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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

IRAQ MYTH #25: INFRASTRUCTURE

"Quagmire! Disaster! Failure!"

Iraqi Oil Pipelines
Recently an old and sad talking point came up in a discussion online that I had to address here. Like the other Iraq Myths, it's weak, false, and discredited, but continually shows up on the lips and keyboards of anti-war types. The myth goes like this:
Iraq's electrical and oil production is still under pre-war levels, we've failed to rebuild the nation and they were better off before we invaded!
This goes long the same grotesque lines as Fahrenheit 9/11 which portrayed Iraq as a paradise of kite-flying children before the invasion, something to warm Saddam Hussein's icy heart. The problem is, it's false, utterly and completely false. And not in some obscure way that's difficult to find out, either. Thirty seconds of internet searching turns up these facts:

The oil production surpassed pre-war levels last year
Iraqi oil production is above the levels seen before the US-led invasion of the country in 2003, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA said Iraqi crude production is now running at 2.3 million barrels per day, compared with 1.9 million barrels at the start of this year.
The electrical production surpassed pre-war levels in 2005
Iraq's electricity supply has risen above pre-war levels to 5,350 megawatts (MW) despite sabotage, boosted by hydroelectric power and more imports from Iran, Syria and Turkey, the minister in charge said on Thursday.

"Now electricity has reached a record after we broke 5,350 megawatts a few days ago for the first time since the war," Electricity Minister Mohsen Shalash told Reuters.
Just keep this stuff in mind when you hear this myth. Things aren't peachy in Iraq, but there's no reason to let a myth pass, particularly when it's so easy to debunk. Think of it as doing them a favor: they probably don't know this and never bothered to even question what they've been told about Iraq. Who knows, maybe if they find out some of the things they were sure about are false, they'll start to question more.

Now if only I could figure out why China and North Korea got oil rights and not the US....

Previously on WATN:
Iraq Myth #17: Casualties
Iraq Myth #87: Duration
Iraq Myth #8: Mission Accomplished
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WHAT FLAVOR??

"It’s interesting for a few sips, but then the artificial cucumber aftertaste kicks in, making it pretty nasty."

ugh
One of the sites I like to check out often is Japan Probe, an English language Japan blog about events and culture in the Orient. In addition to local news such as the Japanese Navy rethinking naval maneuvers because of the price of fuel, there are oddities such as this quiz:

What's your favorite Kit Kat flavor?
View Results
It was in an article about different seasonal variations in candies and such. Now, in the US we get pastel colored M&Ms around Easter or green and red ones around Christmas, but the Japanese are a lot more daring. Japan is apparently quite fond of seasonal and regional products, or special short-term offers. For example, he mentions cucumber flavored Pepsi which just sounds ghastly to me.

Still, like the odd chips available in England, I would actually welcome some whacky variety just to see how things are. It turns out clam juice and tomato juice tastes pretty good together, and I loved 7-Up Gold while it lasted (sort of a cross between 7-Up and Apple Cider). Sometimes stuff that looks awful actually is pretty tasty. Even if it is wretched, it's fun to try in small doses.

Americans tend to pride themselves on trying new things and having a lot of variety - and compared to many nations, the US is pretty astonishing in this area - but there are some things that just don't go over well here. McDonald's is proud when they offer the mystery meat McRib sandwich for a limited time. Japan has Watermelon flavored Kit-Kat bars. Who's daring now?
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FANTASY HERO 101

"...the best-laid plans of gnomes and men"

Presidential RPG
Sometimes, despite all the preparation and everyone having a good time, it just doesn't work out. Usually this will happen around holidays, such as late November and into December, but the summer is always a risk because of family vacations. Every so often someone can't make it to a game because of illness or another pressing engagement such as a birthday or emergency. And every so often a lot of people have this happen at once.

For me, three players is the minimum, any fewer than that and it loses the role play feeling and starts feeling like a bunch of adults sitting around playing "let's pretend" which makes me and everyone else uncomfortable. If you get enough people, it starts feeling more like improv theater to play a role playing game, and you lose that weird childish vibe.

It is especially problematic if you ended - as I always try to - in the middle of a cliffhanger, with something dire or exciting happening. I view each session of a role playing game as an installment of an adventure serial: always leave them wanting to see what happens next, but with a feeling of accomplishment. Sometimes, of course that doesn't work out due to timing issues, but that's the goal.

However, if the next session not enough people show up, you have all these characters without a player right in the middle of something. As long as the number of players outnumbers the number of characters without a player, it's worth going on: I can run one or two guys, someone else can pick up a character and run him or her along with his own. Too much of that and it's just a mess.

This time two players showed up. The others had illness, scheduling conflicts, and so on. One might not show up again because of a personality conflict with one of the other players; that's always a possibility in any gathering. I wish him well, he seemed pretty upset. As far as I know, everyone else seemed happy, but it does open up a seat in the game so I'll have to pack the "make a character" stuff and a few pre-made characters again, makes the ol' pack a bit heavier (and with all the books and laptop its fairly ponderous as it is).

Since I pack in everything to the game I didn't have any extra stuff with me like cards and I didn't care to do some side issue just to give the guys something to do. If we'd been at the house here we could have played some board game or watched a movie, but until I know people fairly well I've become somewhat hesitant to throw the doors open these days. Past experience has taught me that sometimes you'd just rather not everyone knows where you live, fair or not to the rest.

So far as I can tell this is a pretty good group of guys, but yet again I'm saddened by how few women play RPGs. I'm not looking for a hookup I just would like to have the different viewpoint and approach to play that a feminine mind brings, plus it tends to make us boys behave a little better. Better luck next week, I trust, and I certainly am not the worse for wear.
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Quote of the Day

"Skill without imagination is craftsmanship and gives us many useful objects such as wickerwork picnic baskets. Imagination without skill gives us modern art."
-Tom Stoppard
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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

TWO COMMENTS

"Thank ya bawse for makin sho' I don't eats nuffin' bad fo' me!"

Fast Food Joints
I don't do much clogging (Comments-logging) these days, but every so often good ones pop up that I have to pass along. Both of these are from Ace of Spades HQ, one of the sites with consistently entertaining, thoughtful, and insightful comments that I read.

The first is in regards to a story out of LA about a story that at least has an unpleasant tinge of racism involved in it that was in the AOS sidebar. Here's the story by Molly Hennessy-Fiske at the LA Times:
A proposal that would place at least a one-year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in a broad swath of neighborhoods, mostly in South Los Angeles, won unanimous support from a Los Angeles City Council committee Tuesday.

If approved by the full council and signed by the mayor, the law would prevent fast-food chains from opening new restaurants in a 32-square-mile area, including West Adams, Baldwin Village and Leimert Park. The moratorium would be in effect for one year, with the possibility of two six-month extensions.
In other words: you stupid minorities and poor people can't take care of yourselves so we'll keep you away from the harmful stuff. This is the same councilperthing Janet Perry who last year doubleplusundead wrote about wanting to shut down fast food in south central. Too many fat negroes, too stupid to eat properly, they need arugala. At Ace, commenter Gekkobear had these thoughts:
A fast-food ban in South LA? Because choosing your food is too difficult?

