April 30, 2007

Yahoo! Offers Real-Money Online Poker in Europe

Internet giant Yahoo! is offering online poker games for money to European customers. Yahoo! is in partnership with Gibraltar firm St. Miniver, Ltd., offering a branded user interface (or "skin," in online poker jargon) on the International Poker Network, owned by Swedish firm Boss Media AB. Customers can access Yahoo! poker through the firms yahoo.co.uk portal.

This is a huge change in the weather for online poker. Yahoo! is a titan among online brands. I imagine it is only a matter of time before other major Internet brands follow suit. The Gaming Intelligence Group, a firm that offers news and analysis of the online gambling industry, hints that eBay, Google, and Microsoft are likely prospects. (Historically, eBay is anti-gambling as well as anti-sex. The online payment service PayPal had been the main line of funding for Internet poker sites before it was acquired by eBay, but after the acquisition eBay swiftly pulled the plug.)

The news of Yahoo!'s entry into the online poker business broke concurrently with the news that Rep. Barney Frank (D.-Mass) had introduced the Internet Gambling Regulation & Enforcement Act 2007, legislation that would repeal last year's Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act and provide for the regulation and taxation of online gambling in the USA. The UIGEA had a drastic impact on US players ability to play online poker, with most sites, including giant Party Poker, withdrawing from the US market.

(via Robopoker)

Posted by abostick at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2007

Unbeatable Strategy for Roshambo

Online poker site UltimateBet has just added Roshambo — the ancient game of rock-paper-scissors — to its repertoire of online competitive games for money.

My referral logs tell me that a lot of people are looking for a strategy to win at Roshambo. Here is my own unbeatable strategy for online Roshambo:

Take a six-sided die (d6). Each time you throw, roll the die. Choose your throw according to this chart:

  1. rock
  2. paper
  3. scissors
  4. rock
  5. paper
  6. scissors

This is a truly unbeatable strategy — using it, no opponent will be able to get any edge over you.

Alternatively if the circumstances are right, you may be able to use Eric Cartman's strategy for winning Roshambo.

But maybe you shouldn't be playing Roshambo online at all: UltimateBet is charging a 10% rake of the money wagered for each Roshambo match or sit-n-go.

Rock crushes Scissors, Scissors cuts Paper, and Paper covers Rock. But Rake beats all of the rest, over time.

Posted by abostick at 03:54 PM | Comments (2)

Tanker Fire Destroys Freeway Interchange, Snarls Bay Area Traffic

Traffic fire melts MacArthur Maze
Early this morning a tanker truck carrying a full load of gasoline crashed in the MacArthur Maze, the freeway interchange in Emeryville, California, where interstate highways 80, 580, and 880 converge at the approaches to the San Francisco Bay Bridge. The intense heat from the resulting fire caused portions of one major viaduct to collapse onto another.

Pictures here. Video here and here.

The tanker truck crashed while on the connector from westbound I-80 (the Eastshore Freeway) to southbound I-880 (the Nimitz Freeway). The connector from eastbound I-80 to eastbound I-580 (the MacArthur Freeway) softened and melted from the heat of the fire, draping itself over the Eastshore-to-Nimitz connector.

The driver of the truck was able to walk away and hail a cab that took him to an area hospital for treatment of his burns.

The destruction and blockage of freeway connectors poses a disruption of traffic around the approaches to the Bay Bridge and through Emeryville and Oakland comparable to those caused by the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. The Bay Bridge is open and traffic can get from the East Bay to San Francisco, but major routes through the MacArthur Maze are closed. CalTrans is scrambling to route detours around the severed traffic arteries.

Update: Baconmonkey's video is now available on YouTube:

(hat tips to Lynn Kendall, Nick Mamatas, and baconmonkey)

Posted by abostick at 12:34 PM | Comments (2)

April 28, 2007

"Harlan's Bounce" MP3 by Richard Thompson

Richard Thompson composed and performed "Harlan's Bounce" for the soundtrack of filmmaker Erik Nelson's documentary Dreams with Sharp Teeth, A Film about Harlan Ellison.

"Harlan's Bounce" is an instrumental piece featuring Thompson playing guitar with a Django-esque swing.

(via Debbie Notkin, who got it from Emma Bull)

Posted by abostick at 05:28 PM | Comments (0)

English Channel Earthquake Rocks Kent

English Channel magnitude 4.3 earthquake 8:19 AM BST
source: BBC
An earthquake of magnitude 4.3 on the Richter scale centered beneath the English Channel rocked Folkestone, Kent, and parts of southern England this morning at 8:19 AM BST.

4.3 doesn't sound like much to Californians like me, but we live in a place where earthquake tolerance is built into the building codes. The quake damaged structures — chimneys fell and walls were cracked — and disrupted electrical power in the affected area.

Maureen Kincaid Speller lives in Folkestone, and provides an on-the-spot description of her experience:

There are definitely some injuries locally, no word on any fatalities. There is a lot of damage to buildings, with chimneys down and cracks in walls. ... We then went out and started walking round the ward. ... It's like a war zone, or the aftermath of a John Wyndham novel. I went to find as many people as I could that I knew and everyone seems fine, though literally and metaphorically shaken. But the ward has been very badly damaged.

Later in the day, Maureen gives us an update. Lots of fire engines have been brought to Folkestone from surrounding Kent. Many streets are closed, but the closures seem to have been due to fire brigades removing damaged and unstable chimneys.

Posted by abostick at 01:34 PM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2007

The Fúfumal


by Kate Gladstone

Fúfu, small rabbit, ____ fastest of hoppers,
Works in woodland ____ his ways of evil:
Field-mice he finds, ____ then hammers with head-blows,
Vexing the queen ____ of the Vanir folk.

Down came good Freya, ____ frowning at Fúfu.
Said she to the warren-born: ____ "No worth I find
In your smiting of cheese-thieves. ____ Smirk not, but obey me.
To change from your ways, ____ three chances you'll have.
And if you change not, ____ then a nithing you'll be."...

Read the whole thing.

(via Kip Williams)

Posted by abostick at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

Among Myriad Scare Stories, Real Terrorism Is Ignored

One of these things is not like the others:

Only one of these, the clinic bombing attempt, represents an actual act of terrorist violence. And it has received minimal coverage in the news.

Quoth zuzu at Feministe:

We saw something similar with the Virginia Tech shooting — the campus police initially dismissed the idea that the gunman would be a danger to anyone else — even though they hadn’t identified or caught him at the time — because they saw a dead woman and just assumed that it was a “domestic incident” and there would be no further violence. Clinic bombings are treated as the equivalent of shrugged-off “domestic incidents” — hey, it’s just violence against women. It’s not like it’s going to affect real people or anything.

(hat tips to Elf Sternberg and Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 10:31 AM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2007

USAW TV Spot Highlights Grrl Power

This advertisement for USA Weighlifting is completely real, if staged. The young woman who is showing up the workmen is Natalie Woolfolk, the US Women's Weightlifting Champion.

(via Farah Mendlesohn)

Posted by abostick at 06:12 PM | Comments (0)

US Farm Subsidies Put the Junk in Junk Food

In You Are What You Grow, published last Sunday in the New York Times Magazine, Michael Pollan tells us:

  • Junk food is the cheapest food in the grocery store, calorie for calorie.
  • Junk food is cheap because its raw materials are cheap.
  • The farm bill, renewed every five years, provides massive subsidies to growers of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice -- and non-foodstuff cotton.
  • US farms overproduce these five crops, particularly corn and soybeans.
  • The farm bill does little to support growers of fresh produce.
  • The price of fresh produce increased by 40% in constant dollars between 1985 and 2000.
  • The price of soft drinks (water, corn syrup, and flavoring) declined 23% in constant dollars in the same time frame.
  • The school lunch program buys agricultural surplus to feed to students "chicken nuggets and "Tater-Tots."
  • The farm bill is coming up for renewal.

Historically the farm bill has been left to midwestern legislators to craft to the desires of their farming constituencies. But Pollan describes combination of interests coming together to change the way things are done. The public health community is concerned about the farm bill's impact on the obesity and diabetes epidemics. Environmentalists worry that chemical and feedlot agriculture jeopardize clean water. The international development community is speaking up on the impact of massive US food exports on developing nations' agriculture and trade. People who are concerned about the food they eat want to do something about the torrent of high-fructose corn syrup.

Pollan says that it isn't a "farm bill," in reality it is a food bill, key legislation that determines what we, as a nation, are going to eat. One of these years, he writes, the eaters of America are going to demand a place at the table, and we will have the political debate over food policy we need and deserve. This could prove to be that year: the year when the farm bill became a food bill, and the eaters at last had their say.

Posted by abostick at 01:45 PM | Comments (1)

April 25, 2007

Bush Boogies Down in the Rose Garden

Today is Malaria Awareness Day, and President George W. Bush marked the occasion with a ceremony in the Rose Garden. Performing at the ceremony were Senegalese performers from the West African Dance Troupe. The President and First Lady Laura Bush danced along with the performers. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville has posted a series of mindboggling pictures.

George W. Bush Boogies Down

But wait! There's more...! The Huffington Post has the video, ganked from CNN. "It looks like the guy playing him on the Tonight Show," says a CNN commentator.

Yes, these pictures make crystal-clear the truth of what Laura Bush was quoted as saying this morning: No one suffers more than their President and I do."

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 06:21 PM | Comments (2)

Genderqueer Poker SF Erotica by Hanne Blank

Hanne Blank celebrated International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day by publishing on her Web site the hot (but PG-rated) story "A Game of Cards."

The plot of this work genderqueer poker science fiction erotica hinges on the play of a hand of Texas hold'em. And the plot is structured like a hand of hold'em. It's a nice piece of writing. It's completely safe-for-work; and at the same time it's really hot. Read it.

(via Debbie Notkin)

Posted by abostick at 11:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 24, 2007

Get Out of the Blog Echo Chamber — Del.icio.us Finds You Interesting Things on the Web Before Others Find Them.

The typical blogger reads BoingBoing (or Daily Kos, or Michelle Malkin, or Lifehacker, or [name of the top-ranked site in your favorite genre]) and sees something interesting, neat, outrageous, urgent, etc. Immediately, the typical blogger posts about it. So there grows an explosion of links pointing back to the post in the top-ranked blog.

A large number of bloggers wind up posting about the same things, and, all too often, saying close to the same things about them.

