Monday, November 3, 2008

Star Simpson's first interview on the Boston airport LED sweatshirt scare

Following up on A little reality intruding on the spin: The Star Simpson Incident: I recently came across this video on BoingBoing. A few commercials come before the interview ...

... which is memorable. Let's take a good look at the "lump of putty" the Massachussetts state police reported seeing in Ms. Simpson's hands, one which she says they refused to return until fairly recently. It's a flower, made out of what Star describes as oven hardened clay. In other words, unglazed ceramics.

A view from a different angle

leaving us with no rational way to avoid a simple conclusion: Pare's career needs to be over. His report to the press, one which so inflamed local sentiments as to deny Ms.Simpson the possibility of a fair jury trial, was fraudulent. A ceramic flower is not a lump of putty. It can not honestly be mistaken for a lump of putty. There is no room for a judgement call on this one - Pare and the police deliberately deceived the public, and the fact that the public was eager to be deceived does not excuse such an action. Not that one had to be in the police to join in on the fun, if one lived in Beantown, as those scanning the increasingly ignorant and outrageous blog reactions during the trial probably would have guessed.

"STAR: I've become very turned off to living in Boston. I'm taking time off to travel, because that seems like a much better plan than continuing to live in that state. The reaction of people in Boston has been -- based on news reports containing any number of lies by the police, and little embellishments by writers, people have -- any number of reactions towards me. While biking one day, some complete stranger spit on me, spit on my bicycle, and shouted that I should have done time. I know he doesn't know anything about what actually happened.

XENI: Does that happen often, hostile reactions from people on the street?

STAR: Yeah. Every time I'd go out, I'd meet some person who had something to say, and had formed strong opinions and decided to take that opportunity to take them out on me.

I will agree with some of the comments that I skimmed that Boston should pay a real price for this outrage, and given the heavy dependence of that second rung metropolitan area on tourism, an obvious means of extracting the needed pound of flesh presents itself. My hope is that people will simply elect to not travel to Boston, not even with the thought that they're going to be part of some kind of organized boycott or attempt to reform Boston in spite of itself, but because the town simply looks like a nasty, crazy, unfriendly and unwholesome place to visit; who needs to deal with people who think like this? Especially when there are so many far more pleasant vacation choices. Like, say, Hawaii. Or is that Hawai'i?

Enough would-be tourists exercise that kind of prudence, and the long fading city of Boston is going to be in for some well deserved economic misery. May it never end.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

WikiCafe: Can you say "hypocrisy"?

Metacafe is one of Youtube's competitors, a video hosting service that is a distant second to Youtube in popularity (if even that), which is perhaps best known for the number of women one can see naked on it without needing to log in. Having thus distinguished itself in one way, Metacafe decided to stand out in another, a few months ago. It decided to become the first major video hosting service to wikify the descriptions, titles and tags for the videos it hosted.

Wikification is an extreme thing to do to existing webspace. Think of the complaint that used to be directed against Blogger, back some time before I started posting on it: that there was no comment moderation. That any troll could come along and drop any number of outrageous remarks that he wanted, and that the author of a blog would have to play the proverbial game of whackamole to keep his blog clean if the troll got his friends involved. I understand that there was some real unhappiness about that lack of screening, which I could easily understand, and as Blogger eventually did understand - note that comment screening is now an option - but picture what the experience would have been like if far from having to settle for just leaving rude remarks, they could rewrite one's posts or delete them altogether. That's what wikification is - taking the bad concept of denying the user effective control over the comment section of a page, and pushing it to the point of letting the trolls barge their way into the page itself.

I posted a few questions about this change on the Metacafe company blog, reprinting my comment in a post to one of my Googlegroups, having found that Metacafe's staff seemed to have gone deeply into "do as we say and not as we do" territory. I had asked if the users would be able to opt out of having the "metainformation" on their posts wikified. Lurking in their forums, I found that the answer to this would seem to be no - no live and let live with their users on this one, the Metacafe staff was going to force this experiment on all, whether they wished to take part in it or not. "Give it a chance, it might work for you", they said. But take a look at that company blog. These same people who forced their users to admit all other users as collaborators, "come one, come all, whether I want you to or not", with no prescreening of changes, wouldn't even open the comment section of their blog in that manner. Which seems more extreme - not having control over what somebody posts after one's words, or not having control over one's words, themselves?

Some weeks have passed, more posts have appeared atop the Metacafe company blog, but my comment (which was left awaiting moderation) still has not appeared, and as you can see for yourself, it doesn't even come remotely close to qualifying as trolling. While I am not saying that comment moderation is censorship - I practice it myself, and with good reason - I am saying that there is something kind of questionable about forcing others to do that which one isn't willing to do, even to a diminished extent, oneself. "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" is a cliche for a good reason; if one is unwilling to do something, and one feels that there is a good reason for that, why do those good reasons suddenly evaporate when somebody else stands to be inconvenienced?

