Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Harper's Copyright Foulup

On the one hand, the possibility that Canadian PM Stephen Harper might get sued for copyright is hilarious. The somewhat paranoid Conservative boss is running attack ads against the new Liberal leader, Stephane Dion, that use Liberal leadership debate footage to put try to put Dion in a bad light.

(No, there's no election coming soon. I don't get it either. He must be terrified, otherwise he wouldn't do something so hamfisted.)

On the other hand, I have to agree with Michael Geist:

Geist said the use of such video clips in political ads would be entirely proper in the United States, which applies a broad “fair use doctrine” to its copyright laws. The fact that the Tory ads raise questions here highlights the shortcomings of Canadian law, he added.

“Frankly, it should be beyond doubt that they should be able to use short clips of these kinds of public political events that should fall under a fair use doctrine. I think it’s unfortunate that under Canadian copyright law there is some level of uncertainty.”
Honestly, I have to agree, even aside from my own newfound interest in the matter. Fair comment in Canada is woefully inadequate- it might suffice for a country like Britain with no constitutionally-based bill of rights, but Canada has a very impressive charter of rights, and it's pretty explicit about freedom of expression.

(Even if it also features a bizarre section that essentially means "if you think it's for a good enough reason that you can justify as somehow 'democratic', you can jettison most of these rights at will." It's a little more complex than that, but that's what it boils down to, especially for freedom of expression.)

Fair comment, especially in the political arena, really should be interpreted pretty broadly, or else the whole edifice of freedom and democracy quickly falls apart. You end up with a Russian situation, where you have meaningless elections because quasi-legal tools are employed to silent dissent and protest. For all the Bill of Rights' flaws, at least there's no danger of that.

Besides, there's so much stuff that the Liberals can use in return that it'd be FAR more fun if the barn doors were opened and those horses set free.

(Hat Tip: Michelle Oliel)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"And Now For Something Completely Different"

Star Wars. Using Hands.

Second Life Protester in Davos' Second Life

...or something, I'm not quite sure how to summarize this story about a meeting of Davos attendees in the increasingly popular online game/world/society/environment Second Life.

A single demonstrator has broken through the World Economic Forum’s otherwise thorough security cordon, sneaking past rows of efficient guards to wave a large anti-Davos placard right in the temple itself.

Ok, so he’s an avatar (online alter ego). But he still did it. luemmel Lemmon of the WEF protest group DaDavos walked into the Second Life virtual auditorium where Adam Reuters has been interviewing avatars of Davos participants. No security there, and barely any rules either.

Lemmon sat politely with his banner in the front row. Rather wonderfully, as our picture (left) shows, he chose to sit next to one of the few avatars choosing to wear a suit.

To be honest, I consider this official passion with Second Life to be a little bit of a fad; nothing I've seen of the game--to use what some players consider a demeaning name--suggests that it has the flexibility, longevity, or power to become a true Gibson style Cyberspace. It doesn't run that well, it tends to bog down, and the graphics are usually serviceable at best.

More importantly, though, I doubt these luminaries will stick around once word gets out about he unbelievably unsavory groups that have colonized Second Life. I doubt the Google guys are going to want to end up associated with, say, the "furries" that have colonized vast swaths of the Second Life landscape.

("Furry" is a brand of fetish peculiar to the Internet that you do NOT want to look up whilst at work. A relatively benign description can be found on Wikipedia; what you tend to find on Second Life is much, much less so.)

Still, right here, right now, it's a heck of a story. It shows that offline activities like invasive protesting are likely to follow the Best and Brightest into any virtual environment, and that the protesters can be pretty civil about it. Not EVERYBODY on the Internet is a vulgar boor.

Most of us, sure, but there are a few exceptions.

It also shows that there's a real hunger out there to take something like Gibson's Matrix or Stephenson's Metaverse and bring it to life. The fact that corporations and other organizations are willing to deal with all the problems of something like Second Life shows that hunger isn't just found in computer geeks, but on a much broader scale, among those who have the cash to bring it to life. Most of those who want to inhabit such an environment want it to be gamelike--hence the enormous difficulty in popularity of more traditional "games" like World of Warcraft vs. amorphous "environments" like Second Life--but there's room for both, and time spent in the former is going to increase acceptance of the latter as a social and business tool.

Slowly, people are getting used to the idea of avatars. Even if Second Life never lives up to its promise and events like this are just a curiosity, something like Second Life probably will. It's just a question of time.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Superstar Gore

So now, in addition to those sellout crowds in Idaho, we have the Rolling Stone writing fawning three page articles on how cool Al Gore is and how he should run for president.

I don't know if he's going to run. Maybe he is, maybe not. I'll say one thing, though: it's gotta be really great to be Al Gore right now. About the opposite of those Cheneys, I'd say.

I still think it'll come down to the Oscars. If he wins, if he gets up on that stage, he'll probably say he's running. I honestly CANNOT think of a better venue. Even if he didn't get either the nomination or the presidency, it'd be a moment for the history books.

(Certainly one for Youtube.)

the problem, though, is the same now as it ever was- that Gore's current status and popularity is a vivid and painful reminder of what could have been. Even the media that hates him almost certainly agrees that a Gore presidency would have been so much better for the country as to defy description. It's why that SNL moment was so bittersweet; An Inconvenient Truth, even more so.

