Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Scales and Perception

Characters are like many tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing. --Lincoln

This painting is Lavender Mist by Jackson Pollock. One approach to understanding it is given by Harley Hahn who describes how Lavender Mist leverages our subconscious to inspire a range of feelings and thoughts that spring from its suggestive colors and composition.

If we saw this very same painting on the floor-covering canvas of a room in the process of being repainted, we would think not much of it. Instead, it is thrust upon us by Pollock and so we focus our attention on it. Like walking past a dull mirror, we are allowed to see in it what we might see. We stop and we are transfixed. Perhaps the colors and patterns bring to mind struggle and hope, potential and confusion, or some other complex combination of feelings and thoughts. Whatever meaning Lavender Mist has, it is clearly subjective.

If we hadn't known that Pollock was an established artist we would not have been able to guess so from this painting. There is no critical agreement by experts or any other significant subset of viewers as to the meaning of Lavender Mist, but one thing is clear: when viewed from less than five inches or beyond 50 feet, it is nondescript. Whatever structure it has, Lavender Mist is meaningful only within a small slice of a distance dimension. Even abstract projections of the visual information of the painting at cognitive distances outside a limited range end in the amorphous. No matter how moved we may feel by Lavender Mist when seen from five feet, the range of meaning of this painting is strictly bounded. Sometimes a drip is just a drip. Yet, there is something that we recognize as "truth" in our consideration of the painting. It can be evocative as well as provocative.

But people think and feel characteristically in different ways. Freud suggested a psychoanalytic model that seems to be of some applicability here. The Id type of thinking was recognized by R-Doh who observes the debate and remarks:
How disgusting. Obviously, Bitch can't think:

“What’s interesting is that you’re trying to frame this debate around the ‘personhood’ of a fetus, while completely overlooking the personhood of women.”

Let's see. I know I've analyzed this kind of behavior before. What could it be? Where could it be?


Oh, yeah! Limbic dominated thinking.
Perception on this scale is instinctual, not factual.

Now consider an image of the Mandlebrot set generated by the program WinCIG. We can recognize self-similar structures at different scales and amazing meta relations. While we can use the program to infinitely explore scales and discover an amazing variety of apparent complexity, the information throughout the entire range of scales is finite. In fact, the essential information can be related in a single mathematical formula. There seems to be "truth" in this graphic as well. This truth is objective.

These two graphics are related in that they are presented on a computer screen with a finite number of bits per pixel and a finite number of pixels. The information of both is compatible, appreciable, and quantifiable. The information from one can be communicated to the other by a bijective mapping of pixels--a set of rules for communication within limits of modern technology. Rather than a bit to bit mapping, we communicate information using encodings that are lossy, of certain robustness to transmission errors, and may or may not be decoded faithfully. In both cases we choose the source encoding and ultimate embedding of the information at the receiver. This ability to choose is the shared mystery of Pollock and Mandlebrot.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Hettle Settles

The libel laws are like the baffles of a ship's bilge. The bilge water is free to slosh around over the baffle, but a certain amount is retained to keep the ship aright and balanced. We do not prosecute opinions or small insults, but we do not either allow destructive lies to go totally unchecked.

The internet is a very large ship. These ships can sustain a great deal of bilge water and still remain afloat. However, like the Titanic, all ships have their limits and like all cargo carrying ships, the greater the bilge the lesser the cargo.

Baffles also allow bilge water from local leaks to be easily expelled by the bilge pumps. And like a baffle, the libel laws are only as effective as their least reach.

No one likes working in the bilge. Bilge maintenance must be done--infrequently, but it is necessary.

One the two issues of concern was settled to my satisfaction this Friday afternoon. We have agreed not to post his letter of retraction. What remains are simple retractions and corrections to material published by the other libellant. So far, there has not been tangible progress on that front.

BTW, I just noticed that Blogger is attempting to self-regulate with the flag feature (up at the top right). In keeping with the Google philosophy--a philosophy I share--if you agree that the information posted was libelous, please consider flagging the site.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thoughts on the Forbes Article

As timely as ever, Forbes just published a cover article entitled, "Attack of the Blogs" in which the author ravages the irresponsibility of some bloggers and presents suggestions on what to do in the case of cyberlibel.

These suggestions include exposing the libellants, using blogs to fight blogs, and lawsuits. Check, check, check.

As for assessing damages, I would like to also add the suggestion of tracing down links to all related sites that peddle in libel. After a subpeona of their Blogad, Paypal, and GoogleAd revenues and receipts, use those totals to assess the baseline economic damages. Perhaps Posner would also agree. Obviously, libel has been good for the libellant's "buisness".