When somebody posts about what some would dismiss as being "the unfairness of life", the usual refrain is "what can you do", but in this case, there is a simple answer. Youtube's traffic dwarfs that of Metacafe, and they haven't denied their users the freedom to post without being interfered with by any busybody who feels he has the right to second guess their creative choices, and the willingness to get into a test of wills about the matter. Usually, the problem in getting a provider to behave itself is one of asking a group of total strangers to cooperate in giving something up - the use of a valued service - in exchange for the deferred gratification of better service (should the other boycotters stick together and get the provider to back down, but getting more traffic and more creative freedom in exchange for having fewer headaches isn't much of a sacrifice, temporary or otherwise. In this case, the greatest good is worked by the users going out and seeking immediate gratification, which in this case can be found on Youtube and a number of other video hosting services for free.

So really, why not pursue it? Metacafe is not being nice about this, and they have no leverage other than that which their users are foolish enough to give to them. Let's hope that they'll decide to not let that be very much.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

I did not know that!

I discovered something remarkable today. For all of these ... months ... I've been under the misguided impression that I was living in and blogging from Chicago, when, in fact, I've been in Southern India the whole time. Why, you could have knocked me over with a feather, but Alexa couldn't possibly be wrong, could it? Let's take a look at the Alexa listing for this site and see what we find:

Phone: +1 415 538 8404
Fax: +1 212 629 9305
dns-admin [at]

Oh, and good news - Google is ready to help me with my newfound national identity! Quoting what just came upon my screen as I backed up my work:

Blog in your native Indic script
Convert English characters to Indic script as you type! Learn more about transliteration on Blogger.

Why, thank you, boys! If only you could teach me to understand my native indic script and maybe even a few words in my brand new native tounge, I suspect that that new found ability to blog in a less European mode would be even more helpful.

Now some people, some very boring people, might suggest that I'm still an American and still in Chicago, and that what we're seeing is an excellent example of the problems that arise when a site accepts contact information from any Tom, Dick or Harry who wishes to offer it, or in this case, I suppose, any Dinesh, Tushar or Haresh, to be properly non-anglocentric about these things. They might even go so far as to say that the submission didn't even come from me, but instead, from somebody who seems to intend to hijack the url for this blog, and not understanding the difference between domains and subdomains, doesn't know that a registrar can't submit as a domain name. Can you imagine that? I will tactfully decline to comment at length on the making such terrible accusations in this more sensitive and enlightened era in which we all know of our duty to assume good faith, especially since I am one of those shameful people who has been denying that this contact information is accurate, and if one can't be tactful with oneself, truly, who can one be tactful with?

While I work through the obvious self-esteem issues posed by my insistence on my own Midwesterness, I would make a request of anybody coming to this site from Alexa. Regardless of what you might have read in the site description in the search results, please accept that this is not, in fact, the number one site for "Alien Resurrection" downloads. I wouldn't even know where to begin to look for such things, so please don't ask, and please don't be too disappointed when you discover that there aren't any other bootlegged downloads at this location, or at any other location I have anything to do with. No movies, no mp3s, not even any faked nudes of the Bush twins ... nothing. I know, it's a terrible oversight on my part, leaving out the contraband like that, one which I must confess I have no intention of ever rectifying, but one for which I might someday be forgiven, if only by the truly gracious few.

Addendum, June 14: A few weeks after this post, I sent Alexa a correction of the contact information, and they removed the address and telephone numbers. Eventually. The url for this blog, however, remains listed as if it were a domain name to this day.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Blink and you'll miss it

A first, as far as I know - a link to an image in my gallery at Flickr, from somebody else. Somebody at "Schmap" wrote to me and asked me if I would object to their inclusion of a thumbnail of the photo you see below, along with a linkback, in the fourth edition of their Chicago neighborhood guide.

Links to fuller sized image at FlickrOf course, I was very happy to say yes, and you can see the image appear as part of a slideshow here. You don't see it for long, before, as your arm lightly brushes across your mouse as you reach for something or your hand twitches, you automatically skip into Chinatown or somesuch place within a few scale inches / miles of where I was shooting, but my picture is there, and the fullsized version has seen 50 visits in the few hours that have passed since I received the acceptance letter. Not a bad start to my afternoon.

Links to fuller sized version of image, against a black background. Link opens in new window.Out of curiosity, I decided to see which pictures had proved the most popular. I wasn't surprised that the few chrysanthemum pictures had done better than most, but mildly surprised that the effort you see to your left was proving so much more popular than this far less heavily shopped one that follows. Not that I'm complaining. This is valuable feedback, and I may be learning from it. Having just written that, I now have to wonder if some funny person will now find the absolutely worst image I did and start clicking on it repeatedly.