Damned butterfly ballots.


Malice aside, I do have to admit to a little bit of sympathy for the Cheney clan. How rough must it be to be a Cheney right now? Granddad is going absolutely loco, without the faintest clue about Iraq, Lynn is forced to carry his water, no matter how nonsensical and distasteful, and Mary Cheney might need to leave Virginia if she wants to have any parental rights at all.

Plus, Dick's about as popular as cholera right now.

Were it not for all the money- and Dick being so, well, evil, I'd feel really sorry for them right now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Gore the Rock Star

AL Gore, that is, as we move on to actually important news.

Apparently, according to the Huffpo, Gore's latest talk in Idaho sold like hotcakes... "faster than Elton John", in fact. Makes sense- aside from being a strong defense of real science, An Inconvenient Truth was an example of the best damned presentation I've yet seen, and I know I'd love to see it in person myself.

Oh, and he got two Oscar noms: Best Doc, and Best Song for Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up".

(And won't that be one hell of a performance in and of itself.)

Sure, the Oscar would technically go to the director of the movie, Davis Guggenheim. Let's be honest, though: the point of the movie is Gore and his presentation.

So why is this important? Because Gore and his movie have ensured that global warming and the science behind it has reached the mainstream. Heck, it's practically pop culture now. Even if Inconvenient Truth doesn't win (it's up against the fantastic "Jesus Camp" and several documentaries about the chaos in Iraq), global warming has now gone irrevocably Hollywood, in a way that the truly terrible "The Day After Tomorrow" never could have accomplished.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Punks" and The Game - Note: Edited

The Wire is violent, nasty, profane, and filled with the sort of thing that causes middle-aged women to write nasty letters to executives about the state of television nowadays. Many of the characters are amoral drug dealers, playing "The Game" of selling poison to addicts...and while some are antagonists, many are surprisingly sympathetic, despite being killers and thieves. It doesn't necessarily show them being brought to justice, and some are heroes to their younger counterparts, being powerful, respected (in their own right), and wealthy beyond the means of almost everybody else in their community.

It's also one of the best shows on television. The reason is simple: it provides an unflinching window into a society and way of life that most people misunderstand, if not choose to ignore. It shows the decline of the American city; why, and how. If it's "sexy", it's because violence and machismo has always remained so.

It is not, however, that original.

People often forget that the whole point of "gangsta rap", at least before it became a means to flash one's wealth, was doing the same thing in the early 1990s as The Wire does now. It shows White America what is happening in its cities, under its nose, while it busies itself with other cocerns. It holds a mirror to aspects of life and living that people like to ignore: aggression, hate, alienation, tribalism, violence, and the desire to prosper in the face of adversity, society, and its laws. In that, it's very much like punk music's wild scream of alienation in the face of staid conformity.

It is, thus, extraordinary that a self described "punk" would write a jeremiad against rap music that could have just as easily issued from the mouth of Pat Robertson. Never mind the alarming lack of knowledge of lines of causation, or the citation of masses of totally unnamed 'studies' that purport to prove that media causes rap- as if David Simon, Ed Burns, and HBO are responsible for the violence in Baltimore. Never mind that the foundation of similar studies on video game violence are highly questionable at best.

No, what really bothered me is that this "punk"'s arguments almost certainly echoes the reactions of others to his own genre of choice! Has he never read the similar complaints about the youth-corrupting elements of punk music? Hell, even of ROCK music?

Post was temporarily edited until I settle an issue brought up in the comments thread. I've removed anything that could be considered remotely libelous; although I would thoroughly disagree that a word I've written is anything of the sort, I have no interest in being on the business end of Warren Kinsella's apparent penchant for lawsuits.

Oh, and for the record? I'm not anybody he knows personally. I don't know him personally. I only know him from his position as a public figure and from his public statements. If commenting on and critiquing public statements is now grounds for legal action, it's news to me, and rather scary at that. Still, better safe than sorry. At least for now.

Further Edit:

I did a quick scan of Canadian Cerberus' breakdown of Canadian libel law. My position is that all that I'd written falls under Fair Comment:

“Comment” does not mean merely “opinion”. Comment is something which can reasonably be inferred to be a deduction, inference, conclusion, criticism, remark, observation, or the like. Fair comment protects only comment or opinion; it does not protect statements of fact.

Fair comment must be a comment on a matter of public interest. In general this consists of two broad categories: matters in which the public in general has an interest, and matters submitted to public attention and criticism. Matters of public interest are very numerous. It is a matter of public interest on which everyone is entitled to make fair comment whenever a matter is such as to affect people at large, so that they may be legitimately interested in, or concerned at, what is going on, or what may happen to them or to others. “Public interest” is not to be confined within narrow limits

The burden is on the defendant to prove the truth of the facts upon which the comment is based. The defendant must also prove that the subject-matter is one of public interest, that the words are a fair comment on it, and that the views expressed are ones which could honestly be held. The plaintiff has the burden of proving malice.

Anything written as a column for a newspaper, especially on an issue as sensitive in Canada as culture and gun crime, certainly comes under the category of "public interest", and the specific comments I'd made about his own comments certainly fit under that criticism/comment/opinion/whatnot category. what statements of fact I'd made are also easily verifiable as truth: the "top ten" does mention Public Enemy in a positive light, a skeptical American judge really did throw out the lion's share of anti-media (specifically anti-video game) studies as largely worthless, and correlation really isn't causation.

