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« Actually not so funny | Main | Let's go to the videotape »

Aug 17, 2010


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sean coon

Perkins, Matheny, Vaughan, Rakestraw Vote to Permit Porn Surfing at Greensboro Public Library

i love how he couched the vote as "to permit porn surfing." apparently guarino moonlights as a headline writer for the national enquirer as well.


i wasn't there, but if the vote was to gather more info in order to make a measured and informed decision, sanity definitely won out.


and to think Danny Thompson's rush to judgement without research and facts in front of him, almost cost city tax payers

Joe Guarino

There were six council members-- Perkins, Matheny, Vaughan, Rakestraw, Kee and Bellamy-Small-- who voted against using a filter. Filters would make it much more difficult to surf for porn in the Greensboro Public Library. Their votes had the effect of enabling patrons to continue to surf for porn.

There were upwards of 18 documented, reported porn-surfing during the first six months of the year-- nearly one incident every two weeks. There were likely quite a number of other incidences that were not caught. Those are the facts.

Moral relativism is a potent political force in the city of Greensboro. We need to remember that, until several years ago, prostitution was de facto legal in our city. It was moral relativism that won out last night.


"There were upwards of 18 documented, reported porn-surfing during the first six months of the year-- nearly one incident every two weeks."

If I remember the numbers and my math is correct, this amounts to .01%. So we're in favor of spending $20,000 because one out of a thousand users tries to surf porn?


While their at it, I hope the council comes to its senses and gets rid of those frustrating throttles. I mean, why would you want to slow down that which you don't want to stop? Some patrons might not have the stamina to outlast them and may not be able to afford Cialis. Just seems sensible. Maybe they need more data. I guess I wasn't around for the fiasco/disaster/catastrophe which led to that one.

Ed Cone

The effort to cast this as a battle between people who want to stop porn and those who don't care about porn in libraries has failed.

The real discussion, now underway, is about the scope of the porn problem, and about the best ways to mitigate it. That's where we should have been all along.


"Tonight's City Council vote to maintain current computer usage policies and to get more data about usage over the next 90 days seems like a sensible decision."

Of course it makes sense........to the denizens of the Dwarf Nation.

I'll repeat my comment posted at Guarino.

This is what we get when certain people do not consider the ability to access porn in public libraries to be a problem.

Let's call this for what it actually is. The decision by city council, as well as the support by moral relativists, amounts to de facto financial and moral sanction for the public availability of porn.


Say something Ed, ...anything.


The effort to cast this as an act of grandstanding by Danny Thompson has failed.

The real discussion, now underway, is about the best way to address the porn problem that Danny Thompson raised two weeks ago. That's where we should have been all along.


There is no porn problem. Computers don't surf porn. People do.

Oh, the drama and outcry from Joe and Bubba. The council has now wasted three hours of city council time on this non-issue. You want a problem? How about stopping prostitution? How about getting rid of the drug dealers in my neighborhood? How about maintaining safe housing for all people? How about making sure it is safe for people on foot, bike and four wheels to get to their destinations? How about upgrading parks that haven't been touched in 30 years?

This issue should have never been brought up during the council meeting...Bill Knight almost had it right when he suggested the entire issue be tabled so that the sides could discuss it. Danny Thompson failed. He treated, imo, the library director disrespectfully at the meeting last night - essentially accusing her of withholding information. And he used the excuse of being gone on vacation for not following up in the interim weeks? Weak.

Let the Thompson Protectorate wail...but the bottom line is...what a colossal waste of time.

Joe Guarino

Glen, I am in favor of getting rid of the prostitutes and drug dealers, but there are powerful political forces in our community opposed to aggressive law enforcement.

Sandy Neerman adopted the posture of a moral relativist last night. Danny Thompson was correct to question her. She admitted that she perceived her task was to balance the perceived need to protect children against the perceived need to provide unfettered access to internet information. She admitted that she was not giving the need to protect children primacy, but instead was balancing it against her library information ideology. And she did this even while she admitted that she filters the selection of print materials for the libraries.

Six council members bought her relativistic pitch, hook, line and sinker.