Links to fuller sized image at FlickrThat would probably be my picture of this ferocious little guy, who could be heard a block away. On his scale, that was probably like a mile for one of us. I was so delighted by the subject, this tiny little dog who was going to defend the building all on his own, that I had to post the picture, even if the photoshopping needs a lot of work. Getting detail out of a black subject against a much lighter background isn't easy, which is why our little hero seems a shadow of himself; this is one of those cases in which I'll probably just accept the surrealism of the results as I bring out the lasso tool and see what I can do.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Delayed Bayer Recall Story

Referring to: this article.

Having never heard of this drug or this study, I asked a retired physician in my family what he thought of both. While he wasn't familiar with either, he did raise a question. While one might, perhaps, see a reason why Bayer would, were this report accurate, want to keep the public in the dark about any corporate misdeeds, why would a small army of prescribing physicians prove cooperative? While he was in practice, every month the FDA would send a report to practicing physicians warning them of reports of possibly dangerous side effects, with a form on the last page that the physicians were encouraged to use, to report problems that they had witnessed. While drug companies have been known to give physicians kickbacks for agreeing to do things things that might not be in the best interests of their patients, such as enrolling them in experimental drug trials (this was reported in the Wall Street Journal), bribing the entire profession would take some doing, even if the whole profession were open to being bribed.

He stated - arousing a little of my own skepticism - that thirty avoidable deaths from a medication would be considered a scandal, leaving me wondering how one would detect such a statistical blip in a population (open heart surgery candidates) in which the mortality rate is going to be high under any circumstances, at present. But I suppose that was the point - we are not looking at a reasoned reaction but an emotional one, and if what may be nothing more than an artifact arising from poor stratification in a study of what is a not a very homogenous population to begin with can result in a draconian response on the part of regulators, what would be the regulatory response to killing patients by the tens of thousands?

This might bring forth the easy answer that given that we are now in year eight of the George W. Bush presidency, living in a country under the administration so psychotically pro-big business that it is literally willing to send its own nation down a path very likely to lead to its destruction (see: earlier comments regarding outsourcing) for the sake of short term corporate profit boosting. That, and for the sake of making nice with India, which said frighteningly inept president still seems to hope will become an ally in America's "war on terror" and send massive reinforcements to our troops in Iraq, and never mind the fact that India has, at length, failed to show any signs of real interest in doing so. Construct your own Moby Dick metaphor with Bush cast as Ahab, I suppose. One possible problem with that easy answer: eight years is far from long enough for the Clinton era appointees to have retired. Would they have all cooperated in this hypothetical burial of what would have been physician reports of problems with the drug in question which would have been arriving by the tens of thousands, or at the very least, certainly by the thousands? A conspiracy of silence involving thousands of nonfirable bureaucrats that lasted for years? Does that really sound plausible?

Even granting that Clinton's liberalism was more a whacky, fashion conscious love of narcissistic self-indulgence and trendy rhetoric than it was anything genuinely progressive, are we to believe that every single appointee from that era was a good, Bush supporter style corporatist, or that the few who weren't would be so easily silenced? No, I'm not saying that stories can't be made to go away. I've certainly seen that happen before, but generally in places where those cooperating with that conspiracy of silence had to fear for their own jobs, worry about whether or not they'd get to graduate, were in some way in danger of suffering from the reprisals if those who desired their silence became unhappy with them. To what extent does that describe an FDA administrator?

Questions are sometimes just those - questions. In this case, I do not claim to have the answers, and suggest that the reader seek them on his own. I wonder if any of them will.

Perhaps not. In the filler post I put in place before writing this, I said something about being more interested in the reaction to the article on Digg, than I was in the article itself. What interested me was the willingness of somebody to imply that market forces would so strongly compel a company like Bayer to be nice and abstain from producing a product that would hurt its customers that if they did, it was probably an honest mistake. Quoth one of the users:

Free markets and capitalism provide greater amounts and more advanced technological breakthroughs than purely government run and controlled systems.

Except that both free markets and capitalism could exist without corporations and the detachment from personal responsibility for personal misdeeds they sometimes offer, so being anticorporate doesn't necessarily mean that one is opposed to capitalism. Know what a single proprietorship is?

This is demonstrated both logically AND historically.

Which brings us to why Economics is not a real science: in a real science, the scientists know that knowledge about the external world can not be generated ex nihilo, through the pure application of reason without need to ground the starting assumptions of one's arguments in observation, because Logic can do no more than reveal the consequences of the assumptions one makes - garbage in, garbage out. Any argument that would claim to circumvent that limitation is, at best, a well crafted fallacy.

