Welcome to Mac Diva's pantry.
This is an Aaron Hawkins fan site.
Monday, December 08, 2003
Prosecutor's murder reveals flip side of Internet
The story has a made-for-TV quality. Bad guys, a rapper and his sidekick, who also are drug dealers, have supposedly had the lead prosecutor in their heroin dealing case kidnapped and murdered.
WASHINGTON - Jonathan Luna, a federal prosecutor in Baltimore whose bloody body was found in rural Pennsylvania, had been stabbed 36 times and may have been tortured before he was thrown into a rural creek to drown, officials said Friday.
Luna's body was discovered near the town of Ephrata, south of Reading, Pa., Thursday morning, just hours before he was scheduled to appear in court in Baltimore, 70 miles away, in the case of a rapper accused of running a violent heroin ring.
At some Internet forums, commenters are already calling for the death penalty for the drug dealing rapper, Deon Smith, and his associate, Walter Poindexter -- if they willing to allow a trial. But, there is a problem -- this movie of the week storyline that appeals to many people's preconceptions may not be true.
Federal prosecutor Jonathan Luna traveled several times in recent months to the area of Pennsylvania where his body was found, and authorities were not immediately aware of any work-related business that would have taken him to the region, The Associated Press learned Sunday.
Investigators also were looking into a credit card Luna held without his wife's knowledge and into postings of messages by someone who went by the name of Jonathan Luna in Web sites where people advertise for female sex partners, according to a federal law enforcement official who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.
Baltimore FBI spokesman Larry Foust said Sunday that investigators were still trying to determine a motive for Luna's killing. His body was found Thursday, stabbed 36 times and left face down in a creek.
"This is a full-court press, but we just don't know. There's a lot of information and a lot of misinformation out there," Foust said. "We have people working nonstop, overturning every stone, going where the facts lead them."
Investigators now doubt the murder is related to the case. In fact, there seems to be little motive for the rapper and his friend to have the prosecutor killed. They entered guilty pleas before Luna disappeared.
Many commenters online are sure the defendants in the recent case are responsible for the murder, though.
What kind of message does his death send in the rap community and Baltimore's streets? Drugs are rampant all over this country. I hope the police finds the person and gives he/she the death penalty - or worse. Amateur rappers killing a "federal" prosecutor. I think even other rappers are calling these guys idiots. What did ordering this hit accomplish ... nothing. Anyone who thinks these rappers had nothing to do with this death is an idiot!!!!
State Police and Feds need to show up at "the Hampden studio of the ... upstart music label, Stash House Records and work a little back-door street justice to find out who did this.
Identify the killer(s), hunt them down, and destroy them.
They believe they know what happened because of who the parties are -- black hoods who produced rap and sold heroin and the son of a Filipino immigrant who had always worked as a prosecutor. In other words, their stereotypical assumptions must be accurate. Perhaps people like these don't understand human nature, which is often complex. If they did, they would know there is nothing to preclude Luna having become entangled in personal problems that resulted in his death, which is what investigators now suspect. When the idea the prosecutor may have been killed by a lover or someone else with a personal conflict with him was raised at the Baltimore Sun's forum, some commenters became apoplectic. They either dismissed the suggestion as an insult to Luna and his family or said that if its true, the media should not report that story. Yes, you heard me right. They believe that if the man died as the result of a personal relationship gone awry, the story should be suppressed.
Often, the Internet is hailed as a method of dispensing useful and accurate information. However, when I observe the kind of puerile and biased commentary that occurs in episodes like this one, I wonder if the bumper crop of bad information disseminated on the Net buries the good.
Thursday, December 04, 2003
Vigilante site targets eBay scammers
I have several acquaintances who are just getting into the Internet. They consider me their Web resource person. A recurring topic of conversation with them is eBay. Bill, a clerk at a grocery store I sometimes use, is typical. He has purchased items on eBay, but hasn't sold anything so far. Bill is pleased with some of his purchases, mainly books and compact discs, but wary of being taken advantage of. He has encountered the usual problems such as inflated postage, items that don't fit their description and negative feedback from sellers he has done no harm. And, as is also the norm, his complaints to eBay have fallen on deaf ears. Now, someone claims to be providing an alternative complaint system. Court TV has the story.
Christina, a pre-med student at Georgetown University and self-described "denim-fanatic," bought a pair of trendy, low-slung jeans on eBay. But after three weeks, she still had no jeans and no response from the seller to her repeated e-mails.
Christina, who declined to give her last name, knew she had been gypped, but other than leaving the seller negative feedback through the voluntary review system, there was little she could do but file a complaint with eBay.
"I got an e-mail from eBay that said, 'You are not at fault, but we're not going to do anything about it,'" Christina recalls, interpreting the company's response.
So she went to ebayersthatsuck.com, a Web site that encourages a new trend in online auctions -- online vigilantism.
Many new users of eBay don't realize the company purposely makes it difficult to make live contact with it, ignores complaints from buyers and sellers who do a small volume of business and approves a subsidiary, Square Trade, that removes legitimate complaints against savvy eBayers for a fee. The vigilante site may be the only recourse for most small-timers.
The FTC received 51,000 online auction fraud-related complaints in 2002, making it the second largest consumer complaint behind identity theft. Although the crimes are usually simple, tracking down a scammer through his e-mail address or telephone number can be difficult because both are easily changed.
At ebayersthatsuck.com, eBay members concerned about fraud can track down the con artists themselves. They post the user names of buyers and sellers they believe to be deceptive, discuss tips on how to trade safely and exchange information on the latest scams.
But, any site that routinely publishes unproven information that can harm people's reputations is also problematic. I would expect such a site to have difficulty knowing who is telling the truth. Often, the scammer is the person who will complain the loudest. And, what is to prevent eBayers involved in cheating from targeting their victims? Furthermore, if the site is a business, its interest is in encouraging complaints, regardless of their merit.
The proprietor of eBayersthatsuck.com, in addition to being grammatically challenged, has a mixed history at eBay himself.
Ebayersthatsuck.com was created a year ago by Steve Klink, a patrolman with the Paramus, N.J., police department after he paid $80 for a chewed-up wireless speaker. Instead of waiting for eBay to act, he posted his story and the seller's user name on a Web page and e-mailed the link to his offender. Klink even spoke with the seller's mother, and eventually the man returned the money.
But instead of taking the page down then, Klink decided to expand it.
. . . In any case, eBay and ebayersthatsuck.com have a somewhat contentious history. Klink was briefly NARUed this month because his site listed the e-mail addresses of certain suspected fraudulent eBayers, a company no-no. EBay provides an e-mail service that allows members to contact each other via user name alone. Klink says he was reinstated after explaining that he was in the process of removing them anyway.
Earlier, eBay asked Klink to alter his logo for trademark reasons, which he did.
Though it is difficult to determine whether the site has, in fact, led eBay to close the accounts of scammers, the high level of participation suggests ebayersthatsuck.com is influential with the FTC, eBay and eBay users.
Now the site has nearly a thousand registered members and receives an average of 30,000 visits a month. It lists about 200 eBay users to avoid. According to Klink, most of them were "NARU-ed'" (made Not A Registered User) by eBay shortly after he posted their names, although whether their outing was a result of Klink's actions is unknown.
I was disturbed by several aspects of the site when I visited. To do anything at it, including read the listing of alleged scammers or the stories of the victimized, one must join ebayersthatsuck.com. Sites that require membership usually are more interested in compiling information about visitors than anything else. Often, that information is sold to advertisers and spammers. There is no material about privacy posted at the site, so not only could Klink be selling visitor information, he could determine the identities of visitors and use the information for his own purposes. In addition, Klink's Internet business and the ebay complaint forum share the same space, doubtlessly inflating traffic to his sales site.
The track record for auction watchdog sites is not good. Only Klink's outfit seems to be currently active. A successful lawsuit by anyone who has been damaged by being outed there could easily bring ebayersthatsuck.com to an end.
I will tell friends who have complaints regarding transactions on eBay about the site. However, I will not tout it as a solution to being ripped off. The best advice I can give them is to be vigilant. I suspect most new users are taken a few times when they first begin participating in auctions. But, with experience, they learn to recognize dubious propositions and avoid them.
Wednesday, December 03, 2003
The news desk
Polygamist declares right to privacy
The Supreme Court of the United States' ruling on privacy in sexual matters is getting an interesting challenge from an unlikely source.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (AP) - A lawyer for a Utah man with five wives argued Monday that his bigamy convictions should be thrown out following a Supreme Court decision decriminalizing gay sex.
The nation's high court in June struck down a Texas sodomy law, ruling that what gay men and women do in the privacy of their homes is no business of government.
It's no different for polygamists, argued Tom Green's attorney, John Bucher, to the Utah Supreme Court.
