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.: 2002 --> may
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[ 06/03/02 ]
:: Complexity Theory: Rabbi Arnold Resnicoff was a military chaplain for 28 years and is now working to increase interfaith understanding throughout the United States. 'After his own experiences in Vietnam and Bosnia, Resnicoff says the world does not need more simplifiers, it needs more complexifiers, if real solutions are to be found.'
He cites Israeli author Amos Oz, who, writing of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, has said that there is more than one war going on: There is a war based on the dream of Palestinians to have a land of their own, and this war is one any decent person should understand.
But there is also a war going on, on the part of militant Islam, that includes the dream of eradicating Israel, and this every decent person should abhor. Policies that fix on one of those wars and ignore the other are likely to fail.
[ 06/03/02 ]
:: Complexity Theory II: More than just another knee-jerk nationalist, reflexive pacifist, or armchair general, William Arkin would appear to be the real deal. His expertise and judgement are so widely respected that he simultaneously works for Human Rights Watch, and briefs the military.
There's no longer any debate about the accuracy of American bombing, says Arkin. 'It's are we as smart as our weapons. The question is whether we have the right policies, wisdom, targeting and understanding of our capabilities to be able to wage war in the right way.'
Noting that he criticized the bombing of power lines in Iraq as hurting the civilian population, Arkin boasts: 'The U.S. has never done it again. I actually had an influence over changing the entire air warfare doctrine.'
(via The AppleSurf Reader)
Finally, in November 9, 2001 the NYTimes observed that for years US news coverage has been one-sided and shallow, especially with regard to world opinion--and suggests that reading international news coverage is essential to anyone who hopes to be genuinely informed. [NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket]
Poking around myself, I also stumbled upon Rhetorica. Though using the term 'rhetoric' in its opposite definition from SpinSanity's tagline, Rhetorica seems to be conceived along similar lines, in this case, applying rhetorical analysis to politics and journalism. Presidential Campaign Rhetoric 2004 promises to be essential reading in the coming two years.
:: In response to last month's links about Philo T Farnsworth and the invention of television come four links from two of my favorite Brits. A brief biography of British inventor John Logie Baird, who invented the mechanical television in 1925 (publicly demonstrated on 26 January 1926--cf. Farnsworth's first success in 1927). The Great Debate reveals that Germany, the US, the UK, Japan, and Russia all claim the true inventor of TV, and Who Invented Television seeks to settle the debate once and for all.
Very enlightening, I'm sure. Though I've decided to ignore one correspondent's insinuation that Thomas Alva Edison may have appropriated some of his inventions from the Brits. I have some national pride. (thanks, nick and ian!)
You know how spam often promises to change your proportions in one respect or another? And how the recipient list is often obscured with a fake address or name? I just received a spam that was directed to 'The Enlargement List'. Well, yes.
Some more rhetoric resources:
Arguing and Thinking: A Rhetorical Approach to Social Psychology, Michael Billig
Thanks to Turbulent Velvet and antimagnet for their contributions.
Is the news media biased toward liberals? Yes. Is the news media biased toward conservatives? Yes. These questions and answers are uninteresting because it is possible to find evidence--anecdotal and otherwise--to 'prove' media bias of one stripe or another.
Far more interesting and instructive is studying the inherent biases of journalism as a professional practice--especially as mediated through television.
Commercial bias.... Temporal bias.... Visual bias.... Bad news bias.... Narrative bias
Take any news story, consider it from those five perspectives, and you're well on your way to media literacy. Understand and apply everything in the article, and I would consider you to be a master.
In fact, the most startling figure in the report has nothing to do with snowfall or sea level. Instead, it's the official government prediction that U.S. production of greenhouse gases will rise 43 percent by 2020. We'll pour half again as much carbon dioxide into the planet's atmosphere 18 years from now - that's our promise.
It's as if a drunk had finally hit bottom, announced to friends and family that he accepted the fact that he was an alcoholic and that it was destroying his life - and then said that his plan was to drink three bottles a night from now on instead of two, and see if maybe he could find an artificial kidney.
Um...yeah. I wonder if they've noticed that the words communicate important ideas in the written word, as well?
:: Michael Wolff believes the music business is about to become the book business.