In line with the recommendations of the article, here is a map of the Toronto area.

Universities in the area with graduate programs in the humanities:
Brock University
McMaster University
University of Toronto
Wilfrid Laurier University
York University

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Comments and Errata on the Higher Ed Article

Yesterday, I was contacted and interviewed by phone by Rob Capriccioso who wrote the article, Online Quicksand. His emphasis is on blogs in the way that people used to discuss the telegraph--as something arcane and exceptional from the normal idea of communication.

The article is short so I'll comment by paragraph.
Dissent is a way of life in the blogosphere; comments and barbs get traded, and feelings potentially hurt, every day. But one such discussion among three academics has escalated to the point that at least two of them have hired lawyers to try to resolve the dispute.
For my part we have only the perception of escalation due to waves of publicity. The initial libel compelled my publication (after a warning) in order to attach a defense to the false accusation. The defendants were shortly notified that legal action would be taken if there was no retraction and correction. While they have yet to correct they also have not supported the accusations in anyway to the best of my knowledge. The author seems concerned with personal feelings, but I am concerned with information and its aggregate consequences.
Paul Deignan is a 41-year-old mechanical engineering Ph.D. candidate, with master’s degrees in math and mechanical engineering, a background in military intelligence and a wife and three kids.
I'm still 40 (we established this in the call) and I am completing the Masters in mathematics this semester.
Since taking up writing his own blog, Info Theory, in September 2004, he’s blogged about nuclear annihilation, mutual information between random variables, and suicide bombing. He’s also noted that the M6805 Athlon-based notebook “may be upgraded to 2GB despite the product specs’ claim that 1.25GB is the limit.” In sum, as his site motto says, he likes to apply information theory to the political and social problems of our day.
Pape's suicide bombing thesis was analyzed since he had claimed to base his conclusions on a database. His data did not support the causal dependencies Pape claimed (linked by RCP). Data analysis requires large amounts of memory, and nuclear annihilation with proliferation is a classic game theory application here with an emphasis on the role of uncertainty.
The blogger from Purdue University also writes with frequency on abortion (in his view, it’s wrong) and blogger etiquette (in his view, it’s complicated) — two seemingly unrelated topics. But in Deignan’s cyberworld, the two have collided in a unique way that may come to haunt his nine-year real-life journey toward a Ph.D.
I consider myself to be a researcher that has access to blog software, not as a blogger. Blogging is just a way to communicate and collect spare thoughts on an electronic dryerase board for comment with some chronological ordering. The post on "etiquette" was more to do with the capabilities of blogs in research and suggested protocols that might increase efficiency, e-mail management, and potential for engineering research. My “cyberworld” is simply this world, only now we may publish intermediate results and peripheral thoughts on a broader scope than in the past. That scope will not get any smaller in the future as this article itself testifies.
On November 2, at 9:03 a.m., he posted a blog entry titled “Thinking Critically About Abortion,” which said, in part, that he believes that in “our democratic society … all persons have equal intrinsic rights,” and a “person is a person …when that person is alive.” He then asked his readers to comment on his ideas. His comment policy clearly states that he “will make a good faith attempt to reply to all substantive comments.… Comments are only deleted for administrative reasons (spam, etc.).”
A small correction: I had told Rob that this post was originally published much earlier and moved up at the suggestion of a reader in light of the Alito nomination in order to allow a possibility to pursue the topic further.
Also that morning, he visited Bitch Ph.D.’s blog about academe and politics where, by that time, the anonymous blogger had written about her distaste for President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Samuel Alito Jr.
This was a follow up of invitation e-mail to revisit and expand on the initial discussion that she/he had participated (a common courtesy).
By afternoon, Bitch Ph.D. had entered the discussion on Deignan’s blog: “What’s interesting is that you’re trying to frame this debate around the ‘personhood’ of a fetus, while completely overlooking the personhood of women,” she commented.

Deignan soon responded to Bitch Ph.D. on his own site with a long comment that ended: “Now, note that your definition of sovereignty is actually anti-sovereignty. We are never sovereign if it is by permission of others that allow us to make decisions. Note also that a woman cannot spontaneously create life. She may only nurture preexistent life.”
These comments were from the initial discussion. The dates are preserved in the Haloscan thread. BPhD did not comment at that time although Site Meter indicated her visits. FWIW, the discussion of abortion on this site is consistent with the constitutional focus which is the fundamental rule framework of the society, i.e. structure.
Then he posted a seemingly innocuous entry on the Bitch Ph.D. site: “Your linking talking points w/o analysis. Already I see several points that are exaggerated and misconstrued without even needing research…”