Nor, for the record, do I actually hold any malice against the man. (The comment he made later about Canadian conservatives' helplessness in trying to smear Stephane Dion was actually pretty good.) I'd be interested in seeing the justification that he could pull out for any claim that malice did exist. Malice I reserve for, say, Dick Cheney.

And unlike Marc Bourrie, I haven't charged him with any crime. He hasn't committed any crime- just, in my opinion, some very poor judgement.

Another Edit: unless, of course, this is about that horrible stabbity punks comment. It was satiric hyperbole intended to show that punk rather treasures its horrible violent bastards, nothing more. It is certainly not advocacy, as I am not, in general, a horrible violent bastard.

(I figured that would be obvious, but I suppose not, hence why it was pulled.)

Just to be clear: wrongheaded column or no, nobody should do violent things to Warren K. Including NWA.

And no, the irony of this isn't lost on me. Were it not for the fact that I am in no position to pay lawyers to go to town for the next few months or so, I'd find the whole thing really, really funny.

Why on EARTH is Frank Luntz on the Huffington Post?

Especially when the arch-spinmeister is using his tradecraft as vigorously as ever?

Yes, nobody who reads the Post is going to read this:

Democracy is at its best when its practioners use language to unite and explain rather than divide and attack. The blogs from the Left and the Right be damned, the real center of America is upset but not bitter, anxious but not fearful, restless but not unforgiving.
...and not laugh. He made his fortune and reputation doing exactly that which he decries here- using language to divide and attack.

No, he's not converted, and he's sure as hell not the detached analyst of spin that he's playing here. (Hell, the Dems have a few too many of those and a few too few Luntz types, but that's another issue entirely.) The only reason he's preaching conciliation is that he knows that liberals tend to respond well to that sort of thing, knows the press likes their Dems fluffy, cute, and conciliatory instead of akin to those mean, hard-edged Republicans, because it makes for a better story, and knows that if they do so, they'll get eaten alive by the employers he really makes money from.

I mean, hell, look at this:

But alas, power does strange things to Democrats: put a gavel in their hands and a camera in their face and they revert to the name-calling that kept them from the majority for a dozen long years. The message from the electorate in November was 'work together and compromise.' You need only look at the incumbent governor of California who won a lopsided landslide in an otherwise Democratic sweep. Cooperation works. Compromise wins. But over-heated rhetoric says to the world that you are no different - and no better - than what you replaced.
Yes, this is masterful spin. It sets him above and apart from what he's talking about, to make him seem objective (a prize to many liberals and most opinion journalists and not a principal architect of those "dozen long years". It repeats old nonsense about the Dems being "out of the mainstream" (read: "strange"), and invokes the new nonsense about Bush's critics being simply hateful name-callers. It hauls out isolated, easily explained incidents (like Arnold's re-election) to try to create a trend that means anything but "Republicans were tossed out".

And, finally, it invokes the long-exploded idea that the American people want "cooperation and compromise" and that they want the Dems to "work together" with the Republicans, again trying to appeal to a sentiment that appeals to some liberals and the press, but has no connection to reality. And what is that reality?

They threw the bums out, and the new guys shouldn't play pattycake with the bums left over.

That's what Frank is trying to dance around here. He's damned good at it, I'll give it that, although "a dozen long years" gives one an eye for this sort of thing and he's FRANK FREAKIN' LUNTZ, so one is going to be a little wary. I am. You probably are too.

The question is... why give him a forum to do so?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Blast from the past

This is an interesting bit of trivia: apparently George R. R. Martin, author of the wildly popular "Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy series, had a terrible computer crash on his main computer, losing thousands of emails and hundreds of bookmarks.

Yet, this didn't affect his writing at all. Why? Well...

Lest anyone have a heart attack, let me hasten to add that this has NOT affected A DANCE WITH DRAGONS or any of my other work-in-progress. I do my writing on a completely different computer than the one I use for email and the internet, in part to guard against viruses, worms, and nightmares like this. My work machine does not even use Windows (which I loathe). I write with WordStar 4.0 on a pure DOS-based machine. Mock if you must... but WordStar and DOS are both stable as rocks, and never give me the sort of headaches I get from Windows. (I won't even talk about Microsoft Word, about which I have nothing printable to say).
The entire 3000 page series (at least so far)... is written with Wordstar. On a DOS machine.

Not even the old DOS standby, Wordperfect. WORDSTAR. There's not one in a thousand people on this planet who even remember what Wordstar IS. This is a word processor whose heyday was on CP/M machines. What you see on the screen using this program looks absolutely nothing like what will appear on the page, but is simply chunks of blocky DOS font text. It doesn't even use the arrow keys.


Then again... if you want something that will keep you from distractions, a DOS computer running an ancient word processor is definitely up to the task. No alt-tabbing, no internet, no windows... just you and the text.


Maybe he has a point?

Edit: Holy crap, apparently this is utterly common for writers! Check out this piece by Robert Sawyer. IT says just how many writers use WordStar, and why it's the "writer's Word Processor".

