Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Stop the Crybabies
As you probably know, Bill Frist and his fellow Senate Bullies are trying to push through what is known as the nuclear option--or, according to recent, better, coinage, the Crybaby Option
--to make sure that there is no failsafe method for the minority to have a say in the confirmation of federal and Supreme Court judges*. Here's a WashingtonPost article
on this effort and the wide opposition it faces. I got the article from a MoveOn email sent out by my friend and MoveOn Advocacy director Ben Brandzel, summarizing the efforts the minority has taken to defend its rights:
You've sent 44246 personal letters to the editors of 3082 newspapers. . .After receiving your letters over 400 editorials have now been written by the newspapers themselves opposing the "nuclear option". . .You've made 104,000 calls (that we know of!) to your senators. . .You've raised $833,518 (with an average contribution of $43 dollars) -- enough to put hard hitting television and radio ads on the air nationwide and in the home states of target senators. . . .And yesterday you organized 192 major simultaneous rallies in all 50 states (a first for MoveOn!) blanketing the nation with local and national news reports and eliminating any doubt that the American people are ready to stand up and fight for our democracy. (Emphases mine.)
Nick and TalkingPointsMemo have brought to my attention a particularly creative protest of Senator Frists efforts to change the rules : Princeton Students are protesting outside the Frist Center which the family of the Senator (an alum) donated to the campus, holding a continuous filibuster. But it's not just students, and I'm proud to say that some of the first faculty to join them include the famous physicist husband and wife couple of Ed Witten and Chiara Nappi:
As Nick wrote to me, Witten shows 'em how it's done
. (Note the use of Griffith's Elementary Particles
. If you're gonna protest, protest in style.) The students' website is www.FilibusterFrist.com
, and they have a 30-second updating webcam of sorts. More physics on Friday night, with 2004 Nobel Laureate Frank Wilczek taking a stand at 8:30 PM Eastern time. Josh Marshall is trying to organize a way to coordinate the sending of pizza and coffee to keep them going
, and he'd also like some techy to help fix their web cam contraption
. (This is where Saheli* looks suggestively in the direction of Princeton's radio astronomy laboratories.) Perhaps Fabio
could make an appearance?
The AP has covered it
, and Newsday is the most major paper I've found running the story. Hopefully papers in Philadelphia will cover it as well, since they've got two Republican Senators. It would be great if this stunt could be picked up in other schools, schools in states with Republican Senators. Vanderbilt? PennState? Boulder? ASU? Contact your reddish state friends! It doesn't have to be at a University, either. It seems like a lot of fun, but my Senators are already on my side.Update
: Al Gore's gave a great speech on the subject
on Wednesday. I also forgot to say that if I
was filibustering, I might very well try to get my hands on the screenplay of the All-American Frank Capra political classic: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
. It's a brilliant film with what I consider to be a flawed ending (I can't imagine Frist having as much conscience as Senator Harrison Paine), nicely showcasing the role that the filibuster has in allowing the minority to fight tyranny of the majority. Hollywood legend--and Republican--Frank Capra would probably be turning over in his grave if he knew what his party was trying to do today.
(*To summarize why this is fight is so crucial: our Democracy is a Republic with civil rights and due process in place to protect the minority (however it's formulated) from Tyranny by the Majority. The most important branch of government for that protection is the Judiciary. Appointing Judges who cannot appeal to the mainstream profoundly weakens that protection, increasing the possibility that we will morph from a Republic of Liberty to a mob
The New Media Business
Matt Thompson, Snarkmarket blogger and Fresno Bee reporter, has a firm grounding in "old" journalism and big visions for new media. Take a look at his latest rant-discussion
Matt is impatient that media heavy-weights Jay Rosen and Tim Porter are still talking about the decline of newspapers. Matt writes, "But it all just feels so twelve years ago. When we start talking around in circles like this, I get impatient about the snail’s pace of this alleged revolution. The brashness of youth, I guess.
" Instead of mourning the old, Matt wants (and a lot of other people want) a discussion of how to make the new
happen better and faster. Jay Rosen shows up: "Is it funny? Yeah, it's funny. And you're entitled to jeer at [traditional news providers] for being unbelievably thick, complacent and slow
." But he says, as a journalism professor, it's still his problem. Matt acknowledges that at some level it's his problem too--after all, he is
a newspaper reporter, and the beaten-up Central Valley needs
old-fashioned gritty journalism. But, wait, Matt says:
Here's what preceded my rant. I spent yesterday afternoon in communication with a vaunted citizen journalist -- a young woman who covers local arts and entertainment for her own Web site. Having no formal journalism training or experience, in a very short time, she and her staff of one have created a site that I'd argue is the most vital reflection of her community. Right now, the site is essentially her sole occupation. But she doesn't know how much longer she can keep it up.How do we rescue *that*, Jay? The newspaper is surviving, for the moment. But how do we keep *her* around? (Emphasis mine.)
Jarah, the citizen journalist in question and creator of the fabulous site FamousFresno.com
, chimes in with this:
One real issue is how to support these newish forms of media. The business model has lagged the technology, and there's lots of room there for clever ideas, especially in local advertising (to help out those "citizen journalists" everyone is so fond of). And that's a big push for newspapers- when not only are their revenues shrinking, but others are growing. Perhaps that speaks to your question, Matt. Maybe one day you won't have to work at a MSM company to be a respected journalist *and* make a living. (Emphases mine.)
Robin Sloan throws in some cheers and an exhortation to just do it, and Matt finishes (for now) with this: "I come not to bury the newspaper, but to praise Jarah.
The business model is the issue I'd like to see more discussion of. In the old days journalists didn't have to worry about these things to some extent. Publishers took care of the business and hired editors, and the editors hired journalists. Freelancers have always had be more business saavy, but freelancers who self-publish are playing a new ball game with equipment that is still being invented on a field that's still being built. The Holy Grail of truly indepedant media revolves around economic independance--but it's probably going to have to be earned a very hard way.
