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.: 2003 --> november


:: In response to last week's item about voter fraud, Mark writes in to point out that manipulation of the voting process has a long and sordid history in this country. Of course it does. But as I reminded him, unless we fight for our democracy, it will be compromised. That this fight faces every generation makes it no less important.
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: Electronic voting machines are touted as the antidote to low-tech, unreliable punch cards. But some computer scientists now warn that these machine might instead worsen the situation.

'If you look at the consequences for democracy, it's terrifying,' says David Dill, a Stanford University computer- science professor who has led the charge to raise awareness about the machines' potential security flaws. 'If we had a way to make [computerized voting] safe, believe me, we would. There's no way to run a reliable election without a verifiable paper trail - that's what these machines don't have.' [...]
Dill gave the [electronic voting machine's computer] code to a team of computer security experts led by Avi Rubin, technical director of the Information Security Institute at Johns Hopkins University.
The team's report, released in July, marked the first time any company's voting-system software has been publicly evaluated by an academic team. Over 24 pages, it details what Dr. Rubin describes as system-security flaws the average teenager today would be computer-savvy enough to exploit.

It's not rocket--or even computer--science to see that a paper trail is fundamental to the integrity of any voting system.
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: A single-shot gun that looks like a pen has been designated a 'typical handgun' by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, meaning that sales won't require extra background checks. This is hardly an unbiased article, but I share the reporter's concerns about this weapon.
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: Janis Ian: Music industry spins falsehood.

Attacking your own customers because they want to learn more about your products is a bizarre business strategy, one the music industry cannot afford to continue. Yet the RIAA effectively destroyed Napster on such grounds, and now it is using the same crazy logic to take on Internet service providers and even privacy rights. [...]
On the first day I posted downloadable music, my merchandise sales tripled, and they have stayed that way ever since. I'm not about to become a zillionaire as a result, but I am making more money. At a time when radio playlists are tighter and any kind of exposure is hard to come by, 365,000 copies of my work now will be heard. Even if only 3% of those people come to concerts or buy my CDs, I've gained about 10,000 new fans this year.
That's how artists become successful: exposure. Without exposure, no one comes to shows, and no one buys CDs. After 37 years as a recording artist, when people write to tell me that they came to my concert because they downloaded a song and got curious, I am thrilled.

[ 11/04/03 ]

:: 'Pregnancy, birth and abortion rates dropped in the United States from 1990 to 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.'.

This article doesn't speculate as to why. My first thought would be that, for some reason, birth control rates must have been going up for that period.
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: Hey! Ribbit! is back!
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: Have you ever wondered what the original Heinz 57 varieties were? Turns out, they never existed. Moreover, the Straight Dope demonstrates that the Heinz empire is part of the Illuminati.

Check out Heinz's fun gallery of historic advertising images. (Won't work with Opera.]
[ 11/04/03 ]

:: Still ticking: Voyager reaches the edge of the solar system.
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: Men in skirts.

'Men feel if they wear it (a skirt), their masculinity will be called into question. But if you've even seen a man in a skirt, the first thing you think of is male genitalia,' [Andrew Bolton] said. Roman gladiators, for example, proudly displayed their legs for all to see in short, skirted suits of armor as a sign of their virility.

'Nuff said.
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: Bean farmers want you to give beans the respect they deserve. Listen, I just have to link to an article that starts off with this outstanding line:

Adding hot air to a cold day, a group of bean growers from North Dakota and Minnesota kicked off a national campaign to show off the 'magical fruit.'

The whole article is something of a toot hoot.

'What is the first thing that comes to mind when I say beans?' Gabriel asked. 'Someone just has to come out and say it. Most of us think of fiber.'

And you're going to love their list of slogans.
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: More Food News: The FDA says cloned food is safe, as long as it comes from healthy animals. On a related note, and for your information, here is a list of genetically engineered crops which are allowed in the US food supply.
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: As you may have heard, hunger in America is on the rise.

Based on a Census Bureau survey of 50,000 households, the department estimated that 3.8 million families were hungry last year to the point where someone in the household skipped meals because they couldnít afford them. Thatís an 8.6 percent increase from 2001, when 3.5 million families were hungry, and a 13 percent increase from 2000.
Margaret Andrews, a department economist and an author of the annual survey, said the prevalence of hunger and food insecurity is clearly tied to the poverty rate because they fluctuate together.

