There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

40 is the new 30

Whoo hoo! Yeah, hot damn! I made it! 40 years old! Yes!!!! All my life I've been waiting for this moment, to be 40 years old. The big four-zero. And now I'm finally here. Whooo!!!! Ha ha ha, yes! Yowzah! Happy birthday to me! Now life can begin!

Posted at 12:37 PM
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Dan the Man

This account of a young toddler's devotion to the legal correpondent for MSNBC had me in stitches. Gawd almighty, I nearly bust a gut reading this (and for anyone who knows me and my gut, that would have made quite a mess). (Found via Pop Culture Junk Mail.)

Posted at 3:09 AM
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Sunday, July 27, 2003

Bent Music

About a month and a half ago, I mentioned Dale Keiger's Microstories Project, where he wanted to publish a collection of short non-fiction pieces about events that happened on the longest day of the year (northern hemisphere). Well, the project has been completed and the results published as a PDF file (~250 KB). You can download it from Dale's site, or you can get a copy here. One of the sixteen pieces (the lamest in the collection, IMHO) is by yrs. truly.

Posted at 10:40 PM
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Saturday, July 26, 2003

Beam me up!

Former Representative James Traficant (D-The Big House), currently imprisoned for his 2002 convictions on counts of racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, is running for President.

Traficant is possibly the only politician who can make speeches that are more incoherent than Dubya's. It would almost be worth having him in the White House on that count alone.

Posted at 10:29 AM
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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Object Lesson

Regional sodas are something of a passion of mine. Whenever I travel, I make a point of trying to go to a grocery store to see what kind of sodas they have that we can't get at home. I'm almost always rewarded with something interesting. It seems I'm not the only person who's noticed this persistence of regionalism in the soda pop business; The New York Times has a great article about the phenomenon, written by Paul Lukas, who I expect is the same Paul Lukas who published the zine Beer Frame for so many years on the topic of inconspicuous consumption. This topic seems right up his alley, and he does a decent job of covering it.

There's a little sidebar with the article pointing to dealers where you can purchase most of the sodas mentioned in the article. For Valentine's Day a few years ago, Laura bought me a small stash of Vernors and Blenheim in glass bottles from Pop the Soda Shop in Arizona, which is mentioned. The service was great, but the shipping for glass bottles of soda is a bit steep. I tend to prefer getting my Vernors in quantity in my car, although I've been known to stick a few six packs in my check-in luggage when flying. I'm not sure how well that would play in a post 9/11 era, though, so I don't recommend it. And fortunately for me, a friend turned me on to a soda distributor in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a short two-hour drive away, that carries cases of Vernors, so I don't have to wait until my next trip to Michigan or Ohio. Allentown is only a day trip, whereas Ohio requires a weekend. :-)

Maybe it's a product of the fact that I grew up in Detroit. Lukas mentions that to this day, it's a hotbed of regional sodas, with Faygo and Towne Club also maintaining a market. When I was growing up, Towne Club was only sold in their own distributorships, so my grandfather used to take us to the one a few miles from their house and let us fill up a case or two with bottles of our favorite sodas. I loved their cream soda.

So what's your favorite oddball soda?

Posted at 7:22 AM
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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Pay no attention to the caveats later in the article

Hallelujah! The future that Woody Allen foresaw in Sleeper is on its way to coming true. Eating pizza reduces the risk of cancer.

Posted at 3:37 PM
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Sunday, July 20, 2003

No Sidewalks in Blogistan

It seems like everything I read these days has some relevance to some thoughts I've been having regarding community and blogs.

While participating in this weekend's archeological expedition through the piles of books in our house, I came across David Brooks' Bobos in Paradise. I normally think of Brooks as that unctuous jerk who disagrees with Mark Shields on the Jim Lehrer Newshour, so I hadn't read the book, which was a gift, but I was bored today and needed a break, and it looked more promising than some of the other items I was excavating, so I started reading. It was much better than I expected. I'll probably write more about the book in a later post.