That's all well and good if your readers are people like your ex-boyfriend who still keeps up with you, or your mom, or that friend from two jobs ago whom you get together with for drinks every month or so. That's your role in the social circle, to tell them about David Letterman's video of the Top Ten Bush Moments. But if you want other bloggers to notice you and give you lots of link-love, you've got to give them something they haven't seen before.

Here is how I find interesting things to blog about that are off the beaten track:

  1. Sign up with del.icio.us.
  2. Bookmark and tag everything on the web that takes up any of your mindshare. Love it? Hate it? Tag it! Be generous with tags. Do this for every page that catches your attention. Yes, it is extra effort and slows surfing down. It's worth it.
  3. Subscribe to your top tags. When you have accumulated a couple of hundred del.icio.us bookmarks, look at your list of tags, ordered by frequency. Take the top five, or ten, or however many you want, and use del.icio.us's subscription feature.
  4. Review your subscriptions. Click on the subscriptions link at the top of your page, and start browsing. Click on the links that stand out as something that looks interesting to you. This is an ideal way to use the tabbed browsing feature of Firefox or Safari.
  5. Look at the sites you have found. Some of them may not be as interesting as you first thought they might. Skip them. But you very likely will have found a few gold nuggets. Bookmark and tag these.
  6. Review your main bookmarks page. You now have a list of new sites that you found through subscriptions. Pick out the ones that are the best fodder for your blog posts and blog them.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Keep going through this cycle, and you will find yourself casting your net much farther than you could without the help of del.icio.us., and you will be finding things that are much more likely to have not come to the attention to the people in your local network of blog links.

Posted by abostick at 11:47 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2007

April 23 Is International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day!

A specter is haunting science fiction and fantasy: the specter of International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.

Howard Hendrix started it. He's the outgoing vice-president of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Will Shetterly posted (with Howard's permission) Hendrix's farewell rant address to the SFWA community on LiveJournal. Hendrix, among other things, decried the practice of making professional-quality work available on the Internet for free, calling the people who did so "webscabs," who were contributing to "the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch."

As you can imagine, this generated a lot of heat. Both John Scalzi and Nick Mamatas have posted thoughtful rebuttals. But it is Jo Walton's response that is galvanizing the creative Web:

In honour of Dr Hendrix, I am declaring Monday 23rd April International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day. On this day, everyone who wants to should give away professional quality work online. It doesn't matter if it's a novel, a story or a poem, it doesn't matter if it's already been published or if it hasn't, the point is it should be disseminated online to celebrate our technopeasanthood.

Whatever you're posting should go on your own site. I'll make a post here on the day and people can post links in comments to whatever they're putting up on. If you are a member of SFWA, or SFWA qualified but not a member (like me) you get extra pixel-spattered points for doing this. If other people want to collect the links too, that would be really cool. Please disseminate this information widely.

Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Wretches of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

Posted by abostick at 04:21 PM | Comments (1)

Crossroad Blues

Here, below the fold, is my contribution to International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day.

It's the story that I wrote in response to the call for submissions for The Horns of Elfland, edited by Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Donald G. Keller. After sitting on it for a long time, they passed on it, and I never got around to shopping it anywhere else.

Time has passed this story by. The landscape of the Mississippi Delta has been transformed by the casinos of Tunica, which was nothing but a tiny dot on the map when I wrote it. The story deals reasonably well with the issue of cultural appropriation, but I am extremely embarassed to admit that a key character is a Magical Negro.

I hope you enjoy it anyway.

Crossroad Blues

Even in the middle of the night it was too hot. The air was still and humid. Sweat plastered Dave Lane's shirt to his torso and his hair to his forehead. He was tired and frustrated. He wanted to be home, or to be in New Orleans, or maybe Daytona Beach. He wanted to be spending Spring Break anywhere but here: sitting on the ground at a deserted intersection in Nowhere, Mississippi, miles from the nearest comfortable bed. His car had a flat tire, and the batteries had died in the only flashlight they had. They weren't going anywhere until morning.

Rob Owens, Dave's roommate, sat beside him, tuning his guitar, picking strings and twiddling the tuning pegs. This whole trip was Rob's idea, for Rob's benefit. Rob the musician, the stone crazy blues hound, had wanted to drive south through the Mississippi Delta to hear, and maybe learn, authentic Delta blues. But to do that, he needed a car, Dave's car. He had sold Dave on the trip as being both fun and a profound musical experience. So far, it had been neither. Dave did the work (like trying to change a tire in the dark), and all Rob did was play his guitar and give him grief. Dave was just Rob's beast of burden.

Rob strummed a chord, and seemed to be satisfied with it. "I hope you realize just how seriously cool this is," he said.

"No, I don't," Dave said dryly. "How cool is it?"

"Think of it! Here I am playing my guitar at a Delta crossroads at midnight. According to the legend, the Devil's supposed to come by and teach me killer licks in exchange for my soul. The blues experience doesn't get any more authentic than this."

"Is that so? Maybe it's not all it's cracked up to be then."

Rob didn't answer, but began to play Eric Clapton's famous riff for his cover of "Crossroads" in the key of A. He sang the song, thin and unconvincing at first, the night's open air swallowing the sound of his voice. As he worked through the verses of Robert Johnson's song, though, he seemed to be taken by their understated terror. The anxiety that infected his voice made it stronger and surer, for he now sang the fearful words with conviction. He played his guitar without ornament, simply picking out the riff on the bass strings while he sang.

Rob's music was the reason Dave submitted to his pack saddle. Music mattered to Dave, a lot. Until he moved in with Rob, though, it had never occurred to him that music was something that ordinary people could make for themselves. He still had difficulty believing that people who made music were ordinary. Rob amazed Dave with his guitar every bit as much as he irritated him with his self-centered arrogance. Rob was a good player, but he was also, in Dave's mind, unbelievably casual about it. Frequently, while studying, Rob would read and play his guitar at the same time. If Dave hadn't seen that almost every day, he would have thought it was impossible.

Rob finished the song with a flourish, strumming four hard E7 chords and resolving with a final strummed A7. He took and let out a deep breath, and then was silent.

"I like that," Dave said. "You played that very well."

"You think so?" said Rob, shyly. "I wasn't doing anything fancy at all."

"No, but you were doing it right. Simple can be good." Dave took a breath before speaking. It was time to tell Rob what was on his mind. "Rob?" he said.


"This trip has been a washout. What do you say about packing it in tomorrow and just heading down to New Orleans to have some fun? You know, seeing Bourbon Street, eating good food, partying, having a good time."

"What do you mean, a washout? What about West Helena tonight? The music there was terrific, just what we're looking for. The genuine article."

"Yeah, right," Dave said, "the genuine article. I swear, the guys in that bar were going to kill us. They sure 'nough didn't want no white boys in their place," he said in an imitation of local dialect. Then he spoke normally: "And I didn't think the music was so hot. If that's what we were looking for, then we were better off looking for it back in Memphis."

"Memphis! Christ! Beale Street was nothing but a big tourist trap. The music there wasn't a lick better than anything we can hear back home. And I don't even want to think about Graceland. Anyway, I was kind of hoping we would stop in Greenville. There's supposed to be a great blues scene there."

"Forget it! I've had it with this 'In Search of the Blues' thing! It just isn't working. We can't connect with anybody, nobody wants to talk to us. They just plain hated us in West Helena tonight. Do you really think we'll get a better reception in Greenville? Do you really want to keep beating your head against this wall, over and over and over again? Look at where it's got us: stuck here for the night!"

"Is that my fault?" Rob said. "I didn't drive the car over the junk in the road; it wasn't my flashlight in the trunk with dying batteries; and I wasn't the one who lost the nuts for the wheel in the dark."

Dave sat for a moment, just breathing. What Rob had said wasn't fair and wasn't the point. Rob was his better in a verbal duel, however. He had better withdraw from the field before he lost too much. "Sorry, Rob," he said, "I'm just tired and fed up. I'd probably feel different if we could sleep in the motel tonight."

"Yeah, well, I know what you mean. I'd rather sleep in a bed, even one of those hard things at the motel, than on a car seat. Listen, I'm sorry you feel that way. We don't have to stop in Greenville. I was just saying that I wished we could, that's all. But, hey, let's make the best of what we've got, okay?" He didn't wait for Dave's answer, but brushed a slow D-major arpeggio on his guitar, and started in on the Rolling Stones' arrangement of "Love in Vain." He must have been affected by the conversation, for he stumbled through the chord changes, and his voice wavered uncertainly. The song had none of the power the previous one had; it seemed to drown in the background of chirping crickets.

Dave was dumbfounded. Retreating under attack from superior forces, he had won. Or had he? Perhaps instead his resistance was a convenient excuse for Rob to give up without showing his own disappointment with the trip.

While Rob sang, Dave thought he heard a crunch of gravel. Was it an animal, a dog or a rabbit, maybe, scrambling on the road's shoulder? The song ended. Dave could hear regular crunches, footsteps, coming from the road to the east.

"Sshh. Someone's coming," he whispered. Although he tried to be quiet, his sibilants hissed loudly, advertising their presence.

"Well, now," said the approaching stranger. "You folks don't need to stop the music on account of me, now. I's just passing through." It was a man's voice, a gravelly tenor.

Dave held his breath, too unsettled to speak. Rob was silent also. The stranger walked up to them and halted.

"Well, good evening to you," he said. "Fine night to be out, ain't it?"

"Good evening," Rob said, quietly and hesitantly, as if he weren't sure he meant it.

"I love it like this," the stranger went on. "Sky crystal clear, stars all lit up like Saturday night in town, and no moon to drown 'em out. Course I like moonlight, too. Full moon's best of all, that's when you can go out and carry on and have yourself a good time. But no moon's almost as good as full moon."

Dave was uncertain about the situation. The stranger could be anybody, he could be dangerous. Then again, he could just be some guy walking home in the middle of the night. He was no doubt as puzzled by the two of them as they were by him. They should play it cool. The stars were hard, brilliant points of light, many-colored, dancing in the hot night sky. "It is beautiful," he said.

"Sure is," said the stranger. He turned to Rob. "So don't just sit there, play something. A night like this is worth making music for."

"I'm really not that good," Rob said, affecting modesty.

"That don't matter one little bit! Play what you can play, don't be bashful." He sat down on the roadside, next to Dave.

