Friday, July 30, 2004
"Read...with a good hot cup of non-partisan coffee." 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
At Positive Liberty, Jason Kuznicki asks:
Where, oh where, is the party for pluralist, capitalist, small-government, secular, civil libertarian voters? Why is it that these positions, which to my mind seem so naturally dependent upon one another, are set against one another so implacably by the political powers that be?

[continue reading Cain and Abel in the Mainstream, a neatly analytical look at some party-points made at the DNC]
Where, indeed? And here, for your weekend pleasure (and antidote for a nasty politics hangover), via LDMA's Life in the Wor Zone, the Tolkien Sarcasm Pages presents...{drumroll}...the long lost first - pre-Jackson - Lord of the Rings film, from 1956 [18Mb QuickTime .mov], starring:
Humphrey Bogart as Frodo
Sydney Greenstreet as Gandalf the Grey/White
Dooley Wilson as Sam
Bob Steele as the Nazgul
Charles Waldron as Elrond
Godzilla as the Balrog
Marlene Dietrich as Galadriel
Orson Welles as Saruman
Peter Lorre as Gollum
Finally, I have plans to see either The Manchurian Candidate or The Village this weekend, but unfortunately critics are saying the latter is something of a disappointment. UDaily says,
"The Village" follows a group of people who live in relative bucolic bliss in an isolated, 19th-century-looking settlement that borders the woods. There is one problem. The forest is apparently inhabited by some fearsome, carnivorous creatures who possess large claws, howl at the moon and have an affinity for the color red. The elders have conditioned the villagers to live in mortal fear of these beasts, so much so that the creatures are always referred to as "Those We Don't Speak Of."

OK, so nobody has told these people not to end a sentence in a prepositional phrase.
Sorry, but that won't wash in Chicago, where you're legally required to end sentences with prepositions. Otherwise, where would the fun be at?

Yes, He Did Say "Hair Pollution" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Begging to Differ confirms it: Kerry did say the "h" word last night.
W.'s not the only one to make the occasional verbal gaffe. Thanks to my DVR and mp3 player/recorder, I have the evidence from Kerry's convention speech.
"What does it mean when 25% of our children in Harlem have asthma because of hair pollution..."
Maybe John Edwards should lay off the Aqua Net. *gratuitous rim shot*

[click through to BTD to play .mp3 and .wav files of "hair pollution."]
I'm glad we weren't the -only- ones that heard that...last night, while raptly attentive to Kerry's words (and buoyant silver coif) we heard the "hair pollution" blooper and almost fell out of our chairs laughing. Kerry didn't skip a beat, and if he realized he'd goofed he certainly didn't show it.

However, it's telling that we regained our composure moments afterwards. If Bush or Cheney had been the ones to say "hair pollution" ["so that's where it all went!"] I dare say we'd still be laughing this morning. Then again, if George W. had said it, I probably wouldn't even have noticed.

Thursday, July 29, 2004
Catching the Barack Obama Buzz 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
While the rest of the country is discovering the Barack Obama phenomenon following his stirring speech at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday evening, as an Illinois resident, I'm happy to say "I knew he was going places" for some time. I'd first seen Obama's name about two years ago in a local Chicago African-American community free weekly called N'DIGO, in small, modestly-placed campaign ads and in an interview article. Later, I'd heard him on the air, in a Chicago Public Radio interview. I was intrigued when I discovered he was a senior lecturer in Law here at the University of Chicago.

Earlier last year, in Rogers Park, we had signed a streetcorner petition to get Obama's name placed on the U.S. Senate ballot. Now, it's close to Decision Time 2004, and the whole country can see that this 42-year old "skinny kid with the funny name" from Illinois running for U.S. Senate has the presence, eloquence and passion - and a uniquely Everyman background - to position him to be a major bridge-building political player in days to come. True, the analysts were hyperbolic in their post-speech praise, and phrases like "Tiger Woods" and "future President" emerged from their lips. Perhaps it's too soon to make such glowing predictions, but these days, good feelings about a politician are rare indeed.

If you missed his Tuesday keynote address, you can read the full text of Obama's speech here on the New York Times online edition [registration required]. I taped Tuesday night's coverage of the DNC on WTTW-11...I had a feeling his talk would be a keeper. While his slated role was to stump for John Kerry, Obama gave the National audiences more: a striking sample of a rising star on the scene. Here's a couple of sections from his talk that particularly moved me:
Tonight is a particular honor for me because ? let's face it ? my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya. He grew up herding goats, went to school in a tin-roof shack. His father ? my grandfather ? was a cook, a domestic servant to the British.

But my grandfather had larger dreams for his son. Through hard work and perseverance my father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, that shone as a beacon of freedom and opportunity to so many who had come before.

While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas. Her father worked on oil rigs and farms through most of the Depression. The day after Pearl Harbor my grandfather signed up for duty; joined Patton's army, marched across Europe. Back home, my grandmother raised their baby and went to work on a bomber assembly line. After the war, they studied on the G.I. Bill, bought a house through F.H.A., and later moved west all the way to Hawaii in search of opportunity.

And they, too, had big dreams for their daughter. A common dream, born of two continents.

My parents shared not only an improbable love, they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or "blessed," believing that in a tolerant America your name is no barrier to success. They imagined me going to the best schools in the land, even though they weren't rich, because in a generous America you don't have to be rich to achieve your potential.

They are both passed away now. And yet, I know that, on this night, they look down on me with great pride.

I stand here today, grateful for the diversity of my heritage, aware that my parents' dreams live on in my two precious daughters. I stand here knowing that my story is part of the larger American story, that I owe a debt to all of those who came before me, and that, in no other country on earth, is my story even possible.

Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation ? not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy. Our pride is based on a very simple premise, summed up in a declaration made over two hundred years ago: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
For alongside our famous individualism, there?s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we?re all connected as one people.

If there is a child on the south side of Chicago who can?t read, that matters to me, even if it?s not my child. If there?s a senior citizen somewhere who can?t pay for their prescription drugs, and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it?s not my grandparent. If there?s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother?s keeper, I am my sister?s keeper that makes this country work. It?s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America ? there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America ? there?s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I?ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don?t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we?ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that?s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

[read full text]
It's not just his choice of words: it's the sense of conviction and personal experience you can feel behind them that gave his words such an impact Tuesday night. This was one of the best political speeches I'd heard in years.

Unlike the array of mostly faceless candidates we've seen in recent years from both sides of the fence, Obama comes across a uniquely recognizable personality - like a young J.F.K. from humble, multicultural roots. Perhaps, he, like few candidates before, truly represents a contemporary cross-section of the American experience; and the way he brings a welcome fresh sense of hope and inclusiveness to the political scene, after four too many years of fear, division, and "bunker mentality," is in itself something to be thankful for.

by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Have you heard the shmooth, schintillating sounds of Shpongle?
Where is Shpongleland...? A multi-verse not very far away where queues and noise don't exist neither pain nor fear, scary faces or bad smells...just peace and pieces, and perfect weather :)

Sucking the big toe of humanity, your armchair turns into an aural spacecraft, catapulting you through the veils of reality and consciousness into a psychedelic adult theme park: Sonar Ballistickle, Soma sucking cyber sorcerers floating weightlessly on the threshold of bliss, creating psycho-geometric, atomic telepathic shimmering incandescent dream dilations. This hybrid exotic seretonin drenched electro-plasmic dripping brain forest moves with endless hallucinogenic changing patterns while, unnoticed a million angels dance on a pinhead.