We already know that getting people to pay for content directly doesn't work too well, though I'm hoping ideas like Scott McCloud's MicroPayments and BitPass
will still have a fighting chance. Have a pledge-drive like PBS has worked for All-Stars like Josh Marshall
. A couple of years ago at a bar with Nick Denton
, Jeff Jarvis
and Apartment Therapy's Ryan Oliver
, Google's Adsense
seemed like it might be the Holy Grail: instead of an impressionable and pressurable ad executive choosing ads for you, an impartial machine chooses them. In retrospect AdSensehas great potential to work as the fabled "chinese wall" but it's just not an infusion of capital for a start-up site. There's the highly unreliable but potentially lucrative Amazon Associates program
. Getting your content filtered by the wider community and then, if it passes, picked up for licensing by a daring media company like Robin Sloan's Current.tv
is another possibility. Licensing spin-offs off your content is a model that's actually worked for some of the most vital new independant art, webcomics: see Achewood
and Questionable Content
, just two examples of enterprises I might actually buy T-shirts from. Josh Marshall
and Atrios also sell gear. FresnoFamous
seems to be going through the hard, old-fashioned work of rounding up relevant local advertisers and getting them on the bandwagon, just like the photocopied zines of yore.What else
? What else is there? Surely people can think out of the box and dream up something new. What else
Has Princess Typhoid Mary been going around trying to find her prince in Hamburg? How else to explain its exploding toads
? Thank goodness there are no tornadoes
there now. Remind me not to drink the pondwater in Hamburg.
Public Service Announcement: Crime Statistics
I just threw together this table of the crime statistics sites
of a few major urban areas, and as I find more information, I will update it. It's useful stuff to know in order to make an informed decision about where not to hang out, buy a house, etc.. But wherever you are, be careful and don't spend too much time outside in a secluded area by yourself late at night, especially if you're a woman. Take care, folks!
Update: These statistics, which I wrote about when I was at Columbia, came to mind because of discussing the sad death of a University of Maryland student, Arvin Sharma, whose body was found yesterday
in the Anacostia river, but I'm not sure how relevant they are to this particular case, which is why I didn't mention it per se. I've never found a good centralized location for them, hence my making the table. It's something I wrote about when I was a student at Columbia.
Saheli* Gets Insanely Visual: 24 Hour Comic Day
Yesterday (April 24) and the day before (April 23) contained, between them, the two halves of 2005's 24 Hour Comic Day
. (It started on noon on the 23rd and ended on noon on the 24th.) The idea is that interested comic book artists stay up for, at most, 24 hours, and attempt to draw and write 24 pages worth of a graphic story in that time. As far as I can tell, the concept was started by Scott McCloud
, and he has a long list of links to its history
. Like most such things, I first found out about by reading Neil Gaiman's blog
(scan to the end)--it seems the Gaiman Variant, a legitimate way to fail, is simply wrapping up whatever you come up with by the end of the 24 hours. (The original example of that "Being An Account of the Life And Death of The Emperor Helioabolus
.") If Neil Gaiman had trouble finishing in 24 hours, I think it's a pretty good bet that most people have trouble finishing in 24 hours. Over 700 people stayed up drawing comics this weekend.
With this preamble, you might think the insanity was my participating in said event. It was not. I had a very normal, productive Saturday evening. I knew that Robin Sloan of Snarkmarket was participating in 24 Hour Comic Day, but it wasn't until late in the evening that I caught a Snarkpost
I had somehow missed, and decided it might be nice to stop in Downtown Berkeley before lunch on Sunday. Click here for the results
. (Preview below.)BTW
:Here are all the Comic-Relief-centric 24-Hour Comics Blogposts
(the last one drafted by Stephen Gresch while I was loitering), and here's the placeholder for Comic Relief's future website
. If you haven't been to their new shop on Shattuck , check it out--and drop by The Other Change of Hobbit
while you're there. And wow, am I glad I did not
read Matt's Snarkpost on Moovl
until I was done. Luckily it's just too late to click right now! Update
: Wow, I forwarded Scott McCloud
this blogpost with some tongue-in-cheek reproach for overstimulating my brain. Since I don't actually draw, I just wanted to let him know he must be really
inspiring to get this much art out of me. The man blogged it
! Further proof that he's ridiculously nice. (Not a permalink, so hit it while it's hot, folks. )
Stolen Laptop: UPDATEDMichael from Heliolith
just sent me a deeply amusing audio clip that you can get off of BoingBoing
: what appears to be UC Berkeley's Professor Jasper Rine
ending his Bio 1A lecture in Pimental hall with a terrifying speech to a laptop thief about how he's in all kinds of trouble. (BoingBoing also links to the original course video webcast.) (As Flashman's Blast Radius, who kindly provides a transcript of the speech calls it
, the "young boy" is in for a "A World of Pain.) Today BoingBoing links to a cartoon emblematic
of a lot of blog's reaction that Rine must be bluffing.
I can't speak to the plausibility of Rine's security threats. A lot of people are making fun of his scary speech, and it's true that he's not an electrical engineer, but I do know he's one smart cookie when it comes to biology. Y'all are welcome to comment about the details of his elaborate thief-catching network in comments. Given Berkeley's history with stolen laptops
, I sort of wish the faculty senate would convene some kind of emergency meeting on protocol regarding laptops-with-sensitive-data. Do y'all really need to be carring all that crap around with you every day? I mean, seriously. I thought that's what SSH and Hummingbird were for.UPDATE
: Some much more interesting stuff is coming to light on the blogosphere about Professor Rine's laptop. Read my original nostalgic, off-the-cuff reminiscing about being his student by clicking on the Permalink; but in the meantime check these out. David Rothschild
, who is also skeptical of the technological threats doled out by Rine, points out his connections with a denial-of-tenure case I had only previously heard rumors of, but which is actually fairly well documented online. This article in the Feb. 2004 issue of the California Monthly
, Berkeley's Alumni magazine, seems to sum up the situation fairly well. As fellow alumni of my era will remember, in 1998 UC Berkeley signed a controversial 5-year $25 Million research contract with agricultural-biotech giant Novartis, whose Swiss successor company Syngenta inherited the deal. In exchange for the Plant and Molecular Biology Department research funding, Berkeley had to give Novartis/Syngenta first dibs on some proportion of patents (or patent licenses? It's not clear to me) and had a 2/5 vote on the committee to select research projects. Plenty of students and faculty were unhappy about this. One of those faculty was one Igacio Chapela, untenured at the time. In 2001 he published a research article in Nature
describing evidence that genetically engineered elements inserted into Monsanto corn had crept into native corne in Oaxaca, Mexico. The article was challenged by so many scientists that Nature engaged in the unprecented action of "withdrawing support." But "Quist and Chapela point out that all of the letters printed by Nature
disparaging the research--including those from the Cal campus--were written by people with ties to the Berkeley-Novartis agreement."
