Monday, April 30, 2007

Ending the Travesty

This is welcome news. The New York Times is, according to Frank Rich, no longer going to participate in the White House Correspondent's Association Dinner. Why?

[Rich called it] "a crystallization of the press's failures in the post-9/11 era." He writes that the event "illustrates how easily a propaganda-driven White House can enlist the Washington news media in its shows....

"After last weekend's correspondents' dinner, The Times decided to end its participation in such events," wrote Rich. "But even were the dinner to vanish altogether, it remains but a yearly televised snapshot of the overall syndrome. The current White House, weakened as it is, can still establish story lines as fake as 'Mission Accomplished' and get a free pass."
This is something that always bothered me; there's supposed to be a level of objectivity there in order for both the press and the politicians to get things done. This sort of chummy nonsense just reinforces the clubhouse atmosphere in Washington, which in turn accentuates the division between D.C. and the rest of the country.

It looks like others are getting bothered about it too. It looks like the Times is doing something about it.

Good.

Hat Tip: georgia10.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Man's on a Tear

Everybody with only the faintest knowledge of Canadian poliics knows that Paul Wells never really liked Paul Martin much. Not going to get into the reasons, but one of the things that seemed to come out of it was that he had at least a grudging respect, if not some level of affection, for the man who replaced him.

It would appear that's over. Now (to his credit) he sounds like Spider Jerusalem going after the Smiler.

Read up:

2. There is no torture report. OK, here's the torture report.

I am still in mood swings about its new design, but the Globe and Mail's three-day winning streak on the Afghanistan story demonstrates the reporting strength only that paper can consistently muster -- when it decides it should. Its rollout of the story has been almost clinically efficient. On Monday it revealed serious allegations of torture of Afghan prisoners
captured by Canadian soldiers and turned over to Afghan prisons. The prime minister responded that nobody can trust the claims of Afghan, largely Taliban, prisoners. All right then: on Tuesday the Globe revealed that there is no way to independently check the claims because the
independent "watchdog" group on site is not allowed to watch.

Today Paul Koring reveals that the government was told, by its own officials, to expect all this; that
it lied when first asked, insisting in writing that "no such report on human-rights performance in other countries exists;" and that it then released a heavily redacted version of the report, whose deletions cannot be explained under federal Access to Information law.

This should become an urgent and extraordinary case for Canada's formidable new Information Commissioner, who will know better than most that he answers to
Parliament, not to a government that attempted a clumsy end run around the law he defends.

The rest of us need to understand: This government lies to us without compunction or apology about the most important files a government can be asked to handle.
That last part was legitimately fierce. Kudos.

So, yeah, I think he's off the Harpers' christmas card list, and I imagine Ken Whyte ain't so pleased either, water-carrier that he at least was for the Harper gang. He also looked into the question of whether the Tories were leaking information to friends that could affect the securities market. (oops!)I agree with his argument that the more important story is the Afghani detainee story.

Thing is, it really is starting to look like Harper's going down the Bush pathway. Not only the behavior and the denials, but the excuses. I can't recall where I saw it quoted, but I remember Harper (or O'Connor) saying that accusations are "irresponsible" because they'd harm the soldiers in the field. That's code: what's really being said is that critics are being unpatriotic and aren't "supporting the troops".

Traitors, essentially.

Harper should look carefully at the fate of the Bush administration before going down that road. Still, it's nice to see that if he does, Wells will be on it.

(Would have been nice if Whatzisname had been.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Americans Kept Comfort Women

There are times when I feel that there's no real point to keeping one of these things up... when I look at the readership stats and think "is it really necessary"?

Then I read something like this, and remember what it really is... a place to be able to speak out, at least in some small way, and say that THIS IS INTOLERABLE.

Japan's abhorrent practice of enslaving women to provide sex for its troops in World War II has a little-known sequel: After its surrender -- with tacit approval from the U.S. occupation authorities -- Japan set up a similar "comfort women" system for American GIs.

An Associated Press review of historical documents and records shows American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution. The Americans also had full knowledge by then of Japan's atrocious treatment of women in countries across Asia that it conquered during the war.

Tens of thousands of women were employed to provide cheap sex to U.S. troops until the spring of 1946, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur shut the brothels down.

The documents show the brothels were rushed into operation as American forces poured into Japan beginning in August 1945.

"Sadly, we police had to set up sexual comfort stations for the occupation troops," recounts the official history of the Ibaraki Prefectural Police Department, whose jurisdiction is just northeast of Tokyo. "The strategy was, through the special work of experienced women, to create a breakwater to protect regular women and girls."...

..."I rushed there with two or three RAA executives, and was surprised to see 500 or 600 soldiers standing in line on the street," Seiichi Kaburagi, the chief of public relations for the RAA, wrote in a 1972 memoir. He said American MPs were barely able to keep the troops under control.

Though arranged and supervised by the police and civilian government, the system mirrored the comfort stations established by the Japanese military abroad during the war.

Kaburagi wrote that occupation GIs paid upfront and were given tickets and condoms. The first RAA brothel, called Komachien -- The Babe Garden -- had 38 women, but due to high demand that was quickly increased to 100. Each woman serviced from 15 to 60 clients a day....

...Occupation leaders were not blind to the similarities between the comfort women procured by Japan for its own troops and those it recruited for the GIs.

A December 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior officer with the Public Health and Welfare Division of the occupation's General Headquarters, shows U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese comfort women were often coerced.

"The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family," he wrote. "It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists."
Just how long has this been under wraps? Thousands upon thousands of GIs took part in this, and the American military condoned and supported these practices until MacArthur (thankfully) shut the whole sordid mess down in 1946, and there has been no acknowledgement or apology for this in SIXTY YEARS?

We all know how screwed up Imperial Japan was. It wasn't fascist per se, but it was certainly not a healthy society, and definitely ridden with nationalism and fascism. That's the sort of thing that the "Greatest Generation" was fighting against, and defeating it is seen by most Americans as the greatest success in their country's history, with the rehabilitation of Germany and Japan following their defeats running a close second. And now we're finding out that the single most egregious crime of the Imperial Japan, sexual coercion (if not out and out slavery), was enthusiastically embraced by the American occupation? That the "heroes" of the Pacific War, the lions of history, the grandfathers and great-grandfathers that all Americans look up to and venerate were lining up en masse to pay to violate some poor Japanese girl over, and over, and over again?