In the chapter of the book dealing with business life, Brooks examines a 1961 book by Jane Jacobs called The Death and Life of Great American Cities. As described by Brooks, the book is a screed against then-current urban planning theory that prescribed tearing down neighborhoods and replacing them with endless rows of sanitized apartment buildings and parks, presumably what we would think of as "projects". Jacobs compares the monotony of such social engineering projects with the vibrancy of a living neighborhood. There are certain things that are present in living neighborhoods in the city, such as delis, tailors, hardware stores, etc. These shops are the backbone of a neighborhood, providing a structure around which a community can grow. One shopkeeper kept keys for the people in the neighborhood; another trades gossip. Of such structure are built bonds, and of such bonds are built community.

Kathryn Cramer had some recent posts about the importance of sidewalks to neighborhoods. She made a compelling case that sidewalks provide crucial infrastructure for forming community:

What is the impact of the lack of sidewalks on a neighborhood? It removes most of the social supports for both mothers and children. Know any teenaged baby sitters? I don't. Want someone to play with? Mom will make a few phone calls and see what she can set up for Tuesday of next week. And it gets scary when there's an actual emergency if you don't know anyone nearby. I've shovelled snow with pneumonia because I didn't know what else to do. I've taken an infant along when I went to the emergency room, since there was nothing else I could do. Neighborhoods without sidewalks are stripped of a lot of basic supports for family life because people do not know one another and do not regularly interact.

A neighborhood without sidewalks lacks an important component of structure that appears to be necessary to the formation of community.

In my recent post about the upcoming entrance to Blogistan of AOL Journals, I compared the natures of Usenet and Blogistan. Briefly, blogs are person-centered and anarchic, while Usenet is topic- and subject-centered with a well-defined hierarchy (and only anarchic within that hierarchy, more-or-less). There's a great deal of bits expended talking about the blog community, but the more I read, the less convinced I am that blogs are a great tool for forming communities. The anarchic and atomic nature of blogs lacks sufficient structure for easily forming communities. I described Blogistan as an archipelago in my previous post, and I think the analogy is a good one. The vast majority of bloggers are isolated, with a relatively small number of visitors; indeed, this applies to the web in general. Comments are few and far between; the blogger who can post something that generates dozens of comments is a rare bird. The lack of classification makes it difficult to discern communities where they may exist.

Blogrolls are one of the few widespread mechanisms for drawing links between blogs, and tools like Technorati are interesting for exposing those links. But Technorati is just as much an island as any other web site. I doubt most bloggers even know it exists. There was an attempt to provide a standard mechanism for defining what blogs are on a blogroll with Dave Winer's OPML format, but when I look at my logs, I see very few hits to my OPML file, which is exposed in the standard way as a META tag on this site. I don't see many tools that take advantage of OPML in a systematic way, and even if they did, they would be islands just like Techorati. OPML might have provided sidewalks for Blogistan, but sadly, has not lived up to its promise in this regard.

Probably the most important component of communities is the opportunity for conversation. But conversations between people using their blogs tend to work roughly as well as conversations between people on two adjacent islands. Even with megaphones, it's not an easy experience. I think it's a testament to the pervasiveness of the human desire to create community that there's any sense of community in Blogistan or on the web as a whole. But in general, I think the web is a lousy way to build community. The structure required to support vibrant communities doesn't exist. The design of the web doesn't lend itself to the building of communities in the way some other net-based tools do.

I've been on the net for a little over sixteen years now, and with other computer-based communications tools such as BBSes and CompuServe even before that. Years ago, I spent a lot of time on Usenet; I even met the woman who is now my wife there in 1990. I spent quite a bit of time on IRC in recent years. IRC is probably the most conversationally-based tool I've come across, and one of the best if not the best I've used in creating a sense of community. I've made a lot of friends on the net, many of whom I have visited in their homes and many of whom have visited me in my home. But none of that activity has come from people I've met via the web.