It's not a shortage of food. It's a failure of policy. Either we need social programs to feed the hungry, or the government needs to pursue a 100% employment policy--or both.
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: For the last few years I've been hearing over and over that we (human beings on the planet Earth) are facing a massive water shortage. Here it is again.

Professor Frank Rijsberman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research said: 'If present trends continue, the livelihoods of one-third of the world's population will be affected by water scarcity by 2025. We could be facing annual losses equivalent to the entire grain crops of India and the US combined.'

[ 11/06/03 ]

:: Another wave of bloggers is reading the Weblog Handbook, it seems. One is CoolMel, who says, 'Rebecca Bloodís The Weblog Handbook is to blogging as Natalie Goldbergís Writing Down The Bones is to writing.'
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: A little weekend reading: Shelflife is a weekly newsletter for information professionals that regularly delivers terrific summaries of high-quality articles. From the November 6 edition, a summary--and link--so good I'm going to republish it in full. Emphasis is mine.

The quantity and flow of information is exploding at an amazing rate, according to a new study by the School of Information Management and Systems at University of California-Berkeley. Among their jaw-dropping findings: the amount of new information stored on paper, film, magnetic and optical media has roughly doubled in the last three years. Five exabytes of new information -- roughly five billion gigabytes -- was created in 2002 alone. How big are five exabytes? Imagine half a million libraries as big as the Library of Congress print collections, and you're on the right track. Each year almost 800 MB of recorded information is produced per person. If stored on paper, that would take about 30 feet of books. But 92% of all that new information is stored on magnetic media, mostly hard disks, rather than on paper, film or optical media.
But there's much more than stored information. Information flowing through electronic channels --telephone (both cellular and landline), radio, TV and the Internet -- is far larger. Almost 18 exabytes of new information was generated in 2002, three and a half times more than the amount stored. Five billion instant messages per day produce 274 terabytes a year. (A terabyte is about 1,000 gigabytes.) E-mail racks up about 400,000 terabytes of new information each year worldwide. About 31 billion e-mails are sent daily, a figure which is expected to double by 2006. E-mail ranks second behind the telephone as the largest information flow. E-mail users include 35% of the total U.S. population and accounts for over 35% of time spent on the Internet. The UC-Berkeley study estimates that about one-third of all e-mail is spam.

Let me repeat: 800 MB produced per person, per year. The study Summary of Findings notes that 5 MB equals the Complete Works of Shakespeare. Producing less information certainly wouldn't result in Shakespearean-quality results, but I wonder how much of that data is even useful, much less necessary?

Keep in mind that much of that data replaces conversation, which hasn't ever been collected and quantified in the way that written communication can be. On the other hand, the Internet has expanded our communities to the point that we are likely conversing with more people than we did in the days before virtual interaction.

In the past year I have been spending less and less time online. This is partially unconscious--I've just been spending time doing things that happen offline; partially conscious--turning off my connection so that computer time is productive instead of procrastination; and partially a deliberate attempt to limit my reading to a few high-quality sources of information instead of drinking everyday from the firehose of news, opinion, and nonsense that is the Internet. I admit to having only limited success with the last two, but I am still convinced that this will be the greatest challenge--and luxury--of the future.

In ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound made much the same point in 1934:

We live in an age of science and abundance. The care and reverence for books as such, proper to an age when no book was duplicated until someone took the pains to copy it out by hand, is obviously no longer suited to 'the needs of society', or to the conservation of learning. The weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of Muses is to persist as a garden.

Isn't it ironic that weblogs, which at their inception, were designed to extract signal from noise, have become so numerous that we are now drowning in them?
[ 11/06/03 ]

:: The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts.

The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts is the title of this book. To have called it the survival and transmission of ancient literature would have been pretentious, but not wholly untruthful. Manuscripts, we all know, are the chief means by which the records and imaginings of twenty centuries have been preserved. It is my purpose to tell where manuscripts were made, and how and in what centres they have been collected, and, incidentally, to suggest some helps for tracing out their history. Naturally the few pages into which the story has to be packed will not give room for any one episode to be treated exhaustively. Enough if I succeed in rousing curiosity and setting some student to work in a field in which and immense amount still remains to be discovered.