I dunno, is picking what to eat the hardest choice?

How about picking where to live, covering the costs of rent, finding decent long term employment. Aren't these just as difficult and just as important?

We need a place where these people can live and work, clean air, low calorie food, good labor prospects; maybe have them do farming work in the country?

...

Oddly, I've just re-proposed slavery in terms that make it sound "caring", "compassionate", and less intrusive and overbearing than the crap they're doing now.

I'm just saying, when you get to the point at which it's this easy to turn your platitudes into a call for slavery; you're probably doing something wrong.
As others have said: the reason better eating establishments aren't common in slum areas is because they have found that they dont do very much business there (costs too much) and the costs of dealing with broken windows, graffiti and troublemakers is too high to justify. This follows on the heels of a plan to ban all trans fatty foods from California (which, because food companies won't show any spine and tell such a big market to climb a rope, means everyone does without because it's too expensive to create two different kinds of each product and ship them different areas).

The second comment is about the indictment of Senator Stevens (R-AK) for concealing gifts from various Alaskan companies and interests. The AP had no problem identifying this politician's political party (the second word in the article) unlike other times in the past. Commenter Adamthemad responded with this:
As much as I dislike Sen. Porky McPorker, he should announce that he will resign right after Rep. William Jefferson.
Indeed. But I wouldn't hold my breath waiting.

Apparently the Alaskan people love this guy, they keep reelecting him. They had a choice to dump him this election and chose him over the alternative Republican candidate. This almost certainly throws the seat to a Democrat, but it seems the GOP likes that kind of thing. Stevens is the longest sitting Republican Senator in US history.

Term limits. Now.
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LYING TECHNOLOGY

"The turny thing lies, doesn't it?"
Eddie Izzard

Battery Indicator
Anyone who has made toast knows that the toaster lies. You turn the little dial to a certain point to get the toast cooked to a specific level, then the toaster randomly cooks it a certain amount and throws the toasted bread at you. Sometimes its charred, sometimes its barely warm in a way that seems completely unrelated to the dial. The only time it really seems to work is the first five or six slices of bread you toast.

Any time you go to a different house the bath water is the same way. One says hot, one says cold. But usually you have to turn the hot water 8 times as far as the cold to get a reasonable temperature. The technology is not particularly lying here, but it is capricious. At Dan's Data, he explains how the cellphone lies to you:
The signal strength bars on a mobile phone or laptop do, at least, say something

But they don't tell you the ratio between that signal and the inevitable, and often very considerable, noise that accompanies it.

A high-signal strength is like your friend shouting at you. A high noise level at the same time is like your friend shouting at you while you both stand in the front row at a rock concert.

(Actually, for phones and Wi-Fi, it's often more like your friend shouting at you while you're both attending a rock concert in an echo chamber.)

So if you've ever wondered why your phone can work fine with one rather unsteady bar of "signal", or be noisy and cut out when it's got five bars, that's why. The ratio of signal to noise can vary wildly from second to second, in many ordinary mobile-phone situations.
about how strong the local signal is.
In other words, you might have lots of bars, but get horrible reception. I don't have a cellphone so I can't attest to this but I expect that it is pretty valid. It's like getting a strong radio signal with another radio station's signal intruding on it.

The other point the bring up is that your battery meter lies, like the gas tank indicator in your car. I have an old IBM Thinkpad with a pretty used up battery in it that no matter how much I charge won't last longer than a few minutes. It claims I have 3 hours of time, then it goes into hibernation mode without warning.
You may have noticed, however, that your mobile phone seems to spend an awful lot of time with its battery gauge saying it's full, or at least almost full.

Then, once you get to the half-full mark, the battery seems to go flat surprisingly quickly.

This phenomenon isn't as obvious with today's low-power-consumption phones than it was back in the days of 20-hour standby times, but it's still pretty hard to find a phone that doesn't do it.

There are two reasons for this. They are both bad.

Reason one: A battery that stays (apparently) full for a long time makes a phone look good. Even if it doesn't actually deserve to.

Reason two: When your phone still (apparently) has lots of charge left, you're more likely to use it. People who think their phone's going flat will make fewer, and shorter, calls. And that makes phone companies sad.
You've probably noticed the same thing in your car: it takes a long time to get to half empty then it dumps out pretty rapidly. There's another weird factor though, most cars can go another ten miles when the gas tank indicator reaches "empty." That's on purpose: people try to refill their car as late as possible because it's expensive and a hassle. So the gas companies decided that if the indicator didn't give you some leeway, there'd be a lot of people running completely out of gas. Of course, most people know they can go a while on empty and do that, so I'm not sure how much help it is. Some engines have serious problems if they run completely out of fuel, so it's best to avoid that if possible.

LET THEM EAT MUD

"It stops the hunger. You eat them when you have to."

In a political climate where the politicians are paying people to burn food as fuel, the world is starting to starve in its poorest places. It's not that the food isn't there, this isn't famine. Its that the food is too expensive. Take Haiti, for instance.
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation predicts Haiti's food import bill will leap 80% this year, the fastest in the world. Food riots toppled the prime minister and left five dead in April. Emergency subsidies curbed prices and bought calm but the cash-strapped government is gradually lifting them. Fresh unrest is expected.

According to the UN, two-thirds of Haitians live on less than 50p [roughly $1 US] a day and half are undernourished. "Food is available but people cannot afford to buy it. If the situation gets worse we could have starvation in the next six to 12 months," said Prospery Raymond, country director of the UK-based aid agency Christian Aid.
This isn't like America where undernourished means "skips at least 3 meals a month," something any bachelor or college student does several times a week. These are people who are literally starving, unable to eat enough to maintain their body weight. They have found a solution to at least feeling full: mud pies.

Literally.
Brittle and gritty - and as revolting as they sound - these are "mud cakes". For years they have been consumed by impoverished pregnant women seeking calcium, a risky and medically unproven supplement, but now the cakes have become a staple for entire families.

It is not for the taste and nutrition - smidgins of salt and margarine do not disguise what is essentially dirt, and the Guardian can testify that the aftertaste lingers - but because they are the cheapest and increasingly only way to fill bellies.
This is the life brought by well-meaning but idiotic polices of governments allegedly to fight global warming. Make corn into fuel, pay farmers to grow biofuel stock. So they stop growing other foods, stop growing cotton, stop producing food period. And the world begins to starve as the prices go up. Combine this with the cost of shipping food because oil has gotten so expensive, and the prices go up even more.

Even the cost of producing the mud pies is going up, but they cannot raise prices or they would lose their sales.

All the while, any attempt to increase supply of fuel is blocked and governments eye more ways of crippling the economy to stave off a mythical future doom. We've just about conquered famine and pestilence in most areas. We've beaten drought for most places. We've just come up with a new way of causing the same thing: deliberately engineering an economic collapse and starvation in the name of fighting climate change.