In other words, there'll still be big hits (Celine Dion is Stephen King), but even if you're fairly high up on the music-business ladder, most of your time, which you'd previously spent with megastars, will be spent with mid-list stuff. [...]
The glamour, the influence, the youth, the hipness, the hookers, the drugs -- gone. Instead, it will be a low-margin, consolidated, quaintly anachronistic business, catering to an aging clientele, without much impact on an otherwise thriving culture awash in music that only incidentally will come from the music industry.
Even now only a handful of acts sell millions of CDs anyway--so I guess Wolff believes that those best sellers will be fewer and far between, and less lucrative when they do exist.
What's most interesting to me is that most of the commentary I've read--and most of the speculation I've indulged in myself--has presumed the ascendancy of popular music. I still think the music business can pull it out; I just don't know if they will. [NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket]
The music industry is nothing but a humongous middleman. Even if people start to get most of their music online for free, there will be a strong need for reliable filters to pre-select a likely set of choices. Weblogs, anyone? And it makes sense to me that as more and more material floods the market, many people will be willing to pay someone who can steer them to the good stuff. As the article points out, free has its own costs.
(via Boing Boing)
Dumb, dumb, dumb. The notion that America wins if people keep on shopping is deeply offensive to me. Never mind that, despite what this article asserts, I keep seeing piles of flag-decorated merchandise lying in heaps in the clearance bin whenever I go into the retail world.
It wasnít always this way. Researchers in the NYU study also looked at how portions at these restaurants have changed over the years. Todayís french fry, burger and soda portions are about two to five times the portions originally served. The number of large-sized portions has increased more than ten-fold in the last 30 years.
While it seems that the Food Guide Pyramid was constructed as much to promote US agricultural interests as to promote good health, each of us would certainly be healthier than we are if we adhered to its standards rather than routinely super-sizing that next meal.
Remember that even a 'medium' was once a 'large' not too long ago.
Except inside a Starbucks. There, drink sizes start with the 'tall' (once, 'small') and move on up. Just a way to raise prices without alerting anyone, I suppose.
The researchers also told Cyc to ask questions if it decides it needs more clarity about a concept. In 1986 Cyc asked whether it was human. That same year it asked whether any other computers were engaged in such a project.
Q: What makes this announcement so historic and important?
A: From this point forward, real-world common sense can be expected to play an integral part of software applications. For the first time, the world's only large-scale, task-independent, language-independent, extensible, reusable, common-sense knowledge base is being made available to the world. Beginning now, software can become increasingly and arbitrarily smarter.
but I can't find any information on contributing to the database itself. (thanks, jim!)
:: In the days immediately following the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration promised to present 'conclusive evidence' that bin Laden was behind the attacks--then suddenly declined to do so publicly. (Of course you recall that several months later a conclusive piece of videotape surfaced--but we had long since begun our attacks.)
The other day it occurred to me that his 'conclusive evidence' may have been that infamous information the FBI and CIA neglected to put together before the attacks. And that the Bush administration declined to air their proof when they realized the outrage that would accompany the admission that those agencies had, through colossal mismanagement, failed to protect the American people from an attack they had the information to predict.
And then silence. Instead of freely admitting these failures and openly working to determine what went wrong and what procedures need to be discarded or put in place to prevent a similar debacle in the future, the Bush administration, the FBI, and the CIA have all stonewalled and scrambled in their attempts to divert the blame somewhere else. In a litigious culture, CYA trumps accountability every time.
Do I favor firing the FBI Director Mueller and CIA Director Tenet for their agencies' failure to predict the attacks? Unless it can be shown that either of them knowingly blocked action that would have prevented the attacks, that's just more litigiousness. What happened was a system failure; the past is past. The only effective thing to do now is to fix the system or to design a new one.
However, if either of them--or indeed, anyone--obstructs the investigation into what went wrong, they should be summarily fired and removed from their agency altogether. It is the job of every man and woman working in the FBI, CIA, and White House to protect the American people--not their own personal reputation or professional position.
Call me crazy, but it seems to me that it's easy for al-Qaeda to find thugs willing to build a bomb and set it off, but it's hard for them to come up with the radioactive material needed to construct such a bomb. So why did we arrest al Mujahir (with no actual criminal charges to press against him) when we could have followed him around and seen who he was working with and perhaps where he was planning on obtaining the material he needed to build the bomb?