"It doesn't bother anyone, [and with] no compelling state interest in what you do in your own home with consenting adults, you should be allowed to do so," Bucher said.
. . .Green, who is not affiliated with any church, was convicted of four counts of bigamy and one count of criminal nonsupport of his 30 children in August 2001.
Polygamists and gays are not similarly situated. The consenting adults involved in sodomy are the only persons effected. But, multiple marriage has wide-ranging negative impacts. Both the women and the children involved are harmed by the practice. Since only one of the wives can be legally married to the man, the others have none of the legal rights of matrimony. Children born into polygamous unions are usually supported by the government's Aid to Families With Dependent Children program since the parents care rarely afford the cost of the father's numerous offspring. That guarantees they will live in poverty, in addition to lacking the parental attention available to most children.
Since the state has an interest in protecting the women and children victimized by polygamy, as well as its purse, I expect the Supreme Court of Utah to easily distinguish between homosexual acts and polygamy.
Iraqi leader not captured
Another American 'victory' in Iraq has turned out to be a hoax.
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) - U.S. forces in Iraq have indeed captured a man named "al-Duri" as earlier news reports announced, but he is not the second-most-wanted former Iraqi official the troops have been hunting, the U.S. military said Tuesday.
The reports about the capture of a top member of deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime were false, Maj. Robert Cargie of the 4th Infantry Division said.
Cargie spoke with Maj. Doug Vincent of the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Kirkuk, who said forces conducting overnight operations had not caught Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the former vice chairman of Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council and a former member of Saddam's inner circle.
Sources said an Iraqi police official identified the captured man as Saad Mohammed al-Duri.
This pattern of inflated reports of American success in battles and untrue tales of captures of Iraqi leaders, followed by retrenchment, is becoming tiresome. Reporters, embedded and otherwise, could save themselves considerable embarassment by waiting for such claims to be confirmed by reliable sources.
Pit bulls kill neighbor
Just when you thought it was safe to go outside. . . .
DENVER (AP) - A woman was killed in a gruesome attack by a pack of pit bull dogs that residents say had been a roaming menace for months. Another man was injured but escaped after his son shot at the dogs.
Authorities began weighing charges Monday against the owners of the dogs.
Jennifer Brooke, 40, was killed early Sunday when she went to a barn to care for her horses, officials said. A friend worried about her, Bjorn Osmunsen, 24, was attacked when he went to look for her.
``It's a gruesome thing; it's kind of hard to deal with,'' Elbert County Undersheriff James Underwood said of Brooke's injuries. ``Even the fire department and the rescue personnel were having a hard time dealing with some of it.''
One dog had allegedly mauled a neighbor earlier this year, and officials said the dogs were well known in the rolling ranch land near Kiowa, southeast of Denver.
``The people in the area had their own sort of emergency phone network to warn each other if the dogs were loose before they would go out,'' Rattlesnake Fire District Chief Dale Goetz said.
Seriously, something is broken in society when people wait until someone is killed by vicious dogs to take effective action against them. Perhaps it is the belief we are not our brothers' keeper. I wonder how many people just shrugged off the previous attacks by the dogs. Maybe the extremists of the animal rights movement have made reporting of out of control canines less likely to occur. But, curbing attacks by animals is not evidence of contempt for them. Let's not let our concern about animal rights stop us from preventing animal wrongs.
Monday, December 01, 2003
Reportage: Sacco sifts Mideast conflict
Pulitzer prize winner Art Spiegelman is America's foremost practitioner of comics as current events and history. However, Joe Sacco, who has brought his pencil to bear on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is coming on strong. I had reason to think about the oppression of Palestinians anew after Little Green Football's proprietor Charles Johnson attempted to stifle to discussion of the invasion of Iraq at Blogcritics. That interest happened to coincide with the return of Sacco, who spent much of his youth here, to Portland.
Joe Sacco has a motto. - "Me like to party." - The 43-year-old, who is one of the most original cartoonists in the world, moved back to Portland this summer.
"I couldn't handle being hung-over all the time," he says with a smile.
Sacco spent the last year in Switzerland and the previous two in New York, where his work was endorsed by political writers Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens.
"And now I have a deadline."
Sacco expects to deliver his next manuscript in spring 2006. The man who wrote the book on "cartoon journalism" has done the shoe-leather reporting on Rafah, a refugee camp in Gaza. Now he just needs his peace and quiet.
The new book will be the second Sacco has set in the Middle East. Palestine described the experience of a novice in that war-torn territory in the 1992-93. A reviewer at Amazon captures the zeitgeist of the revelatory comic.
Starting with a typical attitude of "Who cares?" Sacco shows us how his visit to the West Bank and Gaza in the early 1990s transformed him completely. Palestinians have much against them in todays world, not least the stereotypes of "supporting terror" . . . that the Israeli propaganda machine heaps on them every day. These stereotypes create a formidable barrier between the Palestinian people and Americans. Americans do not feel like they should even pay attention to these "insignificant terrorists" - and that is precisely the goal of the propagandists in the first place: to silence the Palestinians and prevent their very humanity (let alone their message) from being recognized.
Enter Joe Sacco, with master strokes of a cartoonist's pencil, he succeeds singlehandedly in shattering those barriers. For the first time in an American [publication], you actually see Palestinians as people, you enter their households, you talk to them, you listen to their problems, and you think about it. Well, so what?
If you always thought that the middle east problem is "too complicated" or "has been going on for too long" to be able to understand it, it is time to get out your credit card and buy this book. In the most enjoyable cartoon style that makes it hard for you to let go of the book, you will see things like you've never witnessed them before. This is the raw human story, not the clinically sterilized CNN version of events, or the dry history book polemics. I guarantee that after reading Sacco's Palestine, something will click and you will finally understand what's been going on, more clearly than you ever have before.
WARNING: Not for the faint of heart!
If the West Bank is purgatory, then the Gaza Strip is Hell. So, Sacco returned to live there there for a time.
"I like Gaza. I like the people," he says in his soft voice, still tinged by the Australian accent, where he lived until he was 12. "You don't have this middle-class moaning that you hear in Ramallah and east Jerusalem from Palestinians. These people are refugees. They've got something to moan about."
Sacco was determined to get a close-up look at the second intifada.
"The intifada now is militarized. They've picked up Kalashnikovs, and they fire mortars and rockets, while the Israelis have gone from Jeeps to tanks, Apache helicopters and F-16s," he says.
So he made trips to Rafah, on the border with Egypt, where the Israeli army demolishes houses and gun-smuggling tunnels, last November, then February through March, and May. Through connections, he rented a six-room house (with three toilets and four balconies) for $150 a month.
"You see people who are doing OK and people in abject poverty," he says.
The press corps rarely goes there, though, because roadblocks make it a long drive from Jerusalem. Western reporters don't stay for two months. Journalistically, he's shooting fish in a barrel.
The writer is careful not to surrender his journalistic objectivity.
He's more interested in how the locals react to the bombers, what they say. Old people in his books often make anti-Jewish remarks: "I might be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but if (they) were saying things that I felt made them look bad, they're still going to go in."
Take it from someone who worked in journalism for years, the average reporter is not about to give up a comfortable leather swivel chair in front of his computer to run around in places where people get killed. So, where, did is Joe Sacco coming from?
Sacco received his bachelor of arts degree in journalism at the University of Oregon in 1981. Two years later he returned to his native Malta, where his first professional cartooning work (a series of romance comics) was published. After relocating back to Portland, he co-edited and co-published the monthly comics newspaper Portland Permanent Press from 1985 to 1986; PPP lasted 15 issues, and included early work by such cartoonists as John Callahan and J.R. Williams. In 1986, Sacco moved to the Los Angeles area, where he worked on staff for Fantagraphics Books, editing the news section for the trade publication The Comics Journal and creating the satirical comic magazine Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.
From 1988 to 1992, Sacco criss-crossed the globe, producing six issues of his own comic book Yahoo for Fantagraphics Books as he traveled. He returned to Malta for a half a year; he spent a couple of months traveling around Europe with a rock band (an experience he recorded in Yahoo #2); he lived for close to two years in Berlin, where he drew dozens of record sleeves and posters for German record labels and concert promoters; and, in late 1991 and early 1992, he spent two months in Israel and the occupied territories, traveling and taking notes. When he finally returned again to Portland in mid-1992, it was with the intention of communicating what he had witnessed and heard during his Mid-Eastern jaunt - to combine the techniques of eyewitness reportage with the medium of comics storytelling to explore this complex, emotionally weighted situation. Palestine, the first issue of which was released in January, 1993, was the result.
If you have read Maus, Spiegelman's epic about the dehumanization and destruction of Jews in Germany, I'm sure it is an experience that stayed with you. You will find Sacco's works just as stimulating.
