What Fresh Hell Is This?

April 6, 2013

You Mean They STILL Haven't Fixed This?

A little more than a month ago, I wrote this blog-note to my many many friends in the City County Building.

I was writing to ask them to un-block access to my friend Sue's blog as it had been blocked in some offices but not others on Grant Street.

That her blog was blocked in the first place was simply unconscionable.  That it's still being blocked is unconscionable, but now the unconscionable is wrapped in reprehensible, basted in detestable and lovingly garnished with lark vomit.

As Sue writes this week, her blog is being blocked because it was the subject of two complaints made in 2008 to OpenDNS.  (That's about a half decade ago, for those of you obsessed with such things.)

She quotes the advice she's been given by Jim Sheppard, Special Assistant to the Mayor:
If you appeal the label with OpenDNS and it is approved it will life the block on city computers and anyone else that uses OpenDNS for filtering purposes.
Since when does a citizen have to do any of this in order to be heard in the corridors of power?

You can like the blog or not like the blog but as I wrote in February:
It's an important voice for an important segment of the Pittsburgh community and agree with it or disagree with it access to its content should not be blocked - anytime.
Especially since:
“The Rainbow flag has flown in front of the City-County Building on several occasions before, including the past two years during pride week in June,” special assistant to the mayor Jim Sheppard said.

Sheppard referred to the flag as “a non-political, non-offensive, symbolic gesture in solidarity with the LGBT citizens of the City of Pittsburgh.”
And that would be the same Jim Sheppard who told Sue to appeal to DNS to get her five year-old undeserved porn label tossed.  But as Sue herself asks:
Third, is it really my responsibility to challenge homophobia by a City contractor? How is it that the Citizens Police Review Board and the office of Councilman Bill Peduto have been able to “open” their office to my site without taking this step?
Perhaps the City should make a symbolic gesture in solidarity with the LGBT citizens of Pittsburgh and un-block my friend's website.

What do you think, Mr Sheppard?


Unknown said...

First of all, I COMPLETELY agree that Sue Kerr is a valuable blogger for Pittsburgh, and LGBTQ issues. We need more like her- she is willing to say it like she sees it, and that is what blogging is all about IMHO.

However, I have some real issues with this post aside from that base endorsement.

1) Sues's blog is blocked by more than City Government. for example, Panera Restaurants in the Pgh area block the site along with many LGBT sites because the filters used by businesses often filter out the words, Lesbian and Gay in their attempt to block porn or unsuitable content. Many schools use similar types of filters, and many bloggers whose sites are about news and information (like Sue's) must spend time asking for exceptions to these filters. Porn labels are a real obstacle, and many bloggers experience this. However, your post suggests that this is a personal thing against Sue which is inaccurate and inappropriate.

2) I think your idea that Sue's voice can not be heard in "the corridors of power," is misleading and poorly phrased. Sue has every right to speak within the corridors of power, just like any other citizen. Her rights as a citizen have not been restricted in any way. The name of her blog prompts some internet filters to mislabel her content. That IS wrong, and unfortunate, but has nothing to do with her rights as a citizen. Come on Dave- I expect better from you.

3) For the record, the Citizen's Police Review Board is a fully independent entity, and it is irrelevant when it comes to questioning Pittsburgh City government's internet filters.

Which leads me to my biggest problem with your post, and the portrayal of this issue. It isn't really clear what the issue is. By conflating City Hall, the flag pole, the Mayor's office, Bil Peduto's office, the CPRB, and some issue from 2008, it isn't clear just what this is supposed to be about.

Everything about the "logic" in this issue is a bit askew from the rainbow flag to the mention of homophobia. We are NOT presented with the facts about whatever led someone to file a complaint about Sue's blog. And OpenDNS has a real and straight forward process for appealing such things. Simply following the process wouldn't be either hard, or unreasonable.

4) I really take offense of the portrayal of Sue as a victim. "Third, is it really my responsibility to challenge homophobia by a City contractor..."

Yes, as bloggers, IT IS OUR responsibility to deal with OpenDNS and complaints filed against our blogs.

5) This is the 2nd place TODAY where I have seen the phrase "You can like the blog or not like the blog but..." Sue used it or a close facsimile in her email asking for votes today.

I wonder what's up with that. Those of us who blog do it, and accept that some people with agree and some will not agree with what we say. That's the name of the game. But the way it is getting used here suggests Sue thinks she receives ill treatment out of spite.

This is NOT an issue of homophobia or playing favorites or inconsistent treatment of one person. This is really and completely about a blogger who was tagged (incorrectly) as distributing nudity and pornography, and in the five years since, that blogger hasn't taken the easy steps to rectify the problem with OpenDNS.

I completely agree that Sue SHOULD NOT BE blocked, her unwillingness in five years to simply deal with the infraction head on, and the ongoing whining about it is ridiculous.

Sue said...

