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« Hat edged toward ring | Main | Local Talent »

Jun 25, 2009


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Fec the Terrible

I achieve arousal looking at naked ham.

A. Bulluck

Immediately, Shell doesn't come across as an expert in Constitutional law. Also, he reminds me of Tracy Flick.


Do I even WANT to know what that means?

My answers for Ed are:

1) Lots, although none lately. I covered this issue for years. My favorite story was the company that came up with a filter that filtered out "skin-tones" - without even stopping to consider than not everyone in porn, or in life, has pink skin. And the bubble-gum companies with websites would have had fits.

2) Fairly well. Yes, they don't work on a fair percentage of sites, just most of them, if they use blacklisting and text filtering. More if you use whitelisting of sites, and there are products that maintain a database of image hashes and check against it. As the Chinese government has found, if youre going to censor things, you don't have to censor ALL of them - just enough to discourage most people. Try testing your work HTTP filter - it will block some blogs/forums but not others of a similar nature. Enough to make people start reflexively self censoring their reading, like people self censor their speech in China.

I tried this at a previous job for a story and the filter blocked some sites as "hacker" sites, but I had no problem pulling up the hacker journal "2600". I imagine it's the same with porn.

3) - this is the key question - who do you trust to do your censoring for you? Answer for me? No one, same as with all First Amendment issues. I'm a Hugo Black, "No Law Means No Law" type. One man's art is another man's trash, and vice versa. And leaving aside such considerations, whoever ends up getting the censoring power inevitably ends up censoring for political or commercial reasons.

4) No idea, but I'd be interested to hear. I suspect they'd say there's no real epidemic of people sitting in the open in the middle of a public library looking at porn.

Australia has gone insane with this idea. They are, or were, planning to filter the whole country's Net access.

Steve Harrison

They should definitely filter out bad porn, such as 37 year-old ladies wearing pigtails and plaid skirts, or gravity-defying spherical breast enhancements. A trip to the library should be educational, not confusing.


Not bad.


Speak of the devil. From /. today:

"The Australian Federal Communcations Ministry has confirmed that they intend to use the planned filter to block the download of games that have been refused classification by Australian classification authority, the OFLC. As a Electronic Frontiers Australia spokesman noted, 'This is confirmation that the scope of the mandatory censorship scheme will keep on creeping.'"

Ryan Shell

Ed, I posted a response to your questions here: http://voteshell.com/library-porn-filter-questions-from-ed-cone/

Ryan Shell


Do the libraries have filters currently? If so, are they not set appropriately to filter out this material?

I ask because if the library doesn't have internet filters or does but they're not set correctly, the system could be in jeopardy of losing federal money.

CIPA or the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which was signed into law in 2002, requires any library receiving government money and using it for technology costs to install software that blocks websites deemed obscene, containing pornography, and other websites containing material not suitable for children to view.

Jeffrey Sykes

Ed: If your daughter were 12 and went to the library for a school project would you be comfortable with her sitting at a computer next to a grown man looking at porn?


(OK, this made me angry. Angered response ensues.)

Thin, you say? Ryan's responses border on the absurd. He's done no research, is the sole determiner of what porn is, asserts that 40-yo men are 'surfing' (do people really still say 'surfing?') porn all over the library (and is certain that 13-yo kids are watching), didn't talk to the librarians or staff and refuses to say, "I think" or "I believe" and instead uses the shadowy phrase, "most folks" to make his case.

His basis? He knows of one case that the Supreme Court decided but doesn't cite it. Porn is "nudity and sexually explicit content," so that when you search for info on "breast cancer," the site is often blocked. He doesn't address the cost of filtering systems (or even if they work -- 'I'm not an IT guy') or who's going to pay for them. And I'm not sure he's met the First Amendment (a good friend of mine).

You don't get to run for office and announce ludicrous old and disproven "ideas" without doing any homework first, (i.e. read a case or an article on point); have no discussion with the experienced and/or experts and do no cost analysis.

Oh wait. This is Greensboro. Apparently you do. But is this episode the best we can expect from a candidate?

(I said I was angry. I'll get over it.)

Jeffrey Sykes

Sue: If one of your two kids were younger and went to the library to research a school project would you feel comfortable with them sitting beside a grown man looking at porn?