A major aspect of the blogosphere being dominated by the Right is that too many bloggers conform to received wisdom that is not necessarily wise. One is not 'supposed to' criticize the hateful motivation behind a large blog such as Little Green Footballs. So, most bloggers either bow in obeisance or ignore the harm being done to the dissemination of information by the squelching of anything other than a Zionist perspective. Mac-a-ro-nies will do neither.
I await the release of Sacco's latest two years from now. Meanwhile, I'm going to reread his earlier books, which include The Fixer and Notes from a Defeatist. What this cartoonist and journalist is achieving is no ordinary feat. But, then, he is not your average Joe.
Friday, November 28, 2003
Bloggers out leaders of Gene Expression
Two of the people behind the most hateful weblog in the blogosphere, Gene Expression, have been identified. The blog, one of the projects of longterm racist Steve Sailer, promotes the belief that people of color are genetically inferior. TSRoadmap and Bill of xsteve.com have the goods. From TS:
Paul Wickre writes for Gene Expression, a blog which is linked on the Steve Sailer website. Sailer is a conservative who runs a eugenics think tank called the Human Biodiversity Institute .
Newamul Khan (Razib) and Paul Wickre (Godless) display their quaint bourgeois sensibilities about science and genetics and what-not. Their connection to this debate on gender variance is tangential, and I hope this page describes both the start and the end of it.
Until he reads this page, Paul Wickre has been laboring under the delusion he is anonymous:
For those of you who feel that I'm too paranoid about anonymity, or who believe that I'm somehow exaggerating the danger to my academic career by even posting here...you need to read this post.
The post in question mocked Lynn Conway's investigation into J. Michael Bailey, who wrote a highly defamatory book about gender variance called The Man Who Would Be Queen.
As some of you know, I have been a reliable source of information about the scientific racism and neo-Confederate movements in Bloggersville. I continue to cover these people because I believe their nefarious propaganda to be a threat to the progress made in the United States since the 1960s civil right movement. If we who care are not vigilant, that progress can and will be lost.
I have been aware of the trail of mangled information Sailer leaves behind him for about a decade. (He was very active at discussion boards and newsgroups before weblogs began.) Who is he?
Steve Sailer is one of those writers with a finger in every pot. He worries about world "overpopulation," while screaming that Europe must do something quickly about its "race suicide" birthrates. He bitterly rails against "vast unrestricted immigration" that is diluting the "value of the white vote," and warmly embraces "Bell Curve" type theories about the inferior intelligence of nonwhites.
Sailer's current greatest utitlity is as a liason between traditional racists like the neo-Confederates and scientific racists (people who wrap racism in pseudo-science) such as those at Gene Expression.
Unfortunately, some people who consider themselves liberals in the blogosphere have joined Gene Expression in its racist ideology. In fact, Natasha Chart, a blogger from Bellevue, Washington, formerly of the watch and now of Pacific Views, aided them in an attack on me, even providing space for them to comment on her blog. At the time, she and her supporters, including Lisa English and Jim Capazzola, tried to claim there was no bigotry problem with these well-known scientific racists. This is the kind of racism within the liberal community that has led me to redefine myself as an independent.
Indeed, foolishness such as that episode leads me to wonder if people know the meaning of the word racism.
1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.
2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.
-- The American Heritage Dictionary via dictionary.com.
The denizens of Gene Expression (a misuse of the scientific term, incidentally) believe that 'race' determines intelligence, athletic ability and even aesthetic appeal. There really can be no reasonable argument that they are not racists.
The availability of new information about the people behind Gene Expression provides ample grounds for bloggers to reexamine the issue of racism in the blogosphere. I urge them to do so.
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Culture: iPod jacking blurs boundaries
I recently irked some folks by saying I believe conservatives and libertarians (conservatives who wear their caps backward) don't like to share. That explains why they are usually opposed to supporting the common good. MacRumors reports there is something new to for such persons to worry about. Wired's Leander Kahney has the original story.
During his regular evening walk, software executive Steve Crandall often nods a polite greeting to other iPod users he passes: He easily spots the distinctive white earbuds threaded from pocket to ears.
But while quietly enjoying some chamber music one evening in August, Crandall's polite nodding protocol was rudely shattered.
Crandall was boldly approached by another iPod user, a 30ish woman bopping enthusiastically to some high-energy tune.
"She walked right up to me and got within my comfort field," Crandall stammered. "I was taken aback. She pulled out the earbuds on her iPod and indicated the jack with her eyes."
Warily unplugging his own earbuds, Crandall gingerly plugged them into the woman's iPod, and was greeted by a rush of techno.
"We listened for about 30 seconds," Crandall said. "No words were exchanged. We nodded and walked off."
The following evening, Crandall saw the woman again. This time, she was sharing her iPod with another iPod regular Crandall had spotted on his walks.
Within a couple of days, Crandall had performed the iPod sharing ritual with all the other four or five regulars he sees on his walks. Since August, they've listened to each other's music dozens of times.
I freely admit to iPod promiscuity. Since acquiring my first, soon after the esteemed MP3 player/hard drive was released, I have shared music with family, friends and complete strangers. My current digital companion, Titania, has been handled by more men than I've given my phone number in the last year. The iPod has become well enough known that people will often ask to take a closer look at it. Some say they are considering getting their own. Like Crandall, I notice other iPod users and they notice me. We sometimes compare notes on what we have on our 'Pods, listen to each others tunes briefly or, now that a hack allowing it is available, trade songs.
I really hadn't given much thought to the sociability factor of the iPod, taking it for granted. The article at Wired and responses to it at MacRumors have caused me to realize that I may need to become more circumspect. What if the not-so-secret sharer is a conservative or a libertarian? Then, I could be unknowingly stepping on his toes.
Crandall, who also has a weblog, Tingilinde, has seen iPod sharing catch on in his native milieu and heard rumors of it on some college campuses. But, he has also encountered hostile responses when suggesting mutual musical moments in New York City.
In looking back, I realize I've usually been the respondent to iPod information and music exchanges. However, if the iPod jacking spreads, that may change. Perhaps I will become an aggressive plucker of plugs. But, I promise not to force conservatives and libertarians to share.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Politics: Courting the gay conservative voter
I don't regularly read David Brooks' column in the New York Times. However, this week I gave it a close read after a conservative praised it as showing compassion for gay people by saying marriage of homosexuals should be legal.
I wrote an early blog entry, now likely lost to Blogger's perverse crimes against archives, about the differences between people of color and gay Americans politically. I believe that gays could become for the Republican Party what African-Americans and Hispanics have become for the Democrats - almost certain votes. If any one factor can be said to be preventing that from happening, it may well be the failure of the Right to support societal recognition of gay coupling -- both as a legal right and in regard to matrimony.
But, let's go back a bit. Key to my theory is that I believe many, if not most, gay people are conservatives - except for being gay. Why? Because the gay population is mainly white, male, educated and affluent, major characteristics of Republicans, not Democrats. Furthermore, since a minority of gay people opt to have families, the interest in social programs that binds liberals often does not resonate in their lives. A DINC (double income, no children) lifestyle is typical. People in that demographic are more likely to be interested in tax cuts than educational subsidies.
Brooks does not rely on such reasoning to reach his decision that gays should be allowed to marry. Instead he focuses on the rectitude of the institution.
Anybody who has several sexual partners in a year is committing spiritual suicide. He or she is ripping the veil from all that is private and delicate in oneself, and pulverizing it in an assembly line of selfish sensations.
But marriage is the opposite. Marriage joins two people in a sacred bond. It demands that they make an exclusive commitment to each other and thereby takes two discrete individuals and turns them into kin.
Few of us work as hard at the vocation of marriage as we should. But marriage makes us better than we deserve to be. Even in the chores of daily life, married couples find themselves, over the years, coming closer together, fusing into one flesh. Married people who remain committed to each other find that they reorganize and deepen each other's lives. They may eventually come to the point when they can say to each other: "Love you? I am you."
Brooks' believes marriage 'domesticates' people, making them more stable and happier. He asserts this blessed state should include lesbians and gay men who want to marry. The alternative is, according to him, giving in to what he calls the "culture of contingency," in which people decide whether they want to be in monogamous relationships based on the circumstances, not an allegiance to fidelity.
Still, even in this time of crisis, every human being in the United States has the chance to move from the path of contingency to the path of marital fidelity - except homosexuals. Gays and lesbians are banned from marriage and forbidden to enter into this powerful and ennobling institution. A gay or lesbian couple may love each other as deeply as any two people, but when you meet a member of such a couple at a party, he or she then introduces you to a "partner," a word that reeks of contingency.
. . .The conservative course is not to banish gay people from making such commitments. It is to expect that they make such commitments. We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity.