Interestingly, it was revealed last night that the library systems in Charlotte and Raleigh filter their internet access. Somehow, these two cities have figured out a way to make filters workable. I suppose we are to believe that, here in Greensboro, we are in possession of a higher level of enlightenment than those yokels in Charlotte and Raleigh.

Jim Langer

One can: spend the equivalent of an entry level salary for a library position (or security?) and employ extremely strong firewalls and filters to stop as much smut as one absolutely could technically hope to stop from ever being accessed at a public library, hereby also screening admittedly a fair number of legitimate sites;


spend no more money (or spend part or all of the $20,000 on training or additional staff) and accept the likelihood of one or two potential infractions per month, using current resources, and not blocking any legitimate sites.

By the way, are librarians and security also peering over the patrons' shoulders to make sure they don't have smuggled porn inside the covers of the copy of "War and Peace" they are pretending to read?

When new books are bought, especially art books, are they first checked, every image on every page, for potentially dirty pictures?

Joe Guarino

Jim, the expense of filtering was revealed to be pretty minimal-- several thousand dollars annually. This is part of the cost of doing business if you offer internet access at a public facility.

We need to remain mindful that five of the six council members who voted against the allegedly exorbitant cost of filtering also voted to borrow upwards of $20 million to build the swim center. They were willing to borrow millions for that special interest project; but they were unwilling to spend a few thousand to do the right thing in our libraries.


"One can: spend the equivalent of an entry level salary for a library position (or security?) and employ extremely strong firewalls and filters to stop as much smut as one absolutely could technically hope to stop from ever being accessed at a public library, hereby also screening admittedly a fair number of legitimate sites....."

One can equivocate in that manner all one wants about the issue, but the essential reality is that such equivocation amounts to de facto financial and moral sanction for the public availability of porn.

Joe's inclusion of the de facto sanction of prostitution and crime in this community is spot on. It's all part of Business As Usual corruption we are forced to endure.


I admire Rakestraw on this one too. I had expectations, yet when she started asking questions, it became clear I was mistaken and she was not going to make this about friends or alliances. I appreciate and respect her for charting her own course on this one.


They could just have a porn room enclosed by walls, no one under 21 admitted. But then the porn viewers would complain that they were being ostracized by the label and visibility of the "porn room".

There aren't any real easy solutions because of the nature of the internet. However, to attack Danny Thompson for raising the issue (and all this discussion here and at City Hall proves there IS an issue) was out of bounds.


I have not seen anybody "attack Danny Thompson for raising the issue." I have seen people express their displeasure with the misleading way he introduced the issue and for his underlying desire to deny responsible adults the liberty to make decisions for themselves.

Joe Guarino

Raleigh and Charlotte "deny responsible adults the liberty to make decisions for themselves". Sure.

They do what is right to protect minors, and to assure, as best they can, that tax dollars are not used to allow adults to surf for porn.

I agree with Sam that some were quite unhappy with Thompson for raising the issue. That was particularly clear last night in the case of Matheny, Perkins and Bellamy-Small.


Yes, sure.

But I am curious, Joe. Do you think the sites blocked by the Mecklenberg library are porn?


I didn't know getting one's rocks off to pornography in public to porn was a responsible adult decision. Learn something new every day.

Ed Cone

How Thompson raised the issue was the problem.

Discussion of the issue is a good thing.

So far, that discussion has resulted in a repudiation of the filtering plan, and strong support for the ongoing efforts of library staff.

If, after all this, all you've got is "people who don't agree with me don't care about children seeing porn on library computers," then you ain't got much.


Yeah, Joe, I think they expressly excluded porn from the sites they blocked. Otherwise you would see them in Roch's post. Somebody beam me up!


What do you think, John? Should adults be denied access to the sites in my post? Are they porn?


Yes I do, if , as a side effect it discourages people from going to the library to satisfy their sexual jollies. I think the world can survive by pursuing other references for the proper techiques revealed in "the six secrets of gay anal sex".

By the way, would you consider me publicly intrusive if I asked you what you do for a living?