Economics fails to be a real science because it fails to be empirical. Instead of looking at the evidence to see how the participants in a market actually do behave, the true believers will offer arguments about how one should expect them to behave, declare the conclusions of those arguments to be as good as observations on the basis that they sound plausible, and then build their theory on that. That isn't science, that's Metaphysics, with maybe a dose of Calvinist theology. Take an old sermon, replace "G-d" with "The Market", and see how familiar the results sound.

A company such as Bayer makes money selling drugs to help people and obviously wouldn't make much money selling drugs that kill people. Thus, as they are a greedy company trying to make money, it is in their best interest not to kill people and to in fact help people.

Except - and this is where that failure of empiricism comes in - as a matter of historical reality, greedy companies during the Robber Baron Era frequently did knowingly market products that did grave harm to their customers, making very good money along the way. That's why all of that consumer protection legislation was passed during the early to mid 20th century in the United States. This is not a controversial view I'm sharing, either. This is something that was basic, high school level history until that magical time when the schools decided that being sure to "not be divisive" was more important than giving their students a sound education.

Case in point: Tort law during the period did not recognize the concept of "wrongful death", so, I'm told by an attorney, the Pullman Cars were designed to collapse in the case of collision and kill everybody inside, in order to shield the Pullman Car Company from the liability that would arise were some of the seriously injured passengers to survive a crash and need medical treatment. Certainly not very good for the customer of the railroad that purchased such a car, but the cars sold well. Then there is the extensive history of adulteration in the meat packing industry, which market forces did little to nothing to curtail prior to the establishment of regulation and inspection in that industry.

The user might try to claim that he (?) acknowleged the point, when he wrote

The fact is sometimes they mess up and there should be oversight and a system in place to quickly fix the situation. There should also be enough prior study in place to be sure these mess ups don't reach the market in the first place.

but, if so, that's an evasion. If a tourist asks a new resident of Chicago which way Lincoln is while the two are standing at Clark and Belmont, the new resident tries to remember where Lincoln is, and then points eastward by mistake, the new resident has messed up. If, on the other hand, that same tourist, late at night asks for directions to Second City, and a lifelong resident gives him directions that will take that tourist to the Robert Taylor Homes, that resident has not "messed up", he's just plain evil. The difference is this - did the person offering the directions make an honest mistake and did he mean well? The user has tried to claim the presence of good intentions on the part of a corporation are self-evident, or logically necessary, when in fact History has shown that Corporations very frequently don't mean well at all, meaning that any supposed logical argument that they must is left in the same place as the old Scholastic arguments against the existence of sunspots - in direct conflict with observable reality, and yet, strangely enough, not discarded.

He continues:

These last two statements are where government and regulation come in.

Clearly implying the corporate mistakes must be honest mistakes, calling for the kind intervention of government which will help straighten them out, much like the confused newcomer in the above example. The Digg user then attempts to dispel any perception that he might be a neoconservative ideologue, writing

This whole "CORPORATIONS ARE EVIL" attitude is just as ridiculous as "GOVERNMENT IS EVIL" thinking. Both can be good/bad and both have their place,

Which sounds more reasonable than it really is, when it is seen out of context and one forgets what that place is supposed to be, and when one overlooks the fact that the user is setting up a strawman. The article didn't speak about corporations in general, everywhere and at all times, it spoke about a single corporation (Bayer) in a single era (our own), and responses made in Digg's limiting, soundbite format are made in that context. To criticise the moral direction the American corporate community has been moving in during the last few decades, overall, is not the same thing as criticising everybody who does now or ever has worked in a corporation, any more than an admission the existence of a gang problem in Englewood is an attack on all African-Americans, yet just as we saw that kind of false equating of very differing ideas with inflammatory intent so often during the Politically Correct 1990s, "playing the hysteria card" as I used to call it, now we see the same directed toward that which is questionable on the Right instead of on the Left, in a softer tone of voice, but clearly with the same manipulative intent.

but much of the polarizing anti-corporatism propaganda spit out on digg is just as bad as the support our troops or you're a terrorist thinking, its just on opposite sides of the table.

Yes, Heaven forbid that the chickens should develop a distrust of the foxes.

Notice the shift from the now recognized PC buzzword "divisive" to the more Centrist sounding "polarizing", but there is nothing Centrist in the ideas advanced so dishonestly. Real Centrists, unlike Neocon pretenders, are not shy about critiquing social institutions or bothered by the suggestions that some of the currently existing ones might have gone bad, or even, by their very nature, be rotten to the core. For reform to even be conceptualized as a possibility, one has to accept that such things are possible, and Neoconservatism is, above all else, defined by the misplaced anger with which it greets any attempt to achieve reform. I'd be more amused by the fact that toward the end the user seems to be stumbling in the direction of an attempt coopt Liberalism in support of Neoconservatism as well, with a last minute substitution of "polarizing" for "divisive", were Neoconservatism something other than a cooption of Conservatism by those formerly part of the New Left that became more palatable for those who got cushy jobs at a time when those were given out far too freely to a spoiled generation whose character, overall, has not improved with time. There is no humor in watching our friend attempt to coopt either Centrism or Liberalism, because humor requires the element of surprise.