[ 06/12/02 ]
:: The Christian Science Monitor speculates about the ways in which keeping the focus on the 'War on Terror' benefits the Bush administration and its political agenda.
Whatever the reasons for the timing of the White House moves, one of their effects is a change in Washington's--indeed, the nation's--political conversation, back to issues on which the administration is on solid ground with the public. 'What we've learned in the past couple of weeks is how a president can command the political landscape during a time of war,' says Marshall Wittmann, an analyst at the Hudson Institute.
[ 06/12/02 ]
As Hewlett notes, they are 'quite prepared to shoulder more than their fair share of the work involved in having both career and family. . . . At the end of the day, women simply want the choices in love and work that men take so completely for granted.'
[NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket]
Cf the story I linked in 1999 asserting that military mothers don't become Generals (sadly, no longer online). At the time, I highlighted this quote: 'For some reason marriage is almost seen as a liability for a woman because she will have to spend time with her family,' said Lt. Col. Margaret Flott, an Army spokeswoman. 'But I do not think that is unique to the Army.'
Add this data point: When I worked in a University Department of Surgery, I noticed that almost all of the MDs applying for residency were already married. Some of them already had children. I think it was considered a mark of seriousness and stability...or maybe they figured that they were going to need the at-home support during that time. Or that they wouldn't possibly have time to cultivate a new relationship during residency.
Whatever the thinking, these were young men and women who married straight out of college in order to get the spouse-and-family part of their lives taken care of before they began their grueling residencies. Judging from this book review, I may not agree with all of Hewlett's solutions, but she is definitely asking exactly the right questions.
:: In this interview with Usability expert and professor Cherri M. Pancake, Dr. Pancake argues that though there have been inprovements, the general state of usability is 'still pretty terrible.'
Unless you're a programmer or web developer, you're probably not interested in this article. I didn't even read it--I just wanted to say 'Dr. Pancake'. (via the estimable shelflife)
:: I'm having some trouble understanding the fuss about the Esquire interview with Press Secretary Andrew Card. His distress at the departure of Karen Hughes seems well-founded to me. The full piece must contain many more revealing details because from the online excerpt I don't derive 'Hughes is the only person who knows how to dumb down policy choices sufficiently for President Bush to understand them'. Nor do I see a description of internal dissent in Card's depiction of the balance between Hughes and Karl Rove.
It's a interesting glimpse into the workings of the Bush White House, but I see nothing for the GOP to be 'in shock' about. Were I the President, I'd surround myself with the smartest people I knew, and deliberately choose people whom I knew to hold differing viewpoints. I'd present them with a situation, and then sit back and let them talk. Discussing the issues with people of varying opinion would enable me to make a more informed decision when the time came.
Do the politicos really think that average Americans believe any President sits and thinks through decisions with only factual input from others? Or that they equate vigorous discussion from opposing viewpoints with weak leadership?
I'm no fan of this Administration, but this article seems to me to describe a responsible, well-designed circle of advisors. Throwing it out of balance would be a concern to anyone responsible for seeing that the White House functions smoothly. Either the excerpt leaves out a great deal of pertinent information, or the language used by Card is an elaborate political code known only to journalists and politicians. Note that Esquire's introduction frames the story in the most dramatic possible terms--then judge the excerpt for yourself. (via rhetorica--comment)
A hatred of junk mail seems to bring out the worst in people. Earlier in the year a newspaper delivery woman was attacked by a naked man on one roller skate who police believed was trying to stop the delivery of unwanted advertising.
This weekend, I fell in love. My new best friend Vacapinta pointed me to mailwasher, PC shareware that, like Bouncer, allows you to bounce spam back to its sender, hopefully inducing them to remove your email address from their list. I am hoping my spam levels will decrease in a month or so. In the meantime, I actually look forward to each piece of spam that hits my mailbox.
Serving the congregation: Bishop C. Vernie Russell Jr. is delivering his congregation from credit card debt one family at a time--using only donations from other congregants. The good Bishop says "You canít serve your Master and MasterCard at the same time." Amen to that! (thanks, jim!)
