Tuesday, August 31, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 9 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

More Thoughts on Concealed-Carry Gun Laws 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Update to the lengthy post on California's proposed gun licensing laws: it occurred to me that the problem of street gangs is a good example why increasing the number of circulating concealed/unregistered guns would be ineffective in reducing crime rates (a la Lott). I haven't read Lott's book yet, but I am curious about the statistics he cites, and where they come from.

The "more guns, less crime" theory holds that criminals are deterred if it is assumed that any person could be carrying a gun (similar to the "air marshal" deterrent effect). However, gang members can be virtually certain that rivals are carrying concealed guns, yet this doesn't in itself reduce the likelihood of gang crime and gun violence - it just means gangmembers assume the "other guy" can and will shoot back.

It can be argued that gang members overall are more prone to initiating violence than the average citizen, but I still don't think that a widespread concealed-carry situation would prove much of a deterrent. If anything, it's possible the situation might prompt criminals to "shoot first, ask for the wallet later" - or carry a bigger gun than victims might have.

Which raises the question - if gun ownership were completely deregulated, what types of weapons would be permitted under a concealed-carry law? Small-caliber handguns only? How about semis or automatics? Would it be permissible to carry a concealed sawed-off shotgun, or an UZI in one's coat or car, for example?

That said, I still think lifting handgun (for home, business and some vehicular protection) and pepper-spray bans for private citizens in urban areas might be a good idea, provided the guns are properly registered and operators are trained and cognizant of lethal-force laws: carrying is one thing, and the old rule of "don't aim at anything you don't plan to shoot" still applies.

Not that bans eliminate concealed-carry in the first place: many people carry guns or pepper spray in ban jurisdictions anyway, but they risk punishment if discovered. They rationalize that the possibility of being prosecuted for carrying a banned weapon is far outweighed by the protection they feel it offers. Rural residents justify their need for protective guns because of their isolation, and the amount of time it takes for help to arrive if there's trouble "at the ranch." However, from personal experience, I can say it often takes just as long for police to arrive if you call 911 in the city.

Monday, August 30, 2004
Ultimate Hangover Cure 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I know this qualifies as a gruesome tragedy, but there's something rather blackly comic about it as well.
MARIETTA, Georgia (AP) -- A drunken driver hit a telephone pole support wire that decapitated his passenger, police said. He then drove 12 miles home and slept in his bloody clothes, police said, leaving the headless body in his truck.

A neighbor walking with his young daughter Sunday morning discovered Daniel Brohm's headless corpse in the truck in John Kemper Hutcherson's driveway and called authorities, said Cpl. Dana Pierce, county police spokesman.

Officers said they found Hutcherson asleep inside his home, visibly drunk and his clothes bloody, and later found Brohm's severed head at the crash. Hutcherson, 21, was charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence and failure to stop at an accident with death or injury. He was jailed on a $100,000 bond; it was unclear Monday whether he had an attorney.

Police said Hutcherson and Brohm -- friends since high school -- were drinking at a bar Saturday night and left after Brohm said he felt sick.

Saturday, August 28, 2004
"From My Cold Dead Hands": Why California's Planned Gun Licensing Regulations Make Good Sense 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
The tradition of American gun ownership is so deeply entrenched, such a romanticized part of our history that most discussions of gun control rapidly disintegrate from logical arguments to partisan squabbling. There also seems to be an automatic assumption that one's view on guns falls neatly along party lines: all Republicans/conservatives oppose any gun regulations whatsoever, while Democrats/liberals would like to ban all private gun ownership.

It's not so simple. I'm a pro-gun Democrat/liberal. However, there are a growing number of people in our country of all political persuasions - many who have lost friends or family to gun accidents or violence - who would like to see the end of private gun ownership.

We've all seen these bumperstickers: "From My Cold, Dead Hands"..."Gun Control Means Using Both Hands"..."Guns Don't Kill People, People Kill People"...and the classic: "If We Outlaw Guns, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns". While the first two come across as ornery old-fashioned Marlboro Man koans, the latter can't be discounted quite so out-of-hand. They actually have kernels of truth. Chuck Klein explains in his Guns & Ammo Online article, "Time for a 28th Amendment,"
The words "arms" and "people" mean different things to different persons. To some on the far left, the only "people" who should be allowed to "keep and bear arms" would be active-duty military personnel and police. On the other hand, the extreme right has touted that "people" means any and all persons. Militia extremists are convinced "arms" means anything in use by the military, including tanks, bombs and rockets. The opposite camp firmly believes it only refers to weapons in use at the time of the Constitution's ratification-- c.1790.

The word "People" certainly cannot refer, for pragmatic reasons, to everybody. If all "people" could "keep and bear arms," then we'd have to allow prison inmates to carry concealed and permit grade schoolers to swagger across the playground packing a .25 Baby Browning. That's not realistic or practical--any more than restricting "arms" exclusively to that class of "people" who have the power of arrest.
However, I don't think gun ownership should be as simple as walking into a gun shop, picking out a pretty piece of steel and plunking down your dough. California, I think, is on the right track with its new proposed licensing guidelines currently in bill before the state assembly:
Handgun Buyer Licensing and Proficiency Testing Bill

The bill most hotly opposed by gun owner's rights groups, AB35, would require Californians wanting to buy a handgun to:

* "perform a safe handling demonstration encompassing various types of handguns,"
* "perform a shooting proficiency demonstration,"
* "complete and pass a written test,"

The written test will cover:

* "Current law related to the private sale and transfer of firearms."
* "Current law as it relates to permissible use of lethal force."
* "What constitutes safe firearms storage."
* "Risks associated with bringing a handgun into the home."
* "Prevention strategies to risks associated with bringing a handgun into the home."

Buyers who pass both the gun handling and written test will then be required to purchase a "handgun owner's license," good for four years, at a cost of up to $32. The buyer's thumbprint will be applied to the license.

A highly controversial additional regulation that would have required licensing of all currently owned handguns was removed from the bill.
The California Attorney General's Office has a page of gun regulations available here. There are some who think California's proposed regulations are an unfair restriction of basic constitutional rights. John R. Lott, Jr., the author of More Guns, Less Crime writes:
The California legislation is...filled with pages detailing everything from when grandparents are allowed to temporarily loan a gun to their grandchildren, to the politically correct gun myths that licensees must regurgitate on the licensing exam, to requiring that mandatory testing be done in only English or Spanish. For a state with election ballots printed in over 80 languages, this last requirement appears racist. But with the new fees and hundreds of dollars required for training classes, in addition to recent California laws outlawing inexpensive guns, the Democratic legislators who support this bill appear anti-poor. After all, it is the poor who are most likely to be victims of crime and to benefit the most from being able to protect themselves.