Fun-Shui, Phrenological escapology; the divine moment of truth…the inevitability of the unexpected - the vortex of the cortex. Knowing what we don't know, while sampling the cosmos; from the darkness to the light; from the unreal to the real...from death to immortality...Lets Get Shpongled!
"I'll have whatever they're smoking, please." You have to love 'em, if only for that blurb...trivia: a couple of my friends have (had?) a black cat named Shpooky, who loved to sleep on the laundry, and had the frequent misfortune of being mistaken for a boot.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Badvertising: I'll Have a [ˈɓɘeɹ] 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Amusing: IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) is showing up on everything from beer to cameras. [via Language Log]

Not Amusing: So is corporate advertising. Thought U.S. Cellular Field was bad? Try the NEXTEL Las Vegas Monorail. [via Kottke]

You know, I'm not that surprised about the NEXTEL train...here in Chicago we've had advertising-covered "L" trains for years, a la the Target® Train and the Smoker's Lung Train®, covered with vinyl wrap printed to look like a 9-foot high tarry cancerous lung. I just loved sitting in one of those:
CTA trains have exterior ad "wraps" that feature actual pictures of lungs. Done in pairs, one entire train has a picture of a diseased lung representing the damage caused by smoking and the next train has a picture of a healthy, pink lung representing someone who does not smoke.
"Are you a good lung or a bad lung?" And then, there's the Invisi-Loo, a.k.a The Wonder Woman Water Closet: A functional toilet inside a one-way mirrored box, situated on a busy street corner. You can see out, but others can't see in. Or at least, so they say. [via LDMA's Life In The Wor Zone]

Everything Old is New Again: "The Return of Eugenics"? 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
On the always-interesting FuturePundit, a post about the evolving face of eugenics:
Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnostics (also sometimes abbreviated PIGD) is legal and used in most Western countries. Therefore it can be argued that eugenics is already being widely practiced with little opposition by many people who are using in vitro fertilization to start pregnancies. Also, the genetic testing of couples before conception in order to provide advice about risks of having a baby amounts to eugenics as well. The use of knowledge of genetics of prospective parents or embryos to decide whether to proceed with a pregnancy is eugenics.

Eugenics is not defined as something only governments carry out. Whether individuals use genetic technology to alter genetics of offspring or governments mandate the use of technology for eugenic purposes either way the use of genetic knowledge to alter reproductive outcomes is a form of eugenics.

I expect to see the practice of eugenics to become more widespread as the cost of genetic testing drops, as the expanding body of genetic research allows us to derive increasing numbers of useful insights from genetic tests, and as it becomes possible to do gene therapy on eggs, sperm, and embryos.

While most eugenic decisions in the West will be left to individuals I also expect to see laws passed to discourage or even to forbid the passing along of certain genetic variations - and not just variations that cause what are widely held to be defects.

For instance, when genetic variations that make a person very likely to be highly violent are identified then I expect most people to eventually favor the outlawing of knowingly passing along those genetic variations to future generations.
The last paragraph in this excerpt contains the really frightening bit - extrapolating the practice of embryo selection to prevent passing on life-threatening genetic abnormalities to the selection of personality characteristics. We'd do well as a society to remember, "just because a little of something is good, more is not necessarily better."

While there are a host of gut-level emotional reasons to reject this type of future eugenics-of-personality outright, one logical objection is that most negative human traits can also express themselves in constructive and positive ways, depending on the environment in which a person is raised. A "genetic predisposition" to violence does not necessarily mean the future child is fated to become a mass murderer: the same violent tendency that might create a killer in one context could create a military genius or world champion boxer in another set of life circumstances. Self-control, personal choices and education play a major role in modfiying the influence of "bad genes."

We also risk reducing the infinite complexity of the human condition down to a checklist of disconnected genetic trait markers, not unlike the lobes on an antique phrenology model that divided the brain into discrete physical areas purporting to contain complex human characteristics - "amativeness," "conjugal love," "secretiveness," "combativeness," "appetite," and "self-esteem," for example.

It's not too far a stretch to extend these futuristic methods of "improving humanity" from violence to other tendencies: should we also prevent hearty eaters from being born, as they may someday suffer costly obesity-related health problems and become a burden on society? Should we weed out those with potentially strong sexual appetites, lest they contract and spread deadly sexually-transmitted diseases like AIDS?

History has repeatedly shown that those born into unimaginably horrible life situations and "genetics" often overcome adversity to become not only functional, but exceptional, people. If we reject a human being for having a "potentially deadly character flaw," we not only profess to have control over the choice of life and death, but predictive knowledge of and control over another person's entire lifecourse and development as well. That, I believe, is too much for any person - or organization, or government - to ever claim responsibility for.

The Three Iris Mystery 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
This morning, as I walked north down the cobblestone path across the
University of Chicago's Main Quad
toward the Administration Building, next to the landscaping groundcover I spotted a tipped-over Barilla spaghetti-sauce jar, with a small quantity of water inside. Three florist-wrapped purple irises were inside the jar, laying on the ground.

The first time I walked by, I didn't take the time to right the jar. I felt self-conscious because of the passers-by (none of whom seemed to notice the odd jar), and I didn't want anyone to think I was the person who had left it there in the busy path.

The second time, as I was returning from my little errand I noticed the flower jar was still tipped over. I set it upright next to the lamp post, and noticed a white adhesive label attached to the plastic wrapper, but I didn't take the time to read it. However, something about the scene stuck in my mind.

When I was about a dozen steps away, I turned around and walked back to see what the label said. I stopped short when I saw the pale bluish script streaked from last night's rain, the round, youthful handwriting nearly the same shade as the slightly wilted flowers:

For the Dead Girl

Friday, July 23, 2004
"Sit Down And Watch That Commercial, Thief!" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I find this controversial idea - television viewers being morally obligated to watch commercials as "fair payment" for the privilege of watching programs - fascinating, because I used to make television and radio commercials for a living for over ten years. Selfishly, I would have liked people to have watched and/or listened to my recorded concoctions because of the great deal of thought and creativity (ha ha, at least I thought so; I'm sure many of them were utter shite) that went into each one.

Peter Northup at Crescat Sententia posts,
"...a few years back, Jamie Kellner, CEO of Turner Television, gives an interview in which he argues that people who skip TV ads--this was in the middle of the ReplayTV lawsuit, I believe--are stealing.
[Ad skips are] theft. Your contract with the network when you get the show is you're going to watch the spots. Otherwise you couldn't get the show on an ad-supported basis. Any time you skip a commercial or watch the button you're actually stealing the programming.
Now, I can't get the full interview; it was over two years ago and the link doesn't seem to work; I found this account at Lawmeme. But a google search turns up lots of outraged commentary. (Kellner went on to say that bathroom breaks qualify for "a certain amount of tolerance" vis-a-vis ad-skipping, which prompted much derision.)

The thing is, Kellner's argument seems to be a pretty cut-and-dried application of Rawls' Duty of Fair Play (for a brief discussion, check here and scroll to part II, "Fairness"). Now, this idea--very roughly, that beneficiaries of a collectively provided good ought to 'do their share' in paying for it--has been criticized by ny. But at least in suitably qualified form, it holds a lot of intuitive appeal, and people use it all the time. If there's a public good that (a) I genuinely value and (b) I actively choose to enjoy and (c) would not be provided but for the voluntary contributions of the beneficiaries, don't I have a moral duty to 'do my part'?" [read full post]
These days I like to think of myself as more civil libertarian than advertising producer, so I don't believe that viewers need to keep their buttocks planted on the sofa during every soap and mouthwash ad that comes on the screen to avoid being guilty of "theft."

The only way I could concede there is some value to this Rawlsian contention is in the increasingly rare instance of "free TV" - not including cable, pay-per-view, and public television, where you're under an honor system paying membership fees for the privilege of not watching commercials, and so on - and even then, I say "it all comes out in the wash" if viewers channel-surf or take a fridge break.

Which brings up more questions. If you channel-surf during a commercial break on Program A, you may very well switch to a concurrent commercial break during Program B, C, or D, and so on, or you may land on another program you like better than Program A. Does the "enjoyment value" of the few minutes of alternate programming you surf to require you to watch the commercials on those networks? If you channel-surf, are the networks airing shows B, C, and D "stealing" advertising dollars from Network A and the advertisers buying spots during Program A?

What about delayed viewing? If I record a program, am I then also obliged to watch the commercials every time I view the recording? I say "no," because I believe advertisers who pay for spots only purchase those specific time slots within regularly scheduled programming, not additional private viewings by individuals. How about this: if I record a show and then play it later for a group of friends (with commercial breaks intact!) do the advertisers owe me money, since I am acting as a "network subcontractor" of sorts by giving their products additional 'unpaid' exposure?

For that matter, it can be argued that networks are being cheated out of advertising revenue if people do watch commercials within viewer-recorded programs (videotape, TiVo, etc.) after they have watched the commercials during regularly scheduled programming.

Let's say - for the sake of argument - that an advertiser pays $50,000 for one airing of a 30-second spot. If the spot is seen again when the viewer watches their videotape, the network loses money since the program gives additional benefit or "enjoyment" - but the network receives no further payment from the advertisers, who benefit from additional gratis viewings ("impressions") of their spot.

Using Kellner's logic turned on its head, advertisers should be actively discouraging viewers from watching their spots during taped programming, since this constitutes advertisers' "stealing" from networks. Perhaps Kellner would again blame the viewers, as being "accessories" to theft by videotaping shows for later consumption. The whole issue becomes disgustingly convoluted in a hurry.