The tricky part was that Chapela then came up for tenure:
As a first step, the College of Natural Resources voted in favor of tenure (32 to 1, with three abstentions). Next, an ad hoc committee, composed of five faculty members chosen for their ability to evaluate Chapela’s research, voted unanimously in his favor. But, finally, the campus’s budget committee, which is composed of faculty from across the disciplines and makes the final recommendation on tenure cases, issued a “No” verdict to Chancellor Robert Berdahl, who has the last say. Chapela’s teaching and service apparently passed the tenure test, but the quantity and quality of his research did not. [Emphasis mine.]
The last sentence is particularly interesting to me. The only list I can find with Jasper Rine's name on the Budget Committee is this Word Documen
t of "An Informal Description of Academic Senate Committees and 2001-2002 Membership." It describes function of Budget & Interdepartmental Relations Committee as representing "the Division in academic appointment and promotion and in the allocation of resources." The Members it lists are:
David Bogy (ME), Chair Janet Broughton (Philosophy) (fall 2001 only); Marc Davis (Astron); Robert Holub (German) (+ UCAP); Victoria Kahn (Eng/Comp Lit) (spring 2002 only); David Patterson (EECS); Jasper Rine (MCB); Pamela Samuelson (Law/SIMS); Stephen Sugarman (Law);Brian Wright (ARE); Ex Officio: David Dowall (CRP), Division Chair [non-voting] .
Jasper Rine is the only Biologist on the list; indeed, the only other scientist is Marc Davis. I'm still trying to ascertain that this was the makeup of the committee in the fall of 2003, but it seems likely. If that's correctit means the judgement that the quality of Chapela's research was not good enough for tenure, contrary to the judgement of 31 of Chapela's fellow faculty and five others chosen for their expertise,very probably came down to Jasper Rine. The other professors are simply not particularly qualified to judge Chapela's research. Back to the California Monthly article:
Critics of the process also charged that a member of the budget committee during the tenure case, professor of genetics and developmental biology Jasper Rine, had ties to biotech industries and also made comments in his classroom critical of the Quist-Chapela Nature paper. . .[Vice Provost] De Vries says he looked into the allegations and did not believe thay disqualified Rine from service on the committee. “The strength of the tenure process at Berkeley,” he adds, “is that it can’t be swayed by any single individual. We have an information-rich, multi-stage review process, which means that no individual can hijack it.”
Interesting, since at every stage of the tenure process, it would appear that at most one qualified individual was against Chapela's tenure.
Rotschild links to a Nature.com news article
about the controversy and points out that only on Monday Chapela filed a lawsuit against the Regents of the University of California. (There's a pretty comprehensive pro-Chapela website here
.) This makes the real doom-and-gloom aspect of Rine's lecture
a bit more interesting:
You are in possession of data from a hundred million dollar trial, sponsored by the NIH, for which I'm a consultant. This involves some of the largest companies on the planet, the NIH investigates these things through the FBI, they have been notified about this problem.
You are in possession of trade secrets from a Fortune 1000 biotech company, the largest one in the country, which I consult for.
Which one is the Fortune 1000 biotech company? Googling for "largest biotech company in the country" implies Amgen. I love how how the first really scary thing Rine pulls out "largest companies on the planet." I guess we know where his aesthetics of importance are grounded. The possibility that evidence relevant to the Chapela lawsuit is on the laptop is intriguing, to say the least.
So, years and years ago, before Journalism, before physics, I was a molecular biology major. (Actually, my interest in physics was biophysics, so it's not as big a change as it sounds.) I took Bio 1A in the gigantic aisleless lecture hall of Pimental Hall, and Jasper Rine taught a large chunk of it. The other professors were Robert Tjian and Fred Holt. But Rine was the most memorable for me. Why? A running joke was his inability to not recognize a particular student. That student was me.
You might think that a bit odd in a lecture class with several hundred students. But then, as now, I liked to ask leturers questions. I was also made bolder than the average biology major by taking physics for scientists and engineers on the side, rather than physics for biology majors, a course sequence that was much more question-friendly. When Rine asked for questions on the first day of Bio 1A my hand shot up. He asked my name. It's fairly memorable. The next day, it happened again. He asked my name again. When I repeated it, he said, "Oh! I didn't recognize you. You usually sit over there!" This happened again. And again. And again. Now, it's pretty much impossible to sit in the same seat in Pimental hall. It's just too crowded and there are no sections. By the time the course was over random biology students were stopping me in the streets of Berkeley, "Hey! It's [Saheli]! You moved! But I recognize you!" At the end of the course he handed out a cartoon with his lecture notes that some student had drawn: Rine sitting on a couch with his wife while a child, presumably his, plays with some toys. "Dad, I have a question!" "Sure! What's your name?" [Wife glowers] "Sorry, kid! I didn't recognize you! You usually sit over there!". So Rine is used to being made fun of in cartoon form. I think he takes it rather well.
He was an excellent lecturer, giving me a beautiful sense of the quantitative and experimental basis of modern biology. He didn't just try to dump facts and descriptions into our brains. Like most molecular biology professors, he was tough to arrange any kind of meeting with, and my hopes of discussing his research floundered the second or third time he blew off an appointment with me. I distinctly remember waiting pointlessly outside his office door and thinking I'd really rather major in physics, which I did. Whatever the deal, I hope he gets his laptop back. (Post update, above: Well, let's see how this turns out before I dole out all the warm fuzzies.)
