: We spent just over a month there. It was amazing. It was just fabulous. Sorrento is a gorgeous part of the Italian coastline.

NP: I went on vacation there. It was the best trip I’ve ever had in my entire life. And seeing that villa set amongst the orange and lemon groves made me want smell-o-vision, because it must have smelt good.

PB: Oh, it was mighty, it was really, really unbelievable. I had the time of my life. It’s a film that I will carry in my heart forever and a day, because of the nature of it. Then that it’s there on film, that Morten [Søborg], the DP, captured it in such glorious color. And to wake up every day and go to work and Vibeke [Windeløv], one of the producers on the film, who’s a very charismatic lady. She found a villa for me, so I lived in the Villa Tritone, which was down the back streets. Do you remember when you were there, you could go down the back streets of Sorrento, down to the little village, the little bay? Well, as you go down that avenue, just before you get to the Saracens’ Gate, if you remember that, where the Saracens came through all those centuries ago, on the right there were green gates, and there was the Villa Tritone. So I stayed in this villa. Vibeke made a deal with the lovely owners, I stayed there, and then consequently all the cast and crew could come in – because they wanted to have James Bond in their house. [laughs] God love ‘em! God bless ‘em! [Puts on thick Irish accent] I’m just an actor. There you go, let’s party guys!

NP: This movie, and Mamma Mia, which is also set in a Mediterranean surrounding and centered around a wedding, made me realize that Europeans know how to eat, drink, and be merry, in a way that…

PB: Americans do, Americans do as well.

NP: But the lushness of the land, and the connection of it to the wine and the produce on the table…

PB:: Well, there is that old worldliness to it – that’s what’s so beguiling and captivating. These films are like bookends, Mamma Mia and this one. They sit there like bookends on the shelf. Because both are surrounded by the epicenter of a wedding.

NP: Did the locals enjoy the fact that James Bond was staying in their town? Were there any particularly funny moments with the locals while you were in Sorrento?

PB: Erm…Yes, but I can’t really talk about the one that comes to mind. [laughs] It involves…Oh no, I couldn’t. You’ll have to read the memoirs for that one. [laughs]

NP: [laughs] Damn, that’s a tease!

PB: It’s a tease, isn’t it? No, not really, I wondered around and, you know, the locals…I’d get out and about and I’d go to church Sundays, because the churches are everywhere, on every corner, and they’re so magnificent and such a celebration of faith. And the food was fantastic. I met a family who had a boat, so some days I’d just go around the coast and down the coast of the Amalfi.

NP: Ah, the Amalfi Coast.

PB: It was just around the corner, literally.

NP: Yeah, I took a bus trip along the coastal cliff road, and the bus was so long and the corners were so sharp it felt like we were going to plunge over the edge at times.

PB: Yeah, best not to look too closely. That opening scene with us in the car, that was all along the Amalfi Coast. I don't know how the hell we managed to do it but we did…But it was an embarrassment of riches.

NP: Well your career’s almost been an embarrassment of riches. I mean you got a big break early on when Tennessee Williams handpicked you to be in the UK premiere of his play [The Red Devil Battery Sign], and then you’ve work with Roman Polanski on The Ghost Writer – is there anyone you feel that you’ve yet to work with?

PB: Oh, so many, so many.

NP: Who? Put their names out into the universe and see what comes back.

PB: I’d love to work with Ang Lee and David O. Russell, I’d love to work with Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino – he wanted to do James Bond.

NP: Yeah?

PB: Yeah.

NP: I could see that actually.

PB: We got so, so polluted one night, he and I. Just absolutely in our cups at the Four Seasons.

NP: That’s a nice euphemism. What were you getting “polluted” on?

PB: Apple Martinis.

NP: They’re lethal.

PB: Ah, lethal.

NP: Because they’re so fruity.

PB: Ah, fruity, we were being very fruity that night, the two of us.

Publicist: [walks through the door and interrupts our conversation to bring the interview to a close] On that fruity note…So sorry

PB: On that fruity note…there we go…

NP: Nooo! Just as I’m getting the story of the night Pierce Brosnan gets drunk on Apple Martinis with Quentin Tarantino – Argh!!!!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rob Zombie – The Lords of Salem


“It’s a weird movie, which is good.” - Rob Zombie

The Lords of Salem is one hell of a rockin’ horror flick. Written and directed by Rob Zombie – whose feature credits include House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects, and Halloween I and II – the masterfully textured and paced film puts a timeless new spin on the mythology surrounding the Salem witch trials. It stars Rob’s wife, Sheri Moon Zombie, who plays Heidi Hawthorne, a local radio station DJ. The spirits of Salem start to stir when Heidi gives airplay to a sheet of vinyl she receives in a mysterious wooden crate, which comes with a cryptic note that merely says it’s “a gift from the Lords.”