Basically, I don't agree with the contention that viewers are "under a contract with the network" to watch commercials within a television program. Advertisers certainly don't bank on this assumption, and ratings and audience surveys demonstrate that viewers are a fickle, channel-surfing lot. If I understand the process correctly, advertisers pay rates proportional to a show's metered popularity during a given timeslot. The price of spots is calculated according to secret formulae estimating what percentage of viewers will actually be watching; no one [at least no honest network] promises advertisers that every viewer will remain planted at attention in their seats for the duration of the entire program.

Advertisers get the "luck of the draw" of which viewers actually take in their commercials...you're likely to catch the attention of people who are not thirsty or hungry (unless you're selling food or drink), hearing Nature's call, or who are actually interested in the commercial or the product being hawked. In that sense it behooves advertisers and networks to do their research to make ads entertaining, compelling, and relevant to their audiences to maximize their ad's effectiveness: you can't really "guilt" a male sports fan into sitting through a mid-game tampon commercial because he "owes it to the network."

Which doesn't really respond to Kellner (or Rawls) - but I think most people would agree that attention to advertising is a voluntary act, and because few audiences are truly captive, the advertiser's role is to "fish" for customers using attractive, interesting "bait." Some of the best commercials are far more memorable than the programming they're placed in.

Drivers are not "under contract" with owners of land adjacent to highways to view billboards, just as riders waiting for a train are not bidden to read ad posters for the privilege of standing on the platform, although the their placement may help defray costs. But many drivers, riders (and TV viewers) do look, and some actually buy the products advertised. In this sense, the system works as it should, even if only a small fraction of any given program's viewers actually go on to buy the products being shown in ads. If advertisers are getting less "bang for their buck" these days, it's not necessarily because people are skipping ads or using the bathroom more frequently. There is unavoidable audience dilution when viewers have dozens - even hundreds - of simultaneously-aired programs to choose from.

Bottom line: viewers love being able choose from "500-plus" channels at the click of a button, and I think networks and advertisers probably shouldn't complain that their slices of the pie are shrinking. After all, there's so much more pie to go around.

UPDATE: CS guest Milbarge follows up to Peter Northup.

Dartmouth Prof Develops "Photoshopping™ Detection" Algorithm 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
With today's image-processing software, the phrase "the camera doesn't lie" is practically worthless. Or is it? From the New York Times [registration required]: Hany Farid, a Dartmouth college professor, has developed a mathematical method for detecting tampering and alteration in many digital images.
For example, when two images are spliced together - like the picture of a shark attacking a helicopter that has circulated around the Internet in the past few years - one or both of the original pictures usually has to be shrunk, enlarged or rotated to make the pieces fit together. And those changes, no matter how artful, leave clues behind.

Take a picture that is 10 pixels by 10 pixels, for a total of 100. Stretch it to 10 by 20 pixels, and image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop will assign the picture's original pixels to every other slot in the new picture. That leaves 100 pixels "blank," or without values. Image-editing software fills in the gaps by examining what their neighbors look like, and then applying an average. To oversimplify, if pixel A is blue, and pixel C is red, the blank pixel B will become purple. This kind of averaging becomes "pretty obvious" after some analysis of the image, Professor Farid said.

In tests on several hundred doctored photos, this technique for detecting changes proved to be virtually foolproof if the picture quality was high enough. Uncompressed TIFF image files, which contain enormous amounts of data, were like an open book to Professor Farid's team.

But Professor Farid said that for now the technique does not work as well with files created in JPEG, the compressed picture format most commonly used online. As the size of a JPEG file shrinks, the correlations between pixels become much less obvious. "At 90 percent quality, it falls apart very quickly," Professor Farid noted. [read full article]
Of course, for every countermeasure, someone always seems to develop a counter-countermeaure.

Thursday, July 22, 2004
"Am I Racist For Not Wanting To Appear Racist?" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Milbarge at Begging the Question (guest-blogging at Crescat Sententia) brings up this important issue of social decorum: is it racist for a white person to consciously take steps to not appear racist in public? Here's the scenario:
I live in a city with a fairly sizeable black population, especially in the area between my home and office. I walk to work, so it's not at all uncommon for me to pass several black people in those few blocks. My office is on a different street than my home, so at some point in my walk I have to cross the street. Also, I use a canvas briefcase-style bag with a shoulder strap. Depending on the material of what I'm wearing, and what I've packed in the bag, and how slumped I am that day, sometimes it slips down my shoulder and requires an occasional hoist. Oh, and by the way, I'm white.

This situation happens to me quite a bit: I'm walking to work, and either (1) the street lights change in a way that makes this a convenient point to cross the street, (2) the bag starts to slip a little, or (3) both. But I notice a black person walking down the block towards me. So, I consciously avoid either crossing the street or hiking my bag up so as not to appear like I'm acting out of fear of the black person. I especially find myself doing this (or rather, not doing it) when the other person is a youngish black man. Maybe I should also point out that I'm male (I think a woman clutching her purse closer to her looks different than a man doing the same with a briefcase), and I don't appear nervous or skittish when encountered by strangers on the street. [read full post]
I found the question intriguing, because I frequently find myself in similar situations here in Chicago, and I think it's even hard to talk about the subject without saying something that comes across as racist. That makes it a tough question to answer, because it's something of a "Catch-22." You may be perceived as racist regardless of what external action you take.

Which brings me to this point: these common scenarios involve "racism by way of perception" by the observer as well as the observed. Is it not also "a bit racist" for a Black person to assume that a white person's actions (say, hitching up their bag or crossing the street) are in reaction to - and fear of - their presence and skin color, rather than actions taken for other, innocuous reasons? As Milbarge says, what if my bag is slipping and I just want to adjust it? What if it's just a convenient time to cross the street?

That's the crux of the problem. Many Black people have undoubtedly had the experience of observing fearful individuals cross the street or clutching their handbags closely before, and it's difficult to know the internal motivations of any person that's crossing your path. If you've been a target of these actions in a racially-motivated context, it's deeply traumatic - and it would be natural and somewhat justified to assume that a white person's hitch-of-the-shoulder-bag means contains an insidious wealth of meaning.

I suppose the best we can do is speak frankly of the issues, and be conscious of our own motivations regardless of our race or gender. Milbarge's post - and the subsequent discussions - are a good example of this healthy consciousness-building.

Sometimes a hitch of the bag is just a hitch of the bag, and nothing more.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004
Random Links for your Surfing Pleasure 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
  • Links About Sausages: that's what they named their page, I wasn't trying to be clever.
  • Edward Gorey's Gashly Crumb Tinies, a sadistically good way to teach kids the alphabet: my favorites are Fanny and Neville [from James]
  • Speaken ze Dunglish? [via Language Log]
  • Not just for the tinfoil hat set: Dalhousie University's Quick Do-It-Yourself Guide to Radiation Decontamination: because you just never know...
  • ...if you happen to have a Radioactive Boy Scout living on your block.
  • Or any other kind of dirt...which brings us to the fascinating story of Dr. Bronner, the "Pope of Soap".
  • From Bubblegum to Sky's Mario Fernandez recreates the legendary sparkly AM pop sound for the Oughties [free mp3s!!].
  • The Soup Lady's recipe for Banana Farfel
  • He Loves Rock N' Roll: Kenny Laguna Talks About His Life With Joan Jett: interview with Joan's manager of 25 years
  • BeSonic: A German-based free mp3 site with thousands of tracks by independent and unknown artists (sorry, no illegal tracks here; all have been voluntarily placed by the artists). A bit slow on the servers, so high-speed connections are highly recommended. But, oh, the places you'll go...

  • Linda Ronstadt's Bum's Rush, Revisited 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Remember the Linda Ronstadt "Fahrenheit 9/11" fracas at the Aladdin Casino last Saturday? Ed Brayton at Dispatches From The Culture Wars (an excellent blog, by the way) makes a good point about the uproar - it's not really about Michael Moore, or the movie Fahrenheit 9/11. It's about the hooliganism.
    "I've read this article several times and the only response that comes to my mind is this: have they lost their fucking minds? Someone dedicating a song to someone whose views you disagree with does not justify or excuse vandalism, nor does it give you a right to demand your money back, you shallow, self-important assholes.

    Who the hell did you think you were going to see, for crying out loud? This is Linda Ronstadt, lover of Governor Moonbeam, supporter of every liberal cause for the last 40 years. You paid to see her perform and then you were so shocked to find out she likes Michael Moore that you felt justified in tearing down posters and spilling your drinks? Grow the fuck up and get over yourselves.

