ChangeMedia

Culture. Technology. Politics.
 



This blog is no longer active, but we're leaving it here for posterity.






Friday February 4, 2005
A few moments to plug Blink, the new book from Malcolm Gladwell. In case you don't know him, he's a writer and frequents the pages of New Yorker magazine. He's recent article "The Ketchup Cunnundrum" is a favorite of 2004.



You can buy it here.


Thursday February 3, 2005
Those in the know love to explore Google Labs, the playground of future Google technologies not quite ready for the world. Some of the Google Labs projects will make it to the big-time, some won't. A recent addition to Google Labs site is Google Suggests. Google Suggests has been much noted for its cool technology. By my readings, not much has been noted about why it is either good for me as the consumer of search tools or for Google as the profit making money collecting soon-to-be-vast-web-empire. I argue below that Google Suggests is perhaps more about optimizing the value of our searches from the Google perspective than it is for optimizing you and I getting the results we are looking for.

Firstly, Google has developed a great brand - we almost all believe at this point that the value relationship between Google and ourselves is more tipped in our favor than it is with some other service providers. We're not having late night lovers quarels with Google complaining that we're putting more into the relationship than they are. Right? I can only asssume that Google really, really, really wants to protect this brand. One question I will pose later is whether Google suggests will have a positive or negative affect on the brand that is Google.

The value of Google Suggests is weighted in favor of Google, not me and not you. How can this be? Isn't it really great that I will require fewer page loads to get to the results I want? Isn't it great that I'll be sure to search for the terms that will return the largest number of results? Isn't it great that I'll never misspell another search term again? I would argue that its more great for Google than it is for you and I and it may even be Net bad for you and I.

Before I get going, you must know how Google makes money from your searches, if you don't already (skip to next paragraph if you do). Advertisers purchase ad placement next to results for specific search terms. When you or I search for one of these terms our results include (I use "include" since recent articles and studies suggest that most (!) people can't tell the difference between the ad and the search results) an ad. If you or I click on that ad, Google gets paid. If we don't, Google gets the big donut, diddly, zilch, nada. For instance, if I go to Google and search for "blog", one of the ads that comes back is for "Type Ad". Type Ad has contracted with google to place an ad next to search results for search terms that include the world "blog". Type Ad then pays Google if I click on the placed ad.

On to the more meaty stuff.

I classify every search on Google in one of three ways: 1.) direct hits; 2.) direct miss and 3.) missfired. The terms are very much from the perspective of Google's balance sheet, not your or mine's search experience. Also...please pardon the gun metaphor - its disgustingly awful. Some definitions:

  • Direct Hit is a search term for which google has sold an Ad. I'm assuming here that there are also search results returned. At the very least, this search has the potential to generate revenue for Google. It still might not...but its a great start.
  • Direct Miss is a search term that returns results but for which no advertisements have been sold. A direct miss is valuable to the searcher, but not valuable to Google.
  • Misfired is a search where the user just plain old screwed up, didn't get search results at all because they typo'd, spelled wrong, forget to enter anything at all etc. Importantly, these typically (I'm assuming) result in the searcher trying again and ultimately landing on one of the other two above.
So...in this context, I argue that "Google Suggests" is a search value optimizer, again from the perspective of Google. It encourages - or will ultimately be used to encourage - a set of searches that on average result in more Direct Hits and fewer Direct Misses and Missfires. I'm all for eliminating Missfires (and as such really enjoy the "Did you mean?" feature in Google which does not avoid the missfire, but helps me quickly resolve it). But...unlike the Misfires, Direct Misses are only misses for Google - for me they are often generate results from Google's full text index that are exactly what I want.

If I'm Google and I can get users to more closely congregate their searches so that that similar concepts are phrased identically then I've done some good. So...if searches that start with individuals thinking to themselves "San Francisco Lodging" or "San Francisco Motels" or "San Francisco Hotels" all end up being entered as "San Francisco Hotels" then Google has created more search concentration around this keyword and they'll start seeing higher or more bids for those keywords rather than seeing keyword purchases fragmented around various alternatives for places to stay in San Francisco. I would expect this to happen since as I'm typing "San Francisco" the fourth or fifth suggestion down is "Hotels".

Also, if I start typing "San Francisco" and that was going to be the end of my search phrase then I might click on an ad and shazam, I'm off to the San Francisco Hilton site (one of the ads associated with "San Francisco") . You can bet that Google would have preferred that I search for "San Francisco Hotels" instead of plain ole' "San Francisco" since the cost of the more specific search phrase "san francisco hotels" is very likely higher than the more generic "san francisco" and thus creates more Google $. (take my word on the pricing of keywords in Google - "San Francisco Hotel" is much more expensive than "San Francisco"). If I'm looking for a hotel, but am the average searcher aren't I more likely to append that "hotel" option to the end of the phrase if its suggested, than if it is not?". In that scenario the search has been OK for me and VERY good for Google.

A far more interesting scenario is one where I intend to search for a search term for which no one has placed an ad. If I do indeed get back a result and it is one that I want, google has missed the opportunity to extract value from my search. I speculate the aggregation of searches around specific terms noted above is far more powerful in terms of revenue benefit to Google than revenue lost to unsold search terms...but I'm not sure (if you know, drop me a line). A question to ponder about the "average searcher" is whether he or she would second guess a search term when google had nothing to suggest and "try again" before executing the search? I probably wouldn't....but....I bet lots and lots of people working on the thought that the absence of a matched suggestion means that no or few or invaluable search results will come back.