I think it's a good sign that the Senate Judiciary Committee is postponing a vote on confirming Bush's nominee for the post of UN Ambassador, John Bolton
. If nothing else it's a sign that the backbone of the Senate's moderate Republicans
is regaining some strength and all is not lost for the reasonable factions of the Republican party. Whether or not Bolton eventually gets confirmed, I'm just happy to see the legislative branch acting like the legislative branch, and not just a chamber of White House stooges.
Snarkmarket highlights a neat little Google Maps Hack from Adrian Holovaty
: aligning the Chicago transit Map with the Google Map. In principle this could be done with any transit system. Tiffinbox has a script
that displays A Word A Day from Anu Garg's Wordsmith
on his website. And Ultracasual
had a great vantage point for the announcement of the new pope.
Knocking on your neigbhor's door?This post from Jude Nagurney Camewell at Iddybud got me thinking about American politics in a sort of meta-way. She opens with a quot from Howard Dean:I'm thinking all the new information pouring out of Google Local and Google Maps might be helpful. It's not really new information so much as a convenient way to look at old, local information. Might people be inspired to walk around and take a look around their neighborhood if they have ready access to an eagle's eye view of it? What else new is going on that might shift the equation? Muse muse muse. . . .answers always start as questions.
Designing a Corporate Merger
I am perturbed to hear that Adobe is planning to buy Macromedia for $3.4 Billion
. I like competition, and it was nice that there was some competition in the field of new media design products. Each company produces different pieces of design software, but with the combo suite of one you could generally avoid the other. Everyone says there is very little overlap between the two products, but I just don't agree. Between Freehand and Fireworks you get a lot of the functionality of the much more expensive combination of Illustrator and Photoshop. More than actual competition, it was nice to have two different companies in the same general field, neither of which was Microsoft. Adobe's Create Suite currentlly costs $1,199 for professionals
, while Macromedia's Studio Suite costs $899
. The Adobe student version is about $399
and the Macromedia student version is $249
. $300 or $150 is a lot of money for a starving artist or student. The business reporters seem more interested in what will happen to each company's executives and stock; I'd like to know what will happen to each company's software products. (I guess this is because most business articles are written for an audience of management and stockholders, not customers.) Harry McCracken at PC World has the same anxieties
The Right To Petition: RNC Arrest Exonerations Part II
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peacably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (Amendment I of the Constitution of the United States. Emphasis mine.)
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law ; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." (Amendment XIV of the Constitution of the United States. Emphasis mine.)
A few days ago, based on a link from WorldChanging
, I blogged
about this New York Times article by Jim Dwyer
about the use of citizen video in exonerating 400 arrestees from last year's protests at the Republican National Convention in New York. Somewhat predictably, I was most immediately intrigued with the connections between the article and the technology of cooperation (as in groups working together) and search (as in information management).
But as Rishi pointed out in comments
, "Anyone else scared that the police (or some other agencies) are editing video to falsely charge people with crimes? Isn't _that_ the bigger story here?"
That is, in fact, a huge story, and one the New York Times sort of glossed over. The article seemed pitched to be about the positive triumph of technology, actually deemphasizing the negative problems that technology was triumphing over. The story had plenty of quotes from the sources of those problems--the establishment--and none from its victims--the luckily exonerated. You might almost think that Dwyer and the Times did so because it's actually old news
. I sort of willingly fell in with their pitch because I was sure a lot of people on the blogosphere would be talking about the legal problems, and I wanted to hit the optimistic, technohappy notes first. Now, as promised (if a bit late) , let's take a look at the rest of it.Looking at the Constitution as quoted above
: We have a right to show up and tell our government we're not happy with them. If the agents of the state then arrest us, limiting our liberty, they have to play fair. That's what the due process is all about. One of the biggest concerns of the constitution is making sure that the government can't use its size and weight to simply toss people in jail whenever it feels like it. Yet with a track record of 91% exonerations so far (and many people plead guilty because they're not New Yorkers and can't afford to keep flying back for courtdates) it seems like the NYPD did
throw people into jail whenever it felt like it-- specifically, when it was convenient to the Republican National Convention to do so. Trying to then justify so many arbitrary detentions with doctored evidence just compounds the violation. The I-Witness videos don't make these two violations all better.
They don't give the protesters back their valuable time in New York and their guaranteed opportunity to make a statement. I'm not even sure that they give them back their legal fees. They just prevent the error from being compounded even more, by preventing the arrestees from being convicted and fine or jailed for something they didn't do.
They caught a grave mistake that might very well be systematic. In other words, we still have some massive problems on our hands.
I took a look today at the Technorati list of blogs who linked to this article: Part I
and Part II
. (There are two ways to link to NYT articles; the technorati search pages don't always reload consistently; Google hasn't yet archived the pages which link to this article.) About 37 altogether. The article itself gets a blistering review by Casadelogo on Fact-esque
, starting with a sarcastic description of the police: ""Their uniforms were freshly pressed and their breath minty fresh as well. Nobody died while being arrested. Rejoice, Comrade!
Besides me and WorldChanging, only a few blogs seem to take positive note of the populist possibilities. J.B. Zimmerman at Sharptools
sees this as a necessary check and balance on the behavior of government agents doing their job. Phila at Bouphonia
intriguingly named it a participatory panopticon, after an architectural design by Bentham. Eric at Total Information Awareness News made the same little-sibling pun I did
. ("Mistake? Maybe the technician went to the same school as Nixon's careless secretary.
") But the vast majority of responses I could find--including the letters to the Editor of the Times
--were almost purely outraged at everything that happened before
the I-Witness people came along and fixed things.
It's interesting that some people took the tack of "Whoa! How could this happen? Where'd my country go?" while other's took the tack of ""Why am I not surprised that the NYPD would be overly aggressive in wrangling protesters?