    And the Aladdin should be ashamed of themselves for catering to these pathetic jerks. They should have charged their rooms for the damage they caused and reminded them that having political views does not give them the right to throw a temper tantrum just because someone dares not to share them."
    And, it's about the money. If the casino crowd hadn't gone monkeyshite - literally - I seriously doubt that Aladdin president Bill Timmins would have taken it upon himself to have Ronstadt thrown out of the hotel for the sake of his own political views. After all - think of all the gambling dollars that would have sucked out the Aladdin's front door had she been allowed to stay.

    A more detailed account of the incident (which has "the rest of the story" - basically, that the near-bankrupt Aladdin Hotel-Casino had only hired Ronstadt on a single-night contract, that she has been making the "Desperado" Moore dedication almost every night throughout her summer tour, and that Linda is reportedly not "in the peforming spirit" at this point in time) appears in the Las Vegas Sun.

    On a similar "you knew who I was when you hired me" note, check out this post by Sheelzebub at XX Blog, regarding Slim-Fast's recent booting of spokesperson Whoopi Goldberg for her anti-Bush comments:
    I think Slim-Fast has every right to fire their spokespeople. Still, I find it odd that they were so offended. I mean, they didn’t actually think about who they were hiring? Whoopi Goldberg is the same woman who quite graphically showed how Ronald Reagan was screwing the air traffic controllers in her earlier skits. She’s the same woman who made Oscar audiences either laugh or cringe at her bawdy jokes. She’s one of the queens of crudity.

    It reminds me of the Roseanne Barr/national anthem controversy. For heaven’s sake, she wasn’t known to have a good voice. She was known for being crude. You mean to tell me that no one had any idea that she would do what she always does?

    Companies routinely do this. They hire people who are well-known and controversial, and then can them when it gets too hot.

    Tuesday, July 20, 2004
    "You are getting sleepy," said the electric fish. 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    One genre of music I really enjoy for background listening is "downtempo ambient"...okay, you can call it "sleeping music." No words, just the ebb and flowing of liquid sound transitions. Laraaji's Flow Goes The Universe, Steven Halpern's Spectrum Suite and many of Brian Eno's Ambient works are wonderful examples. But this one takes the prize: Robert Rich's Somnium utilizes the large capacity of DVD format to contain 7 hours of ambient mellowness on a single disc, enough for a full night's sleep for many:
    Instrumental sounds include analog and digital electronics, processed flutes and acoustic piano, lap steel guitar with Sustainiac Model B, chimes and bowed metal. Environmental sounds recorded by Robert Rich in California, Iowa, Minnesota, Washington and Mexico. Additional sounds include electric fish (Apteronotus leptorhyncus) recorded at Scripps Institute with the assistance of Calvin Wong, and processed environments from the library of Andy Wiskes.
    I've just heard Part 3 on streaming radio this afternoon, and I'll probably have to get this disc because I want to know what an electric fish [pdf] sounds like.

    So, what's up with the fishiness? Let's just say the previous snapper story made me have a little flashback: about two years ago, I received a frozen red snapper (okay, it's probably a lane snapper) as a birthday present, to cook Chinese-style. Unfortunately, once I looked at its little eyes, I didn't have it in me to bone and filet the poor thing - so to this day it remains entombed in hoarfrost, in a Ziploc™ bag, in the coldest part of our freezer. So when I dig periodically into the recesses of Deepest Freezer, looking for a waylaid bag of peas or strawberries, I occasionally say "hello" to our permanent kitchen resident, The Snapper.

    Know Thy Snapper 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Will the Real Red snapper please stand up?Next time you purchase "red snapper" at a restaurant or seafood counter, be warned: it probably isn't.

    A University of North Carolina Chapel Hill science class discovered (by accident, during an experiment to sequence red snapper DNA) that about 75% of fish marketed as "red snapper" (Lutjanus campechanus) is actually one of two more common - cheaper - species, the lane snapper (Lutjanus synagris), or vermilion snapper (Rhomboplites aurorubens). But before you say, "I don't really care if it's red snapper, vermilion snapper or a gosh-darned scarlet snapper!" - consider that customers like yourself are being defrauded of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars each year by paying premium prices for a mislabeled, relatively cheap fish.

    You're best off purchasing whole fish: not only can you personally verify the freshness of your finny purchase, but there are subtle visual difference between the species. For example, marinefisheries.org states that the real Red McCoy is...
    "color pinkish red over entire body, whitish below; long triangular snout; anal fin sharply pointed; no dark lateral spot"
    the lane snapper is
    "color silvery-pink to reddish with short, irregular pink and yellow lines on its sides; diffuse black spot, about as large as the eye; the dorsal fin centered above the lateral line; outer margin of caudal fin blackish."
    ...while the imposter vermilion snapper,
    "color of entire body reddish, with a series of short, irregular lines on its sides, diagonal blue lines formed by spots on the scales above the lateral line; sometimes with yellow streaks below the lateral line; large canine teeth absent; orientation of mouth and eye give it the appearance of looking upward; no dark lateral spot."
    There's also a major difference in size - the red snapper generally weighs up to 20 pounds (the record was a 46-and-a-half-pounder), while the lane and vermilion are usually one pound or less. All of this, of course, is moot if you're buying skinless, cut filets or cooked snapper. In that case, you should probably talk to the students at UNC Chapel Hill about a DNA test. For the fish, not you.

    Even more disturbing: your fancy appetizer may actually be Devils on a Manta Ray's Back - it is also alleged that a large percentage of what are sold as "scallops" are actually circular pieces of meat cut from the "wing" of skates and rays. But, as Begging To Differ points out,
    In the Case of the Fake Red Snapper, I'm guessing that most people won't care whether or not their snapper is red or lane, as long as it tastes good. A small number higher end restaurants and suppliers may take steps to prove that they're really selling Lutjanus campechanus, but that's about it. Everyone else will gladly eat lane snapper while calling it red snapper just as others eat skate ray meat cut out with a cookie cutter and call it scallops.
    According to Dr. Peter B. Marko, assistant professor of marine sciences at UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences,
    "Red snapper is the most sought-after snapper species and has the highest prices, and many people, including me, believe it tastes best," Marko said. "Mislabeling to this extent not only defrauds consumers, but also risks adversely affecting estimates of stock size for this species if it influences the reporting of catch data used in fisheries management. The potential for this kind of bias in fisheries data depends on at what point in the commercial industry fish are mislabeled, which is something that we currently know little about."
    It's possible the snapper switcheroo has been going on for many years, considering the international range of aliases for lane snapper:
    English language common names include lane snapper, candy striper, rainbow snapper, bream, godbless, mexican snapper, moonlight grunt, pot snapper, redfish, redtailed snapper, snapper, spot snapper, and williacke. Other common names include areoco (Portuguese), argente (French), bermejuelo (Spanish), biajaiba (Spanish), chino (Spanish), coral largu (Papiamento), kisenfuedai (Japanese), luciano-riscado (Portuguese), lucjan smugowy (Polish), manchego (Spanish), mancheva (Spanish), paguette (French), pargo (Spanish), pargo biajaiba (Spanish), pargo guanapo (Spanish), pargo viajaiba (Spanish), rayado (Spanish), rouge (French), royac (French), sarde (French), vermelho-arioco (Portuguese), villajaiba (Spanish), vivaneau gazon (French), vivaneau raye (French), and yeux de boeuf (French).
    University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill press release
    Science Daily
    Marginal Revolution: "Fishy Fraud"
    Begging to Differ: A Free Market Failure

    Monday, July 19, 2004
    Ronstadt Booted from Casino for Fahrenheit 9/11 Comment 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    From News4Jax:
    Before singing an encore at the Aladdin hotel-casino [Saturday], [singer Linda] Ronstadt called [filmmaker Michael] Moore a "great American patriot" and "someone who is spreading the truth" - and encouraged everybody to see his movie "Fahrenheit 9/11."

    Her comments drew loud boos, and some of the 4,500 people in attendance stormed out of the theater. People also tore down her posters and tossed cocktails into the air.

    The president of the Aladdin, Bill Timmins, was watching the show and decided Ronstadt had to go - for good. She wasn't even allowed back in her luxury suite and was escorted off the property. Timmins, who called the incident "a very ugly scene," said as long as he's running the Aladdin, Ronstadt won't be coming back.
    Anyone care to bet on Nevada's map-'color' come November? I say 'get it on tape'; if you're going to get political on stage, make sure you're on network television, and not just playing to a captive house. That way, if you get a tough crowd, you're less likely to get lynched by yahoos. She's lucky she didn't get beaned with a Brandy Alexander.