:: As the United States continues to pressure poor countries to open their markets, new US farm subsidies promise to drive down the cost of local crops and further hurt rural farmers around the world. [NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket]
In Rome, at a United Nations conference on hunger, developing countries pointed this week to the huge new subsidies to American farmers as one of the biggest obstacles to creating vital opportunities for their own farmers and enabling them to climb out of poverty. [...]
Poor countries say the subsidies also work at cross purposes to the administration's avowed desire to reduce poverty and to diminish foreign anger against the United States.
(via nick denton)
Research carried out by our Institute reveals that since 1996, governments have presided over a set of policies that have conspired to undercut peasant, small and family farmers, and farm cooperatives in nations both North and South.
These policies have included runaway trade liberalization, pitting family farmers in the Third World against the subsidized corporate farms in the North (witness the recent U.S. Farm Bill), forcing Third World countries to eliminate price supports and subsidies for food producers, the privatization of credit, the excessive promotion of exports to the detriment of food crops, the patenting of crop genetic resources by corporations who charge farmers for their use, and a bias in agricultural research toward expensive and questionable technologies like genetic engineering while virtually ignoring pro-poor alternatives like organic farming and agroecology.
I'm not opposed to globalization per se. I am opposed to the neglect and destruction of local economies in the pursuit of foreign markets (or worse, the ascendancy of corporations at the expense of poor nations and ordinary individuals). Self-sufficiency must always be the first goal: common sense dictates that international markets be built on top of strong local economies that, as much as possible, do not depend on imports for their basic needs.
Addendum: Nick Denton seems to be conflating 'self-sufficiency' with 'isolationism' in his response to my comments. Note that I mean self-sufficiency with regard to basic needs: food, clothing, health care, housing, and education. Again, common sense dictates that a community that can provide all or most of those things for itself will be stronger and more resilient than one that depends on outside sources for its basic needs.
I chose the term deliberately: it is unreasonable to expect any community or country to be satisfied with a sustenance-level existence simply to ensure their independence from the vagaries of an international market. (It would be particularly unreasonable for me, living the life of Riley in one of the richest nations in the world, to insist on that.) Prosperity, on the other hand, connotes having more than one strictly needs. That's a wonderful goal and easily achievable for many people--but may be an unreasonable expectation for everyone, everywhere to achieve in isolation from everyone else.
I'm a great believer in interdependence, which may be our greatest hope for world-wide peace and prosperity--but only if manifested in a way that provides for the real needs of everyday people instead of creating riches for a few wealthy individuals, governments and corporations. Wooing foreign investors instead of enhancing the ability of communities to provide for their own basic needs is foolish policy; destroying strong local economies in favor of those investors is even worse.
:: I've been getting a lot of hits to 'rebeccablood.com' (which just points to this page). If you are one of these visitors, welcome! If your address bar says 'rebeccablood.com' and you have a moment, would you kindly let me know how you got here? [ 06/19/02 ]
For Paine does have a legacy, a place where his values prosper and are validated millions of times a day: the Internet. There, his ideas about communications, media ethics, the universal connections between people, and the free flow of honest opinion are all relevant again, visible every time one modem shakes hands with another. [...]
If Paine's vision was aborted by the new technologies of the last century, newer technology has brought his vision full circle. If his values no longer have much relevance for conventional journalism, they fit the Net like a glove.
The Net offers what Paine and his revolutionary colleagues hoped for--a vast, diverse, passionate, global means of transmitting ideas and opening minds.
I've been saying since 1999 that the webloggers are the new pamphleteers. Katz made the claim in 1995 that 'traditional media are in a state of near panic' over the Internet; you may have heard similar claims recently about their reaction to weblogs. Here's a hint: until it starts losing money, Big Business doesn't care what the masses do with in their spare time.
While we're considering long-past history, it might be worth pondering our own, more recent history, as well:
Since it no longer shares a definable value system--a sense of outsiderness, a commitment to truth-telling, an inspiring ethical structure--journalists seem increasingly disconnected from one another as well as from the public.
