Thursday, January 27, 2005

That didn't take very long

I filled up my Flickr quota for the month.

Hm.

I might need to make my uploaded pictures a little smaller.

Politically Incorrect has become the new Politically Correct

The Difference Between Politically Incorrect and Historically Wrong

I have to say, I don't understand why, in this attempt to fight "bias," there isn't a serious attempt to create an accurate record instead of just bombarding the public with a lot of claptrap that is obviously biased from the opposite direction.

"Shafer doesn't get it."

Just kidding.

Blog Overkill - The danger of hyping a good thing into the ground. By Jack Shafer

I've never understood the idea that blogs would up-end traditional media outlets. Most of what blogging -- especially political and news blogging -- entails is linking to some "Old Media," a.k.a. "Mainstream Media," a.k.a. "MSM" (ugh!) piece either approvingly or disapprovingly and providing (if lucky) some pithy piece of commentary in the process.

Kind of like what I've done with this piece...except for the pithy part.

Otherwise, what a lot of people are doing with their blogs ranges from the prosaic but personal -- posting running family newsletters rather than the photocopied summary stuck in with the Christmas cards in December -- to the ecclectic and seemingly uncommercial, like posting photographs or short pieces of fiction that would seem to have no outlet elsewhere. I don't see that blogs are necessarily a revolution in the making as much as they are going to be a sometimes-interesting addendum to the rest of the media noise that we have to filter through.

Addendum: In the Kenneth Tynan profile of Johnny Carson I linked to below, there was this short passage that I have to admit made me think about our current blog-obsession (remember, it was from 1978...and the emphasis (emphasises? emphases?) are mine):
Before I go, Carson takes me down to a small gymnasium beneath the module. It is filled with gleaming steel devices, pulleys and springs and counterweights, which, together with tennis, keep the star’s body trim. In one corner stands a drum kit at which Buddy Rich might cast an envious eye. “That’s where I work off my hostilities,” Carson explains. He escorts me to my car, and notices that it is fitted with a citizens-band radio. “I had one of those damned things, but I ripped it out after a couple of weeks,” he says. “I just couldn’t bear it—all those sick anonymous maniacs shooting off their mouths.”

I understand what he means. Most of what you hear on CB radio is either tedious (truck drivers warning one another about speed traps) or banal (schoolgirls exchanging notes on homework), but at its occasional—and illegal—worst it sinks a pipeline to the depths of the American unconscious. Your ears are assaulted by the sound of racism at its most rampant, and by masturbation fantasies that are the aural equivalent of rape. The sleep of reason, to quote Goya’s phrase, brings forth monsters, and the anonymity of CB encourages the monsters to emerge. Not often, of course; but when they do, CB radio becomes the dark underside of a TV talk show. No wonder Carson loathes it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The road to hell...

...is paved with good intentions: Exploring the Law of Unintended Consequences.

I can't imagine anything going on right now to which such an idea could apply.

(Link found at kottke.org)

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Johnny Carson Dies

carson_slide9
Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press

Johnny Carson, 1925-2005.

The New York Times (Also: David Thomson, Steve Martin, and Verlyn Klinkenborg.)

The Los Angeles Times

Roger Ebert: In Memory of Johnny Carson

David Edelstein:Slate

From the New Yorker's archives: Kenneth Tynan, "Fifteen Years of the Salto Morale" (link found at kottke.org)

(Photo found on the New York Times' website.)

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Blasts from the Past

I found this piece by Kurt Vonnegut from 1971 residing in the depths of the New York Times' servers: Torture and Blubber. Sure it's a little dated, and the references are to a different time and place, but the underlying sentiment is still on target. Thirty-three years later and what have we learned?

Friday, January 21, 2005

Lying for a reason?

I found this Esquire story, "The American Dream," this morning while reading Bookslut. It's about an Iraqi woman who had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein's government who helped the Americans and the coalition government by naming names and leading them to sites of torture and mass graves. Only her stories started to fall apart when the writer of the Esquire piece checked them out in preparation for writing a book. Not only did the stories of torture and rape not hold up to scrutiny, not only did military investigators who'd been assigned to follow up her claims quietly close the investigations once the sites of mass graves turned up nothing but cow bones, but she'd even been lying about more mundane things like where she'd gone to school. And it all blows up in a terribly melodramatic way when the writer decides to ask the mother about it:
Now Hanna walked in the door. She looked at her mother and, sensing the mood in the room, asked what was wrong. Jeanne d'Arc said something, and Hanna shrieked, "I did go to Oxford! I did! I did go to Oxford!" Her pupils shot straight up into her head. "I will write to them," she announced, and sat down at the computer. She tried typing a few words, but her agitation was too great. Enraged, she gave the computer mouse a few good thwacks against the table, then flung it at the ceiling.