Also...ponder these thoughts about searching generally and how they match up with Google Suggests "technology":

  • Does the suggestion including the number of results help me? Isn't the goal of most of my search to return the minimum number of results that encompass the stuff I'm searching for? The presence of the number kinda suggests the opposite, don't you think? Usually if I search for something that returns a bazilllllllion results I'm only going to be interested in the first few based on page rank or I'm going to search again.
  • Isn't effective searching from the searcher's perspective best done as an iterative process of search, view results, tweak terms, search view results etc. etc. etc.? Is there something wrong with this process? There is some sort of learning that goes in while engaged in this process that is lost when I'm told that when I think about San Francisco that what I'm really "supposed" to be thinking about is San Francisc XXXXX where XXXX is determined either by Google or by the rest of Google's users and NOT the nature of the internet world exposed through Google's Index. If it ain't broke....
Isn't this a step backwards folks? Isn't this a glorified site directory ala Yahoo 1994 that just happens to have an interface that starts with me typing?

I leave you with a few questions:
  • Is the decrease in Missfires and increase in Direct Hits with some cost to the consumer in the subtle effectiveness of freely entered text searches worth it?
  • Will searchers ever perceive the narrowing of both searches and search results around the likely more limited set of suggestions that they willing elect from the pulldown. If so, will narrowing create an opportunity for a more generalized free-text search?
  • Will I capture 1/26th of world's search revenue if I create a website directory called "Search terms that start with the letter A"? I'll leave room for 26 competitors. If you feel like you can improve on my idea, you may want to consider creating a directory site called "search terms that start with the letters AR". In fact...you may want to create a directory of such directories then we can as a distributed system mimic the functionality of Google suggests perfectly. :)
  • Will google ever release to the public "Google Suggests"? Is there a way to tailor Google Suggests so that it is truly valuable to both parties?
  • If you are skeptical of my analysis, do you think I"m 1% right? Would google do it for 1% more revenue? For 1% few misfired (overhead) or Direct Misses (overhead without potential)? For 5%? More importantly, is Google now a company that would sacrifice customer goodwill for that 1%? 5%?
Its an interesting feature - and very well implemented. Is it of value to me? Is it of value to Google?


Tuesday September 14, 2004



Sunday September 12, 2004
Not Taking My Own Advice

Well, it was but a few days ago that I opined on this very blog that frequency of posts is critical to maintaining readership. And yet, here I have gone several days without posting a damn thing. Not that I didn't mean to post -- you missed out, for instance, on my insight into what MBA's at Berkeley consider a "technology company" and why I think they might be wrong (hint: is Yahoo! really a "technology company"?) -- that just never saw the light of day. Now, I have an excuse. It's not a good one, but it's not that I've been sitting around twiddling my thumbs. No, you see, now that I'm a student I am getting quickly reacquainted with something called "homework" -- and this time around I am actually doing most of it, which I must say is, quite simply, incredibly time consuming. No wonder I tended to blow off my class reading in college -- I would have never had all that time to do whatever else it was I was doing. It doesn't help that for the first semester we are really on half-semesters (known in most parts of the world as "quarters"), so I have mid-terms starting this week(!).

A couple people mentioned that it really wouldn't matter how often I posted if I would just get with the 21st century and have an RSS feed. Of course, those people are right, and it's just plain embarrassing that I don't have RSS for this blog given how blog savvy I like to think I am and how little effort it would actually take me to personally make it happen. On the other hand, when I asked a few months ago how many of my readers use RSS the general response was "what is RSS?" -- it hasn't quite hit the mainstream yet, folks.

On a separate note, the power of blogs to do things "traditional media" could never do was once again made clear to me when I was reconnected this week to someone I have not seen for many years, and, frankly, may very well have never connected with again if not for the fact that he happened across this blog and started making comments. And the best part is that this isn't the first time something like that has happened to me.

Anyway, off to prepare for tomorrow's case in micro........


Friday September 3, 2004
Blog Collectives

Yesterday I went a meeting of the Berkeley Entrepreneur's Forum. The theme of the evening was the state of the Venture Capital industry. I'm into that kind of thing, so I found it interesting, but that's not what this post is about. At one point one of the panelists was talking about trends and hype, and he mentioned blogs, followed a fairly matter of fact statement that everyone thought blogs would just grow and grow, but it turns out that while lots of people start blogs, few keep them up, so now blogs pretty much have "come and gone". In his world, he meant that they have come and gone as an exciting market opportunity to exploit, but the sentiment really struck me.

As any reader of this blog knows, I'm a big believer in the personal publishing revolution that is best represented today by the blogging phenomenon. So, it's mildly disturbing to hear the entire trend dismissed, as if it's a thing of the past. I say mildly because part of the point of personal publishing is that getting permission or support from large institutions (or even small ones for that matter) isn't really that important, so long as the web remains fairly open with low barriers to entry (and, thankfully, that is still the way it is). The fact that a venture capitalist doesn't see a way to make a 10x investment is hardly reason to worry about the health of blogging.

At the same, though, I have noticed what I would call blog fatigue starting to set in on many blogs. If we take the "A-List" bloggers out of the discussion for the moment (since most of them are professional journalists/writers/etc., and most of them have built-in economic/career incentives that drive their continued blogging), there's no denying that keeping up a blog is hard work. As I posited earlier this week, quantity is sometimes more important that quality to continue to attract visitors to a blog, but if quality slips you'll definitely lose people (whether a bloggers goal is really to attract and retain readers is another topic for another time). Bottom line: writing reasonably interesting things on a daily basis can be a lot of work -- time that most people don't really have in their lives, especially not when sustained over the course of many years, day in and day out. Thus, blog fatigue -- the gradual decrease in frequency of blog posts, followed in many cases with the eventual abandonment of the blog altogether. At this point there are probably more orphaned blogs sitting on the web than there are active blogs (or, at least, it's moving that way quickly).

