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Ethosphere

Some of them have to share a circle...

... guess I'm just feeling mean today... Back from the dead to exhort you to "Design Your Own Hell" (Courtesy slagman this morning on MeFi):

Bill Clinton, The New York Yankees, Hipsters
Circle I Limbo

Democrats, Oakland Raider Fans, PETA Members
Circle II Whirling in a Dark & Stormy Wind

The Pope, Greens, DMV Employees, Gray Davis
Circle III Mud, Rain, Cold, Hail & Snow

Rednecks, Parents who bring squalling brats to R-rated movies
Circle IV Rolling Weights

Bill Gates, General asshats, Republicans, Creationists
Circle V Stuck in Mud, Mangled

River Styx

George Bush, Saddam Hussein
Circle VI Buried for Eternity

River Phlegyas

Libertarians, Militant Vegans, Objectivists
Circle VII Burning Sands

Osama bin Laden, Anne Coulter, NAMBLA Members
Circle IIX Immersed in Excrement

Scientologists, Qusay Hussein, Uday Hussein
Circle IX Frozen in Ice

Design your own hell

Nanotechnology news

Nanotechnology is hot. This technology has also been the source of recent news stories.

IT is the science of the very, very small and could bring huge benefits to mankind. However, government-backed scientists yesterday called for new laws to ensure that nano-technology does not end up threatening - instead of promoting - human health.

A report from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering said nano-technology, which involves manipulating matter on ultra- minuscule scales, could bring hazards, particularly with microscopic dust particles - so-called "nanotube" fibres - which could be inhaled. ["Nanotechnology health risk fears" by Allan Laing, The Herald, July 30, 2004]

Overkill? Maybe not. Perhaps history is sometimes a teacher. They seem to be exercising reasonable caution, however, not jumping to conclusions since there has been little research regarding potential hazards. This seems to be a sensible approach vs. lack of accountability or alternatively fictional, sensational treatment.

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Open Source Journalism

Sometimes I have to turn off my cynicism filter and take things at something like face value. The new experiment in "open source journalism" at Bakersfield's The Northwest Voice is a good example. Starting three months ago (May 2004), they began deriving their news content directly from community members, contributed via the web.

Northwest Voice describes itself as a "community newspaper", but since they're "carrier delivered" to 22,000 homes, they're clearly really a shopper. I.e., their emphasis is on the ads, with actual content only a sweetener to get people to actually leaf through. "Community newspaper" is more commonly applied to takeaway-distributed newspapers like our own City Newspaper, the Ithaca Times, or the venerable Boston Phoenix.

What a move like this does is allow them to easily and inexpensively move upscale from "shopper" territory to the realm of more sophisticated "community newspaper", without the cost of hiring reporters. Editors are more cost-effective, because they can handle many more stories in a day than could a reporter, even if they're doing some rudimentary fact-checking. They're not the only ones to have this idea -- look to Belfast, Camden & Rockland, Maine's Village Soup for a more traditional (i.e., harder to use) rendition of a similar idea.

That cynicism filter sees this as being all about money and business -- and for that matter, the publishers are quite willing to spell that out. They're clearly in this to improve their position and their financials. They've paid good money to buy an integrated content workflow management system (albeit something that appears to use appropriately simple technical solutions).

But at the end of the day, what really matters is that people are being brought back into the news process. This is a move that makes commercial sense for the Northwest Voice, but as they're successful, they can give implicit aid and comfort to non-commercial and less-commercial ventures like Brattleboro, Vermont's Geeklog-based iBrattleboro -- based on a sparsely-configured implementation of commodity, open-source content management software. Aesthetically, the Voice seems closer to iBrattleboro than to Village Soup, and that's a good thing. It will make them more interesting to their customers, for sure, and if they can find a shared win between community involvement, commercial success, it's got to be a good thing.

Another thought: It's important to note that this is not blogging. This is edited news, that happens to be provided by the public. Clearly, it's inspired by blogging, but it illustrates something that many boosters of Bloggism have not been willing to accept: That it cannot at any point claim to be an end-form; that it cannot, in fact, ever certainly claim to be anything but a transitional, enabling form. Blogs will certainly exist in a year or two or three; but the things they spawn will not look like them, and will not care what the community standards of "Blogistan" are. Nor should they.

The Tortoise and the Hare

The never-ending race of the tortoise and the hare took a pit stop this week in Washington, D.C.

The hare rushed, trying a short-cut, and failed, meeting obstacles in the road.

The civil rights tortoise journeying one small painful step at a time is represented by young supporters in Washington this weekend, continuing toward their goal of respect for all.

But the race isnâ??t over. The hare regroups and tries different strategies.

The tortoise will keep on moving toward its broad goal.

Is there a finish line in sight? I wonder.

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Conditional "freedom"

The murder of a U.S. journalist and an overhaul of top news programmes at the closest thing Russia has to an independent television channel show the post-Soviet price to be paid for issuing unwelcome news.

So writes Ron Popeski of Reuters about the murder of 41-year-old journalist Paul Khlebnikov, who died after someone pumped four bullets into him.