Rob was still for a moment, probably thinking what to play. Then he started by plucking his open low E string with his thumb, a straight rhythmic pulse. Keeping the pulse going, he added a simple two-bar figure on the high strings as a melody. The figure repeated, and repeated again in A, and so on, through the traditional twelve bar blues pattern. It was a piece Dave knew well; Rob played it all the time. It had no singing, no words, just the fingerpicked guitar. In the second verse, Rob answered the call of the original figure with a response of double-stopped triplets up the neck, like a Chuck Berry solo, while keeping the bass steadily pulsing. He elaborated the figure into a melody line that was its own response in the third verse. The tension eased some in the fourth verse as Rob simply comped through it, but the fifth verse brought the melody line back and brought it to a climax. Rob finished with a verse of the original figure, without ornament.

The stranger clapped his hands loudly. "Yes!" he said. "You say you're not very good, well, you're good enough for me! I like that!"

"Thank you," Rob said, shyly. "I made that up myself."

Dave remembered why the two of them were travelling: to hear the real country blues. "Do you play guitar?" he asked the stranger.

"Well, I pick a little bit, now and then."

"How about you playing something for us, then," Dave said.

"Why, certainly, certainly, it's only fair after all," the stranger said. "You play for me, and I play for you. A fair exchange."

There was a moment or two of silence. Nobody moved. "I'll need your guitar if I'm to play anything," the stranger said.

"Umm, I don't want --" Rob said uneasily, "-- I mean, I'm not making any deal, you know?"

Dave stifled a laugh. Did he really think the stranger was the Devil?

The stranger stifled nothing. He snorted, then inhaled and chuckled. He drew another breath, and laughed, and again, louder and louder with each breath. He doubled over, and his laughter became a wheeze. He began to cough. He sat up again, and coughed in earnest, and hawked and spat a gob of phlegm into the road. "That's a good one," he said. "That's a really good one."

"Are you all right?" Dave asked.

"Oh, don't worry 'bout me, It would take a lot more than a joke to do me in, believe me." He took a deep breath and let it out. "He comes out to the crossroads in the middle of the night and plays his guitar, and then he says, 'I ain't making no deal.' That's the best joke I've heard in days. Weeks." He took something out of a pocket -- a handkerchief? -- and mopped his face with it. "All right, son, no deals. But I can't make no music unless you hand your guitar over."

Rob slipped the strap over his head, and passed the guitar over Dave to the stranger. The man held it on his knee and plucked each string in succession. "That's no good," he said. "You got to tune it to a chord, you know, that's the best way." He fiddled with the pegs in the headstock, drastically retuning the guitar. While he twisted the pegs, he spoke. "Every so often we gets folk from up north coming through, you know, college kids, coming 'round these parts. They come looking for the blues, the gen-u-wine country blues." Was he talking about them? Dave thought. They had said hardly anything about themselves. How did he know?

He got the strings close to tune making the fine adjustments to bring them into true with each other. "Looking for the blues," he said. "Damn' fools! What they gonna do with the blues when they find them, did you ever wonder?" He strummed the strings; a G chord hung in the air. "You see, the blues ain't the music; the blues is the worst old feeling a body can have. You don't go looking for 'em, not if you got any smarts at all. The blues come looking for you; and if you're lucky, you ain't home when they come knocking at your door."

He dug in his pocket for a moment and pulled something out. Dave couldn't see what it was in the dark. The stranger held the object in his left hand at the neck of the guitar. He plucked the strings. The guitar moaned eerily. Whatever the object was, the stranger was using it as a slide.

The stranger played a slow shuffle rhythm on the bass strings and slid up and down the high strings well up the neck. The resulting sound was a wavering wail, one that sounded to Dave like it carried all the sorrows in the world. Then the slide was silent, leaving just the pulse of the bass strings. The stranger sang a wordless, gravelly moan, matching the guitar's anguish. The guitar answered with its wail. The stranger moaned again, and again the slide answered.

The stranger sang words, but in dialect so heavy that Dave couldn't make them out. It didn't matter, he didn't have to understand them to know what they were about: loss and misery and misfortune; a life that was a broken promise from beginning to end; a father who was never home except once and a while, drunk and mean; a woman who, when offered love, returned cruelty and scorn; and a train rolling along its tracks, blowing its whistle like a lost soul.

The music ended. Dave opened his eyes with a start. Had he been asleep? Or had he just been caught in the spell of the stranger's music? Rob stirred beside him.

"Here, it's your turn," the stranger said to Dave. "Play something."

"I don't play," Dave said. "I just listen." He spoke quietly, spooked by the stranger's music.

But the stranger thrust the guitar into Dave's lap. "Your buddy played, and I played. It's your turn. Just make some noise." He chuckled. "Your buddy said, no deals. You want to keep things even between us, don't you?" He chuckled again, wickedly.

Dave held the guitar, his left thigh fitting into the concave curve of the lower bout, his left hand wrapped around the bottom of the neck by the headstock. He was embarrassed, and frightened. He was half-convinced that the stranger really was the Devil of blues legend. His other half told him how ridiculous it was to think that. He scraped his right thumb along the strings. The sound was muted by his left hand fingers on the strings.

"Here, use this," the stranger said. He handed Dave the slide. "It goes over your ring finger." It was a short, hollow cylinder, about three inches long. Dave slipped it on. It felt odd. It wasn't made of metal or glass, like most slides he'd seen, but some other material. A prickly wave of gooseflesh coursed down his body. For no good reason, he was sure that the slide was made out of human bone.

He lay the slide on his finger across the strings on the neck. He strummed again with his thumb, and this time a chord rang out. The slide tightened around his finger, or so it felt to him. Alarmed, he shook it. The chord wavered and shimmered, wailing like when the stranger had played. The slide loosened its grip a little.

It was guiding his hand! Not actually moving it, he had to do that himself, and could override and move where he wanted to. But its gentle squeezing somehow served as its way of telling Dave where it wanted to be and how it wanted to be moved.

The resulting music was nothing special. Dave just strummed across the strings four beats to the bar while the slide led him through weepy, creepy chord changes in a twelve-bar pattern. After two choruses, the slide decided it was time to stop.

Dave was shaking. This was frightening, it was unreal. This didn't happen. Maybe he was dreaming. He tried to wake up by opening his eyes. But they were already open.

"Hey, Dave, that wasn't bad at all," said Rob, "especially not for a first try. I keep telling him he should learn to play," he said to the stranger, "but he doesn't listen." If he had ever said that, Dave couldn't remember it. Truth was sometimes less important to Rob, it seemed, than appearances.

"Well, your friend's right, you really ought to learn to play," the stranger said to Dave. "Say, my man, you want to keep that slide? If you want it, it's yours."

The image of a ballerina appeared in Dave's mind, pirouetting endlessly across a dance floor, en pointe in red shoes. "No deals?" he said.

"Sorry. Maybe I should take it back. If you kept it though, you'd become a damn' fine musician."

A damned fine musician: That was just what Dave was afraid of. "Like I said, I just listen." He slipped the slide off his finger and handed it back to the stranger.

The stranger put it back in his pocket. "No deals, no deals," he said. "There ain't nobody making no deals tonight. So if you aren't here to deal, just what are you doing here?"

"We were driving through, and my car had a flat tire," Dave said. "It's just a few yards down the road there." He waved his arm in the direction of the car. "We couldn't put the spare on because the batteries ran out in my flashlight. The nuts from the wheel got lost in the dark."

The stranger stood up. "That's no problem at all, unless you let it be one," he said. "How 'bout if I lend you a hand." He chuckled. "No deals, just a friendly helping hand."

"I'm not going to turn that down," Dave said. He stood up also, as did Rob. Dave handed Rob the guitar. Rob slung it once more over his shoulder.

The three of them walked back to the car. Dave could see in the gloom the white line at the shoulder of the road, and the shadowy presence of the Datsun.

"Now, where's that light?" the stranger said. Dave found it by the bare wheel and handed it to him.

The stranger switched it on. The bulb glowed a dim red and went out. He muttered something beneath his breath. He shook the flashlight with one hand and slapped it into his other palm. The light came on brightly, whitely, with the impact. "Here," he said. "That's all it takes, sometimes." Dave saw the stranger clearly for the first time in the light, from the waist down. He was wearing blue jean overalls. He was thick without being fat, with strong-looking arms and hands. His skin was dark brown, except for pale palms. He handed the light back to Dave.

"Shit!" said Rob. "We could have done that! Dave, why didn't you think of that?"

"We wouldn't have wound up meeting our friend here, would we?" He spoke to the stranger. "Thanks." He swung the light around, looking for the lost nuts. There they were, in plain sight, just underneath the car, below the naked hub. Dave stooped down and picked them up, putting them in his shirt pocket with the others.

"Well, I've got places to go," said the stranger. "I'll be on my way. Thanks for the music."

"Thank you for yours," said Rob.

"And thanks for your help with the light," said Dave.

"Don't mention it. But I have a word of advice for you before I go."

"Yeah?" said Dave.

"You say you just listen, well you listen to what I say real good: Every choice's got a price. Many folks would say that you made a wise choice, but you still got to pay for it. I said you should learn to play. I meant it. There's things inside you that are gonna claw their way out of you, unless you can let 'em out easy. Learn yourself the guitar. Like I said, you don't go looking for the blues. They're gonna come looking for you, and they're gonna find you. When they do, you damn' well better be ready for them. Good night." He turned around and walked away into the darkness.

When the sound of his footsteps had faded below the background of the crickets, Dave spoke. "I guess I should learn to play the guitar," he said. "I don't know if I can."

"Really, it's easy, Dave, if you take the time to do it. You've got an ear, you'd be great."

This was the first word of encouragement about making music Rob had ever given him. The idea that he could learn to play had probably been as foreign to Rob as it was to himself. He sighed. "Well, I'm not going to learn anything before I've had a good night's sleep," Dave said. "Come here and hold the light for me."

They got the spare tire on in no time. When the jack had been lowered and the flat tire put away in the trunk, the light went out once more. No amount of shaking or slapping could make it come on again.

Posted by abostick at 04:19 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2007

Fired Prosecutor Probed White-House-Connected Law Firm for Corruption

Arkansas US Attorney Bud Cummins opened a corruption investigation of Missouri Governor Matt Blunt's use of law firm Lathrop & Gage to run a chain of satellite state licensing offices in May 2006, reports Brad Friedman of The Brad Blog. In June, he was removed as US Attorney, six months before the big December purge of the US Attorneys by the Department of Justice.