In wealthy nations, the pain is pretty minor. In a place like Haiti, it's just one more door for Mister Death to step through.
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INDIGNITY

"I try to speak to her and any other patient in the nursing home as the human beings that they are"

Jack LaLanne
One of the things that annoys Rachel Lucas most of all (a pet peeve) is the way some people treat the elderly. I share this frustration and fury: some people seem to think that if you have gray hair, you're an infant. They stop treating people like an adult and start treating them like small children, using baby talk. Even when they aren't using words like "sweety" and "honey" their tone of voice changes and the topic shifts. They're too old to understand, they're slow and stupid. Don't tell them about the bad things, they cannot handle it.

These are people just like you... with more experience and wisdom. They've seen things you can't even imagine, they've experienced life in a way you pray you'll never have to. They've felt pain you only vaguely fear at 3 in the morning on a sleepless night. They have gone through hell and come through, they've had all the trials and tribulations and experiences you have... and more added on top. The reason they look old and haggard and bent is from the weight of life and it's sorrows for more years than you have had to carry them.

How dare you treat such a person with disrespect, even contempt? If you think somehow this works better, if you believe this actually gets your point across more successfully, think again. ABC News has a report by Allyson Collins about this "elderspeak":
Williams and her colleagues analyzed videos of nursing-home encounters between staff and residents who had dementia. They noted whether the staff communicated normally, used elderspeak or remained silent.

The residents' behavior was rated as cooperative, resistive to care or neutral during activities such as bathing, dressing and brushing their teeth. When residents resisted care, their reactions included saying no, grabbing a person, pulling away or clenching their teeth.

When staff members spoke in elderspeak, the residents' resistance to care nearly doubled compared with when staff spoke normally.

Even in silence, dementia patients were more cooperative than when hearing elderspeak.
Basically: even if you are so damaged that Alzheimer's is eating your brain, it still pisses you off to be treated like a child. Rachel Lucas worked at a nursing home and she has a little anecdote about how the people there were treated.
My whole life, I’ve hated that babytalk nonsense, and as soon as I saw it in action like this I figured maybe that’s what Mary’s problem was, maybe she was depressed because she lived in a tiny room with no visitors and everyone talked to her like she was an infant. I knew it might get me fired or at least hated by the nurse if she overheard me but I didn’t care because it seemed to me that Mary eating was more important, so I just flat-out asked Mary: “Does it bother you when people talk to you like that? Because it sure as heck bothers me hearing it.”

Bam. Mary cracked up in giggles and reached over to squeeze my arm and said that yes, as a matter of fact, it pissed her right the hell off. We chatted a little, I told her it was my biggest pet peeve in life, she told me her biggest pet peeve (something to do with Bob Saget), and thus she was cheered up and thus she ate her breakfast but only after making me add extra butter. Pretty simple. Never had any trouble getting her to eat after that. She just wanted some adult human interaction; it helped her appetite.
These are people who fought and bled and suffered for the freedom we take for granted today. They are the ones who built the economy and the nation we enjoy (and are squandering). They raised the generations that built the internet and the space shuttle, they taught the kids who are presidents and supreme court justices today. They are not children or idiots, getting old doesn't make you stupid.

I understand that it can be frustrating to talk to an older person. They forget things, they can't hear you very well. Even when they can hear, they are so tired that they start to not quite understand the words you say when you talk to them. They are frustrated and angry with how weak they are and how much they must depend on other people that sometimes they can act kind of childish: like you and I do when we're really sick. The more healthy and strong they were in their youth, the more likely this is to be true.

That doesn't make them stupid or infantile. It makes them human and understandable. Imagine being a powerhouse, running corporations, able to kick anyone's ass, never sick, always in control. Then one day you can't tie your own shoes and you crap yourself sometimes because your body won't obey you any more. You used to have a mind like a vorpal razor blade, now you forget what you were even talking about in the middle of a sentence. The rage and frustration this causes (its worse in Alzheimer's patients) is red hot.

So yes, sometimes they can be really frustrating and obstinate, sometimes they can act childish - as sometimes you and I can and we aren't given nearly the justification. The response is to treat them with respect and dignity, to treat them with honor for their years of life and what they've accomplished. The wisdom of ages is under that craggy brow, the experience of a lifetime in a way you'll never know is in that breast. These are the people who should be treated with the most respect in our lives, not the least.

Some of the reason people use "elderspeak" is out of fear, I suspect. Fear of facing their future, fear of getting too close to someone dying. Fear of death, period. Fear of admitting the limitations of human flesh, of knowing this will one day be you, too. So the response is to distance yourself from them, to avoid close contact, to treat them with thinly veiled contempt. And that's not just foolish, it is childish in its own way.

Each person older than you has all the years of your experience, plus more that they've gone through. Think back on all you've learned, all you've seen, all you've grown. The things you have experienced in your short life: they have all that and more. That's a resource, not a burden. That's a fantastic chance to learn and know and understand things you do not now and probably cannot without their help.

I remember talking to my grandfather about his trip to the United States in the 1920s, going through Ellis Island. I remember my grandmothers talk of living on a ranch in rural Wyoming with real cowboys wearing real six shooters. My own mother has stories of growing up in the depression and facing McCarthyite paranoia. They've seen some sh*t to use a Vietnam-era term. That weary old brain holds an awful lot that you can learn from if only you'd try. The younger you are the harder this is to comprehend but new isn't always good... and usually it's not all that new, either.

It's no surprise to me to find that the elderly don't respond well to contempt and disrespect. I don't either. Or, to put it another way, courtesy a commenter at Rachel Lucas, a quote from the movie Bubba Ho-Tep:
You f*ck off ya patronizin’ bitch! I’m sick’a yer sh*t! You treat me like a baby again I’ll wrap this @*#^!$ walker right around yer head!
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Quote of the Day

“The most underestimated risk for a politician is overexposure.”
-Donald Rumsfeld
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Monday, July 28, 2008

SEPARATED AT BIRTH? II

Separated at Birth?

COMPARISON QUOTES

"That does not mean the war has ended or that U.S. troops have no role in Iraq."

COMPARE
"The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not 'insurgents' or 'terrorists' or 'The Enemy.' They are the REVOLUTION, the Minutemen, and their numbers will grow -- and they will win."
-Michael Moore

"I think that the reports that you (David Petraeus) provide to us really require the willing suspension of disbelief. In any of the metrics that have been referenced in your many hours of testimony, any fair reading of the advantages and disadvantages accruing post-surge, in my view, end up on the downside."
-Hillary Clinton

"(The) idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."
-Howard Dean

"By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush-Petraeus report will try to persuade us that violence in Iraq is decreasing and thus the surge is working. Even if the figures were right, the conclusion is wrong."
-Dick Durbin

"An escalation, whether it is called a surge or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake."
-Ted Kennedy

"...it's clear that the current strategy – the President's escalation – has failed to achieve its goal of bringing about a resolution of the fundamental conflict between Sunni and Shia."
-John Kerry

"...I'm absolutely convinced right now the surge isn't working and I'm convinced that if they don't pay attention to what I'm saying and a lot of other members of Congress are saying they're going to have a disaster on their hands..."
-John Murtha

"I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse. I think (the surge) takes pressure off the Iraqis to arrive at the sort of political accommodation that every observer believes is the ultimate solution to the problems we face there. So I am going to actively oppose the president's proposal."
-Barack Obama

"The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. (This surge) is a failure. This is a failure."
-Nancy Pelosi

"I believe ... that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week."
-Harry Reid

CONTRAST
"The Mahdi Army’s decline also means that the Iraqi state, all but impotent in the early years of the war, has begun to act the part, taking over delivery of some services and control of some neighborhoods.

