March 31, 2007

The NFL: Socialism for Capitalists?

Miss Laura at The Daily Kos highlights an op-ed by Derrick Z. Jackson in today's Boston Globe entitled "Football Socialism":

Enter the National Football League. This week, it agreed to revamp what is arguably the most successful form of socialism in the United States. It made some adjustments to its revenue sharing plan. The league's teams, which currently number 32, have shared equally in national television revenues going back to the early 1960s. The Mara family of the New York Giants and George Halas of the Chicago Bears realized that it had to be done to give tiny cities like Green Bay a chance to field competitive teams. Halas even once advocated a new stadium for the arch-rival Packers.

Four and a half decades later, the Chicago Tribune wrote that the decision to share revenues was "the single most important reason the NFL enjoys unmatched prosperity" today and has become the nation's top spectator sport. Shared prosperity means more teams with a legitimate chance to win the title. More competitive teams mean more fans.

What a peculiar sort of socialism we have here: From each capitalist according to his ability, to each capitalist according to his needs! MissLaura says that the US should follow the NFL's lead here.

I'm sure that Levitra DeShill, spokesperson for Billionaires for Bush would agree.

Corporations are People Too
Originally uploaded by Lindsay Beyerstein.

Posted by abostick at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

March 30, 2007

The Great Blogroll Purge of 2007

Terrance of The Republic of T has just posted a recap of the Great Blogroll Purge of 2007, a.k.a Blogroll Amnesty, or BAD.

On January 14, Atrios declared that February 3 would be Blogroll Amnesty Day. In a turn of phrasing that perhaps was a bit too Orwellian for many people's comfort, the "amnesty" involved was to be a blanket pardon from recrimination for anyone who wanted to prune their blogroll.

Now Atrios can declare a day Blogroll Amnesty Day, and so could I, and so could any blogger, but will the amnesty come when he doth call for it? Not this time.

Blogroll Amnesty Day came, and Atrios cleaned out his blogroll. So did the Daily Kos, and so did a number of other prominent liberal/left political bloggers.

And Blogtopia (y!sctp!) erupted into the sort of frenzy of recrimination like unto what LiveJournal does when a polyamorous household breaks up acrimoniously, with one faction taking the kids, another taking the house, and a third taking the domain name; and everyone dropping everyone else from their friends lists and putting pressure on their friends to do the same.

Prominent critics of the so-called A-List bloggers cutting people from their blogrolls include skippy the bush kangaroo and Jon Swift. Both on their own blogs and in the comments of many other bloggers' posts discussion the issue, they bring up these points:

  • Top-ranked conservative bloggers link much more generously than top-ranked liberal bloggers do.
  • Google PageRank depends critically on both the number and quality of inbound links to a site.
  • The simultaneous cutting of many blogs from top-ranked liberal blogrolls therefore reduced the liberal blogosphere's overall PageRank.

I was going to write something about this, but my attention waned even as my notes grew. But late this week Terrance at The Republic of T re-energized the conversation with his thoughtful post. Terrance calls attention, in particular, to "Blogs to Riches — The Haves and Have-Nots of the Blogging Boom," an article in New York Magazine last year about the stratification of the overall blogosphere, the money made at the top end, and how much harder it has become to reach the blogosphere's higher reaches.

Chris Clarke at Creek Running North says a lot of what I was going to say:

And I wonder whether the whole discussion is predicated on the assumption that there’s one blogging hierarchy, when in fact there are several. Making Light is way up in one, Twisty in another, Dave Winer in another.

I care and I don’t. I couldn’t ever climb anywhere near the top of the political blogging hierarchy even if I wanted to: I’m just too far to the left for such a thing to happen, and I keep mentioning pesky things like the history of US imperialism prior to 2002. Of course, that might keep me from becoming a leading dog blogger as well. That and not having a dog. ...

But I look at my referral stats, and once you subtract out the 95 percent of my traffic that comes straight offa Google, the bulk of people who click over here come from blogs with far less traffic than the big folks. And all those links from less-trammeled blogs mean more Google traffic, too. Technorati, which misses a lot, says about 325 places link in to this domain. About a dozen of those are at big-traffic blogs, I’m thinking. Nineteen of them go to Ron’s joint. The rest of the links come from non-A-list, and probably non-B-list blogs. Whatever those terms are supposed to mean. I have no idea what they mean, myself. I’m just flinging them around.

My own story is similar, if a lot smaller. 11 inbound links, Technorati tells me, that are younger than six months old. I get a mere 120 hits per day (My hit count has been growing as I've stretched out a longer and longer streak of posting every day that I'm hoping to keep up if I can finish this post before midnight.) Most of my traffic comes from search, but I have an estimated twenty to thirty regular readers. A couple of my inbound links come from well-known blogs (Making Light and The Sideshow) but the rest come from sites that are further down the long tail. Blogroll Amnesty Day did not affect me, because, except for second- or third-order effects.

The New York Magazine article describes a reluctance a seeming A-list bloggers about discussing what it takes to achieve their exalted status and how much money they make from it, But those A-listers are Gawker Media's Nick Denton and Weblogs, Inc.'s Jason Calacanis, who reap the rewards of huge traffic on blogs written by hirelings whom they pay peanuts. In the discussions of the Blogroll Purge I've seen, it seems like people can't tell the difference between Atrios and Nick Denton. Of the high-ranked liberal bloggers, only Markos Moulitsas actually breathes that rarefied atmosphere.

Avedon Carol has written about how she has been noticing, entirely apart from the Blogroll Purge, a decline in traffic in recent months, and she wonders what it's about. It seems to me that what it is about is that blog reading by way of news aggregators like Bloglines or Google Reader, where your blog gets crawled by the aggregator and read by many readers, is on the upswing. Traffic is still up, but it's not being caught in the referral logs. Blogrolls don't show up there, either. I read pretty much all of the blogs I read regularly by way of Bloglines, myself.

According to my referral logs, blogrolls just aren't important. I get one hit a day each from Making Light, The Sideshow, and skippy, And I imagine that those hits come from those blogs' proprietors using their blog as a homepage. The true currency of linkage is citations within blog posts. Those are what get readers to click through to find out more.

Blogrolls don't generate traffic; they are there apparently, to share Technorati authority and Googlejuice. As such, don't they constitute a form of gaming the system rather then authentic indicators of worth of linkage? Links in blog posts get clicked. Links on sidebars don't. Which link is more valuable?

My own blogroll policy: A blog is guaranteed a spot on the As I Please blogroll if and only if the blog's publisher has sex with me. That's the only way you're guaranteed a link. For group blogs, only one co-blogger needs to sleep with me to get that blog on my blogroll. Acceptance of any offer made, and determination of what constitutes "sex" is at my sole discretion. Don't even bother emailing me to ask for a link exchange.

That's the only way to guarantee a spot on my blogroll, but because I'm a generous guy, I also link to blogs whom I mention in my posts, but that's on an arbitrary and ad hoc basis.

Posted by abostick at 11:10 PM | Comments (2)

March 29, 2007

Students Claim Anti-Plagiarism Service Stole Their Work

The Washington Post reports that a group of students are suing an anti-cheating service for copyright violation, claiming that the service copied and archived their school papers without permission.

Two McLean High School students have launched a court challenge against a California company hired by their school to catch cheaters, claiming the anti-plagiarism service violates copyright laws.

The lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, seeks $900,000 in damages from the for-profit service known as Turnitin. The service seeks to root out cheaters by comparing student term papers and essays against a database of more than 22 million student papers as well as online sources and electronic archives of journals. In the process, the student papers are added to the database.

Two Arizona high school students also are plaintiffs. None of the students is named in the lawsuit because they are minors. ...

According to the lawsuit, each of the students obtained a copyright registration for papers they submitted to Turnitin. The lawsuit filed against Turnitin's parent company, iParadigms LLC, seeks $150,000 for each of six papers written by the students.

One of the McLean High plaintiffs wrote a paper titled "What Lies Beyond the Horizon." It was submitted to Turnitin with instructions that it not be archived, but it was, the lawsuit says. ...

Andrew Beckerman-Rodau, co-director of the intellectual property law program at Suffolk University Law School, said that although the law regarding fair use is subject to interpretation, he thinks the students have a good case.

"Typically, if you quote something for education purposes, scholarship or news reports, that's considered fair use," Beckerman-Rodau said. "But it seems like Turnitin is a commercial use. They turn around and sell this service, and it's expensive. And the service only works because they get these papers."

(If I post this quickly enough, I just might scoop Boing Boing!)

Posted by abostick at 06:30 PM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2007

GSA Administrator Doan 'Honestly Doesn't Remember' Illegal Meetings

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) pins GSA Administrator Lurita Doan to the butterfly board in his questions about GSA lunchtime brown-bag lunch meetings at which political plans were discussed, in violation of the Hatch Act.