Why would a corporation choose to do something not in its own best interests - assuming that poorly serving the consumer must necessarily fall into that category? Perhaps, in part, because a corporation doesn't make decisions, for the excellent reason that in a real sense, it doesn't actually exist. A corporation is a sort of legal fiction created to make a huge, complicated buzz of human activity comprehensible by helping people to imagine it to be a single collective entity, a person in its own right, in fact, and we are so used to the fiction that somewhere along the way, we forget that is what it is, and our own clarity of thought suffers.

For example: a man walks into a human resources office with solid credentials, applies for work, and as he walks away, gets to hear his application and resume being torn to shreds. In utter disbelief, he shares the experience with others, who tell him that he shouldn't question this, because that's the company's privilege - as if the company had torn up his paperwork, when, in fact, this was done by a nineteen year old intern who didn't want to have to bother filing it, and was still revved up after a stirring lecture in her woman's studies class about the evils of the White Male and decided to fight the imaginary power, especially when the imaginary power in the flesh wasn't as blond haired, blue eyed and buff as she preferred her apologetic young men to be; the insubordinate act of a spoiled little girl with a temp job becomes a sacred part of the American way of life, above any possible legitimate criticism.

The metaphor is confused with reality, the representative with the company and all of those who work at it, and the fact that she doesn't actually own the company that she has (on her own ungranted authority) refused employment at, is swiftly forgotten. Her actions are accepted as a personal, private exercise of freedom the rationality of which is guaranteed because of the demands of market discipline, the choice of a company which must surely act in its own best interests and therefore, through the acting of Adam Smith's invisible hand, work the greatest good for the greatest number, and never mind the fact that Smith never wrote that. True believers will speak as if the rogue employee and the company were one, so assuredly so that she couldn't have any agenda or issues of her own apart from a passionate desire to do that which would well serve her employer's interests, and that in an office staffed with her friends, her employer would surely know if she had done any less than her absolute, most responsibly professional best.

It's a common sort of experience, one that should make certain fallacies easier to see, and yet it doesn't seem to do so, very often. Corporate decisions at the higher levels of management aren't "made by the company" any more than the ones at the lower levels are, they're made by managers who jump from company to company, may very well leave long before the damage they do is noticed, and are looking for quantifiable results to cite when selling themselves to their next employer. As for being associated with a disaster - can anybody get very far into adulthood in any Western society without understanding some variant on the initials C.Y.A.? We have a job market in which almost nobody pretends that hiring is based on much other than successful networking, and one has to have allies to do that, preferably powerful ones. How is the truth to come out when lies are likely to prove so much more beneficial to the witnesses? The assumption that the company's interests will ultimately impact on a departed manager's interests would seem to require an assumption that the truth about who did what and why would be generally known and really, seriously - is there anybody out there who has never seen an unsavory incident or stupid act on the part of somebody in a position of authority just sort of go away, as people decided that they really didn't need trouble that badly?

How does life experience vanish so utterly the moment it has a chance to find application in political discourse? At so many moments like the one I alluded to, we witness, first hand, the ironic failure of Neoconservatism as an opposition movement to the Far Left - the neoconservatives will go so far as to radically empower the Far Left - their own supposed opposition - by refusing to ask the question "what happens when our supposed opposition or their darlings become those in power", and trying to shout down those who do, but the question remains. What happens when the inmates start running the asylum, if people have been conditioned to unquestioningly accept the dictates and actions of those in power, on the naive assumption that those in positions of responsibility must surely be responsible? This belief, our neocon friends have frequently clung to with absolute ideological rigidity, as if it were religious dogma, with seeming indifference to how appalling the consequences may be, or how surprising they aren't.

For example: Out of respect for law and order, we're told, we should always side with a police officer - any police officer - against anybody he has just arrested, and as good Americans be properly appalled that taxpayer money is wasted manning a department like Internal Affairs, which, they will passionately insist, is there just to try to get good, honest hard working cops as they try to protect you and me. One can see such people go so far as to defend the use of torture as a means of interrogation (eg. Commander Jon Burges of Area Two in Chicago). But what if a gang manages to get one of its members on its local police force - and yes, that has happened before - in this perfect world in which there is no oversight? If the mental image of a lucky member of the Disciples or Kings being able to grab citizens off the street on a whim and torture or even summarily execute them with impunity would not be enough to be one of our ideologue friends to reconsider the extreme position he has taken, what would be? The answer is: nothing at all.