Neat stuff, actually, especially about the usefulness of control key combinations for navigation, kind of the ultimate expression of the common writer's love of keyboard shortcuts and loathing of the mouse.

(One that I share, actually. Mice are for artists, not typists.)

Emperor? Maybe Not

Via Majikthise, the WaPo says that Bush is moving away from his maximalist vision of his own privileges. Among other things, the FISA court will once again have to rubber-stamp wiretap requests.

Not terribly surprising. While Bush and his flunkies have always believed they could get awa with anything, a lot of that really had to do with an ultimately-complicit congress and press corps. Absent those, the technical legal arguments begin to look a bit benuded.

Kinda like the Emperor himself, these days. Good thing he's in good shape, I suppose.

Dear Jonathan Chait:

You don't get to proclaim, in your desperate attempt to attack those Iraq "doves" who were right about the war, that they're fighting "the last war".


The war isn't over yet!

You especially don't get the benefit of the doubt when you babble about that while, at the same time, babbling about how the opponents of this war were all opposed to the previous Iraq war, and the invasion of Afghanistan. There aren't actually all that many of those; most opponents of the current war supported Afghanistan as necessary, and would remind the Iraq war supporters that it is the resources sucked up by their war of choice that is handing Afghanistan back to the Taliban. In that and in so many other ways, the damage you war cheerleaders did by being wrong far, far exceeds any damage that those doves could have done.

Invoking the spectre of a "criminally negligent administration" doesn't get you off the hook either. Criminally negligent administrations require a criminally negligent media corps. Thus, it's still on your head, as much as you'd prefer otherwise.

Sorry, but you guys deserve everything you get. Just be happy you aren't Republicans.

Warmest Wishes,


bit of editing for spelling and whatnot.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Yes, the Time Award Makes Sense

Ok, this is that post that I'd been talking about. And, yes, I meant what I said in the title.

Before I begin, though, I'll ask you to take a look at a few sites.

First, this page. Notice the basic characteristics- title at the top, text shot through the middle, links on the side.

Now, look at this page, from a more prominent blogger,Atrios. Pretty much the same thing. It's got more ads, more links, and stuff on both sides, but it's still pretty much the same thing.

No matter how complicated and crazy they get, all blogs pretty much consistently follow this template- links and other folderol surrounding a central column of linked commentary, usually with comments following if you view single stories. (Case in point: this piece on Obama running. Even simple blogs often follow this pattern, though- go look at individual entries on Jason Cherniak's blog; they're functionally identical to Kos, in that comments follow individual articles.)

Now, look at this one: it belongs to writer James Wolcott. It follows the same pattern as all the sites above. Thing is, whereas I'm just an anonymous blogger--albeit a long-lived one by the standards of the form--James is a well respected commentator, reviewer, and author. Lots of them have blogs now.

Now, look at this Globe and Mail piece. It's an Associated Press article on Obama. Notice something? It looks pretty much the same as all the others. Title at top, column of text, links to the side, trailing comments.

Finally, look at this. It's an opinion piece on Canadian PM Stephen Harper by noted columnist Jeffrey Simpson. It's also hidden behind a subscriber wall, but if you use the dodge that most people use to get past that wall, it's identical to all the other entries, too.

So, to paraphrase an old line, are "we all bloggers now"? No. Bloggers aren't reporters. Most don't even pay attention to politics, but just write about what interests them. That obscures the truth:

We are all columnists now.

Remove the paper version and the useless subscription wall, and there is no real, functional difference between, say, Digby and Jeffrey Simpson. None. Both write 500-600 word articles about the issues of the day, as a column down the middle of the screen, with links and whatnot on the sides, and comments following. The only difference is the title, and an editor, neither of which matters to readers. That doesn't mean bloggers are reporters, as most don't go out there and seek out stories, and when they do there is no pretension of objectivity whatsoever. They state their minds, and opine on what they've discovered. They're columnists, just like Jeffrey.

(They're also not "fact checkers", as the denizens of the right seem to fantasize. That's just an artifact of their inability to demonstrate any worth as commentators, so they obsess over things like typeface.)

That's why people like George Will were so vehement in opposng the Time award. The greatest problem facing the United States is "acceptable opinion". It is that "acceptable opinion" that got the United States into Iraq, that leads to bad law and worse policy, that gave the President carte blanche to do what he pleased. While people don't vote based on opinion journalism, they DO vote based on the prevailing perceptions of issues, and those filter down from the elite discourse, in which opinion journalists are key participants and loud voices. People listen to them.

Thing is, they listen because of the relative scarcity and worth of their position. Not anybody can get into the pages of the New York Times, or the Washington Post. You open up that paper, and see those names there, and there's respect involved in that. They got there, in turn, by playing the game, saying the right things, knowing the right people. It didn't matter whether you were right or not on the facts, or in your predictions. You just had to be a player of the game.

Now, though, people are getting their news and opinions online. To someone online, everything looks the same, reads the same, and is worth the same consideration. Thomas Friedman et al aren't such fantastic writers that they can win this on merit, either; the Iraq war was proof positive of that. They know it, too; George Will is no great shakes as a writer when compared to any number of other Internet-specific writers, which might explain his vehement opposition. None of these internet "blogger" types paid their dues, and went to the right parties, and said the right things, and met the right people. They just write, and write, and write some more. How DARE they presume so? How DARE people pretend that they're in any way equivalent?