"I will call!" she cried, running into the kitchen. The recorded message informing her that she had misdialed played—one, two, three times—until, in frustration, she threw the phone hard against the kitchen wall.

"You ruined my life!" she screamed at her mother, who sat shaking in her favorite chair. "I will never forgive you. You betrayed me once, and now this is the second time!"

Jeanne d'Arc's face had turned blue. "No, no," she protested. "I didn't say you never went to Oxford. All I said was that I forgot where you went exactly."

But Hanna had already begun throwing things: a crystal ashtray, a brass candleholder, a greeting card welcoming her to America, several framed photographs, an almost full cup of coffee. She made a clean sweep of everything on the coffee table, hurling the objects straight at her mother.

The book was finished, she said. She wanted nothing more to do with me.

Apparently the Washington Post has retracted their original story.

But I couldn't help it -- it made me think of this:
In fact, the most emotionally moving testimony on October 10 came from a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, known only by her first name of Nayirah. According to the Caucus, Nayirah's full name was being kept confidential to prevent Iraqi reprisals against her family in occupied Kuwait. Sobbing, she described what she had seen with her own eyes in a hospital in Kuwait City. Her written testimony was passed out in a media kit prepared by Citizens for a Free Kuwait. "I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital," Nayirah said. "While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where . . . babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die."

Three months passed between Nayirah's testimony and the start of the war. During those months, the story of babies torn from their incubators was repeated over and over again. President Bush told the story. It was recited as fact in Congressional testimony, on TV and radio talk shows, and at the UN Security Council. "Of all the accusations made against the dictator," MacArthur observed, "none had more impact on American public opinion than the one about Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold hospital floors of Kuwait City."

At the Human Rights Caucus, however, Hill & Knowlton and Congressman Lantos had failed to reveal that Nayirah was a member of the Kuwaiti Royal Family. Her father, in fact, was Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait's Ambassador to the US, who sat listening in the hearing room during her testimony. The Caucus also failed to reveal that H&K vice-president Lauri Fitz-Pegado had coached Nayirah in what even the Kuwaitis' own investigators later confirmed was false testimony.

If Nayirah's outrageous lie had been exposed at the time it was told, it might have at least caused some in Congress and the news media to soberly reevaluate the extent to which they were being skillfully manipulated to support military action. Public opinion was deeply divided on Bush's Gulf policy. As late as December 1990, a New York Times/CBS News poll indicated that 48 percent of the American people wanted Bush to wait before taking any action if Iraq failed to withdraw from Kuwait by Bush's January 15 deadline. On January 12, the US Senate voted by a narrow, five-vote margin to support the Bush administration in a declaration of war. Given the narrowness of the vote, the babies-thrown-from-incubators story may have turned the tide in Bush's favor.

Following the war, human rights investigators attempted to confirm Nayirah's story and could find no witnesses or other evidence to support it. Amnesty International, which had fallen for the story, was forced to issue an embarrassing retraction. Nayirah herself was unavailable for comment. "This is the first allegation I've had that she was the ambassador's daughter," said Human Rights Caucus co-chair John Porter. "Yes, I think people . . . were entitled to know the source of her testimony." When journalists for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation asked Nasir al-Sabah for permission to question Nayirah about her story, the ambassador angrily refused.

No, it's not the exact same thing. Jumanna Hanna's stories didn't start until after the war had already begun, at least not as far as the Americans were concerned. But there is something Ahmad Chalabi-ish about it. She knew that people wanted evidence to prove the conclusions that they'd already drawn and she provided it.

What is it? What do people like this think that they're doing? Do they think that by lying they're serving some larger truth? Or is it really just a manifestation of their own narcissism?

(Edited on 1/22/2005 for grammar, punctuation, and the sake of general clarity.)

All Hail...Oh, It's Too Easy

bush_satanic_sign_ny117
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhgite)

OK, I'll go with this one: The family that worships the anti-Christ together, stays together.

JennaBushHailsSatan02
(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Begin this Culture War has...

Are you frickin' kidding me? Washington > Conservatives Pick Soft Target: A Cartoon Sponge.