After spooking ourselves silly watching a preview, during which we literally jumped out of our seat and squealed on several occasions, we met up with Rob, who'd just returned from Austin where he'd screened the film during SXSW. We spoke in depth about The Lords of Salem and also got the skinny on his new album, Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor, which comes out four days after the film’s April 19th theatrical release.

Read my interview with Rob Zombie on SuicideGirls.com.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Jules Stewart – K-11


“How could this have been here since the ‘50s and nobody know?” - Jules Stewart

Jules Stewart is the mother of a certain Twilight star, but to even mention that almost does a disservice to her latest project, which is an edgy and challenging example of independent filmmaking at its finest. Having spent three decades working in Hollywood as a script supervisor, with a résumé that spans 30 films and over 50 TV shows, Stewart knows a thing or two about what makes a good story and how to avoid the grind of tired and traditional screenwriting formulas. Consequently, K-11, which she co-wrote with Jared Kurt, is a compelling and very unique take on the prison drama. The highly accomplished film, which features an extraordinary ensemble cast, also marks Stewart’s directorial debut.

Read my interview with Jules Stewart on SuicideGirls.com.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cory Doctorow: Homeland –– Part 2

“I’m not cynical about clicktivism.” - Cory Doctorow

I was recently fortunate enough to spend some quality time with Cory Doctorow discussing topics related to the plot of Homeland, the thrilling follow up to his contemporary classic novel Little Brother (which serves as a primer on civil rights in the digital age). Our conversation spanned 90 minutes and ran into excess of 17,000 words, so the need for brevity dictated that I had to edit our interview heavily. However, Doctorow has an avid following, and rightly so. Hence I figured those of you that enjoyed the first installment of our interview might appreciate this second bite at the apple.

In the first part, we discussed Burning Man, which is where the action in Homeland kicks off, and the student debt bubble, which serves as a backdrop to the book. In part two, our conversation delves further into the post-Occupy politics of Homeland. In Doctorow’s book, our hacktivist hero Marcus Yallow, having been forced out of the education system due to financial pressures, gains a position as a tech guru for an independent political candidate. Our discussion therefore naturally turns to the limitations of two party systems, the potential social media has to transform the political landscape, the pros and cons of clicktivism, and the perils of online activism, which is especially poignant given that Aaron Swartz contributed an afterward to the book.

Read part two of my interview with Cory Doctorow on SuicideGirls.com/.

Cory will be embarking on a multi-city US book tour starting on Tuesday, February 5th, which also happens to be the release date for Homeland. See below for a full list of dates:

Cory Doctorow - 2013 Homeland Book Tour

Tuesday, February 05 - Seattle Public Library Central Branch, Seattle, WA

Wednesday, February 06 - Powell's Books, Beaverton, OR

Thursday, February 07 - Booksmith, San Francisco, CA

Friday, February 08 - Borderlands Books, San Francisco, CA

Saturday, February 09 - The Leonardo, Salt Lake City, UT

Sunday, February 10 - Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

Tuesday, February 12 - Times Square Marriott Marquis, New York, NY

Thursday, February 14 - Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

Friday, February 15 - Books & Books, Coral Gables, FL

Saturday, February 16 - Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC

Sunday, February 17 - Dekalb County Public Library, Decatur, GA

Monday, February 18 - Square Books, Oxford, MS

Tuesday, February 19 - Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

Wednesday, February 20 - Octavia Books, New Orleans, LA

Thursday, February 21 - Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX

Friday, February 22 - Book People, Austin, TX

Saturday, February 23 - Crowne Plaza Hotel, Nashua, NH

Saturday, February 23 - RiverRun Bookstore, Portsmouth, NH

Sunday, February 24 - Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, NH

Monday, February 25 - Busboys and Poets, Washington DC

Tuesday, February 26 - Harvard Book Store, Cambridge, MA

Wednesday, February 27 - South Broadway Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM

Full details can be found here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Cory Doctorow: Homeland

“Scholarship is inherently not a market activity.” - Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has made me wait almost a year to read Homeland, the much-anticipated sequel to Little Brother, his opus on civil rights and protest in the digital age. With not one but two Doctorow novels, Pirate Cinema and Rapture of the Nerds (which was co-authored with Charles Stross), already on the release schedule for 2012, Homeland has had to loiter in the wings for a 2013 publication date. But the wait has been well worth it. Homeland is a beyond worthy successor to Little Brother.