Feeling that this comment and subsequent ones from Deignan did not qualify as “substantive debate,” she soon deleted his comments and banned him from her site. Her policy states, “Comments are great; obnoxious comments get deleted. Deal.”
The initial comments are still existent. Subsequent comments were not important and mainly had to do with offering BPhD technical pointers on filtering comments with Haloscan (the idea that one can "ban" is silly when one allows unregistered anonymous commenters. I was having a little fun with her over DHCP and subnet masks in line with the tone of repartee that befit the discussion). I don't nor should I care if my unsubstantive or trivial comments of this kind are deleted. It is only relevant if one tries then to characterize the deleted comments as something they are not.
What might have ended there as an everyday online spat was only the beginning. A frequent visitor to the Bitch Ph.D. site, the University of Northern Iowa history professor Wallace Hettle, felt obliged to defend Bitch Ph.D.’s liberal end of the blogosphere. Hettle found Deignan’s curriculum vita at Info Theory, which lists his academic advisers, the Purdue mechanical engineers Galen King and Peter Meckl, who will play a big part in deciding if he will ultimately receive a Ph.D. Hettle e-mailed them, indicating that Deignan’s comments were “unprofessional” and “contrary to the spirit of free enquiry.” Hettle announced his actions within the comment section of Bitch Ph.D.
“Yes, we received an e-mail,” King confirmed on Wednesday. “It said that Paul was exceeding his bounds, if you will, on what is essentially a private site. He’s been asked to refrain, at least until he’s [graduated from Purdue].”
Is this a trivial spat? We are not talking about our taste in clothes or ice cream. FWIW I passed on the advisors request to Rob that they wanted to be left out of the situation. Note that Wally also threatened to make things difficult for them by including administrators in his mailing list. I like to consider Wally to be an exogenous disturbance--unpredictable, unknown, and uncontrollable.

As it turns out Wally did indeed misrepresent the situation to Drs. King and Meckl. This is just what I had reason to fear. We can easily confirm that the BPhD site is anything but private. It is open to unregistered anonymous commenters, is hosted on blogspot, and includes numerous advertisements. Without an apology and retraction, my advisors would be under a false impression at a time when I expect my applications recipients to call for references. Unfortunately, I did not receive a copy of the e-mail that Hettle sent. I am reading this information for the first time in this article as well as the request to restrain (probably nothing more than a matter of clarification of an earlier request to be more diplomatic after having received Wally's e-mail).
But escalation, not restraint, has marked the ensuing days, in which Deignan, Hettle and Bitch Ph.D. have hurled accusations of various kinds at each other. Both Deignan and Bitch Ph.D. have hired lawyers. Hettle wouldn’t comment on whether he has done the same.

Deignan said he is prepared to begin a lawsuit as soon as possible. He accuses both Hettle and Bitch Ph.D of libeling him — Hettle because of the e-mail he sent to Deignan’s professors, and Bitch Ph.D. for saying that he may have used a technique known as “IP spoofing,” which is a form of hacking, to try to determine who she is. Deignan denies having done that.

Bitch Ph.D., said that she feels somewhat threatened by Deignan. “I don’t know if his attempts to track me down represent a real threat, either in terms of my identity or in terms of a physical threat,” she said via e-mail Wednesday. “I don’t know if what he’s doing counts as cyberstalking. It’s certainly upsetting.”
The IP spoofing accusation comes, I think, from BPhD's unfamiliarity with DHCP and filtering IPs, i.e. her technical ignorance is allowing her post facto wants to trump up a crime in her mind. I tried to inform her. You know, I am sure that this is something that a lot of IT professionals can relate.

The phony stalking accusation was generated in the comment thread by a commenter known as "Buxombroad" almost instantaenously and seems to fall in line with the preemptive accusation of being "sexist". Apparently this form of libel is prefabricated. But the fact of the matter is that identities must be established for libel lawsuits and that reviewing information that the libellant publishes herself is not stalking in any sense of the word. These accusations cheapen those that face legitimate threats. Also, the IP spoofing allegation appears to be in the context of commenting, not anything to do with tracing back an IP to the owner.
The untenured professor refused to communicate by phone for fear of revealing her identity, only allowing that she is “American born and bred” and “voted yesterday.”
“I don’t want my blog to embarrass my university or my colleagues,” she said. “I’m outspoken and opinionated on the blog, including about academic issues.