Via the Poisoned Pen Press Authors Weblog. Wouldn't it be fun to see this group of authors start another weblog containing an ongoing, collaborative mystery?
[ 09/30/03 ]

:: In my cautious response to the Information Age, it seems I'm not alone.
[ 11/14/03 ]

:: Credit agencies sending our files abroad. [slithy popup!]

Two of the three major credit-reporting agencies, each holding detailed files on about 220 million U.S. consumers, are in the process of outsourcing sensitive operations abroad, and a third may follow suit shortly, industry officials acknowledge for the first time.
'We take great care of our data,' Hogan stressed. 'It's our livelihood.'

Well, sure, as long as it's secure. Once it's out, it becomes our livelihood. (thanks, lizard!)
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: Better food without the politics.

Genetic engineers can snip an insecticide gene from the DNA of a bacterium and paste it into the DNA of corn. Voilŗ, corn that makes its own insecticide. But when that corn hit the global market, many consumers rejected it. Moving genes by such unnatural means disturbs many people.
Traditional plant breeders, meanwhile, have shuffled genes for millenniums. Sharing genes among plant varieties that interbreed - even if humans facilitate it - hasn't challenged anyone's worldview.

This story doesn't address the problems involved with keeping GM crops contained. Nor does it address the aggressive tactics Monsanto has used to enforce their patents, suing farmers who find volunteer GM canola on their land. One such case is about to go to the Canadian Supreme Court.

Traditionally modified plants may be more popular in the marketplace (if we can find out which plants are which), but as long as these modifications are aggressively protected as a form of intellectual property, GM foods will continue to be controversial.
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: Oldtimers News: BBSmates is a place to search for members of all your old BBSes. Go sign up! All the cool kids are doing it! (via Miscmedia)
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: An aggregate graph of bloggers' political compass scores. Go sign up! All the cool kids are doing it!
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: George vs George Deathmatch! George Soros, who has used his personal fortune to finance capitalism around the world has a new target: getting George W. Bush out of office.

Overnight, Soros, 74, has become the major financial player of the left. He has elicited cries of foul play from the right. And with a tight nod, he pledged: 'If necessary, I would give more money.'
'America, under Bush, is a danger to the world,' Soros said. Then he smiled: 'And Iím willing to put my money where my mouth is.'

Oh, how the Republicans are screaming.
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: How to influence the media. Hint: weblogs aren't it.

Iíve come to believe that the most important thing I will ever tell you, and probably the most important thing you will ever read on this site, is that television management listens to viewer feedback. Listens probably isnít a strong enough word, they thrive on it, crave it, live for it and seek it out. When there is a vacuum, they hire focus groups, consultants and pollsters to fill the void. They donít read blogs, lurk in chatrooms or give much weight to professional media critics. Today, the two factors that most shape broadcast television are ad revenues and direct viewer feedback.

(thanks, mark!)
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: Composting News: CanOWorms. (thanks, lisa!)
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: Whattaya know! The Common Wheel is an anti-poverty, anti-capitalism weblog that features reviews of goth music!
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: Yomoyomo is the gentleman who translated my book into Japanese (due out in a month or so). Now I'm pleased to announce that he has published japanese translations of my Weblog Ethics and Weblogs and Journalism in an Age of Participatory Media.
[ 11/13/03 ]

:: A little weekend reading: Al Gore on threats to US security, the inherent incompatability of secrecy in a democratic government, and the fundamental contradiction of trading civil rights for 'security'.

Listen to the way Israelís highest court dealt with a similar question when, in 1999, it was asked to balance due process rights against dire threats to the security of its people: 'This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individualís liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day they (add to) its strength.'

(via anil)
[ 11/14/03 ]

:: Recently, I linked two accounts of US attempts to erase Baathist propaganda from Iraqi textbooks. With the schoolyear closing it, it seems the easiest thing was to wipe out most modern history.

Pressured for time, and hoping to avoid political controversy, the Ministry of Education under the US-led coalition government removed any content considered 'controversial,' including the 1991 Gulf War; the Iran-Iraq war; and all references to Israelis, Americans, or Kurds. [...]
'We considered anything anti-American to be propaganda and we took it out,' says Fuad Hussein, the Iraqi in charge of curriculum for the Ministry of Education. 'In some cases, we had to remove entire chapters.'
So until curricula can be properly revised - which could take years - it will largely be up to individual teachers to decide either to ignore many historical events or to make their own judgments about what and how students will learn about their past.