But what about all of the ways in which "Sponge Bob" embodies the conservative ideals of the Republican party? He likes to work long hours for little or no pay! Isn't that the very can-do spirit that made America great? His boss loves money to the exclusion of almost everything else, the only exception being -- his daughter! What better example of family values is there? And Sandy Cheeks is from Texas! A shout out to our Dear Fearless Leader if ever there was one!

And didn't George H.W. Bush try and tangle with "The Simpsons" and end up looking really stupid? I mean, they're cartoons, for pete's sake. Of course, Dobson may not be as stupid as we'd like to make him out to be. If I remember correctly, the "Sponge Bob" TV show has ceased production. Dobson makes his stink and will get to go around proclaiming, "Since I revealed the insidious gay agenda of fictitious animated undersea creatures, not one single new episode has been made! We are all powerful! Bwahahahahaha!"

Or something like that.

(Found at James Wolcott by way of Atrios.)

Doings in Digital Photography

David Pogue reviews iPhoto 5 and Picasa 2 in the New York Times today. I have to admit that Picassa always sounds like a great program, but alas.

Meanwhile, with my almost-three-year-old digital camera, my copy of iPhoto 4, Graphic Converter, I posted some pictures that I took last week.

IMG_0779

From the "Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral" set.

IMG_0741

From the "Disney Concert Hall" set

Happy Inauguration Day!

bush_jesus_christ

The Poorman says:
Everyone in America had a pretty tough day on 9/11, and in the days and weeks and months that followed, I'd say most of us said, or at least thought, things that we wouldn't even try to stand behind today. It was frightening, and it didn't really make much sense, and a lot of people found certainty and security by making themselves believe that the universe had suddenly become a totally different place, where the President - yesterday, by everyone's admission, a man of no particular accomplishment or substance - had become this messianic figure, capable of resolving the world's most tortuous and least resolvable problems with one neat and decisive stroke. With such a figure, you don't have to worry about the corrupting influence of power, and a prudent doubt is not a virtue, but something close to heresy or sin. Naturally, such a great and good man requires great and diabolical enemies, and these enemies became anyone who doubted - liberals, Democrats, foreigners, reporters, academics, professionals, whoever. It makes you feel better. It's intoxicating. But it doesn't have much relation to reality. When reality conflicts with fantasy, you can either abandon the fantasy, and deal with the hangover that follows, or burrow deeper into fiction. And the harsher the reality, the nastier the hangover, and the deeper you need to go to avoid it.

And before that, he wrote:

A few steps more and we’ll be wondering aloud about the likelihood that an intellectually incurious failed businessman who couldn’t name the leader of Pakistan 5 years ago and who considers the free press a distorting “filter” has come up with a cunning plan to defuse generations-long tensions in the Muslim world and our relationship with it. From there it’s but a short step to wondering why, only 3 years after learning the hard way about the danger of fanatical international terrorists, we are so focused on fighting impotent “evil”, and so unconcerned with little matters like destroying al-Qaeda, stopping nuclear proliferators, and not giving dissatisfied young Muslim men 50,000 new reasons to hate the shit out of us. And then all that’s left is to get down to brass tacks and ask yourself if Victor Davis Hanson’s nocturnal emissions are really a sound basis for a foreign policy. Turn back, before it’s too late!

It's amazing what you can get away with achieve with a campaign based upon the threat that a failure to vote for you will lead to your loved ones being slaughtered by terrorists, and oh yeah, doesn't my opponent look French? your simple, folksy charm.

BushOffstage

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Apple Store - Kuwait

Weird.

(Found via Gizmodo)

Innovation Shminnovation

I laughed out loud (and so-help-me, I'm not going to write LOL'd...except for that one there) when I read this:
"So if Apple wants to abandon floppy disks or sell computers in funny colors or shapes, it can. In contrast, PC makers have been trying since 1999 to get away from the beige tower and legacy features. So far, they haven't even managed to get rid of parallel printer ports."

That's the drawback that Microsoft has with "owning" 95% of the world's desktops, isn't it? On the one hand, you've got users who spend every weekend pulling apart their computers and rebuilding them, making them bigger, faster, and more powerful. Then you've got some corporate IT schlub telling you that you have to support an obsolete dot matrix printer in their warehouse because it's the only way they can print out their packing slips. And somehow, the newest PC purchased has to work with the oldest on the network, regardless of which version of Windows each is running. I wonder if Microsoft could ever do with Windows what Apple has done with OS X: Create a new, forward-looking operating system that almost completely eschews backward-compatability? "Longhorn" once promised to be such a beast, but the features keeping being cut. It's times like this that make the small market share a blessing.