Our neocon friends are beyond the reach of reason, building the core of their own identity as a group around a theory of government designed for a perfect world, never asking themselves what a government would be needed for in that perfect world. The only dispensation that seems available for those who would flirt with heresy on this point would seem to come when a breaking with this doctrine of their faith is needed for one of them to attack a popular neocon whipping boy, eg. one of the surviving Kennedys, or a democratic appointee, when railing against bureaucracy is in fashion and the appointee proves useful for that purpose. As when an anemic Catholic is granted leave to have his steak during a friday in Lent, the doctrine has not been questioned, it merely has been temporarily neglected for the sake of the perceived greater good, with the hope, perhaps, that G-d or the Market will understand.

This is the failure, and I would argue, on some level a willful one, of Neoconservatism, and it's a persistant one - neocons never seem to ask what happens when society starts to deviate from the ideal, as it inevitably must, and those they would acknowledge to be the wrong people get into power. Will society's response tend to correct the problem, or exacerbate it? If, on every occasion, the response to the very question is to respond with the zealous rage of a fundamentalist whose faith has just be questioned, the former (self-correction) will not be in the realm of possibility, because criminals do not, by their nature, voluntarily respect boundaries or go where they're expected to go, and few crimes, either great or small, ever solve themselves.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Obama Support: Just a question, if you can deal with it.

Something I've often found strange is the way in which some can argue a point at length and with passion, and at the same time ignore its simplest implications. For the last seven years, much has been said about the Bush administration's alleged shredding of the bill of rights, and I understand that some basis for this has existed in fact. If so, then the implication of this is that the office of the presidency has become far more powerful than the founding fathers ever intended, and dangerously so. Civil liberties are supposed to be a natural outgrowth of the system, not a gift to be granted or denied on the whim of any one man.

That having been said, what do we now see a large chunk of the democratic party ready and eager to do? Fast track somebody with a very limited political past into that dangerously enhanced office. The question for the would-be supporters is this: how much does one really ever know about somebody, until he has established a track record of performance? Without that, what does one have to go on? A platform? The discarding of those on attainment of office has been the stuff of bitter jokes longer than most of us have been alive. Some nice speeches? Good writers are easily hired. The fact that he's a passably good looking black man who can hold a crowd's attention?

If that's all it takes, then maybe I should add a second question. Is this the presidency of the United States we're talking about, or the presidency of somebody's high school student council? Because if our standards of choice are something so superficial as how fashionably beddable a candidate is, I think our electorate might be taking that collective trip back to high school, and not even back to senior year at that, at a time when the stakes are a lot higher than those represented by the choice of next year's prom theme.

The usual overwrought and factually unsupported charges of racism may now begin. Smiley courtesy of

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rooting out nofollow and asking for a little assistance

Recently I wrote about the unhappy surprise of discovering that a number of social networking sites that I had established presences on used "rel=nofollow" tags on their homepage links, explaining why this practice is unethical. I was even more unpleasantly surprised to discover, as I read this post on Tips 4 blogspot, that said tag is automatically entered in the links on visitor posts to Blogger. As I discovered by quickly unrendering the redirect used by a number of Typekey equipped blogs, Typekey seems to do this, too.

The good news is that as the owner of this blog, I seem to be able to remove those tags by taking them out of my template, which I just did. I do appreciate civil feedback on this blog, and am more than glad to show my appreciation by doing my part to help give your site a boost. All I ask, other than the obvious "please don't leave spam", including the barely disguised Bravenet guestbook variety, where somebody says "great site" on one's post about architectural preservationism and then links to his discount pharmacy page (just how much Xanax does America need) is that you please keep my journal in mind when you start installing a few links of your own.

Getting people to notice a new blog is very difficult, and there is something a little discouraging about going to Technorati and noticing that all but one of the references to one's blog appear on one's other blogs. Nobody knows you're there, so nobody links to you, so nobody finds you ... chicken, egg ... you know the drill. The fact that I'm not really very far to either the Right or the Left probably doesn't help, either. A bushite (bushie? bushwhacker?) who visits a neocon site where the virtues of torturing prisoners are being extolled knows within seconds that he is among his own. He settles in, he's at home, and already starting to network in less time than one needs to fry an egg. Knowing what a Centrist blog is about, on the other hand, takes time. Maybe this is one reason why one finds so few of them. With your help, at least there can be one more of them that isn't completely invisible.

ADDENDUM: On posting my thanks to the blog where I found the suggestion, I found rel=nofollow appearing in the links in my post. The problem has not been fixed at all.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spiders on Drugs

Vital information for the kids of today in this instructional video from apeman888

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Keep an eye on these sites ...

... and I don't mean that in a good way. If you recently visited one of my mashable sites, you might have noticed that the list of social networking sites I have in that left bottom sidebar has grown shorter. There's a good reason for that.