I don't intend to demean the friendships I've made via the web. I value them, and consider them important. I sincerely appreciate and enjoy the regulars who visit and comment here, some of whom I've engaged in conversation via e-mail as well (another reasonably good tool for community building). But it's difficult to sustain an extended conversation on the web in the way it is on Usenet or IRC or mailing lists. Most of the people I've visited after establishing friendships via other tools are people who were here on the net when the net was a very different beast. Plus, my life is very different than it used to be; I have a wife now, I'm more settled, and I travel less. So I can't say that I've controlled for all factors in this experiment. Still, there's something nagging at the back of my brain about breathless claims that blogs are building community.

Back when I was active on Usenet, every month there were readership figures posted that you could look at. I don't know if they still do that. One thing that was fascinating was that the number of people reading a given newsfroup hugely exceeded the number of people participating in the group. You would have maybe 1% of the readers who would actually post and participate at best. The vast majority were lurkers who read and never or rarely posted. So a group like one I participated in might have 30,000 readers back in 1990, but only a couple hundred posters, and maybe a few dozen who posted frequently. If community is built around conversation but lurkers outnumber participants by orders of magnitude, the number of visitors required to generated sustainable conversations (the critical mass, if you will) is far larger than what an average blog will generate. And it seems to me that the way the web works and the way people use the web make it likely that the ratio of lurkers to participants is higher than it was on Usenet. The lack of sidewalks in Blogistan makes the formation of community very difficult here.

Posted at 9:54 PM
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Saturday, July 19, 2003

Sufferhead must go

The New York Times has an excellent package about one of my all-time favorite musicians, Fela Kuti, using a new exhibit of artwork about the late, great African musician as its news peg. The Times' former correspondent in Lagos, Nigeria, in the late 1970s, John Darnton, has a great story about how his friendship with Fela landed him and his wife and children in a Nigerian jail cell before causing him to be expelled from the country. There's also a decent multimedia package listed on the side of the page of each of those articles that contains an interview with Darnton talking about his time in Nigeria and his experience with Fela, along with some of Fela's music and some of the art from the exhibit.

The exhibit goes under the name Black President, which just happens to be the name of the album that introduced me to his music about 20 years ago. I was doing a radio show on the campus radio station with a friend of mine, called "The John and Ralph Total Anarchy Doom and Destruction Hour, With Special Guest, The Fuzzy Bat." John's roommate had a copy of the album, and John brought it in to the show one day. I was entranced. I went down to the record store that week and bought my own copy. It was on a French label. By the time the album was released by an American record company two years later, I had worn it out and was glad for the opportunity to purchase a pristine copy.

I have somewhere in the neighborhood of two dozen of his albums. I'm just scratching the surface, though; he recorded more than seventy. MCA has been releasing many of his albums as twofer CDs. And I discovered that my beloved Black President album was actually a compilation of tracks from two other great albums, Sorrow, Tears and Blood and Original Sufferhead. Either of those would be a great starting point, as would Zombie, which is used in the Times' multimedia piece. But don't stop there. Collect them all. I'm trying to.

Posted at 10:37 PM
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Friday, July 18, 2003

Food fight!

At the end of the movie Animal House, as I recall, there was a brief segment showing where the residents of the house wound up in the future. John Belushi's character wound up as the Rt. Honorable Senator Blutarsky. But I figure he must have spent some time in the House of Representatives before being elected Senator, because that's the only excuse I can think of for the behavior of our elected representatives in Washington today.

By any standards, today represented a low point in the history of congressional comity. Democrats accused the GOP of running a police state; Republicans recounted how one Democratic member of the panel called a Republican colleague "you little fruitcake" in the midst of the standoff.

But the Democrats were provoked. The Republicans were ramming something down their throats yet again, and the Democrats balked.

After several minutes, Thomas again asked unanimous consent to dispense with the reading, and instantly brought down his gavel. Stark said later that he had objected, and Thomas had replied, "You're too late."

When they walked out, the Republicans did something that seems to be becoming a habit for them: they called the police to drag the Democrats back.

Wisely, the police washed their hands of the whole thing.