    Engineered Hit Songs, and The Lone Gunmen 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Truth may be stranger than fiction, and few TV shows got stranger than the ill-fated The Lone Gunmen; and now, University of Chicago undergrad Loren Wilson purports to have developed an algorithm that predicts the "hit factor" of songs, using a database of information gleaned from online reviews. Bear with me while I explain the [tenuous] connection...
    Wilson's hardly the first to try to bring a little objectivity to the business of art. Recent Princeton grad Katherine Milkman was featured in the New York Times on June 1 for her own BA project, in which she used computer-driven statistical analysis to look for patterns among the short stories accepted by the New Yorker between 1992 and 2001. (Her conclusions confirmed a few suspicions in the literary community: after a change in the magazine's fiction editorship in 1995, there were more stories set in the New York area, more first-person narratives, and more works by men.)

    In the mid-90s, the Russian conceptual-art team of Komar and Melamid made waves by creating "Most Wanted" paintings for 14 different countries, which combined the elements that scored best in national market-research polls. (Denmark's "Most Wanted" is an impressionistic seaside pastoral that includes a pair of pirouetting ballerinas and a man in slacks who's planting the Danish colors like a golf caddy replacing a flagstick.) A follow-up project led to a CD of similarly constructed music-according to Komar and Melamid's Web site, "The Most Unwanted Song" will be enjoyed by "fewer than 200 individuals of the world's total population."

    But a Spanish company called Polyphonic HMI has made what's probably the most disturbing attempt to apply market research or statistics to the artistic process. Employing proprietary "Hit Song Science" technology, the service analyzes the potential commercial viability of pop songs for the recording industry-according to Polyphonic's PR, this process identifies the "underlying mathematical patterns in unreleased music and compares them to the patterns in recent hit songs." [read full article, "Rock By Numbers"]
    It sounds suspiciously like something I read on The Lone Gunmen website (mysteriously still being hosted, while the X-Files official website went kerplooie back in November 2003)
    STRAIGHT FROM THE MAN by Melvin Frohike

    Your bad taste in music may not be your fault.

    If you find yourself ingesting an endless diet of Britney Spears, N'Sync, the Backstreet Boys, or whatever other half-assed corporate amalgamation is out there pretending to be music, it may be due to influences beyond your control. I became suspicious while tuning in to a Christina Aguilera music video, purely by accident, mind you, and an inordinate amount of my attention was focused on the song. My foot was tapping, and I felt good.

    My suspicions aroused, I subjected her CD, as well as the rest of these bubble gum noise-makers, to a battery of audio tests, comparing them to classic recordings by Elvis, the Beatles, and Pink Floyd. The results are undeniable. The pop pretenders all showed evidence of ultrasonic sound that have the potential to stimulate the hypothalamus or the pleasure centers of the brain. The high-pitched squeal similar to the tone created by a dog whistle, is practically inaudible except when processed through an ultrasonic interferometer. The tone balances on the edge of the human limits of hearing, and really only affects the younger generations of music listeners, before natural (or other) hearing loss occurs.

    The record company moguls hem and haw, claiming this "noise" is a natural byproduct of the digital recording process, but we all know these are lies perpetrated by the partly faithful. A source in the recording industry, a sound engineer who only wanted to be identified as "Yams," claims the intoxicated subliminal pleasure tone is standard nowadays. "No hit record reaches the marketplace without it," Yams stated.

    So now what? How do we protect our children from this crap? Honestly, we can't. If they want to listen, they'll listen, no matter how much we try to stop them. But next time you're thinking of telling little Oscar or Sally to turn their music down…wait a moment. A little damage to their eardrums may not be such a bad thing, and before you know it, they'll be dusting off your old copy of Dark Side of the Moon.
    Like, totally, man. Seriously, The Lone Gunmen may have been utter crap, but it was oddly prescient: the pilot episode from March 2001 featured a scenario where a commerical airliner was taken over by terrorists who programmed the autopilot to crash it into Manhattan's Twin Towers. Now that's frightening. I wonder if the show's writers got called in for questioning for that one.

    EURion: You Can't Photoshop™ Money Any More? 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    click to visit the US Treasury's 'Rules of Use' page

    I came upon this Big Brotherly tidbit today via SpudArt:
    Photoshop CS would not allow me to open up the scans of the 20-dollar bills from the previous post about Thoughts on money. This was the error message: This application does not support the unauthorized processing of banknote images. For more information, select the information button below for Internet-based information on restrictions for copying and distributing banknote images or go to www.rulesforuse.org

    Creepy. Is there some sort of man inside photoshop that is looking at my images? They probably sent an email to the feds getting me in trouble! What. What's that at the door?
    Intriguing. I haven't tried scanning or processing bills for a long time (not that I was up to no good the last time I did), and my version of Photoshop is legacy (v. 5.5) so I couldn't verify this feature for myself - but I decided to surf and see what fell out of the Web. A visitor named Donna provided this helpful link in her SpudArt comment:
    A number of new designs of banknotes contain a pattern known as the EURion constellation which can be used to detect their identity as banknotes to prevent counterfeiting using modern inexpensive digital scanners, colour printers, and image processing software. This feature prevents the user from scanning notes, or even printing. It was discovered after some users tried to scan euro banknotes in image editors such as Adobe Photoshop, or Paint Shop Pro.

    The EURion constellation consists of a pattern of five small circles, which is repeated across areas of the banknote at different orientations.

    The EURion constellation was first detected on the new Euro banknotes. The EURion constellation also appears on recent British banknotes, and the back of the new U.S. $20 bill.
    Okay, maybe a built-in image recognition blocker is useful in combating some counterfeiters, but what if this technology can be taken further? These particular filtering applications seem to search for a specific pattern in an image, rather than broader, "fuzzy logic" recognition of a specific face, or text pattern.

    (As I love to do) let's play this out to its absurd extension. Conceivably, software developers could code a specific person's biometric facial coordinates (a la the new passport ID systems) - perhaps preventing satirically-minded "Photoshoppers™" from manipulating an image of, say, the President's face?

    Could software recognize certain parts of human anatomy and prevent processing (or downloading, or saving) of "indecent" images? 2-D and 3-D image-based search engine technology exists, capable of tracking down pages with pictures corresponding to basic shapes "drawn" in a javascript menu box. They're rather rudimentary at this stage, at least in public release; if you draw a pear shape, for instance, you may retrieve images ranging from snowmen to chew toys for dogs. Fortunately, I don't think image-editing software is quite smart enough yet, and if manufacturers manage to make it so, we'll have more to worry about than some snarky Photoshopper putting George W. Bush's head on a potato.

    More here on the EURion Constellation algorithm and an image of EURion in use [PDF] on foreign currency, as documented by Markus Kuhn. Also, if you're PERL-handy, here is a link to a script where you can "EURion-ize" any color image. [Warning - I haven't tried this script or downloaded it, so use at your own risk]

    Friday, July 16, 2004
    Phriday Phood Phun: "We want to cleanse ourselves with the fat of the sweet, dead pig." 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Get your merit badge in treyf soapmaking this weekend, courtesy of this twisted tutorial from The Black Table - "From Bacon to Soap: The Impossible Journey":
    Why? The question of why may befuddle even the most nobly, batty individuals, but that doesn't diminish the importance of having something you hold near and dear to you in your soap dish. Bacon is truth, friend. It's not only a food that knows no culinary boundaries, it is a forceful, vengeful, little pile of fat that loves to make things crispy and dangerous.

    Bacon makes everything crazy. Tie two hot dogs together with bacon. Strangle Bay scallops with bacon. Devil an egg and then stab it with bacon. Stick seventy-seven strips of bacon up a Cornish hen's a....
    No, seriously. After this laborious, ancient and hazardous [e.g. requires a bottle of lye crystals] project is finished, you will have a lovely set of ice-cube shaped bacon soaps that cleanse the hands and smell nothing like pork. The two weeks you'll spend scrubbing down your kitchen are only a minor drawback. [via LDMA's Life in the Wor Zone]

    On the other hand, if you're in the mood for something sweeter and more Republican this weekend, don't bother with Condoleeza Rice - try Star Spangled Ice Cream™:
    I suspect not everyone will go for Star Spangled Ice Cream - Ice Cream with a Conservative Flavor. They feature such flavors as Iraqui Road, Choc and Awe, Smaller Govern-Mint, and Gun Nut.

