Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Geek Wednesday Update: The Sin Tax on Email

Ah, a debate! Our regular correspondent Nearly Redmond Nick weighs in on the EU's proposed email tax as follows (full text here):

...the explanation given by the proposers of the tax doesn't sit well with me: "Exchanges between countries have ballooned, so everyone would understand that the money to finance the EU should come from the benefits engendered by the EU," says Alain Lamassoure, a member of the European People's Party. So does that suggest that French Internet users were previously barred from sending dumb jokes to their amis in Italy? Was there a virtual barrier that blocked text messages from Ireland to Spain? If such hindrances ever existed, I never saw them.

I'm all for taxes when I can see some value out of their funding cause. Believe me, I'm more than frustrated that my $39.99 cell phone plan costs $50 a month because of the laundry list of taxes and fees tacked on to it, but I would think the $0.75 I pay for E911 would be the best deal ever if it saved my, or anyone else's, life just once (whether or not the project ever works is another story). But when we talk about a mobile technology that in its very definition is meant to reduce reliance on physical location, and the Internet, which was designed to be a communication tool, how does the formation of the EU enhance my use of SMS or email?

To me, this boils down to a sin tax, not unlike our own on alcohol and cigarettes. Now why a sin tax over email? Ah, you must not work in corporate America, then, my fortunate reader. Those of you who do know very well what I mean: email is used as weaponry, in the crudest, most malign way possible. In many places, this goes way beyond CYA stuff to the arena of gladiatorial combat, where one's mace is a vitriolic message that is cc'd and bcc'd to every Jane, Dick, and Harriet with an email address and the company's ID badge. In other words, it's spam that is served up by Fear rather than by Profit. Now I don't know how they deal with one another in Europe, but that's how it is here in USA, Inc. If the two cultures are at all alike in this respect, then I'm all for a sin tax on email, because it may induce corporations (the worst offenders) to restrict their employees' use of email, simply in order to keep the IRS at bay. As I have mentioned many times at the office where I work, cutting out the cancer of internal corporate email is truly a consummation devoutly to be wished.

The other thing I like about it is who would bear the bulk of the cost. In my personal life outside corporate America, I send maybe 100 emails a week. At .01 per email, my tax burden would be a buck for that week, which means an extra $52 for the year on my tax bill. Corporations and big media would suffer much more than that, assuming the tax was applied equably (which, given the other social cancer known as lobbyists, is not guaranteed). So the injustice would be more in the execution than in the concept. But that's also why we need a new government here, led by Al Gore and Barack Obama.

Geek Wednesday: A Word From the Cat

Hi everybody, this is Night, the cat in the Daily Rev banner, here to spend some time with you on Geek Wednesday.

They call me Night because I'm black as...well, never mind, it wasn't my idea. But I like the name—it sure beats Fluffy or Muffin and some of those other lame names you people give to us cats.

Generally speaking, or in my case, meowing, I would have to say that you people are stinking, raving, barking, howling mad. So part of my job at Daily Rev is to remind the guy who types this stuff down for me, just how crazy you lot really are.

Want an example? I'd talk about the government, but you get enough of that from the guys during the rest of the week. Let's talk about computers. What is it with you people and these machines you've made? What all started out as a roomful of light bulbs powered by punchcards is suddenly just another human obsession. And guess what—when you come right down to it, the bulbs haven't gotten any brighter since you folks started this nonsense, and the punch cards have a few hanging chads nowadays. You pay some pencil-neck dweeb fifty billion dollars to monopolize your computing life with an operating system that only a sick race of masochists like yourselves would dare put up with, and you call us beasts!

Then, as if that sort of techno-flagellation weren't enough for you, you open your wallets to the tune of another gazillion or so on these little music playing hard drives with the staying power of a dog humping a tree. You think you're so cool with your little white eardrums, cranking up the volume until the air is filled with metallic noise, audio iron filings. Then you wonder why (a) you go deaf; and (b) the combination of those flimsy hard drives and the lousy software from Cupertino breaks your little music empire into fragments in less than a year, two if you're lucky. Then, of course, you get out your little plastic cards and buy another one of the dog-damned things! The only excuse I can give you is that at least you're giving financial support to a company that knows how to make somewhat useful computer hardware and an operating system that really works. But just you wait—they'll go to the dogs too, with their musical sneakers made by a roomful of ten-year olds in a Vietnamese sweatshop.