I don't agree with Brooks' description of what marriage is. (It can be different things for different people.) He also doesn't give enough weight to the reality that longterm marriage is becoming less and less common in developed countries. But, I believe he has identified an argument that could 'sell' gay marriage to conservatives. That, in turn, could allow the GOP to open its arms to gay conservatives, instead of continuing its current two-faced strategy of wooing them as conservatives and dissin' them as gays.
If the GOP builds it - a big tent that includes recognition of gay marriage - will they come? All we can do is speculate at present, of course. However, I believe Republicans would make significant strides with gays, especially gay men, if they could get over the gay marriage hurdle. Economic status, or at least perceived economic status, is still the most reliable indicator for political affiliation in the United States.
On other channels
Trish Wilson describes the Supreme Court of Massachusetts' ruling favoring gay marriage. She attended hearings on a gay marriage bill before the Massachusetts legislature and has colorful stories to tell.
Silver Rights considers how the GOP can court the black conservative voter.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
People are saying: Iraq
Victory in Iraq!
Mike Larkin's durruti column salutes the victors.
Iraq: Mission Accomplished
Seven months after the fall of Baghdad, the verdict is in: the U.S. invasion has been a success.
The U.S. hoped to accomplish three goals by invading Iraq: seize strategic control of Iraqi oil, bolster Israeli apartheid, and divert attention from the White House's corrupt economic agenda. By these measures, it's mission accomplished!
Although it's having trouble getting the oil out of the ground, the Pentagon has firm control of this resource. Ariel Sharon's murderous oppression of the Palestinians, including the building of the Apartheid Wall, continues, helped along by generous subsidies from the U.S. And the GOP is busily dismantling popular environmental and health regulations while logjamming any opposition to media consolidation.
Of course, there have been a few losers.
Saddam has temporarily lost the use of his Baghdad headquarters, and will have to wait out the U.S. occupation from his office in Tikrit. Prospects will no doubt brighten for the old thug right after Election Day next year, when the U.S. cuts and runs.
The Iraqi people are suffering from an occupation that manages to be both inept and brutal, and now face years of unspeakable deprivation and violence.
Thousands of American soldiers have been maimed or killed by the invasion. Luckily for the GOP, Republicans don't fight in wars. They simply send lower-income kids to do their dirty work.
Millions of Americans will be doing without adequate health insurance and education to pay for the bloated U.S. military.
Pro-war liberals, big government conservatives, and other suckers who thought the war was about finding WMDs and spreading democracy have been made to look like total fools.
And of course, the pursuit of empire abroad has shredded the Constitution at home and put an end to 200+ years of republican self-government. Oh well!
I for one think these are small prices to pay for our great Iraqi adventure. Congratulations all around to the victors!
Condi: Not a nice girl?
Natalie Davis is being rather blunt. (Is associating with me rubbing off on the civil rights activist at All Facts and Opinions?)
Boondocks Creator Speaks Truth
If you pay someone to go out and shoot someone, you are as guilty of homicide as the person who actually pulls the trigger. That is the truth.
Following that logic, Aaron McGruder, the cartoonist behind the often brilliant strip "Boondocks" was absolutely correct when he called US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice "a murderer" on last weekend's edition of the television show "America's Black Forum."
"I don't like her because she's a murderer," the cartoonist announced.
The charged drew immediate condemnation from Armstrong Williams, who complained, "That is totally out of line to say she's a murderer."
Unfazed, McGruder repeated the accusation, stretching out his words, "S-h-e'-s a m-u-r-d-e-r-e-r."
"Let's put aside the fact that she's affiliated with oil companies that murder people in Nigeria," the cartoonist said. "We can discuss just this illegal Iraq war, the slaughtering of innocent people and the fact that she's one of the big hawks of the administration.
"I don't see where this is even a point of contention," he insisted.
At that point cohost Juan Williams asked [civil-rights leader Julian Bond, also a guest on the program] if he supported McGruder's contention.
"I generally agree with his politics 100 percent and I think he explained himself well," the NAACP chief said.
I wrote about Virginia's triggerman statute in regard to the D.C.-area snipers' trials the other day. By the reasoning underpinning such laws, MaGruder is right. If the person was active in the planning of the act of violence, he or she is responsible for it. Ms. Rice has been proudly active in planning the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath.
Knowing the history of cartoonists being outspoken or drawing controversial cartoons, some newspapers may consider dropping "Boondocks" as a result of MaGruder's remarks. Be prepared to defend his right to speak his mind.
Read the rest of Natalie's opinion here.
Letting it all hang out
The Scarlet Pimpernel has an idea about how to get your opinion about the war or other issues out there.
When you put a sign on the freeway people will read it until someone takes it down.
Depending on its size, content and placement it can be seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
The freeway blogger explains how he came to support guerilla activity.
My father once told me the most amazing thing to occur during his lifetime was the mass-suicide at Jonestown in Guyana. Having lived through the depression, World War II and the cold war, this might seem hyperbolic, but I understood what he meant. By "amazing" I think he meant "incomprehensible", and had he lived to see September 11th, 2001 I'm sure he would've changed his mind.
For me, like many of us, September 11th was the most amazing event to occur during my lifetime, but not for long. As the war drums started beating against Iraq I saw an entire nation almost effortlessly transfer the blame for that day from Osama Bin Laden to Saddam Hussein. And that, without a doubt, is the most amazing thing to occur during my lifetime.
It was at this time, during the lead up to the war, that I first started seeing freewayblogs along the Interstate. Some were small, some were large, draped over walls, wired onto fences and hanging from trees, all of them saying the same thing: "Osama Who?" At least there's somebody out there, I thought to myself, who feels the same way I do. As the signs proliferated in numbers and complexity, I started carrying my camera in my car. Little by little I began to realize that this person, or group, through their sheer tenacity, had created an entirely new medium of free speech, using little more than cardboard, paint, duct tape and the freeways. I began to refer to it as "freewayblogging".
The more I thought about it, the more I realized what an invaluable service the freewayblogger was providing. Every day we're subjected to thousands of signs, messages and bits of information: 99% of them generated by corporate media and, not coincidentally, almost all of them lies. The signs I saw posted along the freeway were the only ones being made [by] individuals, and practically the only ones that made any sense. I don't know why it took me so long, but once I realized I could start making my own freewayblogs, the whole experience of driving changed. The commute I'd driven a thousand times came alive with possibilities, like one large unfolding canvass. Once I decided to join the fight, the world became a more interesting place. Or at least the freeways did.
If you have an opinion that's not being addressed by corporate media, and you have access to cardboard, duct tape and a freeway, consider freewayblogging. Unlike everyone else in the media, you can say, literally, Anything You Want.
Nobody's going to fire you.
See some freeway blogging at the Scarlet Pimpernel's site.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Reflections of a reasonable vegetarian
Brian Flemming, who can always be relied on to have something intriguing on his mind, is wondering about the animal rights movement.
Imagine a Martian is given an assignment by his superiors: Go over to Earth, study the humans there, and determine how they feel about the other animals on their planet. My guess is the first lines of the resulting report would read as follows: "The humans on Earth revere the non-human animals. Also they despise them. Also they have no feelings at all about them. At any given moment the humans will passionately rally to save the life of an animal, and in the next moment will slaughter another one without mercy. They will find unremarkable a lifetime of human-imposed suffering by a million members of one species, while finding the nature-imposed suffering of a single member of another species to be a tragedy worthy of heroic measures. The only near-guarantees of survival for an individual animal on Earth are to be of a species deemed 'cute' in that particular geographic region or to fall into a novel predicament and receive media coverage."
A news story is the impetus for Brian's musing. An alligator was recently captured by officials of the U.S. Postal Service. Someone had tried to ship it and it gnawed its way through the carton.
The alligator will remain at a shelter for a week before being shipped to a northern Illinois sanctuary, said Len Selkurt, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control. The sanctuary owner will then take it to Florida, he said. Alligators longer than 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) are not allowed to be sent through the mail, and officials said the shipment from Milwaukee to Colorado was under review.
Brian has a suggestion: "Kill the alligator." He points out that doing so would save money, time and hassle. Furthermore, being killed is the fate of many an alligator, so why spare this one? I'm inclined to agree with Brian, though his suggestion may be tongue-in-cheek. If no one wants the alligator or it isn't eligible for pet status, euthanize it.
Why are you gasping? Let me guess. You saw the word 'vegetarian' in the headline and thought, 'she's a softy when it comes to animals.' Not so. I'm middle-of-the-road in regard to animal rights. I definitely stop short of considering animals equal to humans.
Brian is puzzled by the dichotomous attitude most Americans have toward animals. There is the touchy-feely anthropomorphization common in childrens' stories and the cards sold at chain card shops. Then there is the reality of the diet of most Americans -- replete with the same animals. Talking about irony.