Those who so automatically see licensing as the solution to crime face an obvious question. As police spend thousands of man-hours enforcing the licensing, what else might they do with their time? Ventura County Sheriff Bob Brooks stated his concerns simply: "It is my belief that this legislation significantly misses the mark because it diverts our attention from what really should be our common goal: holding the true criminals accountable for the crimes they commit and getting them off the street."
No, gun licensing is not the "answer to crime" - but neither is deregulation of weapon ownership.

Here's the sticky question. Do the poor need guns more than middle- or upper-income Californians, as Lott seems to suggest in the last sentence of this excerpt? The irony is, proportionately many more poor people are killed or injured by gun violence or accidents, and ironically I can see how someone else could argue that allowing the poor to own guns without any form of regulation, safety training or licensing is a form of "genocide" by facilitating more gun deaths below the poverty line. It all depends on how you slice the issue.

Most importantly, I disagree that there would be less crime if there were more (presumably unregulated) guns, using the logic that criminals might be less likely to attempt a crime if there were public knowledge that gun ownership was universal. Even today how can the criminal be certain that his "mark" isn't hiding a gun in their briefcase, bedside table or under the convenience store counter? After all, he or she has one, and they can't be 100% certain the other guy isn't.

What we can be sure of is that if there are more guns in untrained hands, there will be more accidental and ineffective firearm discharges. Pit a criminal who knows how to use a gun against a frightened, panicked civilian who's desperately trying to figure one out, and the criminal will win virtually every time.

Wouldn't criminals be more deterred by knowing that gun owners actually knew how to use their guns well? That their victims weren't merely "weekend Rambos" - who buy cheap pistols to be "safe" but don't know how their gun's safety works - and could actually put a robber six feet under? Untrained gun owners who misuse their weapons, or fail to store them properly or understand their correct operation are far more likely to accidentally kill an innocent person - thereby increasing the public outcry to ban guns.

I also disagree with Lott's contention that the laws are unfair because they discriminate against the poor and non-English or Spanish speakers. Take the example of California motor vehicle laws. California has some of the country's most stringent regulations on vehicle ownership and operation, and it's notoriously hard to get around without a car there. Yet, no one there seems to proposing we waive state auto insurance, safety inspection or emissions regulations for the poor because they need their cars.

California election ballots may come in over 80 languages, but voters still must jump the prior hurdles of citizenship and state residence to participate. On the other hand drivers need to pass written tests in one of a few select languages, because they must interact with other motorists who understand the same rules, and driving is a common undertaking, shared with hundreds or thousands of other individuals simultaneously. It's in all vehicle occupants best interest to want drivers to be on the same page, and I'd argue the same applies for the general public - and gun owners. After all, you can kill a lot more people with a gun you can with a Chevy...in a lot less time.

I'd like to draw a parallel between the requirements for owning and operating a motor vehicle and those for guns. Consider this. What if the only requirement for a driver's license was the fact you could get your hands on a car? Would you feel safe driving your car knowing that you shared the road with people who haven't verifiably demonstrated even basic understanding and competency of the "rules of the road" and motor vehicle laws? Okay, maybe these drivers had a parent teach them the basics. Would you want to gamble your life on someone's drunken Uncle Bob's drivers-ed teaching skills?

Even worse, what if there were no "Rules of the road"? Granted, there are countries where driving and car ownership are this unregulated, but these are ususally nations where life in considered pretty cheap, overall. Driving a motor vehicle is considered a privilege in all U.S. states, not an entirely unbounded right - and gun ownership is perhaps the most contentious example of "your right to swing your fist ends at my nose" in American law: when a gun onwer "swings their fist," they are very likely to do more damage than a broken nose.

California's New Gun regulations on About.com
California Department of Justice on Gun Laws
Canadian Gun Laws.com

Bad Taste in Toyland 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Recalled import toy depicts plane flying into WTC, photo courtesy AP
MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Small toys showing an airplane flying into the World Trade Center were packed inside more than 14,000 bags of candy and sent to small groceries around the country before being recalled. Lisy Corp., the wholesaler that distributed the candy, said Friday that the toys were purchased in bulk from a Miami-based import company.

The toys came in an assortment purchased sight unseen from L&M Import in Miami and included the toys depicting the attacks on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001, along with whistles and other small toys, said Luis Pedron, Lisy's national sales manager. The invoice described the toy as a plastic swing set. "I hate to blame the importer. He probably did not know what he was getting. He brings them in 40-foot containers. But whoever made it knew exactly what they were making," Pedron said.

Pedron said Lisy did not notice the small plastic figurines until two people complained, but there is no mistaking what the toys represent: At the bottom of each is the product number 9011.
I would almost - almost - be willing to chalk up the toy's design to unfortunate coincidence, were it not for the product number ("9011") and fact that there is an "antenna" on only one of the towers. Was the manufacturer trying to be funny? "Rub in" the fact of tragedy, or something more sinister? Who knows. But I do know that many of the nations that manufacture these kinds of cheap import toys aren't on the America's political page, if you get my drift, and this sort of tastelessness would get through 'quality control' without a hitch.

Friday, August 27, 2004
This Ain't No Mardi Gras: Big Brother and the RNC Mask Ban 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Having posted late in the day about the reinstatement of New York City's ban on mask-wearing just in time for the Republican National Convention, I didn't have the opportunity to dig as deeply into the story as I'd have liked. So, here's some more on the no-mask zone.

The 'mask law' has always been enforced selectively since its inception in 1845, and was a means by which authorities could prosecute troublemakers ranging from costumed tenant-farmer insurrectionists in the Hudson Valley, to pre-Stonewall drag queens. It was ruled a violation of First Amendment rights in late 1999 following a suit by - of all groups - the Ku Klux Klan, who felt they were unjustly prevented from marching in a NY rally. Then, a January 2004 ruling overturned the lower court decision, saying the state's ban on the wearing of masks in public places is in fact constitutional. CNN reported in January,
"In the end, we all know what the (New York) statute is after -- the wearing of hoods, such as by the KKK. That may or may not be a bad thing," said Robert Destro, a professor of law and free-speech expert at Catholic University in Washington, D.C. "These laws need to clearly state the government's interest." The hoods include a mask.