Doan "honestly doesn't remember" asking meeting participants how to help Republicans win elections in 2008, but she doesn't refute the testimony of those participants who claimed that she did so ask. She calls the brown-bag lunches "team-building meetings." Braley retorts, "the only team built is the Republican team."

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2007

Kathy Sierra Death Threats: Silence Gives Consent

BlogHer's Linda Stone suggests that the right way to deal with creeps like the one harassing Kathy Sierra is to ignore them. She's wrong.

A vast storm of commentary has erupted around Kathy Sierra's pulling out of ETech because of misogynistic threats of sexual violence and murder directed towards her. Many people are shocked that such a thing could happen at all. Many people say that what Sierra is doing is giving in to the bullies. Not a few of the A-listers are cautioning against a rush to judgment, because after all it is their friends and drinking buddies who, in starting MeanKids and Bob's Yer Uncle, gave misogyny, racism, and hatred a garden to grow in.

Linda Stone, co-founder of BlogHer, reminds us that this is what every woman who appears publicly on the Internet is exposed to:

The hate speech aimed at Kathy makes me sick. I am appalled by her experience and moved by her post. And I am sorry to confirm what many women online already know: Kathy Sierra is, literally, one among countless women assaulted like this online. I have no idea how many women have emailed and telephoned me about attacks via IM, IRC chat, message boards, email and blog comments. These attacks use language that describes detailed rape, dismemberment, profanity and indescribably sick images. The goal? Abuse and humiliation of women.

These assaults are happening to women blogging in every corner of the Internet -- food bloggers, political bloggers, feminist bloggers, tech bloggers, entertainment bloggers and -- perhaps especially -- mommybloggers. The only predictor I have observed is that the more famous the blogger (and/or blogger's spouse), the more lesbian, and/or the more not-white, the more vicious her attackers. Denise knows the score.

But Stone goes on to link to an earlier post, giving her advice on how to deal with Internet trolls:

Sometimes people are mean in this virtual Web world. Really mean.

And it's my opinion that there's only one solution: Ignore them.

That's the most powerful thing you can do.

Yes, trolls feed on attention, and yes, ignoring them denies what they feed on. And yes, the people who posted the hateful comments and images on MeanKids and Bob's Yer Uncle are nothing but hypertrophied trolls.

At the same time, if all you do is ignore a troll, then no one else knows about the trolling.

The men who don't troll can then comfortably assume that because it would never occur to them personally to post anonymous sexualized threatening comments or photoshop a picture to look like a BDSM scene, that therefore that stuff doesn't go on regularly. When a woman breaks the silence once in a while, they can profess outrage at what some lone sicko has done in an isolated case, and never have to even consider the possibility that there is a widespread pattern of anonymous abuse.

Whether or not Kathy Sierra is a coward for "giving in" and canceling her speaking engagements, she is a hero for speaking out, for reminding us of what is going on all the time.

(Hat tip to Chris Clarke)

Posted by abostick at 03:58 PM | Comments (4)

Tech Blogger Kathy Sierra Menaced by Hate Speech, Death and Rape Threats

Creating Passionate Users' Kathy Sierra canceled her keynote speech at ETech in San Diego [possibly triggering, possibly NSFW], because she was intimidated by a series of sexually loaded threats of murder and rape, both in the comments of her own blog and in two group blogs, meankids.org and Bob's Yer Uncle, run by a group of tech and marketing bloggers. Neither site is now available; Bob's Yer Uncle has been yanked for violating WordPress's terms of service.

Sierra reproduced examples both of graphic attacks on her and written attacks on other women in her field, all laden with vivid imagery of violence against and contempt for women.

This is what the Tech Boys Club looks like [possibly triggering, possiby NSFW].

(via Lindsay Beyerstein)

Posted by abostick at 10:59 AM | Comments (1)

March 26, 2007

San Francisco Chronicle Finances Spark Rumors

Tim O'Reilly is hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in trouble:

I hate to play Valleywag, but I'm hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent "emergency meeting" that the news business "is broken, and no one knows how to fix it." ("And if any other paper says they do, they're lying.") Reportedly, the paper plans to announce more layoffs before the year is out.

The New York Times reports today that February's advertising revenue for newspapers across the county were sharply lower than they were a year ago. The report blames the decline in revenue on the loss of classified ads to free sites like Craig's List, and, in areas of California and Florida, a the decline in the housing market. (hat tip to Atrios.)

Blog triumphalists may dance at the downfall of the MSM; but the truth is that, pace Josh Marshall, most news blogging is the gathering and aggregating of already-reported news, not original reporting. The chief foundation of news reporting is advertising sales to newspapers, and if that revenue is drying up, then our overall ability to know what is going on in the world is deeply compromised.

Posted by abostick at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2007

Is Cruelty the Tragic Flaw of George W. Bush?

At the Huffington Post, Paul Slansky uses the unfolding and unraveling of the US Attorney purge scandal to illuminate what he sees as the essential characteristic of the Bush administration that both defines it and contains the seeds of its undoing — if you will, Bush's tragic flaw: Cruelty.

Gonzales and Co. could have just said, "We're firing these people because we can," and that would have been that. ...

But NOOOOOOO! These spiteful sadists, who so revel in causing pain that they can't let a single opportunity pass untaken, had to impugn the fitness of the fired, thus forcing them to defend themselves by attacking their attackers and elevating their dismissals to, as George H.W. Bush was fond of putting it, a media "feeding frenzy." ...

In 1967, the Yale Daily News exposed the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity's penchant for branding pledges with red hot wire hangers. The New York Times picked up the story, which featured a former president of the frat, one George W. Bush, dismissing the resulting "insignificant" wound as "only a cigarette burn" that leaves "no scarring mark, physically or mentally." So, Bush's first quote in the national press was a defense of torture.

What's obvious to all but the willfully blind is that Bush truly enjoys hurting people. His every action is designed to inflict pain, from that loathsome habit of giving people nicknames — hey, media suck-ups, it's not cute, it's contemptuous, a bully-boy saying, "I think so little of you that I'm not gonna call you by your name, I'm gonna call you what I want to call you" — to the cavalier decimation of a nation. Bush's utter heartlessness is breathtaking, though no more so than the mainstream media's craven refusal to even acknowledge it, let alone to truly do its job and relentlessly point out every instance of his wanton malice.

It is not accurate to describe cruelty as George Bush's tragic flaw. The classical conception of tragedy is that of a great person brought down by the imperfection of their character. Because George Bush is so thoroughly and unredeemedly mediocre and inadequate, he cannot be a tragic figure: he lacks even the slightest shred of the greatness needed for the role.

(via Avedon Carol)

Posted by abostick at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2007

Nutritionists Call Chinese Food "Unhealthy"

The Associated press reported Wednesday that nutritionists associated with the Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report last Tuesday that highlighted the health risks of food served in Chinese restaurants,

The AP account of this report describes a meal of General Tso's chicken, steamed rice, and egg rolls. pointing out that this meal is high in calories, high in sodium, and high in saturated fats.

This is the sort of thinking that Michael Pollan dissected and found wanting in his New York Times Magazine article late last January,

Someone is stacking the deck here. Both the main dish and the egg rolls are deep-fried in oil, while most fare at a Chinese restaurant is lightly stir-fried in a wok. Moreover, General Tso's chicken as I have generally seen it made, is mostly battered, fried chunks of chicken in a sweet, spicy sauce. A more typical dish served in a Chinese restaurant has more vegetables.

What's more, although Chinese food is singled out for nutritionist demonization, it's not even the worst cuisine. In a throwaway aside, the article mentions that both Italian and Mexican cuisines are worse than Chinese, according to the nutritionist ideology.

An uncritical reader will come away from this article with the message "Chinese Food Is Bad For You." But this is not true. This is the sort of dietary fear-mongering that the high priests of nutritionism have been foisting upon us for decades.

What's going on here? Racism? Xenophobia?

A person who tries to eat by Pollan's brief guidelines ("Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.") will have a much easier time of it at a Chinese restaurant than, say, at a diner.

AP has done the public a significant disservice by running this piece of scaremongering propaganda. And unless the piece's author has misrepresented the report they cite, the Center for Science in the Public Interest is in fact acting against the public interest in reporting such information.

Posted by abostick at 06:05 PM | Comments (4)

Iranian Action in Shatt al-Arab *Not* a Crisis

Skippy points us to Demosthenes at Shadow of the Hegemon, who in turn points us to Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan. Quoth Ambassador Murray:

British Marines Captured By Iranians

The capture of British Marines by Iran has happened before, then on the Shatt-al-Arab waterway. It will doubtless be used by those seeking to bang the war drum against Iran, though I imagine it will be fairly quickly resolved.