So take some sound feline advice: Lionux on a homemade P3 or P4 is your best bet for financial freedom, reliable computing, and respect for your kittens. And don't you dare throw out those old CRTs: as long as they draw power, they make great little crashpads for the family puss.

Now with the money you save on techno spending sprees, have a thought for the kitty. Remember to get those little bags of treats, you know the kind that are crunchy outside with the gooey center. Kind of like a mouse's head. Optical, that is.

Okay, I've got some windowsill time to get in before dinner, so here's the guy with your geek links and stories of the week. If you find any of it useful, don't forget to feed the kitty at the donation link in the sidebar.

EU Considers Taxing Email: Now before you get your shorts in a knot over the idea of a government taxing a service that it doesn't maintain or support, consider that this kind of taxation is part of why European nations lead in world in free health care to all; why their infrastructure is so well-kept (compared to ours, which is both a disgrace and a danger); and why their social support services tend to actually be supportive (again, in marked contrast to ours). This kind of taxation, which actually would hit heavy users (corporations and big media) the hardest, is how they keep government solvent in Europe. That, and staying out of crazy wars that would bankrupt your economy...

Take five minutes to celebrate and then keep raising hell. So a bill supporting Net Neutrality made it out of a Senate committee last week; that's great. But if you think the mega-monopolies controlling the telcom universe are going to lie down and roll over, you're in dreamland, partner. There's a bigger issue here, too, a global one that is attracting the attention of none other than Amnesty International. The free sharing of information is the cornerstone of democracy. Take that away, or even begin to limit it or put a price on it (as the big telcom operators want to do here), and you are watching the first swing of the wrecking ball on democratic freedom and the Bill of Rights. As AI points out, repression is fast becoming the rule of law around the world when it comes to the Internet. So click the link and join in the defense of e-liberty.

Microsoft is building a Mac keyboard? What next, the revival of IE 5.2 for Mac (by far and away the worst Internet browser ever made)? Anyway, this MS-Mac keyboard is going to retail for $100, so if you're a Mac user, take the advice of a guy who is very finicky about keyboards: get a Matias Tactile Pro. You can find it new on eBay for the same price as the MS product (or less), and your fingers will be very happy.

Geek Puzzle of the Day: What's Dell doing with Mac OS X as an option on its drivers and downloads page? Now Michael, I know it's been rough lately for you, what with all that Apple hardware bursting out and their stock price overtaking your own. But now, take a deep breath, put down the .exe files, and repeat to yourself, "corporate America still can't live without me." There now, isn't that better?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who's On First? The Heavy Hitters of Sports Journalism

We do not cover sports here at Daily Rev, though we firmly support a public health initiative to completely eradicate jock itch. But recently we noticed that home run no. 715 is being treated as an event of equal public consequence with the earthquakes in Java and the continuing Hell in Iraq, so perhaps it is time to do a sports post. This being a blog, we will perform the blogger's paradoxical function, which is to direct the reader away and towards other sources—in this case, our murderer's row of sports journalism.

I, personally, like sports. I used to be a big fan of pro baseball and the Yankees in particular, until two things happened: I grew up and baseball grew down, became corrupted and false to the game. It's happening all over our culture—baseball is not unique in this. I love music, and especially singing, too, yet I find that American Idol infects music with the poison of arrogance, competition, and that FOX News-attitude of surly contempt for all who make an effort at art. This is not what art, or sports, are about—not at all.

So Barry hit no. 715. This, of course, is the same roided-up diva who declared in a Playboy interview many years ago that going into a batting slump is exactly like being raped. I recall writing a furious letter to Playboy back then to object, but it, unlike Bonds' disgraceful comment, was never published.

But let's get back to the media aspect of this, because there are some surprises there. Some of the best American writers and journalists are, or started out as, sportswriters. Let's look at a few.