The 3-0 ruling by the appeals court panel reversed a district judge's decision that found the state law violated the First Amendment rights of the Butler, Indiana-based Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan...[a]lso, he said, anti-mask laws theoretically could be extended to affect people at various public gatherings, such as annual Mardi Gras celebrations.
As I briefly mentioned in the comments of my previous post, I suspect that the mask ban reinstatement comes in part from planned use of digital facial-recognition technology [Viisage is the best-known maker of DFR systems, and reportedly 90% of their business comes from government and military contracts] with video camera surveillance of protest zones during the convention. It isn't that paranoid a suggestion, as there are numerous reports that these systems will be used in New York during the Republican National Convention, including this story from May that originally appeared on the NY1 newsfeed:
NYPD Planning To Install Its Own Surveillance Cameras
MAY 02ND, 2004

The NYPD is reportedly planning to install hundreds of cameras around the city that can automatically recognize the faces of suspected criminals or terrorists. There are already tens of thousands of private surveillance cameras trained on city streets and buildings. According to the New York Post, the NYPD wants to install its own centralized system.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner James Onalfo is working on a plan for up to $1 billion in new computer and camera equipment, according to the Post. Facial recognition technology would allow police to pick out and follow suspects in high-crime areas and near potential terrorist targets.

Police reportedly hope to install many of the cameras before this summer's Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden.
You may have very well have been face-scanned at some point without your knowledge, since venues utilizing these systems generally don't advertise the fact beyond cursory warnings - like small signs that tell you "these premises are under video surveillance." Baseline.com talks about Viisage's growing business:
Customers using Viisage's facial-recognition software, which can compare a photo against a database of millions and find the most likely matches in just a few seconds, include the U.S. Department of Defense, Berlin's airports and more than 100 casinos, such as the MGM Mirage, Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts and the Stratosphere Casino Hotel & Tower.
RNCWatch, a newsblog spotlighting events leading up the convention, recently reported,
From Engadget: "In preparation for next week's Republican National Convention the Federal Protective Service is outfitting 200 police officers with special helmet-mounted surveillance cameras that can wirelessly beam a video feed back to a control room so that service commanders can see exactly what's going on in the streets and more effectively issue orders."
According to the American Civil Liberties Union,
[a]nyone who claims that facial recognition technology is an effective law enforcement tool is probably working for the one of the companies trying to sell it to the government. Facial recognition software is easily tripped up by changes in hairstyle or facial hair, by aging, weight gain or loss, and by simple disguises.

A study by the Department of Defense found very high error rates even under ideal conditions, where the subject is staring directly into the camera under bright lights. The study found very high rates of both "false positives" (wrongly matching people with photos of others) and "false negatives" (not catching people in the database). That suggests that if installed in airports, these systems would miss a high proportion of suspects included in the photo database, and flag huge numbers of innocent people - thereby lessening vigilance, wasting precious manpower resources, and creating a false sense of security.
In addition,
questions have been raised about how well the software works on dark-skinned people, whose features may not appear clearly on lenses optimized for light-skinned people...

While video surveillance by the police isn't as widespread in the U.S., an investigation by the Detroit Free Press (and followup) shows the kind of abuses that can happen. Looking at how a database available to Michigan law enforcement was used, the newspaper found that officers had used it to help their friends or themselves stalk women, threaten motorists, track estranged spouses - even to intimidate political opponents. The unavoidable truth is that the more people who have access to a database, the more likely that there will be abuse.

Facial recognition is especially subject to abuse because it can be used in a passive way that doesn't require the knowledge, consent, or participation of the subject. It's possible to put a camera up anywhere and train it on people; modern cameras can easily view faces from over 100 yards away. People act differently when they are being watched, and have the right to know if their movements and identities are being captured.
So, while officials are giving the line that the mask ban is for "the protesters' own safety," there appears to be a much more immediate, disturbing reason for the law's return.
"With a fingerprint, we get confirmation of someone's identity that is 100% accurate a great deal of the time," says Capt. Alecia Edgington of the Kentucky State Police. "With facial recognition, that threshold has not been reached yet."
What if protesters all showed up wearing Groucho Glasses?

ACLU's statements on facial recognition software [FAQ here] and video surveillance of public areas
ViiSAGE home page
EPIC [Electronic Privacy Information Center] on facial recognition software
The Detroit Free Press investigation of police abuses of facial recognition databases
"ViiSAGE Technology: Face Invaders" in Baseline - The Project Management Center
RNCWatch [NYC Indymedia Center]
CNN story on the NY Klan mask ban, January 23, 2004

This Advertisement is Not Approved By W. 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Begging to Differ takes a detailed look at the President's stunning [not in a good way] plan to stifle free speech in political advertising:
Just read this and tell me that this doesn't deserve a gold medal in the 100 meter stupid hypocrite freestyle:
President George W. Bush plans to seek a court order to force the U.S. Federal Election Commission to stop all political advertising by independent groups, said spokesman Scott McClellan.

Bush asked Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, to help end advertising by political organizations known as 527 groups, named for the section of the Internal Revenue Service code that grants them tax-exempt status. McCain told the New York Times he disapproves of ads attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, one of the 527 groups.

"The president said he wanted to work together to pursue court action to stop all activities by these shadowy 527 groups," McClellan told reporters on Air Force One en route to New Mexico."
The sheer audacity of the whole thing is positively breathtaking. Let us count all of the ways in which this is incredibly stupid and hypocritical:
[continue reading "Bush Seeks Judicial Activism to Overrule First Amendment"] Not good, friends and countrymen, when the Commander in Chief lassoes independent political dissenters into the "shadowy 527 group" hat, ready for a pre-emptive hogtie. Not good at all.

Thursday, August 26, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 8 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

This Ain't No Mardi Gras: No Masks at the Republican National Convention 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Planning on protesting the Republican National Convention in New York? Protest organization RNC NOT WELCOME has some sage words of advice: don't wear a mask. Seriously. New York has a law against the wearing of masks - selectively enforced, of course. [No, not even gas masks.]
In 1845, the State of New York passed a law which forbade the wearing of masks. It authorized the pursuit and arrest of anyone who "having his face painted, discolored, covered or concealed, or being otherwise disguised, in a manner calculated to prevent him from being identified, shall appear in any road or public highway, or in any field, lot, wood, or enclosure."