I've been a semi-vegetarian since college. Not a lacto. Not a vegan. A reasonable vegetarian. I don't eat poultry or red meat. Fish and seafood are fine, except for mussels, which I'm allergic to. I don't have a rationale to offer for my vegetarianism. All I can do is tell you my story.
I ate meat as a child. In fact, growing up partly in the rural South, I observed animals going from chickens and pigs to drumsticks and ribs. My mother and aunts killed chickens by chopping their heads off. My father and uncles would shoot a hog, hang up it up to drain the blood and then butcher it. You are expecting me to say that grossed me out. It didn't. Like most humans throughout history, I was not particularly concerned with how the pork roast got on the table as long as it got on the table.
I was influenced somewhat by the anti-meat movement in college. Apparently, I examined whether I really wanted to eat meat. I decided I didn't. But, don't congratulate me, yet. The decision likely had to do with the fact most of my favorite foods were not meat. I actually like vegetables. Legumes? Potatoes? Greens? Bring'em on. I didn't mind passing up beef ribs, pork sausage or chicken wings. Pork chops are another story -- I miss them to this day. On the other hand, I refused to eat chitterlings from the get-go because they stink.
I haven't backslid. No red meat, pork or poultry has passed my lips in years. But, my conversion to vegetarianism was and remains incomplete, including philosophically. I don't agree with much of what is written about grazing ruining the environment. Corporate farming of grains and vegetables is probably equally harmful. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals often embarrasses itself in my opinion. There is something perverse about ignoring human suffering while focusing on the tribulations of farmed minks. Here in Portland, a hospital is picketed several times a year. People from PETA parade around the complex beating drums and chanting a female researcher's name. They castigate her as something akin to a war criminal. Her crime: She is performing research on paralysis using four domestic cats. Though I think it should be humane, I am not opposed to the slaughter of animals for food. After all, carnivores and omnivores behave the same way in the wild.
My failure to conform to what is expected of vegetarians includes not swearing off non-food uses of animal products. I have a Eddie Bauer Stine jacket and a leather office chair. No qualms strike when I am buying leather shoes or a new purse, except about the cost.
I consider myself a reasonable vegetarian because I believe I have reached a balance. I'm in no danger of depriving myself of needed nutrients by being an anti-meat extremist. Nor do I hold eating meat against other people. If someone decides to join me in vegetarianism, fine. If another person wants to pig out on beef spare ribs dripping with a chorizo-based sauce, that's fine, too. I'm willing to leave the choice up to the individual.
Brian goes on to say, in regard to the reptilian reprobate,
There is only one way that all of this effort could make logical sense to me: If every decision maker involved is a vegetarian. Going on the (probably safe) assumption that these decision makers (and those who agree that saving the alligator is the right thing to do) are not vegetarians, how to make sense of it? For example, in order to solve the minor problem of their own hunger tonight, these alligator-savers will likely elect to have, say, a chicken killed, when obviously they could have sated their hunger without killing any animals at all, if they truly believe that one shouldn't kill an animal to solve a problem.
As I said before, I don't have a problem with the star of this drama being offed at all. See you later, alligator. I am a reasonable vegetarian.
Note: Brian delves deeper into the issue of animal rights. He is looking for a philosophy that negates PETA's: "Animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation." Read his entire entry here.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Law: But is it terrorism?
I have no reservations about the prosecution of Washington, D.C.-area sniper suspects John Muhammad and Lee Malvo in general. There is compelling evidence they committed the murders they are charged with. But, one aspect of the case does perturb me: They are being prosecuted for terrorism under a Virginia law passed after the 9/11 attacks.
The slayings were part of a string of shootings that killed 10 people over a three-week period in October 2002 in the Washington metropolitan area. Prosecutors said the spree was an attempt to extort $10 million from the government.
Both men are charged with two counts of capital murder, one accusing them of taking part in multiple murders, the other alleging the killings were designed to terrorize the population.
Muhammad was convicted Monday.
VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) -- A jury on Monday found John Allen Muhammad guilty of capital murder and three other charges related to a slaying during last year's sniper shooting spree.
The seven-woman, five-man jury also found the Army veteran guilty of committing a murder in an act of terrorism, conspiracy and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. The jury announced its verdict after six hours of deliberations.
The capital murder and terrorism charges carry the death penalty as a possible sentence.
. . .The terrorism charge required the prosecution to show that he was responsible for a murder aimed at intimidating the public or influencing the government.
I don't believe the terrorism law was intended for use in prosecuting this kind of serial killing spree. The law was passed with the intention of preventing someone like Osama bin Laden escaping the death penalty if convicted in the United States because he was not an actual perpetrator of the terroristic acts, the 9/11 plane crashes.
The law makes the killing of an individual during an act of terrorism a capital offense in Virginia. But most important, the new law bypasses the triggerman rule so that anyone involved in the planning of a terror attack (but who did not participate in the attack itself) may also face the death penalty.
The law has not yet been tested in the courts.
David Albo, the Virginia delegate who authored the bill, says the law was passed to close what lawmakers saw as a legal loophole. Had Osama bin Laden been arrested following the Sept. 11 attack on the Pentagon, he would not have faced the death penalty in Virginia even though he allegedly planned it, paid for it, and ordered it, Mr. Albo says.
The new law broadly defines terrorism to include any act of violence committed with intent to intimidate the civilian population or influence the conduct or activities of government officials through intimidation. There is no requirement that the violence be politically motivated.
. . ."The allegation is that Muhammad was the Osama bin Laden of this. He arranged it, set it up, and ordered the killings," says Albo.
That is the problem. Muhammad and Malvo seem to have been motivated by the older man's rancor toward his ex-wife and society. The demand for $10 million surfaced late in the spree and seems to be an afterthought. There is no evidence of an orchestrated scheme as there is in the facts of the 9/11 terrorism episode. What the situation resembles is other domestic serial killings -- not 9/11.
The terrorism statute may be constitutionally infirm.
. . .the broad language renders the terrorism statute unconstitutionally vague because it lacks the specificity in death-penalty laws required by the US Supreme Court. It was this requirement that led Virginia to develop the triggerman rule in the first place, analysts say.
Legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin says terrorism occurred, defining it in a general sense.
Well, this crime was unusual in many respects, but it was especially unusual because the whole region was the alleged victim. The charge of terrorism is a charge that says you tried to terrorize an entire community.
I think any of us who were around during that period can testify that it was terrorized, and so I think this was one of the strongest cases for a change of venue I have ever seen. Basically, every possible juror was a victim of the crime. So it had to be moved out of that community. I think the judge made the right decision.
Though I agree with Toobin that a change of venue was justified, I have serious doubts about the applicability of the Virginia terrorism statute to these circumstances.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Do PDAs have a future?
Jeff Kirvin at Writing on Your Palm says: "I've seen several articles recently predicting the death of the PDA. Do PDAs have a future?" I've been asking the same question. I now have the PDA model I've written about wanting, the Palm Tungsten C. However, I am finding myself at a loss in regard to what to do with it. Kirvin has given the issue of 'whither the PDA?' some thought.
Judging by the press handhelds get these days, you'd think the form factor was doomed. Toshiba talks about the failure of their Pocket PCs and how they might stop making them. The Economist reports that handhelds will never be a mass market. Sony, long the standard bearer for PalmOS, lays off thousands. Only HP, Dell and PalmOne seem strong and dedicated to the handheld market. New devices from those three companies are compelling, but are they enough, or has the "Palm Pilot" finally reached the end? According to the Economist article, "everyone who wants a PDA already has one."
As my regular readers know, my day job is managing the Communications and Imaging department at one of the largest CompUSAs in America. I sell MP3 players, cell phones, digital cameras and yes, PDAs. I can tell you from first hand experience that I sell PDAs every day to people that have never owned one. If anything, the existence of inexpensive devices with bright color screens like the iPAQ 1945 and Palm Tungsten E is drawing new users like never before. While it's taking a back seat to the color Tungstens now, I expect the $99 Palm Zire 21 to sell like gangbusters for the holiday shopping season. People that already wanted PDAs might already have them, but there's a constantly growing number of people who are just now figuring out that they want them. While Franklin Covey is refocusing on selling paper planners, I'm selling PDAs to people that are fed up with paper and want a smaller, lighter and lower-maintenance way of dealing with their commitments.
I've owned three personal digital assistants over a five or six-year period. They were a Handspring Visor Prism, a Palm m505 and the current Tungsten C. I used the first two devices often. Part of one of my books and some of my short stories were written on the Prism and m505. I also used them to write rough drafts of reviews. (I like to write my impressions down while they are fresh and a PDA is more convenient to take to a movie or a concert than a laptop.) My m505 fell into disuse as laptops became lighter and I began taking my TiBook with me more often than I had previous notebooks. The advent and availability of WiFi also played a role. My laptop had an Airport card,so it made sense to carry it instead of my PDA, which was not equipped for 802.11b. I could surf the Web using the free access points and the numerous Starbucks' Tmobile sites in Portland in Seattle.