" (It seems, as I implied above, that the Times also takes this kind of happening as normal, just like the most cynical liberals.) The outrage was not limited to liberals: "I don't believe it, even while I still fully disapprove of the behavior of the RNC protestors during that time
," wrote conservative blogger Michael Parker
. Some people emphasized the role of the NYPD, and others emphasized the role of the RNC. Michael L.
at the Abysmal Kingdom of Mike wrote: "Honestly, if the Republicans weren't there, I'm sure the police would have been all like, dude, just keep walking
." Clearly the problem is a combination of the Administration/Party in Power not respecting the right of assembly and the local government being all to eager to abandon due process in servitude to the Party in Power. Most bloggers seemed disconsolate about the possibility of fixing things, as in James Wagner's post title
: "NYC police are now proven liars, but nothing will change
." Oddly enough, the strongest let's-fix-it came from a blog called we move to canada
, citing the six letters to the editor: "This is a lot of letters on one topic, which means the Times received a flood of mail - and all from the same point of view. We need to push for an investigation, and a thorough rethinking of policy towards peaceful protesters.
It is from the letters to the editor that I too take the most hope, and also from the search and video technology I just blogged about. The fact is, the blogosphere and the internet is a highly imperfect sampling of how people have reacted to this story. Blogs are still mostly echo chambers, and people who keep them are generally aware of these kinds of problems. But the Times is still a widely read newspaper, and it seems that many people understood the wider point and are suitably outraged. What the blogosphere can do is try to keep that outrage growing.
I still stick to my longterm optimism. As a commenter and environmental architect Dave Foley
wrote on World Changing
: It's tempting to let experiences like that breed contempt for the rule of law. It's more constructive to realize that each of us has to help maintain the rule of law - it can't be outsourced. Police need to know they're being watched - but there also have to be real consequences if they lie.
Cheap video technology, cheap indexing, and volunteer models give those real consequences some teeth.
Could Google please pace it's insane offerings a little more, giving me SOME HOPE of keeping up?
Alright, it's my own fault for not checking the Google Blog. But still.Google now has video search
Google now wants to serve your video
. That's right, folks, Google might provide a space for you to sell video. Maybe even provide it for free. I have to read the whole entire FAQ to get the details. But Google wants to create a space to sell your video!!
If this actually works out, it will mean that you don't need to be part of a a tv station or a corporation or even a well funded nonprofit to get any kind of (non-pornographic) content you want out there for distribution, for everyone to see
. You can already serve up all the text and audio and pictures on blogger and flickr, without worrying about bandwidth. Video on google video just completes the list. Freedom of the press really belongs to those who have one--but now everyone with an internet connection has a press and a broadcast station. No need for intense capital expenditures to say your say. All you need to do is make the content and get people to come and watch it. A true free market of expression. That's pretty cool.
Check it out people.
, courtesy of BlissJunkies
, some guy named Richard Jones has apparently figured out how to make a mountable Linux filesystem out of Gmail, called GmailFS
. "allows you basically a 2gb virtual drive of sorts." Okay, that's kind of cool. Not something I'm likely to use soon, but maybe some of you lot will.
Wow: John Edwards on Talking Points Memo.
I'm not sure what it says, but I think it says something about blogs when a former Vice Presidential candidate and Senator decides to make an statement--not on his blog, but on someone else's "regular" blog. Of course it's Joshua Micah Marshall's Talking Points Memo, and John Edwards is hardly some old technology-averse fuddy duddy
I'm really glad that Edwards and Kerry aren't sitting on their hands. I got a volunteer call from what used to be the Kerry campaign, and while I was a bit annoyed because I had only given them that number in the heat of a call-me-if-you-need-me election
fervor, I had to admire Kerry for refusing to just give up his resources as a national leader. It took a while to take down the deadwood, but the Kerry website
is still up and running, promoting the Senator's Kids Come First
health insurance act. Politicians are usually expected to wait after losing an election before trying to get out there on the campaign trail and meet with people. Edwards isn't waiting. His blog, which is still a bit light, shows him travelling and participating in picket lines
. (Check out his blogroll
: I first heard about Edward's blog from Iddybud's persistent blogging
, and Edwards seems to have noticed!) Slowly his blog entries are losing the voice of campaign speech and acquiring the voice of real journals. He's even started podcasting.
Howard Dean is trying to do new things with the chairmanship of the DNC. Kerry's got the same busy life he had before, and Edwards is helping his wife fight breast cancer. No one would say anything bad about them if they just chilled for a while. Indeed, by doing all this so quickly, they risk bad press over no press or even condescendingly good press. These guys were beaten, painfully, but they aren't giving up at all. That's incredibly impressive.
As for the substance of Edwards' guest appearance on Talking Points Memo
, I've got three points. 1) The Bankruptcy Bill is bad news. Let your representation know. Edwards voted for a previous incarnation, and he's saying he was wrong and this incarnation is even worse. 2) Matt Yglesias
brought this to my attention, and Yglesias is right: this is a great way to say you're wrong. 3) A lot of it is still in speech-mode. But this line struck me: "Thanks to Professor Warren, we now know that half of families going broke suffered illnesses or high medical costs
." Hey, the system works sometimes! A professor gets paid to do research! Her students learn by helping her! They find out stuff that's useful to society! And then they tell someone who has a bigger bully pulpit than they do! And he uses this information to change his mind, and spreads this information out!