Of course, the columnist had one refuge where the lowly blogger couldn't go: Television, the great de-equalizer. Unfortunately, as we've seen with the gaming thing, even that's out the window. In a world where anybody can have a roundtable discussion using cheap recording equipment, why only pay attention to the ones that end up on Sunday mornings talk shows? What's the difference between one talking head and another on Youtube? Why pay attention to George Will instead of, say, Markos Moulitsas?

Sure, reporters are still necessary, especially the investigative variety. Bloggers, Vloggers, whatever; they probably aren't going to do that. That's not where the threat is. The threat is to the opinion writers. They're just not valuable any more.

(The same thing is happening outside the political arena, by the way- a good Myspace profile is worth a dozen Rolling Stone writeups.)

That's why I think the Time award makes sense. It isn't about those cute little videos on Youtube, or about journalism, but about this levelling and homogenizing effect. It's about people, especially young people, not even really noticing a difference between a random blogger and an "opinion-maker", because it looks pretty much the same at the end of the day. It's about how it's totally inconsequential whether or not you play the game, and what Washington thinks of you. It's about how even TV is no longer a refuge for the "Right Thinkers", thanks to the democratization of video. To a certain extent, it's even about Marshall McLuhan, because he would have predicted that the carefully built up status of opinion writers would start eroding when brought to a new and very different medium.

Most importantly, though, it's about how people like George Will aren't worth as much as they used to: less and less each day. And a world, perhaps not too far away, where people like him don't get to pick and choose what's an "acceptable" opinion.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

A Brief Aside Before the Time Thing...

That sound at the edge of your hearing? It's is a dozen cell phone company CEOs simultaneously losing bowel control, as they look into the void that is their future marketshare.

If the iPhone is even half as good as it looks, Steve Jobs just conquered the entire portable communications and media market. Instantly.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Future of Gaming, and of Punditry.

I just saw something absolutely fascinating, although in a way I wasn't quite expecting. It's about gaming, theoretically, but there's something quite "meta" about it as well, getting back to the battle raging over the validity of the 2006 Person of the year award.

First, check out this trailer. It's for a movie called "Moral Kombat", about violence in video games.

Done? Good. Now, you've probably noticed that it's looking like your typical "oh, won't somebody PLEEEEASE think of the children" lines. The same exact arguments have been made about movies, about comics, about pretty much every new and/or non-mainstream medium. Makes sense; for one, movies are hideously involving and realistic to someone used to reading.

The arguments presented are nonsense, of course. That whole line from Lieberman about "set up ratings or we'll do it for you" neglects to mention that the ESRB ratings have been around for a while and, if anything, are more restrictive than their film counterparts. There's precious little evidence that the argument presented about kids going on rampages has anything to do with reality; trying to tie it together with 9/11 was just sick. Violent crime has gone DOWN with the introduction of the Playstation, and continues to do so. It's likely a spurious connection, but like with the pornography-and-rape statistics issue, it's VERY hard to try to maintain that there's a direct connection when the stats at least imply the opposite.

(Personally, I stopped believing that video games desensitize people to violence the second I saw the faces of some game-sodden teenagers hearing the news about the WTC. The second. The plural of anecdote isn't data, but I saw what I saw.)

I haven't seen the full film; I may well like it more, or I may take an entertaining month breaking down all its ludicrous assumptions. Here's the thing, though- somebody already has done that for the trailer. Check out this response:

See THAT? Good. It blew me away. Not the presentation, of course, which was kind of amateurish, and more ad hominem than anything else. I'm more about what it represents. The kind of instant link-and-response that bloggers take for granted does exist in regards to video; that's what Crooks and Liars is all about. Same with Media Matters. What the Youtube "revolution" does, though, is make it possible for responders on the Internet to engage video and film at its own level; to create responses using roughly the same tools that the documentarists use, and then post it up on the Internet for anybody to see, watch, and embed. It levels the playing field in ALL media, not just text.

It's that last part that's most important, actually. It's why Youtube is successful and may become essential. Yes, Atrios and Co. have been playing their fun "dueling 80's videos" games, but they sort of miss the point, which is that you can easily post up exactly what you're responding to. If I had simply linked to the two videos above, it would be far, far less likely that anybody would have actually seen them. Embeds mean that with nothing more than a click, one can see them, and that little play button there makes it ever-so-inviting.

This exacerbates that level-playing-field effect. All these two embedded videos are, above, are two embedded videos. Yes, one is far better produced than the other. They're still the same little squares with the big play button. The responses can also easily include little snippets from what they're quoting, as that would be paradigmatic fair use, but even if they don't, simply pairing them off like this would ease comparison and response. It's all video.

It raises a question. Yes, progressive bloggers have a tough time getting on TV. That's probably not going to change. When "TV" is just another bit of embedded video, though, why not just do it your own damned self? People already are, of course, but what this suggests is that political "vlogging" may become as ubiquitous as textblogging is now. There are simply too many possibilities and too great an opportunity.

(And this leads into my take on that whole 2006 person of the year bit. That'll be next.)

(Edited for a few spelling mistakes.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Irrelevance of the Right-Wing Blogosphere

I hadn't been tracking this story much, so I was pleasantly surprised when I finally came across Glenn Greenwald's comprehensive breakdown of the "Jamil Hussein" situation.