Lately I've been thinking about the notion of a blog collective -- a blog created by a group of people, thus alleviating the pressure on every blogger to create something worthwhile every day (or almost every day). Of course, this is hardly a new concept. Plenty of blogs out there have multiple authors -- even this very blog you are reading now has, in theory, at least 3 different authors (though, I haven't done a very good job of maintaining the collective nature of this blog, admittedly). I have to think the trend towards such collective blogs will continue, as people gather together to blog on certain topics in order to spread the effort (and, hopefully, increase the average quality). It's easier to see the utility of such collectives for blogs on fairly narrow topics. For instance, the (mostly excellent) blogs at Corante are group authored. For personal blogs, though, I think it's harder because of the highly personal nature of such blogs. An anecdotal example of this is the attempt by my friends Doug and Jim, who started their blogging lives with a single, co-authored blog. That lasted approximately a week before they decided it would be best to simply pursue independent blogs. I won't claim to speak for them in terms of the reasons, but from the outside looking in it does seem that the personal nature of a blog made it difficult to share the spotlight, so to speak. Whenever I talk to someone about the blogging phenomenon I often mention Doug and Jim's blogs (along with several others written by friends) because for me they are a big part of my blog reading, yet they are decidedly fringe in the grand scheme of the blog world -- and that's part of the point of blogging: for everyone, it's the so-called fringe blogs that are, for a given person, actually central to their media intake on a given day. This is different from simply "small mass media" -- it means that for someone like me, a non-trivial percent of my media intake comes in the form of a personalized view of the world from people I know personally (and from people I'll never meet), and that is different in both form and substance from the model of a "zine" or other "alternative media" as it's generally conceived.


Friday September 3, 2004
Liberal Businessperson: A Contradiction?

Well, I've successfully completed my first week of classes as an MBA student. As I've mentioned before, I feel that while most people who go for their MBA probably get a lot of support from their friends and family, in my circles it is a bit odd -- other than people wanting to support me generally, I think most people I spend time with outside of work wouldn't generally consider themselves "pro-MBA".

One reason for this is that, frankly, most of the people I spend time with outside of work don't tend to identify as "business people" -- and almost all would probably self-identify as "progressive" in terms of politics. I suspect that for most of them, "business" and "progressive" don't often go together -- and the GOP has certainly done their best to portray themselves as the party of business people. Clinton was seen a "new" Democrat in no small part because he was fairly unabashedly pro-free market and pro-business.

All of this is a long way to get to the fact that I have been a bit surprised at how many of my MBA classmates would openly describe themselves as progressive and/or liberal -- and, at the very least a "Democrat". Let's just say that George W. Bush would lose this election in a landslide if my class represented the American public at large. Now, granted, I am going to business school in The People's Republic of Berkeley, California, but I am still surprised at how prevalent anti-Bush sentiment is at the business school.

I have long thought that there shouldn't be a contradiction between progressivism and business -- in my mind it's the Bush crowd that is bad for free enterprise in their support for the largest, most powerful companies. The Democrats have made a big error over the course of at least my lifetime in ceding the "pro-business" position to the GOP. Encouraging entrepreneurship is the single best policy to bring more justice to wealth distribution in our capitalist economy, from my perspective. Given that capitalism isn't going anywhere any time soon, it's a shame we don't put more energy as a society into teaching kids the most basic elements of how it all works -- the epidemic of bad personal credit is a great indicator of this, not to mention that fact that most people don't tend to grow up feeling in control of their own "capital destiny", as I like to call it. It's conventional wisdom that the "asset class" is a small elite compared to the "income class" in our country -- yes, this has plenty to do with the nature of inheritance, but I think it has much more to do with the fact that the basic understanding of how to even be someone with assets as opposed to just income tends to be reserved to those who come from that background -- perhaps it's time that basic economic literacy becomes something school children learn from a young age, the way the learn social studies or history.


Wednesday September 1, 2004
Testing a Theory

I didn't have a chance to post anything today, but I have a theory about blogs, which is that quality is not always better than quantity -- more specifically, it's better for there to be some kind of content regularly even if not every post is really great. Those who follow blogs tend to check in daily, or at least close to that, and finding nothing new is a sure fire way to discourage them from checking back again. Obviously, the overall value of the writing has to be worthy, but I think it's better to have SOMETHING than nothing, all else being equal, if you want people to keep coming back.

So, am I right, in your opinion -- are you glad to have found this filler content rather than nothing? Does it make you more likely to check back soon in case there is something worthwhile?


Tuesday August 31, 2004
Soft

Today I had my first Organizational Behavior class at business school. I've spent a fair amount of time over the last few years consulting with companies about things like Core Values and Core Purpose, so I had some strong opinions about the case we read, which involved a top-performing employee who had some real problems fitting into the culture of his company. The main question we discussed was whether this person should get a promotion, and the discussion revolved largely around things like the company's mission/values, etc.

I like that kind of stuff, so I found it interesting. I also thought we glossed over the notion that companies often have strong dissonance between what they espouse their values to be and what actually happens in the offices and hallways. But, figuring we'll cover that in greater detail during the course, I didn't really pursue it.

After the class I had lunch with a few classmates, and I was a little surprised to hear that they thought the class was "too soft" -- not really something worth taking a class in. It's really a shame that tomorrow's business leaders (and today's for that matter) take things like adhering to strong values as an organization so lightly. It brought home to me the reason there is, in fact, so much dissonance. Now, off to stats class, where those folks will be more comfortable....