It was originally adopted to thwart armed insurrections by Hudson Valley tenant farmers who dressed and painted themselves as Native Americans to attack law enforcement officers over rent issues. The law was then shelved for most of the 20th Century until 1965, when it was used to criminalize transvestites and drag queens who wore too much make-up for the authorities to bear.

More recently, the law has resurfaced in two contexts: At a KKK rally in 2001 and during the large-scale protests of the World Economic Forum (WEF) at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in January 2002. In the last year, through efforts of the Church of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the New York Civil Liberties Union, the mask law was temporarily overturned as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of expression. In January 2004, just 15 days after the RNC signed on to NYC, the mask law was reinstated.
You're duly warned, protesters...show some skin, as long as it's above the collar. With New York's anti-mask law reinstated just in time for the RNC, at least we know where the false faces will be.

Blue Monday All Over Again 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Kottke has a little post on what I consider my quintessential college radio song - New Order's Blue Monday.
Thanks to 24 Hour Party People, I'm discovering New Wave, albeit about 20 years late. From 1983, here's the original UK release version of New Order's Blue Monday (mp3, 10.2 MB), the best selling 12" single of all time.
Get it while it's hot, and there. The first 30 seconds of that song are all it takes to put me back into my days in the cramped, unventilated DJ booth at Plattsburgh State's WPLT "Pilot 94" in Yokum Hall. There I am, watching the turntable spin around and around, waiting for the cue to open my mic and say something witty to all 3 of my listeners. I had a noon-2pm shift called the "Sanity Assassin Lunch Hour." Don't ask...the show's name came from an obscure Bauhaus song.

Occasionally the neon indicator light on the phone would flash, signaling an incoming call. Adoring fans? No, usually it was my music director Bob Grimm, asking why I played four Love and Rockets songs that hour, or whichever band I was currently besotted with...yeah, I was a stone cold professional. Still, I'd rather associate the song with those memories than the fact it appeared in "The Wedding Singer" or was recently slaughtered rehashed by Orgy. Remember them? No, of course not.

On a related note, NewOrderOnline.com reports that Jude Law may star as late Joy Division frontman Ian Curtis in a forthcoming biopic. Curtis committed suicide in 1980, giving immortal poignancy to signature tune "Love Will Tear Us Apart", while remaining members of the band including Peter Hook formed New Order.

Lesson? Some moments in life are better remembered than experienced.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Carpe Librem 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
One of the great perks of working near major universities is being able to collect lots of free books. Not just Reader's Digests, Harlequin bodice-rippers, and Danielle Steel, mind you - but interesting free books. Since books are attracted to the high osmotic tensions of gray matter commonly found at institutions of higher learning, at some point these schools experience Book Gluts. One finds all sorts of literary treasures dumped in cardboard boxes, left on tables with tags saying "free," and sadly, even thrown in Dumpsters alongside yellowing newspapers and empty pad thai cartons.

Personally, I think disposing of unwanted books in Dumpsters is tantamount to heresy, since surely someone somewhere would benefit from the discarded tomes; it's not like our globe has a net surplus of brainpower, you know. If the laws of conservation of energy hold true, then if there is a Book Glut in one location, there must be a corresponding Book Dearth somewhere else...probably in my neighborhood, the Armadillo's Pillow bookstore excepting.

At the end of the hall where I work, an old wooden table [which may have once literally propped up Milton Friedman's coffee, at some point in history] serves as a makeshift trading post/lost-and-found, where students and faculty alike can leave or take assorted scientific journals, books, flyers - even office supplies, winter hats and videotapes. It may be junk, but it's good junk. Recently I picked up a Turkish economic journal with two articles that caught my attention: "Consumer response and communication with fuzzy/focused logic: An Example From The Turkish Shampoo Industry" and "Blade Runner: Existential Theory of the Disaffected Future." Where else on earth would you find this stuff?

What if you don't have access to a trading table? Shh - don't tell anyone, but at the Powells Books location on 57th Street in Hyde Park, there are cardboard boxes left out every afternoon with overstock discards and books the management doesn't feel will sell. They're free for the taking - and while one has to sift through considerable chaff to find the wheat, I've scarfed up some great finds there.

Some goodies I've found lately? Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults by Janja Lalich, PhD (University of California Press, 2004), Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr, and alt.culture by Steven Daly and Nathaniel Wice, a perfunctory encyclopedic look at the 1990's from a pop culture perspective. Each entry in the book has corresponding URLs for further reference, but I'd be surprised if any of the links still work. Useful mainly for archival value, though, and perhaps some of the pages are saved at the Wayback Machine. Twenty years from now, will anyone remember half of this?

Russia's Bubble Baba Challenge a Rapid Rubbery Ride 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Russian racer in the Bubble Baba Challenge.  Photo courtesy Mosnews.comWhat will those wild and crazy Russians think of next, and why didn't the producers of Jackass think of this first? The second annual Bubble Baba Challenge sends brave souls of both genders racing down roaring Russian rapids - not on rafts, but on inflatable sex dolls:
The second Bubble Baba Challenge (in Russian, baba* stands for “woman,” only unlike the other word for woman, zhenschina, conveys not a shred of respect) was held on the Vuoksa river that runs in northwestern Russia a year after the first contest. Dmitry Bulawinov, the mastermind and organizer behind the unusual sporting event, says the idea of floating down the river in the embraces of a rubber woman was conceived as a joke at a party where the men got drunk and the women didn’t show up. While considering the possible uses for a rubber woman on a camping trip, someone voiced the thought that a sex doll would make a handy flotation device.

It’s far from the strangest idea that has ever come into the heads of imbibing camping aficionados, but unlike many other concepts of equal genius, this one was realized in life. Bulawinov set about advertising the sex doll rafting adventure opportunity online, and, ten months later, in August 2003, Bubble Baba Challenge 1 participants were eagerly hurling themselves through roaring rapids, buoyed by pneumatic breasts and hips.