"If a journalist does not behave in appropriate fashion, he is either dismissed ... or promoted and therefore taken off the air," said Alexei Venediktov, director of Ekho Moskvy radio, the country's most prominent independent news source.

"If this proves impossible -- as in the case of an American publication -- he gets killed and the rest are intimidated."

Back in May, Patricia Kranz and Jason Bush of BusinessWeek wrote about â??Putinâ??s Gameâ?:

Putin may yet confound those who forecast the resurgence of a neo-Soviet Union. That's because there are two Putins inside the Russian President: the autocrat and the shrewd reformer. If the reformer gains the upper hand, a stronger, more democratic Russia may yet emerge.

A more democratic Russia? The â??reformerâ? may be whom Paul Khlebnikov believed in.

Friends worried about him, especially when his book on the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky came out. But he was not afraid. He was convinced that a Western journalist saying the truth in Russia would be respected. [â??Journalists' Deaths Make It Harder to Excuse Putin's Excessesâ? by Serge Schmemann, New York Times]

However, as Schmemann points out:

Twenty journalists have now been assassinated in Russia for their work; 14 since Mr. Putin became president. Not one of the murders has been solved.

I can only sadly feel the gravity of Schmemannâ??s final words in the article:

But in the end, the perpetrators are not the issue: it is the cruel confirmation that the law and an appreciation of freedom have not taken hold in Russia. It is the evidence that murder is still perceived as a normal and safe way of settling scores and amassing wealth, and that the Kremlin is not really interested in doing anything about it.

A free press is not the enemy, nor is the West. Paul Klebnikov wrote about oligarchs and crime because he believed, almost naïvely, that Russia really wanted to become normal, that its president really wanted to know what was wrong. Many others, like Paul, have wanted to help. But when power tramples on institutions that are at the heart of a free society, we begin to wonder whether we can, or whether we should.

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Insidiously wooing ignorance

escoles has posited an upcoming coup:

People think of coups as being something that involves guns and tanks and men in uniform, yet it need not work that way at all. The amazing thing is that they can happen so insidiously.

There has been plenty of insidious activity all along. Better to prime the meat, weaken the sinews, before broiling, so one can devour it more easily.

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Before The Coming Coup

"These are doomsday scenarios. Nobody expects that they're going to happen....But we're preparing for all these contingencies now."
[Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA), Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, via Reuters]

"If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier...just as long as I'm the dictator."
[President George W. Bush, Washington, DC, Dec. 18, 2000, during his first trip to Washington as President-Elect]

The news everywhere this morning: The Administration has sent Tom Ridge out to shill for the upcoming coup.

It astonishes me that they speak about this so openly. And that so few people in the mainstream American press seem to have noticed what's going on.

It's critical that the American public be reminded, again and again, that there are mechanisms in place to deal with this kind of thing: Automatically triggered recounts, individual re-votes state-by-state... There is absolutely, absolutely no legitimate reason for this. None. It's purely a power grab.

People think of coups as being something that involves guns and tanks and men in uniform, yet it need not work that way at all. The amazing thing is that they can happen so insidiously. In Weimar Germany, the heavy lifting -- perhaps "dirty work" is a better way to put it -- was done by "men of good conscience" like Hindenberg. Front men, in effect. Tom Ridge is just such a front man. He was an astonishingly good choice for that post, and for the point position in planning for this coup: He's moderate, popular, likeable, and pragmatic, and he doesn't believe that he's doing what he's actually doing: He does not understand that he is laying the groundwork for a coup.

In fact, of the administration, I would wager that only Karl Rove and maybe Dick Cheney really truly understand that what's being planned is a coup. The bulk of the Bushites are so self-deluded that they think they're acting in the country's best interest. The President himself would happily short-cut the separation of powers to ensure "freedom"; like most of his disciples, he does not see any contradiction in curtailing freedom to save it.

"How Shit Happens"

Today's reading is from the Book of Corporate Life,
Chapter 1, Verses 1-15:

  1. In the beginning there was the Plan.
  2. And then came the Assumptions.
  3. And the Assumptions were without form.
  4. And the Plan was without Substance.
  5. And darkness was upon the face of the Workers.
  6. And the Workers spoke among themselves saying, "It is a crock of shit and it stinks."
  7. And the Workers went unto their Supervisors and said, "It is a crock
    of dung and we cannot live with the smell."
  8. And the Supervisors went unto their Managers saying, "It is a container of organic waste, and it is very strong, such that none may abide by it."
  9. And the Managers went unto their Directors, saying, "It is a vessel
    of fertilizer, and none may abide its strength."
  10. And the Directors spoke among themselves, saying to one another,"It
    contains that which aids plant growth, and it is very strong."
  11. And the directors went to the Vice Presidents, saying unto them, "It promotes growth, and it is very powerful."
  12. And the Vice Presidents went to the President, saying unto him, "It has very powerful effects."
  13. And the President looked upon the Plan and saw that it was good.
  14. And the Plan became Policy.
  15. And that is how shit happens.

[Truly, I say unto you: A parable for our times....I saw this years ago, and mislaid it; probably a couple of times a year since then, I've gone looking for it, but I could never remember enough to get a fix on it. Well, here is it, courtesy of my friend Lynne...]