Monday August 30, 2004
iPod Nation

My wife just bought me an iPod -- the icon of modern times, in many respects. This little box is a beautiful piece of engineering, and seems nearly ubiquitous around San Francisco. My 500 or so CDs are looking increasingly dated (much as my iPod will, no doubt, look one day) -- and are listened to with less and less frequency (though our road trip this summer put me back in touch with many of my CDs).

But, all has not been right with my entry into the iPod masses. You see, there was some kind of funky reverb whenever I listened to the music. Almost like it was out of phase. After testing it with 3 different headphones I decided it must be a hardware problem. Given that I live 3 blocks from an Apple store, I figured that was the place to go (especially since that's where my wife bought it).

For those who have never been to an Apple store, they have what's called the "Genius Bar" -- literally a bar where a group of knowledgeable Apple geeks hang out and answer questions. If you just walk into an Apple store (well, at least the one in San Francisco) you will likely wait 30 minutes to talk to a Genius. Thankfully, Apple has put together an online reservation system that lets you get a spot in line from anywhere. I was able to make an appointment from home, then wander down there about 20 minutes later and waited only 5 minutes.

Turns out it was a software issue, which I must say surprised me. The fix was reinstalling the software on the iPod (since it has a harddrive, it's not like upgrading firmware -- you basically reinstall the operating system on the thing), which the Genius who helped me did for me at no charge.

All in all, what seemed like it was going to be a very negative experience (nasty distortion of my music) turned into an experience that deepens my loyalty to Apple. Since I've recently made my PowerBook my primary computer, I guess I'm now an "Apple person" -- something I have not been for many years.


Sunday August 29, 2004
DRM In Action

Today I had my first real run-in with Digital Rights Management. I've written here on this subject a few times before, and I've been following it fairly closely, but never before had I had an opportunity to get my hands dirty, so to speak.

You see, I just started business school, and being 2004 almost all class materials are distributed online. A handy site called Study.net is providing the service to my school, and they have all of the "course reader" material as Adobe eBooks. How incredibly handy to have all this material online, especially for me since I live an hour commute from campus. But, then comes the dark side....

Smart ass comments from the gallery aside, my incoming classmates are a pretty bright, reasonably tech savvy crowd. Yet, there were plenty of problems just viewing the materials, let alone using them -- and all of those problems (or, at least, most of them) can be directly attributed to the DRM embedded in the content.

First came the basics of downloading. Rather than just downloading a file with the content you want, what you download is a little program used by Adobe Reader to go get the content. To do this, you need to first "activate" your Adobe Reader with Adobe -- this went reasonably smoothly for most folks, but some had difficulty. Then, while attempting to download the content lots of folks ran into a number of obscure error messages, most related to problems with "vouchers" -- in other words, various network and application problems related to verification of the rights of people to just download the content in the first place.

Since people were having problems, those who had successfully downloaded the content started sending out copies of the files. But, of course, that didn't work -- you guessed it, because of the DRM.

Even when things were working more or less as expected there were quirks that caused me to spend lots of extra time (for instance, for some reason certain documents wouldn't download unless I quit Adobe Reader and restarted it).

Then, here you are finally reading the damn thing and you can't copy and paste chunks of text -- makes note taking much more difficult because you can't excerpt short passages. I'm not talking about making whole copies, I'm talking about taking 2 sentences and doing "copy and paste" -- a characteristic of text-based computing that goes back to the very earliest GUIs. Plus, you can't save any of the "Commenting" (a feature built into the Adobe Reader with nice things like highlighting of text and inline comments).

I understand all the rationales for embedding the DRM in these materials, but the bottom line is that pissing off end-users isn't generally a good approach to building a customer base. If we weren't a captive audience to this content (Which, by the way, makes us much less likely to pirate it) I guarantee that most of the class would have just walked away.


Tuesday August 17, 2004
Good Point

Stirling Newberry argues for an end to use of the term "intellectual property", saying we should replace it with "intellectual capital". More than just a sematic distinction, he explicates the constitutional and historical justification for moving away from the very notion of information as property.

(via IP)


Monday August 16, 2004
What is Conservatism?

Phil Agre has an answer.


Thursday August 12, 2004
Camping and the Internet

While we were on our road trip this summer, we camped in several state parks scattered around the country. It was a great option for us because we were travelling with a dog, and we didn't want to have to spend lots of money on crappy hotels along the way -- not to mention that camping is enjoyable in its own right. I have to wonder how someone would have planned such a trip before the Web. Of course, they would have probably gotten a book of camp sites in America, or perhaps several books, one for each state/region. But, thankfully we had no such encumbrances. South Dakota probably had the best online system of those that I used (most use a private 3rd party web site), with pictures of each individual campsite.


Tuesday August 10, 2004
Back in the World

Well, after a 6,400 mile road trip and a quick trip to New York for my cousin's kid's bar mitzvah, I'm back in the real world. Well, actually, I'm back in school, which is, I assure you, not the real world. (Though, what is?)

At the moment I'm sitting in a lecture hall at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. I should be schmoozing, but when I checked my email and found a friendly reminder that I promised to start posting again when I returned I couldn't resist taking advantage of the excellent wireless coverage found here.

I must say, being back in school is a bit of a shock to the system. I'm not even really back in school, actually, as this is just a pre-class, to review various things I was already supposed to know when I got here. The schlepping text books up a big hill to get here doesn't help either.

OK, lecture is starting again.....


Saturday May 8, 2004
Summer Shirking

As you've noticed, ChangeMedia.org has been quiet lately. Too quiet.