Who is Jamil Hussein, you ask? Well, that was the question. The Associated Press named him as an Iraqi police officer, and a souce for many of their stories in Iraq. Problem was, others questioned the claim, most prominently the various right-wing bloggers out there. So what happened? Well, check it out:

Packs of right-wing bloggers spent the last several weeks trying to destroy the credibility of Associated Press's war reporting by claiming that one of its sources, an Iraqi policeman named Jamil Hussein, does not exist, that AP simply invented him. As it turns out -- and as AP itself had the great pleasure of reporting (and then rubbing in the face of its irresponsible, taunting accusers) -- the Iraqi Government, which previously denied it, now acknowledges that Jamil Hussein does exist and he is a police officer in Iraq, just as AP reported accurately.

Eric Boehlert has written extensively about the right-wing blogosphere's attempt to destroy the credibility of AP's war reporting by insisting that their source was non-existent (and, needless to say, then became the immediate target of a campaign of personal attacks, assaults on his integrity, and childish name-calling).

And within the last twelve hours, multiple people have written comprehensively about the profound and long overdue humiliation which these right-wing bloggers just suffered. Greg Sargent re-caps how this incident exposes - yet again - the complete lack of credibility of the reckless, truth-free lynch mobs that compose the "right-wing blogosphere" and which hilariously see themselves as watchdogs over the media even though they traffic in the most reckless innuendo, gossip, and rank, error-plagued speculation that exists.

Here, Dave Neiwert documents but a fraction of the false accusations they made against AP, and during the controversy itself, he made the excellent point that this whole "controversy" was based on denials by the "Iraqi Government" and the U.S. military of Jamil Hussein's authenticity -- military and government denials which they mindlessly ingested and accepted as True like the good little authoritarians that they are.

To this superb commentary I want to add but one point -- there is nothing new, unique or surprising about this incident. Exactly this has happened repeatedly, time and again. This is what the right-wing blogosphere does. It is who they are and how they function. The only difference here is that they were so shrill and relentless in their attacks on AP, having prattled on about it for weeks without pause, that they actually pushed their accusations against AP into the national media.

And, to their great credit, AP -- which continues to aggressively defend its imprisoned-without- charges Iraqi photojournalist Bilal Hussein (whom right-wing bloggers repeatedly accused of being a Terrorist) -- fought back against these accusations. And now the right-wing blogosphere stands revealed as what they are -- a pack of gossip-mongering hysterics who routinely attack any press reports that reflect poorly on their Leader or his policies, with rank innuendo, Internet gossip, base speculation, and wholesale error as their most frequent tools of the trade.
He goes on, at some length, about the lack of credibility that the right-wing bloggers have. He's right in pointing out that this was inevitable- they're so intent on finding bias or errors in the "MSM" that they are relentlessly prone to jumping the gun with accusations that, as it turns out, have no merit.

Here's the thing, though- they don't have much else. I've mentioned before that the striking difference between the American left bloggers and right bloggers is that the former seems to have ideas, credibility, and some sway in the party, whereas the latter just haul out the same old talking points, accusations, and paens of devotion to The President. Not the actual man, mind you, but the ideal of "President Dubya" that they seem to have built up in their heads that the real guy falls tragically short of.

(Sort of "Dubya as Platonic Form", if you will.)

With this gotcha stuff now completely discredited--these guys are going to get hammered from now on everytime they try to play this game--what's left, exactly? They have no ability to derail their leftie counterparts, these accusations make them too much of an embarrassment to play a role with the MSM even if they were interesting commentators (which they aren't), and most aren't actually knowledgeable enough to get into the think-tank game. Sure, they can maybe show up on Fox, but Fox ain't doing so well nowadays, either.

It's striking. As frustrated with the exclusion as people like Markos Moulitsas are, they're far bigger players than their counterparts. I wouldn't have expected this- it shows how much things change. And, for once, they've changed for the better.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Minimum Wage

Interestingly enough, the conflict over the minimum wage increases that are one hallmark of the Hundred Hour Agenda is spilling over the US-Canadian border, thanks to an ultra-controversial post by Canadian Liberal Jason Cherniak.

Unfortunately, for such a generally talented writer, Jason is almost completely wrongheaded on the issue; he posits a direct connection between inflation, unemployment and the minimum wage that had been rendered obsolete by Card and Krueger ages ago, and tried to justify it by claiming that people can get by on Can$200 a month after rent, showing to his (many) critics on this issue that has either forgotten what life is like in poverty, or never really had to experience it in the first place.

What concerns me, though, is that this is a self-described liberal saying this, who is almost certainly doing this as a way of attacking the social democratic "NDP" party, a direct competitor for left-liberal votes.I'm all for partisan advocacy, but the same old rule applies: attacking the left to burnish your "centrist" cred is only going to embolden the conservatives, and they already control the Canadian government.

Considering the Liberals are clearly trying to move somewhat leftward with their choice of leader, and considering that Jason is such a fervent supporter of said leader, why is a leading Canadian liberal blogger doing this?

I've asked him; I've yet to discover an answer.

(Fortunately, it looks like it's full speed ahead in the Congress for the minimum wage hike.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Olbermann has a special comment, on the McCain Doctrine and the “Sacrifice” of more troops.