Jeffrey Sykes

Greensboro liberals defend porn at pubic libraries.


Fec the Terrible

Jeepers, Sue. The kid went to the City Academy and he's all up in the Action GSO speaker series. Nobody's tried harder to be one of you guys, and all he gets is his water cut off for it.

Come to the dark side, Luke.

Ed Cone

Jeff, I haven't seen anyone "defend porn at public libraries," or argue that it's just fine for kids to sit next to porn-surfing creeps.

People have asked how serious the alleged problem actually is, and how effective the proposed solution would be, and what the cost/benefit analysis of that solution might be, and questioned the case as presented so far by Shell.


Jeff, I'd be perfectly comfortable knowing that my kids would (a) tell me about it and (b) move away if they were thought something untoward were happening. But we had one of those unusual relationships between mom & kids - pretty open, very honest and I bought my son a Playboy when he asked for it.

People get scared of porn and thrash about it's impact on the unnamed "others" when they're not comfortable inside their own skin. I raised my kids to be comfortable in theirs.

(Jeff, your link goes to a site you have to log into; odd.)

Jeffrey Sykes

Sue: I was probably logged in when I posted the link. We have to work on that.

So because you and your kids had an open relationship, the rest of us should have to expose our children to the possibility of seeing porn on a tax-payer funded computer in a public place?

Jeffrey Sykes

Try this link for "Greensboro liberals defend porn in libraries"


Jeffrey Sykes

@ED"Jeff, I haven't seen anyone "defend porn at public libraries," or argue that it's just fine for kids to sit next to porn-surfing creeps."

I don't buy it Ed. You attack Ryan for proposing a rough outline of some ideas on the topic. If he had done a ton of research and linked to a dozen think tank articles, I guess you would have attacked him for being beholden to bright boys from a rich man's think tank.

Can you answer the question about your child? I'm not talking about everyman. I want to know how Ed Cone would feel if he left his 12-year-old daughter at the computer kiosk and went to look up books on 12-year old scotch and came back and saw a grown man looking at pornography at the computer next to her?

There will always be a parent of a 12 year old who needs to go to the library and use the material there.

Should we protect them from porn or allow them to be exposed to it at taxpayer expense?

Ed Cone


Ryan is a candidate for public office who posted a policy proposal at his campaign website, to which I responded.

I wouldn't want anyone -- adult male or not -- surfing porn next to a 12 year old child.

What has not been established - and what Ryan did not take the time to learn before making his proposal: How often is that happening at our libraries? How well would filters deal with any such problem? What new problems might filters cause? When all of those things are considered, is filtering necessary and/or a good idea?

Answering those questions seems like a reasonable way to address the issue.

Or, we could just see the word "porn" and start shooting from the hip.


I think Ed's third question, specifically who decides what and how much to filter, is really the crux of the debate.

That's part of the reason I don't agree with the Supreme Court's decision in US v. American Library Association, which Ryan eludes to in his response.

While I do think that there are some legitimate government interests in protecting minors from indecent material, the internet blocking required through CIPA and upheld in the ALA case are too far reaching. CIPA in fact doesn't provide local librarians with the authority to determine the merits of some results that may be blocked but perhaps shouldn't be because of other reasons, such as artistic or scientific merit.

Jeffrey Sykes

@ed"He defines "porn" as "nudity"

He defines porn as nudity and sexually explicit content. I think that's a pretty clear definition.

I appreciate your last response. It seems to me some saw the word "filter" and started shooting from the hip.

Ryan Shell

And Sue, just because you don't agree on this one topic doesn't mean you should lump me in to the same old same old category. There are many more things I've talked about and things I'm trying to help improve in Greensboro. I hope you don't define me by one disagreement.


Jeffrey Sykes

It also seems to me, from the Fox 8 link on Ryan's site, that librarians and security guards should not be burdened with policing what people are looking at on the computer when a filter could easily do the trick.

When's the last time some of you have been to the public library? The libraries are filled with people fighting to get time at the computer. Growing up in Winston, and now in Reidsville, there are many homeless and even some of our mentally ill street walkers who pass the day in the library on the computer.

Why should the librarians have to police that?