“'The Iraqi government broke their branches and took down their tree,' said Abu Amjad, a civil servant who lives in the northern Baghdad district of Sadr City, once seen as an unbreachable stronghold for the group. "
-Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times

"The United States is now winning the war that two years ago seemed lost.

"Limited, sometimes sharp fighting and periodic terrorist bombings in Iraq are likely to continue, possibly for years. But the Iraqi government and the U.S. now are able to shift focus from mainly combat to mainly building the fragile beginnings of peace — a transition that many found almost unthinkable as recently as one year ago.

"Despite the occasional bursts of violence, Iraq has reached the point where the insurgents, who once controlled whole cities, no longer have the clout to threaten the viability of the central government."
-Robert Burns and Robert Reid, The Associated Press

*Hat tip to John Hawkins of Right Wing News fame for these quotes in his Town Hall article.
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UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM

"People have a way of becoming what you encourage them to be, not what you nag them to be."

Here are a few statistics to consider. First from Portfolio.com about special magazine editions:
Time's Earth Day issue was the newsweekly's third-lowest-selling issue of 2008 so far, according to ABC Rapid Report. A typical issue of Time sells 93,000 or so copies on the newsstand; the April 28 installment, which substituted green for red in the magazine's trademarked cover design, sold only 72,000.

Elle's May issue sold a mere 275,000 copies, versus the title's year-to-date average of 328,500. The last issue of Elle to sell that badly was in May 2006* -- another green issue, probably not coincidentally.

Discover also published a green issue this year, and also took a hit for it, selling 86,000 newsstand copies, compared to an average of 117,000 in the first half of 2007.

The only magazine that didn't take a bath on its green issue was
Vanity Fair, which reported 370,000 single copy sales for May, only a little below its year-to-date average of 375,666.
Now let's look at another block of statistics, from a previous article at WATN:
NAME OF MOVIEDOMESTIC EARNINGSWORLD WIDE EARNINGS
PRODUCTION COST
Rendition$9736035$24,738,714unknown
Redacted$65,388$728,782$5,000,000
In The Valley of Elah$6,777,741$25,722,775unknown
Lions for Lambs$15,000,115$42,036,902$35,000,000
Valley of the Wolvesn/a$23,465,471unknown

What do these two things have in common? They're both projects and delights of left leaning activists, and both were heartily rejected by the public.

They were the dreams of hard-working magazine and movie people to push what they keep telling us is important, and conventional wisdom would tell us is popular with the American people, yet when it comes to actual practice, the people aren't all that interested.

These are topics that the left hold in deep reverence: the evil of President Bush, the wrongness of the Iraq war, the need to save the planet. If you watch the news or see any media, you get the impression that everyone thinks so. Tigger tells kids how to recycle, Dora the Explorer turns into a mermaid and the seas are filled with trash, it's everywhere (particularly with kids). Yet when it comes to people making a choice about what they are interested in, rather than being inundated at all times with the topic, they turn out to be not nearly as interested as conventional wisdom would indicate.

The New York Times had an article on advertising in which they blamed an 18 month oversaturation of "green"topics, that the public just has gotten sick of it. The problem is, these magazine articles span that 18 month period and all of them undersold (almost every one by a huge margin). It wasn't a question of people becoming tired of the topic, it was a question of people just not wanting to be preached to about it.

As Eric Pfanner notes in the NYT:
At an annual gathering of the advertising industry a year ago in Cannes, the environment was the topic du jour. “Be seen, be green,” one agency urged on the invitation to its party at a hillside villa.

Al Gore, invited by another agency, delivered a message linked to “An Inconvenient Truth,” his book and film about climate change: That the ad industry could play an influential role in encouraging businesses and consumers to change their ways and slow global warming.
The push was to "green" advertising and ideas, that was the new, hot trend! Except... it isn't. Sure, it's hot from the perspective of the media, they're pushing it with both hands and feet. Al Gore wants this because it helps his various businesses that specialize in the carbon credit business. But the public is just not biting.

GREENING
One of the reasons is that while people do care for their environment and want to stop pollution, they don't care to be lectured at, to be "preached" at (in the pejorative sense, not the real sense of preaching). It's one thing to call for cleaner living, it's another to bombard people with constant nagging and condemnations.

Another reason is that people don't buy into the hype. Deep down they're skeptical about advertising, they don't believe the world is really being destroyed. Most people will mention global warming, but according to every poll taken worldwide, only a minority are actually concerned about it. Sure, you probably know a couple people who are hysterical about it, but most shrug and go on with their lives.

A third reason the greening phenomenon isn't really a phomenon at all (in a cultural sense) is that they see Al Gore flying around the world and living in a gargantuan, fuel burning home. They see the same people who claim everyone else must give up everything to save the planet being grossly and conspicuously wasteful. That's not attractive in any sense. Hypocrisy is the best way to destroy a message, even if the message is valid: if you don't care to live up to the standards you demand, why should I?

And it is true that to a certain degree people are stubborn and get sick of being rained with a message. Even if they are sympathetic to the message to begin with, after a while you just get sick of it and will not put up with it any longer. The NYT 18-month theory may be unsupported by the magazine sales, but it is true that the more you nag at someone, the more likely they are to not do it just to spite you.

A last reason is that people are already doing the things that are being brought up. Why buy a magazine to tell you what you already know and are probably doing? Recycling and saving energy was already on peoples' minds, most people are already taking the steps suggested in these articles.

WAR
I've already written about this significantly in the past, but in brief, Americans like soldiers, don't like being told they are doing awful things, and weren't all that opposed to the Iraq war to begin with. Sure, polling showed for a few years that people were opposed to it, but not to any great degree. They'd say "yeah, it probably was a mistake" or "eh, sure, we shouldn't have gone in" but they wouldn't insist we left and it wasn't a big election issue despite the insistence of the left. We know this because strong pro-war candidates won reelection and many of the new Democratic Party congressmen were Iraq war vets and did not run on an anti-war platform.

BOTH
The truth is, America isn't as leftist as the press wants it to be or portrays it as. The big causes with the radical left that dominates media just aren't that important to the general public. These people are ideologically out of touch with the general population of the country. It's not that the USA is incredibly conservative, most aren't. It's just that most people aren't incredibly leftist either and certainly very few are as left leaning as the movie producers and magazine staff that put this stuff out.