Go watch it and/or read the transcript over at Crooks and Liars, but I wanted to highlight one section:

And the war's second accomplishment — your second accomplishment, sir - is to have taken money out of the pockets of every American, even out of the pockets of the dead soldiers on the battlefield, and their families, and to have given that money to the war profiteers.

Because if you sell the Army a thousand Humvees, you can't sell them any more, until the first thousand have been destroyed.

The service men and women are ancillary to the equation.

This is about the planned obsolescence of ordnance, isn't, Mr. Bush? And the building of detention centers? And the design of a 125-million dollar courtroom complex at Gitmo complete with restaurants.

At least the war profiteers have made their money, sir.
Wow. Looks like The Motivation That Dare Not Speak It's Name (big bucks for the war machine) is now hitting the airwaves. Most of the rest of what he spoke on was sadly familiar but aside from cutesy, toothless pieces on whether or not Halliburton was making too much money the war profiteer aspect has been quite clearly overlooked.

No longer, apparently.

(Of course, the Washington Corps are still going to ignore it, but judging by this weak, watery emission from Newt Gingrich about supposed "hate speech", apparently at least one prospective presidential candidate is a little worried by Olbermann. They should be; even Gingrich admits that the "poor ratings" line doesn't work anymore, and Olbermann's notoriety is a bonanza of publicity and eyeballs for MSNBC. Compared with Fox's tired recitation of Republican talking points and CNN's lack of even Fox's stable of political commentators (with the exception of Glenn Beck on Headline News), MSNBC has a damned good weapon in The Countdown.)


Big discussion going on about partisanship, and all the nonsense the press is hauling out about how the Dems need to end partisanship. Digby led it off with some trademarked snark, of course.
The rancor in Washington really has gotten out of hand and people are sick of it --- especially, it would appear, the Republicans who just can't take another minute of this horrible lack of collegiality. (Those nasty Dems must be the problem, because I don't recall all this handwringing punditude over Tom DeLay and Denny Hastert.)
The real meat of it, though, came from Avedon Carol, with a simple observation: "Every time a pundit says something like this, a little bell should go off in your head that says, 'I must ask this person immediately how Pelosi is supposed to stop the Republicans from being so viscously partisan.'" Well put.

Both raise the question, though, of why the Dems get hit with this stuff. The easy answer is "biased media!" and while it's a good one, I don't think that's all of it. In an odd way, I think the media has an expectation that because liberalism is such a "touchy-feeling" ideology, especially compared to the fire-and-wrath exclusionist fury of movement conservatives and their theocratic allies, that the MSM simply expects that liberals are going to play nice with their ideological opponents.

Now, of course, there's two problems with that: liberals aren't (always) that stupid about what they have to deal with, and liberalism ain't always that touchy-feelie, especially about those who flout its focus on rights and tolerance. One really doesn't have to be that tolerant of the irrational and intolerant, and you have no right to harm the rights of others. The modern Republican party is the embodiment of everything that modern liberals stand against- there is every reason to treat them like it.

Avedon approvingly links to a piece by Paul Waldman entitled "Democrats, Don't Wimp Out":

All over Washington, the sage barons of the establishment media are warning Democrats not to get cocky. Don’t move too fast, they say. Don’t push a bunch of wacky, left-wing ideas. Seek compromise, give ground, hew to the center, for only there lies the greatest prize of all: the praise of David Broder and Joe Klein, the nodding approval of the Washington Post editorial page, the admiration the Beltway cognoscenti reserve for those who know their place and know whose rings they should be kissing.

Bull. What Democrats need to do is spend the next two years crushing their opponents like bugs. It’s not about mercy, it’s not about manners, it’s about three fundamental goals: limiting the damage the Bush administration can do, passing whatever legislation they can in the short term to help the American public and laying the foundation for future progressive victories.

Democrats finally have the upper hand, and now’s the time to use it. Here are a few things they can do to get started.
What are these things? Pretty minor, by Republican standards.

-Investigate, but in order to discover truth, not lay siege to the White House (like their counterparts did in the 1990s).

-Pick some fights, where the administration is placing itself "above the law", so as to highlight this tendency in this White House.

-Attack conservatism as a failed ideology, rejected by the American people. Point out that the Republicans got to enact a lot of what they wanted, and the results were not only disastrous from an objective standpoint, but were clearly rejected by the American people.

-Boycott Fox, and leave Ailes and his friends out in the cold. Say (in his words)

Want to spread GOP propaganda all day? Be our guest. After all, it’s a free country. But don’t expect any Democratic newsmakers to legitimize you with their presence. We’ll go on every other network, be interviewed by every legitimate news organization. But we don’t consider ourselves under any obligation to pretend that buffoons like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and John Gibson are news professionals who deserve a moment of our time. We’re not going to try to fight you; we’ll just act like you don’t exist.
To me, this is perhaps the most important element. Face it: for the next year, at least, conservatives won't have much in the way of bully pulpits. Fox is their best one, and if the Dems cozy up to it, all they'll be doing is giving the Republicans a venue to take shots at them. The old line about "telling your side of the story" should give nobody pause- we all know that Fox will simply use whatever you say to turn it against you. Go somewhere better; once they figure out what happened, they'll not only treat you fairly, but recognize that you've got teeth as well.