I thought I would switch back to relying on a PDA once I had the right PDA. (I received a Palm Zire 71 as a gift, but it did not fit in with gadgets I already have.) The Tungsten C has the latest version of the Palm operating system, OS 5, built-in WiFi and comes with a voice memo function. It has a full 64MB of memory instead of the former Palm standard 8MB. With the addition of a secure digital memory card the on-board memory can be increased easily.
Alas! I haven't found the Tungsten C the fit I expected it to be. The WiFi connection works fine once one has connected, but is awkward to initiate. One must first access the WiFi program, then open a browser and sign in to the access provider. To synchronize Avantgo, the best of the web services for mobile devices, one must open it after those three steps. That's rather much after getting used to connecting automatically on my laptop. The voice memo, MP3 and movie viewing functions require the purchase of earphones that fit the Tungsten C's odd input port. So far, the only one I've located that works is a one-ear model that won't do for listening to music and watching videos. In addition, a user needs to purchase an MP3 program and a memory card to hold music and movies. Do I even need to say the sound quality is much less than my iPod's?
I am still becoming acquainted with the Tungsten C. Perhaps it will grow on me. I am apt to learn things that will help as I work my way through the huge PDF that is its handbook. But, now, I am wondering if I will stick with the device.
Kirvin believes the PDA's destiny is to become part of the PAN.
An emerging and often overlooked trend in mobile computing is the rise of Personal Area Networks, usually connected via Bluetooth. A PAN is a system of devices usually worn or carried by an individual that work together to share data and be greater than the sum of the parts. A typical PAN today might be a PDA, cell phone, Bluetooth headset and perhaps a Bluetooth GPS.
PDAs have a future as part of a PAN, a handheld control console. For many, the PDA will be the most visible component of a personal area network, the only part you interact with directly. I'd for one love to see the actual phone merge with a Bluetooth headset like the Jabra Freespeak. All the circuitry needed for a GSM cell phone can now be found on a single board the size of a dime. How hard would it be to add that to a self-powered earpiece and microphone that could be voice-activated sans PDA or controlled via Bluetooth from a PDA? More than that, a PDA is the ideal interface to control a Bluetooth-equipped home theater, Windows Media Center, ebook server, etc. A touch screen handheld with a largish (yet pocketable) screen has so many uses that I'm sure the form factor is here to stay.
Kirvin may be right.
Another possible saviour of the PDA market may be convergence between cell phones and digital devices, which I described in a previous column.
However, I believe the PDA manufacturers will have to hold on to experienced users in addition to attracting new people to the devices to succeed. Whether I remain a PDA owner will probably turn on finding legitimate uses for my Palm Tungsten C.
The Apple Store has arrived
An achievement that makes Apple CEO Steve Job's endless promotion of the company appear more than hyberbole has occurred: Apple's own stores are in the black.
Apple posted its highest quarterly income for three years in its September earnings results announced today. Excluding two bonus windfalls, the company turned a profit for the quarter of $29 million on sales of $1.72 billion. Without the charges, it would have recorded $44 million net income.
CFO Fred Anderson said that while CPU sales increased seven per cent year on year, revenue increased 19 per cent, which he largely attributed to peripheral sales. The iPod sold 336,000 units in the quarter, said Anderson, adding $121 million in revenue. Apple's US retail stores are finally in the black: the 63 stores open (on average) in the period added $193 million of revenue.
I checked up on how the brick and mortar Apple Stores are doing after getting good news via email Monday.
Apple Store, Washington Square
10 a.m to 9 p.m., Saturday, November 15
Drop in and help us celebrate the newest store in Portland. The whole day is full of festivities. See how Apple is changing the way people view technology. Check out all the new Apple products, including Mac OS X, version 10.3 -- Panther, the Power Mac G5, the ever-popular iPod, and iTunes?the world's best jukebox software that is now available for Mac and Windows. You can also test-drive the new eMac, our most affordable desktop ever, and the new iBook G4, our fast, affordable portable.
The best place to discover. The perfect place to learn. More than just a place to shop, the Apple Store is the place to learn about and take part in today's digital revolution. Attend hands-on workshops and discover innovative business solutions from a Mac Business Specialist. It's the place to see, feel, and interact with everything Apple has to offer.
Join us on November 15. This is one grand opening you won't want to miss.
Yes! Puddletown is finally getting an Apple Store of its own. It will be the only Apple Store in Oregon.
MacNN has statistical information about Apple Stores, including:
Apple will have 74 retail stores, including the new Tokyo location, by December 31.
This year Apple sold 187,000 computers in its stores, 87,000 of which were to first time Mac buyers.
47 percent of buyers at Apple retail stores were new to the Mac platform.
Store traffic, volume, and sales are steadily increasing, while operating expense is going down.
On average six percent of those who visit a new Apple Store buy something. As a store gets older that percent increases to about 13, meaning people are returning.
I look forward to having a third concrete choice when shopping for Mac products. Currently, we are limited to two convenient options, The Mac Store (formerly The Computer Store) and CompUSA. Neither can be relied on for repairs, especially of laptops. The Apple stores have an average turnaround time of two days for repairs -- less time that it takes for Apple to send a box for its general repair service. My first purchase will likely be new iPod earphones to replace the ones I lost last week.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Blogospherics: Deadwood blogs mar blogosphere
Kellea at Her Blog brought my renewed attention to the problem of abandoned weblogs. CNN reports.
One study of 3,634 blogs found that two-thirds had not been updated for at least two months and a quarter not since Day One.
"Some would say, 'I'm going to be too busy but I'll get back to it,' but never did," said Jeffrey Henning, chief technology officer with Perseus Development Corp., the research company that did the study. "Most just kind of stopped."
According to Perseus, there are about 4.12 million blogs. Most either don't attract readers or are quickly abandoned.
The most dramatic finding from the survey was that 66.0% of surveyed blogs had not been updated in two months, representing 2.72 million blogs that have been either permanently or temporarily abandoned.
"Apparently the blog-hosting services have made it so easy to create a blog that many tire-kickers feel no commitment to continuing the blog they initiate," said Jeffrey Henning, CTO of Perseus Development Corp. and author of the survey. "In fact, 1.09 million blogs were one-day wonders, with no postings on subsequent days."
The average duration of the remaining 1.63 million abandoned blogs was 126 days (almost four months). A surprising 132,000 blogs were abandoned after being maintained a year or more (the oldest abandoned blog surveyed had been maintained for 923 days).
The study suggests failure to attract readers is a reason why blogs are often abandoned. Another factor is length of blog entries. Bloggers who write short blog entries, like the ones at this site, tend to quit, probably because they lack writing skills and/or are not really interested in writing. The fact that most people who begin blogs are under 30 may also explain why so many cease as promptly as they start. Perhaps other activities become more interesting to them.
Some folks might say abandoned weblogs are victimless infractions. Not so. Surfing to sites that are deadwood, are updated only sporadically or contain woefully inaccurate information wastes the time of readers. And, often, time is money.
Cliff Kurtzman kept his Year2000.com site up for two years past the turnover, with a note acknowledging that the information could be old. But even abandoned sites deserve a burial at some point.
"There was so much on it that was out of date, and links that didn't work and everything," he said. "It looked bad to have things up there with so many things not working or making sense anymore."
Kurtzman, who uses the site now to promote a newsletter on business and innovation, knows the troubles abandoned sites like his can pose. He'll find a site he likes, only to learn later the information is old.
"Having extra junk out there just makes the process of searching for good stuff even harder," Kurtzman said.
I had one of those frustrating experiences Tuesday night. I was writing a blog item about the success of Apple's stores. I decided to cite a blogger who had heard the rumor Portland would be getting one back in January. He has not updated his blog since July, so I assume it is abandoned.
In the blogosphere, I believe abandoned sites harm us because they create the impression that blogging is a flaky avocation practiced by uninformed and unreliable people. That impression makes it less likely people unfamiliar with blogs will read those worthy of their attention. At the very least, a responsible blogger should inform readers and other bloggers when he intends to take a break from blogging or cease publication.
The overinvolvement of teenage girls in blogging has doubtlessly skewed the statistics in some ways. I hope adults are less inconstant. However, based on personal observation, many adult bloggers abandon their blogs at the drop of a mouse, too.