These magazines didn't do so well because they were pet projects of people who didn't really understand their customer base, or were so caught up in zealotry they didn't care. These topics didn't sell well any more than a special edition on buying funny dice or playing Runequest would. Sure, there are some very dedicated Role Playing fans who'd love it, but they are in the great minority.

In the end, as we watch the Los Angeles and New York Times stagger around like a dying rat largely because of their contempt for readers and burning need to push a leftist agenda, it's satisfying in one sense (like seeing the villain of the piece face justice in a movie). Yet it's sad in another because these operations were once much greater, they represent the hopes and dreams of a lot of people and if they fall, they cannot be replaced (particularly the New York Times). Yet my pity has to be tempered by the fact that they are doing this with their eyes wide open and a finger defiantly raised in the face of their very customers.

When you cut your own throat, there's only so much sympathy that you can generate.

For a humorous take on this, check out The Onion's spoof on Time's issue.

*Hat tip to Moonbattery for the magazine article.
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Quote of the Day

"There's always somebody who is paid too much, and taxed too little - and it's always somebody else."
-Cullen Hightower
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Friday, July 25, 2008

STAR TREK ROLES

"Fascinating"

So the casting is final for the new Star Trek movie. They've gone young (as usual for Hollywood these days) but in this case it makes sense: the movie is supposed to be about the cast in Starfleet Academy before they graduate and get the Enterprise. This is a reboot of the old series, starting over with better effects and a new sensibility - the latter being a point of no small concern with fans.

The cast so far looks like this:
CAPTAIN KIRK: Chris Pine, who hasn't done much big other than the uneven Smokin' Aces. This is a pretty big part to step into, and on the strength of this casting alone he's gotten several other major movie roles already. Let's hope he can pull it off with at least as much style as Shatner, but I can't imagine how!
SPOCK: Zachary Quinto, primarily known from the television show Heroes playing Sylar. With the makeup on he'll at least look more vulcan but he's clearly got a different facial build than Nimoy's Spock (who also shows up in the movie - probably a small role that explains the reboot as some sort of temporal emergency).
MCCOY: Karl Urban who was Eomer in Lord of the Rings and the assassin in The Bourne Supremacy. Urban is primarily known for action roles, so this is a different sort of job for him. Hopefully he can bring the easy going country doctor skeptic to the part as well as the very talented and underrated DeForest Kelley did.
SCOTTY: Simon Pegg, who is known for his roles in Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, as well as other movies. I love Simon Pegg, and I loved Scotty as portrayed by James Doohan, but he never got enough screen time. Pegg should do a great job with this, but let's hope he gets more work than the original Scotty.
SULU: John Cho, who has been in a lot of small parts, but was in both Harold and Kumar movies. Sulu was an interesting character, but other than whipping out a katana in one episode, he never was very well explored in the original series.
CHEKOV: Anton Yelchin, who is not really known for anything but has done a lot of television. While I really like Walter Koenig (to properly appreciate his talents, watch the Babylon 5 series), his Russian accent was really insulting and annoying. Hopefully they won't require Yelchin to adopt the idiotic speech impediment of not being able to pronounce "V's."
UHURA: Zoe Saldana, who played the pirate girl in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Uhura was always a small role, but Zoe was memorable in the Pirates movie, so she'll hopefully carry that over to this movie as well.
CHRISTOPHER PIKE: Bruce Greenwood, a character actor who has been in a host of movies, most recently the second National Treasure as the president. Pike plays a major part in the original Enterprise, but that story was never really told well in the original series, so hopefully this will be a significant plot element for the new movie.
Also present are Winona Ryder playing a character named Amanda Grayson, and Eric Bana playing one named Nero (possibly the villain of the piece). There are cast members listed on IMDB for various family members of the Kirk clan, which should be at least interesting to see how they are handled.

The movie should look interesting, let's hope Ryder's character isn't much of a part because other than looking kewpie doll cute, the kleptomaniac Ryder brings virtually nothing to her roles.

*UPDATE: Commenter Lordsomber reminds me that Winona Ryder is playing Spock's human mother.
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NO STOCK IN BONDS

"I can't speak for the other owners, but I will not sign Barry Bonds"
-Angels owner Arte Moreno

Barry Bonds
Remember Barry Bonds? The guy that was the biggest star in baseball, who was the focus on intense media attention last year? One of the greatest players in baseball history? He broke Hank Aaron's home run record last year in a festival of media attention. He was the most feared batter in baseball for over a decade. He was a gold glove outfielder and all-star player over and over for more than a decade.

This year the man doesn't even exist in baseball. Has there ever been such a dramatic reversal since the 1919 Black Socks scandal? Barry Bonds still can hit, he's not as fast as he once was and doesn't have the range he had in the field (although with his skill, he didn't need much range). Bonds still has power, still has a great eye, and still can score runs. He'd be a fantastic addition to any team, yet he has no work. No baseball team is even looking at him, Barry Bonds has been totally locked out of baseball.

Some say it's because of the steroids, he was on the juice and nobody wants him. Yet several other players who admitted using steroids are currently playing on various baseball teams such as Troy Glaus and Jason Giambi. Some say its because of the media hype and the coverage, but he's all but ignored by the media at this point. Some say its because of the legal troubles and congressional hearings, but Roger Clemens has just as much and he's a sure thing on anyone's team if he chooses to play again.

The fact is, Major League Baseball has blackballed Barry Bonds. He'd be a very useful addition to a team like the Rays who need some experience and could use the power at the DH position. Yet the man is just unwelcome on any team. The irony is that the last man to be treated like this - Jose Canseco - is the reason the steroids story exploded in baseball. So angry at being utterly shut out of the game, he wrote a tell-all book and testified before congress, starting the entire issue up in a way it hadn't been before. Canseco still could hit and run, yet he was effectively banned from baseball by the team owners.

The Players' Union is looking at filing a grievance on Barry Bonds' behalf, claiming that he's deliberately being shut out by the owners (which is pretty obvious at this point). Bill Shaikin at the LA Times reported yesterday:
The union anticipates filing a grievance claiming owners acted improperly and in concert in keeping Bonds out of uniform this season, according to a source not authorized to speak publicly in advance of a final decision.

We asked a baseball official to outline how a grievance hearing might unfold, should the union decide to file a grievance and proceed to a hearing. The official, who has experience representing owners and players, was granted anonymity because he is not authorized by his employer to speak publicly on this matter.

The union first could compare Bonds' statistics with those of the designated hitters and left fielders signed last winter as free agents. Bonds hit .276 with 28 home runs, leading the major leagues with a .480 on-base percentage.