Let me clarify

The accusation that I have failed to deal with the infraction "head on" is false.

The day I found out about the block (October 2012), I took action - within the system. I had no knowledge that the OpenDNS label was the problem. But as soon as Jim Sheppard informed me of this, I went to OpenDNS and filed the appropriate appeal and sought help from others more knowledgeable than I about the best way to handle the label.

For nearly six months, Sheppard or some entity with the City chose not to share this simple fact with me. I have tons of email proof to back up my claim. I was never informed that this was the problem so to expect me to resolve it is unreasonable.

I have no information on why someone filed a complaint - I made that clear in my original post. I simply have the date the complaint was filed - no link, no screenshot, nothing. How can I defend myself against an unknown allegation?

You yourself addressed the situation with Panera Bread - quite sympathetically I recall - and didn't suggest I investigate this possible concern. So why hold others to a standard you did not meet?

As for CPRB, Beth Pittinger was the only City official willing to address the issue - please refer to the HRC minutes from March 4, 2013 for confirmation. CPRB's internet access is part of the City infrastrcture so it is a very salient point. I spoke with Beth at length about this. Please feel free to discuss.

It is unfortunate that you jump to conclusions about motive without all of the facts. I've tried to gather those facts for months, Thomas. The City has yet to respond to my inquiries. If that constitutes whining, fine. But the case is not closed because there are gaps in information.

BTW, thank you for what I thought were sincere good wishes on my pursuit of a scholarship to attend a conference. I'm disappointed you brought that into the mix here to impugn my motives perhaps? But again, I have plenty of evidence to distinguish the two efforts aside from a good-natured attempt on my part to make light of what has been a frustrating, demeaning encounter with "City Hall."

I have evidence. OpenDNS doesn't. What's a lesbian blogger to do?

Vannevar said...

Really, what's any blogger to do? It can't be right to be blocked without a hearing, without knowing why, without knowing the accuser. Doesn't seem right. Doesn't seem... American.

If it's not American, it shouldn't be a tool local government uses. If local gov't uses it because there's no other good options, then when a known instance is identified they should be able to ensure an exception.

The fact that local govt knows about this, and has failed to fix it, is the triumph of bureaucracy and inertia over judgement and common sense, the triumph of narrow minds over open minds, and, it's. un. American.

Now that they've waited so long, and botched this up, it deserves an exception to policy. If local IT can't figure out how to do that, replace them - it's not that hard.

If you fly rainbow flags, if you claim to support equal rights, if you show up at Pride events and seek their donations, if you want that constituency's votes - then you have to, at some very small degree, walk the talk.

Fix this, fix it now.

I look forward to the Mayoral candidate to declares that web access will not be blocked on the basis of heteronormative assumptions - seriously.

Thomas Waters said...

I think Vanevar's idea for the next Mayor to advocate for a fully free and open system is an excellent one. I wonder in the bureaucracy of City Government if that is possible or not.

As per Sue's comment- Sue, I commented directly to a post written about your situation, not to or about you, yourself. My comments should be taken in that context. My comments were about Dave's post directly, not your situation directly.

Re: Panera, I did contact the Communications office for Panera, and advocate for them to lift the ban on your blog, however, I think I believe I suggested that you contact them as well. I have been a fierce advocate for your blog because I think you bring out perspectives that are critical to a broader discussion. Something you do not offer back, BTW.

My point is that blogs get blocked in numerous ways by numerous locations, when I felt that Dave's post suggests your situation is unique to you.

The web is a wild west kinda place! OpenDNS provided a tool that allowed websites to have a "static" DNS where they otherwise would not. It is a Domain Name Resolution Service- a third party vendor. That is an important part of this issue which Sue seems unwilling to grasp. Like many many things (i.e. undeserved problems on a credit score) getting rid of one of these types of inconveniences can be hard and time consuming. But that is a part of being a blogger out on the cutting edge.

Sue said...


- I'm not unwilling to grasp anything. I've spent MANY hours trying to educate myself on these issues and been candid about my learning curve. As with many things technical, I have received multiple informed perspectives and opinions which I am trying to synthesize. I understand what you are saying about the one specific technical element, but I disagree with your systemic analysis. That's the beauty of blogging - we can disagree without using loaded terms like "whining" or "seems unwilling"?

- "something you do not offer back BTW" ??? that seems personal and not appropriate for a discussion in the comment section of someone else's blog.

The point is not necessarily "why" the blog is blocked as "how" a City government responds. Again, not to me personally - but what are the policies? The guidelines? The protocols? I assume the City has a computer usage policy as most employers do (or should) that specifically addresses "personal use" - and what happens when the third party system breaks down? These are really procedural issues and systemic issues. Those are the unanswered questions and while my addressing the issue with OpenDNS resolves one specific incident, it doesn't address the larger problem of a lack of transparency and accountability.

But we can simply agree to disagree on how we interpret these facts.