I am a website developer.

And thank you for answering my question. It was illuminating.


Thompson was misleading or were others misleading about what Thompson actually said? I seem to recall asking Ed some questions about this that he just couldn't bring himself to answer.


"If, after all this, all you've got is 'people who don't agree with me don't care about children seeing porn on library computers,' then you ain't got much."

......except for the fact that your advocacy amounts to sanctioning public availability of porn, on the taxpayers' dollar.

Jim Langer

So, the consensus seems to be among the filter-favorers, that we spend the money to try to wipe out almost every single last chance of any potential indecency appearing on a library computer, with the concommitant loss of legit sites, too.

A library should not, therefore, allow access to those legit sites for anyone. Period.

It's clear to me now. Unequivocally.


Well, Jim, to be fair, I don't think any one in city government is quite on that track -- at least, not yet. What has been discussed and to which, there have been no objections from the filter-everybody proponents, is that a patron could appeal a blocked site. That appeal may be to an employee or a committee; it may take a few minutes or several days; the employee or committee might always correctly decide if something can be viewed or they might not; people might not be embarrassed to ask for a site to be unblocked.

Or, we can just impose a little of that good ol' personal responsibility and let adults decide for themselves how to use library computers in accordance with the terms of use and not preemptively deprive them of the freedom to make their own decisions.


I wonder, if you substitute guns for porn in this discussion, do positions change?

Are you for or against banning guns in public/porn in the library?

The next time there's any kind of a vote on gun control, Guarino can write a headline about how the people who voted against control voted to permit gun violence.

Joe Guarino

The appeal could be done in a very quick, streamlined fashion; but it was clear to me that Sandy Neerman was opposed to having her staff handle that responsibility quickly, even though that should be achievable.

She made it look more difficult than it really should be.


Thompson misled everyone present at the July meeting as well as those watching on CH13. And, he didn't win any friends at this week's meeting by simply being a jerk! We learned that he's a person who will not back down even when he knows that he will not prevail - not a smart political stance.
This should never have been brought up during the council meeting and especially without FIRST getting the real facts.
A very small number of folks watching "porn" at the library is not a BIG problem. The folks who operate and directly oversee the library system should be allowed to do their jobs - not micro-managed!
Greensboro has many more pressing issues that should be addressed by council rather than wasting so much time on something so insignificant.

Tony Wilkins

Ed Cone says: "So it turns out that our public library system actually employs a team of conscientious professionals, and is overseen by a board of dedicated community folk, and these people take their jobs seriously, and they have been working to address the issue of computer porn."

Have they been successful?

Ed Cone

Tony, that's an important question, and one that should have been answered before public statements from council that nothing ever gets done about the problem.

The rough indications are that the recently-implemented program is meeting with some success. Is it successful enough? If not, what are the best ways of addressing the problem?

That's the kind of discussion we should have been having all along -- one that involves the professionals, and is driven by data and clear expectations.

Tony Wilkins

EC: "and is driven by data and clear expectations."

Ed, I haven't had time to read the many comments on this subject so I'm probably spouting off something that's already been mentioned.

I'm agreeing with Trudy that the current data is flawed by only using patrons that have been "caught". If the report that Kathy Hartsell mentioned (that shows actual visits to porn sites, odd enough this is available and has not been utilized) comes back and has a larger number than expected would that change your current position on this subject? Would you then appreciate Danny Thompson bringing the subject up?

This is an unusual topic. Everybody involved seems to want the final end result but there are many opinions on how to get there.

Ed Cone

Tony, logic suggests (and I'm on record as saying) that the number of incident reports does not tell the whole story.

But two weeks ago, the incident reports were said to be of such importance that filters had to be imposed by the council.

I think they tell us something, but not everything.

Raising the subject, as I've also said often, is fine.

But doing so without consulting the library director or finding out what methods have been put in place is not fine.

Sandy Neerman discussed last year the advances in filtering technology, and the possible application of filters at GPL, and the plan to use bandwidth shaping, etc.

Yet the issue was raised at the council level as if nobody had even thought about it. That was irresponsible.