When I was a teenager, the homeless men in Winston-Salem took the ladies magazines off into the corners and had their few minutes.

A friend of mine recently had an incident in a public library where a man was watching his two kids play a violent video game called "Bitch Murder" while she was trying to help her 3yo look up something about Thomas the Tank Engine.

None of these circumstances should occur in a society with any dignity. But as someone recently said, "America is the only country to go from innocence to decadence without bothering to create a culture."

To each his own.

Ryan Shell

I tried posting this, but evidently it didn't stick. I'll try again.

I'm happy that we have at least started the discussion on this topic. It's come up twice in two weeks and I think we all probably agree that it isn't cool to have a 41 year old guy checking out child porn at the local library.

Ed, I have had a couple casual conversations with some library friends about this issue, but they were not "on the record." And honestly, I don't really want to bring them into this. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut, but at least we are talking. And hey, don't we need elected officials that will at least start these conversations even though they might not always be "popular?"

Sue, I know you are the Internet queen (I'm not saying that to be funny) around here and I applaud you for your vast amount of experience. Rather than get mad, maybe you could help me find a solution to the problem. I also hope that you don't just toss me in the "bad" category because of one disagreement. I've talked about a lot of things on my campaign site that aim to make Greensboro a better place to live. You'd probably like the conversations I've started about improving the GTA Web site and introducing new technology.

If I'm the "fall guy" for starting this conversation that is okay with me. At least we are talking and bringing awareness around the issue at hand. My answer might not be "the answer," but we need to come up with something. I am all for collaboration and completely understand that ideas evolve. You have to start somewhere though.

Thanks for the opportunity to discuss this Ed.


Ryan Shell

Sorry, one last thing. Ed, you mentioned I didn't take the time to learn before making the proposal. Why did you not highlight my recycling ordinance idea the same way? I through out that idea without having all of the answers, because I simply couldn't have them all, and the City is now digging away to figure out if it is feasible or not. Don't we have to start somewhere?

A discussion of this nature could quickly make an individual feel as if they can't ever share an idea b/c they will get torn down just for speaking up. I think that is bad for the brainstorming / creative process and hope you understand what I'm saying. This is not the first, and will not be the last time I toss out an idea and don't have every answer.


Ian McDowell

I'm sympathetic to both sides in this, and have to say that Shell doesn't come across as an ignorant or technophobic Mrs. Grundy in hia comments here. And Jeff has a point, even though I'm not sure I would want to have my hypothetical kid sitting next to him in a library, no matter what he was looking at (just kidding).

I'm dubious about filters and I hate censorship. OTOH, I also don't like some of the people who use the computers at the public library, as elitist/classist as that might sound.

Some years ago, a friend of mine who is now with the State Department worked part-time at the downtown library while enrolled in UNCG's MFA Writing Program. She had lots of horror stories about one particular patron they called the Diaper Man, a big beefy wheezing red-faced guy in a "Security" jacket who always went to the same website to look at photos of alleged high school girls wearing nothing but diapers (the same guy used to be a regular at the Tate Street Kinko's, until they installed Smart Filter on their self-service computers).

It wasn't a porn site per se. The girls' breasts were always covered, by their hands or objects, and they all looked to be in their mid-twenties, despite the claims that they were in high school. But still.

My friend hated dealing the Diaper Man, who liked to solicit her help in printing out images from this site. I suspect she would have welcomed anything that made the library a less attractive place for him.

However, saying this, I'm ALSO aware that this the kind of issue that can get the Sound of the Beep crowd in an uproar, with people who've never set foot in a library since they were in school getting all hot and bothered at the idea that our local one is full of porn and perverts. I don't like that prospect very much, either, and am afraid of what that kind of hysteria might lead to.

Maybe if the library had filtered AND unfiltered computers, separated from each other, and required kids to have a permission note from their parents before using the non-filtered ones?


I have become less tolerant of pornography and violence lately, and more willing than I ever thought possible to restrict rights in the interest of protecting children. I imagine there is a way to effectively censor selected materials, but the point of who would "select" remains to be worked out.

I personally would rather see this debate focused on violence than sex, but we Americans, we love us some blood and guts, so that ain't gonna happen.