The lone Capitol Police officer dispatched to the scene surveyed the situation and consulted with his superior, who in turn appealed to the Sergeant at Arms office. Sergeant at Arms representative Don Kellaher slipped into the room less than 45 minutes later, saying his office decided "this is a committee matter" and would take no action.

At least nobody hit anyone. But I'm half surprised that nobody threw food.

Posted at 7:04 PM
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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Halt, or I'll scratch!

The quality of life in New York City has improved dramatically over the past twenty years. Crime is down. Way down. Way, way down. How far down is it? The police have so much free time on their hands now that they've take to arresting kittens.

Posted at 7:27 AM
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Wednesday, July 16, 2003

De Alto Cedro voy para Marcané

First Compay Segundo. Now Celia Cruz. I hate to say it, but don't these things always happen in threes?

Laura and I saw Compay Segundo back in 1999, when he was a spry 91 years old. The concert, at Town Hall in New York, was postponed for a week because the U.S. government was resisting giving him a visa. But they relented, and the show went on eventually. We had seats in the front row of the balcony, with a perfect view of the stage. The show was wonderful. As I recall, it ended with an audience singalong to the old chestnut "Guantanamera". And it worked; almost nobody else in the world could pull that off.

Tonight as I was cleaning the house, I found the ticket stub from that show. Funny how things like that happen.

[ Ticket to see Compay Segundo at Town Hall in NYC, November, 1999 ]

Posted at 10:44 PM
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Sunday, July 13, 2003

Falling prey to the dark side

Earlier this week, UK newspaper The Guardian announced that they were going to offer an ad-free version of their web site for a £20 per year fee. This weekend, it appears that the other shoe has dropped; they've made the ads on the existing version of the site so fµcking annoying that they'll drive anyone who tries to actually read the site mad. It's bad enough that every page has an seizure-inducing blinking ad for something that claims to be Napster's replacement. But to add insult to injury, every single page also has the most annoying pop-up window I've ever seen. It starts as a small window in the upper-left corner, then gets longer until it takes up the whole left side of your screen. Then it expands to cover the entire screen. I have no idea what the ad is for, because this jarring experience lasts long enough that I'm able to whack the mole before it fully appears. But damn, is it annoying. I want to throw something through the screen. If I could be assured that the rock I tossed would come out the other end in England and knock some sense into the jerks that decided upon this supremely annoying tactic, I'd be willing to sacrifice the monitor. I'm amazed that a paper that until now has been so clueful has done something that displays such contempt for its audience.

I love reading The Guardian, and I was considering subscribing to the ad-free version and to their upcoming US-based weekly magazine to support their up-to-now enlightened approach to the web (open archives, in particular) but I won't be visiting it any more. Fµck you with a chainsaw, Guardian web overlords.

Posted at 9:54 PM
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Friday, July 11, 2003

Chilling Effects

The fine law students of Harvard have posted an annotated copy of the cease-and-desist e-mail I received in regard to a trademark a few weeks ago at the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse. I found a number of items there of particular interest.

Trademark owner's rights:

Trademark owners do not acquire the exclusive ownership of words. They only obtain the right to use it for commercial purposes and to prevent competitors in the same line of goods or services from using a confusingly similar mark. (Emphasis added.)

Limits of trademark rights (fair use):

If the term is not used to label any particular goods or services at all, but is perhaps used in a literary fashion as part of a narrative, then this is a non-commercial use.

More limits:

If no income is solicited or earned by using someone else's mark, this use is not normally infringement. Trademark rights protect consumers from purchasing inferior goods because of false labeling. If no goods or services are being offered, or the goods would not be confused with those of the mark owner, or if the term is being used in a literary sense, but not to label or otherwise identify the origin of other goods or services, then the term is not being used commercially.

How much trademark law do I need to understand?

Your opponent should say that your mark is causing consumer confusion or is likely to cause consumer confusion. (If the C&D does not say this, then no trademark claim exists, and you can rest assured that your opponent is engaging in scare tactics or has hired a highly incompetent attorney).