This would essentially be the argument: Milton Bradley, Cliff Floyd and Luis Gonzalez all were hired, but Bonds was not. The agent for Bonds, Jeff Borris, has said his client has gotten no offers, not even for minimum wage.
The owners, presumably, would argue that they just happened to independently all at the same time decide not to hire Bonds for their own reasons. That stretches credulity, given his skill and what he'd bring to any team. Bonds is still a real, viable commodity, he still can play and he still would be a danger at bat. It's a shame that after such a stunning achievement he's being treated so shabbily.
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CANDIDATE A OR B?

Douglas MacKinnon has a little quiz he wants you to take. It's about voting for the president; based on this information who would you vote for?

My premise was very simple. You have two people who are being considered to run your county, head up your local school board and manage your police force. Based on the background and experience listed below, who would you choose?

Candidate A: Middle-aged. Studied overseas. Attended two different colleges in the U.S. before getting a degree. Went on to get a law degree. Worked community affairs in his adopted home city. Was elected to local office. Served in local politics for just over six years. Got elected to a federal state-wide office. Has one real year of experience in that job.

Candidate B: Middle-aged. Went to college and got a degree. Served in the National Guard for six years. Became a sergeant. While in the National Guard, earned a law degree. Became an investigator for a consumer-protection division. Was elected to a federal office. Was re-elected to a federal office. Was elected to a federal statewide office. Was re-elected to a federal state-wide office. Served in the executive branch for four years.

With just that information, the choice is painfully clear: candidate B is clearly and overwhelmingly more qualified.

Candidate B? That's Dan Quayle (drag your mouse over the name to see who it is). Oh, candidate A? Barack Obama.

I encourage you to Read the entire article so you can see the context of this quiz.

SALUTE THE VOTE

"Your every voter, as surely as your chief magistrate, exercises a public trust."
-President Grover Cleveland

According to the Federal Elections Commission, overseas absentee ballots for the 2006 election came from about 5.5% of the US citizens living abroad. Most of those people are in the military or are family members of military. Efforts to make it easier for military personnel to vote have been met with stonewalling by the Pentagon and a total lack of interest by congress. RealClearPolitics reports on a recent attempt to address the problem:
Rep. Roy Blunt, the House Republican whip, on July 8 introduced a resolution demanding that the Defense Department better enable U.S. military personnel overseas to vote in the November elections. That act was followed by silence. Democrats normally leap on an opportunity to find fault with the Bush Pentagon. But not a single Democrat joined Blunt as a co-sponsor, and an all-Republican proposal cannot pass in the Democratic-controlled House.
but the problem has been there through many different administrations, including Republican ones and many different congresses, including Republican-controlled ones. Robert Novak goes on at RCP:
President Harry Truman said of troops fighting in Korea, "The least we at home can do is to make sure that they are able to enjoy the rights they are being asked to fight to preserve." But the U.S. military that has so perfected the art of war over the past half-century is at a loss to enable soldiers to vote.

A combat officer has enough to do without handling the votes of troopers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Defense Department Inspector General's report in March last year recommended "appointment of civilian personnel" as "voting assistance officers." The Pentagon brass rejected the idea.

Undersecretary of Defense Robert Chu was tasked with addressing this issue, but is notorious for ignoring phone calls and nothing is being done. The Pentagon brass seems more interested in sweet jobs when they retire in the defense industry, the Democrats in congress are not particularly motivated to help people who vote overwhelmingly Republican get more votes, and Republicans seem disinterested in doing anything that doesn't involve more goodies for back home. President Bush deserves some credit for appointing someone to deal with the issue which was starkly obvious in the 2000 election, but since the appointment little has been accomplished.

This is a ball that is in the executive department's court primarily. President Bush has the power with executive orders and as the commander in cheif to command changes and get things done before he leaves office. It would be a great note to leave on, an enduring effect that future presidents could build on. Congress under the hapless leadership of Speaker Peslosi (D-CA) and Senator Reid (D-NV) can't get the things they want done, let alone things they aren't particularly inclined to support so there's no hope in that arena.

Certainly it will be difficult to get soldiers to vote in many situations, but at least some more could be given the ability, and some resources could be dedicated to getting ballots out, collected, and returned in a timely fashion. I'd say that of all the citizens of the US, the ones out fighting and working for us in other nations deserve the vote at the most.

Quote of the Day

"Recession is not a synonym for 'a time when some people are hurting and there are worries about the economy'"
-Glenn Reynolds
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

CHINESE KNOCKOFFS

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"

OK take a look at this picture and tell me what you see:

Year of the Mickey?
They are from Beijing, and the images are of a mascot for the Olympics in China. The locals all think it's Mickey Mouse (Youtube video) Chinese officials insist it's not Mickey, that the square holes in the ears represent Chinese coins, that it is a rat, for the astrological year of the rat.

This is particularly troubling in a country where cheap knockoffs of products are a standard export and they actually had a knockoff of Disneyland called Shijingshan Amusement Park that recently had to change blatant copies of Disney copyrighted images and products. They had the magic castle (very un-Chinese in design), they had people dressed up in... well take a look and you decide:


not Shreknot The Magic Kingdom
not Hello Kittynot Pooh Bear
not The 7 Dwarves and Snow WhiteNot Minnie and Donald

Note the Not Hello Kitty, they had other popular Japanese cartoon figures as well. The park even had a slogan: "Disneyland is too far." Their response? No, that's not Minnie Mouse, that's a cat with big ears. Eventually they changed the slogan, took down the Disney rip off statues and the costumes went away. Until the Olympic stadium statues showed up in Beijing, that is.

Yeah. Let's keep giving these guys Most Favored Nation Status. Let's have the Olympics in China. What a great idea.

*big tip of the hat to Japan Probe for several stories on this.
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WHAT WOULD ASLAN DO?

"I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."
C.S. Lewis The Silver Chair

Aslan
Once upon a time there was a little boy who loved the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis so much his father had a great idea for a present. He bought the boy a website, with the domain name Narnia.Mobi so he could have his own little world of Narnia. As you'd expect the boy was delighted and began work on his new site. If you look for the site now, you find a generic ISP ad: it's been taken down. Why?

C.S. Lewis' estate sued the father for this infringement of their copyright and wanted to protect the Narnia intellectual property. The boy (named Comrie Saville-Smith) lost the website because the Lewis lawyers argued that the father intended to sell the website's name for advertising. The family argues not, but the UN arbitrator ruled in favor of the Narnia estate.

This brings up an interesting question: if the Scots family or the ISP refuses to obey the ruling, what can the UN agency do? They have no enforcement arm, they have no legal power, they cannot compel action. All they can do is make an argument and stamp their foot.

And certainly it's difficult to defend the proposition that someone should be penalized for what they might have intended to do. The family is appealing the decision to try to keep their son's website. The $140 investment is turning out to be rather expensive.

One wonders what Lewis would think of the whole thing; I suspect he'd have wanted the child to have his website with his blessing.

A CANAL TALE

Canal Boat
The Pilgrims who landed on the shores of America in 1621 were part of a group known by various names but primarily "separatists" in England. They were a group of Christians who objected theologically to the Church of England and as a result were persecuted because at that time, countries had an official church and if you weren't part of that, you were not just heretical, but illegal. This treatment prompted many to leave England, hoping to build a new life of religious freedom in the new colonies in America.