How does this blogger fit into it all? I am an exception to the rule in most ways -- over 30, a linker to a variety sources and a professional writer. Mac-a-ro-nies is nearly nine months old, having lasted twice as long as the majority of blogs. (As some of you know, I was a contributor to other blogs for months before I began my own, so my blogging experience began earlier.) I credit having been around awhile as a blogger to having things to write about. I've worked in interesting fields, read widely and have always been aware of the world around me. I had won national awards as a feature writer and an essayist, so I had reason to be confident about my skills as a writer before beginning blogging.
If I decide to take a hiatus my readers will be the first to know.
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Controversy II: Lynch myth melts down
Atrios and I were the first bloggers to smell something fishy in the reportage about captured Pfc. Jessica Lynch. One reason is that Steno Sue Schmidt was one of the reporters who worked on it. She has a reputation for not questioning her sources closely or judging the credibility of information. We were also skeptical because the story had too many American tropes: amazing heroism by a private in a support role, exceedingly clever American intelligence personnel, the Gunga Dinnish foreigner who puts the U.S. first, blonde woman ravished by swarthy men, etc. However, I did not for a moment expect the narrative to be as false as it apparently is.
Skepticism about the deification of Pfc. Lynch has spread. Rick Bragg's autobiography of Lynch, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, which has been heavily promoted, was expected to sell well. Instead, booksellers are describing disappointing first-day traffic.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite a media blitz, the biography of America's best-known soldier from the Iraq war, Jessica Lynch, appeared unlikely on Tuesday to translate into big cash as the first day of sales fell short of expectations.
. . .Not a copy had been sold by midday on Tuesday, Veterans Day, at a Barnes & Noble store on Chicago's North Side, said an employee who declined to be identified. The store would not disclose how many of the books sold.
"I've yet to have anyone ask about it," the employee said.
At a Manhattan Barnes & Noble, an employee described interest as "moderate. It certainly has not been exceptional." Another nearby store sold one copy by lunchtime.
On online bookseller Amazon.com, the book ranked 21st in sales, well short of top-selling novel "The Da Vinci Code" and the latest get-slim-quick fad, "The South Beach Diet."
This a problem for Lynch if she is hoping to set aside a significant sum. Bragg may have received the greater part of both the advance and future royalities. For Lynch to profit, sales would likely have to be quite high.
I Am a Soldier, Too has also come under fire for its unsubstantiated claim Pfc. Lynch was sexually assaulted by Iraqis.
Viewership of the NBC television movie that sought to define her as the ultimate American heroine, Saving Jessica Lynch, was also lower than expected. CBS' competing movie about the kidnapping of a Utah teenager fared better. Sweet, of The Somewhat Heroic Adventures of SWEET explains why she decided not to watch NBC's expensive sweeps effort.
Call me a cynic. Call me unpatriotic. But I would not, just could not, bring myself to watch the Jessica Lynch story on TV yesterday.
Maybe it was all the hype. Maybe it was the fact that others in Jessica's unit, who had suffered the same fate or worse, were being totally ignored. Maybe it was the announcer telling me it was the show "All America had been waiting for." Maybe it was that annoyingly commercial sounding patriotic tune they kept playing in the promos. Whatever it was, whenever the trailer came on, I cringed.
I thought maybe it was just me, but then I saw an online poll and it seemed there were quite a few folks who, like me, had had about enough of the excessive marketing of Jessica's and Elizabeth Smart's story. My mother was in town over the weekend and we were sitting on the couch watching TV when another one of those annoying trailers started in on us. The announcer said the show would be airing in one hour. My mother groaned and made reference to the fact that we should remember to switch stations before the hour was up. I indeed was not alone.
Perhaps knowing the definitive story was not definitive reduced interest as the hoi polloi became more aware of the discrepancies newshounds have known about for months.
Millions of Americans sat down last weekend to watch one of the television blockbusters of the year. Saving Jessica Lynch, produced by NBC, opened with a vision of US army headlights crawling warily through the Iraqi desert haze on March 23.
The next two hours, according to network executives, offered the definitive account of what really happened to Private Lynch after the 507th Ordnance Maintenance convoy was famously ambushed.
Few viewers will have taken that promise seriously. After yet another week of conflicting accounts, confused memories and unpleasant revelations, the truth of what happened to Lynch is still as murky as the green-tinged video footage of her rescue from a hospital in Nasiriyah on April 1.
Among the people now uncomfortable with the mythic Lynch are those who created her.
In the corridors of the Bush administration, senior officials frankly admit that they would prefer the Jessica Lynch story simply went away.
"The Private Lynch story is becoming a monster," said one administration official.
. . .The Pentagon may have hyped the story of Private Lynch for its own propaganda purposes: now, with a $US1 million ($A1.4 million) deal for co-operation with an authorised biography, the Lynch family is selling a different story, to the increasing discomfort of much of the American public.
Yesterday's contribution to the meltdown of the myth came from an unsavory, but usually reliable, source -- slimemeister Larry Flynt.
Pornographer Larry Flynt says he bought nude photos of Pfc. Jessica Lynch to publish in Hustler magazine, but changed his mind because she's a "good kid" who became "a pawn for the government."
Flynt told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he bought the photos last month from the men who purportedly participated in the amateur shoot with the Army supply clerk. The soldiers "wanted to let it be known that she's not all apple pie," Flynt said.
"My first intention was to publish them, but I don't think it was the best, positive move I could make," Flynt said in a telephone interview. "She's very much a pawn for the government. They force-fed us a Joan of Arc."
. . .Flynt said the photographs appeared to be taken in an Army barracks, and showed Lynch topless and fully nude, frolicking with the soldiers.
He would not say what he paid for the photographs, which he said he'd lock in a vault.
"Some things are more important than money," he said. "You gotta do the right thing."
What goes up tends to come down -- sometimes with a big splat. However, I believe people other than Pfc. Lynch bear the bulk of the responsibility for this mess. The Pentagon and the Bush administration are responsible for a shameless attempt to wrap an unjustifiable war in the flag, with a blonde female soldier wearing said flag. The Washington Post and other media are responsible for having dutifully echoed the government's ludicrous claims initially. The American public is responsible for largely buying the bullshit it was being sold. Let's hear it for skepticism. It beats being played for a fool.
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
Controversy: Iraqi doctors deny Lynch was raped
Chagrined physcians who saved the life of former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was injured in an automobile accident while her unit was under fire March 23, adamantly deny she was the victim of a sexual assault. The allegation is reported in a biography by Rick Bragg, I am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story.
NASSIRIYA, Iraq, Nov 10 (Reuters) - Iraqi doctors who treated U.S. soldier Jessica Lynch dismissed on Monday allegations made in her biography that she was raped during her capture in Iraq, saying she had the best possible care.
Surgeons who treated Private Lynch after her convoy was attacked near the southern city of Nassiriya in the early days of the U.S.-led invasion in March said they were shocked and hurt by accusations that she was sexually assaulted.
. . ."The records also show that she was a victim of anal sexual assault," the authorized biography said. "The records do not tell whether her captors assaulted her almost lifeless, broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage, or if they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead," the book said.
"Jessi's body armor and her bloody uniform were found in a house near the ambush site, the place that some military intelligence sources said she was taken to be tortured. But Jessi remembers none of this. When she awoke in the military hospital, it was during treatment, not torture. When she came to, the cruelties were over," according to the book.
Medical personnel present when Lynch arrived at the hospital say it isn't so.
Dr Jamal Kadhim Shwail was the first doctor to examine Lynch when she was brought to Nassiriya's military hospital by Iraqi special police. Shwail said Lynch was lying in hospital reception, unconscious and in shock from blood loss.
She was wearing her uniform including a flak jacket, military trousers and boots, none of her clothes had been unbuttoned or removed, as the book claims, he said.
The surgeon who operated on her after her transfer to a better equipped hospital also says he saw no evidence of a rape.
Shortly afterwards Lynch was transferred to Saddam Hospital in Nassiriya, now renamed Nassiriya General.
There, Dr Mahdi Khafazji operated on her fractured right femur. He cleaned her body before surgery and found no signs of sexual assault. "I examined her very carefully," he said at his clinic in Nassiriya's center. "I cleaned her body including her genitalia. She had no sign of raping or sodomizing."
Lynch's wounds were so bad a sexual assault would have killed her, he said. "If she had been raped there is no way she could have survived it. She was fighting for her life, her body was broken. What sort of an animal would even think of that?"
The physicians say they provided Lynch with excellent care and are deeply offended to have their treatment of her misrepresented.
Pfc. Lynch has no memory of having been raped or tortured and has not personally alleged she was abused by the Iraqis.
Bragg, the author of the book, departed the New York Times after it was discovered he had taken credit for material actually reported by a stringer. Bragg won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing while employed by the NYT.