“The secondary reason is that it’s important to me that my personal and political opinions remain distinct from my classroom persona,” she added. “It’s extremely important to me that my students not feel that I approach them with an ‘agenda.’”
Right. Her IPs are from Toronto (which is indisputable). We can see this on her own SiteMeter when she posts or when she posts to other blogs. If she doesn't spoof IPs (and I don't think she does) then this last bit of information tells us that much more about her. I thought she valued her anonymity? Why not correct and retract? My only defense is to have the truth out there contemporaneously with any false accusations. We all face this very same threat. It has nothing to do with blogs or blogging per se and everything to do with our new information society.
Both Deignan and Bitch Ph.D. agree that this situation escalated rapidly when Hettle sent the e-mails to Deignan’s advisers, which Bitch Ph.D. says she wouldn’t have done.

Hettle’s response for comment was curt: “I have received many e-mails on this matter, and that has been disruptive to my work routine,” he said via e-mail Wednesday. “I’m holding office hours at the moment and need to speak to a student.”

Can this kind of dispute be settled in a lawsuit? Lauren Gelman, a lawyer and assistant director of the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School, labeled the situation “complicated” and said that Deignan will have to show how he was harmed and why. “He’s not going to be able to use the legal system to solve the fact that his feelings may have gotten hurt,” she said. But as the Internet continues to evolve, she predicted, “disputes like this are definitely going to become more frequent.”

King, one of Deignan’s advisers, had perhaps the most unique take on the situation in today’s Web-based society: “I don’t understand what blogs are,” he said. “Apparently, though, they can get you in trouble.”
My claim is that Wally percipitated the affair which is anchored in the BPhD publication and support of the libelous statements. Wally could not support his claims by himself and BPhD could not lend credibility to the false claims as an anonymous blogger. Together they have managed to create a situation that should be redressed. If this were just a matter of name calling, it would be of no consequence. As a final note, Drs. Meckl and King have been good advisors in allowing me to develop the research area of information-theoretic system identification unfettered for which I will always be very grateful.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Wine for Winners II

Under the same conditions as other Wine for Winner challenges ($20 or less bottle, 5 participants, all legal age, blog operators, etc.)

Here is the challenge. Choose whatever option you like.

1. Paul has not solicited a lawyer. (I bet I did).

2. Paul will not take the case to a winning conclusion (I bet I will. A winning conclusion is any in which my demands are substantially satisified either by apologies, damages, settlement in my favor, or a judgment.)

3. Paul will not be able to identify correctly both defendants prior to the lawsuit. (I bet I will).

To participate, full names, e-mails, and blog are required.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

A Case for Libel

We respect free speech--it is absolutely necessary for our democracy, but we justly outlaw libel. At issue is a simple case of libel, i.e. the communication to third parties of defamatory information which is untrue, stated as fact, and believable. In particular, the accusations of making objectively threatening communications, evading a "ban" (understood as a security feature), as well as a hodge podge of "harassing", "stalking" accusations.

Since the libel was coincident with a direct communication to academic supervisors by another "professional" academic, it would be foolish to ignore it. The record must be corrected since it is searchable, verifiable, and otherwise permanent. This is similar to correcting our credit records before credit reporting and review became formalized. How others have related these facts is most appropriately a statement on themselves and their values.

Let's examine the facts. Hettle wrote ( PDF backup ):
Just to clarify: I contacted Paul's advisers after he sent me threatening email.

I'm not going to link to the guy's blog, but he is clearly behaving in an unprofessional manner over there, just as he did here last night.

What I suggested to P.D.'s advisers was not that they destroy his academic career, but simply that they might want to have a chat about professionalism and civility.

As Paul believes his behavior was on the up and up, he should have nothing to worry about.

That said, I do hope Paul's behavior stops. Graduate students aren't all that professionally accountable because advisers have a stake in their student's success.

But as I can testify, assistant profs are in a highly accountable, indeed vulnerable position. If PD finishes his diss. and gets a real job, (a big if), and continues his obsessive behavior, he won't last long as an academic.
The communication of threats is a crime by US Code. It is also a statement of fact. Since I am an identifiable person, the intentional defamation, i.e. the objectively false accusation of potentially criminal behavior, seems to me to be libelous.

I call on Professor Wallace Hettle to issue a public apology.

The publisher of Hettle's libel also makes supporting libelous statements of her own in addition to publishing Hettle's statements.

Here is the first potentially libelous statement. The objectionable phrase is "sexist". This is akin to being called "racist" and is stated as a matter of fact. It should be retracted and corrected.

Here is a second. I don't know what she is trying to say. She seems confused and disoriented on her facts on this point (it is probably just a rationalization). Whatever it is it is obviously defamatory since she thinks that it is a cause for censure. The statement should be retracted.