[ 11/14/03 ]

:: Rafe has an important entry today about verifiable electronic voting and the fundamental need for a paper trail. He also provides the information you need to help ensure that a verifiable system is put in place.

It seems to me that in places where unverifiable voting systems are in use, voters should provide their own paper trails in case results seem way off whack. Maybe the Black Box Voting people can organize such an initiative to raise awareness for their cause.
[ 11/14/03 ]

:: The Political Survey is an attempt to improve on what the author sees as the Political Compass's failings. Instead of right-left and authoritarian-libertarian axes, the Political Survey is plotted on right-left and pragmatic-idealist axes. My results are

right/left -5.2229
pragmatism/idealism +0.5706

...on a scale that goes from 16.6132 (far right) to -16.6132 (far left), and 16.6132 (pure pragmatist) to -16.6132 (pure idealist).

That makes me somewhat liberal and nearly in the center on the idealist-pragmatist axis. I would call myself more liberal than that, but the pragmatism axis does seem to perfectly define the reason so many on the left take me up and then abandon me: I am only selectively willing (in matters of civil rights, for example) to apply purely idealistic solutions to real-life situations. I often see some merit in the other point of view, and I often reject solutions on the grounds that they just won't work.

As with the Political Compass survey, bloggers can add their results to an aggregate graph. I've added my Political Survey score beneath my Political Compass score in my sidebar, if only to keep the opposition honest when they accuse me of being 'so far left she's off the scale'.

I'm not convinced the Political Survey is more useful than the Political Compass. I find both models to offer enlightening ways of thinking about my politics and the politics of those with whom I disagree.
[ 11/14/03 ]

:: Thomas Friedman: Wanted: Fanatical Moderates.

Mr. Beilin and Mr. Abed Rabbo, with funding from the Swiss government, decided to see if they could draw up a detailed peace treaty, with maps, at a time when their governments were paralyzed. After three years, they did it. They shook hands on it Oct. 12 and today they are mailing copies in Hebrew and Arabic to every home in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. [...]
'Our agreement is virtual, because we are not the government and do not pretend to be,' said Mr. Beilin, whose deal was co-signed by a former Israeli Army chief of staff, a former deputy Mossad chief and leaders from Mr. Arafat's Tanzim militia. 'But we need to create a virtual world that will impact the real world by demonstrating that a workable deal is possible. It is inconceivable that for the past three years there have been no official meetings between Israelis and Palestinians about a permanent solution.'

God bless these men. At this point, nearly any good faith effort is a blessing. Extremists will rail, of course, but it's time to marginalize them in favor of those who are willing to move forward.

Here's an article on the Geneva Peace Accord that highlights the biggest problem facing both sides of this conflict:

Iftach Spector, 62, one of Israel's most highly decorated Air Force pilots, now retired, staunchly opposes Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its establishment of Jewish settlements. He made news recently as one of 27 Israeli active- duty and reserve pilots who signed a petition against the policy of targeted air strikes on Palestinian militants, because innocent bystanders often are maimed and killed. [...]
'The quarrel between us and the Palestinians is affecting children as young as 12' who throw stones and get killed, and '29-year-old lawyers,' like the suicide bomber who blew herself up amid women and children in a Haifa restaurant, Spector said. 'A signature by Beilin and anyone else is not going to change that. We've simply done too much wrong to each other.'

Fanatics will accept nothing but the annihilation of their enemies, and on both sides, fanatics will take steps to undermine any peace, but I don't buy the argument that either side is inherently evil. I believe the majority of people in Israel and Palestine would love to live peaceful, secure lives. Let us hope that they can rise up and demand that their governments adopt this measure or construct one of their own. Their governments have failed them. It's time for them to take up the cause and force their representatives to do the right thing. (via calpundit)
[ 11/18/03 ]

:: A quick note about providing you with a NYTimes login. That last link works because it uses a special code that identifies it as coming from an RSS reader. I got it from Calpundit. But I can no longer provide you with a reader login because they're onto me. At this point any login I create is blocked within days of its creation. I pioneered this weblog convention, but it looks like its days--on this site, at least--have come to an end.