Before people get too carried away, the following is worth bearing in mind. I write as a former Head of the Maritime Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Iranians claimed the British soldiers had strayed into Iranian territorial waters. If they had, then the Iranians had every right to detain them for questioning.

The difficulty is that the maritime delimitation in the North West of the Persian Gulf, between Iraq, Kuwait and Iran, has never been resolved. It is not therefore a question of just checking your GPS to see where you are. This is a perfectly legitimate dispute, in which nobody is particularly at fault. Lateral maritime boundaries from a coastal border point are intensely complicated things, especially where islands and coastal banks become a factor.

Disputes are not unusual. I was personally heavily involved in negotiating British maritime boundaries with Ireland, France and Denmark just ten years ago, and not all our own boundaries are resolved even now. There is nothing outlandish about Iranian claims, and we have no right in law to be boarding Iranian or other shipping in what may well be Iranian waters.

The UN Convention on the Law of The Sea carries a heavy presumption on the right of commercial vessels to "innocent passage", especially through straits like Hormuz and in both territorial and international waters. You probably won't read this elsewhere in these jingoistic times but, in international law, we [i.e. the Royal Navy — AB] are very probably in the wrong. As long as the Iranians neither mistreat our Marines nor wilfully detain them too long, they have the right.

I was wondering why this incident wasn't receiving much attention after the news first broke. Ambassador Murray's explanation explains why, and is in fact very reassuring.

Posted by abostick at 12:12 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2007

Iranian Forces Capture British Sailors

The Associated Press reports frightening news indeed:

(03-23) 10:15 PDT DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) --

Iranian naval vessels on Friday seized 15 British sailors and marines who had boarded a merchant ship in Iraqi waters of the Persian Gulf, British and U.S. officials said. Britain immediately protested the detentions, which come at a time of high tension between the West and Iran.

In London, the British government summoned the Iranian ambassador to the Foreign Office: "He was left in no doubt that we want them back," Britain's Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said after the meeting.

The U.S. Navy, which operates off the Iraqi coast along with British forces, said the British sailors appeared unharmed and that Iran's Revolutionary Guard naval forces were responsible.

Britain's Defense Ministry said the British Navy personnel were "engaged in routine boarding operations of merchant shipping in Iraqi territorial waters," and had completed a ship inspection when they were accosted by the Iranian vessels. The British sailors were assigned to a task force which protects Iraqi oil terminals and maintains security in Iraqi waters under authority of the U.N. Security Council. ...

The U.S. Navy said the incident occurred just outside a long-disputed waterway called the Shatt al-Arab dividing Iraq and Iran. It came as the U.N. Security Council debates further sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, and amid U.S. allegations that Iran is arming Shiite militias in Iraq. ...

The Britons were in two boats from the frigate H.M.S. Cornwall during a routine smuggling investigation, said the British Defense Ministry.

According to a statement from the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and operates jointly with the British forces off the coast of Iraq, the British sailors had just finished inspecting the merchant ship about 10:30 a.m. "when they and their two boats were surrounded and escorted by Iranian vessels into Iranian territorial waters."

The Iranian vessels were apparently not regular Iranian Navy vessels but instead operated by the Republican Guard.

The last thing the region needs is hotheaded yahoos handing George Bush a casus belli on a platter.

Posted by abostick at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

PTSD, Women Soldiers, and Photography

The New York Times Magazine's cover story last Sunday was "The Women's War," by Sarah Corbett, about women who had been deployed to Iraq, combat, sexual harassment and rape, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Accompanying the story are pictures of the veterans Corbett interviewed, photographed by Katy Grannan.

Lindsay Beyerstein noticed something interesting about Grannan's photographs: they appeared to Lindsay's eye to use the conventions of pinup photography, incongruously sexualizing the presentation of these disturbed war veterans.

I thought Lindsay was on to something, and I was really interested in what my friend Laurie Edison would have to say. So I got out of my chair with my laptop and showed it to Laurie's blogging partner, our own true Debbie Notkin. They were interested indeed, and the next day they wrote about it together on Body Impolitic. Laurie and Debbie noted the sexualization in some of the pictures, and noted that in others women were represented as taking care of children or working in a kitchen. They add that, quickly googling for images of men accompanying accounts of PTSD, one finds headshots or battlefield scenes.

Lindsay responded with another post. So did Lynn Kendall, who explains the meaning of finding sexiness in PTSD-suffering women.

I don't have much to add here, except that the conversation is as thought-provoking as its subject is disturbing.

Posted by abostick at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2007

It's the Obstruction of Justice, Stupid

Josh Marshall rises above the distractions of 3000-page document dumps and squabbles about subpoenas and exectutive privilege:

Okay, enough. The president fired US Attorneys to stymie investigations of Republicans and punish US Attorneys who didn't harass Democrats with bogus voter fraud prosecutions. In the former instance, the evidence remains circumstantial. But in the latter the evidence is clear, overwhelming and undeniable.

Indeed, it is so undeniable the president hismelf does not deny it. ...

Back up a bit from the sparks flying over executive privilege and congressional testimony and you realize that these are textbook cases of the party in power interfering or obstructing the administration of justice for narrowly partisan purposes. It's a direct attack on the rule of law. ...

It's yet another example of how far this White House has gone in normalizing behavior that we've been raised to associate with third-world countries where democracy has never successfully taken root and the rule of law is unknown. At most points in our history the idea that an Attorney General could stay in office after having overseen such an effort would be unthinkable. The most telling part of this episode is that they're not even really denying the wrongdoing. They're ignoring the point or at least pleading 'no contest' and saying it's okay.

Posted by abostick at 06:40 AM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2007

Eschew the Passive Voice

How could anyone who blogs under the title As I Please resist an article called "George Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing"? I was drawn to it like an alley tom to catnip.

John Wesley draws upon George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," perhaps the most well-known essay written by the man considered by many to be the finest essayist in the English language, at the very least since William Hazlitt. Orwell closes his essay with six rules, and Wesley takes all six of these rules and expands upon them in his own words.

I was particularly tickled to read this:

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

This one is frequently broken, probably because many people don’t know the difference between active and passive verbs. I didn’t myself until a few months ago.

It seems as if Wesley still isn't quite up to speed with the concept.

In any event, here at As I Please we are happy to see almost anything that promotes George Orwell's reknown as an essayist.

Posted by abostick at 05:19 PM | Comments (5)

SFGate's 'Bad Reporter' Misuses Torture Image

I had a visceral reaction to Don Asmussen's "Bad Reporter" political webcomic on SFGate this morning.

Spinning off from the the 1984 Apple/Obama ad mashup that's getting attention on YouTube, Asmussen invents a parody mashup of a Purina Dog Chow ad for his first panel. His second panel, representing the author of the mashup, is grotesque and fat-phobic, but doesn't actually push my buttons.

I found the third panel, however, deeply disturbing, angering, painful. It depicts a news story illustrated with one of the Abu Ghurayb photographs, the one where Lynndie England is holding the leash of a prone prisoner. The face of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is photoshopped over England's, and that of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the prisoner's. The caption reads "Harry Reid questioning Alberto Gonzales." (Warning disturbing imagery below the fold)

I'm finding it hard to articulate my anger and disgust at this image. It reminded me of the Joe-Lieberman-in-blackface picture on The Huffington Post and of the picture of Jessica Valenti in a burkha on Pandagon. The commonality I see is that the artist takes an emotionally charged symbol of oppression and suffering of some sort of Other and uses that charge to make a small joke hotter, because a joke that is hotter often seems funnier.

Brownfemipower said it better than I could, about Jessica Valenti in a burkha:

Because it *is* pretty funny isn’t it? The comparing of an asshole to the Taliban. But in Pandagon’s rush to make a cheap joke at the expense of women of color (because good lord, the *real* problem with anti-sex feminists is that they want to turn white women into the OTHER), Pandagon forgot something small but very important: they are feminists from and blogging within a colonizing nation. A colonizing nation that is in the process of bombing the holy hell out of the very women that they find so easy to make fun of.

Yes, we can say, this picture of Reid with Gonzales on a leash is funny, seeing the torturer tortured. But in SFGate's rush to make a cheap joke at the expense of the victims of Bush's war, SFGate forgot something important: they are journalists from and reporting within a colonizing nation that is in the process of bombing the holy hell out of, and continuing to torture and abuse, the war victims that they find so easy to make fun of.

That picture mocks and trivializes the suffering that took place at Abu Ghurayb. It reduces it to the level of the fraternity hazing hijinks to which Rush Limbaugh compared the Abu Ghurayb atrocities.

Shame on SFGate. Shame on Don Asmussen.

Posted by abostick at 02:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2007

No Australian Policewoman Breast Photograph Here

The damnedest things turn up in referral logs. Starting yesterday there was a spike of hits on my dream archive. The search terms were "photograph of a young Australian policewoman's breasts" coming from a number of different locations. So I googled the same phrase myself and found this report from Reuters:

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A photograph of a young Australian policewoman's breasts, sent to her boyfriend as a get well message on her mobile phone, has sparked an investigation after it was circulated on internal police e-mail.