At about this time I make a couple suggestions about effective ways of using Haloscan with DHCP to moderate comments and filter IPs. In response to another commenter's question I ponder why a person with a Canadian IP is so concerned with domestic US politics. These comments have all been deleted by bitchphd. At that point Wally jumps in and throws this all into a something that goes beyond mere repartee. A professor who was tracking the discussion comments that he saw nothing unprofessional on my part. Nonetheless, in that same thread the very next day, bitchphd reiterates and reinforces the libelous statements made by Hettle.
Oh for Christ's sake.

1. I deleted Paul's comments once they got really obnoxious. So what you've read isn't all there was. Let me simply explain that there was at least one implied threat against me--not that I took it seriously.

2. I've emailed Wally privately about emailing Paul's department. For the record, I would not have done it--and I didn't do it. I'm responsible for what happens on this forum; I can't control what happens out of it.

3. Agreed, however, that inasmuch as this is my forum, I *am* responsible for the impressions given on it. For the record, then: I don't think Wally should contact Paul's department, I do think Paul is an ass, Paul's been banned from commenting on this forum (unless he starts spoofing ips again). That should be an end of it, in my opinion.

Everybody happy now? Good.
Spoofing is defined as
A technique used to gain unauthorized access to computers, whereby the intruder sends messages to a computer with an IP address indicating that the message is coming from a trusted host. To engage in IP spoofing, a hacker must first use a variety of techniques to find an IP address of a trusted host and then modify the packet headers so that it appears that the packets are coming from that host.
This idea is ridiculous on its face. Why would anyone "spoof" an IP to post a comment where anonymous posting is permitted? Not only that, but the "banning" by Haloscan is by an IP filter. Since IPs change under DHCP (the most common IP assignment method) a subnet should be filtered, not just an individual IP. I suggested 128.###.###.### (Maybe you have to be a geek to see the humor in this). However, since the statements by BPhD are false and potentially harmful to my reputation among those that don't follow the details of Haloscan filters, I request a correction and retraction of these and other similar statements. The claim that she was threatened should also be corrected and retracted. No one else seems to have perceieved such a threat (and I made none). These implicitly "threatening" comments were conveniently deleted by thw claimant herself. What were they? She does not say yet her claims mimics nicely Hettle's libel. Is this by design or by thoughtlessness?

We have established that sending threatening communications is defamatory and that damages are involved. We also have that Hettle's account is in dispute. While BPhD acknowledges that she is responsible for impressions given by the commenters, what does she do about it? Instead of deleting the libel, she instead adds her own libelous statements to the mix without even the slightest bit of factual support other than her assertion laced with derisions. And all this from an academic? I don't see why we should stand for it.

OK, let’s go through a basic wash of the qualifiers of libel applied to this case through a standard source of guidance in order to define the issues better. I've had the opportunity to hear some pertinent criticism so let’s incorporate those into where we stand today. Here are the basic criteria:
1. A false and defamatory statement concerning another;
2. The unprivileged publication of the statement to a third party (that is, somebody other than the person defamed by the statement);
3. If the defamatory matter is of public concern, fault amounting at least to negligence on the part of the publisher; and
4. Damage to the plaintiff.

According to that same source, damages are "typically to the reputation of the plaintiff, but depending upon the laws of the jurisdiction it may be enough to establish mental anguish." The defamation may be "per se", i.e. there is a presumption of damages depending on the jurisdiction. Again, following the guidance per se defamation includes:
* Attacks on a person's professional character or standing;
* Allegations that an unmarried person is unchaste;
* Allegations that a person is infected with a sexually transmitted disease;
* Allegations that the person has committed a crime of moral turpitude;
Wally's and his friend’s defamation are of the first sort although I could also argue the last case as well.

Some jurisdictions demand that the defendant be given the opportunity to apologize. I have done that. All conditions appear to be satisfied.

Now let’s look at the defenses.

Was the defamation simply a matter of opinion?
My claim is to the statement of fact of sending threatening e-mails and a yet to be resolved question of "spoofing IPs". Lets concentrate on the former claim.

Was the statement truthful?
Were the e-mails sent and were they threatening. I have reproduced the e-mails here and claim that on their face they are not threatening, implicit or explicitly. When the defendants claim that the e-mails were "threatening" they are not saying that they felt threatened, but rather that the content of the e-mails is threatening to the reasonable observer. They are characterizing the content of the e-mails, not stating their personal feelings. The burden to show truth is on the defendants. They have yet to offer this defense to my knowledge.

Other common defenses are not applicable to the facts of this case.

There is a question as to whether I am a public figure. I have asserted that I am a private individual despite the fact that I also write a blog that has my mug prominently displayed. If I am a public figure, all I need to show is that the defamation was made with "actual malice". Since it appears that Wally made no attempt to verify the defamatory statements that he asserted as true to the advisors one day after planning the notification it seems that he demonstrated this malice as well as the common law definition of the term. However, at the time of the defamation, I claim that I was not even a "limited public figure". If I were, then everyone who posts comments under their own name on the interenet is a public figure. That would be absurd and contrary to good public policy of democratic accountability.