I'm taking a 6-week road trip this summer, and have been working a lot in preparation for that. So, rather than unofficially languish, ChangeMedia.org is taking an official summer hiatus until some time in mid-August (with possible intermittent reports between now and then).

If you want to be informed when ChangeMedia.org starts up again, enter your email address below (I promise, no spam), and I'll drop you a note when we return:

Your Email:





Wednesday May 5, 2004
This Is What Democracy Looks Like?

Where to start on the U.S. Military's abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison.

WMD being absent, we are in Iraq, the president tells us, to create a free nation, a pro-western democracy. The decision to use this facility, well known throughout Iraq as a place of torture and rape, for the detention by U.S. soldiers is a typical example of horrible judgment by this administration. That the U.S. military and civilian contractors would stoop to such Saddam-like mistreatment is deeply wrong in every sense, and has confirmed the worst views of the U.S. across the world. I'm having difficulty imagining a worse set-back in the "war on terrorism" short of invading all Muslim holy sites and installing Billy Graham as the new director of "faith based" outreach to the Middle East. And the president wont even apologize, let alone fire the uber-incompetent Rumsfeld.

If you have any doubt about the credibility of these allegations (besides from the photos), or the seriousness of them, examine the report of an Army investigation by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, available at MSNBC. The report concludes, "Several US Army Soldiers have committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law at Abu Ghraib/BCCF and Camp Bucca, Iraq." Some excerpts are below at the end of this entry.

This report came out in February. What has been done? As near as I can tell, until the publicity that came with the photos (which I saw for the first time on the Daily Show, of all places), virtually nothing. One of the civilian contractors closely involved in the abuse (Stephanowicz, see the report below for his role) is STILL WORKING AT THE PRISON.

There are two things I'd like to highlight, which haven't gotten a lot of attention that I've seen. First is the role of civilian contractors. They are not under military control, and are not subject to the Military Code of Justice. (And there is no chance we are going to hand them over to the Iraqi "criminal justice system" for prosecution). I was speaking with my boss, a former federal prosecutor, and he explained they could be prosecuted once they come back home under U.S. civilian law. However, that would require them coming back to the U.S. And clearly, Stephanowicz is staying right where he is. Thus, we have resorted as a nation to using a para-military organization to do our dirty work, and made them beyond the reach of the law.

Second, examine this finding in the report:

-> The various detention facilities operated by the 800th MP Brigade have routinely held persons brought to them by Other Government Agencies (OGAs) without accounting for them, knowing their identities, or even the reason for their detention. The Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center (JIDC) at Abu Ghraib called these detainees "ghost detainees." On at least one occasion, the 320th MP Battalion at Abu Ghraib held a handful of "ghost detainees" (6-8) for OGAs that they moved around within the facility to hide them from a visiting International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) survey team. This maneuver was deceptive, contrary to Army Doctrine, and in violation of international law.

We have U.S. military officials routinely detaining people with no idea of who they are, what they've (allegedly) done wrong, and we are hiding them from the Red Cross? When our officials (or worse, Chalabi and his co-horts) don't like someone, they can have them taken off to prison and held for no reason? This is accountability? This is the U.S. establishing a model of democracy? This is "disappearing" people! This is the worst sort of totalitarian abuse! And we wonder why some Iraqi's are turning against us? I'm simply apoplectic. This is a very dark day.

Here are some excerpts of the report:

-> I find that the intentional abuse of detainees by military police personnel included the following acts:

Punching, slapping, and kicking detainees; jumping on their naked feet;

Videotaping and photographing naked male and female detainees;

Forcibly arranging detainees in various sexually explicit positions for photographing;

Forcing detainees to remove their clothing and keeping them naked for several days at a time;

Forcing naked male detainees to wear women's underwear;

Forcing groups of male detainees to masturbate themselves while being photographed and videotaped;

Arranging naked male detainees in a pile and then jumping on them;

Positioning a naked detainee on a MRE Box, with a sandbag on his head, and attaching wires to his fingers, toes, and penis to simulate electric torture;

Writing "I am a Rapest" (sic) on the leg of a detainee alleged to have forcibly raped a 15-year old fellow detainee, and then photographing him naked;

Placing a dog chain or strap around a naked detainee's neck and having a female Soldier pose for a picture;

A male MP guard having sex with a female detainee;

Using military working dogs (without muzzles) to intimidate and frighten detainees, and in at least one case biting and severely injuring a detainee;

Taking photographs of dead Iraqi detainees.

These findings are amply supported by written confessions provided by several of the suspects, written statements provided by detainees, and witness statements.

-> In addition, several detainees also described the following acts of abuse, which under the circumstances, I find credible based on the clarity of their statements and supporting evidence provided by other witnesses (ANNEX 26):

Breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees;

Threatening detainees with a charged 9mm pistol;

Pouring cold water on naked detainees;

Beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair;

Threatening male detainees with rape;

Allowing a military police guard to stitch the wound of a detainee who was injured after being slammed against the wall in his cell;

Sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broom stick.

Using military working dogs to frighten and intimidate detainees with threats of attack, and in one instance actually biting a detainee.

-> In general, US civilian contract personnel (Titan Corporation, CACI, etc . . . ), third country nationals, and local contractors do not appear to be properly supervised within the detention facility at Abu Ghraib. During our on-site inspection, they wandered about with too much unsupervised free access in the detainee area. Having civilians in various outfits (civilian and DCUs) in and about the detainee area causes confusion and may have contributed to the difficulties in the accountability process and with detecting escapes.