    Somehow I don't think Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, will go for these flavors. After all, Ben & Jerry's flavors lean a little more to the left: Cherry Garcia of course, but also Economic Crunch, Entangled Mints, and Doonesbury. [via FoodGoat]
    Worship at the gleaming altar of almighty Butterfat! Even better - why not try a game of Firebox™ Chocolate-Chili Russian Roulette? Each milk chocolate bullet contains a tasty praline center. No, wait...I lied. One of the "bullets" on the circular tray contains what appears to be a mega-Scoville-unit birdseye chili pepper, and believe me, you'll know when you or one your game buddies "bites the bullet." [via Dog Snot Diaries]

    And finally, from the "haute guilty pleasure" files, this recipe for Fresh Wasabi-Panko Soup Balls (Dry Ice Style) with Reverse Noodle Sauce, Truffle Foam, and Caviar, courtesy of Crescat Sententia guest-blogger and gourmand extraordinare, Waddling Thunder:
    Make a cheese soup, spiced with Fresh wasabi flown in yesterday from Japan ($10 supplement). Pour the soup into ice trays, and freeze in dry ice. Dip the frozen soup balls into beaten quail’s eggs, and then bread with panko (Japanese bread crumbs). Repeat twice to ensure tight seal.

    Freeze again in the dry ice, then remove and fry in mixture of olive and sesame oils. Once brown, quickly remove and place in a martini dish lined with Reverse Noodle Sauce (a clever deconstruction of the ingredients of noodle into a sauce). Top dish with truffle foam, with or without tandoori spices, and then add Caviar ($40 supplement). Serve with chopsticks.
    This reminds me of a very elegant version of an odd 80's Japanese convenience food called "Soup-Sand" - breaded, fried soup-filled (!) patties served on a sandwich bun.

    Thursday, July 15, 2004
    Chipping Away Personal Liberties: Mexico Initiates ID Implants for Law Enforcement 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    About eighteen months ago, I posted about the UK's proposal to use implantable active ID 'chips' in children to facilitate tracking in case of abduction; now in Mexico, workers in the judicial system are being 'chipped' for security reasons:
    It's a pioneering application of a technology that is widely used in animals but not in humans. Mexico's top federal prosecutors and investigators began receiving chip implants in their arms in November in order to get access to restricted areas inside the attorney general's headquarters, said Antonio Aceves, general director of Solusat, the company that distributes the microchips in Mexico. Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha and 160 of his employees were implanted at a cost to taxpayers of $150 for each rice grain-sized chip.

    [click here for a photo of the chip being implanted in the upper arm of a Mexican judicial employee - not for the squeamish]

    More are scheduled to get "tagged" in coming months, and key members of the Mexican military, the police and the office of President Vicente Fox might follow suit, Aceves said. Fox's office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

    A spokeswoman for Macedo de la Concha's office said she could not comment on Aceves' statements, citing security concerns. But Macedo himself mentioned the chip program to reporters Monday, saying he had received an implant in his arm. He said the chips were required to enter a new federal anti-crime information center. "It's only for access, for security," he said.

    The chips also could provide more certainty about who accessed sensitive data at any given time. In the past, the biggest security problem for Mexican law enforcement has been corruption by officials themselves. Aceves said his company eventually hopes to provide Mexican officials with implantable devices that can track their physical location at any given time, but that technology is still under development. The chips that have been implanted are manufactured by VeriChip Corp., a subsidiary of Applied Digital Solutions Inc. (ADSX) of Palm Beach, Fla. [via Evil Tangerine]
    But why not a dfferent, less-invasive type of security measure - retinal scans, for instance? This would provide positive, hard-to-falsify identification without the possibility of implanted chips being surgically removed and implanted into unauthorized persons [and as Evil Tangerine mentions in the comments section, the information gathered from ID chip scans theoretically could be "skimmed" as easily as magnetic-stripe card data].

    Current chip-scanners are smaller, cheaper and more portable than retinal scanning devices, and retinal scans are chiefly useful in regulating access to specific secured areas, rather in than verifying identity in the larger overall environment...which makes me suspect that Mexico's initiative is actually a "trial balloon" for more widespread future use of active "tracking" ID chips, as mentioned by Solusat's Aceves.

    For more, check out the VeriChip website, which is offering special incentives and discounts for private individuals who register for an implantable ID chip:
    Use of advanced VeriChip technology means the risk of theft, loss, duplication or counterfeiting of data is substantially reduced or eliminated. VeriChip products are being actively developed for a variety of security, defense, homeland security and secure-access applications, such as authorized access control to government and private sector facilities, research laboratories, and sensitive transportation resources, including the area of airport security [ital. mine].

    In these markets, VeriChip is able to function as standalone personal verification technology or it is able to operate in conjunction with other security devices such as ID badges and advanced biometrics. In the financial arena, VeriChip has enormous potential as a personal verification technology that could help curb identity theft and prevent fraudulent access to banking and credit card accounts.
    Personally, I'm horrified that the personal use of tracking chips may become widespread, for many reasons. Most people, including myself, don't reasonably believe that any one agency or government could (or would) suddenly implement a policy mandating widespread use of ID chips. However, what usually happens is that technologies and identity tracking methods like these first become intriguing - then optional, then convenient, then finally, indispensable.

    Remember that Social Security numbers were originally intended for a specific, limited purpose; but today, it's almost impossible to function in our society without this number. You can't apply for a bank account, a driver's license, enroll in a school or apply for a job without providing your "digits." Since the use of Social Security numbers is now both unavoidable and fraught with high potential for abuse and identity theft, the next logical step is implementing a more robust individual-linked identification scheme. Frighteningly, the implanted ID chip may be that next step.

    I predict that as in Mexico, ID chipping will first be used in the U.S. in high-security applications like military and government installations. Then, it may become an acceptable private-sector method for "securing" electronic commerce and preventing identity theft, because the give-up-a-little-liberty-for-a-little-security crowd will likely become voluntary early adopters. I can see the TV ads now: flashy, hip young "chipped" folks showing how easy it is pay for purchases and get ID'd at the coolest nightclubs without opening a purse or wallet.

    "Got chip? Because ID cards are so 1999."

    Wednesday, July 14, 2004
    Brazilian Doctor Convicted of Statutory Rape Freed Because Victims Married  
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    A Southern Hemisphere eye-opener...Juan Non-Volokh at Volokh Conspiracy reports on an egregious example of Brazil's statutory rape law:
    Dr. Boadyr Veloso, a "politically prominent" physician, was convicted in 2000 for statutory rape of seven girls, and sentenced to ten years and eight months in prison. In February 2004, however, Dr. Veloso was released and his sentence nullified. Why? Because all seven of the girls with whom he had sex had since married. The law in Brazil apparently provides that a sex criminal's conviction can be nullified if his victim gets married.

    As explained by one politician quoted in the story, this law was adopted in the 1940s, when "a woman's destiny was marriage, and a woman who was raped lost her chance to fulfil that destiny. So marriage was seen as resolving the damage of sexual abuse." In other words, if a young girl is raped, the only harm is the reduced likelihood a man will wish to marry her. How offensive. How bizarre. At least one member of Brazil's legislature is seeking to have the law repealed.

    The story includes other interesting details of Dr. Veloso's case: Several of the women involved were married under suspicious circumstances. Three of the women were married by the same justice of the peace on the same day, and then same official married three more just twelve days later. Dr. Veloso always maintained his innocence of all charges, yet there are also reports he paid some of the women to marry. For those interested, the story is "Convicted of Rape, Brazilian Doctor Finds Way to Remain Free," by Matt Moffett, in the Wall Street Journal, July 12, 2004, A1.
    Basically, it's not a statutory rape law, it's a damaged-goods property law:
    Another reader e-mails this "sidebar" to the story: Prior to January 11, 2004, Brazilian law allowed a man to obtain an annulment in the first 10 days of the marriage if he discovered that his wife was not a virgin. Mt correspondent adds: "One wonders if Veloso's sentence would've been reinstated, had any of the husbands decided to annul their marriages." Indeed.
    ...with a 10-day 'money-back guarantee'. I admit I was surprised that this law was adopted only about 60 years ago: in its archaic attitude, it strikes me as something from the 19th Century or older. [also on Bloomberg.com]

    FMA Fizzled? 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    The Federal Marriage Amendment failed to pass in the Senate today. Some wise words on the decision, coming from Republican John McCain:
    "The constitutional amendment we're debating today strikes me as antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans," McCain said. "It usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."