All that said, I can't imagine libraries are a hot bed of porn. This seems like a publicity stunt.


Turned off computer last night and didn't see the above responses, which I think are well-measured. My take? Agree with Ed somewhat: take a "hot" issue, shoot from the hip, have no research but upset the natives: that's the crux of the politics I despise and am weary of. With real problems here and double-digit unemployment, hearing an otherwise possibly qualified candidate raise the "evil" spectre of "sex in the libraries" (when no one yet knows if it's really a problem) is IMO simply rabble rousing.

Ryan, if you want to run, then make decisions and stand by them. Don't wave the "sex" flag without research and compilation of any stats that prove it's a real problem needing a solution, say, before crime and safety issues, getting jobs here, bringing ISP competition to GSO, zoning nightmares and similar. It's akin to the "gay marriage will ruin America" canard that is hauled out when we're trying to make terribly difficult health care decisions. It's a distraction. Don't play that game because you're going to get called on it. Be ready to defend it with something other than, "well, my recycling idea was worthy." It might have been worthy but this took precedence as "sex" always does.

Focus, Ryan. We have big problems here. Solve them or at least try to. And take an unequivocal position after researching, deciding and then stick to it. Like we joked offline, politics isn't therapy. As a politician, you have to answer questions more than ask them or turn them back on the asker.

State it clearly: (1) what do you intend to do about "sex" on the library computers; (2) how big a problem is it? (3) what's it going to cost to fix? (4) what about legal challenges (time, effort, lawyers, money) and is it supported by the professionals on the 'battlefield;' and (5) is this the first issue you'd tackle if elected? If not, then which?

(Am getting slightly worn out by politicians of all stripes who focus on easily-arguable but unimportant [in the larger picture] hot-button issues without basis or need to fix]

Ryan Shell

Sue, good post. And just so you know, I am focused on the bigger issues, this came up unexpectedly - and I probably broke my own blogging rule by posting about it so quickly.

I do appreciate the discussion and hope everyone knows I have a very open line of communication.

If this issue isn’t important to you, something else is, and I’d like to hear from you. Feel free to email me at ryan@ryanshell.com.

Have a good one folks.



My first post was my straight civil-libertarian/constitutional response, which is alway my reflex. That's usually the only response I need.

I can think of other arguments on both sides as a matter of practical politics, however.

Pro filtering: As a matter of practical politics, library filtering is the least intrusive instance of state action in a series of bad bills. I've sat through the hearings for most of them - CDA, COPA, CIPA etc., and they were pretty scary, at least for anyone who could see how important the Net would become.

If civil libertarians don't give when it comes to schools and libraries, we risk a popular and legislative backlash that will generate far more invasive and unconstitutional think-of-the-children laws. Keep in mind that if the CDA had survived, ALL INTERNET PUBLICATIONS, from the New York Times down to Ed's blog, would now be under government control, as broadcast media are under the FCC, and have to be suitable only for 12-year-olds. Are you smarter than a fifth grader? Doesn't matter, you can only publish like one.

In other words, FCC-style content regulation would have gone from being a bizarre and insupportable exception to the First Amendment, propped up by the increasingly bogus scarcity and pervasiveness rationales, to the norm for our primary medium of the written word.

Is filtering the least restrictive means to deal with the problem, if there is much of one, which I doubt, within a library? No way. But compared to the nightmare scenario above, it's fairly small beer. And it does solve the problem of kids accidentally getting disturbing search hits, although that could be solved by setting aside terminals for kids and filtering those. Maybe they've done that, I don't know.

Anti filtering:

This issue shows every sign of being a nascent moral panic - a situation where something happens a couple of times, then the media (yes, I know, I'm one of those evil bastards) pick up on it and play it to death, then prosecutors and legislators - and yes, Ryan, City Council candidates - start responding to the perceived threat rather than the real threat. This is how we end up with unconstitutional laws at all levels that take years to get overturned, if they ever are. Laws shouldn't be written out of hysteria. (See Patriot Act, The.")

That one was passed in such a mood of hysteria that virtually nobody had the guts to fight against it, and it was a bad and dangerous bill. It could be a textbook example of how hysteria can drive legislation. The only person I heard with enough guts to question the bill was Pat Leahy of Vermont - and he didn't have the gazebos to vote against it when the time came.