Question for the Moment

This seems to me an appropriate day to ask questions like this:

To ask it differently - is America mutating, unwittingly, into a nation of heavily armed cargo cultists?

[troutfishing, on Metafilter]

Which is to say, are we migrating to a political reality wherein Lysenkoism reigns, not just in science policy, but also in everyday life?

Thanking Plain Layne for my 15 Seconds of [non-]Fame

I have Plain Layne to thank for 15 seconds of anonymous fame in an interview with Odin Soli, the perpetrator of the Plain Layne Affair:

...But one online Sherlock viewed the source HTML and noticed something awry: The date stamp had been written with javascript rather than delivered by the server. In other words, the error message was a fake.

Another clue suggested that Layne was winking to techies: In addition to being Plain Layne's initials, ".pl" is the country domain extension of Polish websites (as in www.poland.pl). Those little enigmas signaled the tipping point, which, by the time it was over, led to a tale of internet intrigue.

Ahem. I confess, it was me, on both counts. (And I'm still amazed that in such a collection of geeks, I was the only one over a week or so to think of viewing source or running a traceroute.)

The whole shooting match (kottke links much of the relevant stuff, with this excellent summary) is interesting, but to me it's more of a matter of admiration for what it must have taken to pull it off for so long. I recognize the seductiveness of the idea of becoming someone different, and I've known people who did it -- I once dated a woman who confessed to having multiple online personae ranging from a 13 year old sk8r chick to a 40-something (male) BYU psych prof. Hell, I've flirted with it myself.

I probably should be more sympathetic to the community that formed around "her" blog. I've been mulling this term "community" a lot lately, not the least reason being Dave Winer's megalomaniacal invocation of the term every time someone disagrees with him about anything (but that's another story). If I'd invested that much psychic capital, I'd at least want to not find out the person was a fiction. But to the points that many have made, this is really not too different in the details from what folks (other folks, not me) do in MUDs and MMPORGs and the like.

There is one big difference, of course: People thought Layne was real.

Active MeFite fenriq summarized it in a way I'd like to think I would, if I were bitten:

Dok, that's actually one of the most accurate sentiments I've yet read about the Plain Layne affair, "The "people that live in Layne's comment box" found each other because of Layne, and apparently now continue on without her."

And that's a nice way to leave things.

As I say, I like to think I could be that generous.

The Strain

I've passed through Hartsfield-Jackson Internation Airport in Atlanta four times in the past eight months -- twice each on two trips, once transferring. But I'm sure I've been there before, probably more than once. It's a big place, with a robotic train that carries you between terminals alongside a broad pedestrian tunnel. The doors whoosh open, and air whooshes out, equalizing as it rushes back to fill the void behind the train. You step in, take a handle or a pole, and settle on the balls of your feet as a soft, but dispassionate female voice announces:

"The Strain, Is Starting."

Of course, that's not what it really says. It really says "This train is starting." But every time I hear it, I listen for it to say that, and every time, I hear "The Strain...."

Then you ride. You watch the walls of the tunnel rush by, grey, unpainted concrete. The last time I rode it, at the beginning of February, I remember thinking about getting outside the train and lieing down on the access walkway to sleep. Just for a while. Just long enough to miss my flight and get arrested as a terrorist, so I could get locked up in solitary and not have to deal with the world anymore....

And then: "The Strain, Is Stopping."

Except of course, the strain didn't stop. It just relaxed for a while.

That was my last leg home to Rochester, from Dulles, VA. (It's Not Just An Airport, It's A "City"...) As I got onto that train that Wednesday night, about 10pm, I'd worked something over fifty hours, and there would be almost twenty more to go. The trip had gone badly since before it started; the trip had gone badly since months before it started, to be frank. Whose fault? I was working hard to resist the temptation to take it all on as mine. At least that had the potential to end it.

On that last leg, in a high-wing, twin-engine turboprop, I sat beside a very attractive 20-something woman of exotic but indeterminate ethnicity (I later decided, central European) in a perfectly tailored business suit, with obvious but tasteful perfume, nails lacquered with care, makeup perfectly applied, who told me, after some surprisingly pleasant conversation (during which she revealed through body language and unintended entendre, that she was still ill at ease with her leadership role), that she was a regional sales director for Mary Kay. She spent much of the remainder of the flight hunched over a clipboard (we'd been moved to the first row for weight distribution) writing personal notes on contact cards with a silver Cross pen.

The strain didn't stop for her, either.

My friend Lynne drove me home; I pointed her along a quicker route she hadn't known, thanked her, and hauled myself out of her car into the brutal cold, gingerly stepping over the snow-powered ice to my door. She didn't pull away until she saw I'd opened my lock. All the time, I kept thinking about that young Mary Kay sales manager. Later, before I closed my eyes for the night, I almost cried for her. The strain was just starting.

Paranormalcy On The Wane

Tony Cornell of the Society for Psychical Research thinks there's a simple explanation why reports of paranormal phenomena are on the wane:

"I personally believe the decline in hauntings may simply be because people haven't got time to see ghosts any more. These days people are always rushing around, playing computer games, surfing the net, and such activities aren't great for experiencing apparitions."