Now if only this process happened with the people in power
Sy Hersh vs. Seymour Hersh
This New York Metro article by Slate's Chris Suellentrop
criticizes the looseness with which Sy Hersh speaks in public, and the strong contrast between his speeches and his carefully factchecked and precise New Yorker articles (which Suellentrop labels as the work of Seymour Hersh.) (Link courtesy of Cyrus Farivar
This is particularly interesting to me. I've bandied a story about for almost a year now. About a year ago I had the honor of having my head bitten off by Mr. Hersh when I was in Journalism school and we were on field trip to Washington. I've told this story mostly because it was kind of funny and about the coolest name-dropping thing that happened to me while I was at Columbia. I was famous in my class for asking questions, and I didn't get to ask one of the famous Seymour Hersh. I didn't think it was particularly significant of anything, except that he seemed like a cranky man. I was seated about one chair away from him, and I enthusiastically had my laptop out, ready to make my own personal record of what he said. This portion of the trip had been arranged by the other professor, and somehow I had missed the information that our session with Mr. Hersh was so "off the record" as to preclude laptops. For some reason my taking notes on a laptop bothered him a lot more than all my classmates taking notes in their reporters' notebooks, and when I asked a question he instead witheringly told me to put the laptop away. I was so mortified that I don't think I took very good regular notes after that, so I can't really say what he talked about even if it wasn't "off the record."
Of course I could have blogged him. There was no mechanism in place to stop me from blogging him. Telling me to put my laptop away didn't do anything but fluster me. If it had been my sister, and not me, in Journalism school, he'd have been as endangered by her accurately speedy calligraphy fountain pen as by my electronic typing. I'm not sure if Columbia would have done anything to punish me if I had blogged him, despite the "deal" they had brokered with him, or if they even could punish me. I do know that when they brokered a similar deal with Henry Kissinger I took notes on my laptop while sitting in my usual front row seat, and even though Dick Ward and David Westin (who brokered the deal) saw me doing it, they didn't stop me. I didn't blog anything then either, because as much as I despise Kissinger a deal is a deal--and he didn't seem to say anything that new and interesting. But not everyone thinks the way I do about these things. I don't really think Hersh said anything that deserved such secrecy, and like I said back then, a lot of the "off the record" stuff struck me as pure green-gilled-student-intimidation tactics. That he is, apparently, so loose-lipped in far more formal and clearly taped gatherings only strengthens that impression.
So if Hersh thought he was taking a precaution against the kind of blog-attack that Suellentrop is warning he (Hersh) is now subject to, well, he wasn't taking a very good one. But I don't think that was it. Suellentrop says Hersh's first account with streaming video was last July, a few months after he growled at me. Maybe he wasn't thinking much about blogs yet in April. He was probably just being cranky. The fact is, I have a lot of respect for Seymour Hersh. But I have a lot more respect for the New Yorker and its fact checking apparatus. I always take the written word a little more seriously than the spoken. This doesn't change my opinion on the substantial items he's writing about. It is still a bit disappointing to read that Hersh relies on the distinction as a crutch.
People are weird.
You've perhaps read about the bizarre actions of Wenhao Zhao, 33, of Australia, who apparently stood in front of the Capitol yesterday, dressed in black , with two black bags, being about as menacing as he possibly could without actually doing anything. He was eventually tackled and his bags detonated, and he didn't have anything actually dangerous in them.
That's weird, but that's sort of standard weird. Crazy people pull stunts like that in front of the Capitol or the White House all the time. Here's what I found really bizarre in this Washington Post account
The spectacle drew crowds of tourists, reporters and photographers, all trying to get the best view of the unfolding drama. Some tourists took photographs of each other in front of heavily armed police officers while others chatted on cellular phones with relatives tracking the incident on television.
Notice how this sentence starts with tourists. We're all used to reporters and photographers throwing caution to the wind and sticking their noses into dangerous situations just so they can get the scoop. But tourists?! I mean, you just have to take one look at the tableau
to realize police are afraid this man is a suicide bomber. Who the hell stands around chatting with their relatives about how fun it is to stand a few feet away from a potential suicide bomber?
The article concludes:
Several hundred tourists, many of whom said they were not allowed inside the Capitol, watched it all. Luke Thompson, 22, visiting from Glen Elder, Kan., said he was disappointed when his Capitol tour was canceled. But he said he didn't mind witnessing the police response."This kind of thing doesn't happen where I'm from," Thompson said. "It's a big shock. We missed our tour, but we got to see how the security is working. Yeesh. I'm all over transparent government and participatory journalism. But I really hope fake suicide bombers aren't going to become the next big thing in the DC tourism industry.
Little Sisters Watching Over You (RNC Arrest Exonerations, Part I)
A fascinating post from WorldChanging
, pointing to a great article in today's New York Times by Jim Dwyer
. Last year during the Republican National Convention, 1,806 people were arrested while protesting or being near the protests. Of the 1670 cases which have "run their full course" 91% of the charges have been dismissed and 400
because citizen video exonerated the accused of resisting arrest or engaging in violent behavior:
Among them was Alexander Dunlop, who said he was arrested while going to pick up sushi. Last week, he discovered that there were two versions of the same police tape: the one that was to be used as evidence in his trial had been edited at two spots, removing images that showed Mr. Dunlop behaving peacefully. When a volunteer film archivist found a more complete version of the tape and gave it to Mr. Dunlop's lawyer, prosecutors immediately dropped the charges and said that a technician had cut the material by mistake.
I remember, while I was living in New York, hearing about Bill Brown and his walking tour of Manhattan's surveillance cameras
. I have certainly known people who see all cameras as a possible extension of Big Brother. In the hands of a hostile state, tape that you cannot get equal access to (i.e. surveillance tape) clearly has the potential to be edited in a damaging way, as in the case of Mr. Dunlop above. Consider I-Witness video (for which I cannot yet find a website, though it seems to be founded by one Sarah Scully) , an organization that the Times cites thusly:
"The police develop a narrative, the defendant has a different story, and the question becomes, how do you resolve it?" said Eileen Clancy, a member of I-Witness Video, a project that assembled hundreds of videotapes shot during the convention by volunteers for use by defense lawyers.
So instead of Big Brother trying to get you, we potentially have lots of little sisters (and brothers) watching your back. Video from multiple viewpoints, unedited and accessible, seems much more likely to be a tool of truth, and less likely to be a tool of oppression. So if you really did nothing wrong, you're actually in better shape with more citizen witnesses. The problem, of course, is one of search:
Video is a useful source of evidence, but not an easy one to manage, because of the difficulties in finding a fleeting image in hundreds of hours of tape. Moreover, many of the tapes lack index and time markings, so cuts in the tape are not immediately apparent.