Quoth Brad Blog:

Lathrop & Gage is the powerful firm of Blunt's general counsel, and Bush/Cheney '04's national general counsel, Mark F. "Thor" Hearne.

As BRAD BLOG readers know, Hearne is a top-level White House operative, a very close friend of Karl Rove's, and the co-founder of the currently-back-underground "American Center for Voting Rights" (ACVR), the mysteriously-funded group behind all of the GOP's phony "voter fraud" claims and the accompanying push for disenfranchising "Voter ID" restrictions at the polling place. (See our Special Coverage page on ACVR scam here...)

The first reports of Cummins's investigation into the Blunt/Lathrop Gage scandal were apparently released in May of 2006. Cummins was removed from his position just afterwards, in June of 2006 — prior to all the other firings which took place later that year on the same day in December.

He was replaced at that point by Karl Rove's personal aide Timothy Griffin.

Brad Blog's source for the information about the probe of Gov. Blunt and Lathrop & Gage is this story in the Springfield (Missouri) Business Journal.

A federal prosecutor opens an investigation of a Republican governor and a law firm with close ties to the Bush White House and Karl Rove. A month later, that prosecutor is gone, replaced by a Rove minion. It may be coincidence. But it has the smell of obstruction of justice, doesn't it? It's worth investigating by the relevant committees. Heck, I'd say it's worth the appointment of a special prosecutor, but don't hold your breath.

I'm surprised this angle of the US Attorney Purge story hasn't gotten more attention.

Posted by abostick at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2007

Poetry Manuscripts Panic Pennsylvania College

Kazim Ali, an instructor at Shippensburg University in central Pennsylvania, left a box of papers beside a campus trash can in front of the building where he taught after work, like he had many times before, so that they could be picked up and recycled. The box contained poetry manuscripts, left over from a contest Ali had judged.

The English department at Shippensburg shares a building with the ROTC program. An alert cadet observed a foreign-looking man leave a suspicious box on campus and drive away in a car with out-of-state license plates. The vigilant defender of American freedom called the local police, who in turn alerted the Pennsylvania state troopers. An emergency was declared, and the campus was shut down and evacuated.

Ali writes:

Because of my recycling the bomb squad came, the state police came. Because of my recycling buildings were evacuated, classes were canceled, campus was closed. No. Not because of my recycling. Because of my dark body. No. Not because of my dark body. Because of his fear. Because of the way he saw me. Because of the culture of fear, mistrust, hatred, and suspicion that is carefully cultivated in the media, by the government, by people who claim to want to keep us safe. ...

At some length several of my faculty colleagues were able to get through to the police and get me on a cell phone where I explained to the university president and then to the state police that the box contained old poetry manuscripts that needed to be recycled. The police officer told me that in the current climate I needed to be more careful about how I behaved. "When I recycle?" I asked.

The university president appreciated my distress about the situation but denied that the call had anything to do with my race or ethnic background. The spokesperson of the university called it an "honest mistake," not referring to the young man from ROTC giving in to his worst instincts and calling the police but referring to me who made the mistake of being dark-skinned and putting my recycling next to the trashcan. ...

What does that community mean to me, a person who has to walk by the ROTC offices every day on my way to my own office just down the hall--who was watched, noted, and reported, all in a days work? Today we gave in willingly and whole-heartedly to a culture of fear and blaming and profiling. It is deemed perfectly appropriate behavior to spy on one another and police one another and report on one another. Such behaviors exist most strongly in closed and undemocratic and fascist societies. ...

My body exists politically in a way I can not prevent. For a moment today, without even knowing it, driving away from campus in my little beetle, exhausted after a day of teaching, listening to Justin Timberlake on the radio, I ceased to be a person when a man I had never met looked straight through me and saw the violence in his own heart.

(via Elise Matthesen)

Posted by abostick at 07:46 PM | Comments (0)

RoboPoker - New Blog Describes Using Bots at Online Poker Sites

There's a new poker blog in town: RoboPoker: My Life as an Online Poker Robot.

RoboPoker has been posting frequently since he started last Tuesday. Here's his first post:

Who I am.

I am a professional poker player. Over time, I will reveal as many details as I can in regards to the limits I play and the income I make, but suffice it to say that I make a very comfortable living via online poker. Yes, I run a "war room" of online poker-bots that do not tilt, sleep, or anguish over the tough calls.

I will not:

  • Help you make your own bot.
  • Sell you mine.
  • Reveal any information that I think will endanger my income as a professional 'bot player.

I will:

  • Offer an honest perspective of online poker from my unusual point of view.
  • Post news items of interest to poker players of all types.
  • Offer poker topics for discussion of interest to the bot coder/game theorist/mathmatical player

Now, I realize that I will be hated by most that would bother to respond to, or even read this blog. All I ask is that you give me a bit of time. As you learn the truth behind the paranoia, you'll find you have very little to fear.

I am not as afraid of poker bots as some people are. They are against the rules of essentially all online poker sites, so they are certainly "cheating," at least technically. Naive players seem to be terribly afraid of bots, thinking that they will be fleeced by these machines. I often wonder why they don't feel the same way about skilled flesh-and-blood players.

From the skilled player's point of view, especially from the professional player's point of view, bots are a bad idea primarily because of their unlimited potential to multiply. If a substantial fraction of the players online are well-programmed bots, then competition for the easy money of the bad players becomes tougher. It is in the flesh-and-blood pros' interests to keep the number of bots down.

It is in the interest of the poker sites' owners to keep the number of bots down to the extent that players perceive bots as a threat.

Personally, I welcome the RoboPoker blog and the player behind it. Whatever you think of the ethics of automated poker play online, sunlight is better than shadow. I would much rather have RoboPoker posting openly than only sharing the secrets of poker bots among a secret cabal, or remaining silent. People who care about online poker should read this blog, and learn.

Posted by abostick at 01:40 PM | Comments (2)

April 20, 2007

The Gun Lobby Should Pay E.J. Dionne to Be a Gun-Control Advocate

Washington Post Op-Ed columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr., weighs in on the public debate about guns that has inevitably followed the Virginia Tech killing spree.

Dionne starts off well:

Why do we have the same futile argument every time there is a mass killing?

Advocates of gun control try to open a discussion about whether more reasonable weapons statutes might reduce the number of violent deaths. Opponents of gun control shout "No!" Guns don't kill people, people kill people, they say, and anyway, if everybody were carrying weapons, someone would have taken out the murderer and all would have been fine.

And we do nothing.

Pretty reasonable. His good guys "advocate" and his bad guys "shout," but that falls within the reach of persuasive license.

But then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid:

In other spheres, we act reasonably when faced with new problems. When Richard Reid showed that nasty things could be done with shoes on airplanes, airport security started examining shoes. When liquids were seen as a potential danger, we regulated the quantity of liquids we could take on flights. We barred people from carrying weapons onto airliners long ago.

Umm, E.J.? There may be sound reasons for banning carrying guns into airplane cabins (remember how Auric Goldfinger met his demise), but TSA inspections of shoes and prohibitions of liquids on planes are the textbook examples of security theater, braindead restrictions that are all show, doing essentially nothing to enhance actual air travel safety.

Claiming that gun-control laws are the same category of government restriction in the public interest as shoe inspections and liquid bans for air travelers is an argument against gun control, not for it.

Dionne's argument is so lame, so weak, so pathetic, so mindbogglingly stupid that Occam's Razor goes paradoxical: it is easier to believe that Dionne is deliberately making a weak argument to strengthen the other side than it is to believe that a professional journalist is dumb enough to make that argument sincerely. Even at the Washington Post.

Even Fred Hiatt can't be that dumb.

Posted by abostick at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

How Much Is Your Blog Worth?

Del.icio.us found me this clicky-form applet this morning that ought to be of interest to all sorts of bloggers: How Much Is Your Blog Worth? from Dane Carlson's Business Opportunities Weblog.

Carlson's applet queries Technorati for information that it uses to compute a URL's value. Folded into that computation is the estimated value of an inbound link derived from AOL's purchase price of Weblogs, Inc.

As all thirty or so of my regular readers have noticed by now, I have taken a new interest in finding ways to get at least some money out of As I Please. So estimators of the worth of my blog are of more than academic interest to me.

So of course I pasted my URL into the box and clicked on the button. The number that came out surprised me: When I convert the lump sum it represents into a cash flow with the same present value, the number I get is in the middle of the ballpark I estimate for the Google AdSense revenue I expect based on a very few day's results and my current traffic figures.

In other words, Carlson's estimator for blog value may be a good one.

Posted by abostick at 02:38 PM | Comments (3)

April 19, 2007

What It's Like to Be Shot At

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has another dynamite post up at Making Light (yes, I know that phrase is redundant) pertaining to the Virginia Tech shooting spree last Monday. It largely consists of lengthy quotes from two other posts. The first, promoted from Making Light's comments is a detailed description of what it takes to be competent to carry a gun, to answer the people who think that arming eighteen-year-olds on a college campus is a safe way to curb campus violence.

The second is by one Libby Spencer, who has no patience with John Derbyshire's macho blustering in which he asserted that the students at Virginia Tech were cowards for not taking out the shooter while he was reloading.

It’s so easy to be brave if you’ve never actually faced down a gunman, Spencer writes. I have. Twice. So I found this fool Derbyshire and his loyal fan’s insipid posts especially offensive. They should keep their adolescent daydreams of glory to themselves until after they’ve looked down the barrel of a gun wielded by a hostile hand. Spencer goes on to describe her experiences at gunpoint.

No one knows what they will do at gunpoint until they find out. John Derbyshire sounds to me like he's imagining himself to be a comic-book hero up against Imperial stormtroopers who can't shoot straight. When the real bullets start flying, it isn't like the comic books.

This happened about fourteen years or so ago.

Debbie and I had been out for a pleasant evening. We hopped on BART and went to the Paramount Theater to watch a classic movie for cheap. As it happened, that night, I was one of the lucky winners of Deco-Win, and my prize was dinner for two at Mexicali Rose. Naturally, after the movie was over we walked twelve blocks to Mexicali Rose to claim my prize. We had a lovely meal. When it was over, it was late enough and we were tired enough not to want to walk all the way back to the BART station, so we chose to take a taxi home instead.