“I went to the first race thinking it was going to be a celebration of idiocy,” says Victor Kuryashkin, a 31-year-old programmer and old-time camper who came in third in this year’s race and won last year’s sex doll design contest. “I think the potential sponsors had the same attitude toward the event. But Dmitry’s [Bulawinov] crew managed to create a good contest.” He used the same “flotation device” both times, which, he underscores, he doesn’t think of as a woman — he even painted “her” in camouflage colors and named her “The Nimble Missile Breast-Carrier.”

Alexander Korolyov, a 45-year-old owner of an active recreation tour company and a life-long swimmer, came in first last year, second this year, and plans to participate in future contests, as well as refer his clients for joining in, says that the event is essentially a swimming race. He doesn’t really think of it as much of a match, though — “It’s just fun, I don’t treat it as a contest. It’s just a reason to go out of town for a weekend, to fool around.” Still, this year he brought home an inflatable mattress as a trophy, while last year’s award “was very immodest” and “too awkward to talk about.”

Although vastly outnumbered by men excited about floating down the river atop a rubber chick, women did compete in the contest, finding nothing odd about using such unusual “lifesavers.” Bulawinov and other organizers try to be fair and leave open the option of floating down on rubber men dolls, but unfortunately, they can’t rent them out like they do the rubber women. “The men are too expensive, we can’t afford them,” he complains. [read full article on Mosnews]
And for dessert, bubble tea! If you're fluent in Rusky, check out the official Bubble Baba page at http://www.bubblebabachallenge.ru/.

* I don't know much Russian, but in Czech, the word baba translates as "old woman," and is related to the words babi?ka (an endearing form of "grandmother") and babushka. To me, those dolls don't look like babas at all.

farkleberries Links du Jour 7 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 6 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Monday, August 23, 2004
Secret Vote? You Don't Know the Half of It 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
November's presidential election marks the advent of widespread use of electronic voting booths, but many believe the systems are flawed and inadequately regulated, and may be highly vulnerable to tampering. Founder of Verified Voting.org, Stanford computer science professor David Dill commented on CNN.com:
"Suppose you had a situation where ballots were handed to a private company that counted them behind a closed door and burned the results," said Dill, founder of VerifiedVoting.org. "Nobody but an idiot would accept a system like that. We've got something that is almost as bad with electronic voting."
VerifiedVoting.org's website contains some frightening accounts of election board indifference, electronic voting machine myths and miscounts in recent elections, and has a wealth of information on verified-voting legislation and regulation reform. Here is an excerpt their site, regarding electronic voting misconceptions:
Myth: E-voting machines cannot be hacked because they are not connected to the Internet.

Fact: Computer systems can be hacked in many ways without using the Internet. Making systems secure against outsiders, such as voters and poll workers, is very hard, and, as multiple studies have shown, the current e-voting systems fail miserably. However, making them secure against INSIDERS, possibly even the programmers themselves, is close to impossible. The way we make systems honest is to enable truly independent audits. Each voter should be able to check that his or her vote is recorded correctly, and it should be possible to count the paper ballots manually to double-check any machine counts. Some e-voting machines are believed to have wireless connectivity that might enable Internet access with or without the knowledge of poll workers and election officials.

Myth: Receipts will enable voters to prove how they voted to someone outside the polling place, enabling vote influencing or selling schemes.

Fact: This concern is based on a misunderstanding. Voter-verified paper ballots must be deposited in a secure ballot box in the polling place, even though some people call VVPBs "receipts." There is no more risk of vote selling with optical scan ballots or ballots printed on a touch-screen machine than with other kinds of ballots. There is much less risk of vote selling than with absentee ballots.

Myth: Voter-verified paper trails "would force voters with disabilities to go back to using ballots that provide neither privacy nor independence, thereby subverting a hallmark of the HAVA legislation."

Fact: So far as we know, no one is proposing to suspend or delay the HAVA requirement that there be at least one accessible voting system ineach polling place by 2006. Paper ballot systems can be made accessible in several ways: There is a touch-screen interface for optical scan ballots (described above); touch-screens that print paper ballots can also have equipment to read those ballots back to voters using an audio interface; "ballot on demand" systems that print blank optical scan ballots as needed in the polling places can also have accessible interfaces that allow voters to make their ions on the computer, then print out a ballot that is marked appropriately; and there are even low-tech ballot "tactile ballots" that have been used in Rhode Island and several countries to make optical scan systems accessible without computers.

Myth: "There has never been a documented case anywhere in the country where an electronic voting machine has produced an inaccurate tally of the votes."

Fact: This statement is misleading at best. There are many cases where e-voting machines appear to have RECORDED votes inaccurately, including the 2002 election in Wake County, North Carolina where 436 votes were lost because of a software bug. The use of the word "tally" is perhaps a semantic trick, meaning that incorrectly recorded votes were then totaled correctly. If so, it misses the point that the vote totals fail to represent how the voters voted.

Myth: E-voting machines are not computers, so they are not subject to problems of computer security.

Fact: Florida Secretary of State Glenda Hood actually said this. It is a totally incorrect statement. The most widely used models machines have the same microprocessors that are used in PCs. By any reasonable definition, they are computers that execute computer programs, so they are subject to the same hardware and software bugs, and the same security issues, as all other computers. Just because they don't normally have a keyboard or mouse attached does not mean that they are not computers.
If you've ever had problems with an electronic bill or account - who hasn't? - or had your groceries "scan" with an incorrect price at the cash register, you can see how dangerous it can be to rely on untraceable electronic data for counting votes. Even with all the fuss about "hanging chads," Election Day is still a time we should prefer "paper" to "plastic."

This Is GRAND Radio! 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Just in from Jonathan Messinger at ThisIsGRAND.org:
**THISisGRAND to be featured on WBEZ's Eight Forty-Eight Tuesday, Aug. 24 at 10:06 a.m.**

The broadcast begins at 9:30, and an interview conducted by Steve Edwards with TiG editor Jonathan Messinger (this guy) will be broadcast at some point between 9:30 and 11, though most likely around the time given above. Tune in to 91.5 FM [Chicago] on your dial, or for those of you in cubicles, head to www.wbez.org and crank the Realmedia player. If you can't make it, it will likely be archived here in the next few days:


Thanks everyone for their support. I hope you enjoy the interview, especially those of you with whom I've only communicated via the Information Superhighway. My disembodied voice brings us one step closer.