    McCain also said the amendment "will not be adopted by Congress this year, nor next year, nor any time soon until a substantial majority of Americans are persuaded that such a consequential action is as vitally important and necessary as the proponents feel it is today."

    "The Founders wisely made certain that the Constitution is difficult to amend and, as a practical political matter, can't be done without overwhelming public approval. And thank God for that," he said.

    Monday, July 12, 2004
    Are Politicians Who Fail to Vote Their Personal Beliefs "Wishy-Washy"? 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Alas, A Blog has a thought-provoking post that begins by discussing the nature of political candidates' positions on moral/theological issues (namely John Kerry's somewhat vague position on abortion) and then brings up a broader essential question: are politicians and lawmakers required to legislate according to their personal - and religious - beliefs?

    If they do not, and they vote in the manner they feel is best for their constituency, rather than a position aligned with their personal conscience and the tenets of their faith, are they evasive, wishy-washy, or - pardon - flippy-floppy? Alas, A Blog's Amp says:
    I dislike the way [Family Scholars Blog writer] David [Blankenhorn] is conflating a reasonable, complex position with evasiveness - as if no politician is allowed to take a nuanced position on any moral question. In essence, all Kerry is saying is that his religion tells him that abortion is immoral, but at the same time he doesn't believe that all moral questions are best dealt with by a government ban. Rather, on some issues - including issues with a strong connection to religious beliefs, such as abortion - he wants all Americans to have the freedom to make their own moral choices, even if they make choices Kerry would personally disagree with.

    That's a more sophisticated position than David's implied position (judging from this post, David apparently believes that legislators are required to legally ban every act they feel is immoral), but it's hardly evasive. In fact, it's the position that a large number of ordinary Americans hold on abortion, and on many other issues (pornography, alcohol, gambling, etc).

    I say this as a partisan - although I am not a registered Democrat, I intend to vote for Kerry. Nonetheless, there is a tendency in politics - on both sides - to interpret any complex or nuanced position as evasiveness or flip-flopping. [read full post]
    I think Amp hits the nail on the head here, pointing out that if we truly expected politicians to pass legislation banning every act that violates their personal religious beliefs, "[f]ollowing this logic, shouldn't we criticize Senator Lieberman [as being "wishy-washy"] for not trying to outlaw eating pork?"

    Facetiousness aside, I agree that there is a growing, disturbing trend toward discouraging "complex or nuanced positions" in the political arena - which unfortunately, does nothing for the parties involved but burn bridges while simultaneously building walls. Personally, I have no problem with the "I don't believe in and wouldn't personally choose X, but I will support your right to X" stance, and I don't consider that evasive or wishy-washy. I feel this is a viewpoint that contains the essence of Americans' love of freedom and belief in personal responsibility.

    For instance, if we say "candidate A's religion forbids X, therefore candidate A is immoral/flippy-floppy/wishy-washy for not enacting legislation banning X," we have clearly erased the line between Church and State. But: if lawmakers pass a law permitting X, it does not follow that I (or my family) will be forced to X. However, if a law is passed banning X, the government co-opts my personal choice and moral decision. Granted, the weighty sticking points depend on what word we substitute for X: abortion, or murder? Same-sex marriage, or destruction of society as we know it? Sodomy, or the right to love the person of one's choice? Working on the Sabbath? Pork-eating?

    Do we want our political leaders to be our representatives, or "our brother's [and by extension, our] keepers"? A few centuries ago our predecessors wisely chose the former, knowing the latter can evolve quickly into another manifestation of monarchy. No, I don't think we should abandon laws and morality, but we should trust our finely tuned system of checks and balances to steer us from the slippery slope we so fear.

    (In that regard, I was actually very encouraged by the Supreme Court's recent decisions on the habeas corpus rights of enemy combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay, Internet pornography, and the phrase "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. These decisions did a great deal to restore my belief that even over a span of years or a Presidential term or two, the Constitutional process does generally tend toward reason and restraint, by a series of cyclical steering corrections and approximations - barring certain exceptional events, and periodic scares. I hope I'm not wrong. Read University of Chicago Prof. Cass Sunstein's New York Times op-ed piece, "The Smallest Court in the Land")

    Perhaps it is natural that during wartime we would want leaders to follow less "complex and nuanced" ideologies, ones that would bind us within a unified vision of personal and religious morality: if we make laws that compel all to follow a more restrictive, old-fashioned national code of conduct, we gain safety in numbers and defeat what could be called a "Tower of Babel" divisiveness that comes with cultural plurality. What's important to remember is that our country's plurality of faiths, creeds, nationalities and ways of life - and our slow, often begrudgingly increasing acceptance of such - is not the enemy. It is actually our greatest strength, and the democratic process is not necessarily the zero-sum game we're being told it is, where one interest group's victory translates into another's commensurate loss.

    I think that a political leader's choice to not legislate against viewpoints contradictory to their private beliefs is neither politically evasive or deceptive. It is at worst political expediency; at best, an understanding that no one individual (or political party) can presume to know what's best for every member of a democracy, and that these important decisions are better left to the people one has been elected to represent.

    MSNBC: Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security Mull Possible Election Day Postponement  
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    MSNBC has a rather surreal front-page story:
    ...sources tell NEWSWEEK, [Homeland Security chief Tom] Ridge's department last week asked the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel to analyze what legal steps would be needed to permit the postponement of the [2004 presidential] election were an attack to take place. Justice was specifically asked to review a recent letter to Ridge from DeForest B. Soaries Jr., chairman of the newly created U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

    Soaries noted that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001, was quickly suspended by that state's Board of Elections after the attacks that morning, "the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election." Soaries, a Bush appointee who two years ago was an unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress, wants Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress empowering his agency to make such a call.

    Homeland officials say that as drastic as such proposals sound, they are taking them seriously—along with other possible contingency plans in the event of an election-eve or Election Day attack. "We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election," says Brian Roehrkasse, a Homeland spokesman.
    What, worried that Al Qaeda might try to take away our treasured national freedoms? Let's beat them to it, and do it ourselves. Here's another scenario: an alternate terrorist strategy would be to strike around the time of January's inaguration if Kerry is elected, to take advantage of the the new administration's inexperience. So, how exactly could a postponement, unless taken proactively, rather than after an attack took place, preserve the democratic process?

    Do we really know how the people would vote in the event of an Election Day terror strike? Would they suddenly change party allegiances? Somehow, I think an Al Qaeda strike would be counterproductive in unseating George W. Bush. Unlike Spain, I don't think American voters would suddenly galvanize en masse to vote out the current administration following a terrorist attack...I even think Bush as the incumbent might gain clear electoral advantage if, heaven forbid, this attack took place. It also prompts the question of exactly how long Election Day could be delayed. A few weeks? A few months? A year? A few years? Until we win the War on Terror?

    Too many questions, but not enough answers.

    More on the developing story on Newsday, The Financial Times, and CNN.

    Sunday, July 11, 2004
    The Sticky Legal Points of Blogging? 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Overlawyered points out several cases where webloggers have been sued using very broad interpretations of libel law:
    In an article in USC Annenberg's Online Journalism Review, writer Mark Thompson examines some recent instances in which webloggers have been threatened with defamation actions on questionable grounds, such targets including Justene Adamec (Calblog) (see Jan. 22) and the pseudonymous "Atrios". One source of jeopardy is courts' penchant for narrowly construing statutes intended to protect press freedom: for example, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals refused to extend to the Internet a state law providing that newspapers and magazines cannot be sued for defamation until they've been given a chance to retract an item.
    But it isn't only the content of a blog that is susceptible to legal action. As the Thompson OJR article states, libel suits have been mounted against bloggers for defamatory statements made by readers in their comments areas, or for linking to statements on other websites that are perceived as defamatory.
    A case from Wisconsin from nearly a decade ago still stands as a cautionary tale for Web writers about the limits of many state statutes that deal with corrections and retractions designed to enable conscientious journalists to avoid crippling liability claims for errors that make it into print.

    In that case, Jeff Meneau of Wisconsin filed a defamation suit against Rosario Fuschetto for nasty comments that he made in a personal spat that spilled onto the bulletin board of SportsNet, an online forum for sports memorabilia dealers and collectors. Fuschetto tried to get the case dismissed on grounds that Meneau had failed to comply with Wisconsin's corrections law, which states that before proceeding with a libel or defamation lawsuit, the aggrieved party must issue a written demand for a retraction to give the publisher a "reasonable opportunity" to set the record straight.