Here is what the source says of limited pubic figures:
A person can also become a "limited public figure" by engaging in actions which generate publicity within a narrow area of interest. For example, a woman named Terry Rakolta was offended by the Fox Television show, Married With Children, and wrote letters to the show's advertisers to try to get them to stop their support for the show. As a result of her actions, Ms. Rakolta became the target of jokes in a wide variety of settings. As these jokes remained within the confines of her public conduct, typically making fun of her as being prudish or censorious, they were protected by Ms. Rakolta's status as a "limited public figure".
The article continues that a lawsuit may not be a good idea if the publication of the lawsuit generates more awareness of the taint. This is a good point. However, in the age of Google, the ability of hiring departments to locate these pejorative comments are great. So while many were not aware of these comments before the lawsuit, the people that are most relevant, i.e. in the risk analysis, those that might make themselves aware for a directed purpose should be presumed to be already aware. Neglecting to defend against such defamation appears extremely risky to me. I don't think it would be prudent to take that risk.

Update 15 Nov 2005
This is the text of the Hettle email as received from one of the recipients:

Yesterday and last night Paul Deignan spent in "trolling" a feminist academic web site with disruptive and abusive comments.

This is a highly visible liberal site. He was banned, but used his computer expertise to defeat the ban and taunt the host of the site.

This kind of behavior is not unheard of on the net. But Mr. Deignan chose to do this action from a homepage that claims you as a dissertation adviser.

Mr. Deignan has a right to free speech. He shouldn't disrupt the discussions of others--it is highly unprofessional. And it is linked to your name.

Might you please advise him to exercise a little discretion in the future. As matters stand, Mr. Deignan appears to be doing a bit more politicking than mechanical engineering.

Thank you,


The second paragraph is libelous. I am not aware of any action that defeated an IP filter. No comment I attempted to place was rejected until the last comment at which time I knew that BPhd did indeed "ban me" (filter my leased DHCP IP for posting of comments some more than two hours after saying that she was "banning" me). For the record, she can't in reality as long as she allows anonymous commenters. The IP filter of Haloscan is a management tool, not a security tool. Since this is a statement of fact of malicious use of computing machinery, it defames me professionally as an engineer.

I noticed a bit late that Wally's friend also made a defamatory claim that I sent her threatening e-mail so here is the e-mail that I sent. The first is a solicitation sent to several feminist bloggers to pick up on a constructive debate in light of the Alito nomination sent Wed 11/2/2005 8:11 AM (recieved a nice reply from Lauren at Feministe begging out). Wally's friend actually participated in this thread before it was moved up for the nomination debate:

You have probably noticed that the debate about abortion tends to stall at the point where one party invokes a particular or another party religious faith or another party invokes blind want.

So here is my challenge to you and your readers, building on the discussion and the premise here: Thinking Critically about Abortion. Is it possible to more forward and explore a possible principled resolution to the debate?

For example, I think there is something to be said of sovereignty of the body, privacy, and liberty as rights emanating from the right to life. You may propose some rationale for balancing, etc.

At this point of the debate, the pro-life position is not seriously challenged and I have some readers who have requested that I reopen a forum for debate. Are you up to it? If so, the best thing might be to see if you can create a post outlining your rationale, one that addresses the framework laid out in my post and hopefully some of the criticisms. If you have a decent argument, I will match your posts and invite others to discuss and contribute from the right.

You have to admit, normal bloggers for all their talk about not being MSM also shy away from this argument. We should take advantage of this.

Paul Deignan

The second was in response to her reply sent Wed 11/2/2005 2:11 PM:
Read the first line of your response, stopped there after realizing that you had not read it yourself first. (didn’t want to be presumptuous.)

Paul Deignan

-----Original Message-----
From: Bitch Ph.D. []
Sent: Wednesday, November 02, 2005 10:18 AM
To: Paul Deignan
Subject: Re: Thinking Critically about Abortion

Since you say you're a Ph.D. candidate, a little advice:

1. Don't insult people and then ask them to do things for you.
2. Don't make assertions about the limitations of a debate without doing your research; I myself have written pieces on abortion that go beyond where you say the "debate tends to stall."
3. Don't try to set people up to act as your strawman; this doesn't incur good will.
4. Don't invite people to participate in a debate when you're unfamiliar with their work--you run the risk (as here) of asking them to rearticulate arguments they've already published.