Americans are more prone to moral panics than any people on earth (with the possible exception of the Congo, where they still lynch magical penis thieves. Comic books, videogames, d&d, satanic ritual abuse, etc. A governor had sex? Bomb Argentina!

And then there's the power of precedent in our jurisprudence. This is distinguishable from the "slippery slope" argument, which is sometimes bogus. Given the power of stare decisis in shaping the interpretation of our laws, we should be very very slow to use a huge constitutional hammer to smash a very small and short-lived cultural mosquito.

My $.002. I spend too much time thinking about these things.

And y'all stop beating up Ryan. I don't know him from Adam, but in this discussion, at least, he shows signs of willingness to listen and learn - rare traits in the league he's aspiring to. We should encourage the dialogue, not gang up on him.

Preview's not working. I'll take my chances.


Breaking news: Ryan and I have a coffee date. One can write a blog comment that is difficult, converse offline and drink coffee. Date/time/location behind a paywall. Ryan and I need to get to know each other a little better and in r/l. People are different from their typing.

Ed Cone

Interesting stuff, Paul. I don't disagree about First Amendment absolutism being potentially counterproductive. But so far at least, that's not really the question at hand.

I still don't see people "beating up" Ryan. He' s a candidate for public office, making a proposal on his campaign website. People are surprised that he put so little thought into such a potentially-explosive issue. He's risking just the sort of panic you mention, with very little evidence to back up the alleged risk. And he's leaving comments here comparing this idea to his plan about recycling for apartments, which suggests that he really does not understand what he's messing with here.

That said, I agree he's doing a nice job of thinking and learning in public. We're entering a new era of politics and media where stuff may get worked out like this -- I think the process is actually working pretty well right here (as I posted recently, I've talked with Ryan about what I think works online; I've had a good relationship with him for some time, which I expect to continue).

Meanwhile I see on 101 that poor simple Tony Wilkins has decided that this is all happening because ...Ryan is a Republican. And so you can see the danger of the panic becoming a political wedge issue, when in fact that's not at all what's going on.


fyi: porn viewing at the library is a real issue. i know a lot of people who spend a lot of time at the downtown library. word gets around. want to do some research? i can hook you up. a guy i know just got busted for looking at kid porn. sadness. wow. life is full of tragedies.

y'all should leave shell alone. he's cool and he's real. i hope that politics (or blogging) doesn't ruin him.

Ed Cone

What does it mean to "leave him alone," CM?

Ryan is running for office, and floating ideas on his campaign website.

Should we not take him seriously enough to respond? Should his policy proposals be ignored because we like him, and admire his use of new media?

Or should we discuss this stuff in public -- a process he initiated - and try to figure out what's happening at the libraries and what, if anything, to do about it?


oh, ed. i wasn't talking about you. i almost added, "i don't mean you, ed." but i thought somehow you'd read my mind. ;)

without naming names, another blogger, of whom i am quite fond, kind of got a little grrrr...

i didn't mean don't talk about it. i just meant, chill. then talk. that's all.

peace, y'all.

Ryan Shell

Hey, this will probably be my last comment on this thread, but I have one request to make. I'd like nothing more than for folks to quit worrying about who is or isn't "beating me up." I can take it. It's fine. No one has really tossed out any other solutions to the problem at hand. If the process of public engagement and collaboration is going to work, ideas have to be generated.

For example, one idea might be that the library not have the cubical set up for its computer area. Taking away the cubes would decrease privacy and would probably discourage this behavior. Again, that isn't "the law," it's just an idea. I hope there are more to come.

And on the, "Ryan hasn't researched the topic" comment. It appears certain folks want to see stats on how often this is happening, and that is understandable. But, how many times is it okay to have a 40 year old man viewing child porn while sitting next to a 12 year old? Just some food for thought.

Now, before you leave another comment, please reread the first paragraph of this comment and try and help find a solution. Have a great Saturday.



Looking up the cost of porn filters I found this: San Jose council votes down porn filters at public library computers. I've softened on the use of filters (think they're acceptable) after having pretty strict filters at work for the past 6 years. 90k up-front was probably the problem, considering CA's general budget woes.