I think your last paragraph is true, and we should all bear it in mind.


"It doesn't even matter if it's pornography in the worst stage, there are innapropriate websites that are out there that people don't need to be looking at and it needs to be a device on there to block these websites." -- Kathy Hartsell at the 8/17/2010 Greensboro City Council meeting, speaking from the floor.

I don't know Kathy Hartsell. She seemed like a knowledgeable person and I respect her leanding her time and expertise to the discussion. She's probably a very nice person. But her prescriptions were odious -- and ominous.

I listened to her carefully and went back and listened a second time to make sure I heard what I thought I heard. She suggested not only blocking porn, but blocking hacking and proxy avoidance sites, ultimately suggesting that library computers be "subject to the same restrictions that the employees of the city of Greensboro are using." (Restrictions that once had sites such as Greensboro101 and The Troublemaker blocked because, you know... well, who knows?).

Zack Matheny later asked the City manager about that very idea: why not put library computers under the same restrictions as city employee computers? As the manager rightly replied (video), the mission of the library is different than the personnel policies of the City of Greensboro, a distinction Hartsell's suggestions ignored. But the idea that this filter advocate was suggesting denying access to information beyond porn is troubling.

Regarding the report Kathy referred to, unless she was suggesting that library staff examine log files to look at every website visited, I think she was referring to the log files generated by the bandwidth shaping software -- which will show site requests that were slowed. Whether those files indicate if the page was loaded or if the user moved on, I've asked and am waiting to hear.


Roch - I'm pretty sure the request was to get a log of ALL sites visited not just those affected by Symphonix. Trudy Wade was pretty clear that she wanted (and Zack reiterated) to see a list of ALL sites visited by computer users because of the chance that there are sites getting through that are not captured by Symphonix. I think Nancy Vaughn made the actual amendment to the motion to capture Dr. Wade's and Zack's request.


Thnx, GO.

Well, that is going to be comedy gold! With millions of web pages likely to be in the report, council is sure to have plenty of fodder for a long game of "Porn or not porn."

I'll bet we make Tosh.O or, if we're really lucky, The Daily Show.

Brandon Burgess

"I'll bet we make Tosh.O"

--Maybe he can hold a web redemption for Danny Thompson and allow him to rephrase his original motion while accurately describing the stack of papers he waved around.


"But doing so without consulting the library director or finding out what methods have been put in place is not fine."

That wasn't your argument two weeks ago when you were accusing Danny of grandstanding. It's okay to admit you made a mistake/got it wrong/overreacted yourself. Really, it is. Everyone else seems capable of it. No need to rewrite history.


And Brandon, Danny didn't say what he is repeatedly accused of saying regarding the stack of paper. People can continue to pretend otherwise or engage in diversions from that truth, but it remains the truth. There is a lot of revisionist history going on here.

Cue predictable responses...

Joe Guarino

Sensei, you do not know that it is a "very small number of folks" at the library viewing porn, as the subsequent discussion revealed.

Tony, Trudy Wade rocked at the meeting. She spoke clearly and insightfully about the issue.

I don't think Danny Thompson was even remotely obligated to consult with library staff. He did consult with the assistant city manager responsible for security over the libraries. These staff members work, ultimately, for him and for the other council members. Eighteen people apprehended for porn violations at the central library-- or one case every week or two-- is far too many, and it suggests there were others who were not caught. We do not know how aggressively users are typically being monitored at the libraries. (We do know, however, the appearance Sandy Neerman wanted to create).

But Roch is correct about the absurdity of the approach ultimately taken by the city council. Who is going to sit down and take the time to analyze all those sites visited, to figure out what they are? How many thousands or millions will it be? We ought not get too excited about Nancy Vaughan's motion that passed. We do not even know if anyone will follow up on that request in a comprehensive, conscientious way, and if the council will take any more action. I really hope they did not merely punt the ball down the field to create the appearance of wanting to do something about the problem, with no intention of actually following through. That is what relativists tend to do.

Brandon Burgess

"Cue predictable responses..."

---I left that part out. I should have known you would respond to me.