The beauty of that explanation is that it's instantly and intuitively satisfying for anyone who feels as though the world may be getting a bit too technophilic for its own good.

And it can be read on more than one level, too: To imply that "experiencing apparitions" is something that takes concentration or leisure is not to say anything specific about the nature of the apparitions. After all, one of the paradoxes of consciousness and human intellect is that emptying one's mind of clutter is a precursor both to insight and brainwashing.

Other explanations for the decrease in reports range from the fact that the world is scary enough right now, thank you, to the notion that "terrorists" have taken the place of ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoots and Nessie as the bogeymen of our dreams:

Some, however, see a bright side to all this, arguing that the apparent decline in the paranormal is linked to a decline in credulity; ie we are becoming less gullible. Others aren't so positive. Tessa Kendall is a member of Skeptics, a London association that analyses the paranormal. "Yes, there may have been a drop off in ghosts and monsters," she says, "but there's been a huge upsurge in conspiracy theories; people are more paranoid and wary than ever. So this is, perhaps, how people are now expressing their innermost fears."

Perhaps there's a conservation of mystification at work, here: People must believe in something that's orthogonal to reason.

Or maybe reason isn't as big a part of being human as we've normally supposed it to be? I've come to feel more and more over the years that we are narratizing animals, first and formost: That reason is a learned approach, a useful adjunct to story-making. It is, after all, the story-making that we're best at, and that we respond most strongly to. Raw information does the trick for almost nobody -- it has to live in a context, because we need to be able to frame it in some kind of a narrative.

Uppity Webloggin' Wimmen

"Big Dave" Winer said something...interesting...the other day:

I'm a big, strong, intelligent, self-reliant male. Our culture acts as if such people never need help. "Be a man," they say. Enough of that bullshit. Inside every strong self-reliant male is a scared kid, who doesn't think he's going to get out of this alive. The attackers are dispropotionately women. Do you think maybe they're using me to get even for how someone treated them? A father, a brother, an uncle, an ex? Does our culture let them be abusers, assuming the man is always wrong, guilty until proven innocent? I've been in this big strong body for a long time, and I gotta tell you, it's a rare thing when people consider your feelings in how they deal with you. I think some people take advantage of that too.

... And I didn't comment. I thought about it. I spent a lot of time making false starts and going in different directions, and ultimately gave up on it. I found it a really...interesting... thing to say, and I thought about the fact that so many of my friends (well, most of them), co-workers, and bosses have been intelligent, capable, strong-willed women, and I felt offended on their behalf. But the whole Winer thing felt so 15 minutes ago, and I didn't feel like sparing him even the little more oxygen of publicity that my small mention would provide. I deleted him from my aggregator, for what little good that would do.

Plus, I couldn't figure out the angle. I couldn't figure out a way to talk about it that wouldn't make it seem like more Winer-bashing. I mean, obviously the guy has some serious issues with women, but how do you say that without it seeming to be an ad hominem?

But ultimately, it has to come back around to what I've been saying about the Bradbury issue (as it once again rears its ugly head): Even if a lion speaks, we must understand him critically.

Shelley of Burningbird was more to the point:

I am so angry right now. I am so mad at the supposed male-dominated tech community with itâ??s obvious implications of brotherhood.

I expected one, one of the community to push back at Dave Winer and his outrageous statement about the critics being primarily women bitching about the weblogs.com shutdown, and how it must be because we hate men for some reason. I expected them to be outraged on my behalf because they know me, and know that regardless of my reasons, it would not be because of that.

And it's right for her to feel outraged. I've worked with women my entire life, and I've been a ringside spectator to this kind of thing more times than I care to remember.

It's tired to say it's not surprising; it's tired to say that's just what Winer is like, so we should expect this kind of behavior. And it gets tireder when no one seems to notice. As I read Shelley's essay, I could imagine Dave Winer luxuriating in his vat of smugness and self-assurance, confident in the rightness of anything that he said.

"If I like you, it's respectful; if I don't, it's theft"

It seems that consistency in behavior is more important for some people than for others. This afternoon:

The name Unix derives from the name Multics. Unix is one "ic." Get it? And then Linux is derived from Unix, it's Linus's "ix." This is good, it's called standing on the shoulders of giants. It's respectful.

[Dave Winer]

Earlier the same day:

Never mind a literary nobody like you calling a giant like Bradbury stupid, let me ask you a legal question about one of your trademarks.

I'm working on a new super blogging tool. I think I'll call it Movable Type 9-11. Why? Well, it's a very well-recognized name. I won't have to make it famous, because it already is. I'm being a nice guy about it and all. I named it this because I *like* Movable Type.

Now the question: At what point will your lawyers blow me to smithereens, before the product comes out or after?


[Dave Winer on Joi Ito's blog]

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The New Playground

Geeks think they live in a meritocracy. But more often than not, it's just another kind of playground where a different kind of bully hacks out a different pecking order.

Exceptions are rare, but they're getting less so, gradually. As people try to organize themselves to actually get things done in groups, they realize that the bullies don't inspire anything but conformity. And frightened conformity, at that, by turns bitter, tense, vengeful, and ready to pounce on the blood-spotted chicken at the first sign of weakness.