With the official sanction of the American occupational government?

INTOLERABLE.

There needs to be an accounting, as much for this as for the practices of the Japanese themselves. There is no possible way that the Treaty of San Francisco covers this. The presumed moral superiority of the Americans over the Japanese in WWII does not excuse this, either, but only makes it more imperative. It damages the credibility and morality of what most Americans call their finest hour, and of the moral foundation of American foreign policy itself.

(Whatever remains.)

It also provides instant and renewable ammunition for those in Japan who want to minimize the issue of what Imperial Japan did. How are other comfort women supposed to be able to seek justice when those who should be their greatest allies were no better? The House of Representatives' attempts to highlight the issue are now little more than a sick joke. These women will likely now never see proper recompense, as the waters will be muddied by calls for American recompense to Japan.

All this because the GIs couldn't keep it zipped up.

Intolerable.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Addiction or a Proto-Cyberspace?

So I just discovered Shelley Batts' Retrospectacle a little while ago. It's a pretty good read. Recently, though, she's done a bit of work on supposed video game addiction, and a survey intended to measure the extent to which people are "addicted" to WoW.

I threw the scare quotes in there because I'm not quite convinced that most WoW players are any more addicted than Warhammer junkies, D&D players, Civil War recreationists, or anybody else who engages in a slightly geeky hobby. I also wasn't impressed by the questions in the poll, which required extraordinarily subjective judgements from a self-selected population of people who really don't like said hobby.

It got me to thinking, though. The main appeal of MMORPGs is that they serve as the closest thing to the sort of "cyberspace" or "metaverse" that you always saw in science fiction back during the cyberpunk years. Unlike the rest of the internet, which generally reads as the world's most gigantic interactive magazine, they feature avatars, virtual spaces, and all that lovely crap that Gibson and Sterling were on about. Generally the "verbal" interaction is limited to text, but even that's changing with the growing predominance of VOIP networks in high-level play. This (as well as the growing popularity of Second Life and its branded counterparts, like that MTV Laguna beach thing) suggests that it's one stage of the evolution of the internet into "cyberspace".

That is, if that interpretation is correct. The other way that people engage the Internet, especially recently, is as an augmentation of the real world, rather than as a seperate place altogether. There's no seperate "cyberspace" for Facebook or Myspace or MSN users; it augments the connectivity of their pre-existing life and their pre-existing identity. These people might play Warcraft or fart around in Second Life or whatnot, but it's not anywhere near as important a watershed for them, because the point is not a virtual space, but this increased connectivity.

The former interpretation of the Internet's role was far more common back in the early days of public participation in the Internet, and formed the foundation of that whole "wild west" thing that dominated it at the time. Since it was a different realm with different rules, people tended to adopt those rules and change their identity and personae to fit that realm. Freedom of speech was king, ideas were seen as more important than credentials, and "civility" was for n00bs, so people tended to adopt pseudonyms and jump into the freewheeling, flaming, endless discussion/argument that was (say) Usenet or IRC or whatnot. They also played "MUD"s, "MUCK"s and "MOO"s, all of which were virtual, textual realms where avatars interacted with other avatars. They are reinforcements of the virtuality of this other electronic world.

(Online games like EverQuest or World of Warcraft are just further advancements of these concepts. Everquest was really just a graphical version of a type of MUD called a DekuMUD, and World of Warcraft is a heavy refinement of the EQ concept.)

And, yes, this sort of attitude is still powerful today, but the "augmentationists" have come in like gangbusters. Often using their real names and being (almost embarrassingly) frank about every aspect of their lives, they use the medium to connect with one another and express themselves. They expect the online world to work like the offline one, except more so. They want to talk to each other, so they get VOIP and a bazillion networking sites. They want a soapbox, so they publish their diaries online as weblogs. (Ahem.) They want to watch and make TV, and look into each other's lives, so they get Youtube. They want to know who they're talking to, so they mercilessly attack anybody who dares to use a pseudonym.

(Whatzisname is an arch-augmentationist, for example; heavy self-promoters usually are. Their notoriety is useless in virtual spaces, and many loathe the very idea of anonymous critics, as they can't leverage differences in notoriety to crush "upstarts".)

And they want all this to augment their already-existing offline lives, so they want the Internet on a cell phone, so they don't have to sit at a computer.

Obviously, these are generalizations, but I think they speak to why MMORPGs tend to be so divisive and at the same time so compelling, without resorting to the "addiction" crutch. The latter group will play the games, but since it's a virtual world, not an augmentation--you're interacting with people you don't know in real life in an obviously virtual space--it really isn't going to be that compelling. Its unreality will be a major turn-off, and you won't understand or appreciate why someone would like these virtual worlds and these pseudonymous friends. You might think "well, it's fun running around being an elf", but there's no way in hell you'd have the tolerance for raiding. Or, for that matter, for raiders.

On the other hand, spending three or four hours a day reading, writing, and compulsively checking Facebook et al is no big deal, and neither is spending all day talking on the telephone or typing away on the ultimate augmentationist accessory: A BLACKBERRY. Yeah, Berry "addicts" might be outside and theoretically interacting with people, but have YOU tried getting one's attention? They're lucky if they don't ram into a wall.

My opinion? There needs to be some perspective here. If you're on Facebook all day, except when you're typing away on your Berry, you aren't really that much better than that smelly person who sits in his room and plays WoW all day. You're still on the damned Interwebs, typing away when you could be doing something productive. Both groups need to get a little insight and a little balance, but both have a point: the Internet is not quite a place, nor quite a medium, but somewhere in between. There is a place for real-name interaction like with Facebook, but it shouldn't be required: you abandon the ideal of pure, unencumbered ideas and egalitarian debate at your own peril. Berries are fun, but you should be able to turn them off.

And sometimes, just sometimes, people play games together because killing Internet Dragons is fun.