Kathy Hartsell

Roch101, thank you for the nice comments. Without getting into a lot of detail, I can assure you that the device currently in place on the GPL network is fully capable of doing more than shaping bandwidth. This device has the capability of blocking sites, shaping bandwidth, creating reports (real time and historical) with the ability to save the report in a pdf format – just to name a few.

A customizable dashboard displays at-a-glance recent activity, including a summary of application traffic, bandwidth by user and blocked malware and Web requests.

My reference to hacking refers to keeping hackers out of the network. Based on the discussion at the Council Meeting, it appears that there are limited controls in place.

There are sites on the internet that are inappropriate for children and young adults which do not include porn. This of course would require selecting more than the porn category in the content filter. At this point I would be happy if they would activate the content filter and block porn.

This would eliminate the need to shape the bandwidth and free up the bandwidth that is being wasted on shaping the pages from porn sites.

By the way, I am not advocating the blocking of Greensboro101.

Ed Cone

Kathy, thanks for commenting here.

What if anything can be done about content on laptops using GPL wifi?


You caught me, Brandon and I apologize. I forgot that I am not allowed to point out inconvenient facts, because you know, I'm obsessed.

My advice to you before you continue to go down this road is to consider how much you value your integrity and reputation.


Thanks, Kathy. From my limited knowledge of the shaping software, I think you accurately describe its capabilities.

Having just joined us, you may not be aware that I have some concerns and your comments added one more to the list:

1. What is porn? Joe Guarino has offered us the definition that it is the depiction of sexual activity in text or images. I'm pretty sure we cannot use that as it would block medical information and some art and classic literature. On the other hand, that definition does not include graphic depictions of genitalia offered for the purpose of sexual arousal, which I think people probably expect to be blocked by a porn filter.

2. Blocked legitimate content. In their imperfection, "porn" filters block sites that are not porn by any definition. I did a little experiment on Charlotte's library filters that demonstrated this shortcoming. Some have said this is just the cost of stopping porn and that patrons can ask that sites be unblocked. That is unworkable in numerous ways: from having the user divine that what is blocked is something he wants to ask to be unblocked; to having patrons suffer the possible embarrassment of asking a librarian to unblock information reflective of their private matters; to asking a librarian to be a referee of what is permissible.

3. Slippery slope. What was a call to block "porn" has already expanded to include blocking other "inappropriate" content. Who is going to decide that? I suspect we do not have to go too far down that road until everyone of us finds someone wanting to ban something we think is legitimate. People find all sorts of things from eating meat to criticizing the president to carrying guns inappropriate. Can you see where blocking "inappropriateness" can lead? Do you want to roll the dice that such decisions will conform perfectly with what you have in mind and will not intrude on something you believe to be legitimate? I do not.

Ultimately, I think an appropriate balance of the competing interests and trade-offs is to give adults and parents the option of choosing for themselves and their children unless and until they demonstrate themselves not responsible enough to do so. Allow adults the liberty to accept personal responsibility for abiding by library policies without the negative consequences of overreaching government intervention.

Kathy Hartsell

The wifi device needs to be plugged into the switch on the network. This will put the wifi behind the cymphonix device that is being used to shape the band width.

All web requests accessed via wifi will pass through the cymphonix device before the page is downloaded to the computer. As you know, this is currently not the way it is setup and the shaping does not apply to wifi access.

Joe Guarino

Roch, the problem with your solution is that minors-- including adolescents and teens-- should be free to explore every part of the library without parental supervision. I know I did when I was that age.

Minors of this age will be in the adult section of the library, and their parents should not have to be there. This is a public facility, supported by taxpayer dollars, that area parents should be able to trust with their adolescents and teens. Kids of this age might access this stuff in the adult section of the library, or they might be exposed to images generated by other computer users. I think we also cannot understate the highly graphic nature of some of the pornographic images that are likely available on the internet.

Your solution is inadequate. This is a community that should be able to make the best decisions based on what is in the best interests of kids. We should not be making decisions based on a perspective of sexual liberationism harbored by adults.

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