I'm annoyed with Rick Bragg for reporting rumor as if it is fact. The passages cited above are damning. Not only does he say she was raped, he implies her injuries did not come from the awful automobile accident, which she does remember. As a reporter, I know he must know better than to do that. Bragg grew up hardscrabble, as described in his autobiography, All Over But the Shoutin'. He appears to have gotten out of touch with that and developed a bit of an entitlement complex. (His rationalizations for lying about visiting a town and writing a story there at the NYT were equally ridiculous.) I don't know what happened to Jessica Lynch. But, neither does Rick Bragg.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Off the Web
Do stop at Perdido Street Station
Young British speculative fiction writer China Mieville is best known for being a candidate for this year's Hugo Award. He deserves the attention. Perdido Street Station is the kind of novel Zadie Smith would call "baggy" -- nearly 700 pages of material that probes into every nook and cranny of an imagined society.
That society is New Crobuzon, a city that arose centuries ago in the shadow of the remains of a partly-excavated leviathan. Huge bones rise above the city and generate unease among those who fly near them or tamper with them. NC is a semi-realistic version of cities as we know them, including poverty amidst affluence, squalor beside beauty and corruption as a companion to order. The citizens, though, are a departure from realism. In addition to humans, they include khepris -- creatures with the bodies of human females and heads of beetles, wyrmen -- squat birdmen who act as couriers and vodyanoi -- an aquactic people who can survive on land if they have a way to keep wet. There are even more exotic denizens available in smaller numbers.
Into this city that would shock Dr. Moreau comes one of those rare specimens -- a garuda. He is an elegant, intelligent and sophisticated blend of avian and homo sapiens. The species dwells in a desert more than a thousand miles from New Crobuzon, though a relative handful have immigrated to the city. This garuda, Yagharek, is seeking one Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin. He is obsessed with regaining something he has lost. As punishment for an crime back home, his wings have been shorn. The crippled birdman walks awkwardly on feet never meant to carry anyone continually. He masks his deformity with fake wings to give the appearance of a healthy garuda.
Isaac is a renegade scientist who also has an obsession. He is interested in 'crisis energy.' He believes the heightened energy produced during crises can be harnessed and used as a source of power. Isaac, much impressed with the birdman, accepts a commission to try to return him to the sky.
Isaac's friendship with Yagharek is not his only close relationship with a Xenian -- sapient nonhuman species. His girlfriend, Lin, is a khepri artist. But, their relationship is fraught with tension because the interspecies relationship is a source of shame for Isaac. Lin's own new commission, to mold a sculpture of a crime lord, becomes a significant subplot to the story.
The scientist first takes a practical approach to the connundrum of flight. He solicits specimens of flying things so he can study them. Among the panoply of life Isaac acquires is a mysterious multicolored caterpillar. Curious about what the unidentified creature will become, Isaac keeps it after he has moved on to theoretical study of flight. He learns the only substance the caterpillar will eat is a narcotic called 'dreamshit,' which induces waking dreams in humans. Eventually, the caterpillar cocoons.
Meanwhile, Isaac has decided on the solution to Yagharek's problem. He will construct a 'crises engine' that will generate energy to allow the garuda to fly. Of course, the applications of such an invention will be myriad. It is a brilliant scientific achievement.
Isaac's well-laid plan is set aside to deal with an amazing crisis when he arrives back at his workshop after a frolic with Lin. One of his co-tenants has been rendered a human vegetable. He learns from a wyrman messenger who witnessed the assault that a huge winged beast with hypnotic powers attacked his friend and literally sucked his consciousness out of him. Isaac also discovers that whatever was in the cocoon has broken free of its cage and disappeared. Soon, there are other casualties. Before long, New Crobuzon is in thrall to five slake-moths, creatures who dine on the minds of those who dream. Each night is a horror as the moths invade the citizens' subconsciousnesses with nightmares and take new victims.
Partly responsible for the society shattering events, Isaac tries to find a solution to the rampage of the moths. However, he is hampered by opponents, including the government and a crime boss determined to recapture the moths and use them to produce the dreamshit drug. With a diverse band of allies, Isaac will eventually end the reign of terror, but at an appalling price in lives and resources.
Perdido Street Station is a page-turner. Each time a reader believes he has enough to digest for now, he is led on to the next passage or chapter. The description of the plot I have given is barebones. There are many twists and turns. There are also additional protagonists and villians, some of whom are worthy of novels of their own. But, the book is not without imperfections. It would have been better to save some of these characters and material for another novel in my opinion. There is so much going on in this narrative they are in danger of not getting their due. Isaac is a rather wimpy hero. He makes so many mistakes that I felt ambivalent about him at the end of the book. At least half of the carnage could have been prevented if Isaac had acted reasonably or quickly. He becomes the judge of Yagharek, who I consider a more honorable person despite his crime. An unintended irony, I suspect.
China Mieville burst onto the literary scene with his first novel, King Rat. It was one of those performances from a new writer people often don't expect to see a worthy follow-up to. They were wrong. Perdido Street Station won the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the British Fantasy Award. Mieville has confirmed his prodigious ability with his latest award-winning novel, The Scar. I believe there will be equally good books in his, and our, future.
V is for victory
l missed V in its real life iteration, when, apparently, millions of Americans sat transfixed before their television screens watching the science fiction miniseries. However, over the years, sci-fi loving friends have pestered me to watch V, saying writer and director Kenneth Johnson's epic, which debuted in 1983, is a must see. I finally gave in this week, two decades after the series aired. Instead of searching for the unopened DVD that is around here somewhere, I screened the video version. What is my verdict on V? Mixed, but mainly favorable.
The storyline is a precursor for the '90s blockbuster, Independence Day. Large, saucer-shaped dreadnoughts appear above major cities worldwide. Human munitions, as deadly as they are, seem puny when compared to the technical achievements of the aliens. Like the extraterrestrials in ID, these are reptilian. But, they mask their real, threatening identity, claiming to have come in peace. Most people, in keeping with their tendency to be happy to have authority figures tell them what to think, say and do, quickly succumb to the not at all subtle manipulations of their friends from Sirius. The aliens are particularly successful in turning members of the scientific community into bete noires among the citizenry through a campaign of disinformation and disappearances. However, a few Americans begin to notice oddities in the visitors and inquire into their origins and plans.
Foremost among the questioners are a television reporter and a medical student. After sneaking aboard the mothership, Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) discovers the aliens are iguana-like reptiles who snack on live rodents and intend to exploit Earth for their own purposes. Meanwhile, Julie Parrish (Faye Grant), a biochemist doing her residency at a Los Angeles hospital, finds herself ostracized along with other scientists and medical professionals who might expose the visitors if not discredited. Rather than wait to be arrested and brainwashed or murdered, she goes underground and sets out to solve the mystery of who the aliens are and what they want. The two eventually meet, and along with other heroic humans, form the core of the resistance movement. They commandeer weapons from the enemy, carry out guerilla raids and penetrate the security of the alien cadre.
However, the antagonists are equally, if not more, intriguing. Diana (Jane Badler), the striking scientific officer of the invasion force, has masterminded a mind control mechanism to use on humans, a form of cryogenic storage so that people can be transported to Sirius, and, is working on other nefarious schemes. Completely ruthless, she will stop at nothing that might be useful in achieving her goals. The human villains are weak, but also dangerous. Motivated by ambition and greed, both Donovan's lover and mother willingly become pawns of the enemy. A young Jew discovers the sense of power he covets as a member of the visitors' paramilitary youth organization.
By the end of the movie, the invaders are on the way to achieving their objectives of depriving Earth of its water and harvesting a human crop. However, the resistance is well on its way too, as distrust of the visitors spreads. In an exciting ground to air battle, the resisters hold their own against an attack by aliens in high tech aircraft.
The movie shows its age in some ways. Donovan's video camera is huge in comparison to today's gear. (It alone seems enough to tip off the aliens when he is covertly filming them.) And, believe it or not, the only photographs of the aliens are stored on a single tape. The extraterrestrials, though grotesque, will have been upstaged by the creatures in the Alien series and other later movies in your mind. The special effects are also less than enthralling. The dialogue is sometimes laughably hackneyed and the nonwhite characters are embarrassingly stereotypical. However, the shortcomings don?t mar the movie enough to ruin it. A strong plot and vigorous cast make V compelling viewing, despite it being the sci-fi movie equivalent of middle-aged.
The story of V continues in a sequel, V: The Final Battle. Read my review of it here.
I listened to a lot of Elliott Smith during the last two weeks, including my favorite album, XO. I've also revisited one of my favorite artists from the 80s and 90s, Don Henley. I'm pleased with how well his songs have held up.
I'm taking advantage of iTunes new audio book capability by listening to some material from audio sources on my iPod. A review is forthcoming.
Note: Some of the material in this entry appeared at Blogcritics.