The Victoria state police constable was in her police uniform with her name badge visible, her shirt undone and her breasts exposed when she was photographed, Australian Associated Press (AAP) reported Monday.

The image was circulated widely through the force's internal e-mail, landing in the inboxes of top-ranking officers and ethical standards department detectives....

And I was getting hits because, in the surreal mishmosh of my dreams, the archive has all the terms in the search. For a while yesterday it was on the first page of Google's hits.

I can guess what happened: The story went out on the Reuters wire and began to appear in online news pages, and eager horndogs started googling in hopes of finding the actual picture.

Keep looking, horndogs; the picture isn't here. And might I suggest that you look for breast pictures at a site like Sensual Liberation Army [NSFW], where the models' consent is much more clear-cut.

Posted by abostick at 06:23 PM | Comments (0)

300, Racism, and Ignorant Ethnography

Author and geek icon Neal Stephenson has an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times about the film 300, about which he is mostly favorable. In addressing the negative criticism the film is receiving, though, he says, Many reviews made the same points: ... All of the good guys are white people and many of the bad guys are brown. (How this could have been avoided in a film about Spartans versus Persians is never explained...)

Dude, get a clue! To the extent that "white" means anything at all, Persians were and Iranians are white. Hint #1: "white" is a synonym for "Caucasian"; the Caucasus is due north of modern Iran. Hint #2: "Iran" is linguistically cognate with "Aryan."

In modern American formulations of racism, of course, Iranians are "brown," not "white." Ask any Iranian about how they get treated by shop clerks, for example. But here's the twist: Greeks get the same treatment. Remember when Michael Dukakis ran for president in 1988, and some commentators were referring to him as "brown"?

I don't feel any more comfortable about adopting the role of the arbiter of who is (and implicitly, who is not) white, than I do about Stephenson adopting that role.

Nevertheless, he inhabitants of the sun-drenched Peloponnessus are neither more nor less white than the inhabitants of the sun-drenched Iranian plateau. Cinematically depicting one side of a war, the Good Guys, as pale-skinned and the other side, the Bad Guys, as dark-skinned when the original combatants looked much alike, is an expression of racism, pure and simple.

Posted by abostick at 12:13 PM | Comments (1)

March 19, 2007

Pizza Gadget and Real Pizza

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing points us to this countertop pizza cooker, highligted at Tokyomango:

This open-air, ovenless pizza cooker will cook up to a 12-inch pizza using its upper and lower electric heaters. The flavor might not be as good as the conventional brick oven, but who has the money — never mind the space — to install one these days? This one's just a little under $70. Available here.

(That "pizza" looks suspiciously like a tortilla covered with grated cheese and hot peppers, in effect an open-faced nacho.)

Who needs a brick oven to turn out high-quality pizza? Just yesterday I made for my guests delicious pizza, baked on the baking stone I use in my very conventional gas oven. The baking stone costs $40, slightly more than half the price of a silly gadget that clutters up your counter when not in use. Earthenware tile from a building supply store is even cheaper, and gives results just as good.

I make my pizza crust out of the same dough that I bake into sourdough bread. One batch makes enough dough for nine 12-inch pizzas (or for three 12-inch pizzas and two batards of bread, which is what I made yesterday). For a sauce I just simmer some canned whole tomatoes over low heat, together with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, a teaspoon each of basil and oregano, and a bay leaf, for half an hour, then I purée it. That batch of sauce, three cups of grated mozarella cheese, half of a pepperoni, thinly sliced, from The Fatted Calf artisanal charcuterie, and some shiitake mushrooms made three tasty and elegant 12-inch pizzas that our guests gobbled up with much gusto.

Posted by abostick at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2007

Twitter Considered Harmful

You may have heard about Twitter, a new Web 2.0 application that has been getting good buzz over the past several weeks and exploded into geek and hipster fashionability during SXSWi last weekend.

What is Twitter? Quoth Webware's Rafe Needleman:

Twitter is an online service that lets you broadcast short messages to your friends or "followers." It also lets you specify which Twitter users you want to follow so you can read their messages in one place.

Twitter is designed to work on a mobile phone as well as a computer. All Twitter messages are limited to 140 characters, so each message can be sent as a single SMS alert. You can't say much in 140 characters. That's part of Twitter's charm.

In effect, Twitter is like LiveJournal for cellphones. You can broadcast messages to everyone who follows your message or to a restricted list of friends. The messages are retained on the user's Twitter page, functioning as a very terse blog. It also interfaces with instant messaging programs, and one's Twitter page also has an RSS feed.

Things Twitter is useful include: tracking contacts at a conference (like SXSWi), tracking friends while clubbing, staying in touch with a cluster of people over the course of a day, and so on. People who use it and get over its learning curve (which, as much as anything, consists of discovering what it is good for) are liking it a lot.

Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users is asking the question "Is Twitter TOO Good?"

Twitter scares me. For all its popularity, I see at least three issues: 1) it's a near-perfect example of the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, the key addictive element of slot machines. 2) The strong "feeling of connectedness" Twitterers get can trick the brain into thinking its having a meaningful social interaction, while another (ancient) part of the brain "knows" something crucial to human survival is missing. 3) Twitter is yet another--potentially more dramatic — contribution to the problems of always-on multi-tasking... you can't be Twittering (or emailing or chatting, of course) and simultaneously be in deep thought and/or a flow state.

Sierra states that her view is very much a minority one, saying that opinion about Twitter seems to run 100:1 in the other direction. But her criticisms ring true to me.

I am especially concerned about what Sierra says about Twitter's potential addictive qualities, because Twitter is far from unique in this regard. I would say that this feature is common to many commonly used Internet applications, from email to LiveJournal to instant messaging to message boards to.... The intermittent reward of reading or seeing something new has shaped my own Internet surfing habits in ways that are less than constructive.

Sierra's third point, on the importance of interruption-free time to getting into the flow seems familiar and obvious to me, and at the same time it is something that I need to be reminded of over and over again.

When I first heard of Twitter, I was a little hesitant to get into it, on the basis that I wasn't quite sure what it was good for. I now have a better idea of what it's good for, but now I'm afraid of it: Internet junkies don't need a new form of Net Crack.

Posted by abostick at 11:40 AM | Comments (1)

March 17, 2007

Inconspicuous Consumption

This past Thursday, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Pia Sarkar took us comparison shopping for women's black T-shirts. A black tee that costs $7.90 at H&M and costs $14.50 (two for $20) at Gap. Go to the Armani section of Bloomingdales, however, and a woman's black tee costs $275.

There are subtle differences: the shirt at H&M is cotton with a bit of spandex woven in; the Gap tee is 100% cotton; and the Armani tee is 70% nylon, 25% polyester, and 5% Elastane. The Armani shirt is also "superior in cut and finish." Is that alleged superiority really worth more than $265?

Unlike much of branded designer clothing, the brand on an unadorned black T-shirt is invisible to everyone except the person buying and wearing it. The value of the brand is invisible. Why, then, would anyone buy it?

Milton Pedraza has an idea why. He's the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, "a research company that focuses on the top 10 percent of the country's wealth." Says Pedraza, "It may be incredibly wasteful to some people, but it makes you feel powerful. It makes you feel wealth. You're paying for that intrinsic value."

(I do not think "intrinsic value" means what he thinks it means.)

To be sure, even Pedraza notes that when times get tight, "[t]here are some things you're going to compromise and some things you aren't, and in my mind the black T-shirt is the first to go."

In essence, Pedraza is telling us that people with sufficient access to money will buy $275 T-shirts because they can. It's the same impulse that leads someone to light a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill.

I wonder, though. Nobody is going to Bloomingdales just to buy a T-shirt. They may well be bedazzled by the Armani brand, but it seems to me that a more likely scenario is that the tee is intended to complete ensembles the shoppers are buying. It isn't that the shoppers value the tee that much; but rather that the $275 is buried in the overall cost of whatever ensembles. The shoppers simply don't notice that they are paying that much for the T-shirt until perhaps they get home and examine the receipt. If they ever examine the receipt, that is.

A $275 T-shirt makes me think of the $300 that defense contractors are reputed to bill the government for hammers.

It also makes me wonder what is going on in the minds of the people at the highest levels of wealth in American society. Could it be that they are as disconnected from reality and reason as the people they have hired to run this country?