    The Wisconsin Court of Appeals rejected Fuschetto's argument. The statute in question refers to "any newspaper, magazine or periodical" but makes no mention of other forms of writing such as personal letters or billboards. It certainly doesn't extend as far afield from traditional print media as the Internet, the court declared. "Applying the present libel laws to cyberspace or computer networks entails rewriting statutes that were written to manage physical, printed objects, not computer networks or services." That's a job for the legislature, the court concluded in 1995.

    Nearly a decade later, few legislatures have taken up that challenge, according to Thomas Burke, a media lawyer in the San Francisco office of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. "Most states do have a retraction statute. But very few states have a retraction statute which would seem to contemplate protection for statements that are published online," he says. Some of the statutes are worded just broadly enough that a Web writer with a creative pleading might be able to squeeze in the door, Burke adds. "But two-thirds of the statutes would need to be amended to contemplate the ways that people are now communicating online."

    In the meantime, says Burke, Web publishers should scrupulously follow their state's corrections law as if they were covered by it. To wit, they should promptly post corrections and retractions in a place that is as conspicuous as the content that could give rise to the libel suit. That may not preempt a libel claim against a Web writer, as it could for a print publisher expressly covered by the corrections law. But it could certainly help blunt any demand for hefty damages, Burke says.

    Luskin's attorney, Upton, a partner with the Boston firm of Hanify & King, agrees that Web writers won't necessarily get themselves off the hook by publishing corrections online. Under the principles of statutory interpretation, laws that can result in penalties "are supposed to be very narrowly construed by the courts," Upton explains. So if a corrections statute does not expressly include electronic media, Web writers are out of luck, in his view. Any who aren't happy about that should take it up with their elected representatives, Upton says. "It's a case of the legislature needing to catch up with technology." [read full OJR article]
    The latter instance strikes me as truly stretching - it's the Internet equivalent of being sued by John Doe for telling a third party, "Joe Schmoe said John Doe is a big fat liar." With "lawsuits" like these, proponents of Free Speech may have more immediate worry from frivolous claims than from high-level "Big Brother" legislation.

    While most webloggers may not have much to worry about, even for those with small readerships, it bears considering that anything published in a blog is considered "published print" rather than just casual conversation. One one level it's quite troubling, but on the flip side, it illustrates the power of the published (blog) word.

    Friday, July 09, 2004
    USPS' New James Baldwin Stamp 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    The U.S. Postal Service issues a James Baldwin commemorative this July 23rd:
    Born in 1924, Baldwin’s novels, short stories, poems, essays and plays largely explore racial issues and human relationships. His work established him as a major intellectual figure during the years of the civil rights movement in America.

    Henry Pankey, vice president of Emergency Preparedness at the USPS will dedicate the stamp and paid this tribute to the late author: "His fervent voice in 20th century American literature forced us to think about issues affecting our great nation, and his leadership in the civil rights movement continues to be an inspiration today."

    Baldwin Quotes:

    "American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it."

    "It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

    "Anyone who has struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor."
    [via Old Hag] How true they all are - especially the second of the three.

    UIC's James Baldwin page
    PBS' American Masters

    Granby Relief Fund Information 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    I received a speedy reply today from the Granby, Colorado Chamber of Commerce - as promised, here's info on the Granby Relief Fund and the special fundraising t-shirts. The Fund is helping the victims of the June 4th bulldozer attack in Granby, since state and federal money (and insurance coverage) to cover this type of unprecedented vandalism is quite limited, and will not cover the millions of dollars in damage done that day.
    Donations to the Granby Community Relief Fund can be mailed to:

    Granby Community Relief Fund
    PO Box 1501
    Granby, CO 80446

    The fund is being used to help all victims of the attack including
    businesses, individuals, employers and employees. It is being distributed
    by a local committee of Grand County citizens and is being administered by
    the Denver Foundation, a non-profit organization so all contributions are

    The T-shirts are being sold by the Granby Chamber of Commerce and proceeds
    are also going into the relief fund. T-shirts cost $10.00 + $2.50 s&h per

    We have sizes from children's small to adult XXXL. Colors are lime green,
    bright yellow, or white but are not necessarily available in all sizes.
    Please let us know what sizes and choose two colors. We will try to
    accommodate your first choice. Checks can be mailed to:

    Granby Chamber of Commerce
    PO Box 35
    Granby, CO 80446

    or call us to use a credit card at 800-325-1661.

    New Machine Blues: Quiet Pants, Qi Gong and the Paintball Channel 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

    I decided to spend a few minutes getting acquainted with my new Winamp 5 internet TV and radio stream viewer today, taking advantage of a little "quiet time" with my zippy network connection. I browsed:Try it sometime: there's so much bizarre, banal, but occasionally intriguing material from around the world to choose from, like the Oughties equivalent of CB and ham radio. Still, it's a heck of a lot more fun than network TV.

    Future Watch: Will Federalism Return? 
    by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
    Jason at Positive Liberty has made some intriguing predictions about the future of our government. He augurs the return of federalism, returning more power to states as a compromise to increasingly contentious ideological divisions:
    Euthanasia, abortion, affirmative action, even highway speeds either have been or currently are the subjects of similar divisions among the states, and I suspect that this trend will intensify.

    Virtually no one comes to federalism as a matter of sincere principle; they do it out of compromise, out of an inability to win national consensus for a peculiar view. But federalism is a compromise that I suspect we will have to use more and more frequently in the future. American political thought of late has been sharply divided, but even within the current bipolar framework, contradictions, microcommunities, and sub-affinities abound. Through digital networking, many of the people in these groups have reached out to the like-minded, constructing virtual communities as they go. It is only a matter of time until they start building their own real-world communities, too. Federalism is the only strain of our legal thought that will be able to accommodate this process.

    On the fringes, more and more groups are already flirting with radical federalist experiments of one type or another. Consider the Free State Project, which is encouraging libertarians to move to New Hampshire; consider also the Christian Exodus Movement, which among a host of other sins now finds gay marriage so offensive that they want to secede from the Union. They're going--where else?--to South Carolina.

    They won't be allowed to secede, of course, but their movement is yet another example of federalist thinking at work. Even if Christian Exodus achieves but a fraction of their aims, they will have enshrined a federalist principle that one hopes will be useful in creating designer states and communities across the entire nation: A government of technophile libertarians in California, perhaps; an ecological protectorate in Washington and Oregon; communes of pacifist hammock-makers weaving away in the Virginia hills, and militarist little Spartas all across Montana...

    The federalism of the past--states' rights in the vernacular--meant only one thing, the perpetuation of Jim Crow in the Old South. It was a cheap cover for an odious regime. The federalism of the future will mean hundreds of different things; some of them, no doubt, will be just as odious. [read full post]
    Jason's got a real point here - I think it could happen.

    Looking at the Jim Crow analogy, federalism would become far more of a problem than a solution, with cultural battlefields like abortion and same-sex marriage taking the place of the 19th Century's slavery. If states or otherwise-designated geographic regions [see Commonwealth.org's "Beyond Red and Blue"] could adopt their own Constitutional flavors with greater enforcement mettle, how would residents settle differences amicably without risking the equivalent of a future 'Civil War'? For example, could a state decree an absolute ban on abortion - or a state religion?

    As a real-life example of the latter, onsider the Christian Exodus Movement (linked above) which seeks to gather up a large number of like-minded Christian families, who would then move en masse to a designated state (they've chosen South Carolina as their "Zion"), dominate the voter rolls with their own agenda, rewrite the state Constitution, and ultimately secede. While this particular movement doesn't look poised for success (similar Utopian plans have failed in the past) it bears watching as a test case and bellwether.

    But - rather than bonafide state secessions, we may see more of large-scale planned religious communities:
    In the future, the key freedom will be the right to travel, because where one lives will be a crucial statement about one's personal and societal values. In the future, "America: Like it or leave it" will be an outdated slogan. The real question will be "Where, and with whom, do you want to live?"

    Communities that try to shield their members from other ways of life, those that try to prevent members from leaving, and those that deny entry to individuals who want to belong, will all become important matters of controversy. We see the beginnings of this trend in gated communities, neighborhood agreements--and even in religious movements that make particularly high demands on their memberships.

    Religion will find its chief future expression not in the new media, but in one of the oldest media of all--the monastic community rule and its relatives. Monasticism itself may or may not come back from the brink of extinction where it now resides, but groups of spiritually like-minded people, living according to strict communal rules, will very likely be an important part of future religiosity.