I find myself, once again, longing for true image search as opposed to tag search. [Saheli looks hopefully in the direction of Mountain View
.] Audio search, as expertly done by these folks
, is less likely to be helpful in these cases, since protests are not exactly bastions of good sound engineering. In the mean time good information organization and volunteer efforts, much like the ones that build open source software, are probably key, providing tags that can be searched by something like Google. So I hope to find that website sooner rather than later.
More observations (The Right To Petition: RNC Arrest Exonerations Part II) coming later, hopefully today.
Thought and Action Part III Late last year I blogged about experimental subjects being able to control a cursor with their brain waves, and about a commercial brainwave cap called Brainfingers. I am a bit belatedly noticing a Guardian article about yet more advances for neurotechnology:
There's a hand lying on the blanket on Matt Nagle's desk and he's staring at it intently, thinking "Close, close," as the scientists gathered around him look on. To their delight, the hand twitches and its outstretched fingers close around the open palm, clenching to a fist.In that moment, Nagle made history. Paralysed from the neck down after a vicious knife attack four years ago, he is the first person to have controlled an artificial limb using a device chronically implanted into his brain.The article describes the use of implants to collect electronic thought signals from severely paralysed patients, and scientists' efforts to convert those signals into usable control signals. It's a long tough road, filled with problems, but the scientists are still dreaming big:
Nicolelis says his goal is to use brain implants to allow the disabled to walk again. He has already started designing a wearable robotic "exoskeleton" that could help power paralysed legs - think Wallace and Gromit's The Wrong Trousers, only with better control.
A bit is lying down. That's right, a bit. It looks kind of like a white chocolate bar with arms and legs. (Op-amps always made me crave chocolate in electronics lab, so this might just be me continuing an identification between hardware and candy.) It starts to sing about flipping and corrupt data. The harddrive joins in, singing about the superparamagnetic affect. Then things get really crazy.
This is a Hitachi ad
for a new kind of harddrive compression, "perpedicular recording." It involves afros and strobe lights. You should go watch it. I wish all commercials were this wacky. Or at least involved strobe lights.
It reminded me of the famed Anguished English blooper
: In the 1400 hundreds most Englishmen were perpendicular
There's all kinds of outrageous car art in the Bay Area, especially in Berkeley: a car with a pumkin on it, a van belonging to an antiques shop on Telegraph that's covered in CDs, excessive handwritten bumperstickers. This bit of elegant line painting on a PT Cruiser I saw two days ago on Shattuck, in downtown Berkeley, struck me as unusual in its restraint: usually people who paint their cars go all the way over the top. Or is it a standard piece of decoration on PT Cruisters I've just never caught before? There's something almost cheerily mystical about the runic curves and the choice of colors.
I saw this dress at the Stone Mountain and Daughter fabric store in Berkeley, yesterday:
Halloween? Grateful Dead memorial? Guns and Roses tribute concert? PTA meeting? Presidential inauguration?
I'd say it's a perfect Berkeley goth dress-except it's a sundress
. It's sort of a funereal dress, but to whose funeral could one possibly wear it? Maybe someone who uses one of Accra's fantasy coffins
? Death of a florist
Speaking of funerals, is it just me, or is there somethingly mildly odd about this CNN animated flythrough
of the grotto beneath St. Peter's Basilica, what with its variable speed whooshing descent to the place where Pope John Paul was just buried? It seems a bit too videogamy.(Quicktime, no sound.)
Military AttitudesSome friends and I ended up discussing the issue of allowing gays in the military, specifically because "between 1998 and 2004, 20 relatively rare Arabic speakers and six Farsi speakers were forcibly discharged after they were found to be gay." The quote is from an Economist article I found when trying to cite the statistic. The discussion was prompted by this Fred Kaplan Slate article bemoaning the bureacratic slowness with which the pentagon is deciding how to make sure more soldiers know Arabic. The quote that's interesting to me, from the Economist: " According to a recent poll of enlisted men, more than half thought gays should be allowed in the armed forces."
: Derek Powazek
, who has the excellent local photoblog Ephemera.org
, and his wife, a similarly accomplished photographer, Heather Champ
, are editing a photo magazine called JPG Mag
. The first issue, on Origins
, 52 pages of full color photography without ads for $19.99--a bit rich for my blood, but quite possibly worth it. They're also calling for submissions for the third issue
: JPG Magazine Issue 3: FABULOUS is now open for submissions! What does "fabulous" look like to you? Submit your fabulous photo today
! Powazek first came to my attention last year when his JustlyMarried photos
were making the rounds of the web after Gavin Newsom allowed gays and lesbians to get marriage licenses in San Francisco.
I was deeply amused by the placement and juxtaposition of the following GoogleAds on my blog:
Young and political. That would be me and my readers. Always happy to connect y'all with fun times and happiness. *Grin*.
Seriously folks, I've never actually drawn your attention to the three little Google ads which sit on the right hand content bucket, below the blogroll and everything else. I can't ask you to click on them gratuitously but if you are remotely
interested in anything there, please
consider clicking on it and checking out whatever's for offer. That's the engine that's keeping this whole enterprise up, since Blogger--which provides this space for free--is owned by Google. Moreover, I might actually get a tiny bit of cash from that click , which, if I get enough to actually collect on it, I will try to invest in blog-related items--reading material or perhaps a redesign. Or maybe even Saheli-gear. *More grin*. We'll see. The click costs you nothing unless you end up being tempted to spring cash for Bush in Drag
playing cards or getting to know one of these clean-cut conservatives
. Or, you know, buy some antique vacuum tubes or whatever hell else Google decides me and my readers must be interested in today. Alright, end of crass commercialism! Thanks!
Check out the new button on maps.google.com
: enter an address, then click the Satellite link in the upper right hand corner. Now I can remotely commune with some of my favorite oak trees.
We've been having some interesting weather in the bay area lately, as usual. The big beautiful sky is sometimes filled with rain, sometimes filled with brilliant blueness, and sometimes an odd mixture of cloud and sunshine. I thought I'd share a bit of it with you.