-> Recommendation that Mr. Steven Stephanowicz, Contract US Civilian Interrogator, CACI, 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, be given an Official Reprimand to be placed in his employment file, termination of employment, and generation of a derogatory report to revoke his security clearance for the following acts which have been previously referred to in the aforementioned findings:

Made a false statement to the investigation team regarding the locations of his interrogations, the activities during his interrogations, and his knowledge of abuses.

Allowed and/or instructed MPs, who were not trained in interrogation techniques, to facilitate interrogations by "setting conditions" which were neither authorized and in accordance with applicable regulations/policy. He clearly knew his instructions equated to physical abuse.


Wednesday April 21, 2004
F@#$ing Microsoft

I have long been a user of Microsoft Outlook. Despite the many reasons to not use this program, I have come to depend on it, and I haven't really found another program that works as well. I've been fortunate to never have been the victim of any of the many viruses and other attacks that exploit various weaknesses of Outlook.

Until today.

No, I was not attacked by a virus. No, it was not a malicious buffer overflow. No, it was nothing like that at all. Today I was hit with the built-in 2 gigabyte limit on a PST file (the format Outlook stores information in). Today my main PST file hit the magical limit of 2GB, and Outlook went all to hell. Thankfully, Microsoft provides a nice little tool that will shrink your PST to under 2GB, though it does so by DELETING SOME OF YOUR MESSAGES. Silly me, I suppose, for not monitoring the size of my PST file. I guess it might have been too much to ask for Outlook to let me know about this limit and that I was approaching it. Pray for me and my successful retrieval of at least most of my mail.


Tuesday April 20, 2004
What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Last week our car died. It was 10 years old, so it wasn't a big shocker, but needless to say it was a real bummer. We needed a car, and sinking $3,000 into a car worth less than that didn't make a lot of sense, so we decided that now was the time for a new car. The choice was fairly easy because we'd already decided that we want a hybrid, and there are really only a couple choices, one of which has a long waiting list in our area. So, 48 hours later we drove off the lot with a new Honda Civic Hybrid.

Soon after I started to realize just how misunderstood hybrids really are. Just about everyone I talked to about the new car asked some variation of at least one of two questions:

1) Don't you have to plug it in?
2) Isn't it really slow?

Perhaps its my inner geek, but I never thought hybrids needed to be plugged in -- that's why it's a hybrid and NOT an electric car. But, Honda has found it necessary to spend big bucks on an advertisement just to spread that basic message: you never have to plug it in. And no, it's not really slow. It's still a Civic with a 4 cylinder engine, so it's no sports car, but if it didn't have the extra gauge on the dash that shows battery charge I would venture to say nobody driving it would ever guess it's anything other than a normal car.

Thankfully, we have been getting good mileage thus far (about 40 mpg, on average), unlike some other hybrid owners.


Tuesday April 20, 2004
Not All That?

Well, I guess this week has been plenty of links to TPM, but one more....

Now it looks like Bob Woodward is backing off the reports about Saudi influence in the election. Though, really what it says is that they make decisions in all elections, for both parties -- how that's better, I'm not sure.


Monday April 19, 2004
Very Straightforward

Not like this subject needs yet another post in the world of blogs, but earlier today I posted about the alleged conversation between Bush and the Saudi ambassador in which the ambassador promised to lower oil prices in time for the November election to help Bush get re-elected. So, you'd think that BushCo, with their reputation of steadfast leadership would jump all over this rumor and squash it resolutely, with clear language that everyone can understand -- after all, that's what this White House is known for, right?

Well, take a look at the White House press corp's discussion with the press secretary today on this subject as posted at TPM. Now, to be fair, it's always difficult to take a live Q&A and write up a literal transcript and have it sound good. And to be more fair, this is not totally atypical press secretary banter, for any administration. But, you can't help but feel like we're not exactly getting a straight answer out of the White House on this, can you? Though, perhaps it really is language we can all understand. Understand all too well.


Monday April 19, 2004
Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap

Enough reports on potentially very disturbing discussions between President Bush and the Saudi ambassador, in which the ambassador "promised the president that Saudi Arabia will lower oil prices in the months before the election - to ensure the U.S. economy is strong on election day." Read that again.

I have nothing to say here about the accuracy of this (other than that it comes from a very legit source) or where it will go in the news cycle, but I do know that this is a story that shouldn't just fade away, and the blogosphere is the place to keep such memes alive. I've made no secret about my views of the Bush administration, so I claim no objectivity in evaluating this claim, but if its true it should be reason enough for ANYONE to question whether they really think this man and his cabal are suited to leading our nation.


Saturday April 17, 2004
Ann Coulter's Unoriginal Lie About the 9/11 Commission

This week's column by Ann Coulter is largely a reverberation of the conservative echo chamber, repeating Ashcroft's suggestion that the real cause of 9/11 was a memo written by 9-11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick. According to Ashcroft, and repeated by the GOP media machine, this 1995 memo "established a wall separating the criminal and intelligence investigations," and this wall impeded investigations that might have stopped the 9-11 attack. Coulter takes Ashcroft's innuendo to an outright accusation: she says Gorelick is "person who built that wall" and "The 9/11 commission has finally uncovered the proverbial 'smoking gun'!" These statements are just wrong. That Coulter would lie in her column is not surprising to me. That Ashcroft would mislead the country, under oath, is at least a little surprising.

In fact, the wall between foreign intelligence and criminal investigations was enshrined in law since at least 1978, when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed. A good summary of the law and some of the implementing regulations can be found at the EFF. The source of the wall is quite clear if you read Gorelick's memo. Of course, until Ashcroft decided to have it declassified for obvious partisan reasons, the memo was secret. Now it's available from the National Review. What the memo actually shows is that Gorelick was making sure that the folks involved in the World Trade Center bombing investigation and prosecution followed the rules, because when a prosecution team doesn't follow the rules, convictions can get thrown out.