I don't use an RSS reader to look at weblogs, nor do I intend to. I'm trying to moderate my information consumption, not add to it. So you'll just have to pony up and create your own login.
[ 11/18/03 ]

:: We are the ones we have been waiting for.
[ 11/18/03 ]

:: Fast Company: The Walmart You Don't Know. [slithy popup!]

One way to think of Wal-Mart is as a vast pipeline that gives non-U.S. companies direct access to the American market. 'One of the things that limits or slows the growth of imports is the cost of establishing connections and networks,' says Paul Krugman, the Princeton University economist. 'Wal-Mart is so big and so centralized that it can all at once hook Chinese and other suppliers into its digital system. So--wham!--you have a large switch to overseas sourcing in a period quicker than under the old rules of retailing.'
Steve Dobbins has been bearing the brunt of that switch. He's president and CEO of Carolina Mills, a 75-year-old North Carolina company that supplies thread, yarn, and textile finishing to apparel makers--half of which supply Wal-Mart. Carolina Mills grew steadily until 2000. But in the past three years, as its customers have gone either overseas or out of business, it has shrunk from 17 factories to 7, and from 2,600 employees to 1,200. Dobbins's customers have begun to face imported clothing sold so cheaply to Wal-Mart that they could not compete even if they paid their workers nothing.
'People ask, "How can it be bad for things to come into the U.S. cheaply? How can it be bad to have a bargain at Wal-Mart?" Sure, it's held inflation down, and it's great to have bargains,' says Dobbins. 'But you can't buy anything if you're not employed. We are shopping ourselves out of jobs.'

It's an intensely interesting article.
[ 11/18/03 ]

:: is the microbiology information portal. Do not miss the images of the day (scroll down). It really does look like a great resource. And I can't resist any flavor of geek humor: Top 10 Paradigm Shifts for a Microbiologist After His 50th Birthday.
[ 11/18/03 ]

:: Ruminator Bookstore is having an author artifact auction. This is the last day, so check out their ebay store:

[ 11/18/03 ]

:: Blogtalk 2.0 The European Conference on Weblogs, to be held in Vienna during early July, has issued a call for proposals. As you know, I keynoted and helped sort though proposals at last year's conference (the first weblog conference in history). Although I had read all the proposals prior to the conference, I found all the talks to be interesting, the company to be fascinating, and the location couldn't be beat. If you have an interest in the social or technological underpinnings of weblogs, submit a proposal.
[ 11/17/03 ]

:: I am going over the river and through the woods. I'll be back at the end of the month. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, and go peruse my portal if you need a fix of hot links.
[ 11/21/03 ]

:: War critics astonished as US hawk admits invasion was illegal. No, that's not an Onion headline.

In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: 'I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.'
President George Bush has consistently argued that the war was legal either because of existing UN security council resolutions on Iraq - also the British government's publicly stated view - or as an act of self-defence permitted by international law.

As shocking as it has been to see the impunity with which this White House is willing to lie about anything that might promote their agenda, it is almost more shocking to see them so openly admit that they did so.

Regime change in 2004! (via dangerousmeta)
[ 11/21/03 ]

:: Worldchanging is an outstanding new weblog. On the occasion of their hundredth entry, they posted a summary of their perspective, and guidelines for those who wish to contribute their own posts. works from a simple premise: that the tools, models and ideas for building a better future lie all around us. That plenty of people are working on tools for change, but the fields in which they work remain unconnected. That the motive, means and opportunity for profound positive change are already present. That another world is not just possible, it's here. We only need to put the pieces together.
Informed by that premise, we do our best to bring you links to (and analysis of) those tools, models and ideas in a timely and concise manner. We don't do negative reviews Ė why waste your time with what doesn't work? We don't offer critiques or exposes, except to the extent that such information may be necessary for the general reader to apprehend the usefulness of a particular tool or resource. We don't generally offer links to resources which are about problems and not solutions, unless the resource is so insightful that its very existence is a step towards a solution. We pay special attention to tools, ideas and models that may have been overlooked in the mass media. We make a point of showing ways in which seemingly unconnected resources link together to form a toolkit for changing the world.

If you like Worldchanging, you should also have these weblogs in your bookmark list: the Daily Summit (newly revived from it's original incarnation as--probably the first--weblog-as-journalism); and
[ 11/21/03 ]

:: He's got my vote. Based on a very limited survey, this is nearly universal. Even straight men have crushes on him.
[ 11/21/03 ]

comments? questions? email me