By the late 1700s in England, the persecution was largely limited to legal pressure and making the people very uncomfortable. You were treated poorly by the general public for being a Separationist, you were unable to hold any office, get an education at any state school or college, and most significantly for this little tale, could not own a business or any land near city limits. This had the basic effect of isolating these "noncomformists" who chose to worship differently than the Anglican Church. They educated their children at home, they owned modest businesses in the country and they engaged in their own economy.

This economy on its own was incredibly successful despite the hardships and limitations they suffered. Copying the Dutch idea of loans and banking, these folks were able to invest and build considerable fortunes despite the pressure of society against them. In the late 1700s a new project was started that would turn England around. It was a humble concept, but a very useful one both for the Separationists and the rest of England.

Few roads were paved, they turned into muck any time the weather wasn't clear and sunny, which in England is most of the year. This slowed travel considerably in carriages and horseback and made carrying freight for miles to the cities so you can sell your goods a serious problem. The Separationists had an idea: what if we dug canals to reach the market place? The project first opened in 1793 and in two years 57 laws were passed in Parliament to permit the construction of these highways: each canal required a navigation act. A towpath was set up along side the canal where a horse would run to pull the boats. Some locks were set up, but in many places there were short waterfalls which had to be rode out by the passengers. Regular changing stations were set up to rest the horses and replace them with a fresh one. Aqueduct systems were built to carry the canals over rivers (literally a higher river crossing a river) and bridges were built over the canals for roadways.

These boats moved along at a leisurely pace of several miles an hour with one man on the shore with the horse and another steering and controlling the barge: 70 feet long and 7 feet wide; most were double ended so you could move either direction with ease. The canals were about four feet deep on average and varied in width from around ten feet. A single horse-drawn canal boat could carry thirty tons of coal. Despite moving little faster than walking speed, the speed was constant, the wheels never got stuck or broke off, you had only breif stops at the way stations to swap horses, and could move in any weather. The weight that could be carried was much greater than on roads, and the result was that freight and passengers now moved through England like it had a series of superhighways.

This revolutionized industry in the country. Now you could move freight cheaply and quickly from anywhere in the country to the cities, selling and moving goods better and faster than ever before. By 1850, there were over four thousand miles of navigable waterways in Britain, transporting more than thirty million tons of freight a year. This, combined with the Dutch banking system caused an explosion in the British economy, propelling it eventually to being the most powerful and largest empire to ever rule in human history, owning a full 30% of all land mass and controlling all of the seas. Little things like this can have enormous significance, inconceivable importance at the time.

Today the canals are owned by the government and the boats are driven with diesel engines. You can rent a boat and cruise around on the canals these days, seeing England in a different way than any other can reveal. The boats run about 800-1500 bucks a week including food and fuel, but they are growing in popularity once more. This is a unique way to see a country, giving access to places normally impossible to see or experience. If I ever make it to England I'd love to give it a try.
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THE I-CANDIDATE

"We're the change we've been waiting for!"

I-Obama
Mad TV had a skit where they mocked Apple and President Bush at the same time by showing an Apple executive introducing various new products, all with an "I" in front of the name. The final product was the I-Rack, a white rack you can store things in, and people threw out constant criticism of why it wouldn't work and the Apple exec claimed that if you put more stuff in it (the surge) it will work, which was portrayed as foolishness: it will fall over, break, etc. In terms of political humor it was weak and transparently false at this point. It's one of those skits that was cute but isn't standing the test of time like the Dead Parrot sketch by Monty Python (for instance).

However, the skit did work from the other side, mocking the tendency to stick an I in front of things to make them seem cool and trendy and "now" is something you can still laugh at for Apple. Ten years ago it was E, as in E-Surance, E-mail, and so on. Stick an "E" in front of something and its all internetty and computery! The kids will love it! Except the kids got sick of it and like kids usually do, saw through the facade to the ignorance and unfamiliarity of the people involved with the internet and computers.

Apple's sales and marketing strategy has been based on two things: lie about the competition and position your product with the right people. Watch a movie, 9 times out of 10 someone using a computer has a Macintosh. Watch the world around you, 9 times out of 10 they have a PC. Why? Because Mac made sure they gave lots of computers to Hollywood types and focused on neato graphics and sound rather than running programs people use. For special effects artists and graphics guys, the Mac used to be the premier machine (not any more, but by now they're used to a Mac and keep it). Hollywood knows and uses Mac, so they put it in movies. It's like giving your new sunglasses to a popular starlet so people see her wearing them and want some of their own. There's an entire industry built up around Sex and the City where products are seen and praised, driving less-than-discerning women to want them.

Apple did the same thing with their products, instead of trying to convince people they had a better system most of the time, they simply tried to make it seem like they were cooler. Is the I-Pod better than the competition? Based on the price and popularity you'd think so, but no, it isn't. It is just far more expensive. Is the I-Phone groundbreaking and superior to its competition? No, the Japanese had phones like that years before the I-Phone came out, it's not a superior product in anything other than price. They just were sold as being cooler than the other products. Use this and you'll be cool too.

Even the Mac/PC ads don't try to sell the Macintosh as a better computer most of the time, they try to sell it as easier or more fun. Less prone to computer virus attacks, runs cooler software (what, I have no idea). Sure, get a PC for business, if you want a computer to do things people buy computers for, a PC is a better machine they admit, but the Mac is just cooler and does this other neat stuff!

Well now we have an I-Candidate for president. Senator Obama isn't running with that title, but he's using the same basic techniques Apple does to sell his candidacy as they do their products.

Senator Obama is not trying to win because he’s more qualified: he clearly isn’t. He’s not trying to convince people he has better ideas, he doesn’t. Senator Obama says whatever people want to hear when pressed on an issue, but prefers to stick to the basic, undefined, and deliberately vague concepts of "hope" and "change," at most telling people things are awful and they can fix it all by putting him in power. The entire campaign is an effort to convince people they will be considered cooler and sexier if they vote for Senator Obama. He’s trying to win the way I-Pod won buyers; use this product and you’ll be cool like these people; vote for Obama and you can be cool too. Don't vote for Obama and people will think you are out of touch, uncool, old.

Will it work? Macintosh built an entire business on it but still only sells about 10% of the PC market. At the same time, the I-Pod and I-Phone are smash hits based exclusively on this concept. Who knows, all I know is if I had to bet, I’d put my money on the older and Jewish vote as opposed to the youth and the trendy vote. Just ask the Obama Girl who she voted for in the primaries… oops.
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Quote of the Day

"My certainty in opposing the war and supporting a deadline for getting out re-emerged.

And then in early 2007 came the surge, which so many of us in the anti-war left of the Democratic Party predicted would be a failure, throwing good men and women and billions of dollars after futility. We were wrong.