The highly prophetic novel, which was first published in 2007, is now regarded as a contemporary classic. As such, Little Brother is required reading in many of our more progressive schools, and has even been turned into a “must see” stage play –– hence Homeland has quite a legacy to live up to.

When I last sat down with Doctorow –– for an interview specifically about Little Brother –– on January 4th, 2012, Obama had just signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 into law. With the stroke of our President’s pen, yet another of the central themes of Little Brother –– unlimited military detention without trial –– had become fact rather than fiction.

In Homeland (which Doctorow had finished writing a few days prior to our first meeting), we return to the Little Brother universe a year and a half after the last novel left off. In the intervening months, austerity has choked the life and soul out of America, and our hacktivist hero Marcus Yallow has quit his studies, having been forced out of university by financial pressures and burgeoning student debt.

The action kicks off at Burning Man, where Marcus has an unexpected encounter with his sometime ally Masha, and their nemesis Carrie Johnstone. Masha, who is on the run from just about every law enforcement agency you can name (and a few that you can’t), hands Marcus an insurance policy in the form of a key to an encrypted torrent file which contains a treasure drove of highly sensitive data. Her subsequent disappearance prompts Marcus to set up a WikiLeaks-like site, an endeavor which is made all the more complicated by conflicts of interests that arise from his new job as a tech guru for an independent political candidate.

Meanwhile Johnstone has given up her position in the military for a lucrative job in the private sector with a Halliburton type entity that has tentacles embedded in the government, military, and the increasingly lucrative (and corrupt) student loan market. It’s therefore no surprise that Johnstone and her corporation, Zyz, are the subject of much of Masha’s leaked data, and a cat & mouse game ensues involving lawful interception, rootkits, and drones. It’s not all doom and gloom though, and at one point during the breakneck-paced plot, Marcus (and Doctorow vicariously through him) gets to sit down and have a Mini Dungeon adventure with Electronic Frontier Foundation founders John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore and Mitch Kapor, with uber geek Wil Wheaton acting as Dungeon Master.

Having read an advance copy of Homeland, I met up with Doctorow at his North London workspace to question him about it. As I make myself comfortable on his couch and set up my digital recorder on the coffee table next to his well-thumbed copy of the RAND Corporation’s 1955 book A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates, the Canadian-born writer and Boing Boing editor does something quintessentially English by offering me a cup of tea. Normally this would be more than acceptable, but having been tempted by the delights of cold-brew coffee –– Marcus’ hi-octane beverage of choice which fuels much of Homeland –– I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that Doctorow didn’t have a batch on the go…

Read my interview with Cory Doctorow on SuicideGirls.com.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kalle Lasn - Meme Wars: The Creative Destruction of Neoclassical Economics

"I believe that we are at the brink of a 1,000 year Dark Age and unless we stand up viscerally and powerfully and with civil disobedience and everything we've got, if we don't start fighting for a different kind of future, then we're not going to have a future."

~ Kalle Lasn, Adbusters

Adbusters co-founder and Occupy Wall Street protagonist Kalle Lasn is hoping his new book, Meme Wars, will ultimately facilitate the occupation of the world's financial institutions, corporations, and governments from within. It's a lofty goal and a long game, but as Lasn so eloquently puts it: "If we don't start fighting for a different kind of future then we're not going to have a future."

Over the course of Meme War's 400+ pages, Lasn challenges students in the economics departments of learning institutions around the globe to rise up, reeducate their professors, and demand they cast aside the failed tenets of orthodox economics. He also sets forth a more holistic curriculum which takes into account the psychological and environmental costs of doing business and redefines the concept of wealth to include mental and ecological health.

I spoke with Lasn, who was born in Estonia but is based in Vancouver, by phone.

Read my interview with Kalle Lasn on SuicideGirls.com.

We Are Weev

by Nicole Powers

These days, it's kinda like your computer illiterate granddad is laying down the law on the internet. Only worse. Cause your computer illiterate granddad doesn't have the power to send your ass to jail for longer than most rapists for the crime of clicking on the wrong http link. Which is something the US government is trying to do. Fo' realz. Yep. That.