Matthew Yglesias moves to the Atlantic Monthly

To be honest, I'm not sure if I should be congratulating Matthew Yglesias yet or not; while it's a great opportunity, the Atlantic Monthly hasn't been the most friendly rag for progressive thought lately.

Plus, Andrew Sullivan.

That said, I think this definitely a positive step for said rag, and Yglesias is a good choice for shaking things up there and making them better.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy International Pixel-Stained Technopeasant Day!

I don't have anything to offer but a link to John Scalzi, who can explain what it is.

(It's free fiction. Free fiction is good!)

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ted Barlow disease strikes again

Pretty swiftly, this time: TDH Strategies hasn't been around for THAT long.

Well, Crap (Pt. 2)

The bad news just keeps on coming, huh?

Go read Maryscott. Who apparently got censored on Kos for dropping the f-bomb, as Kos was getting all squiggly about the prospect of getting banned from government sites or whatever.

(The fact that Kos is already notoriously banned at most of these sites, and that there's no earthly reason why things in a title tag would flag where other things don't, is beyond me. But it's Kos. Say what you want about Duncan, and I probably have, but at least he isn't THAT, well, fucking spineless.)

But that crap ain't important. What's important is that the people who want a womb veto just won an important victory, and it's because the Dems were "keeping their powder dry" back during Alito's confirmation. Which is ironic, because as far as I can tell, that BS didn't have a damned thing to do with last November's win.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Just for Deoxy

Deoxy asked in my earlier Virginia piece about how I feel about how the Virginia Tech murders relate to gun laws, and whether concealed carry might have helped.

My response is simple: John Lott is a loon, concealed carry laws have had no discernable positive impact on crime stats, and gun-toting heroes stopping crazed killers with their handy sidearms is something that happens on television.

Clear enough?

There's a Discworld cartoon?

Crikey! I had no idea it existed! But, apparently, it does. And here's its intro.



Not quite sure about the animation quality, but a giant CG A'Tuin is always welcome.

(One quibble: A'Tuin is not a he, unless space turtle physiology is far stranger than the whole "elephants and discs" thing.)

Edit: apparently this episode (the "Reaper Man" adaptation) was never produced. Shame, that, although they did do Soul Music and Wyrd Sisters.

User Interface Design!

From the TED conference last year, a really great and pretty funny talk by David Pogue about how simplicity is good, but deceptively hard.



You can't see the code here, so I'll have to say that it's really ironic that the embed code for this ode to simplicity is Byzantine.

(Oh, and don't be put off by the guy's horrifying expression in the still. He's just reacting to tech support. You've made that face too.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happiness

May I just say that I'm REALLY glad that most musicians don't think like Howard V. Hendrix, who claims that people who provide free content online are "webscabs"?

Fortunately, John Scalzi tore him several new and interesting orifices over this nonsense.

(Stross, Scalzi... I'm starting to notice that SF writers are REALLY good bloggers. Or maybe vice versa in Scalzi's case. Old Man's War was a great read.)

Apropos of Nothing

Why on earth do so many critics seem to think that Rap and that whole Thug culture thing sprang forth, fully formed, from the forehead of Zeus?

Are people really so naive as to think that were there not rapping misogynistic pimps and drug dealers, that somehow misogynistic pimps and drug dealers would cease to exist, and all the shit that has been rained down on the African-American nation since they were dragged over in chains would evaporate? The Game existed before rappers were rapping about it, and the Game will exist even were they muzzled, because they didn't start it and they can't stop it.

As much as Don Imus is a tool, we shouldn't lose sight of that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bitch Ph.D. Sets us straight

Bitch Ph.D.:

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.)
I wouldn't even add "of sorts"- an established pseudonym definitely has value in and of itself, and only an idiot would throw that away needlessly.

It's like saying that since a corporation you own can be dissolved that it has no worth. Well, no, that isn't the way it works. That should be obvious, but those who neither understand nor appreciate pseudonymity's importance on these here Interwebs often forget that.

Here's more:

In fact, anonymous and pseudonymous writing is as old as the hills. And foolish critics have always argued that anonymous writers were cowards, or frauds, or mercenaries. But one of the major benefits of anonymous writing is that it forces readers to focus on what they're reading, rather than on the personality of the person who writes it. (And, as a rather nice result, it forces authors to do the same, which saves the rest of us listening to them whining about whether or not the other side "likes" them ::cough::Malkin::cough::Althouse::.) It fosters and encourages a public sphere--one of the central requirements of a, yes, civil society--by allowing marginalized folks, whistleblowers, inner-circle critics, and people who are (hello?) easily threatened to speak out without putting themselves in jeopardy. These are good things. Things we should encourage, not forbid.
It's funny how this sort of shit (swearing! Quelle Horreur!) never really changes either. You'll always have "name" bloggers trading on whatever rep they've managed to scrape up through offline endeavours getting shocked and horrified that it counts for little here. Authors, academics, and pundits all, sharing the common belief that You Must Not Question Them, For They Have Status and You Don't.

To hell with that.

Ooh, I like this.



From Emptybottle.org.

They don't like that code of conduct much either.

(Edit: Image is a little muddy from transparancies, but you get the idea)

Threats?

There's a whole big hubbub going on over on Majikthise about a female blogger getting death threats, and where the line is drawn online between freedom of speech and the right to feel safe whilst speaking.

I wrote a fairly lengthy response over there on the issue; I won't reproduce it here, but feel free to check it out. And no, I didn't bring up Whatzisname.

Edit:

Oh, and the quote-unquote "blogger's code of ethics" is simply best ignored. It will simply be a bludgeon used by non-blogger media types to take shots at bloggers, without addressing any real issues, and certainly without doing one whit to prevent stalking and intimidation. At best it will stop nothing, and at worst (including the bits about comments) it'll serve as a pretext for silencing frank discussion and debate. To her credit, Lindsay isn't a fan either. Nor are (as Lindsay states) "Kos, Bitch PhD, Pandagon, As I Please, just to name a few".

Economics!

There, that should scare off all the creepy people who just come here because of a google search that brings up a post with the words "kiddy porn" in the title that I wrote.

Now that they've left, I'll recommend a good bit of popular economics writing for you folks. It's the introduction to the new edition of John Maynard Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, it's written by your friend and mine Paul Krugman, and it can be found at the Unofficial Paul Krugman Web Page.