I'd like to make two points about this lie that "Gorelick built the wall." First, at the time of the memo, Gorelick was a mere Deputy Attorney General. If she made the rule, and Ashcroft didn't like it, Ashcroft could have changed it when he became AG. What did Ashcroft do to fix this supposed problem? Nothing. One explanation was that he didn't care about terrorism, and was focused elsewhere (like covering a statue's breast during press conferences). While that's probably true, there was another reason the "wall" survived long after Ashcroft took over, which brings me to . . . .

Second, both Ashcroft and Coulter have vigorously defended the PATRIOT Act. One of the reasons they like it is becasue it lifted the wall between intelligence and criminal investigations. As Ashcroft said just a few paragraps later in his testimony, "Finally, the USA PATRIOT ACT tore down this wall between our intelligence and law enforcement personnel in 2001." (The most relevant part is section 215 of the Act, available here) Do you need an Act of Congress to change a Deputy AG's memo? No. But you do need it to change another Act of Congress - like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Obviously, the "wall" wasn't one Gorelick had the authority to build, or to remove. What she had the authority to do was to put procedures in place, and Ashcroft had the authority to change them. Gorelick was just doing one of her job as a government attorney, which is to help make sure people on her team follow the rules, and in particular make sure that the conviction of the first World Trade Center bombers wasn't tossed out because the FBI and CIA cut corners. And if Ashcroft's suggestions that the procedures were unnecessary and stopped effective law enforcement were true, why didn't he do anything about it?


Thursday April 15, 2004
Fuckin'-A!

Doc Searls (along with many others) points to the open letter to Congress, reportedly written by retired judge Steve Russell.


Monday April 12, 2004
What If?

Andrew Sullivan points to The New Republic article playing a what-if game, envisioning a Bush impeachment after he invaded Afghanistan in August 2001. I've said before that I think the focus on what happened before 9/11 is a mistake, and this imagined scenario is probably quite an accurate portrait about what would have really happened. But it also misses the point. I think the country should focus on what happened after 9/11, not before, but those who are asking those questions aren't saying that the U.S. should have invaded Afghanistan. I think they would be more interested in knowing why after specific intelligence talking about planes being hijacked was circulated at the highest levels of government why we couldn't even manage to scramble some fighter jets in time to catch up with commercial airliners that were clearly off-course and out of contact. They would want to know why it wasn't until the second plane hit that the President realized something very very bad was happening, given the general sense of alarm raised in the memos that are now becoming public. Rhetorically compelling, perhaps, but this strawman doesn't hold up to scrutiny as a response to those asking the tough questions.


Monday April 12, 2004
Christian Right Against Bush

Over a year ago I posted a short piece about attacks on the neo-conservatives from both the (so-called) Left and the (so-called) Right. I was reminded of this today when I read the reasons to vote against Bush, posted by conservative Christians supporting Roy Moore.

Can there really be fewer of these folks on the (so-called) Right than there are Nader voters on the (so-called) Left?

(via strangelove.cc)


Monday April 12, 2004
Ann Coulter Misleads to Sell Books - And This Time, It Isn't Even Her Book!

As Katie Couric said, Ann Coulter has been "called everything from a 'pundit extraordinaire' to a "right-wing tele-bimbo." But one thing Ann Coulter has not been called is understated." At least this week, I would add "correct" and "consistent" to the list of things Ann isn't.

Ann Coulter's latest column strongly recommends Sean Hannity's latest book, called "Deliver Us from Evil." There is even a link at the top of Ann's website where a customer can buy the book from Amazon. What Ann doesn't tell readers is that sales of the book through this link result in payments to Ms. Coulter herself. Her column is not just the back-scratching cross-advertising with Hannity that one would expect (she often appears on his shows, usually touting her latest screed). In this case, she's actually earning a commission. Perhaps it is this incentive which led to the overreaching and inaccuracies in her column.

Coulter's column asserts that Hannity is the subject of a campaign by the so-called liberal media to ignore or undermine his book. (This is a common theme for her. Her argument in defense of Augusta's bar on women members: "But it is really more than the public should have to bear to watch the last bulwark of legal discrimination in America fume about the membership policies of a private club. The media won't hire half of America: Republicans." http://www.anncoulter.org/columns/2002/121102.htm )

About Hannity's book, she says, "not a single major mainstream newspaper has reviewed it," and then complains about the book's treatment in a review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Why does she mention the St. Louis Post-Dispatch review? As they say, We Report, You Decide. Here is her treatment of the review:

"That's unless you include the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which briefly mentioned Hannity's book in order to say that it compared unfavorably with another book and to call Hannity an 'angry conservative' (redundant in liberal-speak).

The reviewer, Harry Levins, Post-Dispatch 'Senior Writer,' complained that Hannity's book 'reads like a long, long transcript of his television and radio shows.' Inasmuch as Hannity's TV show is the second-most-watched show on cable news and his radio show is the No. 2 radio show in America, only a liberal would consider that an insult. Levins is hoping for a book that would read more like a transcript of Al Franken's listener-free show on Airhead America."