You'll only very rarely find original thought in the swamps of Slashdot, MetaFilter or Plastic. But you can find reports of original thought, and thus, inspiration. And occasionally, you will even find original thinkers (though they can be hard to see in their camoflage). Occasionally, they even escape.

More Tech Macho Bullshit

There's a thread of thought on the weblogs.com matter that's best expressed by MeFi's own Quonsar, albeit off the farm:

oh boo hoo. if you had taken blogging seriously enough to learn how to make a few lousy html tags and operate an ftp client and put your site on some paid hosting like any real site owner would do, you wouldn't now be screaming about 'murder'. TANSTAAFL. it means there aint no such thing as a free lunch. CentralizedShinyWidgets{tm} like weblogs.com and blogger.com pander to the willfully ignorant. murder? jesus, grow up. learn something. pay for hosting. buy a domain. get a real website.

Since he took the trouble to express that view several places, I'll assume he felt strongly about it. And I can't begin to communicate the contempt and scorn that a passage like that inspires in me. (Of course, that's what it's meant to do, so I suppose he achieved his end. Congrats.)

Of course, it's pretty much the equivalent of setting a technical bar for 'net participation. Let's break it down, kids: There ain't no such thing as a free lunch, so you've got to earn and learn like we did. You've got to run the man pages, Google 'til your fingers bleed, and figure it out on your own. And leave the 'net to Quonsar, me, and such friends as we deign to train.

It is an ownership society, after all, and knolwedge is (or at least, can be) wealth -- especially in Raymond's bazaar. We all have to pay to play, if not with cash, then with sweat-equity.

Or maybe it's just a sandbox where only the strongest kids get the kewlest toys, or a dive-bar where only the in-crowd gets the best seats at the bar. Either way, it's a place I choose not to play. I prefer a net where I can find some adult conversation instead of having to listen to the puerile maunderings of yet another technofetishist.

Of course not every credentialed geek is a puerile jerk. Some are quite literate; some (like me) got into these ridiculous devices in the first place with the mistaken idea that they would somehow help us be creative. (Damn, Drupal is stripping my sarcasm tags again...) And there are more and more of us all the time, at varying levels of technical sophistication. If we want our friends to play with us on the net, it behooves us to protect them from neanderthalish attitudes about technical gung-fu.

Cult of Personality Flaws

Over the weekend, something up to 3000 blogs disappeared from the net. They were disappeared by Dave Winer. He didn't bother to announce or explain for a few days; then when he did, it was as a large MP3 audio-blog entry (a move that seemed calculated to limit the audience). (Jeneane Sessums has helpfully posted a more dialup and syndicator-friendly transcript.)

He's getting royally roasted over this, which is appropriate (when you know something is going to harm people, you have the option not to do it, and you do it anyway, you ought to expect some flames).

I feel curiously detached over this. Winer's reasons aren't sufficient, in my opinion, and it looks to me as though he's actively dodging responsibility for his actions. But I think I understand the place he was at when he made the ill-considered decision to dump the free weblogs. It's a place I've referred to as the "f*ck it moment": That place in an implementation-gone-bad where you just want to toss it all up and let the chips fall where they may. He got into a migration without having properly scoped it, and without a rollback plan. Thinking on his feet, and maybe late at night, he just said it: "F*ck it." And it was writ.

The worst blowback on this is on Dave Winer. People who've read his blog or dealt with him long-distance for years weren't surprised; some said things like "Anyone relying on Dave Winer deserves what they get." But now many thousands more people think he's a jerk; many potential employers or investors in his next venture will think he's unreliable, or won't have the people skills to pull it off. This is particularly important, because he no longer works for Userland, and his fellowship at Harvard is over. I also think he's a jerk (based on the "rude to the waiter" metric); but he's a jerk who's going to need to find another job, and he's not doing himself any favors here.

The people whose sites have been zapped can be accommodated, if Winer or Userland choose to accommodate them. But Winer's reputation didn't need any more tarnishing.

Interplay of global ideologies

To everyone's surprise, India's elections ended with the rightist Hindu nationalist B.J.P. alliance being thrown out and replaced by the left-leaning Congress Party alliance. Of course, no sooner did the B.J.P. â?? which ran on a platform of taking credit for India's high-tech revolution â?? go down than the usual suspects from the antiglobalization movement declared this was a grass-roots rejection of India's globalization strategy. They got it exactly wrong. What Indian voters were saying was not: "Stop the globalization train, we want to get off." It was, "Slow down the globalization train, and build me a better step-stool, because I want to get on."

[...]

My own recent travels to India have left me convinced that the most important forces combating poverty there today are those activists who are fighting for better local governance. The world doesn't need the antiglobalization movement to go away now â?? it just needs for the movement to grow up. It had a lot of energy and a lot of mobilizing capacity. What it lacked was a real agenda for helping the poor. Here's what its agenda should be: Helping the poor by improving governance â?? accountability, transparency, education and the rule of law â?? at the local level, by using the Internet and other tools to spotlight corruption, mismanagement and tax avoidance. It may not be as sexy as protesting against world leaders on CNN, but it is a lot more important. Ask any Indian villager. [â??Think Global, Act Local,â? by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, June 6, 2004]

Globalization/antiglobalization. As long as they remain pie-in-the-sky schemas, the down-to-earth schemes of corrupt charlatans will permeate the practical fallout. It pays to first become acquainted with the grassroots of diverse cultures without oneâ??s own preconceived cultural or ideological baggage before locking into a cause without concern for realistic consequences.