Take care,

farkleberries Links du Jour 5 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

A Blue Angels Flashback 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
When I was a kid my family lived near McGuire AFB and Fort Dix in New Jersey, so summertime frequently meant trips to base open houses and air shows. I used to loved those. My dad was a big military machinery buff [my folks have lots of photos and color slides of me posing next to Jeeps and tanks] and I remember the airshows circa 1976 being jaw-droppingly exciting. I'll never forget that viscera-thundering roaring in the body brought on by a fighter jet roaring overhead.

[I remember them being Blue Angels, but after checking their history I realize they never made appearances at McGuire AFB - what I saw were actually the USAF Thunderbirds]

However, for the past few years I haven't been able to attend military shows without an underlying tinge of sadness. Watching the fighter jets streak across the skyline has become simultaneously impressive and frightening, and it demonstrates just how traumatic the events of September 11th, 2001 were, even to those who only witnessed the events on television. Maybe there's a little too much harsh reality in seeing military might played out against a city skyscraper setting...I'm glad the technology exists, but part of me wishes it didn't have to.

Driving back home from the west suburbs this weekend, we arrived downtown just in time to catch the Chicago Air and Water Show's Blue Angels finale. The beaches, sidewalks and rooftops were crowded to capacity, multitudes of police patrols and vehicles standing guard.

Sitting in the car, I wasn't paying much attention to the show when suddenly I heard what sounded like an explosion directly overhead: it was the "sonic boom" of an F/A-18 Hornet fighter making a pass. My heart skipped a beat until I realized it was only part of the show.

Sunday, August 22, 2004
Armed Robbers Steal The Scream 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
A scene straight out of a Hollywood action thriller:
OSLO (Reuters) - Armed robbers have stolen "The Scream" and another masterpiece by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch in a bold daytime raid on an Oslo museum in front of dozens of terrified tourists.

Two masked robbers ran into the Munch Museum, threatened staff with a handgun and forced people to lie down before grabbing "The Scream", an icon of existential angst showing a waif-like figure against a blood-red sky, and "Madonna".

Some stunned visitors said they feared they were victims of a terror attack. The men simply walked out the front door -- with one painting bumping on the ground -- and escaped in a stolen black Audi car driven by a third man, police said.

Worth millions of dollars, the pictures are among Munch's best-known, even though he produced several versions of both 1893 works. "Madonna" shows a mysterious bare-breasted woman with flowing black hair.

"We're following all possible leads ... but we don't know who did this," police detective chief inspector Kjell Pedersen told a news conference. One of the thieves spoke during the robbery -- in Norwegian.

The wooden frames of the paintings were found smashed and scattered along an Oslo street and the car was separately found abandoned a few km (miles) away with no trace of the paintings.
Another version of Edvard Munch's The Scream was stolen about 10 years ago, and was found months later, after authorities refused to pay the thieves' ransom.

Friday, August 20, 2004
farkleberries Links du Jour 4 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Thursday, August 19, 2004
Chicago City Sticker Shock 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Let me go on record as saying the Chicago City Sticker concept stinks. Okay...perhaps not the concept, but the execution.

If you've never seen them, they are rectangular self-adhesive plastic stickers that stick to the inside lower right corner of a car's windshield, providing the bearer permission to park in Chicago city limits - and a healthy source of revenue for the city. New city stickers are issued annually, and you don't want to forget to replace your old sticker by the June 30th mass expiry date. These days, an expired- or missing-sticker ticket will cost you $125.00, and I speak from personal experience (kick, kick, kick).

Here's the main problem. Since all city stickers are identical except for a small serial number area [which doesn't correspond to easily matched unique vehicle information, like the VIN or license plate number] these expensive stickers have become a form of liquid Chicago currency.

Thieves can break into your car to steal a City Sticker [a personal account of sticker theft on My Complex Simplicity] and display it as their own, or sell it on the street for a portion of a legitimate sticker's cost. They are a little tricky to peel off once they have been stuck to the windshield, but on a hot sunny summer day [what a coincidence...right around the time Chicago drivers all need new stickers!] the backing adhesive softens enough to allow easier removal.

But - isn't it risky to use someone else's city sticker? Realistically, sticker thieves generally get away scot-free, and stolen-sticker scofflaws are rarely detected unless a shoddily re-stuck sticker arouses a police officer's suspicion. No one will know the difference unless an effort is made to note the sticker ID number and track down the original purchaser's name and vehicle information in City Hall records.

Considering that the average sticker sells for $75* or more, it's almost as bad as if the city asked motorists to tape a bunch of bills inside their windshields.

What could the city do to improve the situation? Ideally, city stickers should be individualized for each vehicle, clearly showing the VIN or license plate number the same way other states use vehicle registration stickers. Even better, city stickers should be issued on a rotating basis with expiration date clearly marked, and printed on demand at the point of purchase.

When I lived in New York State, registration stickers were equally expensive, but there was no motive to steal or sell them because they plainly showed the plate number and VIN of the car they were issued to. They were also renewed on a rotating basis all year long, so there was no global date when all stickers expired; and they were printed on paper which tore easily if removal was attempted.

I think I'll write a letter to City Hall outlining my plan to improve our city stickers. It may not change anything, but at least I won't feel quite as...er, stuck.

* Chicago "sticks" it to SUV owners - "large passenger" vehicles currently pay $90 for a city sticker, which isn't too different from the idea of charging "wider" airline passengers for two seats. Interestingly, there is a cheaper "demonstration vehicle" sticker that only costs $30. If I put a PA system on the roof of my Escort and blare out Anti-Bush protest slogans, do I qualify for the discount?

UPDATE: Dragonflypurity has a good idea for thwarting sticker-peeling thieves:
Next time I put up a Chicago city sticker, I'm going to criss cross it a few times with a razor. That way, if they do try to break in and scrape it off, it won't come off as easy, but rather in small strips and pieces, making their efforts fruitless.

farkleberries Links du Jour 3 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Wednesday, August 18, 2004
A Closer Look at Alan Keyes' Slave Reparations "Plan" 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
I've got to hand it to GOP Senate candidate Alan Keyes. After blowing into the Midwest at the urging of the "people of Illinois" - to save us from Barack Obama's radical left-wing plans to turn our state into what Keyes characterizes as a Godless blend of Sodom and the former Soviet Union - he proposes this gem of cultural unification: reparations for descendants of Black slaves, by way of two generations' worth of Federal tax amnesty. The Chicago Tribune [reg. req.] ran a story yesterday detailing Keyes' proposal:
Keyes proposed that for a generation or two, African-Americans of slave heritage should be exempted from federal taxes--federal because slavery "was an egregious failure on the part of the federal establishment." In calling for the tax relief, Keyes appeared to be reaching out to capture the black vote, something that may prove difficult to do, particularly after his unwelcome reception at the Bud Billiken Day Parade [Chicago Tribune, reg. req.] Saturday.