That really is a wonderful service they provide. Thank you!

Posted at 9:39 PM
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Thursday, July 10, 2003

Pittsburgh Pierogies v. Milwaukee Sausages

At the end of this serious story about a baseball player hitting a team mascot with his baseball bat, there's this intriguing tidbit:

Greenberg said the racing sausages were scheduled to compete against racing pierogies (dumplings) at a series with the Pirates in Pittsburgh Aug. 15-17 and then again during a series between the teams Aug. 22-24 at Milwaukee.

Racing pierogies? I want pictures!

Posted at 2:29 PM
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Wednesday, July 9, 2003

Thangyouvurrymush

Not that I needed the help, mind you, but this page at VerseIt.com about how to write a wedding thank you note has helped clear the cobwebs from my mind as I set about composing notes. And it's easier than digging out the now dusty "how to get married" books. We're still within the three month statute of limitations on thank yous, but need to get our tails in gear....

Posted at 11:24 PM
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Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Run for the hills! AOL is coming!

Shelley Powers notes the buzz around the impending release of AOL's blogging system, and in particular the reactions from current bloggers fearing what the influx of AOLers will do to the pristine environment of Blogistan, taking particular note of what happened when AOL loosed hundreds of thousands of participants on Usenet. (I have to note that Shelley favors the changes she sees.)

I was around for Permanent September, as the AOLization of Usenet was known. I don't remember it fondly. AOL's software was buggy, so for a while, every time someone from aol.com posted, you would see something like eight copies of each message. The users were completely unaware of the culture of Usenet, and stomped all over the delicate balance that had emerged over the years. About the only good thing I can think of is that after aol.com became the domain name commonly associated with clueless idiots, everyone forgot that the previous holder of that distinction was psu.edu.

That said, Usenet != Blogistan. I don't think the impact will be nearly as severe, or in fact, negative at all. Blogistan is already much larger than any one person or cabal can get their heads around. There are hundreds of thousands of Blogspot weblogs, Radio weblogs, and LiveJournals that are maintained by people who already have no idea who Jeff Jarvis, Meg Hourihan, Nick Denton, Anil Dash, and Clay Shirky are. There are already different settlements here; tech blogs, warblogs, etc., etc. ad infinitum. The "a-listers" are already only "famous" within a relatively small segment of Blogistan's residents. The coming of AOL will change this in degree, but not in nature.

The other thing is that the nature of Usenet and Blogistan are very different. Usenet is subject-centric, and generally read in threads. You select those subjects within a newsfroup that interest you, and you read those. Within a newsreader, there's very little scope for differentiating between posts by different members of the group; maybe you can highlight posts from one person, kill posts from another, but that's about it. The focus is on the subject, not the person, and the tools encourage reading all posts on a given subject. In this ecosystem, it's very easy for newbies to break into the conversation, and possibly even disrupt the ecosystem, as the introduction of AOL to Usenet did.

Blogistan, on the other hand, is person-centric. A blog is the product of a single person or group of people. The tools for threading conversations are quite primitive in comparison to Usenet. Many (most?) blogs don't have a commenting mechanism, although it's more prevalent than in the early days. Most blogs with commenting mechanisms lack the critical mass to create a steady community and therefore get few if any comments. Very few of the comment sections on blogs are threaded, and those that are are typically difficult to follow. (It's certainly possible to read Usenet in a non-threaded manner; the command line client rn did this. But Usenet makes more sense in threads, such as displayed in rn's descendent, trn.) Rather than throwing everyone into a soup the way Usenet does, Blogistan is an archipelago of islands, and the bridges between them can be hard to build. It's not easy to break into the conversation just by posting something to your own site. Trackback, which is intended to address that shortcoming, feels bolted on to the side of most websites where it's used rather than integrated into the flow of what little conversation most blogs generate. It's very easy to ignore people you don't know in Blogistan; in fact, it's the default. If you don't know about a blog, you can't read it. Shelley hopes the introduction of AOLers into Blogistan will lead to "complete and utter anarchy". But that's what we've already got.