Now maybe Iâ??m being too idealistic.

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The Madness of King George?

From Capitol Hill Blue [Daypop cites]:

"Tenet wanted to quit last year but the President got his back up and wouldn't hear of it," says an aide. "That would have been the opportune time to make a change, not in the middle of an election campaign but when the director challenged the President during the meeting Wednesday, the President cut him off by saying 'that's it George. I cannot abide disloyalty. I want your resignation and I want it now.'"

In a nutshell, the story is that President Bush is becoming ever increasingly more erratic in his behavior. The bullet-point version:

  • Tenet was fired, and it was because he dared to offer a contrary view in a cabinet meeting.
  • Bush routinely uses frank profanity ("f*king assh*le" is the quoted term) to insult staff in front of other staff.
  • Dissenting views are regarded as disloyalty, and are not tolerated.
  • The White House is maintaining a Nixon-style "enemies list". Persons on that list are described as "Enemies of the state."
  • Bush frequently describes his actions (such as demanding Tenet's resignation) as "God's will"
  • Bush spends large amounts of time micromanaging the proxy attack campaign against John Kerry -- to the extent of cancelling or postponing policy meetings.

Worth noting: This is the kind of behavior that would be typical of a functioning alcoholic. I wonder how a modern President could pull that off, but I suppose it's possible.

All sources in this piece are anonymous. But considering how viciously the Bushites punish any dissent, that would be to be expected on this kind of news. It does weaken the story, though.

And assuming all of this is true, I'm still more comfortable with Bush in control than Cheney. Dick Cheney is a deluded sociopath; if he were to come to power in the wake of, say, a presidential collapse, his utter lack of moral governors would permit him to do incaculable damage to America.

W.W.A.d.T.D. [What Would Alexis de Tocqueville Do?]

To paraphrase Lincoln: You can't fool all of the people all of the time; but a plurality, most of the time, is good enough.

For the last couple of weeks, every time there is a major story, someone attacks Groklaw, placing scores of offensive pornographic links as comments on old stories. When they all got removed the first time, next they interspersed tech words with the porn, hoping to get past our filters, I suppose. They seem to use a bot, so it does affect us. I didn't put it out as a press release and imply or accuse SCO or AdTI of doing it, even though it is certainly possible, because ... well, because folks in the free world don't do such things. We are not in the business of trying to destroy anyone or ruin their good name with implications without proof. If I ever get proof, I'll tell the world, naturally. But I don't call press conferences on a hunch, even though I have one.

[Groklaw] [link added]

There's a free-market hit-tank called the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, that recently published a very ill-researched tome on the origins of Linux. The report's gotten a lot of press, and has been widely and effectively discredited, sometimes by the people cited within it as authorities (e.g., Dennis Ritchie, Andrew Tandenbaum). Event their own experts don't support them.

So now they're claiming to have been literally attacked for their incorrect views.

It's endlessly curious to me that wild, paranoid accusations have become so primarily the domain of conservatives. Wild wingnut leftists hardly merit notice anymore, though I'm sure they're still out there.

There really can be only one reason for it: Money. As in, Conservatives have it, and are willing to give it to wingnut conservatives to act as their cannon-fodder. "Liberals" with money aren't that "stupid."

So, why in the world would "conservatives" want to fund wingnut radicals? Perhaps: Because it works. Because if the way you get power is by convincing as many random people as you can that they agree with your aims, it doesn't matter who those people are or how you do it.

Aside: For the first several weeks that I had this new blog up, the bulk of my external referrers were porn spammer sites. I couldn't figure out why; now I know: They wanted to insert into my comments. I should enable comment posting with moderation just to see what comes in...

"I Fight For The Users"

Sometimes, it pays to know who your "users" actually are.

I'm going to work with users, they seem to appreciate what I do. The techies and developers, until further notice, are bums. I almost want to say I hate what the technology industry has become, but when has it been anything but back-stabbing, low-road bullshit. We could be so damned powerful if we just worked together, but that clearly isn't what's going on.
["Competitors", Dave Winer, Scripting News]

OK: They're not working together, because they're not working with him. That's clear enough.

After all, he's the CEO of Userland. He must fight for the users.

It would do Winer good to read what he writes: "I assume our readers are smart, and that they'll make the right decision given all the facts. And by assuming readers are smart, we attract smart readers."
["Competition can be good"]

If the readers are that smart, they'll figure it out for themselves. Isn't that what the Cluetrain was all about? And isn't Dave Winer all about the Cluetrain?

Here's a user speaking: If Atom turns out to be a superior form factor -- as determined by the marketplace of users -- I have no problem with that.

And here's a "techie user" speaking: If blog software can't abstract to/from either Atom or RSS without all the hassles that Dave focuses on, then there's a problem with the basic architecture of the application. Better architecture (and especially better abstraction layers) make for better user experience.