(It's also from about a month back, but heck with it. It's a good read anyway.)

Krugman breaks down both why Keynes is vital, why reading the "hard parts" of the book is important to understanding what Keynes was up to, why "new classicists" owe so much to Keynes, and why Keynes' critics are full of it. It's a good read, as Krugman's popular economics work usually is, so go read it.

And while you're doing it, rail against those bastards at the Times for putting him behind a subscription wall while people like Krauthammer go unchecked.

Gunman in Virginia

I'll just Quote:

BLACKSBURG, Va. — A gunman opened fire in a dorm and classroom at Virginia Tech on Monday, killing 21 people in the deadliest campus shooting rampage in U.S. history. The gunman was killed, bringing to death toll to 22, but it was unclear if he was shot by police or took his own life.

"Today the university was struck with a tragedy that we consider of monumental proportions," said Virginia Tech president Charles Steger. "The university is shocked and indeed horrified."

The name of the gunman was not immediately released, and investigators offered no motive for the attack. It was not immediately known if the gunman was a student.

The bloodbath took place at opposite sides of the 2,600-acre campus, beginning at about 7:15 a.m. at West Ambler Johnston, a co-ed dormitory that houses 895 people, and continuing about two hours later at Norris Hall, an engineering building, authorities said. Police said they were still investigating the shooting at the dorm when they got word of the gunfire at the classroom building.

Some of the dead were students. One student was killed in the dorm, and the others were killed in the classroom, Virginia Tech Police Chief W.R. Flinchum.
Crap. Not much to add, except "Crap."

Wow, Go Dave Obey!

Over on ThinkProgress, we see Congressman Dave Obey (D-WI) absolutely slamming the Washington Post over an editorial that repeated the hoary old lines about "unconditional retreat" and "endorsement by MoveOn.org". Here's the transcript:

Let me submit to you the problem we have today is not that we didn’t listen enough to people like the Washington Post. It’s that we listened too much. They endorsed going to war in the first place. They helped drive the drumbeat that drove almost 2/3 of the people in this chamber to vote for that misguided, ill-advised war. So I make no apology. If the moral sensibilities of some people on this floor, or the editorial writers of The Washington Post are offended because they don’t like the specific language contained in our benchmarks or in our timelines. What matters in the end is not what the specific language is. What matters is whether or not we produce a product today that puts pressure on this Administration and sends a message to Iraq, to the Iraqi politicians that we’re going to end the permanent long-term dead end babysitting service. That’s what we’re trying to do.

And if The Washington Post is offended about the way we do it, that’s just too bad. But we’re in the arena. They’re not. And this is the best we can do given the tools that we have. And I make absolutely no apology for it. And I would say one thing, those of us who voted against the war in the first place wouldn’t have nearly as hard a time getting us out of the war if people like The Washington Post and those who criticized us on the floor yesterday hadn’t supported going into that stupid war in the first place.
What can I add to that, really? Too many media outlets like to pretend that they can stand above the fray and give impartial advice, and yet not be responsible today for the "advice" they gave yesterday. The Post's editorial board and neo-con columnists are particularly bad for this, but hardly unique. It's nice to see a Dem standing up against them.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sadly, Not All Piracy Pundits Are as Wise as Charlie

Case in Point: Whatzisname.

(Who, I once again should point out for the benefits of the Powers That Be, I hold no personal grudge or vendetta against. Sleep soundly, O Punk, for I bring only words.)

No, my issue is (aside from the banality of "downloading is bad" and some odd punctuation) actually a pair of assertions. One is sensible. The other, not so much.

Assertion the first:

That, also, was true. The U.S. Commerce Department estimates that piracy and counterfeiting diverts up to US$250-billion a year that would otherwise land in American pockets. Just under a year ago, meanwhile, the Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft suggested that software piracy alone was costing the national economy slightly less than $10-billion annually. However, the association warned, "losses from software piracy worldwide amounted to $41-billion in 2005."

A lot of these extraordinary numbers, obviously, are -- like many of the numbers that attempt to describe the magnitude few of your belongings, just because I f***ing felt like it? It's the same f***ing thing, mate."

And it certainly f***ing is. Unauthorized downloading, and its related crimes of piracy and counterfeiting, is inarguably criminal. When the U.S. trade deficit with China has ballooned to an extraordinary $232.5-billion, the Bush administration's of myriad crimes -- completely speculative. The actual losses could be more, or they could be less. No one knows for sure, not even the intellectual property pirates.
(Is anybody else wondering what happened here? It seems to be missing an emdash or a subject or has too many chapter breaks or something. Not my point, but geez. I'm no copy editor, but I thought somebody at the Post was.)

Sorry, diversion.


Anyway, that last bit about it being "completely speculative" is absolutely true, and ties in with that brilliant piece on piracy by Charlie Stross that I highlighted a little while back. The problem with trying to figure out the lost revenue of artists et al is that nobody can really pinpoint how many people would have bought it otherwise. That doesn't change anything but a strictly utilitarian analysis of piracy, of course, as the presumed right of monopoly over copying doesn't really take into account lost sales, but if you're being utilitarian about it, the issue is the lost revenues.

Assertion the second:

There is a reason why so many bands and musicians now tour endlessly, I informed a friend the other day. It is because no one under the age of 25 purchases music anymore -- they download it, burn it and rip it for free. They steal it. The musicians, therefore, are obliged to play concerts wherever they can find a stage, to survive.
Whoops! Houston, we have a problem. He just finished saying that we have no idea how many lost sales there are... and now we're getting a bold assertion that "no one under the age of 25 purchases music anymore". If nobody can tell how much downloading is going on, how on earth would somebody know that "nobody purchases music anymore?"

Oops.

Another problem appears. If this is true, just where the hell is Apple getting all that iTunes money from? I mean, yes, those are downloads, but they're also purchased music. Last I checked Apple was crowing about selling around a billion songs online or something like that.

Does the iTunes record store count?