Keith Olbermann: the host of MSNBC's Countdown program, he is one of the most lucid writers, commentators, and social observers out there. If you have cable TV, watch his show regularly, and bookmark his blog at He began his career at ESPN, and still actively follows the sports beat.

Rick Reilly: Voted sportswriter of the year 10 times, and for good reason. He is a clarion voice of sanity and insight. A talent like this is alone worth a subscription to SI, which has otherwise sold out to the pandering of cheesecake swimsuit hotties and the lionizing of megamillionaire frauds. Another outstanding SI writer to look for online, who hasn't gotten the same level of recognition as Reilly, is John Rolfe, who combines a wry, couch-potato humor with a trenchant view on the divorce that is occurring between fans and the games they love. If you're a sports fan and are looking for an advocate in the media, you can't do better than John Rolfe.

Mitch Albom: Some of you may have noticed that I dabble in the production of what is generically called inspirational literature. It's a genre that gets a lot of (often well deserved) ridicule for its Hallmark sentimentality and banal spirituality. Fortunately, there is a writer like Mitch Albom around. Albom is a sportswriter from Detroit who basically resurrected the field of inspirational lit with a single book, Tuesdays with Morrie, a rigorously unsentimental story of an old man's death and a young man's (Albom's) rebirth. He followed this success up with The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and continues to write about sports for the Detroit Free Press.

Phil Mushnick: In one of the unlikeliest of forums, that acidly right-wing tabloid The New York Post, this man has been a fountain of freethinking, anti-corporate insight for some two decades. If you haven't been exposed to his piercing observations on big media and the monied poison of egomania that has infected professional sports, just take in a few of his columns, and you'll actually be tempted to subscribe to the rag that contains his challenging wisdom.

This is just a sampling of some of the talent and independence that's out there in the world of sports journalism. We need more frequent doses of that independence, because this is one area where the blogosphere hasn't carried the ball as well as it has with its para-coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. I am hoping that we're reaching a tipping point on this, too, however: American sports are so roiled in corruption, so deeply in the pockets of corporate interests, to the point where fans can't even recall what their team's stadium is named this year (let alone who's on the team), that a backlash similar to what the polls are telling us about public feeling toward the Bushies can't be far off.

The best way to start it is simply to stop supporting the corruption. Get your baseball fix from attending youth league or minor league games (it's a lot cheaper, too); turn off the cable channels that promote the decadence; and turn your back and your wallet on the Disney sports media and its corporate sponsors. I'd personally like to see this backlash happen so quickly that Barry hits no. 756 in an empty stadium with no cameras rolling. Then he can complain all he wants about feeling raped to a locker room with no microphones or scribes. Soon may that day dawn.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Monday with McKenna: The Failure of USA, Inc.

Terry McKenna is back today with some thoughts on BBQ course I meant Memorial Day.

I am occasionally reminded that Terry and I, as much in accord as we are over the current tyranny here in America, do sometimes differ. I look back over the history of war and see nothing but the marks of failure and a spiraling course of genocide. WWII is a perfect example: it was the result of a diplomacy of ignorance in the '30's that culminated in one holocaust being answered by another. The final blow was a stroke of ethnic cleansing by USA, Inc.: two bombs, a quarter of a million dead, countless millions wounded, terminally sickened, and genetically altered. The dawn of what I have elsewhere dubbed the Age of Suicide.

But the real turning point of this nation's history, the place where we began the downhill slide into the ideological Hell that we live in now, is the war that continues to be celebrated on this day. At a moment where he could have said, "oh, you wanna secede? go ahead, we'll leave the light on for you when you get tired of it. Oh, and never mind that blockade of your ports, it will go away when you come back"; an American president chose instead the course of half a million dead and an entire generation of young adult males effectively wiped out. We would never quite recover the spirit of independence that spawned this nation.

There's my BBQ Day spout; let's see what Mr. McKenna has for us.

Memorial Day is a good day to reflect upon the near uselessness of war, even while we remember and honor our war dead. And before any of you start reminding me that WW2 was a just war, I’ll agree that it probably was, but after that, it’s hard to name another war that was other than folly. For example, WW1 was completely pointless carnage. Viet Nam equally pointless (at least for us). And regardless of your opinion about historical wars, our current wars are troubled affairs.