In short, most AOL bloggers will likely be voices in the wilderness, just like most other bloggers today. Certainly a few stars will emerge. Some of them may even be disruptive to current social patterns. There may be a bit more balkanization than there is now. But the overall impact is likely to be minimal, because the "noise" of a million or five cheese sandwich blogs doesn't impact the ability of the widely-read bloggers to communicate the way it does on Usenet. I don't see the AOLization of Blogistan as being anything but more of the same. And that's fine by me.

Posted at 4:21 AM
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Sunday, July 6, 2003

Odd Films and Weird Videos

I don't know how I missed this site before: oddfilms.com, specializing in capsule reviews of offbeat and underappreciated films. That's something that's right up my alley. In addition to categories like Japanese Films and Korean Cinema, they have ones like Dead Pets On Film, Avuncular Cinema (movies that feature stereotypically eccentric uncles and aunts), and Ill Mannered British People. And, as an extra bonus, they have a special category focused on films that take place in New Jersey. I see a few films from our collection listed here, like Ghost World (and the Bollywood spectacular from which that films takes part of its opening sequence, Gumnaam), Grey Gardens (a great documentary by the Maysles Brothers about Big Edie Beale and her daughter Little Edie, relatives of Jackie Kennedy Onassis who live in a crumbling mansion on Long Island), and Women's Private Parts, a shot-on-video documentary about women and sex in Hong Kong. There are some promising candidates for movie night at the Brandi household. Definitely one to check regularly.

Posted at 8:24 PM
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Friday, July 4, 2003

Anger is an energy

There's an interesting article in this weekend's The New York Times Magazine contrasting the timidity of Democrats with the wild-eyed radical activism of Republicans. It describes a number of instances when the Democrats have rolled over and played dead, in contrast to Republican, who have no shame, then adds this tidbit:

The Democrats are essentially devoted to tempering the harm caused by the Bush administration, which is not much of an agenda at all, though it certainly makes a virtue of moderation. Ruthlessness is just not in the party's DNA.

See, this is why I think someone like Howard Dean is so important. So many of the other Democrats are just Bush's lapdogs. Dean isn't like that. He's willing to call a spade a spade. If Bush does something that's appalling, Dean is appalled, and makes sure we know that he's appalled, why he is, and what he's going to do about it when he trounces that S.O.B. next year. He actually provides an alternative to the wing nut pretenders who stole into the White House in 2000, not an echo.

Even if Dean fades and doesn't win the nomination, I think that his message will influence whoever does win to take Bush on head-to-head rather than continue with the milquetoast bull that's done America absolutely no good so far. And, contrary to the pundits who think that Dean is too prickly to win, I think that providing a clear alternative to Bush is the only way to win.

Posted at 11:40 PM
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Thursday, July 3, 2003

Specialist in all styles

This summer is a rare one in the world of world music; three of the absolute stone cold classic bands ever to come out of Africa are all on tour: Orchestra Baobab from Senegal; Super Rail Band of Bamako, from Mali; and Bembeya Jazz, from Guinea. Two of the three bands were long defunct; only the Rail Band survived continuously. But Baobab and Bembeya have been resurrected to record new albums and to tour. The Guardian has a lovely article with an overview of their history and their present.

Posted at 9:14 PM
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Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Whoosh!

Sorry to post more RSS crap here, but I find Mark Pilgrim's post today about leaving RSS alone absolutely hilarious. Mark rejiggered his RSS 2.0 feed to follow the spec exactly as its author has defined and clarified it, and in the process, broke a hefty percentage of the programs out there that read RSS. The best part, though, is the comments, where an amazing parade utterly and completely fails to get the point (not least the author of RSS 2.0 himself....)

Nice going, Mark. Very subtle.

Posted at 9:18 PM
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If you're gonna fight then you're just dying to get killed

Stuart Hughes asks on his blog why reporters go to war.

Why do journalists leave their husbands and wives, their partners and young children and get on planes time and time again, not knowing what lies ahead and whether they'll get back safely?