The surge did, in fact, lead to a reduction of violence, confirmed by media on the ground as well as our military leaders."
-Lanny Davis
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

MACHINE LAW

"When the power to enforce the law is delegated to software employed by people who don't -- or can't be bothered to -- understand it, no one is safe."

Internet Spiderweb
YouTube is continuously plagued with copyright problems. Since it is a site that anyone can easily sign up for and upload anything to, many people upload parts of television shows and movies, music videos, advertisements, and so on. In addition, there are people who will make something of their own, such as a sequence of images or dancing in front of a camera with music behind it. This can be a copyright violation by using the whole song without permission or paying, or it can just be fair use, such as a short clip of a little girl dancing to a portion of the song Lets Go Crazy by Prince.

In that case, Prince's label sued the mother who uploaded the tyke dancing video and lost. Prince himself didn't find the video, in fact it probably wasn't anyone human at all. It was probably a little program that crawled around on the internet looking for people who used anything by artists the label works with and automatically flagging them for copyright violation.

In this case, the attempt is backfiring, because the mom is fighting mad and is working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to try to force music labels to be more careful and thoughtful about their litigation. The problem isn't protecting their product or copyrights, it is their incautious and over-vigorous activities. Instead of finding real violations, they send out letters and try to sue anyone who uses any portion of their property, whether reasonable or not.

Universal Music (the label Prince recorded the song on) argues that it doesn't even need to bother with whether use of their product is legal or not, they can send out a take down notice without even demonstrating the slightest degree of copyright violation. Google is hyper-sensitive about (most) complaints, and will tend to take things down before checking and look later to see if it was reasonable or not. Universal maintains it can request these takedowns even if the use of their product was legal. I and the EFF lawyers disagree: you should have to demonstrate at least some plausible copyright violation before you can order something taken off the public market.

The courts, I suppose, will decide. The problem is greater than just decisions on what to complain about, though. Instead of having someone do the work of looking up sites and finding use of products, these companies use programs to search the internet. These programs that find anything that might be a violation aren't very clever about it: this legal brief filed by the Internet Service Provider Association against the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America):
The lists have not even been culled to eliminate items that should never have been included in the first place. While most of the works identified in Exhibit 1 appear to be songs featuring George Harrison, the notice also demands removal of a file labeled, in part, "John Lennon, Yoko Ono And George Harrison Interview.mp3." The notice further objects to a file entitled "Portrait of mrs. harrison Williams 1943.jpg." It even claims infringement by distribution of a file whose appalling title includes phrases such as "Nude Preteens and Young Teens Naked ... Brian is 14 and Harrison is 8."

It is highly unlikely that a single company owns the copyright both to George Harrison's songs and to child porn materials. The most likely explanation is that the list was generated by a "bot" that had been programmed to search for all files with the name "harrison" in them -- and that the results of its search were incorporated without a glance into the copyright owner's §512(c) notification.
The bot (the program seeking copyright material) looked for anything involving the Beatles or George Harrison and picked anything with the name Harrison in it and flagged it as a copyright violation. This can be a useful tool, but only that; the people in charge are supposed to weed out the clearly non-applicable "hits" that the bot finds.

Yet there's no motivation to be cautious: ISPs are nervous about lawsuits and damages, so they'll just yank anything when they get a complaint without looking carefully themselves. Lawsuits are bigger and meatier if you have more violations and a huge list of copyright infringements, and the federal law governing internet violations of this sort require more payment for each individual case. Stacking the deck is encouraged, so they don't care if there's a lot of nonsense or false positives in the list of copyright vioations.

Increasingly, machines are used to catch criminals so that people don't have to work so hard. Traffic light cameras try to catch speeders and people who run red lights - to limited and sometimes even corrupted success - and computer programs try to catch people who download what they shouldn't, even if it was a mistake. Relying on these machines to do the work of law enforcement sometimes can enter the realm of the absurd, as Glenn Reynolds writes about at Tech Central Station:
Last week saw an amusing story of litigation gone awry. As ABC News reported
Gertrude Walton was recently targeted by the recording industry in a lawsuit that accused her of illegally trading music over the Internet. But Walton died in December after a long illness, and according to her daughter, the 83-year-old hated computers.

More than a month after Walton was buried in Beckley, a group of record companies named her as the sole defendant in a federal lawsuit, claiming she made more than 700 pop, rock and rap songs available for free on the Internet under the screen name "smittenedkitten."

Walton's daughter, Robin Chianumba, lived with her mother for the last 17 years and said her mother objected to having a computer in the house.

"My mother was computer illiterate. She hated a computer," Chianumba said. "My mother wouldn't know how to turn on a computer."
Plenty of people have been having fun with this story -- British tech-news site The Register snarked that "Death is no obstacle to feeling the long arm of the Recording Industry Ass. of America."
This is hardly the first miss by the RIAA in its zealous attempts to stop anyone from downloading any music anywhere. Often the problem is that the real downloader "spoofs" their ISP (uses a program that makes it seem like they are someone else) and the real owner of that ISP gets a nastygram from the RIAA's attack lawyers.

This is a new frontier for copyright law and the trend is for companies to be overwhelming in their desire to control and protect their product, no matter who gets hurt, what they get wrong, and how absurd their attempts may be. At some point, the other side has to be considered as well: if I download a wav file of Brad Dylan saying "hello" I shouldn't have to worry about Bob Dylan's label suing me for copyright violation. I shouldn't even get a letter, and in the western legal system the burden of proof is on the accuser: they have to prove they have a case. It's not up to me to prove they don't.
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FANTASY HERO 101

"Bree-YARK!"

Goblin Trap
This week was almost entirely game; I have six players now which is the most I'm comfortable with running (3 is the minimum), and all of them are at least somewhat familiar with the system and have characters built. The bulk of the session was taken up with a fight between the six characters and over twenty Goblins, six of whom were in back firing light arrows.

The problem these Goblins had is that they're poor and weak, the weakest in the area and so their weapons are minor. They're pretty hard to hit because of their size, but don't hit very hard. The heavy fighters could more or less ignore a lot of what the Goblins dealt out, although a solid hit with the bows (armor piercing) did give them some pause.

The Centaur charged into the room and was quickly surrounded, his tower shield wasn't much help with the multiple attacker bonus (and the guys on the side his shield would not cover), so eventually he was nickle-and-dime'd to unconsciousness. In the end the party did manage to deal with the Goblins despite the numbers but it took a very long time to deal with that many.

The party seems to be getting comfortable with each other as players, and while there was a small squabble at the beginning (unrelated to the game) it went pretty well overall. At this point my main concern is the hack'n'slash nature of the Keep on the Borderlands; that's fun for a while but eventually the lack of variety might get a bit wearing. While it's true each of the monster "modules" is different and has different sorts of challenges, there's not much mystery or role playing built into the story, it's just find the bad guys, figure a way to beat them, restock at the keep. I plugged in several quests and different things that can happen, but it might get a bit long by the time all 11 modules are cleared out, if we get that far.

Still I knew that going in, and the primary purpose of this was to find new players and teach the system so it should work well to those ends.
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