We rode in the cab to the north end of Oakland. The cab turned off of Shattuck Avenue onto our street and pulled over in front of our house. Debbie, in the right-hand seat was paying the driver. I opened the left-hand passenger door, got out, and closed the door. Debbie got out of her side of the cab.

I heard a noise behind me and turned to look. A car heading south on Shattuck had stopped. I heard a loud pop and saw a flash from the car. Without taking time to think, I knew it was gunfire. There was no time to think logically -- what I did do was immediately try to present as small a profile to the shooter as I could, by dropping to the ground, prone, with my feet pointed towards the car with the shooter.

There was more popping. One of the taxi's doors slammed. Its wheels squealed, and it drove away.

The car on Shattuck drove away also. I chanced a look behind me and saw that the coast seemed to be clear. Debbie was nowhere to be seen -- she had gotten back into the cab when the firing started. I got up and ran up the steps, unlocked the door, and closed it behind me.

The action was over, and I could think again. I was unharmed and relatively safe, but where was Debbie? She was in the taxi as it drove off. Had she been hit? The enormity of what had just happened was starting to sink in: without my knowing who or why, someone had just tried to kill me. I grew more worried about Debbie.

I called 911 to report the shooting. I explained to the dispatcher that I was unhurt, but I didn't know what became of my partner in the taxi. She told me to wait, that police officers would be there shortly. I believe that after about half an hour with no police showing up, I called 911 again to relay my concern about Debbie. I hadn't heard from her, and was afraid she was in the hospital. The dispatcher asked me what color was the taxi. I remembered it being yellow. (It was actually two-toned, part of the fleet of Metro Yellow Taxi Co., with blue lower body and yellow canopy.) My memory of the rest of the evening is vague.

Debbie tells me she got back into the cab when the shooting started. The driver gunned the accelerator and took off. The cab driver was angry, thinking that we were drug dealers who had lured him into the middle of some kind of war. He wouldn't drive her home again. Eventually they wound up by Alta Bates hospital, where Debbie found a pay phone and called home. Not long after that the driver took her to the corner nearest to our house -- but would not turn onto our street -- and Debbie was home, to my immense relief.

At some point the police came by to take statements, and they told us that there had been reports of someone firing up a nearby street earlier in the evening. Some time, I think that night, because the streets were completely clear, I went to the intersection and looked around, and found some shell casings -- something close to .38 caliber or 9 mm. I still have one of them among some old kipple I keep on a bookshelf in my room.

Debbie had been carrying a canvas bag with a manuscript in it that she had been working on, some sort of editing project or other. In the next day or so, she turned her attention to the manuscript and discovered that the pages were dented. Evidently a bullet hit the manuscript in the bag, which Deb says she was carrying in front of her thigh. She tells me she has no recollection of the bullet's impact, however.

Posted by abostick at 10:34 PM | Comments (1)

Bush Jokes Now Widely Told

In the wake of 9-11 you couldn't tell a Bush joke without being wrestled to the ground by Secret Service agents. Things have changed. The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten writes:

Then, gradually, liberals began to voice grievances, then moderate Democrats, then liberal Republicans, then moderate Republicans, and now we're seeing uber-conservative hammerheads such as Bob Novak and Rich Lowry using the I-words: "inept" and "incompetent." Foreign heads of state have started to take potshots at Bush when he's standing right next to them, during photo ops.

It's as though we've reached a tipping point. Any day we're going to see Laura in an "I'm With Stupid" T-shirt.

Weingarten follows with a bunch of Bush jokes that I hadn't encountered before. Did he make them up himself? Have the Boys in the Bus been telling these all along?

Here's an example:

Children's book, 73rd printing, revised text

. . . Then out of the box came Thing One and Thing Two,

And Sally and I did not know what to do!

They knocked Sally down, and she fell on her tush.

"I'm Cheney," said one. Said the other, "I'm Bush."

They attacked our four feet, with stompings and bites.

First they chewed on our lefts, then they trampled our rights!

They found Mother's money and flushed it away!

If we go to college, NOW how will we pay?

They smashed up our dishes, our toys and our bikes!

Our globe was on fire, and the golf bag Dad likes!

The mess they were making was torture to see,

"Torture is good," they told Sally and me . . .

(via Lynn Kendall)

Posted by abostick at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2007

The Most Hated Player in Poker

Who is the most hated player in poker?

Is it Phil Hellmuth, Jr., known for his temper and his arrogance, who was chosen as the most disliked player in a poll at Games-Poker.biz? Is it Josh Arieh, who showed no class at the final table of the Big Dance at the 2004 WSOP, broadcast on ESPN to a worldwide audience? Barry Shulman? Sam Grizzle? Dutch Boyd?

My pick for the poker player who is hated by the most people is Richard Brodie. He plays online at Full Tilt using the handle "Quiet Lion." He writes a blog, Lion Tales, that describes his life as a poker pro.

I've played with him a couple of times online at Full Tilt. He is polite and well-mannered, responding amiably to the people who talk to him about his notorious past.

But what is this notorious past, you might ask, and why is he hated?

Richard Brodie was employee #77 at Microsoft, hired in 1981, to join the small but growing firm's four-person Application Division. After writing a p-code C compiler that Microsoft would use for multiple-platform development of its applications, Brodie went on to create a word-processing program, intended to have a user interface compatible with Microsoft's new spreadsheet program, Multiplan.

Brodie's word processor was called Microsoft Word.

In every office in every business across the land, and in countless homes as well, you don't have to wait very long before you hear a cry of anguish and the exclamation, "I hate Word!" from people who have never heard of Phil Hellmuth, never saw Josh Arieh's bad sportsmanship on ESPN, and don't know Barry Shulman from Adam. Millions of computers work like demonic prayer wheels at gigahertz clock speeds, all adding ill-will and resentment to Richard Brodie's karmic burden.

Compared to that, Phil Hellmuth is a piker.

Posted by abostick at 06:40 PM | Comments (1)

What Bush Says to Americans ... What They Hear

Swopa at Needlenose has this to say about how Bush's skills as a communicator impact American's understanding of the war in Iraq:

It's kind of like the famous "Far Side" cartoon I've posted above — the Shrub-in-Chief goes around shouting, "Democrats are traitors because they want to override my presidential powers and help the terrorists by bringing our troops home from Iraq!"

But all the folks at home hear is "Democrats... want to... bring our troops home from Iraq!"

And they think to themselves, hey, that sounds like a pretty good idea to us.

(via Atrios)

Posted by abostick at 12:54 PM | Comments (1)

April 17, 2007

Bill Clinton to Create Crossword for New York Times

Quoth Editor & Publisher:

Former President Bill Clinton has signed on to create a crossword puzzle for the Web site of the New York Times, according to an article in Advertising Age.

Clinton, whose passion for the puzzles was on display in the crossword film "Wordplay," will pen the answers for a puzzle that will appear May 6 on NYTimes.com, which will coincide with an issue of the New York Times magazine with a Baby Boomer theme. It will remain free online until the end of the month.

Clinton's puzzle will coincide with the revamp of the paper's games and puzzles section, according to the Ad Age article. "This is all part of building out the game portal," said Robert Z. Samuels, senior product manager, games and mobile, New York Times Digital, is quoted as saying.

But the real question remains: Will the answers to Clinton's puzzle depend on what your definition of the word "is" is?

Lynn Kendall tells me that a mutual friend's father had connections to Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas passes on an anecdote of "Clinton simultaneously having one conversation on the phone, another with people present, all while doing the Times crossword in ink."

Posted by abostick at 06:24 PM | Comments (0)

Moderation, Kathy Sierra, and the Blogger's Code of Conduct

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has weighed in on the subject of the Blogger's Code of Conduct:

Bloggers can ban anonymous comments or not, as they please. The problem isn’t commenter anonymity; it’s abusive behavior by anonymous or semi-anonymous commenters. Furthermore, the kind of jerks who post comments that need to be deleted will infallibly cry “censorship!” when it happens, no matter what O’Reilly and Wales say.

Anyone who’s read ML for more than a couple of months has watched this happen. Commenters who are smacked down for behaving like jerks are incapable of understanding (or refuse to admit) that it happened because they were rude, not because the rest of us can’t cope with their dazzlingly original opinions. It’s a standard piece of online behavior. How can O’Reilly and Wales not know that?

What's interesting about this behavior is that "rudeness" is locally defined. Someone can be a welcome and valuable participant in the comment threads of one blog, say Majikthise, and at the same time drastically transgress the norms of another, like Pandagon, and never understand the norms they have transgressed. The real mistake they make is that of assuming that common courtesy is in fact common and not an arbitrary social construction that is constructed differently in different social venues.

Everyone taking part in this discussion (and yes, this means you) should drop what they are doing and read Clay Shirky's essay "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy."

Shirky quotes one Geoff Cohen as saying, The likelihood that any unmoderated group will eventually get into a flame-war about whether or not to have a moderator approaches one as time increases. This is what the argument over the Blogger's Code of Conduct is really about. There is a widespread perception that Tim O'Reilly, Jimmy Wales, and their supporters are trying to impose moderation on the blogosphere. Much of the derision O'Reilly et al. are receiving comes from the expectation that O'Reilly calling upon the blogosphere to comply with the BCC will be every bit as effective as King Canute calling upon the waves on the sea to calm.

Nobody in their right mind who runs a blog that allows commenting at all can afford to take a absolutist position on free speech, not without their blog comments becoming overrun with comment spam. And while some comments are obviously legitimate and some are obviously spam, there isn't a bright line that separates the two. To deal with comment spam, a blogger has to harden her heart to the possibility of deleting messages that might not be spam but legitimate attempts at self expression. And which side of the line belong messages that are clearly bloggers trolling for some link-love? Comment spam has cost us our censorship cherry. Comment spam is the proof that no online discussion forum that is open in an infinite world can exist without moderation.

The substance of the BCC is reprehensible. Nevertheless, any community, online or otherwise, needs to have mechanisms in place to reinforce social norms.

Of course, one aspect of the Kathy Sierra affair is that it was an example of those norms at work: the norm of sexism in the world of tech. This is what keeps getting swept under the rug. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, to her credit, makes sure that it is part of the discussion.

Posted by abostick at 03:28 PM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2007

Redesign in Progress

You might be noticing changes in how As I Please looks. I'm in the middle of a redesign.

Safari users: If the sight looks a little peculiar, try clearing out your browser cache and reloading.