Democrats have a great opportunity. It was almost accidental that they won it, but now that they have it, they shouldn't let the chattering classes rob them of the ability to use it.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Good for Them

According to the Washington Post, "Democrats To Start Without GOP Input". They're putting away the "civility" stuff, so that they can get those key "first 100 hours" done.

But some are handwringing:

Democratic leaders say they are torn between giving Republicans a say in legislation and shutting them out to prevent them from derailing Democratic bills.

"There is a going to be a tension there," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "My sense is there's going to be a testing period to gauge to what extent the Republicans want to join us in a constructive effort or whether they intend to be disruptive. It's going to be a work in progress."
Fortunately for them, things are supposed to be more genteel down the road:

Daly said Democrats are still committed to sharing power with the minority down the line. "The test is not the first 100 hours," he said. "The test is the first six months or the first year. We will do what we promised to do."
Heck, if you're going to break a promise, why not break this one? Trying to "play fair" isn't going to win any support. Even if the other legislators are your friends (hint: they aren't), they rely for support on people who truly hate you. Those people are more important to the Republicans than you'll ever be, and your "friends" will ignore your attempts at bipartisanship as soon as it's politically convenient for them.

(And, no, it probably won't bring around the swing voters, either. They want results, not platitudes.)

Yes, this sort of thing is meat and drink to the Washington set. They (well, at least the "centrists") want everybody to play fair and have lots of lovely cocktail parties and hate the idea of having to alienate their Republican friends.

At the end of the day, though, they don't vote for you, and all their blather is becoming quickly obsolete. (Thanks to the Time "you" award stuff, which I haven't got to, but will.) I know it sounds weird, but you really can safely ignore people like Friedman, Broder, Cohen, and all the others. They've lost their relevance, and they're the only ones who care about this stuff.

Go ahead. Kick some ass. If the Republicans don't like it, they can filibuster for a change.

Best of 2006

First, happy new years. And, for that matter, a belated happy christmas, merry hanukkah, all that.

No, I'm not giving you my own "best and worst" list. Instead I'll simply hand it over to Jill at Brilliant at Breakfast, who has a really good "Best 20" list. Here's a taste, go over there for the real thing:

5. Howard Dean. It shouldn't surprise anyone that after the Democratic victories in November's election, the publicity hogs Rahm Emanuel and Charles Schumer would be the first ones in front of the cameras taking credit. These are guys invested in the old strategy of funnelling the party's money to Washington-based consultants who get paid not for results, but for how much money they can spend. Both fought Howard Dean's 50 state strategy tooth and nail, but when the dust cleared, it was the 50 state strategy, which sought to build Democratic organizations and field candidates in every state, in every district, which brought the results. Without Howard Dean's 50 state strategy, Jim Webb doesn't win in Virginia, Jon Tester doesn't win in Montana, and Claire McCaskill doesn't win in Missouri. "People-Powered Howard" really did return the process to the people, and the results are obvious. Meanwhile, Rahm Emanuel is left to wonder why his candidates like Tammy Duckworth, his "sure-win" candidate in the 6th District of Illinois couldn't pull it off despite losing both legs in Iraq. Perhaps I can tell him: All politics is local, not national. Howard Dean understood this.
The list was initially highlighted by Digby, naturally. Crooks and Liars has the list of lists, for those interested.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Saddam: Vengeance and Justice

Excellent piece by Juan Cole on the execution of the late Iraqi dictator. A lot of things stick out as ham-handed, but the worst is the religious symbolism of the whole thing.

The tribunal also had a unique sense of timing when choosing the day for Saddam's hanging. It was a slap in the face to Sunni Arabs. This weekend marks Eid al-Adha, the Holy Day of Sacrifice, on which Muslims commemorate the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son for God. Shiites celebrate it Sunday. Sunnis celebrate it Saturday –- and Iraqi law forbids executing the condemned on a major holiday. Hanging Saddam on Saturday was perceived by Sunni Arabs as the act of a Shiite government that had accepted the Shiite ritual calendar.

The timing also allowed Saddam, in his farewell address to Iraq, to pose as a “sacrifice” for his nation, an explicit reference to Eid al-Adha. The tribunal had given the old secular nationalist the chance to use religious language to play on the sympathies of the whole Iraqi public.
I'm no fan of the death penalty to begin with- Saddam's death will mean that the truth will probably not be brought to light on his other crimes: the one for which he was convicted, while certainly terrible, was far from the worst he has committed. Worse, because it was in reprisal for an assassination attempt by the same Dawa fundamentalists that eventually came to rule Iraq in all but name, it looks like vengeance against vengeance, rather than justice.

It is this religious element that's truly worrisome, though. All that's keeping Iraq from turning into the next Rwanda, given the similarities of the minority vs. majority conflicts and the growing civil war, is the idea that the majority will not impose its beliefs to any unnecessary degree. Religious holidays are a serious issue in Iraq- the message this sends is that Sunni religious beliefs are at best ignored by the Shiite majority.

(If not actively disdained.)

Saddam exploited this, but this would have been an issue even if Saddam had not breathed a word. It's a message, one saying "we hold you in contempt, and (by extension) are only waiting for the opportunity to rid ourselves of you entirely."