The war in Afghanistan may have been justified purely for vengeance – but our incomplete effort there is coming apart; the Taliban are back. Our Iraq adventure was never justified, except by using lies and magical thinking. It too is a failure. Yes, we keep hearing about our having turned a corner, but if we turned ¼ turn every time the president said we’d turned a corner, we would have turned around several times now. Thus a new government may finally have been established, but it is incapable of protecting itself. Their security forces are a mix of mutually opposing militias and corrupt officials who are in cahoots with the bad guys. If we leave security to Iraqis, we have chaos – of course, that’s not far from what we have now anyway.

Both of our current wars were designed to change the Middle East – and since that’s not happening, they can be considered failures, even if somehow or other we manage to obtain ultimate success. Having demonstrated that we can neither dominate nor change the middle east, our policy options are now limited.

Maybe it is time to back away from the Middle East altogether.

For example: We are now energized over Iran’s efforts to make a uranium bomb. Of course this is serious, but remember, there is little that we can do over there but talk. And we have nothing to bargain with, not even money (yes they love oil money, but they can get all of that from the Chinese who are cutting their own deals with Iran).

And yes, there is the problem of Israel, for Israel may see the need to strike at Iran if they get closer to building a working weapon. It would be better for all of us if we could somehow get Iran to go no further. But we probably can’t.

If we thought of the Middle East as a marketing problem (and of the US as a product) we would have a bunch of bad facts.

• Our most faithful ally in the Middle East is Israel
• Everyone else HATES Israel
• Even if a Middle East leader agrees (probably for Western consumption) that Israel has the right to exist, their populations don’t
• The US is variously thought of as the great Satan, a Christian crusader and the reason why the Middle East is so backward

Then we have the frustrating socio-economics. The bulk of the Middle Eastern nations are postcolonial Muslim states with limited democracy and civil rights. Their economies are oil based and those sectors that are not based on oil are meager and constricted. Oil wealth is controlled by the ruling family or party.

It doesn’t look good. For USA, Inc. it is time to close up shop and go home. Sure, let’s continue to trade as we do. And maybe we should still give aid (in equal amounts) to Israel and Egypt. But let’s not sell any more military jets, nor open up more military bases.

Long ago, I ran a fast food store for a national brand. We received lots of solid information about marketing. One of the lessons we learned was that not only was it important to run our stores well (we had a few dozen in the area between Cincinnati and Dayton) but that if our customers had a bad experience with our brand in another district, that would affect our sales. The rule of thumb was that a customer who was turned off would not return for at least 2 years.

Well, we have turned off the Middle East in so many ways that it’s hard to see anyone returning to USA, Inc. for at least a few dozen years.

And maybe, if we are quiet and peaceable for a few decades, maybe “they” will want to engage with us again.

Friday, May 26, 2006

For Grads, Finally, A Meaningful Message

After being exposed to the likes of John McCain and Condi, I'm betting that graduating seniors around the country may have wondered whether the older folks had anything worthwhile to tell them. Well, once again, the venerable Bill Moyers comes to the rescue. Mr. Moyers, you are a national treasure. The full text of his speech at Hamilton is here; and I've quoted a significant portion below.

Frankly, I'm not sure anyone from my generation should be saying anything to your generation except, "We're sorry. We're really sorry for the mess you're inheriting. We are sorry for the war in Iraq. For the huge debts you will have to pay for without getting a new social infrastructure in return. We're sorry for the polarized country. The corporate scandals. The corrupt politics. Our imperiled democracy. We're sorry for the sprawl and our addiction to oil and for all those toxins in the environment. Sorry about all this, class of 2006. Good luck cleaning it up."

If the world confuses you a little, it confuses me a lot. When I graduated fifty years ago I thought I had the answers. But life is where you get your answers questioned, and the odds are that you can look forward to being even more perplexed fifty years from now than you are at this very moment. If your parents level with you, truly speak their hearts, I suspect they would tell you life confuses them, too, and that it rarely turns out the way you thought it would.