Online, feuds rage and people storm at one another, but the vast digital news and information world contains many distinct communities. On bulletin boards and conferencing systems, there is already a moving and richly documented tradition of rushing to one another's assistance, of viewing oneself as part of a collective culture. In America's media capitals--New York, Washington, and LA--there seems to be no such sense of common ground.
(the links in that last paragraph are mine)
Weblogs are just one part of the larger history of the Web, and the Web is just one part of the Internet. What we're doing is new in some respects, but many of our experiences repeat those of the pioneers who, not too many years ago, forged this ground. Understanding what has come before, we can be smarter about our own history by placing it in these larger contexts. [ 06/19/02 ]
Remember the Internet Scout Report? While we were looking in the other direction, it has transformed itself into an honest-to-goodness weblog--and quite a good one, too. Consider the next three links:
The English ridiculed forks as being effeminate and unnecessary. 'Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?' they asked.
The perennial question.
Johnston recalled a nine-week-old baby being lifted into his arms - and, 11 years ago, that 'baby', then an 84- year-old Englishwoman, sent him a 'thank you' note.
:: The Watergate scandal produced deep changes in journalism, government, and public perception of government officials and agencies. Thirty years later some of those reforms are being rolled back and even cultural attitudes are becoming more complacent.
In just the past few months, the federal government has loosened many of the restraints on intelligence-gathering that were rooted in the Watergate era. Americans are no longer reflexively cynical about their leaders, if President Bush's approval ratings in particular are to be believed.
Even many of today's young reporters have a different raison d'Ítre: They want to be narrative storytellers as much as investigative journalists, developing Deep Voices instead of Deep Throats.
'My sense is you can just erase the '70s,' says LeRoy Ashby, a historian at Washington State University.
I'm not sure I would interpret Bush's approval ratings as a 'lack of cynicism.' I'm not sure how I would characterize it, but I'm not convinced 'a lack of cynicism' follows.
Last year's report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change included the economists' assessment that stabilising atmospheric carbon dioxide at twice pre-industrial concentrations by 2100 would cost between $1 trillion and $8 trillion. It sounds a lot, says Schneider, but the money would be all but invisible against the 2 per cent a year economic growth predicted by the same economists.
My only reservation about the scientists' assertion is that it's based on economic forecasting, which is rather like dowsing, only much less scientific and accurate. (I accept their point that a set of numbers that is conclusive enough to make one decision should be conclusive enough to make another.)
I'd rather put those numbers next to projections of other costs (like military expenditures, for example) and see how they compare. Maybe project out Congressional Pork for the next hundred years, and see what it adds up to. Just for comparison. Here's what I've noticed: governments always have the money for whatever they decide they need. (via plep)
Well, right on.
Hey! Greenpeace has a weblog! Weirdly, it seems to be slightly web development oriented, with pop culture links interspersed. And all those Information Architecture links on the side. I'd think they'd link to tidepool or your planet earth maybe, or quark soup. I don't know of that many environmental weblogs (I only have 5 on my portal) and I was hoping to find a few more. (via David Chess)
:: The New England Journal of Medicine has announced that it will no longer require reviewers to be free of any ties to the companies whose products they are assessing.
Under the new policy, doctors writing reviews in the Journal can accept up to $10,000 a year from each drug company in speaking fees and consulting fees. [ed. note: !!!!!!!!!]
In 2000, the drug industry sponsored more than 314,000 events for physicians--everything from luncheons to getaway weekends--at a cost of almost $2 billion. On top of that, many doctors accept speaking and consulting fees that link them to drug companies.
And they start early. When I worked in a major university's Department of Surgery, drug companies provided once-a-week lunches for the residents, and regularly passed out all kinds of schwag to the doctors. My favorite was a note pad that featured a drawing of a perforated colon at the top. Class-eeeey. Of course, I immediately grabbed one and used it for all of my interdepartmental correspondence.
New Scientist: 'If you work in an office, perhaps you should be washing your hands before you go to the lavatory rather than after, or better still both. University of Arizona microbiologist Chuck Gerba has discovered that the average office desk is a veritable menagerie of microbes, with 400 times the bacterial load of the average toilet seat.' (thanks, Ian!)
Blogging from the Future: E-Sheep: Delta Thrives | Set Controls for the Heart of the Sun. [comic strip, takes a long time to load, mild adult content] (thanks, Sabren!)