The piece also made me wonder if I'd ever linked to this excellent post at Daring Fireball about the Macintosh platform and the number of people who use it. A grand mythology has sprung up about the missteps that Apple made back in "the day," many of which just aren't true:
The idea being that the Mac’s relatively low market share, in the face of its superior usability and design, is because the corporate market was and is resistant to buying proprietary hardware. And so thus Apple should have developed and licensed a version of the Mac OS that ran on Intel PC hardware. Then you do a little hand-waving, and boom — Apple could have been Microsoft.

The first problem with this idea, as stated earlier, is that IBM-compatible PCs simply weren’t capable of providing a Mac-like user experience in 1984, and it was many years later until they were. And by the time PCs were capable providing a Mac-like experience, Microsoft’s MS-DOS was already entrenched as the monopoly OS.

The second problem is that it’s based on the dubious assumption that the corporate IT market is innately resistant to proprietary single-vendor hardware platforms, but has no reluctance whatsoever to tie themselves to proprietary single-vendor software platforms. That the corporate market has in large part chosen an open hardware platform (x86 processor IBM-compatible PCs) and a closed software platform (DOS/Windows) is quite possibly just the way things turned out, not necessarily the way things were destined to be.

It's worth reading the whole thing, as well as this follow up about market share and the iPod/iTunes Music Store.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Getting up on my soapbox and clearing my throat

I'm considering going public.

I don't know if anyone else reads this, but if you do, I have no idea how you found it. I've never made the blog a public one because I wasn't sure if it was something that I would keep up. I still don't know that, but I'm growing increasingly suspicious of myself for writing things, posting them on the web, and then never letting anyone else read them. What's the point?

It isn't that I think that other people need to read what I've written, or that a great audience is going to beat a path to this blog, but that if I'm going to do this thing, I should do this thing, all of it.

So I'll probably flip the switch and go public sometime in the next day or two. It's now possible for emails to be sent to me, and I'm considering whether or not I want to turn comments on. (The answer, for now, seems to be "no." I know that some blogs want to create a sense of community, but that seems like such a grand aspiration for such a teeny-tiny corner of the blogosphere that I'm occupying here, don't you think?)

And if nobody is reading this, then I guess this is sort of an introduction. An awkward one, yes, but what can you expect from these things?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Accidental theft and the unreliability of memory

This post about unconscious plagarism and the reliability of web-based information made me think about somethig that has bothered me for a while: I keep forgetting where I read things.

This is due to:
1.) My indiscriminate reading habits. By this I mean both my tendency to read a lot of different things online, but also my slapdash way of doing so. There's a lot of ALT + TABbing that goes on in my day, and I can often become confused even while reading something about where I am and how I got there.

2.) My use of an RSS reader (or whatever you want to call Bloglines). I remember reading something that accompanied an exhibit of illuminated manuscripts at the Getty museum that explained that the drawings along the margins were sometimes used to illustrate the text, but more often were used as mnemonic devices. You would read something and later recall that it was on the page with the picture of the rabbit in the lower left-hand corner, or the pertinent passage had a bird swooping past it on the right margin. Blogs and websites have a similar way of working by making a sort of subconscious imprint of their layout and color scheme in my mind, so that I can sometimes recall an annoying pop-up ad or flash animation to lead me back to where I found it. But because the feeds all look alike, I remember that I read it in Bloglines, which means that it was on a blog, but which blog is sometimes lost completely.

3.) Information and ideas continue to percolate long after I first read them. I rarely have a fully-formed response to something when I first read it. I usually turn it over in my head for a while as I go about reading other things, and those things add to the mix and make me think of relations between topic A and topic B. I ponder these things as I work, eat, watch TV, listen to the radio, converse, drive around, and generally live my life, and by the end of the day it's turned into something completely different, but it's still based upon what I read earlier that day, earlier that week, or even sometime last year.

The added problem of the unreliability of one's own memory is the unreliability of the web itself. I spent time this past weekend hunting down online versions of articles that I had printed or clipped over the past several years. In some cases, I had a URL printed at the bottom of the page that was still good. In others, the URL led to a pay-only archive, or told me that the address was no longer current, or in a few cases led to a totally defunct site with a domain name up for sale. Where I didn't have a URL to start from, I had to Google a combination of title and author and hope for the best. Sometimes I found reprints on other sites, or the author had put the piece up on their own site. But for a significant number, I was completely out of luck.