This would leave you to believe that Levins rejected Hannity's book disfavorably to some liberal, thoughtless attack piece. (This would fit nicely with the thesis from Coulter's last book, which, to quote her, is that "political debate with liberals is basically impossible in America today because liberals are calling names while conservatives are trying to make arguments." http://suprmchaos.com/bcEnt-Bonus_Xscript.index.html)

Any reader finishing Coulter's article with that impression of Levins' column, however, would have been mislead. In fact, Levins' compared Hannity's book to John Podhoretz's "Bush Country," which offers a favorable view of our current President, and which Levins' describes as "a reasoned case backed by research." Levins is no member of the (alleged) ideologically blindered media conspiracy against which Coulter rails. He frequently writes on conservative books and topics. Indeed, just a few months ago, he wrote favorably on books addressing two of Coulter's pet issues -- allegations of liberal media bias and liberal hatred toward religion. (Levins, "Conservative Blasts at Liberal Media Are Worth a Look," St. Louis Post Dispatch, November 23, 2003).

The rest of Coulter's column is a summary of some of the ostensible points of Hannity's book. Since she doesn't even offer up these arguments as her own, there's nothing to rebut.

There's one nugget, though, that I can't pass up. Attempting to show that liberals consistently perpetrate the evil of failing to defend the nation, she says, "And so it was again after 9-11. Sixteen months after the attack, John Kerry gave a speech saying, 'Mr. President, do not rush to war.'" The implication is that either 1) we needed to attack Iraq to retaliate for 9-11 or that 2) Iraq posed an imminent threat. And as the President says, "We have no evidence that Saddam Hussein was involved with the Sept. 11" attacks. And, as the CIA director says, "They never said there was an imminent threat." (He may be wrong there. At the very least, Bush and other officials implied an imminent threat, but in any event we all know no threat was imminent.)

Why was it, Ann, that we needed to rush into Iraq? At the very least, a strong argument can be made that we should have taken our time to build international support -- particularly among our Arab allies and at the U.N. If we had, we would have been much less likely to be stuck with the entire cost of Bush's go-it-alone strategy -- including over 600 body bags and billions of borrowed dollars. Ann, am I allowed to criticize your reasoning and evidence (or lack of it)? Or is that just more liberal name-calling?


Friday April 9, 2004
Our Negative Press

I've written several times about Google News, which I try to visit every day to get one algorithm's take on the journalistic zeitgeist of the moment. My favorite part is the little list of terms "In The News" (which I first wrote about here), that little block at the bottom-right of the "Top Stories" block at the top of the page. Of course, lately it has almost constantly had "John Kerry" and "George Bush" (or variants thereof), and I've been struck by the fact that the overwhelming majority of headlines one finds clicking through either name are quite negative. I suspect this means that Bush supporters link a lot to negative John Kerry stories and vice versa. Here's a sample of the top few headlines under "George Bush" as I type:
  • The many troubles of George W. Bush
  • GOP Hypocrite of the Week: George W. Bush
  • Impeachment rumours for George W. Bush [which is actually a satire site - one that appears far too often in the headline list, if you ask me]
  • George W. Bush: War President [not flattering]
  • The Apparat: George W. Bush's back-door political machine
  • 'Let Them Eat Lead'


Here are the ones for John Kerry:
  • John Kerry's Communion at Catholic Church Upsets Pro-Life Groups [a pro-life web site]
  • Learn why John Kerry is DEFINITELY NOT Among The Good Guys!
  • John Kerry's Trail of Treachery
  • Why Tony Blair Wants John Kerry to Lose
  • John Kerry: Islamists' Useful Idiot
  • John Kerry: A 'cheap' aristocrat


And I can tell you this is no fluke -- this is typical of the way the headlines on Google News have been for the two main candidates lately.


Thursday April 8, 2004
Kerry: Spammer

This year I gave money to a political campaign for the first time ever. Long-time readers of this blog won't be surprised to hear that I think George W. Bush is bad for our country and our world and should be removed from office this November. I didn't give much, but for me it was a symbol of my desire when I typed my credit card info into John Kerry's web site.

But now, I'm getting Kerry spam. About every 3 or 4 days I get a new email "signed" by John Kerry giving me the latest campaign talking points and, of course, urging me to give more money. On the one hand, I can certainly understand why I am getting this email, and at some level I even appreciate being "in touch" with the Kerry campaign. But, I really can't help but think of this as spam. If any retailer I had bought something from sent me this much email I would never buy from them again.


Thursday April 8, 2004
Spin vs. Anti-Spin

Al Franken does a nice job of debunking most of the current lies being told about John Kerry in an attempt to paint Kerry as a waffler -- and Franken does all this by deconstructing a single paragraph uttered by Sean Hannity.

(via Enough)


Wednesday April 7, 2004
Those Filthy Europeans

You have already read about the fracas around John Ashcroft cracking down on pornography -- you know, the one where Ashcroft decides that he should devote huge resources to go after adults selling pictures of other adults to yet more adults? I admit that I tend to be a zealot about the first amendment, however I might feel about pornography, generally. But, that's not what this post is about.

I was reading an article about Ashcroft's new initiative (via Strangelove.cc) and was struck by this paragraph:
Obscenity cases came to a standstill under Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton's attorney general, who focused on child pornography, which is considered child abuse and comes under different criminal statutes. The ensuing years saw an explosion of porn, so much so that critics say that Americans' tolerance for sexually explicit material rivals that of Europeans.

Lock up your children, America is becoming as bad as that den of sin called [GASP] Europe! How dare Janet Reno spend her time and energy going after people abusing and exploiting children when there was so much more adult porn to persecute! I knew things had gotten pretty bad in this country, with scantily clad and even, gulp, naked people everywhere, but I had no idea things were as bad as they are in that bastion of iniquity called [GASP] Europe! Thank God that Ashcroft is on the case doing God's work against those heathens. If this country elects John Kerry, we'll have people fucking naked in our schools, for sure -- you know, like they do in Europe.

Oh, and speakig of obscenity, I'd love to read what The Rude Pundit would have to say about this.





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