UPDATE: The redesign is now largely complete. I may tweak a few details about how CSS renders some things in the sidebars, but the important work is done.

What do you think of As I Please's new look? Is your browser choking on anything?

Posted by abostick at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

April 15, 2007

Does the Blogger's Code of Conduct Make the Blogosphere More Corporate-Friendly?

Looking at the Blogger's Code of Conduct and the reaction to it from the political blogosphere, Lindsay Beyerstein puts the pieces together and asks, cui buono?

The architects of the BCC are major tech bloggers/biz bloggers in Silicon Valley.

There's widespread suspicion in the liberal political blogosphere that the BCC is an attempt to smuggle in corporate-friendly comment moderation policies under the guise of "civility." Why else would they bother? A voluntary code of conduct like the BCC one isn't really about protecting citizens who speak out online, it's about creating an environment that's safe for major advertisers.

And, in passing, Lindsay dishes out implicit high praise to me by mentioning and linking my previous post on the BCC in the same sentence as those of Kos, Bitch Ph.D., and Pandagon. That's some company to be placed among (even if Kos' post is particularly fuggheaded).

Posted by abostick at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

More on the Media Racism Scapegoating Ritual

Atrios has this to say about the stylized ritual drama I sketched out in my previous post:

Memo to the Media

Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are not the only black people in America, and more than that they do not have the ability to force themselves onto your news shows. There's a pattern here:

1) Bigot eruption somewhere
2) Lots of people condemn it
3) Al Sharpton goes on every teevee program
4) The media people turn around and use Sharpton's past as a distraction/excuse for the current bigot eruption

If Al Sharpton is an imperfect spokesperson for an issue, and you keep putting him on the teevee to be the spokesperson for that issue, then the obvious conclusion is that this is a deliberate strategy.

If the talking-head shows called upon people like Michael Eric Dyson or Cornell West, they might wind up actually getting people in the audience to look at their own behavior. The advertisers would never stand for that.

Posted by abostick at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2007

Ezra Klein on Don Imus and Scapegoating

Ezra Klein writes at Tapped:

SCAPEGOATS. Amidst an unexpected digression on anthropological studies of cross-cultural scapegoat sacrifice ceremonies — I'm telling you, Swampland is a genuinely unpredictable and enjoyable blog — Joe Klein says, "the atavistic intensity of our scapegoat sacrifices — Imus, perhaps Wolfowitz and Gonzalez to come — shouldn't be surprising."

No no no. Scapegoat: "One that is made to bear the blame of others." Imus is getting run out of town for something he personally said. Wolfowitz is on a death march because of patronage he personally allowed. Gonzales's days are (hopefully) numbered because of a politicization process he personally abetted. None of these people are being scapegoated. They're being roundly, rightly, criticized.

That said, I didn't know this: "The Jews civilized the process, making it metaphoric, turning the scapegoat, literally, into a goat — which wasn't nearly as much fun." Those Jews. So literal-minded.

Points taken about Gonzales and Wolfowitz.

But (let me phrase this carefully) for all that Imus's remarks were certainly unacceptable and worth firing him for their own sake, he is being scapegoated for them.

We see this Kabuki drama played out every few years. Someone goes too far talking about race on radio or television — it's almost always someone talking about sports — and people react. The pundits are shocked — shocked! — to discover such an egregious example of racism in the media. The sponsors pull ads. The offender loses his position. Justice is served! Racism is defeated! Now we can all go back to our regularly scheduled daily lives and treat the black kid in the store like a shoplifter, and hire the white guy because, you know, everybody thinks they'll get along with him.

Sometimes I wonder if that's the real reason ESPN hired Rush Limbaugh for color commentary on Monday Night Football in 2003: they knew it was time for the ritual sacrifice, and they wanted to protect their own.

(via Avedon Carol)

Posted by abostick at 09:46 AM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2007

Turkey Attacks Kurds, Prepares to Invade Iraq

The Associated Press's Selcan Hacaoglu is reporting that Turkish military forces have begun large-scale attacks on Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey and that Turkish military chief General Yasar Buyukanit has asked the government for authority to enter Iraq in force to fight Kurdish rebels there.

Juan Cole notes a Financial Times report on hightened tension between the Turkish military and Iraqi Kurds, but the FT report quotes Gen. Buyukanit as saying he hadn't yet requested authorization to invade.

The only argument for keeping a US military presence in Iraq that had any credibility at all was the claim that a US pullout would provoke a wider war. Well, the war is just about to get wider regardless.

Posted by abostick at 07:06 PM | Comments (1)

Study Reveals Abstinence-Only Sex Education Has No Effect on Teen Behavior

Sex education programs funded under Title V of the Social Security Act, required by law to teach complete sexual abstinence prior to marriage, has essentially no effect on teen sexual activity, according to a federally funded study quietly released late on a Friday afternoon.

According to the study, Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs [ PDF], carried out by Mathematics Policy Research, Inc., abstinence-only educations have no impact on teen abstinence:

$875 million dollars down the drain. Of course, it's a drop in the bucket compared to what we've wasted on Iraq. But take care of the billions, and the trillions will take care of themselves.

At least we can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that Republican-mandated initiatives to keep young people ignorant and ill-informed don't work.

(via Alas, a Blog; hat tip to Debbie!)

Posted by abostick at 04:40 PM | Comments (1)

April 12, 2007

CNN Uses the L-Word

CNN Uses L-Word
Originally uploaded by abostick59.

One more sign that the tide is turning: CNN has at long last used the verb "to lie" with Bush Administration officials as its subject. CBS apparently did also, but they seem to have edited it out of their Web site.

There, that didn't hurt, did it? It only took you six years.

(via TalkLeft)

Posted by abostick at 04:06 PM | Comments (0)

White House Detonates 'Miserable Failure' Googlebomb

Googling the word "failure" once again points to George Bush, because the Bush White House can't do anything right. Some genius working for Tony Scott quoted Bonny Prince Georgie's indignant posturing in response to Congress's passing a military spending bill that mandates a troop withdrawal from Iraq: "Congress's failure to fund our troops will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines."

Google's boffins adjusted their s00pers33kr1t algorithm in January to defuse Googlebombs, including the "miserable failure" bomb pointing to Bush's biography on whitehouse.gov. The tweak did something to deemphasize the text of inbound links in favor of text actually on the page. But the use of the word failure was enough to set the bomb off again.

George Bush can run from his lifetime of failure, but he cannot hide from it.

NB: This means the the Googlebomb that I have proposed, linking John McCain to the Wikipedia page about the Keating Five, should still be effective, assuming enough people take it on, because of course the Wikipedia article, being accurate and truthful, mentions John McCain by name.

(via Steven Schwartz)

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

April 11, 2007

Blogger's Code of Conduct: Bitch, Ph.D., Nails It

Dr. B. rips the Tim O'Reilly's Blogger Code of Conduct to teeny little pieces:

Blah blah, "we restrict comments that aren't civil." "We won't say anything online we wouldn't say in person." "We'll resolve inter-blog spats through private email rather than posting about them." "If someone's being a dick, we'll ask them to stop, pretty please, before we call the cops." "We won't allow pseudonyms." "We'll ignore trolls." "We want hosting sites to police blogs."

Break me a fucking give, people. It's not that fucking hard. Yes, anonymous publishing makes some people act like dickheads. Yes, blogspats are silly wastes of time. Yeah, basic standards of rational argument are good things. Yeah, trolls suck.

But (1) the main problem in the Sierra case was rampant misogyny, and I don't see any "We won't tolerate racism or sexism" up there. And (2) Pseudonymity is not the problem. The fact of the matter is that an established pseudonym is at least as much of a "check" on assholishness as the real name of someone no one's ever heard of; "Bitch, Ph.D." has a reputation to maintain (of sorts), and that's one reason she doesn't say dumbass shit. (I realize that this is debatable. What I mean is I won't threaten people or out them or otherwise act like an asshole.)

The real "solution" to assholes on the internet is for bloggers, site moderators, etc. to fucking read and participate in their own comment threads. If the blogger him- or herself is an asshole, then they'll allow assholes to comment there. Not much you can do about that: assholes exist, and they, too, can often type. If the blogger isn't an asshole, they'll delete, argue with, or shut down asshole comments, according to their personal tastes.

I, personally, find that the simple policy of "obnoxious comments will be deleted" works just great. I don't give a shit if people swear or are "incivil" about things that, imho, don't deserve civil treatment--and if someone disagrees that, say, sexist nonsense doesn't deserve civility, then they can read another blog, or they can argue with me in comments. So fuck that civility shit. I'm entirely pro-pseudonym: since I care, in fact, about writing — as any blogger damn well should — and I'm not a moron, I know perfectly well that pseudonyms allow writers to create different personae, to try different voices, and to protect their personal or professional lives (the threats against Kathy Sierra demonstrating *precisely why* bloggers, especially women, need the option of using pseudonyms, thankyouverymuchMr.HighHorseIUseMyOwnName).

I do care about people who create what in academic and legal circles gets called a "hostile environment." Sexist, racist, or homophobic bullshit either gets deleted or left up as an example of assholishness to which I, or other regular commenters, respond accordingly. Physical threats — except for obvious hyperbole like "I'd like to smack Larry Summers" — would get deleted, maybe, or else retained on purpose in case evidence were needed at some later date. Somewhere back in a very old comment thread there is a rape threat against me that I have left up for that very purpose (and no, I am not going to tell you where it is). I think bloggers (hello, Michelle Malkin, you fucking hypocrite) who "out" people's personal information are assholes — and I don't see *that* little piece of bullshit on the "blogger code of conduct," probably because it thinks pseudonymous commenting is inherently suspect.

In fact, the current draft of the Blogger's Code of Conduct forbids telling the truth about the Church of Scientology, or publicizing the defects of Diebold electronic voting machines on the grounds that all revealing of trade secrets and any violation of copyright is "uncivil."

The whole notion of "civility" is fundamentally flawed. As psychologist Arnold Mindell points out in his book Sitting in the Fire and elsewhere, the demand for civility and politeness is often used by people at the centers of power to enforce silence upon the powerless people of the margins. Any expression of rage or hurt deriving from the experience of being oppressed can be defined as "uncivil" and therefore ignored, with its underlying merit never being considered.