Case in point. Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, a.k.a. @rabite, a.k.a. Weev. He's just been found guilty on one count of not actually hacking anything and one count of having a list of email addresses, even though no one bothered to prove he ever actually had 'em, tho everyone agrees his mate did. Confusing right? You can totally imagine Gramps throwing his hands in the air at this point and saying to hell with this good-for-nothing with two too many silly-ass names - which is pretty much what the US government is doing.

Part of the problem is that the laws Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, fuck it, let's just call him Weev, has been found guilty of violating - which came into being under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) - predate Hypertext Transfer Protocol, the first documented version of which, V0.9, was codified in 1991. In light of the fact that we've yet to come up with a fully functioning flux capacitor, as you can imagine, the application of the CFAA on today's internet works about as well as Doc Brown's DeLorean time machine.

***

"Couldn't it be argued that Weev actually did something good and beneficial for society?"

Wait? Wut? If that's the case, remind me why Grampa Government is trying to throw his ass in jail?

I'm chatting with Jay Leiderman, a chap who knows a thing or three about the law and the internet. He's an elite California State Bar Certified Criminal Law Specialist-grade lawyer who's defended several high profile hacktivist types, including Raynaldo Rivera of LulzSec and Commander X of the Peoples Liberation Front. He also happens to be a Twitter ninja, which is how I got to know him. A quick perusal of his @LeidermanDevine twitter feed will tell you Jay's a rare legit legal animal who clearly gets today's wobbly whirly web, which is why I called him up to discuss Weev's wobbly whirly situation, which is as follows...

On November 20, 2012, in a Newark, NJ court, Weev was convicted of USC 1028, "identity theft" (as in "stealing" a list of email addresses) and USC 1030 "conspiracy to access a computer device without authorization" -- which, according to Jay, is something we technically all do multiple times every day. Given that Weev was singled out of the entirety of America's online population for prosecution, in real terms, it's safe to say what he's actually more guilty of is embarrassing the fuck out of a Fortune 500 company...and the government no likey that.

Let me explain: Back in 2010 when the iPad first came out, Weev's mate figured out that AT&T was doing a sloppy ass job with autofill on an app, and in the course of achieving this great technological feat had publicly published the e-mail addresses and ICC-IDs (the identifiers that match a person to their SIM card in a mobile device) of its entire iPad customer base on the web - with no password, no firewall, no fuck off or die warning, no nothing to protect them. Yep. Really. They were that dumb.

"There's an AT&T web app that had a URL on it with a number at the end, and if you added one to the number you would see the next email address," explains Weev by phone after I tracked his ass down via teh twitters. Obviously there's quicker ways to get kicks online than adding a digit to a URL and hitting return (have you tried Googling Goatse?), so Weeve's ever resourceful mate, Daniel Spitler, created an app called the "iPad 3G Account Slurper" which sucked up well over 100,000 addresses. "My friend just wrote a script to irate though and add one to the number again and again and again," Weeve tells me. "It's not fucking rocket science. It's basic arithmetic. It could have been done manually on any iPad."

So that explains how they "stole" the list of publicly published email addresses, but why might be a better question to ask. "Comment and criticism against large companies which go unchecked in our country," replies Weev, when I ask him. "And making a public spectacle and ridiculing them, which I think frankly makes me the best fucking American in the room. We used to be a country that valued criticism of the powerful, and we haven't really been in the past three decades."

To add context, at the time, Weev and his mate (who copped a plea bargain) were working under the banner of Goatse Security, and as such, their mission in life was to explore gaping holes (I told you to Google Goatse!). AT&T's might not have been the sexiest of holes, but it was gaping and it could be argued that it was in the public interest that Goatse Security rummage around in it.

Among the private email addresses that AT&T were publicly publishing were ones belonging to politicians (New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel), members of the military and multiple government agencies (DARPA, DHS, NSA, FAA and FCC), and high profile media types (Diane Sawyer and New York Times CEO Janet Robinson). Goatse Security could have had much lulz with the list and/or sold it for mucho dinero, an option which the duo allegedly discussed in IRC chats but put aside. Instead, they decided to go to the press to speak truth to power, which was really when the trouble began.