I find I am alternatively afraid, cantankerous, bewildered, often hostile, sometimes gracious, and battered by a hundred new sensations every day. I can be filled with a pessimism as gloomy as the depth of the middle ages, yet deep within me I'm possessed of a hope that simply won't quit. A friend on Wall Street said one day that he was optimistic about the market, and I asked him, "Then why do you look so worried?" He replied, "Because I'm not sure my optimism is justified." Neither am I. So I vacillate between the determination to act, to change things, and the desire to retreat into the snuggeries of self, family and friends.

As a young man I was drawn to politics. I took part in two national campaigns, served in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, and have covered politics ever since. But I understand now what Thomas Jefferson meant back in 1789 when he wrote: "I am not a Federalist because I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men, whether in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or anything else. If I could not go to Heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all." Of course we know there'll be no parties in Heaven. No Democrats, no Republicans, no liberals, no conservatives, no libertarians or socialists. Just us Baptists.

The hardest struggle of all is to reconcile life's polar realities. I love books, Beethoven, and chocolate brownies. Yet how do I justify my pleasure in these in a world where millions are illiterate, the music never plays, and children go hungry through the night? How do I live sanely in a world so unsafe for so many?

I don't know what they taught you here at Hamilton about all this, but I trust you are not leaving here without thinking about how you will respond to the dissonance in our culture, the rivalry between beauty and bestiality in the world, and the conflicts in your own soul. All of us have to choose sides on this journey. But the question is not so much who we are going to fight against as it is which side of our own nature will we nurture: The side that can grow weary and even cynical and believe that everything is futile, or the side that for all the vulgarity, brutality and cruelty, yearns to affirm, connect and signify.

Albert Camus got it right: There is beauty in the world as well as humiliation, "And we have to strive, hard as it is, not to be unfaithful ... in the presence of one or the other."

That's really what brings me here this afternoon. I did put myself in your place, and asked what I'd want a stranger from another generation to tell me if I had to sit through his speech. Well, I'd want to hear the truth: The truth is, life's a tough act, the world's a hard place, and along the way you will meet a fair share of fools, knaves and clowns -- even act the fool yourself from time to time when your guard is down or you've had too much wine. I'd like to be told that I will experience separation, loss and betrayal, that I'll wonder at times where have all the flowers gone.

Civilization sustains and supports us. The core of its value is bread. But bread is its great metaphor. All my life I've prayed the Lord's Prayer, and I've never prayed, "Give me this day my daily bread." It is always, "Give us this day our daily bread." Bread and life are shared realities. They do not happen in isolation. Civilization is an unnatural act. We have to make it happen, you and I, together with all the other strangers. And because we and strangers have to agree on the difference between a horse thief and a horse trader, the distinction is ethical. Without it, a society becomes a war against all, and a market for the wolves becomes a slaughter for the lambs. My generation hasn't done the best job at honoring this ethical bargain, and our failure explains the mess we're handing over to you. You may be our last chance to get it right. So good luck, Godspeed, enjoy these last few hours together, and don't forget to pass the bread.

Friday Reflection: Ability, Power, Choice

There's a southerly breeze blowing into Brooklyn, NY tonight, bearing with it the faint stench of the lies being told by Bush and Blair, about 250 miles away. We live today in a Brave New World, where murder, torture, criminally negligent homicide, extreme rendition, and the unlawful incarceration of hundreds without charge or even identification, are deemed "missteps". So I thought it would be a good time to call in (the late?) Professor Dumbledore of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for a few comments about power.

Professor D—I have to ask you about what you said to Harry after his encounter with the basilisk: "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."* Surely, you're one pretty talented and powerful wizard—the greatest of your age, most people say—how can you say that choice is more important than ability?

"I have been a teacher and headmaster at Hogwarts for longer than I would care to admit—longer, let's say, than many of my colleagues have been alive. I have seen as many students and wizards pass through the gates to this school as would be sufficient to populate one of your mid-sized Muggle cities; and I can tell you confidently that every one of them has been utterly unique in his and her ability.

"Too often, we equate talent with power—you just did so yourself, if I am not mistaken—until we're claiming that this fellow here is greater in his ability than that one over there. The problem is that such judgments tend to become fixed, particularly when they find their way into the Daily Prophet. Especially when they're repeated in the press, such labels turn to stone—many an undeserved reputation and an ill-gotten fame has been perpetuated on the foundation of these fabrications, which are themselves blown up out of an airy obsession with appearances.