I for one am not going to take calling Tim O'Reilly and the Tech Boys Club on their sexist shit to private email to avoid escalation. He is publicly diverting the discourse away from his and his buddies' misogyny. The public deserves a public response.

Posted by abostick at 01:58 PM | Comments (1)

Last Night's Dream: Of Death, Love, and Remembrance

I am walking outdoors, talking with Bill Gibson. Bill sees something on the ground, bends over to pick it up. It is the wrapper from a stick of gum that has been folded very small and tossed into the gutter. Time and the elements have polished it into a jewel-like state. Bill talks about his dead friend Lenny. Lenny would fold up chewing-gum wrappers like this and toss them away all the time, knowing that some of them would eventually become jewels like this. He would also throw soda and beer bottles into the sea, so that they would eventually be made into driftglass. Now, Bill said, Lenny is dead, but every so often Bill would find something beautiful that reminded him of Lenny. It is incumbent on us all, Bill told me, to do what Lenny did, so that, after we die, the people who loved us will be occasionally reminded of us, so that we can still be present in a way for them.

Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
Hark! now I hear them — Ding-dong, bell.

(William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act I, Scene ii)

Posted by abostick at 10:02 AM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2007

Founding Fathers' 1796 Treaty with Tripoli Asserts US Not a Christian Nation

Bubbling up on del.icio.us/popular/ is a posting of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, drafted by diplomat Joel Barlow in 1796, read aloud on the Senate floor and passed unanimously on June 7, 1797, and signed by President John Adams, who proudly proclaimed it to the nation.

What is getting this treaty lots of attention, on the heels of Blog Against Theocracy weekend (rather tastelessly chosen to be Easter weekend), is that Article 11 of the treaty states:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

Treaties ratified by the Senate are the law of the land. Therefore the law of the land is that the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Attention Dominionists: Doesn't the Bible have something to say about "bearing false witness"? I seem to recall that this was carved into a rock that's stashed in a courthouse in Alabama.

Posted by abostick at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2007

Statistical Properties of Poker Tournaments

People are starting to talk about a paper soon to be published about the statistics of stack sizes and player counts in poker tournaments.

Clément Sire, a French physicist as well as a poker player, noticed some patterns about stack size and number of chip leaders while playing in online tournaments. He developed a toy game and derived statistical properties from a tournament model based on that toy game that appear to match well the statistics of actual tournament results. The chip leader's stack size, apparently, scales with the logarithm of the number of players. Chip leader stack size, Sire found, is governed by the Gumbel distribution, a probability distribution that describes the maximum of some varying property: the hottest day in August in Oakland, for example, or the maximum level of a river during flooding season.

Sire's statistical model of poker tournaments can be used to predict the number of players over time, given the starting number of players, their starting stack size, and rate of increase of blinds and antes. As such, it can very likely be applied by tournament directors to optimize tournament structures, a task hitherto best done by Tex Morgan's TEARS (Tournament Evaluation And Rating System).

(via Tom Bayes and Gramina)

Posted by abostick at 08:36 AM | Comments (1)

April 07, 2007

Weird Surge of Searches for the Originator of "Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction"

Something weird is happening in referrals to As I Please. I am getting a relative storm of search hits, searching on the string "'truth is stranger than fiction' originator" and landing on my post about anti-evolution state legislators forwarding information from moonbat site Fixedearth.com. In fact, that post comes up as number three on Google's search result for that string. The first hit came at 5:03 AM, from a computer in Florida, i.e. 8:03 AM local time. I cannot find out, at least through quick googling, what it is that has gotten so much interest in the originator of the phrase "truth is stranger than fiction." I am speculating that it pertains to something in a television or radio broadcast that went out at 8:00 AM EDT. As I write this, I've gotten forty-five hits this morning on that one page, and it is only 10:30 AM. What the heck is going on? Why are people suddenly interested in this?

I cannot say this authoritatively, but it looks as if the originator of the phrase "Truth is stranger than fiction" may be Josiah Henson, a fugitive slave who escaped to Canada and published an autobiography, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself in 1849. After the success of Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin he published in 1858 an expanded version of his slave narrative, Truth Stranger Than Fiction. Father Henson's Story of His Own Life. Henson is widely believed to be the inspiration of Stowe's highly successful and influential novel.

Update: It's the clue for #3 down in this morning's New York Times crossword puzzle [no link provided, because it's behind the paywall]. Thanks to commenter Steve for the information.

(Using Google to help solve crossword puzzles? What's the world coming to?)

Update #2: It wasn't Josiah Henson, it was Lord Byron:

'Tis strange — but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!

(Don Juan, canto 14)

Hat tip to Carol in the comments.

Posted by abostick at 10:28 AM | Comments (2)

How Hard Is It for a Blogger to Get the Word Out?

Avedon Carol writes about what it took to get wider attention to Orrin Hatch's lies about purged US Attorney Carol Lam:

Just as a point of reference: I tried for two days push that story about Orrin Hatch's lies about Carol Lam, and aside from Little Thom, no one seemed to notice. In despair, I tried doing the "diary" post at Kos. Nuthin' — didn't even rate a diary rescue. It wasn't until I noticed the comment counter for the last open thread at Eschaton veering up over 800 and linked to Thom's post for a new thread last night that it got any traction — and then suddenly Kos himself picked it up, and so did Think Progress, Josh Marshall, and Hilzoy. And only today did I hear the story on Sam Seder and Thom Hartmann's Air America shows, even though the original spark for the story was Rachel Maddow's show - and she'd also been trying to push the story.

I'm not saying this as a criticism of individuals, but I thought this was a good story and I have to say I find it frustrating that if Atrios hadn't given me the keys to his rig ages ago, it probably would have disappeared. I really wish I knew a better way to get a story out — this is the kind of thing Peter Daou used to use as a lesson in message spread. The Sideshow is one of the more well-known of the "smaller" blogs, but the story didn't move at all — even though it started on Air America — until it hit Duncan's front page. (It's proliferating, now.)

Avedon pushes story. Avedon guest-blogs it at Eschaton. Story takes off. Hatch winds up with egg on his face and issues a mealymouthed correction. Advantage: Avedon.

Even a year ago, Atrios, Josh Marshall, and Markos Moulitsas could sing about the story in three-part harmony every day for a month, and the only media attention it would get would be from Dan Froomkin. Things are changing, and for the better.

There's a piece of me that is wondering why Avedon is frustrated. She flogged the story for two whole days before it took off. Most of us don't have that sort of blogging mojo.

A repeating leitmotif of blogging, repeated over and over again across the political spectrum and from the A-list to the farthest reaches of the Long Tail, is "They aren't listening to me! What do I have to do to be heard?" It seems to me that Avedon is occupying this role here, and not being fully aware of the ways in which they are listening to her.

Avedon's story highlights, though, one of the issues of the blogosphere as it grows; As its higher reaches get more exposure in the wider world, what mechanisms exist for stories that start in the blogosphere's roots to bring the stories that matter up the trunk and to its higher branches to get that story? How can diarists in Kos's walled garden most effectively have their diaries rescued? How can a C- or D-list blogger craft a post so that the B-list takes notice and passes it up to the A-list? Can the social-networking and folksonomy sites like del.icio.us and Digg play a role to facilitate this? Are there pathologies of the blogosphere that get in the way of information transmission along its pathways?

I have nothing resembling answers to these questions; but it's high time people started thinking about them and discussing them in detail.

Posted by abostick at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2007

Why Your Blog Sucks

8) You tell people to watch videos on the Web without actually linking to them.

Posted by abostick at 02:33 PM | Comments (2)

April 05, 2007

FBI Investigates Second Life for Online Gambling

Quoth Reuters:

FBI checks out gambling in 'Second Life'

FBI investigators have visited Second Life's Internet casinos at the invitation of the virtual world's creator Linden Lab, but the U.S. government has not decided on the legality of virtual gambling.

"We have invited the FBI several times to take a look around in Second Life and raise any concerns they would like, and we know of at least one instance that federal agents did look around in a virtual casino," said Ginsu Yoon, until recently Linden Lab's general counsel and currently vice president for business affairs.

Second Life is a popular online virtual world with millions of registered users and its own economy and currency, known as the Linden dollar, which can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. ...

Hundreds of casinos offering poker, slot machines and blackjack can easily be found in Second Life. While it is difficult to estimate the total size of the gambling economy in Second Life, the three largest poker casinos are earning profits of a modest $1,500 each per month, according to casino owners and people familiar with the industry.

The surge in Second Life gambling coincides with a crackdown in the real world by the U.S. government, which has arrested executives from offshore gambling Web sites.

Most lawyers agree that placing bets with Linden dollars likely violates U.S. antigambling statutes, which cover circumstances in which "something of value" is wagered. But the degree of Linden Lab's responsibility, and the likelihood of a crackdown, is uncertain.

"That's the risk; we have a set of unknowns, and we don't know how they're going to play out," said Brent Britton, an attorney specializing in emergent technology at the law firm Squire Sanders & Dempsey in Tampa, Fla.

Britton said Linden Lab could face criminal charges under the 1970 Illegal Gambling Business Act or the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act. The latter law, passed last year, takes aim at credit card companies and other electronic funds transfers that enable Internet gambling. ...

"It's not always clear to us whether a 3D simulation of a casino is the same thing as a casino, legally speaking, and it's not clear to the law enforcement authorities we have asked," Yoon said.

About Ginsu Yoon's curious statement in the last graf quoted, Mark Gritter, who pointed us to this story, has this to say:

Where has he been? Does he think the government has been cracking down on sports betting sites because they're too dumb to label themselves "simulations" of sports betting? Does somebody at the Justice Department actually see a difference between a 3-D simulation of a poker room and, well, an online poker room?

I can only agree with Mark here.

Posted by abostick at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

Photos Reveal Pelosi Pwns Bush

BAG News Notes shows us this sequence of photographs of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D - California) sharing a quiet word with President George W. Bush, taken last week at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner last week:

Photo credits: photos 1, 2 & 4: Jason Reed/Reuters; photo 3: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

I don't suppose we'll ever know what she actually said to him, but we can always hope.

Could this be the real reason Bonny Prince Georgie is laying onto Speaker Pelosi so hard about her trip to Damascus?