Weev served as Goatse's spokesperson and spin master. It was his job to liaise with the media and present stories in a way that might titillate us lazy-ass scribes. "Hey, look, I just found a list of email addresses on a bunch publicly accessible web pages" might have been accurate, but it wasn't the kind of story that would make copy even on the slowest of news days, so Weev sexed it up a bit. In a press release sent to several news outlets he wrote, "I stole your email," and, like a magician offering to explain a trick, followed it up with, "Let me explain the method of theft."

Because of this hyperbole, Weev essentially convicted himself on the first count of "identity theft." The prosecution spent much of their time with Weeve on the stand discussing his use of the words "stole" and "theft" during cross-examination. I mean, I know it's said that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor, but I didn't know it was illegal! And speaking of the law's humor bind spot, the prosecution also referred to Weev's Encyclopedia Dramatica entry and used that against him, which, given the spoof nature of the site, is tantamount to using a Saturday Night Live skit as legitimate and damning character evidence. I. Kid. You. Not.

At no time did Goatse ever make the list publicly available - AT&T were the only ones doing that. The prosecution never really attempted to prove that Weev possessed the full list of email addresses. What neither side disputes is that Weev tapped the list for a handful of press email contacts (something he would have likely got by calling the media outlets direct anyways), then merely passed on a link to it to a journalist for verification. The journalist in question was Ryan Tate of Gawker. His story ran on June 9th, 2010, and it was because of this that the shit hit the proverbial fan.

"This access would have gone unnoticed if I hadn't gone to the press. If I hadn't informed AT&T's customers," says Weev. "They're not really pissed about the access, they're pissed about the speech attached to the access. God forbid corporations be subject to fair comment and criticism."

Talking of access, the second count Weev was convicted of - "conspiracy to access a computer device without authorization" - is something that should be cause for concern for anyone that has ever clicked on anything on the web. The way this law - which predates all of One Direction and the hyperlinked internet as we know it - is interpreted means that accessing a "protected computer" could get your ass slung in jail. But what is a "protected computer" and how the fuck are you supposed to know when you're accessing one? This is where the law gets interesting. And by interesting, I mean really fucking stupid.

"The definition of protected computer comes from comes from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986, and in 1986 http hadn't been invented yet," says Weev. "This was a long time ago when servers were things that were only accessible by dial-up that every single one universally had a password for. There wasn't the concept of a public network. At the time, if you were accessing a remote server, and you didn't have permission to be there it's clear that it wasn't public data. But now it's the age of the internet. We click links every day. You've never gotten Google's permission to go to Google, you've never gotten any website's permission that you've visited. It's the universally understood aspect of the web that you can visit a public http server without pre-written authorization. It's a ridiculous notion that you need it. And the prosecutor is using an ancient antiquated definition of a protected system, which is any system that engages in interstate commerce. So essentially, every cell phone, every computer, every public web server is a protected system, and the minute you do something that a website operator doesn't like - if they're rich enough of course, if they're a Fortune 500 company - then they can have you."

That might sound rather dramatic, but Jay, my favorite SG-lovin' lawyer agrees. "Based upon this case, the government's new position is that you are required to be clairvoyant in terms of determining what a protected computer is and what a non protected one is," he tells me. "From now on you have to be a psychic...because if it isn't password protected but it's a 'protected computer' you're potentially going to be found guilty like Weev was."

Thank god there's free tittysprinkles on the internet, because otherwise the risks of clicking on something you shouldn't wouldn't be worth price. As Weev puts it, "The law says every time that you click a link, if the person at the other end has enough money and connections, and they just don't like you, they can have you arbitrarily thrown in jail by declaring your access - after the fact - unauthorized."

But how did we get from "something good and beneficial for society" to "free tittysprinkles"? Well, some might see a very obvious linear connection, but those that don't should consider this; There's a cat and mouse game that goes on between big business and the internet security community, but it's a symbiotic relationship nevertheless. And as consumers who are clueless when it comes to code, we should be grateful to those that are scanning for flaws, and pressuring big corporations to sort their shit out on our behalf.

"Perhaps the greatest lesson of Weev's case is that not only is there no reward for helping these companies patch their holes and fix themselves, indeed now you're going to be facing ten or fifteen years of prison if you do," says Jay. "What's the incentive to make these companies more secure? I mean, you're better off just hacking them now. You're better off just hacking these companies and not telling them. If you get caught essentially you're facing about the same punishment anyway so what's the difference?"

***

Weev is currently in the process of appealing his conviction. You can donate to help with his legal costs here.

And tell Grampa Government to get off our lawn and out of our emails.

Isn't it time we upgraded our legal operating system?