Posted by abostick at 03:23 PM | Comments (3)

March 16, 2007

"At This Event, Nobody Would Even *Notice* If the Wifi Went Out"

As a tonic to the Tech Boys Club packing the keynote speeches and program panels at the latest Web 2.0 circle-jerk — to say nothing of lists of the N Most Studly Tech Boys on the Web — Six Apart's Anil Dash has put together a list of speakers covering The Essentials of Web 2.0 Your Event Doesn't Cover:

Do you want to learn about the future of web applications? If so, when choosing an event, you might want to make sure it's one that cares about including speakers based on merit, instead of based on arbitrary gender qualifications. I judge merit to be those who meet these criteria:

1. They've already been successful
2. They have done something innovative and unique
3. They are well-known names who will draw an audience and make the event compelling
4. Their work impacts a large audience, or has great influence on the space....

  • danah boyd: The younger generation of web users have different definitions of "public" and "private" than you do.
  • Mitchell Baker: How to take something from being an interesting technology to being a mainstream tool
  • Caterina Fake: How to get things done even within the constraints of a big company
  • Mena Trott: How to design an application that delights its users, instead of confounding them
  • Liza Sabater: Your project won't succeed unless you reach people who are different from you
  • Amy Jo Kim: How best practices from game design can make your web applications like crack
  • Linda Stone:What we will be paying attention to in the future
  • Kathy Sierra: How to design products that make your users smarter, sexier and hungry for more
  • Heather Armstrong, Meg Frost, and Gina Trapani: One person can be a successful media outlet
  • Lynne Johnson: How to credibly bring new media to an old-media company
  • Jane Pinckard: Anybody with half a brain could have seen that the Wii was going to win, but you were busy bickering about the Cell processor
  • Meg Hourihan: A real mashup: How to combine technology with something you love
  • Heather Champ: How to manage a web community shitstorm with grace and tact
  • Susannah Fox: You talk about "accessibility", but what do you know about people who are sick, old, or disabled?
  • LeeAnn Prescott: Everybody talks about traffic and stats -- what about someone with actual data?
  • Charlene Li: What are the criteria by which real-world analysts create their make-or-break analyses? ...

To conference organizers: If you haven't heard of these people or their work, or you think that Yet Another Bookmarking To-Do List Guy is more important, perhaps you owe some refunds. At this event, nobody would even notice if the wifi went out.

Dash also argues compellingly against the Tech Boys Club in another post here

Posted by abostick at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2007

Old Card Mechanic Video by John Scarne

Mark Frauenfelder at Boing Boing points us to this vintage video, "Cheating in Gambling," featuring legendary card mechanic and poker authority John Scarne.

Remember The Sting? During the railroad poker game sequence, when Paul Newman's character Henry Gondorff was manipulating the deck of cards, the closeups were of Scarne's hands.

Frauendfelder claims that Scarne was his great uncle. Small world.

Posted by abostick at 03:11 PM | Comments (0)

Leave NCLB Behind

Matthew Yglesias is blogtopia's (y!sctp!) best and brightest. He's Harvard-educated, and as well as being an A-list liberal blogger, he writes for The American Prospect. He lives in Washington, D.C. He is, in effect, a junior member of the commentariat and will eventually graduate to the weekend talking-head shows as a molder and shaper of opinion.

And he is apparently subject to the ills to which the commentariat within the Beltway is prey. Here he is, writing on the upcoming renewal of No Child Left Behind legislation:

Education Policy for the Paranoid

A lot of people look at the No Child Left Behind Act's requirement of "100 proficiency" and smell a rat; an obviously impossible goal. I would read Richard Rothstein's "'Proficiency for All': An Oxymoron" for a detailed explication of this view. Then many, including Kevin Drum, move from this to a paranoid account of the motives behind the provision. "What incentive does anyone have to label 99% of America's public schools as failures?" he asks, "That's crazy, isn't it?"

Answer: Anyone who wants the public to believe that public schools are failures. This would primarily consist of conservatives who want to break teachers unions and evangelicals who want to build political momentum for private school vouchers. The whole point of NCLB for these people is to make sure that as many public schools as possible are officially deemed failures.

I'll happily agree that this provision seems somewhat ill-advised to me. However, the "secret plot to destroy public schools" account of the whole point of NCLB has some problems. Does Kevin really expect me to believe that this is what Ted Kennedy and George Miller, the law's leading Democratic supporters in the Senate and the House, are up to? These are big-time liberals. Perhaps they're wrong — Kennedy's certainly not above criticism — but it's absurd to think that they're leading agents behind an enterprise whose whole point is to dismantle the public school system.

Why are prominent liberal Democrats identified as supporters of No Child Left Behind? For precisely the same reason that prominent liberal Democrats voted to give Bush war powers in Iraq: They were suckered.

Just about everyone working in the trenches of public education agrees: NCLB sets up schools, even the best schools, to fail. Then it publicly flags them as failures, and cuts them off from resources they need to succeed, so that they fail even harder next time. It is no secret that the conservative agenda is to cripple public education.

It isn't paranoia when they really are out to get you. The Bush Administration is a Control Fraud swindle. Anything they have done, especially if it has a high legislative profile like NCLB, should be presumed to be part of the swindle unless proven otherwise.

I would be a fool to make a medical diagnosis from a blog post, so I won't flat-out say that Yglesias is suffering from Beltway Blindness, the occupational hazard of all Washington pundits that greatly inhibits their ability to see things outside the Beltway as they really are. But I would like to warn him: Matt, try to get out into the real world, spend some time with real people. Just Say No to Cocktail Weenies! You don't want to wind up like David Broder, do you?

Posted by abostick at 01:07 PM | Comments (1)

Richard Thompson Guest-Blogs at Huffington Post

Guitar god Richard Thompson has a guest blog entry up at the Huffington Post — indeed, it's been up since the beginning of February — complete with an MP3 of his song "Dad's Gonna Kill Me," about western soldiers' experience as occupiers in Iraq.

(via Lindsay Beyerstein)

Posted by abostick at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2007

The Male Gaze

As an almost-throwaway at the end of a piece on the influence of eyetracking studies on Web page design appearing in Online Journalism Review, the authors include a fascinating tidbit: Apparently, men and women look at pictures differently, with men spending measurable time staring at the crotches and private parts of figures, both human and animal.

(via Boing Boing)

Posted by abostick at 12:29 PM | Comments (1)

Let's You and Him Fight

Want to know why the Democrats backed down on Iran in their military spending bill? It's because of pressure from the Israel hawks of AIPAC. The San Francisco Chronicle buried the lede in a report by Edward Epstein on AIPAC's annual policy conference in Washington. Epstein leads out by describing how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was booed by conferencegoers when she denounced the Iraq war. Scroll down past the booing and past the standing ovation given to Minority Leader John Boehner to find this tidbit:

Aides to top House Democrats said the lobbying group helped force the elimination of a provision that would have required President Bush to return to Congress for a separate vote of authorization before launching any military operation against Iran.
Posted by abostick at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2007

My Can't-Miss Web 2.0 Business



For too long Web browsers have stored cookies on the users' own machines. A wealth of information has gone unexploited.

At MyWebBiscotti.com, you will be able to upload your browser cookies to your very own page, where they won't be mere cookies, they will be Biscotti!

Downloadable plugins for every major browser will enable your Biscotti to be updated transparently as you surf the Web. Even if you don't use one of these plug-ins, participating partner Web sites will be able to set Biscotti for you as you browse.

MyWebBiscotti's social networking feature will allow you and your friends to share Biscotti. Biscotti RSS feeds will be available to everyone in your network! You'll be able to track the most popular Biscotti, either on our main page or as a feature on your customizable MyBiscotti personal page.

Information shared is information multiplied! Join the Web 2.0 revolution by joining MyWebBiscotti.com today!

Coming soon: YouPoint.com, the site for sharing PowerPoint presentations...

Posted by abostick at 10:29 AM | Comments (0)

All You Need to Know About Acting in One Easy Lesson

Sir Ian McKellen explains: It's all just pretending:

(via Ellen Kushner)

Posted by abostick at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2007

Will Writing About Women's Privacy on the Web Haunt Journalists' Careers?

There's a growing constellation of stories the unintended impact of the Internet on privacy, particularly relating to employment, particularly relating to women. The Washington Post had a story last week about AutoAdmit, a law school discussion board that evidently is having a negative impact on the hiring prospects of law students who are gossipped about there. Lindsay Beyerstein and Jill at Feministe talk about it; Jill was slimed on the board also.

Melissa Gira at Sexerati pointed us last month to Emily Nussbaum's article in New York Magazine, "Say Everything," about how youth participation in as MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, and other Internet social networking phenomena are changing their understandings of the meaning of privacy. The link has been sitting around in my to-be-blogged queue, to the point where Xeni Jardin picked it up for Boing Boing last Friday, so that means I better blog it quickly, if I do at all, because its hip factor has started to decay exponentially.

Laurie Edison and Debbie Notkin are in dialogue with Susannah Breslin about The New York Times Magazine's exposé sober examination of college sex magazines like Boink and H Bomb. To be sure, these college sex magazines appear to be more printed presences than Internet ones; but something about the discussion seems to me to fit in.