"This sort of image-making based on the perception of ability is a spell that has nearly as destructive an effect as any of the unforgivable curses, because it confers power on a person. And power not only places those without it into a position of being oppressed; it also puts an intolerable burden upon those who wield it. Some of the most renowned wizards I have known in my life have been driven to madness by the power that was projected onto them. Perhaps you have had some experience of this in your Muggle world.

"Now I am hoping that you will be more eloquent and efficient at instructing your readers about the consequences of power, but allow me to mention here that all power is an illusion; and every illusion is, inevitably, destructive. There is no skill, no level of ability, that justifies the use of power. Likewise, there is no title or name, however ringing its sound or gleaming its symbol, that justifies the manipulation or intimidation of others. This, I understand, is a lesson that the so-called leaders of your Muggle world still struggle to learn.

"So to avoid confusion and prevent myself from making more errors than I already do, I tend to focus the children's efforts on choice rather than ability. It is not so difficult to find out what your abilities are—just find out what you love. But choosing what to do with your ability, that can be a challenge. Every wizard gets a wand, one that is utterly unique to his or her personality and ability; but many, I am afraid to say, never learn what to do with it; for they never learn to choose correctly for themselves."

*J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Net Neutrality Vote Today

I just got an email from with notice of a crucial vote occurring today in Congress on Net Neutrality. There's contact info for the key players listed below. So call or write a couple of them today, and also check out the e-debate between Craig Newmark and Mike McCurry over at WSJ. Note that McCurry's talking points are all about trying to project the lie that Net Neutrality advocates are trying to create new government regulations, when that shoe is truly on the other foot. As Newmark calmly explains over and over, those of us who favor neutrality are simply asking that the Net be left alone just as it is--let the community itself and the engineers sort out what technical improvements need to be made to accommodate Web 2.0 and the profusion of content.

Here are the members of Congress who need to hear from you right now:

Marty Meehan (D-Mass. 5th)
Phone: (202) 225-3411
Fax: (202) 226-0771

Howard Berman (D-Calif. 28th)
Phone: 202-225-4695
Fax: 202-225-3196

William Delahunt (D-Mass. 10th)
Phone: (202) 225-3111
Fax: (202) 225-5658

Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Texas 18th)
Phone: (202) 225-3816
Fax: (202) 225-3317

Bobby Scott (D-Va. 3rd)
Phone: (202) 225-8351
Fax: (202) 225-8354

Chris Van Hollen (D-Md. 8th)
Phone: (202) 225-5341
Fax: (202) 225-0375

Maxine Waters (D-Calif. 35th)
Phone: (202) 225-2201
Fax: (202) 225-7854

Mel Watt (D-N.C. 12th)
Tel. (202) 225-1510
Fax (202) 225-1512

Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y. 9th)
Phone: (202) 225-6616
Fax: (202) 226-7253

Robert Wexler (D-Fla. 19th)
phone: (202) 225-3001
fax: (202) 225-5974

Howard Coble (R-NC 6th)
phone: (202) 225-3065
fax: (202) 225-8611

Elton Gallegly (R-CA 24th)
phone: (202) 225-5811
fax: (202) 225-1100

Bob Goodlatte (R-VA 6th)
phone: (202) 225-5431
fax: (202) 225-9681

Steve Chabot (R-OH 5th)
phone: (202) 225-2216
fax: (202) 225-3012 (fax)

Dan Lungren (R-CA 3rd)
phone: (202) 225-5716
fax: (202) 226-1298

William Jenkins (R-TN 1st)
phone: (202) 225-6356
fax: (202) 225-5714

John Hostettler (R-IN 8th)
phone: (202) 225-4636
fax: (202) 225-3284

Mark Green (R-WI 8th)
phone: (202) 225-5665
fax: (202) 225-5729

Ric Keller (R-FL 8th)
phone: (202) 225-2176
fax: (202) 225-0999

Net Neutrality, Catholic Insanity, and the Tao of Hogwarts

YouTube has posted a good video on Net Neutrality (which apparently comes via Amy Goodman's wonderful Democracy Now! channel). If video is how you prefer to get your activist perspective; if that's what gets you onto the backs of your local Congressional dweebs, then that's what we need. It's an issue that I've hammered at lately in writing on Geek Wednesday, and it's something that can further disable what's left of this democracy, if the neocons and their corporate money machines have their way.