And for that matter, while I do have to bow to his superior knowledge of the life of a musician--albeit a non-touring one--I do wonder how he knows that most bands and musicians "tour endlessly". For that matter, how does he know how much more they tour than they used to? I always got the impression that the people who were truly hurt by downloading were the big recording artists, not the little guy who isn't going to see much royalties beyond what the record company recoups. Those other guys already toured endlessly. Is it that the big players are touring endlessly too? Surely there'd be some data on that to be shared.

Ok, I'm being a bit facetious here. Clearly someone's going a bit overboard to make a point. No worries: the life of a columnist is what it is. The point is that the youth are downloading rather a lot of stuff now. And yes, this is true. The problem is the same as it ever was, though: that we really don't know how many people are being turned on to new bands through free downloads that they subsequently buy the record for. (Case in point: I've been turned on to ultra-obscure musicians and bands through MySpace, Last.fm, Pandora, and other free music sources.)

And, yes, people DO buy things they can download for free, for the same reason as always- because the act of financially supporting a band means that you get to feel partially responsible for their artistic success. That's why rap artists are forever crowing about their sales and success at concerns- because they want the audience to feel that connection with them. They do.

And so do I.

(Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to fire up Pandora.)

Turkey Seeking Permission to Operate in Iraq

I had wondered whether Turkey was going to move into Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to Stratfor, it's pretty much happening. They're already doing strikes into Iraq, and they're seeking permission to go in with greater force. This piece in the LA Times suggests that the US is against it, but there is little the US can do, unless it is willing to fight a NATO ally to defend the Kurds and their increasingly-daring militants.

That said, this isn't supposed to be a full-fledged attack. The Turks want to get permission to strike against rebels, not invade Iraq. The question is whether smaller strikes will work; if they don't, things will escalate.

And I don't think they will work. The Kurds know that the U.S. sees them as an oasis of stability in Iraq, and also know that while the US would be loathe to fight the Turks, the Turks are equally loathe to jeopardize everything over the Kurds. The Turks, in turn, are counting on the Kurds to not want to rock the boat either, and to squelch the rebels. The key issue here is which perception is wrong: which player has been misread by the others. I think it's the Kurds- they're achingly close to de-facto independence that bleeds outside of the borders of "Iraq", and I don't think the rebels will be dissuaded from that. They aren't going to get squelched, and sooner or later Ankara will be forced to act.

What bothers me is that "sooner" seems to be a lot sooner than I had anticipated.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Err, wait a sec...

So the horrible bee die-off that we're seeing across North America and parts of Europe may be due to GMO?

The study in question is a small research project conducted at the University of Jena from 2001 to 2004. The researchers examined the effects of pollen from a genetically modified maize variant called "Bt corn" on bees. A gene from a soil bacterium had been inserted into the corn that enabled the plant to produce an agent that is toxic to insect pests. The study concluded that there was no evidence of a "toxic effect of Bt corn on healthy honeybee populations." But when, by sheer chance, the bees used in the experiments were infested with a parasite, something eerie happened. According to the Jena study, a "significantly stronger decline in the number of bees" occurred among the insects that had been fed a highly concentrated Bt poison feed.

According to Hans-Hinrich Kaatz, a professor at the University of Halle in eastern Germany and the director of the study, the bacterial toxin in the genetically modified corn may have "altered the surface of the bee's intestines, sufficiently weakening the bees to allow the parasites to gain entry -- or perhaps it was the other way around. We don't know."

Of course, the concentration of the toxin was ten times higher in the experiments than in normal Bt corn pollen. In addition, the bee feed was administered over a relatively lengthy six-week period.

Kaatz would have preferred to continue studying the phenomenon but lacked the necessary funding. "Those who have the money are not interested in this sort of research," says the professor, "and those who are interested don't have the money."
Crap.

(Courtesy skippy.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Huh.

MaxSpeak went all Pajamas on us.

Then again, considering his experiences with Kos, I doubt he's going to be too inclined towards hooking up with Approved Sources. (tm)

I'm not confident that this will end well, but if it works, good on him.

Somebody Needs to Teach Broder the Prisoner's Dilemma

Maybe then he'll figure out that one guy conceding doesn't necessarily mean the other is going to concede squat.

How Broder missed Bush's tendency to pocket victories and go further whenever the Dems "play nice" is lost on me.

Matt too.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Warm Squigglies

Nothing brightens up the day like seeing something like this:



Thanks, Oliver!

(Edit: It should go without saying that the death of a young girl to a drunk driver is a tragedy. I would never make light of that.

Making light of an idiot like O'Reilley, though...)

BOOM!

...was narrowly NOT heard in the vicinity of the President yesterday.

The Detroit News: Credit Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally with saving the leader of the free world from self-immolation.

Mulally told journalists at the New York auto show that he intervened to prevent President Bush from plugging an electrical cord into the hydrogen tank of Ford's hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid at the White House last week. Ford wanted to give the Commander-in-Chief an actual demonstration of the innovative vehicle, so the automaker arranged for an electrical outlet to be installed on the South Lawn and ran a charging cord to the hybrid. However, as Mulally followed Bush out to the car, he noticed someone had left the cord lying at the rear of the vehicle, near the fuel tank.

"I just thought, 'Oh my goodness!' So, I started walking faster, and the President walked faster and he got to the cord before I did. I violated all the protocols. I touched the President. I grabbed his arm and I moved him up to the front," Mulally said. "I wanted the president to make sure he plugged into the electricity, not into the hydrogen. This is all off the record, right?"
I know Darwin isn't really an avenging angel against stupid, but you have to admit that there must have been a few people who, upon reading this, didn't picture Darwin looking down, snapping his fingers, and saying "so close!"

Props to Brad DeLong.

Same Ol'...

And, yet again, we receive ample proof that Canadian Liberal "insiders" have absolutely no interest in winning the next federal election.

I mean seriously. Look at this:

Liberal Leader St├ęphane Dion told a gathering of supporters last night in Toronto that if the Prime Minister wants to force an election, the Liberals are ready.

He did not, however, mention the small problem of a campaign plane. The Liberals don't have one and, according to a source, are scrambling to find one after being turned down by Air Canada. Insiders say there is growing concern among Liberals that they will not be able to get one before an election is called...