That's "Read" as in "red"--past tense. Admittedly, PIMF. (daggling edits)

Update 6 Dec 2005:
Still, no retraction and apology from the blog publisher. A competent attorney has been retained and has requested corrections. Note that blog publisher and Haloscan are US companies so I the tort can be tried in US courts.

There is the question of establishing the identity of the libellant. From Paypal:
We disclose information in response to a subpoena, warrant, court order, levy, attachment, order of a court-appointed receiver or other comparable legal process, including subpoenas from private parties in a civil action.

Going through the comments I noticed that my IP from my DHCP lease runs for about a week and I have verified that it did not change over the time period in question so it would not have been possible that I would have unknowingly or knowingly skirted an IP filter by a reboot or refresh. The defendant, of course, knows this already since she erected the filter and since the comments from Haloscan show the IPs to the administrator. So her claim that this was her perception is a lie. Maybe a reconstructed cognition, imagination, wishful thought, but not a perception--perceptions require information from the senses coherent with the thought. With no information indicating a techical skirting of a filter, how could there be the perception?

So we will see. The fact that there is a legal solution on the table never eliminates the possibility of negotiated settlements. In my judgment, in this particular case, the legal option was necessary for movement towards a resolution. The proof is the Hettle settlement. Unfortunately, due to the extremely obstreperous tack taken by the BPhD blogger from the onset, a directly negotiated correction was not possible. Apparently there was money to be made in creating controversy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Left Responds

And apparently the response in the great debate is, "I'm telling your teacher on you!"

From an individual identifying him/herself as an "actual professor" (yes, I sent an e-mail for confirmation) in the comment thread of Samuel Alito: An Undue Burden On Us from a feminist site:
Troll boy is a student of the highly relevant field of mechanical engineering.

The moron is trolling under his real name from a home page which lists the names of his advisors. So I emailed them, as this behavior is thoroughly unprofessional.

BTW, I have a PhD and actual tenure. And I happen to know many profs who work from home, like myself.

I've read some of Dr. B's scholarship and it is superb.

Maybe Paul can come back after finishing HIS dissertation--if he finishes.

Anyway, Paul, I'm going to make an acquaintance with the admin. of your engineering school tomorrow, but I'm logging off for tonight.

Wallace Hettle
Actual Professor
Google Me
University of Northern Iowa

The interesting thing is that this threat occurred in the context of a discussion where the left (self-described academics) were pontificating on the need to crack down on free speech in education. At least they are consistent in that small respect.

PDF of discussion available here for historical comparison.

You Rock Wally!

UPDATE 2 Nov 2005 8:26 PM EST
I have confirmation. This by email from the academic address of the above named individual:
Whether I have posted on bitchphd is absolutely none of your business.

I will say that I have seen your comments on bitchphd, now that you have directed my attention to the site. They were libelous and threatening, given the willingness of prolifers such as Paul Hill to use violence to advance their agenda.

You are a lunatic; the academy is no place for you. You also seem to be a homely and I assume lonely man.

Anyway, I'd advise you not to troll under your real name. Academia, like the Internet, is a small place.

Wallace Hettle
University of Northern Iowa
Wally is not attracted to me. That is some relief at least (the lonely thing had me concerned for a moment).

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 8:44 AM EST
This just keeps getting better and better. Apparently, this professor has nothing better to do with his time than to go on a witch hunt (and not a very smart one at that). Here he is caught in the act of googling my name in order to see what he can dredge up for that all important call to to the administration this morning that he has promised to make (just in case the advisors don't fall in line). SiteMeter is at the right. His earlier visit was 33,378.

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 9:07AM EST
In the comments, Wally claims to have been googling to find my homepage. However, the initial visit was from a linked comment at the feminist site. A subsequent visit from the same description computer (probably at home) shows that the connection was direct. The claim of innocent googling came after the 8:44 AM update. In order of the visits:

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 10:12AM EST
And here he is trying to use different search words to cover his tracks ("info deignan" rather than "paul deignan"). I believe this is what lawyers call an indication of mens rea.

Meanwhile over at the comment thread we have this:
Oh, and one other thing: Paul is FAR from intimidated. He's continued to email me and Wally (again, with an implied threat towards Wally), he's left a trackback to this post (which I shall also delete). He's doing his best to wind things up even further.

Now. I take it the folks complaining about Wally's post want Wally to mind his own business. I can only ask that those who object to Wally's post do the same.

The only unposted/uncommented correspondence I have record of sending is the notification for confirmation that was replied, so I suppose I would challenge the author to produce the correspondence (Yes, I sent a trackback--that is blogger protocol). She seems to imply that she is being harrassed. Nice scare tactic. I'm not impressed. Please publish the letters which you claim you are continuing to receive. You certainly have my implicit and now also explicit permission.