And today's San Francisco Chronicle warns young ladies of the Web 2.0 generation that those sexy photos on the Web "could plague women in years ahead." The article leads out with the story of Y.M. Chang, participating in CollegeHumor.com's America's Hottest College Girl competion at the same time she is interviewing for engineering jobs after graduation. A male friend submitted Chang's picture, and she discovered only later that she was a finalist competing for $10,000.

Why are all these articles focusing on women? It could be because of the naughty picture angle – there are many more naughty pictures of women than of men, and our culture doesn't regard barechested men anywhere near so sexually as it does barechested women. Men don't get slut-shamed the way women do.

I predict, though, that in 2008 there will be more than one race for national office in which the Internet activity of one of the candidates will become an issue. It might be blogging, it might be something on MySpace, or perhaps some pol's pseudonymous account on Alt.com will be outed.

Posted by abostick at 10:57 PM | Comments (0)

March 11, 2007

Potlatch 16

I'm finishing up the weekend here in Portland, Oregon, attending Potlatch 16.

I'm having a lovely time with old friends and new. Ursula Le Guin has informed me that I am not a book, much to my relief.

Posted by abostick at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2007

Singularity? Or Gravitational Collapse?

Sarah Dopp points us to a Web 2.0: The Machine is Us/ing Us, a piece of fatuous Web 2.0 cheerleading that tells us that ZOMG! the Web changes everything!!!111!!:

What particularly gets up my nose is the claim that syndications like RSS, Atom, FeedBurner et al. RELEASE CONTENT FOREVER FROM THE STRICTURES OF FORM ZOMG!!!!11!


You can't separate content from form. Content cannot exist without form. The interpretation of form is how we determine content.

The reason syndications enable display of content in a variety of forms is that the content so displayed is highly constrained.

I've heard these "There will be Pie in the Sky when you join MySpace" claims before. Remember the cypherpunks and crypto-anarchy? Strong cryptography was supposed to bring on the Infocalypse and end government. Well, we've got strong cryptography, and the Feds are still tapping our phones.

Meanwhile, Mark Gritter points us to Karl Auerbach, who asks the question, Are We Slowly Losing Control of the Internet?

You would have thought that in this internet age that we might have learned that clarity of internet protocol design is a great virtue and that management, diagnostics, and security are not afterthoughts but primary design goals.

There is a lot of noise out there about internet stability. And a lot of people and businesses are risking their actual and economic well being on the net, and the applications layered on it, really being stable and reliable.

But I have great concern that our approach to the internet resembles a high pillar of round stones piled on top of other round stones - we should not be surprised when it begins to wobble and then falls to the ground.

I am beginning to foresee a future internet in which people involved in management, troubleshooting, and repair are engaged in a Sisyphean effort to provide service in the face of increasingly non-unified design of internet protocols. And in that future, users will have to learn to expect outages and become accustomed to dealing with service provider customer service "associates" whose main job is to buy time to keep customers from rioting while the technical repair team tries to figure out what happened, where it happened, and what to do about it.

What's the bloody use of a vast externalized memory and reasoning capabilty that takes ten minutes to load a page and is filled with dead links because the routers are down?

Posted by abostick at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2007

Why Am I So Happy Here?

Under the comforter
My arm wrapped around your belly
Your ass cradled in my hips
You are warm, I am warm
We warm each other

I am so happy
Out of proportion to the
Pleasure of your body
Considerable pleasure though it is
There's a difference between feeling good
Feeling safe
Feeling like holding you is all that matters
Feeling like holding you is why I'm alive in the first place

It doesn't make sense
Life sucked just a short while ago
And now I'm in paradise
In the morning when we get up
Life will suck again
But now I'm in paradise

Posted by abostick at 11:10 AM | Comments (1)

March 08, 2007

Lowball Wiki

Mark Gritter has just added a Lowball Wiki to his LowballGurus Web site. As of this writing it's a blank slate, with the only content being the introductory main page and a link to Wikipedia's entry on badugi.

Welcome to the lowball Wiki! This site is dedicated to the discussion of lowball games, including Triple Draw Lowball, Badugi, California Lowball, Razz, and Kansas City Lowball. In the future we hope to have theory discussions, hand histories with commentary, articles and article commentary, book reviews, site reviews, and other interesting content.
Posted by abostick at 11:56 AM | Comments (0)

How Much More Proof that Microsoft Is Evil Do You Need?

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing points us to a research report indicating that, thanks to the cycle of software obselecence, users of computers running Windows upgrade their machines twice as often as those who run Linux.

The report stresses the impact of downversion computers on the waste stream and landfill. There is another important factor, however: the resources used to make the new machines, and the human toll that acquiring those resources takes.

Yesterday, Chris Clarke at Pandagon highlighted the connection between the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the mining of tantalum there.

Tantalum is a relatively scarce element that is a key component of the dielectric material in the capacitors used in the manufacture of just about every piece of electronic equipment made. The world's largest known reserves of tantalum ore are in the DRC, and with the personal electronics industry boomed in the late 1990s, the price of tantalum ore skyrocketed. Tantalum is mined in the DRC, smuggled out through Rwanda and Uganda, and sold to the world electronic manufacturing markets from there.

Millions of people have died in the bloody war, known as the African World War from the number of nations involved. The prize is the Congolese mineral resources, including gold and diamonds, yes, but the real treasure is tantalum ore.

The demand for electronics drives the price of tantalum ore, and as that price rises and falls, so does the level of violence in the Congo, the wholesale rapes of area women committed by the various militias and armies, the number of area residents impressed into service in the militias, the number of slaves working in the mines at gunpoint, the number of women forced into sexual slavery to service the miners and the soldiers, the overall human misery.

So anything that cuts into the number of new computers manufactured reduces the intensity of the agony of the Congo. To use Microsoft Windows and committing oneself to an hardware upgrade every time the software is rendered obsolete is to increase the toll exacted of human misery.

So does getting a new iPod, or mobile phone, or PDA, or GPS receiver, or just about any of the gadgets we take for granted in the privileged segments of Western society.

Posted by abostick at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Blog Against Sexism Day

Today is International Women's Day, and as such it is also Blog Against Sexism Day

The trouble with blogging against sexism is the question of where to begin. There's so much of it, and so much of it is invisible and subtle. Lucky for me, Blogpulse handed me something on a silver platter as I was cruising top-linked news stories last night:

Of the sixty-one people named by PC World's Christopher Null as The 50 Most Important People on the Web, only four appear on the evidence of their names to be female. Heck, Forbes had a list of only 25 "Web Celebs" and named four women, for more than twice the inclusivity of women per capita — and those women got slagged by the Tech Boys Club.

Here at As I Please we aren't taking bets for how long it takes for some tech pundit to trash the women on the PC World list, because there is no place to set the line to where anyone but an idiot would take the over.

Posted by abostick at 09:15 AM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2007

Spam Subject in Cyrillic

From one D. B. Cerdyukov: Kursy v tsentrye Moskvy. Courses at Moscow Centre? Is that sly old dog Karla still teaching them?

Posted by abostick at 04:50 PM | Comments (0)

Can You Be Too Buffed?

(This is a repost of a guest post I wrote for Body Impolitic)

I've been thinking about Nicolas Cage in Ghost Rider, which I saw just over a week ago.

Cage is an actor who alternates between heavy-duty action-hero roles (as in Con Air) and more serious, thoughtful parts (e.g. Bringing Out the Dead or Adaptation). Ghost Rider is not a serious and thoughtful movie -- it's an adaptation of a B-list Marvel comic.

As a contemporary action hero, Cage needs to present a buffed,muscular physique. The paragon of the genre is seven-time Mister Universe and known "juicer," i.e., steroid-user (Arnold Schwarzenegger. The film Adaptation has one unintentionally funny moment when Cage, playing out-of-shape screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, did a shirt-off scene, trying to look fat and out of shape. He's hunched over, sort of hiding his washboard abs. Nice try, Nick. Where's that Hollywood movie magic when we need it? (How tall was King Kong?)

One way I exercise is by lifting weights. I enjoy how it makes my body feel. One effect of my years of weightlifting has been that I have added substantial muscle bulk to my frame. I like how working out makes my body feel, and I like the resulting strength it has given me. The experience of gaining muscle bulk was transformative experience, largely positive, in a way that's worth an essay on its own. At the same time, though, bodybuilding seems misguided to me, and I find its aesthetic to be grotesque. The bodybuilding ideal looks to me like a body that has been flayed, the skin and fat removed to show the muscles beneath.