...A source said a Liberal representative recently approached Air Canada about leasing a plane but was turned down. The source said the airline was already committed to the two other campaigns and did not have a plane or crew that could hopscotch the country several times a week during a hectic election campaign.
Why the hell leak this? It does absolutely nothing except make the party look inept. It isn't that critical a story (I'm sure this will get sorted out), and the only possible newsworthiness is "ooh, look at how disorganized them Libs are compared to Harper". Which, I suppose, is exactly what the "source" wants.

I'll say this for the Dems: they may fight like cats and dogs during the primary, but at least when they choose presidential candidates, they back them.

Interesting Crossover

Over at The Great Orange Satan, there's a blurb by a Canadian diarist about Jason Cherniak's Liblogs and their attempts to respond to Stephen Harper's attack ads with ads of their own.

Since I hadn't really seen much crossover between the established American blog scene and the still-new Canadian one, I thought it was worthy of note.

(So feel free to get to noting.)

One thing I learned from that entry that I hadn't known is that Harper outsources his attack ad production to an American firm, Mclaughlin and Associates. Quite a piece of work, judging by the client list, producing material for everyone from the RNC to the Smokeless Tobacco Council to the American Conservative Union to the lovely and talented people at the Media Research Centre.

Were I one of those Canadian bloggers making attack ads, I'd leave aside the general question of Harper using attack ads to focus on how and why Harper is retaining the services of such people. Attack ads attacking attack ads are kind of silly, as Calgrit ably points out, but Liberals can dine out for YEARS at the prospect of tying together Stephen Harper's and Big Tobacco's advertising connections.

In any case, this cements something that should be foremost in their minds right now- they aren't competing against "Tories", but against the Republican Machine. Disastrous governance aside, the Republicans' ability to use that machine should never, ever be underestimated.

Edit: This particular ad may not be professional, but it ain't bad.



The comments over at Youtube for it cement a problem that the Liberals are going to have to face, though- Liberal supporters are severely, severely underrepresented online compared to their Conservative counterparts.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

"What Do You Want Us to Do?"

So asked the Pentagon during the Iranian hostage crisis, (according to Matthew Yglesias quoting the Guardian), setting out a rich smorgaboard of military options to get that long-overdue war in Iran started.

Oddly enough, Britain just focused on getting her soldiers back diplomatically, instead of using it as an excuse to supposedly bomb Tehran into letting the MLK take over.

Odder still, it worked. Yes, Charles Krauthammer's complaining about it supposedly making the UK look bad and Iran look good. He's just pissed that, after the Iraq debacle, he's not going to be able to give his crackpot adoration of military force a second chance to work in the other "Ira" country. The sane people (including those running countries) have seen both the UK and Iran handle this reasonably well, sketchy British maps and against-the-wall Iranian intimidation tactics aside.

(Intimidation? Well, the soldiers reported that they were made to stand up against a wall, facing towards it, with the sound of weapons being cocked behind them. This is definitely not acceptable treatment of POWs- it's a coercion tactic plain and simple. I don't believe they were in any real danger, though, as that would have placed Iran itself in tremendous danger. I do wonder whether this has been influenced by the erosion of prisoner's civil liberties by the US and its allies, but it's hard to say.)

Krauthammer's vulgar "realism" aside, that the UK and Iran solved this diplomatically is a good thing.

Slight edits for clarity.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pelosi in Syria?

Matthew Yglesias highlights how crazy the right (those in the press and otherwise) are going over Nancy Pelosi going to Syria.

Me, I say let 'em stew. The American public that could conceivably vote for Pelosi's party aren't going to be swayed by this, not anymore. Lines about how "America needs to speak with one voice" have always been nonsense, as Matt correctly points out. The president sets official policy, but unofficial positions and debates are as old as diplomacy, and the niceties of official policymaking aren't of interest to anybody outside Foggy Bottom and editorial writers with no memory beyond the last news cycle.

These guys are just ticked that the president can't dictate to the Speaker anymore.

A Simple Question

Yes, Sen. Clinton has supporters. That's not in question. The question, which I'm not seeing an answer to on Eschaton, is why?

Matt's right that some Clinton supporters might be dissuaded if they knew some of her policy positions. So, yes, in some sense some of Clinton's support, as with the rest of the candidates, might be based on voter ignorance.But the point I'm trying to make is that there are a lot of people who really like Clinton. Maybe they don't agree with her on every issue, and maybe they would disagree with her more on issues if they actually knew more. But lots of people really respect Clinton. They admire her. They believe she would be a good president. They'd be more than happy to trust her with the job. It's that basic fact - plenty of people really like and respect Hillary Clinton - which I see left out of a lot of the online chatter about her campaign.
First, and I'm sorry Atrios, but this is pretty goddamned milquetoast. "You have to respect her supporters because they actually like her?" Well, yes, of course she has supporters. So did Alan Keyes, but that doesn't stop people from (justifiably) making fun of him.

Online Dems, those who aren't trying to win influence with the Clinton crew, are very, very concerned about her foreign policy, and I gotta say that as someone who's a fan of interactive media I'm not the biggest fan of some of her domestic policy either.

(Someone trying to score points with soccer moms by attacking media is going to lose the male vote under the age of 40 droves. Absolute droves. Hollywood ain't necessarily going to like it much either.)

Say it isn't the policy. Say it isn't the mile-wide-but-puddle-deep appeal of name recognition. Say it isn't nostalgia for Bill. Say it isn't just ignorance. Say it isn't the ol' double-X chromosomes. Say it isn't whatever you want, Duncan, that's fine. Just say what it actually is afterwards, because I for one would like to know, and I think everybody who isn't on the Clinton Train would like to know too.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

New Twist on an Old Line

Over at Republic of T, terrance talks about how his kid doesn't really hassle him for junk food much, because he doesn't watch that much advertising.

Fair enough. I wasn't one of those kids who didn't watch TV, or live in a TV-free household, or anything along those lines, but I've known people who are.

It does raise a question, though: considering that kids tend to spend so much time on the Internet or playing video games or whatnot rather than just watching TV nowadays, will the hold of advertising lessen over them? Are we going to see a generation of kids like the no-TV types?

Vlogging?

Matthew Yglesias is all about the vlogging.