The first amendment is not a pure any speech any time license. Could you play loud music at a library computer, or any music? Putting in filters at a library is not infringing on the free speech of the website operators, as nothing is being done to them. Do libraries stock all types of magazines? Is choosing to carry some magazines over others a violation of the 1st amendment? I understand the 'where & who draws the line' type arguments (will Victoria's secret be blocked?) but doesn't the Supreme Court give great clear-cut guidance?

If the goal is increased use of city facilities, then this might be a part of a library initiative. If you had city parks full of softball or baseball players shouting obscenities next to playgrounds, what do you do? I say you take action to curtail it, or you don't let those groups rent fields unless they fix things.


Ryan: at the risk of being thrown from the cave by the established elites, you have proposed something with noble intentions. It takes some courage to expose yourself to the humiliation which comes with being ostracized. You played the fatal conceit card and Ed trumped you with the epistemic responsibility card. He selectively and cleverly uses it, but this is his blog, and he can play it when he chooses.

Speaking of cave dwellers, the earliest uses of azurite and ferrous based colors were to depict sexual penetration. The Sumerians used their latest technology to depict the same thing. Indus and Chinese also. These images were on walls, ceilings and floors for everyone to see. Legislation probably began with the genetic defect which causes paranoid optimism in humans.

Ed Cone


You say "certain folks" want to see stats -- that is, find out how much of a problem we're dealing with before taking action. Imagine that.

Then you go right back to the anecdotal scare story, apparently heedless of the dangers in doing so.

And, on the topic of doing your homework, you still seem unaware that Sandy Neerman published an article on this topic in the N&R some time ago. Have you read it? If so, what is your response? If not, don't you think it might be a good starting place?

And you still make no effort to address the costs -- financial and otherwise -- of filtering, which should be weighed against any benefits.

Keep working on this. It's an important issue, and you can take some leadership on it.

Fec the Terrible

Google makes a really nice search engine.

I'm really tiring of Beelzebubba. Get a blog like everybody else.

Steve Harrison

I have to say, I don't think this is (necessarily) a bad idea, and I also think something could be installed relatively cheaply. The company I (used to) work for was notoriously cheap (that includes me), and we had a program that popped up a warning page if you Internet surfed into the wrong beach, if you catch my wave.

And no, I wasn't surfing porn, my niece was about to go off and live in the dorm at a Florida college, and I Googled something that included "Coed Dorms" to see if said school had them, which generated a couple of porn site pop-ups followed by the company warning thingie. Which scared the bejesus out of me. Now, I know good and well that my company wouldn't have spent much to install whatever that was, and it (apparently) served its purpose well.

All that being said, I have to also chide Ryan for repeatedly posting things like this:

"how many times is it okay to have a 40 year old man viewing child porn while sitting next to a 12 year old?"

It may not be your intent to do so, but you're attempting to create a strawman munching on a red herring. Nobody thinks even one time is okay for this to happen, Ryan. But public policy and government actions need to be based on verifiable and quantifiable problems/solutions, or we can get into passing laws based on emotional what-ifs instead of addressing problems that affect substantial blocks of the population.

Ed Cone

Steve, you've pointed to one of the problems with filters - they may flag stuff that shouldn't be flagged.

We would need to be very careful that library computers weren't blocked from every site that includes the words "coed dorm," or "sex" or even "pornography." My blog is blocked at some corporate sites because it's a blog, and others because of very occasional f-bombs and other naughty words. And I've given an example above of nudity that should not be blocked.

So the filtering software has to be very, very good.

Steve Harrison

I understand what you're saying, Ed. But I'm also trying to look at both sides of this from a realistic, percentage-based approach.

If we work from the assumption that the library porn-watching only happens occasionally, we can also assume that the innocent researcher will only be occasionally thwarted by an imperfect (but cost-effective) filtering system. Does that make any sense?

For me, it's an efficiency thing: does the extra money spent produce a like increase in value? I've had to crunch these types of numbers countless times in deciding whether to purchase new machinery or repair/service/upgrade old machinery. I know you can't do an accurate ROI on the library filter we're talking about, but you always gotta try and save the Benjamins.

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