Just as the women of Hollywood do not look like real women, the men of Hollywood do not look like real men. I remember noticing, when I first saw The Empire Strikes Back in its original release in 1980, that Mark Hamill, playing Luke Skywalker training to be a Jedi under Yoda's tutelage, showed what looked to my eye then as remarkable muscle development in his arms and shoulders. Since then (and since I took to weight training myself) I realized quite how many of the men in the movies were buffed and toned. Even Actors' actors like George Clooney, Tobey McGuire, Matt Damon, and so on, have that look. I imagine that the great actors live with the fear that the next job might go to someone who might not act as well but whose physique looks good enough to make up for it.

I now know, from my experience of weight training, that the visual ideal of manliness as propagated in the media takes extraordinary determination, attention, time, and effort to approach. The ordinary man in the street doesn't come close. Even the man who works out in the gym multiple times weekly only loosely approximates the ideal -- and not even loosely if he is a "hardgainer," someone who gains relatively little muscle bulk through weight training. To get there, one has to cross the line to obsession, and (if one isn't blessed with the right metabolism) resort to risky artificial aids such as steroids.

Cage has a shirt-off scene in Ghost Rider, too, just out of the shower and in front of a mirror. His torso and arms have the grotesque, alien appearance of the hypermuscular bodybuilder, looking as if they were drawn by a pulp artist more fond of muscles than knowledgeable about human anatomy.

In that scene, Cage does not look healthy to my eye. Without any direct knowledge, I imagine that he too, was juicing. His body doesn't seem to have an ounce of fat. Indeed, througout the film I was noticing how gaunt and haggard his face appeared.

Now maybe this is an example of Hollywood movie magic at work. After all, Cage was playing Johnny Blaze, a damned soul whose head transforms at night into a flaming skull. Or maybe he was cast for the part because of his gaunt appearance.

But seeing him in the role, particularly with the scene with his bare torso, was watching someone who I believe was doing damage to himself in the service of trying to attain an arbitrary and unnatural ideal of manliness.

The effect is that he doesn't represent that ideal so much as serve as an unconscious parody of it. He looks like a cautionary tale: If you overdo it and pursue the image rather than pursuing health and well-being, you could wind up looking like me.

As a man, and especially as a heterosexual man comfortably partnered in long-term relationships, I don't have the social pressure on me to look great in order to attract and keep a mate. "I don't see people like me on the silver screen" is a different experience from "If I can't make myself look like that, I will fail in my life and be unable to find happiness." I'm not, by a long shot, the only man seeing these images over and over and over.

Posted by abostick at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

Marvel Kills Off Captain America

The Associated Press reports that Marvel Comics is killing off superhero Captain America in the edition of the comic of the same name that hits the stands today.

The AP story says Marvel Entertainment editor-in-chief Joe Quesada hints that Captain America could conceivably return. Indeed, he's done it before. What's more, in the Marvel universe, there is no form of death, destruction, vaporization, or annihilation sufficient to prevent a character's return.

But it's interesting to me that Marvel is chosing to kill him off now.

(via Avedon Carol)

Posted by abostick at 11:57 AM | Comments (2)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? France Bans Citizen-Journalism

France bans citizen journalists from reporting violence

By Peter Sayer, IDG News Service
The French Constitutional Council has approved a law that criminalizes the filming or broadcasting of acts of violence by people other than professional journalists. The law could lead to the imprisonment of eyewitnesses who film acts of police violence, or operators of Web sites publishing the images, one French civil liberties group warned on Tuesday.

The council chose an unfortunate anniversary to publish its decision approving the law, which came exactly 16 years after Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King were filmed by amateur videographer George Holliday on the night of March 3, 1991. The officers’ acquittal at the end on April 29, 1992 sparked riots in Los Angeles.

If Holliday were to film a similar scene of violence in France today, he could end up in prison as a result of the new law, said Pascal Cohet, a spokesman for French online civil liberties group Odebi. And anyone publishing such images could face up to five years in prison and a fine of €75,000 (US$98,537), potentially a harsher sentence than that for committing the violent act.

Senators and members of the National Assembly had asked the council to rule on the constitutionality of six articles of the Law relating to the prevention of delinquency. The articles dealt with information sharing by social workers, and reduced sentences for minors. The council recommended one minor change, to reconcile conflicting amendments voted in parliament. The law, proposed by Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, is intended to clamp down on a wide range of public order offenses. During parliamentary debate of the law, government representatives said the offense of filming or distributing films of acts of violence targets the practice of “happy slapping,” in which a violent attack is filmed by an accomplice, typically with a camera phone, for the amusement of the attacker’s friends.

The broad drafting of the law so as to criminalize the activities of citizen journalists unrelated to the perpetrators of violent acts is no accident, but rather a deliberate decision by the authorities, said Cohet. He is concerned that the law, and others still being debated, will lead to the creation of a parallel judicial system controlling the publication of information on the Internet.

The government has also proposed a certification system for Web sites, blog hosters, mobile-phone operators and Internet service providers, identifying them as government-approved sources of information if they adhere to certain rules. The journalists’ organization Reporters Without Borders, which campaigns for a free press, has warned that such a system could lead to excessive self censorship as organizations worried about losing their certification suppress certain stories.

(via skippy)

Posted by abostick at 10:40 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2007

Schwarzenegger and Steroids

Before I got carried away by the excellent news from Washington, I had decided to blog this silly story on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle:

Bodybuilding connection again singes governor

New winner of Arnold Classic reportedly linked to recent pharmacy steroid raids

Carla Marinucci, Edward Epstein, Chronicle Political Writers
Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger personally congratulated the massive, chiseled winner of his signature Arnold Classic bodybuilding competition in Ohio on Saturday and stood by as Victor Martinez was presented with a $130,000 first-place check, a spectacular trophy, a luxury Swiss watch and an "Arnold Classic" jacket.

Just days before, the name of the 34-year-old "Dominican Dominator" – who was caught selling steroids to a New York City undercover police officer in 2004 – appeared in published reports in New York about a major multistate investigation of steroid use related to the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. ...

Heaven knows I'm no fan of the Governator politically. As a sometime weightlifter I am much more enamored of Bill Pearl's Getting Stronger than I am of the Governator's The New Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding. (I have watched and enjoyed several of his movies.)

The fact remains, though, that by its very nature, Arnold Schwarzenegger's career is inextricably linked with steroid use. He has never denied it, and has in fact advocated steroids for bodybuilding in the past, e.g., in his 1974 interview with Barbara Walters. Legitimate or not, steroid use has been a key aspect of competetive bodybuilding for decades.

So the winner of a bodybuilding competition bearing the Governator's name has been linked to steroid use. To grasp one's pearls with one hand, throw bring the back of the other hand to one's forehead, and profess shock that this is so is more than a trifle disingenuous. It's in the same league as professing shock that professional wrestling is fixed.

Should the Governator's name be followed by an asterisk in California political history because he juiced?

Posted by abostick at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

It's Morning in America Again

In addition to the Libby conviction, today is the day that Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings on the recent purge of US Attorneys by the Justice Department. Josh Marshall describes these hearings as the most riveting congressional hearings since Anita Hill testified in the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

Paul Kiel at TPMmuckraker.com writes about a key moment in the hearings:

During his questioning, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) asked all four prosecutors that if they were told by a witness in an ongoing investigation that he had received a call similar to the one Bud Cummins got from Michael Elston, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, what would they think? All four said that they would investigate to see whether obstruction of justice or witness tampering had occurred.

Yes, that's right: Abu Gonzales's Justice Department has actively engaged in obstruction of justice and witness tampering in response to a political crisis. Not only is the gun smoking, but here are the powder burns, and the spent shell casings are here, here, and here on the floor.

As Josh Marshall puts it, running the administration as a criminal enterprise is much harder when the opposition controls Congress.

Ever since November's elections we have been waiting for the hearings investigating Bush Administration misdeeds to begin. They have begun, and the bombshells are bursting in the air. It's morning in America again. Our long national nightmare is coming to an end.

Posted by abostick at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Guilty! Not Guilty!

Scooter Libby was convicted of four counts of obstruction of justice, perjury, and lying to FBI investigators. He was acquitted of a fifth count of lying to FBI investigators.

Libby had lied about his role in the Administration smear campaign against former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, which campaign resulted in the illegal outing of Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a covert operative of the CIA.

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2007

Cherokees Vote Out Slaves' Descendants

Quoth the Associated Press:

Cherokee Nation members voted Saturday to revoke the tribal citizenship of an estimated 2,800 descendants of the people the Cherokee once owned as slaves.

Between the arrival of European colonists in the seventeenth century and the forced migrations of the 1830s, some landholding Cherokees owned African slaves. When the Cherokees were forced to move to what is now Oklahoma along the deadly Trail of Tears, they took their slaves with them. After the Civil War and Emancipation, a treaty in 1866 guaranteed freed slaves of Cherokees and their descendants membership in the tribe.