Kevin Drum isn't, because text is easier to scan and easier to link in".

Demosthenes would like to point out that vlogging isn't really an option for some of us. That whole "nobody knows you're a dog" thing is way harder to pull off when everybody can see your muzzle and paws.

That said, I do think there's a happy medium of using video footage to supplement text.

Elsewhere on Tapped

McCain's new funding co-chair has killed, skinned, and barbecued a dog.

Originally on Think Progress.

Is it time to trot out the "cartoonish supervilliany" line yet?

Edit: An anonymous commentator pointed out that it was originally blogged at A Tiny Revolution, which linked to this Washington Post piece.

So there's the rest of the chain.

Syria Ended the Standoff?

First. Michael? It's Gruniad, not Guaridan.

Anyhow, the American Prospect linked to a Guardian story saying that Syria may well have convinced Iran to end the Iran/UK standoff. Which, if true, would be enormously embarrassing to a percentage of people who work in Washington that hovers somewhere around 100.

The Iranians are also claiming that the main reason this took so long was because everybody with the authority to DO anything was "out in the villages and mobile phones don't work there." Which I can also see, because bureaucracy is forever. I think it's far more likely that Ahmadinejad wasn't reigning in the Revolutionary Guard fast enough, though, because he thought that he could get some political advantage from the situation. I imagine Damascus cabling "what, are you absolutely MENTAL?" might have sharpened his perception somewhat, even if the domestic goals hadn't been met. Which they had, thanks to the confessions.

The main remaining question: "was there a deal?" Not sure. I'd say it's likely. The US/UK will never admit to it, but that doesn't mean squat. I'd keep a sharp eye on those Iranian prisoners in Iraq.

In the meantime, it looks like war just became a little less unlikely. Wingers will be screaming, but hell with 'em, this is an officially dodged bullet.

Speedy Summary

We’ve already seen that a nearly evenly divided Congress, incapable of taking definitive action, not only can but must be ignored. The Congress that cannot uphold its own votes has no mandate to dictate terms to the president, particularly in perilous times that call for strong leadership.
"All power to El Presidente."

The scary part is that this guy's a columnist for the Boston Herald.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Crisis of Confidence

In comments in that last post, William Hallowell pointed to the Foreign Affairs/Public Agendas' Foreign Policy Index. It shows that the American public wants a diplomatic solution in Iran, and that there's a growing preference for diplomacy over military action in general.

It also shows that public anxiety over America's place in the world is rising fast- it's already at 137 on their 200 point scale, scraping the edge a full-blown crisis of confidence. Not a big surprise, but definitely a big problem.

(The download link for the report itself. I'll get into it more when I have a chance to read through it.)

British Soldiers in Iran Freed?

So it would appear. Ahmadinejad said it was a gesture of goodwill and friendship.

Me, I'm more interested in this:

The action was a goodwill gesture for the Iranian new year, he said, adding that Iran had received a letter from Britain promising not to intrude into Iranian waters.

"The British government sent a letter to our Foreign Ministry and said it would not happen again. Of course, our decision had nothing to do with the letter. It's a decision made by our government to give a gift to the people of Britain," Ahmadinejad said in answer to a reporter's question.
Did this actually happen? The Guardian said that there was no confirmation, and the question of whether the UK relented on this point is huge, and I wasn't expecting them to do so.

Then again, it could be related to this:

Ahmadinejad's announcement came after Iran's state media reported that an Iranian envoy would be allowed to meet five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in northern Iraq. Another Iranian diplomat, separately seized two months ago by uniformed gunmen in Iraq, was released and returned Tuesday to Tehran.
This was the other question always lurking in the background- whether this was a tit-for-tat deal attempting to free the Iranian prisoners in Iraq. While they aren't freed yet, it looks like this may have opened the door.

In any case, it's good to hear that they're (probably) on their way home.

Charlie Stross is Goddamned Brilliant- This Time About Piracy

Why? Because he's the first content provider I've ever met who actually understands the pirate subculture.

There's a figure I've heard quoted (unfortunately I don't know the source so I can't cite you chapter and verse on it) to the effect that the typical dead-tree book has, over its life cycle, an average of four readers. Moreover, sell-through in paper is around 50-60%; that is, for every book sold to a customer, 0.8 to 1.0 other books end up being returned or pulped. So the real figure is more like ten readers per book actually printed by the publisher.

Think about that. Today, publishers try like crazy to tie ebooks to a single reader via DRM, in their misplaced zeal to reduce profit leakage; but for the economic hit from piracy to equal the economic hit from libraries and second-hand bookstores and friends lending friends books, the unlicensed distribution channels would have to be shifting nine ebooks for every one that is sold commercially.

And you know what? I don't think most of the ebook sharing subculture is even about reading the books in the first place — it's about collecting, and participating in a gift sub-culture where your kudos is governed by how much stuff you can give away. Yes, this probably sounds alien to a lot of you. All I can say is, you haven't spent enough time monitoring alt.binaries.e-books.flood and the other pirate ebook distribution channels. There are folks there who, of a weekend, post more books than I could read in a lifetimes. Random, eclectic, nonsensical collections of books, some of which are hopelessly corrupted and most of which are poorly proof-read. These folks are not reading what they put out. They're not putting it out with helping other people read the stuff as a primary goal, either. There's another dynamic at work, and no scheme to stop or reduce ebook piracy stands a chance of working until we understand why it's happening.
This is very true, and very old. Anybody who had come within fifty miles of the old game and software piracy "scene" (which is really the grandfather of everything done today) will be familiar with this mindset. The ONLY metric for how l33t you were was the sheer volume of 0-day (up-to-the minute content) that you hosted and/or uploaded. The quality didn't matter, and the content itself barely mattered. What mattered was the number of files and/or bytes that you pushed. When MP3 became big, back during the pre-Napster Internet, it was the same way for music. It's still pretty much the same way now.

Charlie's right- trying to use these guys' enormous stockpiles of unused material as any sort of metric of lost sales is pointless and deceptive. The two really have nothing to do with one another- it's like looking at a warehouse of unsold books and pretending that they've actually been sold to somebody. I'm not sure what a good metric is for the effects of piracy, but that ain't it.