The former ambassador said his plan would give African-Americans "a competitive edge in the labor market," because those exempted would be cheaper to hire than federal tax-paying employees and would "compensate for all those years when your labor was being exploited."

Under Keyes' plan, African-Americans would still have to pay the Social Security tax, because "it's not a tax in the strict sense," said Keyes, calling it instead a payment to support a social insurance program. Keyes has discussed reparations before with statements that seem to contradict Monday's comments.

In 2002 on his short-lived MSNBC show, "Alan Keyes is Making Sense," he argued with one of his guests, an advocate of reparations, asking, "You want to tell me that what they suffered can actually be repaired with money? You're going to do the same thing those slaveholders did, put a money price on something that can't possibly be quantified in that way."

And in a 2002 column titled "Paid in Blood," Keyes called lawsuits on behalf of slave descendants against large corporations an "effort to extort `reparations' for slavery from their fellow citizens" and said that "the truth of the Civil War is that the terrible price for American slavery has been paid, once for all," when Americans gave their lives on the battlefield to end slavery. "The price for the sin of slavery," Keyes wrote, "has already been paid, in blood."
[Note: somehow, the words "flip-flop" keep popping into my head. I wonder why.]

Slave reparations have been bandied about for many years, but most people would concede that their practical application would be a challenge, to say the least. First of all, who would be included in the set of people slated to receive reparation benefits? Perhaps too much time has passed for slave reparations to ever be effectively distributed, and their fair disbursement impossible.

To receive the reparations tax anmesty, would it be enough to look African-American, or to sign an affidavit stating one has slave ancestry? Since there are essentially no more children - and very few grandchildren - of former slaves still alive, the state at the very least would need to conduct extensive historical research into each applicant's claim to prove reparations eligibility. Complicating matters is the issue of mixed racial heritage: would the amount of reparation depend on how much "slave blood" a potential recipient had? Where should the threshold be set, and would it become some reversion of the infamous "One Drop" Rule?

What if an applicant had one great-grandparent who was a slave, and seven others who never were slaves? Would this person receive a prorated one-eighth reparation benefit of someone who could demonstrate 100% slave heritage? If an applicant had two, three, or more bonafide slave ancestors, would the payout be proportionately greater? Then there is the shameful problem of slave family records. Since the African men and women taken from their home countries were essentially treated like subhuman livestock, centuries of their genealogical records are spotty to nonexistent.

To be sure, America’s slave years were a disgraceful time in our history; as were the many years after emancipation when free Black Americans still bore the brunt of centuries of racism. In many ways, they still do. But I don’t think monetary payout or tax amnesties are an answer. At the risk of invoking an unnecessarily paternalistic analogy, to enact slave reparations now would be the equivalent of a horribly abusive, absent parent’s return into a child’s life after many years bearing armloads of gifts. "It’s okay now, right? We can forget about all those bad times. Look at this nice fur coat, this big-screen TV. Don’t you love me now? Or at least don’t hate me as much?"

Not so fast. Slave reparations in any form will neither eliminate the sting of racism, nor magically cleanse America’s karma of historical wrongdoing. We can never change the past, but we can change the present and future by providing Americans of all ethnicities opportunity and assistance. And yes - that includes Affirmative Action. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a better solution than Keyes’ misleading, empty promises of tax-based reparations.
Obama responded to Keyes' comments by saying that the "legacy and stain of slavery is immeasurable," but that he did not believe that the form of reparations backed by Keyes was the proper method to repair that damage.

"I generally think that the best strategies for moving forward involve vigorously enforcing our anti-discrimination laws in education and job training and other programs that can lift all people out of poverty," Democrat Obama said.
Much tension would result from one group's having freedom from the income tax burden on the basis of race...after all, Illinois is still a rather racially-divided state, and this plan wouldn't help matters one bit.

But there's another essential problem with income tax based reparations, because the U.S. income tax is progressive; in concept, those with higher incomes pay proportionately more in taxes, and those with the least are taxed at a lower rate. Black Americans at the lowest income levels - those who are unemployed or underemployed, who most need the financial help - would receive little or no benefit under Keyes' plan, while wealthier ones who have already succeeded in negotiating "the System" stand to receive to greatest financial benefit. This sounds like a plan "trickle-down" Republicans could really take to heart.

Freedom from paying income tax for two generations does absolutely nothing for the family whose breadwinners don't have jobs. In fact, it's no freedom at all.

S.F.A.P. ["Subject for nother post"]: I also find Alan Keyes' extreme views on abortion chilling - he apparently even wants to ban abortion in cases of rape and incest:
Keyes also talked about abortion Monday and specifically about his objection to abortion in the case of rape and incest, asking rhetorically, "We should kill a daughter because the father is a rapist? We should kill a child because its parents committed incest?"
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin's Reparations Calculator.

farkleberries Links du Jour 2 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
Roasted Harshmellows 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Although I lived in the vicinity of Burlington, Vermont for almost twenty years, I unfortunately never "got" the Phish Phenomenon - and now it's over. When I worked at WPTZ-TV, we'd often go out with co-workers [yeah, it was that kind of place] to clubs downtown like Nectar's, where the band got its start...but isn't that the essence of the "hometown star"? They'll always be the boys from the 'Hood, not untouchable glitterati.

However, I have to hand it to my mom...she went to see Joan Jett and the Blackhearts live at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Malone, New York last Saturday night. [I've been a big fan of hers for...well, longer than I care to admit. Since before I lived in the vicinity of Burlington] From what my mom tells me, she's still got the spirit and the chops.