I've started posting to my StumbleUpon blog. If you haven't used Stumbleupon, then I'll start by saying that any brief description fails to explain it. It's a site for sharing links and reviewing the sites linked to. That doesn't sound like much, does it? But it is. One installs the toolbar, clicks on the Stumbleupon icon (next to which is the word "stumble"), and is instantly transported (yes, there's the cliche you were waiting for) to a random site that fits into one of the areas of interest one has listed in one's profile. A lot of these are really good sites, places you'd never hear of, and a lot of them are really creative and different (yes, more cliches, wow do I stink). The sites are natural conversation pieces, and where one finds conversation pieces, one tends to find some sort of conversation, and that's one place where community begins - something which Stumbleupon encourages, providing options to review other member's blogs and to link to them by becoming their fans. There are a few twits, but they seem ignorable enough, and so far at least, the crowd seems friendly and if I've known them too briefly to comment on how bright they are, at least they have generally good taste, and that, at the very least, is something. (Third cliche. I'm on a roll - and there's the forth).

What, then, is the problem? As I started posting reviews, I would sometimes have cause to link the review that I was writing to relevant outside source material, sometimes commentary on one of my sites, sometimes not - and noticed that the system was inserting these tags into my links:


That tag tells the search engine spiders to ignore the link. Some bloggers have been putting that tag to use in the comments section for their blogs in an attempt to dissuade spammers from posting comment spam, by removing the search engine boost the homepage link attached to their comments would give to their sites. This, of course, is futile, as it ignores the reality that nothing seems to dissuade spammers, who've been submitting comment spam to moderated guestbooks for years, even guestbooks with clearly posted notices that "all comments are screened before they appear", meaning that nobody other than the soon to be annoyed site owner will ever see the spam. The spammers hit, anyway; spamming is not economically rational behavior in practice. These same bloggers ignore the fact that they are harming somebody, and I'm not talking about the spammers. How about those who do take the time to think out and post legitimate comments to their blogs and are now, for no good reason, being denied the benefit of those links? Is that really fair to them? That little boost is what gets a lot of new sites and new blogs going. But we're in the middle of a fad, and reason is going to have little impact on the Groupthink.

Stumbleupon seems to have followed suit, which is a little bothersome, but not quite what I'm complaining about. This morning, out of idle curiosity I checked the code for the page on my Stumbleupon site on which I get my one and only linkback to my homepage (I use my mashable site for that), and found that link, too, had the rel=nofollow tag. Stumbleupon's management had been playing me and many other users as well, by offering a linkback that wasn't really a linkback at all.

As I explained in my not altogether unfavorable review of Stumbleupon, posted on their own site, the problem with that goes well beyond the fact that my other sites are seeing no significant benefit from their association with my Stumbleupon site, while my Stumbleupon site has certainly been boosted in the search engines by the fact that those other sites link to it. Having to relocate my pages after the plug pulling incident at Internet Trash I mention over on my main page and then having to regain the visibility that I had lost gained me a little practical experience dealing with issues of search engine optimization. One of the lessons I learned the hard way involved the severe drawbacks of having some of my pages link to some of my other pages, where the links are not reciprocated; creating "terminal pages" as I call them. I found that the terminal pages would soar in the listings, staying high for a long time, at the expense of the nonterminal pages, which would plummet; as if the spiders, on finding their way to the terminal pages, would get stranded there and forget where they had been previously. I soon started making a special point of not designing my sites that way. Now I find that while I wasn't looking, Stumbleupon slipped in a little code that had the effect of causing me to do just that.

I came back with a measured punitive response. I have enjoyed using Stumbleupon, seeing some real value in that site, so I'm not going to shun it or urge others to do so, but I'm also not going to be a sucker and continue reciprocating what I was never really being given. Blogger allows its users a lot of freedom in the design of their blogs and the writing of their posts, and one of the freedoms it gives is the freedom to tailor make one's links. If you unrender this site and take a look at my links, you'll find that every link I have to Stumbleupon has that same rel=nofollow tag that I was so displeased to find Stumbleupon putting to such sneaky and really almost unheard-of use. The linkback to the user's homepage is sacred. A provider should not touch that, ever, because aside from the inherent sleaziness of seeking to gain a consideration that one is sneakily refusing to reciprocate, one has the fact that the gain in visibility for one's sites in general is the only way one is repaid the time and work one puts into posting to these sites. For them to fail to respect this, especially in the way they did, then, is unethical and for me to overlook this particular breach of ethics would be foolish. Where I could not reciprocate with rel=nofollow tags of my own, I removed the link to Stumbleupon altogether, and resolved never to link to that site again from Tribe or anywhere else where one can not edit the HTML used for the establishment of external links.