I don't fully subscribe to this notion that it's all about bearing witness to the truth. There are untold stories all around, not just in hostile environments. So why do we do it, why?

We do it because we mistakenly believe, as Kaveh said, that "war is great." We kid ourselves that it is only in dangerous places that we can feel truly alive.

Except that war isn't great. It's shit and our friends get killed.

Reading this made me think of an interview I heard on the radio some months ago with Chris Hedges, former war correspondent for The New York Times. After fifteen years as a war junkie, Hedges came home and decided to report on wars no more. He'd seen enough.

He wrote a book called War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, which I gather explores the very question Stuart asked on his blog. I haven't read it yet, but I fully intend to.

Searching for information about Hedges, I came across an interview he gave to Democracy Now about a bad experience he'd had very recently. He was invited to give the graduation speech at Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois. He was not well received. In fact, he was booed off the stage, his microphone was cut off, and the college president cut his remarks short.

[A]s I looked out on the crowd, that is exactly what my book is about. It is about the suspension of individual conscience, and probably consciousness, for the contagion of the crowd for that euphoria that comes with patriotism. The tragedy is that - and I've seen it in conflict after conflict or society after society that plunges into war - with that kind of rabid nationalism comes racism and intolerance and a dehumanization of the other. And it's an emotional response. People find a kind of ecstasy, a kind of belonging, a kind of obliteration of their alienation in that patriotic fervor that always does come in war time.

As I gave my talk and I looked out on the crowd, I was essentially witnessing things that I had witnessed in the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina or in squares in Belgrade or anywhere else. Crowds, especially crowds that become hunting packs are very frightening. People chanted the kind of cliches and aphorisms and jingoes that are handed to you by the state. "God Bless America" or people were chanting "send him to France" - this kind of stuff and that kind of contagion leads ultimately to tyranny, it's very dangerous and it has to be stopped. I've seen it in effect and take over countries. But of course, it breaks my heart when I see it in my country.

The local rag, the Rockford Register-Star, reported the incident with the headline "Speaker disrupts RC graduation". The article under that head is a model of biased reporting.

Not that I'm surprised. I lived just outside Rockford for four years as a teenager. It was a very strange place, very conservative, very right-wing. I remember in the mid-1970s when all these yellow bumper stickers started to appear all over the place saying "I Found It". Nobody would tell you what "it" meant for months, but it turned out to be an early manifestation of born-again Christianity.

In 1978, our local Congressman, John Anderson, was challenged by a local fundamentalist minister. Anderson saw him off, but when I thought about it years later, I recognized it as an early manifestation of the political strategy of the religious right. The father of one of my best friends was the challenger's media advisor, and made all of his television commercials. It was a dirty, dirty race, and prefigured much of what's happened in politics since then.

Clearly, Hedges hit a nerve with the good burghers of Rockford. An editorial in the Register-Star described the reactions:

Overcome, a Rockford College graduate from Capron left in tears. Another graduate threw his cap and gown at the stage before leaving. A 66-year-old Boone County man, the father of a graduate, said it hurt to hear his country criticized.

The author went on:

Where did Rockford lose its tolerance? Where was the danger in hearing what Hedges had to say?

We hope the protest reflects emotions that are still raw on the war and that it is not a sign of growing intolerance of unpopular or unorthodox ideas. That's not Rockford.

Personally, I'm not so sure. It sounds like the Rockford I remember. The thing that scares me is that I don't think this sort of reaction is unique to Rockford. I gather that the speech has garnered a lot of attention from the right-wing press, but since I don't read them, I wasn't aware of it until now.

Re-read what Hedges said in the Democracy Now interview. It really scares me what's happening here. That's why I broke down and gave money to Howard Dean for his campaign tonight.

Hedges has a new book out, What Every Person Should Know About War, that purports to explain what war is like, without the rose-tinted glasses and mythology that tends to build up the glory of the experience. I was paging through it at the bookstore this weekend. Definitely looks like another worthwhile read.

Posted at 1:48 AM
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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


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[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

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