Sources of Islamic Terrorism

From Policy Review, via MeFi, and now on the reading list (it's long): "The Psychological Sources of Islamic Terrorism"

Maybe this is a sign that it's becoming fashionable again to think for half a second about how we actually get to the places we get to, instead of substituting jingoism for analysis.

Printed, and waiting for that lately nonexistent commodity: Leisure time...

Note: Navigate up to the June 2004 Policy Review for articles on related subjects...

Unsung Development of the Moment: Wikipedia Reinvents

Wikipedia is probably the most siginificant, important website on the net right here in May/June 2004. It's the signal success we can point to for bazaar-style projects, and the great white hope for the persistence of free, non-corporate-sponsored information on the web. Not to disregard Wikipedia's smaller cousin, WikInfo; they're just not big enough to be a great white hope, yet.

So, now, Wikipedia has done something intriguing: You can now talk about any article, or view previous versions. These appear to be benefits of upgrade to version 1.3 of MediaWiki, the hyper-extended Wiki implementation that Wikipedia developes and uses to drive the site.

Tired terms like "community portal" don't do this justice. I don't think the great mass of the digerati really have any clue how important Wikipedia (and WikInfo) are. This kind of move, once they notice it, could blow Wikipedia wide open.

My great fear is that it could literally blow it wide open: How will they be able to handle the loads? Will their community software be able to cope with input from every Tom, Dick and Harry with an opinion?

The upside, of course, is that with a project of this broad scope, we'll finally get that "online experiment" that other "communities" have been claiming to be for years.

Addendum: I've posted this on Mefi; let's see if anybody cares.

Second addendum: Mefites assure me that it's always had that functionality, though it wasn't as obvious as it is, now. I wonder if they've made changes that will let them handle the greater load and have decided to front-and-center those features?

A Small Epiphany: Our President Is A Child

I was sitting here looking at the front page of my website, and my eye kept returning to yesterday's comment about the President's pronunciation skills.

When it dawned on me: He's not being careless; he's mispronouncing it on purpose. He's acting out, like some small boy called on the carpet for not memorizing his lessons.

Our country is being run by a man with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old.

Some men are born to stupidity; some men have it thrust upon them by their environment. George W. Bush chose it defiantly, and wears it like a badge of honor to this day.

Clean David

â??After a clean-up marked by bitter controversy, Italian cultural authorities have unveiled Michelangelo's restored David, saying that the project was a success.

Funded in equal parts by two charities â?? the Dutch foundation Ars Longa and Friends of Florence, whose members include the singer Sting and the actor Mel Gibson â?? the 400,000-euro ($480,200) cleaning program removed gypsum and yellowish spots of beeswax but left the masterpiece â??the same as ever,â?? according to the restoration team.â? [Michelangelo's David Restoration Complete by Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News]

â??The same as everâ? and definitely a masterpiece when I saw David years ago. I wonder if Mel has any problem with the homoeroticism associated with David as well as artist Michelangelo. Itâ??s doubtful that Sting would.

â??Rock singer Sting based his hit song â??An Englishman in New Yorkâ?? on Crisp.â?

"If, 'Manners maketh man' as someone said
Then he's the hero of the day

It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile

Be yourself no matter what they say"

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Plogs Will Set Us Free

The Happy Tutor points to jonh @ Wirearchy offering thoughts on project blogging ("plogging" [daypop | google | teoma]).

jonh gets part of the way -- the same part of the way that Jeffersonian-tinged net.libertarians usually get: The tech has the power; the tech will cause changes that can cause changes.

I'll bet that in about five years ... by 2010 ... the use of blogs in the workplace will be widespread. This will require the continued spread of "transparency" in the dynamics of networked organizations, and so will continue to create pressure on core issues like leadership, structure and the processes by which people are managed in an interconnected information-based environment.

Just look at the pressures being faced by Donald Rumsfeld and you'll see an early signal - will leaders be able to lie their way through competitive challenges or major change in organizations ?

Powerful ideas, to be sure.

But as usual for the more optimistic heirs of Thomas J, he doesn't close the loop. The Tutor points out an obvious response:

Well, just look at Karl Rove. Yes, they will lie bigger and lie better. And nets will be the Terrorist tool of choice, demonized. Will the guards at GITMO blog when they return home, traumatized? Or will they take Prozac and wave flags? Did the SS write memoires? The story strong enough to extinguish evidence, leaving only the snow, the trees, and one lonely owl against the night. When the truth is ugly, the mind small, bet on lies. Unless our poets get off their postmodern ass. Where is our Mandelstam or Brodsky?

I would add (and add, ad nauseum, as often as I have to) that there are precious few tools that aid freedom which cannot be used to suppress it.

One error here is mistaking transparency for a technology; transparency is merely enabled by the technology.

Transparency can be shut off -- or, more ominously, controlled. Transparency need not be total, or even nearly total, in order to reap its benefits. The real cluetrain will run on rails paid for by people with lots of money or government influence, and those people will be placing restrictions on the passenger manifest: No bolsheviks allowed.

Without rules to break, how can you be bad?