I found myself even more curious than before - who else was doing this? I've recently established presences on a number of social networking sites with the intention of putting them all to use. Most are still sitting idle because I have a lot of sites and haven't had time to get to all of them, yet, but I wanted to make sure that I'd didn't miss an opportunity to claim my own name on these sites before somebody else did. I'd much rather be the user "joseph_dunphy" than the user "joseph_dunphy_69260" or something like that, as the latter is just ugly, and when one's name is as common as mine is, that becomes a real concern. I thus had a major incentive to establish myself quickly, which I did, but having done so, I then was faced with the question of what each of these sites would be for. I don't want my blog at Wordpress to be a clone of my journal at Blogger. I want each of my sites to have a purpose and a character of its own. This one, for example, which I finally gave a less generic name to last night ("Joseph Dunphy's Soapbox / Blog to Come" - what was that) has evolved into the place where I go when I feel like commenting on politics or the directions that American popular culture has been moving in (closely intertwined subjects, those) and choose to pretend that somebody other than me will care. As the site counter at Yahoo 360 (the previous location for this blog) racked some thousands of hits in its few months of existence at the old location before I switched over here, I guess somebody must, but ... yes I'm digressing, and there's another cliche.

I really need to get slapped. So, as I piece it together ... Multiply is where I'll post my photos of places of worship and write about any and all things Jewish, Imeem is where I'll post most of my short stories and pictures of the parts of Chicago that maybe aren't always considered the best places ... and I find out what Stumbleupon has done, I find that I'm wondering who else has put my trust to bad use. No sooner do I start unrendering site source code and looking, than I find a number of sites doing what Stumbleupon has done, and I am much disappointed by the list. I expected better. These are some I've found so far:

  1. Googlegroups. What was that about "not being evil", guys?

  2. Yelp. That hurt.

  3. Digg

  4. Mag.nolia

  5. Youtube

  6. Metacafe

  7. Vimeo

A few of the sites I'm involved with that had enough class to not do this include

  1. Blogger. Yes, It's a Google enterprise, just like Youtube and Googlegroups, but as is the case with Yahoo, Google's different divisions seem to function almost as if they were little companies in their own right, some good and some not so good. Blogger, so far, has seemed to me to be a very good one for the most part, and nothing that happened today undermined that view.

  2. Imeem. I am delighted for no particularly logical reason. Little experience there, yet, but something felt good about the place. I don't know why, so don't take that seriously just yet.

  3. Flickr

  4. Yahoogroups. One does get rel=nofollow in the group descriptions, but not in urls posted to the lists, at present.

  5. Tribe. Very limited formatting options, but an interesting looking collection of communities that puts out a lot of striking, original photography.

  6. Wordpress

  7. Livespaces (MSN)

  8. Mashable

  9. DeviantArt

  10. Uber

  11. Squidoo

  12. Vox

  13. iLike

  14. Bakespace

  15. Opensource Food

  16. Livejournal

  17. Librarything. A mixed performance. They do insert rel=nofollow into the "also on" links, which is very much not cool given the fact that those are most of the outbound links, but they didn't seem to do this to the homepage link back to Mashable.

  18. Twitter

  19. eBay. No homepage link, but one can place outbound links on one's blog, which eBay doesn't seem to be tampering with at all.

  20. IGN. Haven't used it much and the homepage link is in a slightly out of the way location, but the code for the homepage link looked fine.

  21. Mog

  22. Multiply

  23. Veoh I wasn't able to put into a category, because the programmers have used some strange non-html Stylesheet coding that leaves me, so far, unable to find the code for my homepage link using my admittedly rudimentary knowledge of the subject. I'll try to find out what the status of that is sometime in the next week or two, but if I remain confused at that time, I'll just assume the worst. In the case of those sites which I've determined aren't honestly reciprocating the links they've been getting from me, I've already removed feeds from those locations on my other sites, and as with Stumbleupon, inserted rel=nofollow into my remaining links to those places. I will still make some use of them, contributing a little content at each, but these are going to be very minor, secondary efforts, the sites on the second list definitely being a much higher priority.

I do take some pleasure in the fact that this time, the good guys outnumbered the bad guys. Most of the sites I was looking at, in this at least, did right by their users. I'll keep those Googlegroups in place, as they have been very reliable, experiencing little if any downtime and serving the essays I've posted to them at a good speed, and those little essays are still relevant for the blog posts to which they are attached. Certainly, they are a wonderful source of traffic, if Google's traffic counters are to be trusted - the Googlegroups / Dejanews archive is a popular resource and deservedly so, and probably a great many of my visitors did their searches there. However, what Googlegroups will be getting from me, henceforth, will be synopses, teasers, call them what you wish, with the actual essays they refer to being posted to some of the better behaved sites. The more one is willing to give, the more one should on one's way to getting; Googlegroups gets something out of my participation, it merely doesn't get everything, and this is fitting.

If in a very disappointing kind of way. At least, though, the hard decision of where to begin as I start to flesh out my new sites just became a lot easier.