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 10:39AM EST
And we see how the threats escalate. This in from a commenter that goes by the handle "BuxomBroad":
I think Wally was right to e-mail Paul's advisors. Regardless of the perspective of his comments, the extensive attack with minutue and the concerted and continued posts smack of pathologic obsession.

Paul's political views are not the issue here - his "stalking" behavior is. That alone is cause for alarm in a dissertation situation. He may very well be having some stress or psycological issues that need to be addressed or monitored, in the interests of a safe work environment and quality scholarship, if not personal concern.

A virtual feeding frenzy (high-tech lynching?) has begun. The modus operandi is apparently well practiced. Let's see how it fares in the light of day. I believe this may be the first time that this phenomena was live-blogged.

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 1:58PM EST
He just can't seem to stop digging.

Here is Wally's latest comment:
Just to clarify: I contacted Paul's advisers after he sent me threatening email.

I'm not going to link to the guy's blog, but he is clearly behaving in an unprofessional manner over there, just as he did here last night.

What I suggested to P.D.'s advisers was not that they destroy his academic career, but simply that they might want to have a chat about professionalism and civility.

As Paul believes his behavior was on the up and up, he should have nothing to worry about.

That said, I do hope Paul's behavior stops. Graduate students aren't all that professionally accountable because advisers have a stake in their student's success.

But as I can testify, assistant profs are in a highly accountable, indeed vulnerable position. If PD finishes his diss. and gets a real job, (a big if), and continues his obsessive behavior, he won't last long as an academic.
A threatening e-mail? Could he mean the opportunity I gave him last night to save himself some self-inflicted embarrassment (Sent at 7:07PM yesterday to the e-mail address in the comment thread, noted in our comments, and reposted again here for convenience)?

Have you figured out that you have made a pretty big error yet? I would like to offer you the chance to save yourself some professional embarrassment.

I can give you 30 minutes to reply with your decision.

Have a nice day,

Paul Deignan
Glad I told him to have a nice day. Can you imagine what he would have claimed if I said something else? Interestingly, he seems to assume that PhDs in ME go into academia (as if he is helping. Yeah, sure, that's the ticket, I was helping that guy, yeah, ...).

UPDATE 3 Nov 2005 4:30PM EST
For completeness, here is the e-mail that was sent for confirmation to the academic address at 6:55PM yesterday:

There is an individual that is using your identity at this site:

I will be reproducing this discussion at If this is not you, please contact me (the administrator of the Info Theory site) so that I can make notice to the readers that this individual is not you.


Paul Deignan

Thinking Critically about Abortion

While I have solicited discussion on a principled analysis of the abortion issue from abortion advocates such as Feminist Blogs and others, it is no surprise that we have not had such a debate among policy opponents. We are divided deeply on this issue, but not on principle for the principle of the wrongness of abortion is very clear. We are divided between those with deeply held convictions and those with deeply felt wants and needs.

There will be no resolution of the drives between opposing forces by focusing only on the ethics of abortion. However, we can move forward by simultaneously providing remedies for the underlying anxieties while also maintaining the integrity of the debate, i.e. to frankly address the needs of those facing the burden and challenges of bearing an unplanned pregnancy.

While there are methods of prevention that can still be explored, what is remarkable to me is that our society does not ameliorate those costs associated with pregnancy and child birth which might be lessened. For example, should not rape and incest victims be financially compensated by society for bearing to term? Why does it cost more to a woman to delivery a child than to destroy it? Why don't we provide free daycare for working mothers?

There is a trace of cynicism that marks our refusal to address these inequities while recognizing the wrongness of the carnage that the inequities induce. Yes, women should be responsible for the acts that lead up to the pregnancy, but so should the men. Here again our society is systematically unjust by neglect if not by design.

There is a way ahead in the abortion debate. We ought not fear to commit ourselves to its solution. After all of the demagoguery on the issue, there remains two simple questions that the entire abortion debate revolves around:

1. In our democratic society, do all persons have equal intrinsic rights (we are especially concerned here with the right to life--the most fundamental of all rights)?

2. When is a person a person?

After years of hearing the various arguments, I have two simple answers:

1. Yes

2. Erring on the side of caution, when that person is alive.

So here is the challenge: Have I missed anything and are my simple answers wrong? If so, how?

All are invited to take this challenge up. If you have a good point that you would like to argue, I would appreciate your thoughts. Perhaps we can settle something here or at least expose the weaknesses in the prevailing arguments.

This post moved up in response to reader's request in light of the Alito nomination. Preface added from related post.