(via Elise Matthesen)

Posted by abostick at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

April 04, 2007

Iran to Pardon, Release Captured British Sailors and Marines

From the Associated Press:

Iranian Leader Says He'll Free Britons

By NASSER KARIMI, Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, April 4, 2007
(04-04) 08:03 PDT TEHRAN, Iran (AP) --
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran would free the 15 detained British sailors and marines Wednesday as an Easter holiday "gift" to the British people.

He said the captives, who were seized while on patrol in the northern Persian Gulf on March 23, would be taken to the airport following his news conference, but Iranian state television reported they would leave Iran on Thursday. An Iranian official in London said they would be handed over to British diplomats in Tehran.

After the news conference, state television showed Ahmadinejad meeting with the British crew, dressed in business suits, at the presidential palace. He shook hands and chatted with them through a translator, and a caption to the video said the meeting was taking place as part of the "process of release."

Posted by abostick at 11:51 AM | Comments (2)

April 03, 2007

NY Times' Adam Nagourney Whitewashes McCain's Campaign Finance Record

Adam Nagourney, writing for the New York Times, put his foot deep into his mouth in an article about John McCain's changing fundraising strategy for his presidential campaign in tomorrow's edition:

Mr. McCain has been identified throughout his career as an advocate of curbing the influence of money in politics, notably as a co-sponsor of a landmark bill limiting political contributions. He criticized Mr. Bush, when the two were opponents in 2000, as leading overly aggressive fund-raising efforts.

McCain got religion about the influence of money in politics only after he took a lot of money in return for exercising his influence. McCain is the last member of the Keating Five, a group of five U.S. senators who received large campaign donations from Charles Keating in exchange for pressuring the Federal Home Loan Bank Board into easing off on its investigation of Keating's Lincoln Savings and Loan.

McCain didn't co-sponsor the McCain-Feingold Act out of high-minded principles; it was a desperately theatrical act of contrition to salvage his political career.

Adam Nagourney should be ashamed of himself. Either he knows McCain's shady past, or he doesn't. If he knows, then he's a liar. If he doesn't, then his ignorance is tantamount to incompetence. Why does the Times pay this lummox a salary?

Posted by abostick at 10:30 PM | Comments (0)

Passover Peeps: The Ten Plagues

Originally uploaded by stylecouncil1.

Marshmallow Peeps aren't just for Easter any more. Just in time for Pesach, here is a Flickr photoset of the Ten Plagues of Egypt, dramatized by Peeps.

Now I want to see a whole Haggadah illustrated with Peep pictures.

(Note: Peeps are not kosher for Passover.)

(via Lynn Kendall)

Posted by abostick at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

McCain's Baghdad Market Stroll Evokes Memories of the 1980s

Talking Points Memo's David Kurtz described John McCain's April Fool's Day stroll through a Baghdad marketplace (guarded by a company of heavily-armed US troops, overseen by helicopter gunships) as John McCain's "Dukakis-in-a-tank moment."

Kurtz is somewhat wrong. It wasn't McCain's Dukakis-in-a-tank moment...

John McCain's Joe Isuzu Moment

... it was his Joe Isuzu moment.

Posted by abostick at 10:18 AM | Comments (1)

April 02, 2007

Kathy Sierra and Chris Locke Publish Coordinated Statements

Kathy Sierra, target of misogynistic, sexualized death threats, and Chris Locke, owner of at least one of the now-dark sites where the threats were posted, issued coordinated statements yesterday in anticipation of their interviews on CNN this morning.

Quoth Kathy Sierra:

The firestorm around my post is both heartening and terrible. Chris told me himself that he believes I was right to speak out on this. However, my post led many people to the wrong conclusion about the specific levels of involvement by the people I named. That my one post touched a nerve for tens of thousands of people shows just how wide and deep this problem is. People are outraged not just because of my story, but because it's been a growing problem that's hurt the lives of so many others online. But Chris and I felt that if we — of all people — could demonstrate that we could see past the anger, connect with each other, and learn something together, maybe we could help encourage others to have a more calm, rational productive discussion. We should be talking about it, not reacting, over-reacting, and counter-reacting.

Quoth Chris Locke:

It's true [Kathy and I] laughed, but not at the core issues. No one was laughing about the offensive words and images that were posted to the blogs I was involved with. The material Kathy quoted on her site was hurtful and ugly. I do not excuse it or think it should be excused. Some of the things that were posted about her were admittedly frightening, and far beyond tasteless. The post about Maryam Scoble was cruel and disgusting. These postings prompted the decision to delete both blogs (and not, as has been reported, Terms of Service violations, which were assessed retroactively).

As an aside, I want to point out Joann Walsh's piece on Salon, "Men who hate women on the Web," the best piece I've seen yet on the whole matter.

(via Hugh McLeod)

Posted by abostick at 07:14 PM | Comments (0)

Shakespeare's Sister Has Moved to Shakesville

Update your blogrolls, bookmarks, and feed aggregators: Shakespeare's Sister has a new name and a new address: Shakesville, at http://www.shakesville.com/.

Posted by abostick at 04:42 PM | Comments (1)

Driving Traffic Down the Long Tail of the Blogosphere

I made a comment in Sarah Dopp's blog Dopp Juice yesterday. She had included in her post about SXSWi namedropping a link to Jason Calacanis, owner of Weblogs, Inc. and therefore of several top-ranked blogs, scoffing about the existence of the A-list and reinforcing the myth of the blogosphere as pure meritocracy. I challenged Calacanis' claim, pointed to the New York Magazine article that Terrance of The Republic of T cited in his Blogroll Purge post, and mentioned that neither Calacanis nor Nick Denton, owner of the other half of the A-list, do anything to drive traffic down the blogosphere's Long Tail.

It occurred to me after I posted that one framing of the problem that skippy and the others have been raising around the Great Blogroll Purge is the problem of how to drive traffic further down the long tail of the blogosphere. Too many people are looking up the tail, and not enough are looking downwards. The people at the top can only look downward, and so to the extent that they link to any other blogs at all, they are not the problem. A big piece of the problem is that the people below the top are looking too much up at the top and not enough down the tail. This is the essential problem and nature of blogrolls: we notice what is more prominent and ignore what is less prominent, and stratification results. Because everyone reads Eschaton, everyone links to it. Nobody links to what nobody notices, and because nobody links to it, nobody notices it. It's tautological.

Perhaps one can mitigate this by creating a culture and value of looking down the tail rather than up. But it's not enough to promote this as a value; people have to adopt it, and put it into practice. Lip service isn't enough.

An alternative though would be to try to build institutions and resources that by their nature bring people's attention down the long tail. In his original article about the long tail phenomenon, Chris Anderson made particular reference to a music site's "If you like this artist, you may well like these..." feature that can get a user in a couple of clicks from Britney Spears to some interesting and idiosyncratic singer-songwriters in just a few clicks.

Right now I am envisioning a site that combines a feed aggregator, tagging features of del.icio.us, and a recommendation engine. (Bloglines has a recommendation engine, but it is biased towards the high end of the blogosphere.) It would have all those Web 2.0 features we have come to love, like a social network. Perhaps it even, like Tribe, has discussion forums and a blogging platform. With a blogging platform, though, that would build in a tendency to favor the site's own blogs over the outside world, and that's not good. I don't want it to be a walled garden; I want it to be something that contributes to the improvement of the outside world.

I'm not a Web entrepreneur, and I don't have the programming chops to build such a thing from scratch. What can I do to make something like this happen?

Ultimately here, the point isn't to build up My Thing, it is to do something that both exploits and celebrates the richness of the long tail of the blogosphere.

Posted by abostick at 10:54 AM | Comments (3)

April 01, 2007

Poker Geeks Gone Wild at the European Poker Tour Grand Final

At the European Poker Tour Grand Final in Monte Carlo, on Saturday night Dusk Till Dawn held a lavish party, and Suffolk Punch Poker was there. Who was that doing a pole dance, baring their chest at the crowd's encouragement?

Bill Chen explains:

What really happened: There was a fairly wild (by US standards) party at Black Diamond in Monte Carlo. There was a stage and pole thing next to the dance floor. Of course the local hotties where dancing on stage (you see pictures of them).

So during one break the left the stage empty while the music was playing. Since I was close to the stage I got up there and started dancing suggestively with the pole. Encouraged by the crowd I started taking my shirt off. It just so happened most of the poker media were at this event so they had video and camera.

There's video, too? I hope it makes it onto YouTube.

(via Spencer Sun)

Posted by abostick at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

Organizing, Social Activism, Saul Alinsky, and the Netroots - Discussions on TPMCafe

An interesting conversation about social activism and organizing for change is going on over at TPMCafe, the online discussion and debate arm of Josh Marshall's media empire,

Marshall Ganz kicks it off with his post Organizing for Democratic Renewal. Ganz reviews the history of the agents of social change in the United States from the time of de Toqueville to the present day, and he singles out the work of Saul Alinsky from the 1940s onward.

Answering Ganz is Nathan Newman with Progressives, Power & Saul Alinsky Newman stresses the importance of power, and says that many progressives are uncomfortable with the idea of power in a way that Saul Alinsky in fact was not.

Helen Booth also replies to Ganz in Can We Win for Progressive Change? Booth looks at what is happening now to change progressive activism from thirty years of fighting holding actions against growing conservative power to an opening up of opportunity and a flourishing of organizational activity.

Ganz replies to Booth in Staying Connected to Our Moral Sources. Here he re-emphasizes the importance of keeping one's values in mind at all times. "Focusing on advocacy techniques also risks loss of connection to moral foundations and political significance," he writes. "Advocacy that is decoupled from its moral sources and from the project of building organized power can quickly becomes absorbed by the game itself, something we may have fallen into over the last 30 years." (Ganz doesn't mention any names here, but when I read this, I immediately thought of NARAL's endorsement of Joe Lieberman in the last election, despite his procedural maneuvering that allowed key anti-abortion judges onto the Supreme Court. Many people thought that NARAL was putting its status as a Washington player ahead of its actual mission and values.)

Lastly, Chris Hayes weighs in with The Internet, Alinsky and the Bourgeois Revolt. Hayes makes the observation that the best demographic understanding of the Netroots, sketchy though they are, indicate that the Internet's activists are largely prosperous, educated, middle-class, white Americans, with people from minority constituencies participating in far fewer numbers. Will the Netroots' activism advance the agendas of more marginalized groups? Can the people of the margins be brought in?

It's a fascinating discussion about social change in the twenty-first century. Anyone who is interested should read it, including the discussions in the comments.

Posted by abostick at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

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