Candida Cruikshanks, riffing off a news story on KRON-4 News in the Bay area:

If you are looking for vice, look for the Church spire and listen for the voices singing Hosanna. Bush is the same guy he always, just battling his own devils with missles rather than booze. "Lead them naked on leashes," see what I mean? The best sadists, from the days of the Klan to Abu Ghraid are Baptized in the Blood of the Lamb. Strong religion, strong drink. Ignorance and cruelty. Violence and repression. Projection of devils on the wall of the Other. God as a Cracker damning all but the Zealot to hell. All one inner battle. If Bush closes the Bondage Brothels here, he will open hundreds in Afghanistan, Cuba, Iraq, What else is our prison system? Bondage never had a better friend than G.W. Bush. He talks tough, but he is a pussycat in bed. (Guess who loves the leash?)

It seems some "adult entertainment" industry folks are trying to drive voter drives to register anti-Bush voters, on principle that Bush and the religious right are bad for their business.

They're right, of course, but only as long as they want to stay "legit". Forget about cultural correctness, and it becomes clear that Candida's right: Vice is meaningless without its restrictions. It thrives under repression. Remember that illicit gains are not taxed, and gansters don't mirandize one another before they bring out the saps. And on the side of "order", well -- it makes getting nasty so much easier to justify...

Gang of Fools

"I'm a spook. I appreciate good work. This was good work..." -- Patrick Lang, in Newsday

Cory Doctorow notes at BoingBoing (courtesy Making Light) that Ahmed Chalabi was a puppet of Iran [daypop link | daypop cites]:

"Iranian intelligence has been manipulating the United States through Chalabi by furnishing through his Information Collection Program information to provoke the United States into getting rid of Saddam Hussein," said an intelligence source Friday who was briefed on the Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions, which were based on a review of thousands of internal documents.

So, let's make sure we understand this: We went to war in Iraq based largely on intelligence provided by an agent of a foreign power.

Conspiracy theories will abound, of course -- we can expect them to proliferate like mushrooms on a wet summer morning. A few I can anticipate:

  • It's a plant by the Chickenhawks to pass the buck to Chalabi. (Counter: But why were they stupid enough to fall for it?)
  • It's a plant by the CIA to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks. (Counter: But why didn't they know?)
  • It's a plant by the military establishment to pass the buck to the Chickenhawks and the CIA. (This one could gain some traction. I don't know from DIA, but it looks like they might have stronger ties to the "uniformed Pentagon" than to the Chickenhawks.)
  • It's all a conspiracy by the liberal media to destroy freedom.

For the record (and to not be a rhetorical bet-hedger like Christopher Hitchens), I think the story is probably pretty much as Newsday shows it: We got out-smarted by a bunch of guys with darker skins than us who worship in ways we're not comfortable with. Like any good con man, they played us -- well, they played the Rummy-Perle-Wolfie crowd. They recognized that zealots will believe anything that supports their desires.

In a nutshell: We got suckered.

Spreading the Blame, Part 2

Christopher Hitchens seems to want to say [daypop cites] there's something wrong with Seymour Hersh's narrative of how we got from 9-11 to Abu Ghraib. He wants to say that... so why doesn't he?

Instead, he wanders along reiterating that "the filthy images from Abu Ghraib are not bad because they look bad, but bad because they are bad." Which, in context, is nothing more than disingenuously conflating different uses of the term "bad." Clearly the are "bad because they look bad" as well as being "bad because they are bad." This isn't grade school, Mr. Hitchens -- you can't rhetorically dazzle us with flourishes that cheap. Especially when you seem to rely on a contradictory argument mere paragraphs later.

So what, ultimately, is his point? It's hard to say; he seems by the end to be saying that Hersh, Michael Moore, and "the antiwar camp" don't have the stones to back up their rhetoric. It's a red herring, of course. If Hitchens is right, then when Moore or Hersh find something bad (like, say, a secret plan to enforce a routine of sadistic torment on POWs), it's really only bad because people guiding the sharp end of the stick didn't say no. Which is a pretty odd argument, considering the fact that (as Hitchens so helpfully points out) "Thugs and torturers...are always on tap in limitless supply."

People who lead safe, secure lives among other upper-middle-class people often have very odd pictures of the world. There has been a lot of free-flowing sadism in the corridors of Abu Ghraib, some of it practiced by people with questionable personal histories -- Hitchens' "thugs and torturers."

People who lead those safe, secure lives might not ever have to work side by side, day after day, with the people who've magically turned into those thugs and torturers. They don't get a chance to understand that even thugs and torturers can love their kids and be kind to small animals. This is not a contradiction. Nor is it an excuse.

These are nasty people, and they've done horrible things. They should be punished for them. But there is no law of conservation of sadism. Unless Hitchens is really quite an ivory-tower fool, he knows damn well that those atrocities were preventable. They were preventable, or ameliorable, at many steps in the chain. If Janis Karpinsky had been the commander she claims to be, she could have effectively stopped the practices at Abu Ghraib (at least outside of the "special wing"). If more soldiers had resisted going along with the pack; if the Army had been more proactive in standing up for its own professinalism; if we'd gone into Iraq with a proper plan instead of some half-assed chickenhawk warfighting dogma.

If we hadn't gone into Iraq at all.

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