So on Sunday it was raining pretty hard. If you just looked out our window you might think that's all it was doing:
But if you looked up you'd see the sun shining quite vehemently:
My mother guessed there might a rainbow on the other side of the house. She was right:
And it was big:
So today we looked at the sunset, and we saw a mysterious rune:
I thought it looked a bit like a smeared and backwards Z:
The end! (for now) Photos posted with the Flickr
Bang Bang Parliamentarian Tactics
I love reading stories about parliaments behaving badly, probably because our own congressional sessions are dry as powder. So this Ananova bit on Ecuadorian arguments
caught my eye: "MPs threw water bottles and coins during a fight which disrupted parliament in Ecuador. . . MPs also made gun signs with their hands and pretended to shoot at speakers, reports Terra Noticias Populares
." (Emphasis mine).
Some Alumni announcments brought it to my attention that the California Alumnia Association has created an award in honor of Mark Bingham, Class of '93, one of the people who possibly brought down the fourth 9/11 plane in a field in Pennsylvania. The inaugural award is going Wayne Lee, a NASA engineer who was chief mission planner of the Mars Global Surveyor Project. There are some classic Cal quotes in this Contra Costa Times
article about both men:
Lee stumbled onto his career during his senior year at Cal. "I was supposed to meet a friend in the Life Sciences Building. I took a wrong turn and somehow ended up in the basement, where I saw a flier that said, 'Spend the summer at the Kennedy Space Center.' I never found my friend, but I decided to apply for the program.
Heh. Getting lost in the Den of the T-Rex can be pretty dangerous. And about Bingham:
Bingham, who led the Cal rugby team to national titles in 1991 and 1993, was the man who jumped out of the stands during the 1993 Big Game and tackled the Stanford mascot, the Tree, forcibly "defoliating" the costume.
"I didn't know Mark personally then," said DeFreece, who was student body president that year. "But I certainly knew about the guy who tackled the Tree."
Todd Sarner, Bingham's friend from high school, said he never spent a day in his adult life without uttering, "Go Bears!" at least once.
"Once, he sent his mother a postcard that said, 'Go Bears! Go Bears! Go Bears! Go Bears!' and on and on until the whole card was covered."
By all accounts, a great man and a great Golden Bear. I'm glad we'll have a yearly opportunity to remember his bravery and spirit.
On Friday I saw Frank Miller's Sin City
, directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. That's right, both of them. Rodriguez, now rather famously, absconded from the Directors Guild of America so that he could have Miller as a codirector for the movie, which is based on three of Miller's graphic novels. Quentin Tarantino also directed a scene. The movie's been heavily hyped. But I've read only part of one of the three novels, and I'm remarkably unfamiliar with Miller ,Rodriguez, and Tarantino. I've never seen most of the stars, with the exceptions of Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro. So I actually had very few expectations.
The film is notable for its dedication to the comic book format, and most of the scenes were shot on green screens, with everything but the actors painted in later. The clarity and precision of the shots and compositions makes Sky Captain
look like Impressionistic child's play, and it's easy to forget the unconventional methodology and sink right into an almost three dimensional abstraction of film noir.
Morally it's not a profoundly illuminating, thought provoking film. (Though it did pay notable attention to the problem of killing cops when the right course puts you on the wrong side of the law. ) Each of the three interlocked stories centers about dark, tormented men taking out their aggression and conflict by championing women and fighting evil powers. Even when the women are themselves armed killers, the stories take the strong position that a man hitting a woman is symptomatic of evil, and that a prostitute is no less deserving than the next girl. The extreme violence can't be justified as an object lesson in karma, however. Rodriguez clearly does not want you to take your children to see this film. It still manages to have a strong ethical undercurrent, however, acknowledging some basic issues of life without attempting to be conclusive. In a messy world where one's actions are very likely useless, does one still try to do the right thing? Can one fight destiny? Power? The system? It's the kind of abbreviation of tormented conflict one has to make do with when one is being chased down by the cops and the mob at the same time. The lack of organic texture which is usually such a big part of good movies adds to the abstract, theatrical feel. I found an interesting transcript of a Rodrigues&cast press junket
, and the following quote jumped out at me:
The rain, the car, the road, nothing was there. [Tarantino] got to just concentrate on getting performances. That was the beauty of a green screen for us. All that other stuff that used to take up time for rigging, then hurry, hurry and get the performance. All of that was gone. You were just getting performance. That’s why the performances were so great. That’s all they were concentrating on was eye-to-eye, working with each other.
Odd for such a technological and visual movie, but it did have the primal feel of raw, intimate theater, stripped down to the basics of great American noir, with a bit of City Horror and a dash of Superhero Fantasy thrown in. Absolutely, killably despicable villians. Gorgeous, vulnerable, dangerous women. Tough, ugly heroes. Beautiful cars with long fins and chrome trim. Guns and razor blades and cigarettes. The occasional samurai sword. A friend of mine familiar with the graphic novels likened them to a caricature of comic books. The men are all killers, the women are all hookers, and there's even overlap between the two sets. No one gets killed prettily when they could get killed gruesomely. Even honor and self-sacrifice are expressed with a brutal vulgarity. I don't think I could stomach reading the whole series of novels, but two or three hours of the gorgeously high contrast photography was a nice bite sized amount of grim darkness. I place a high premium on artistic unity and self-consistency, and Sin City
has them in spades. Overall, a very good watch.
Fine Fine Juice
Get me some of that fine fine Google Juice
. I will have to pull all my strings and moxie, because somebody better get me a Gulp Cap. (Somebodies know who they are.) After I'm done doing dangerous things to somebodies and nobodies and frogs in a bog, in case they don't come through, I'll just have to find Eric Schmidt,hold him hostage, and auction of his right hand wrist to the nearest bidder. Or get really, really good at poker. But one way or the other I'm going to get Googly smart and take over the world.Clearly no one else has this plan.
In other news I chopped off my hair yesterday.