But when the Dawes Commission stripped the tribes of their communal lands and swapped it for individual plots for individuals who registered on the Dawes Rolls at the turn of the twentieth century, black freedmen and their descendants were not recognized as tribe members or given back land in the swap. In keeping with the values of the Jim Crow era, One black ancestor was considered enough for the Dawes Commission to deny a person's membership in a tribe, regardless of their other ancestry

The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court ruled in March 2006 that descendants of slaves of Cherokee were full members of the tribe. This election alters the Cherokee Nation constitution to revoke that citizenship.

The Dawes Rolls were basically a scam by which the federal government once again took land from the Native Americans so it could be given to Europeans, and in the process disinherited a substantial fraction of tribal membership who feared the consequences of ethnic registry.

The issue is surely about entitlement to a share of revenues from Cherokee-owned casinos. It is a scandal and a shame that current members of the Cherokee Nation should use anything so tainted as the Dawes Rolls to determine a person's heritage or identity.

Rachel at Alas, a Blog has more.

Note: I'm 31/32 European by ancestry; the remaning fraction is Apache. I don't identify as Native American. One whole branch of my family owned slaves in the antebellum South. It is all too easy for white Americans to call the Cherokee Nation on its apparent racism without taking a good close look at their own.

Posted by abostick at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2007


Yeah, I know, it's a meme, and I found it on LiveJournal. But given my previous post, I couldn't resist:

What kind of extremist are you?
Your Result: Rational Person

You consider these questions obvious straw men, designed to distract people from a meaningful investigation of facts and a serious discussion of relevant political issues. How boring.

Moderate Extremist
Right-Wing Extremist
Left-Wing Extremist
What kind of extremist are you?
Make a Quiz

(via Patrick Nielsen Hayden)

Posted by abostick at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

March 03, 2007

Say It Ain't So, Joe!

Sometime Democratic Party operative and allegedly-liberal pundit Joe Klein, in a silly dust-up with Atrios, lays out what he means by "left-wing extremist":

A left-wing extremist exhibits many, but not necessarily all, of the following attributes:

--believes the United States is a fundamentally negative force in the world.

--believes that American imperialism is the primary cause of Islamic radicalism.

--believes that the decision to go to war in Iraq was not an individual case of monumental stupidity, but a consequence of America’s fundamental imperialistic nature.

--tends to blame America for the failures of others—i.e. the failure of our NATO allies to fulfill their responsibilities in Afghanistan.

--doesn’t believe that capitalism, carefully regulated and progressively taxed, is the best liberal idea in human history.

--believes American society is fundamentally unfair (as opposed to having unfair aspects that need improvement).

--believes that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society.

--believes that America isn’t really a democracy.

--believes that corporations are fundamentally evil.

--believes in a corporate conspiracy that controls the world.

--is intolerant of good ideas when they come from conservative sources.

--dismissively mocks people of faith, especially those who are opposed to abortion and gay marriage.

--regularly uses harsh, vulgar, intolerant language to attack moderates or conservatives.

It happens that I am not a liberal; in fact I am a socialist. As such I am light-years closer to most people's notions of a "left-wing extremist" than a true liberal like Atrios. And yet, looking at Klein's list, it is astonishing quite how many of his supposed attributes of the left-wing extremist don't have anything to do with me.

I'm not a left-wing extremist? Say it ain't so, Joe!

Klein's conservative colors bleed through especially when he claims things like that leftist extremists believe that eternal problems like crime and poverty are the primarily the fault of society. "Eternal problems? That's a classically conservative formulation, in the sense that a conservative is someone who follows the political and philosophical program of Edmund Burke. (Has it come to this, that that even classical Burkean conservatives have to identify themselves as "moderates" or even "liberals" to distance themselves from the lunatics currently in charge of the asylum?)

In fact, Klein's laundry list of supposedly-left-wing attitudes are pretty much the standard conservative caricature of both liberalism and the left. Those aren't real leftists he's describing, those are the imaginary dirty fucking hippies who are depicted as being too embarrassing for anyone of decent sensibilities to consider standing next to should they be tempted by the facts or their own common sense to oppose Bush's War Against Terra.

And, of course, there is something notably missing from Klein's laundry list of left-wing extremism: The hallmark of an extremist is that an extremist uses, or at the very least advocates the use of, violence.

Extremists drive truckbombs into Federal office buildings, or murder abortionists, or send weaponized anthrax powder through the mail to senators' offices. Extremists kidnap people, beat them to within an inch of their lives, and leave them bound to barbwire fences to die. Extremists use gunfire to prevent refugees from crossing bridges to escape from flooded cities. Extremists are civilians who patrol borders armed with shotguns. Extremists advocate the murder of presidential candidates, or of scientists and religious leaders.

I joked above about feeling left of Klein's laundry list of extremism; but in truth, the more time passes, the more and more confirmed I become in the pacifism that I found only late in life. By my lights I cannot ever be an extremist, not without making compromises on strongly held principles about the essential value of life.

Earth to Joe Klein: The Baader-Meinhof Gang and the Symbionese Liberation Army were left-wing extremists. People marching in demonstrations chanting "No blood for oil!" or "Bush lied, people died!" are not; and neither are bloggers who use naughty words.

Posted by abostick at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)

TONIGHT at Marcus Books

Tribute to Octavia E. Butler with Nalo Hopkinson and friends. Saturday, March 3, at 6:30 PM, Marcus Books, 3900 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, California.

One of the friends will be our own true Debbie Notkin. Will we see you there tonight?

Posted by abostick at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Tribute Fundraiser

(I should have posted this sooner. Better late than never.)

Octavia E. Butler Memorial Tribute Fundraiser

Join Nalo Hopkinson, Jewelle Gomez, Susie Bright, Jennifer de Guzman, and Guillermo Gomez-Peña for a fundraiser reading to benefit the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship.

Sunday, March 4, 5 - 7 pm

The Starry Plough
3101 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA.

The Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship will enable writers of color to attend one of the Clarion writing workshops, where Octavia got her start. It is meant to cement Octavia's legacy by providing the same experience/opportunity that Octavia had to future generations of new writers of color. In addition to her stint as a student at the original Clarion Writers Workshop in Pennsylvania in 1970, Octavia taught several times for Clarion West in Seattle, Washington, and Clarion in East Lansing, Michigan, giving generously of her time to a cause she believed in.

Contact Claire Light for more information.

After the benefit, Debbie and I will be hosting an open house reception at our house, just around the corner from the Starry Plough (details available at the benefit). Be there or be rhomboid.

Posted by abostick at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2007

Dough We'd Like to Knead

Mark Harris at Preludium points us to this remarkable video of a talk-show appearance by Cornell University history professor Steven Kaplan, who tells us what goes into great bread (caution: this might not be safe for some workplaces):

I bet you thought I was kidding when I called it "Bread Pr0n."

There's a more sober profile of Prof. Kaplan in the Washington Post. He is the author of Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It (Duke University Press, Nov. 2006).

(via Lynn Kendall)

Posted by abostick at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2007

Inspiration by the Numbers?

"101 ways to beat drawer's block" reads the headline of a post to Boing Boing by Mark Frauendfelder. Dani from Dani Draws, Frauendfelder writes, has compiled a nice list of 101 ideas for illustrators needing a creative spark.

Well, not exactly. What Dani Jones actually posted on her blog was something different:

101 Projects for Artists and Illustrators

Don’t know what to do with your extra time? There are plenty of odd jobs and tasks that an illustrator can do in between assignments. If you’re looking for some inspiration, here’s a long list of projects, ideas, and necessary chores to help make your free time more productive....

In other words, Dani Jones offers suggestions for What to do with your time when they aren't paying you. Or maybe Use these ideas to practice working on assignment when you don't actually have an assignment.

Is Frauendfelder saying that they can be used for breaking through creative blocks as well? If that's the case, then if I were him I would have said something along the lines of "It seems to me that these time-filling and productivity-boosting excercises can also be used to jump-start your creativity." As it is, it looks as if he simply missed the point.

Dani Jones's 101 Projects look very useful indeed to illustrators with a particular set of problems, such as portfolio building or simply needing practice. An artist trying to work through a creative block often needs a different sort of medicine entirely.

Posted by abostick at 09:08 AM | Comments (0)

Fencing the Commons

Greedheads at the NFL want to trademark the expression "The Big Game" so as to further their ability to extort tribute from businesses whose sales get a boost from Super Bowl viewers. The greedheads in the football programs at Stanford and Cal, backed up by the greedheads at the NCAA, are contesting, on the grounds that the annual football matchup between the two universities has been known as the Big Game since before there ever was an NFL. It would be hard to decide which side to root against, were it not for the fact that the precipitating action was the NFL's filing to take a widely used expression out of the public domain and turn it into their private property. So even though the other guys don't particularly deserve to win, the NFL overwhelmingly deserves to lose.

Posted by abostick at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

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