So what if you find something on the web, diligently note it and bookmark it, but when you go back to find it again, it's gone? A book can go out of print, but copies still exist. It may not be easy to find, but it can be found. Where do web archives go when no one wants to maintain them? What to do when a mass of articles exist solely on a hard drive somewhere?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

More Experimentation

Roots

So, I'm trying to see if I can add a variety of pictures with the cutting and pasting of some code, or if I have to add them one at a time from Flickr.



Tree Through A Rainy Window

If I did that right, then there's a picture of the roots of a tree a the top, followed by some text, then a shot of another tree through a rain-speckled windshield.

And if it's REALLY right, then all of this text will show up in my RSS/XML/ATOM feed, or whatever the hell it is that Blogger uses.

Interesting

When my last post appeared in my Bloglines feed, it cut off the text. It should have posted everything -- the whole post. What I fooled around with was the caption that Flickr attached to the picture, which I didn't really like. I may have messed something else up in the process. Hmmm....

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Rose After Rain



I'm just trying something out. Enjoy this pretty picture I took while I do so.

The New Mac Mini


Nice. And tempting. If I hadn't already spent $2,000 on a PowerBook, this would be a serious consideration. As it is, I'll probably pop for the iLife '05 upgrade for $80.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Wankfest: Explained

I realize what it was that really bothered me about the Slate Movie Club: The cheap psychoanalysis.

The thing soared when people waxed rhapsodic about the movies they loved, or even about the moments they loved in the movies they could barely stand. There was even some pleasure to be had when the critics tried to take apart what didn’t work and figure out why not. What really bugged me, though, was when someone hated a film, and then proceeded to either analyze the director (this happened a lot with Lars von Trier and “Dogville” and Alexandre Payne and “Sideways”) and address his misanthropy (because, of course, there could be no other explanation for making a movie that a critic doesn’t like than utter hatred and contempt for all of mankind) or to analyze the critics who DID like a movie and to pronounce them all brain dead and accuse them of slowly killing cinema (OK, that was mostly the doing of Armond White, aforementioned ass).

If you want to denounce “Before Sunset” as being dull and give a list of movies that did the same thing before it and did it better, fine. Always glad to have a list of movies to see that I haven’t seen already. But to skip an analysis of the film’s faults and missteps and to instead rail against critics who liked it and their “destructive effect of praising offal like Before Sunset” without explaining what, exactly, that destructive effect is is just a lot of posturing.

I think the problem lies in White’s insistence that he reads reviews for “information.” You can look up titles on IMDB for information. You’re supposed to read reviews for interpretation and opinion. And that’s where he’s going wrong, by thinking that what he’s writing is pure information and not his opinion. Anyone who disagrees isn’t seeing clearly, is in the thrall of some sort of interest-group’s “agenda” (he’s got something about Almodovar and gays), and is incapable of questioning his or her own preconceived notions.

Natural disasters and God's will

You’re on shaky ground when you try to interpret natural disasters as God’s will

Does it mean that the righteous can live on the edge of a cliff and nothing could ever possibly happen to them? We’re human; we sin. And punishments may not always seem just. Doesn’t anyone remember the book of Job?

To say that we can’t know God’s will while speaking for Him is to contradict one’s self.

Maybe the test wasn’t to flood the beaches and kill the “sinners.” Maybe the test is going on now, challenging those of us who’ve survived or watched from afar to see how well we respond, how compassionate we can be, how Christ-like a state we can rouse ourselves into. Can we help and provide comfort without judging? Looks like we can’t, and it looks like we’re failing.

Last year, four hurricanes hit Florida in quick succession. How many of the smug assholes who claim the tsunami in Asia is a sign of God’s will urged Floridians to repent?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Another year, another wankfest

Slate's Movie Club 2004 is really quite atrocious. A bunch of critics bemoaning the state of criticism -- the establishment critics who all forced them to praise "Dogville" and "Birth," except that they didn't -- while never actually saying anything about movies.

And I never heard of him before, but Armond White is really an ass. The kind of guy who'll spit in your food and tell you that he only did it because the food was so bad already. Spit in his food, though, and watch out. And anyone who can get that offended by "Before Sunset" has got serious problems. Just because it's dark doesn't mean you're in a movie theater; your head might just be jammed up your ass.

What about plate tectonics don't they understand?

Arthur Silber catches Franklin Graham giving further support to the arguments of Bertrand Russell.