Charlie's also right about the problem of libraries and used booksales. I think he missed an opportunity, though, in looking at other media and how they approach these issues. Libraries tend not to have anywhere near as many movies and television shows as they do books, for example, and while one could sneer about quality issues, a really good show can still be a more worthy addition than a crappy book, but you're more likely to see the latter than the former. That's partially because (I believe) movie sellers and rental outlets don't want to see books in the library, but also because the culture of lending that surrounds books has never caught on with other media.

And yet, if you look further, you'll notice something else- while you may see a few movies at the library, you will never see an electronic game. Why? Well, it's simple: the culture surrounding THAT format is still newer than movies, and absolutely paranoid about producers not getting maximal control over their "intellectual property" (A term that came into existence around the same time as mass market computer gaming). Look at the growing controversy over something as innocuous as used game sales:

As I began to collate these woes, I started to get the sense that there was a kind of Mexican Standoff taking place, except one of the parties is pointing hundreds of guns at the other - one weapon per retail outlet. There is literally no bargain to be made, and without a shelf to sell your software from it's not so much "their way or the highway," it's their way or oblivion. So they're free to do things like, oh, suggest "market correct" pricing, or nudge the release date. Note that they are doing this while at the same time planning to stock your product at a low threshold and then preferentially sell the used version. I'm surprised that these camps don't fight with knives at shared events.

I don't think breaking the ability to play used games is the answer, like they were talking about in this ancient rumor, but I understand why they would experiment with that kind of Doomsday Device. For me, it's not any more complicated than "used titles don't support the people who make games." The sale doesn't exist. I don't expect this to be a concept that the Madden Gamer seizes upon and makes his way of life. But as people who genuinely respect the medium and those who toil to refine and elevate our leisure hours, it's worth keeping in mind.

Going completely digital is a growing option for PC centered titles and its native developers - for example, I'm typing this post while Command & Conquer 3 drips down to me via EA's digital solution. I've also been a huge proponent of Steam. But even in the next round of consoles, you'll see those massive hard discs put to work storing full products. Marketplace, EDI, and the Shopping Channel are the first chapter of a story that ends poorly for Gamestop.
Bolding is mine. If anybody said anything like this about books, particularly the bolded section, they'd get laughed out of town. They lend books, for heaven's sake, and you're complaining about used book sales? Yet there is no functional difference between a book and a game. None. Both can be copied, both can be lent, both can be sold to a bookseller and rebought used. Both can be good, both can be crap. It's just different media, brought forth in different cultures: one celebrating the public domain and sharing information, the other fearing and loathing it while making nasty little comments about resales.

Unfortunately, the march of progress in this case does not appear to be on the side of the angels.

So, Charlie, when you ask "what is to be done", I'd suggest that the first step is getting away from the books, and looking at what else is going on out there. Ebooks are just one small part of a much, much broader conflict.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Internet Power Seizure?

I'm not sure, but it looks like the US government is trying to pretty much take over control of the whole DNS system.

(DNSes, or "Domain Name Servers", are how it translates an IP into a web address and vice versa.)

Essentially, this is how it works. Right now the biggest problem with DNS servers is that they're pretty easy to spoof. This is how most web "hacking" is done- you simply convince DNS servers to go to IP A instead of IP B, and boom, everybody who's trying to go to the White House's website ends up on the website of unscrupulous thieves and villians.

(Ahem)

They're trying to get around that by using public key encryption. This is the same kind of encryption that you use all the time when you're doing sensitive stuff on the Internet, like banking or shopping or donating money to said unscrupulous thieves. The whole thing is supposed to be controlled on a geographic basis, so that the authorities that handle domain names within a certain area now (like Verisign) still do so, but on a more authoritative basis.

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security is trying to step in and scoop up ALL the keys themselves, for the entire Internet. They would know the keys, and be easily able to generate them. This would allow the US government to spoof any website it pleases, anywhere on earth, with relative ease.

Needless to say, the non-US domain name providers ain't too happy about this. To be honest, neither am I. Not necessarily just because one country shouldn't have all this power, but because I'm damned sure that the right-wing ideologue tools over at DHS shouldn't.

I mean, seriously, do YOU want to give the guys who screwed up Katrina the keys to the Internet?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just for Upyernoz

Robert Mugabe should be shown the door as quickly as possible, but I don't think he's going to leave until he has to.

And I don't think the general strike is going to be enough to get him to go, because I'm not convinced that he really cares about the economy of Zimbabwe anywhere near as much as he cares about keeping down the opposition.

That said, he's also got little in the way of crutches to lean on to retain power. He can't blame the wealthy white minority, because he expropriated their land and wealth, and trying to call the opposition "terrorists" is just pathetic. He'd better be sure the military is thoroughly on his side, otherwise he could be looking at a coup.

Posted Without (much) Comment:

From Atrios:

Things Which Make Me Want To Shoot People In The Face

People who bitch about other peoples' blogrolls who don't even have a blogroll on their main page, but just a link to one.


From terrence:

The thing is, I do have a blogroll on my front page. It’s the dropdown list right under the ad-strip, labeled “Blogs Linking Here,” but I’m guessing Duncan didn’t hand around long enough to notice it. It needs to be updated, mind you — some blogs need to be added, and some that no longer exist need to be removed — but it’s there. Always has been. Then again, maybe he did notice it, and I just have the wrong kind of blogroll.

The funny thing is that I put it there as a compromise. Because of an advertising network I’m on, I need to have a front page blogroll of progressive blogs. However, My blogroll (blogrolls, actually, since I broke it out into categories) had gotten so long that readers complained that the blog was taking too long to load, and asked me to move it to a separate page. (Plus my host was recommending I do something about the amount of server requests it was generating.)

So, as a compromise, I moved all but one blogroll, to another page, and put up a reciprocal blogroll, of progressive blogs that link back to this one. That means you won’t find many of the “usual suspects” on it.

Anyway, it’s good for a laugh if nothing else. The worst he can do is send loads of traffic my way for a day or so, and those visitors will probably hang around about as long as he did and never return. Which is fine by me. Really.
Atrios is getting a little testy about this, isn't he?