Knowing me, I'll probably start to love Phish's music in a few years; I'm never the first to catch onto a trend, and I rarely take a fashion to heart until it's almost (or long) over. Sad, but that's just the way it is. And no, I didn't travel back to the NEK [North East Kingdom, for the uninitiated] to partake of the Farewell concert. Being an introvert, as a rule I hate crowds - especially muddy, unwashed crowds - as mellow and friendly as they might be. I don't hate the people - just the crowdiness of thousands of people without adequate shelter, food or hygiene. Muddy festivals make me think of Apocalyptic future scenarios, which I generally attempt to avoid in the pursuit of leisure. That, or Braveheart. Can you tell I've never been to Burning Man?

That's probably the main reason I could never live in the desert. Not enough water to draw a contemplative tub...and that's probably why I've lived near large bodies of water all my life, although I can't swim. [Long story, for another post. But I digress.]

I would have been dead meat at Woodstock...or the Crusades.

farkleberries Links du Jour 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 

You are Amiga OS. Ahead of your time.  You keep a lot of balls in the air.  If only your parents had given you more opportunities to suceed.
Which OS are You?
[via Greengrl]

McGreevey, Redux in the San Francisco Chronicle 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
SFGate.com 's Steve Yuhas takes a biting look at the James McGreevey scandal five-days-after, "Political Lies and Personal Lives: The difference between courage and expediency":
Since McGreevey's announcement, we have learned much about what was going on behind the scenes. But if you listened only to his speech on Thursday, you would think that he was resigning because he is gay. If you listen to gay activists, you would think that he deserves to remain in office because he is gay.

What we witnessed with McGreevey was not a courageous, honest or an unfortunate man finally coming to terms with the demons of his closeted life. What we witnessed was a cowardly attempt to deflect attention from a scandal- laden administration that gay organizations have decided to ignore because they can now add a gay governor to their list of openly gay public officials.

...McGreevey is an opportunist who got caught living a lie; there is a big difference in having the courage and honesty to be an openly gay politician and being a cowardly cheat who is forced to admit his sexuality because the house of cards is crumbling.

...I'm baffled by gay organizations who describe coming out while staring down the barrel of a gun as a courageous act. There are closeted people serving in all walks of life, but to make heroes out of men and women who lie their way to the top and come out under pressure is akin to praising a thief who admits stealing after seeing that the deed has been caught on film.
Frankly, I agree with Yuhas. McGreevey's neatly choreographed "I Am A Gay American" presentation has been revealed to be nothing but a self-serving veneer for his emerging political scandal, and gay Americans everywhere should be cautious of blindly aligning themselves with this new "poster boy." He's not, all punning aside, someone who appears to be an upstanding kind of guy.

An example of what bugs me about the media's coverage of this? The Monday after this story broke, CNN.com's ubiquitous front page QuickPoll carried this loaded question under the headlines describing the corrupt McGreevey backstory: "Would you vote for a gay politician?" CNN's QuickPoll's can be notoriously backhanded, but this was a cheap a shot as it gets. Can you imagine the kerfuffle if some politician of a different minority association was involved in a similar scandal, and the question read: "Would you vote for a Black [female, Asian, Jewish, foreign-born, Catholic, what have you] politician?"

Yuhas concludes,
For all of the complaining about gays being refused the right to marry, it is shocking that the bonds of matrimony that McGreevey broke are of so little consequence to gay activists that they ignore them in their press releases and act as if the adulterous affair between McGreevey and Cipel is simply collateral damage in the coming-out process. More important than the vow a man makes to his wife or the promises made to constituents, the only thing that matters to gay activists is the final tally of out-of-the-closet politicians.

It will not take much time before McGreevey is on a speaking tour of college campuses or out signing copies of his autobiography. It is almost certain that he will be invited to be the grand marshal of a gay parade next year. But if gays and lesbians were truly concerned about marriage and truly desired the privilege of entering into the most important of unions, you would think they'd be less enamored by McGreevey. The pressure on McGreevey to leave office before Nov. 15 continues, and if gay activists were wise, they would join the chorus.
I concur. Provided the allegations are true - especially the ones regarding McGreevey's fraudulent political appointment of Golan Cipel to a crucial security post - McGreevey should do the truly honorable thing now, and resign immediately. Any politician in such dire straits would be compelled to do so, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The New Blogger™ NavBar 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
That gray-black horizontal bar at the top of this page is a new feature Blogger™ added yesterday afternoon without fanfare: I refreshed my page at one point, and bam, there it was. Huh?

Apparently, it replaces the dynamic advertising bar that used to appear at the top of many free Blogger™ pages, although it hasn't cropped up on any of my other sites yet. I didn't care for the original color it came in - Blogger Blue, to wit - so I changed the color scheme to Black, which blends in nicely with the current farkleberries design.

But, as they say, is it any good? Well, since I don't have a say in the matter, I'll confess the jury's still out. The NavBar offers (looking left to right) a link to the Blogger™ main page, a search box that lets you find locate pages within a blog by keyword (caveat: this only appears to work right now when "Post Pages" are enabled, i.e., when the keyword(s) appear in the post's permalink rather than the post body), a BlogThis! button that allows Blogger™ users to instantly post to their blogs a link to the page being viewed (caveat: as long as it's a Blogger™ page, as the BlogThis! Javascript link doesn't seem to function when dragged to your browser's links or bookmarks), and finally the "Get Your Own Blog!" and "Next Blog" buttons.

The former is a wisely placed ad-link that prompts viewers to sign up for their own Blogger™ accounts, while the latter functions as a "random site" webring button - with the ring being all recently updated Blogger™ sites. That's a pretty darned big ring. I've clicked through the "Next Blog" several times with mixed results - after about 8 to 10 clicks you land on a Blogger™ page that lacks the NavBar, and you're stuck, because there is no corresponding "Previous Blog" button.

Ah, well. It's led lots of unlikely visitors to my site...but let me tell you - there are some weird, weird blogs out there. *shudder*

UPDATE: Blogger™ Help has a page discussing the new NavBar features, and thanks to Talk About GMail for the link!

Monday, August 16, 2004
Headlines that caught my eye today 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Israel May Try to Tempt Hunger Strikers With Aromatic Cookouts [SfGate.com]
Google's Playboy Boob Does Not Upset IPO [Out-law.com]
Charlie Watts' Throat Cancer an Eye Opener [Healthtalk.ca]
Corporal Klinger Will Be Thrilled [ABC7 News NYC]
Floridians Who Lost Homes To Charley Frustrated [Reuters] (No, really? Do you think?)
Fidel's Happy Birthday [CBS News.com]