Ann Landers died Saturday. She was 83. The New York Times obituary is terrific. Did you know that Ann's name was Esther Pauline, and Dear Abby's name is Pauline Esther? I guess their parents didn't want to choose another name. [NY Times: rebeccas_pocket, password: pocket] (Thanks, Walker!)
:: Have you treated yourself to the Los Angeles Times' invasive registration process? The weblog universe points regularly to this site, but I've heard nary a peep about this form. After avoiding reading LA Times articles for the past few months, I decided to click through this weekend. What a mess. It starts with a notice that accounts established prior to July 9th, 2001, are no longer active and require re-registration.
Then there's the new registration itself:
Member Name (required)
So far, so good.
Their rationale? 'Your address and phone number are required below so we can identify whether or not your account will receive additional newspaper subscriber benefits in the future.'
The Los Angeles Times is well within their rights to demand your information for their information, but I know many people who refuse to fill in the slightly less intrusive New York Times registration--and many more who simply fill out online registrations with nonsense.
Here's the deal: savvy websites collect information only at the point when the customer wants them to have it. Offer the customer a benefit (shipping, recommendations, an additional sunscriber benefit, or a special deal) and they will beg you to take their information; demand information up front, and many customers will lie to you or skip your service altogether.
No, I don't know how newspapers are going to support their web properties, and yes, I do want them to continue to offer content online. But I don't think this is going to work.
Rule of Thumb: If I disagree with your politics, it's a 'conspiracy theory'; if I agree with your politics, it's an 'interesting possibility'.
An interesting study in cash-free microeconomics, the Octopus card is a big hit in Hong Kong, where nearly everyone uses it for all forms of public transport and to purchase fancy coffee drinks. It's easy to use (through your wallet or purse!), inexpensive, and completely confidential. (via nedblog)
Economic Left/Right: -4.00
Of course, you'd already figured that out.
This is pretty close to my score when I took it about a year ago--somewhat less liberal and more libertarian than Gandhi who appears to be about a -7/-3 (take the test yourself, first).
Interestingly, when I took the test about six months ago, I noticed that my libertarian score had slipped even further into the negative numbers. As I went through the questions, I remember noticing myself reacting strongly against the suggestion of government intrusion of any kind--certainly a response to the Administration's suggestion that the erosion of civil liberties constituted an effective response to terrorism.
So, what does it say about me that my score has slipped back up? That I'm seeing enough resistance to these measures from both the left and the right to feel they will be checked and eventually removed--or that I've just become inured to the prospect of a more fascist state?
The world's sweetest weblogger just wrote to tell me that Amazon has shipped his copy of The Weblog Handbook. I've had my copies since Monday, and I've just been sitting here squirming, waiting for them to trickle into the rest of the world. Next milestone: a sighting in the wild!
:: What is the ruckus over NPR's linking policy? I just don't get it. They've responded to criticisms with a revised policy that explicitly allows linking while still satisfying their lawyers' need for control. But full capitulation is required: the new wording is still offensive. Really, since permission is not theirs to give, it's a little like someone giving you permission to walk on the sidewalk, isn't it? Obnoxious, maybe, but not worth stopping to argue.
Never mind that their old policy was there, languishing unnoticed, since February 2000 (check and see). Link to them, don't link to them, this is a big non-issue unless they actually threaten to prosecute someone for linking to them--which, to my knowledge, they have never done.
[Disclosure: my husband has been consulting for NPR in the last few weeks.]
:: Another commotion over offensive words is the hoo-haw over the recent court ruling that the words 'under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance constitute an 'endorsement of religion'. Since the words weren't added until 1954 in a Cold War move designed to differentiate the US from the Godless communists', let's just take them back out. Another non-issue, I'm honestly not offended either way.
(I do think the whole idea of a pledge that you say to a flag is a little creepy, though, if you think about it for a few minutes. It sort of seems like you're promising to follow the flag, no matter who is carrying it. Just whoever happens to be holding it. Do other countries pledge themselves to a flag, or is this unique to the US?)
Also, did you know that the original salute was originally with the arm extended toward the flag? It was modified to the current hand over the heart after Hitler came to power and Americans decided they wanted something that looked a little less fascist.