It may also be time for some of us to lay it on the Catholic Church again. I've written about this before (here and with Terry McKenna, here); and now I see that last week, the Pope at last decided to "sanction" a pedophile priest.

So, what was the punishment for this creep? Burning at the stake, the way they did it in the old days? Imprisonment in one of those catacombs? Tickets to a Madonna concert or hard time at Dan Brown's house?

No to all those, gentle reader. The offending priest was sentenced to..."renouncing the celebration of Mass." He will not be indicted, convicted, imprisoned, forced to pay the families of the boys he abused, or even made to go leather and studs on himself, like that albino. He won't be allowed to say Mass, that's all.

It's moments like these when I wonder if there just might be something to all this parallel Earth/multiverse stuff that the New Age crowd talks about (and that has even gotten a little bit of press among the NASA bunch). They say it's right here, around, beside, and within us: just turn your awareness, your noumenal body, around in just the right way, at the perfect moment, and you're in it—the reality of which this pit of delusion here is but a smoky reflection.

What would such a place be like? I think of Lennon's famous song: no priests, no guns, no governments, no corporations, no FOX News, no nations, no competition, no blood in the streets. Lots of action, human effort blending into the stew of Nature, dancing, singing, music on every corner. Unabashed nudity; sex without condoms in a world without disease. Death gratefully accepted as the natural course of life, another turn in the dance of life. Consequently, light-bodies streaming around the people and places where their physical forms had lived and loved. No one is afraid there; fear is not the coin of psychological commerce that it is here. Where Love pervades, fear has no room to insinuate itself.

But we're back here, amid the distortions that our collective delusions have created for us. So we have to read stories like that one about the Pope delivering a pat on the wrist to a creep who should be banished to an eternity in Hell or the ladies' underwear section at Wal-Mart.

So what can one do to awaken an Earth that is obsessed with the outcome of American Idol or the meeting between Bush and Blair (as if anything meaningful can come of either)?

I suppose you can start by awakening yourself, a little each day. Then, as you follow that path, go outward and test the limits, push the boundaries, wherever you find or feel them. This is the way of the child, and in the field of action, the child is wiser than the adult.

Find out what is implicitly not permitted by your culture, your government, your corporate master. And then try it. Do something like this every day, as if it were some kind of self-developmental exercise or a practice of self-discovery. It is.


As some of our regular readers may be aware, I've been working on a revision of my Tao of Hogwarts book, which is now in the hands of a very capable agent. Part of the revision involved something that is a little risky, from both a literary and a legal standpoint. I tried writing small paragraphs of text in which the Harry Potter characters spoke to the themes I was addressing in the book. I'll quote one section I did for Harry himself below. If you're a Pottermaniac like me, and you have some feedback on how I did, send me an email; I'd love to hear from you.

"If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin." (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, p. 299).

Harry, you’re about to enter your final year at Hogwarts. Is it even possible to capture the lessons learned over these six years in a few words?

“In fact, it’s possible to do it in one, but it’s a word that needs some explanation. It’s love. You heard what Dumbledore said, right at the end of the first year—it’s about love. That’s what saved me as a baby; that’s what brought me the help I needed in facing the basilisk; it’s what made Prongs ride again when the dementors attacked; what made those things happen in the graveyard; and what rescued me from Voldemort’s possession at the Ministry.

“But let’s be clear about this: I’m not talking about some weepy, sentimental kind of love—you know, the kind you see on TV or in Muggle greeting cards. The love I’m talking about is different, and I think, more real. It’s a kind of force…of attraction. Maybe it’s some sort of power or principle that I don’t fully understand yet. Hermione once told me about something she had read in a book she was assigned for Muggle Studies. She said that Muggle scientists talk about something called “quantum gravity;” that it’s a force that attracts bodies in space as if they were bundles of light—like the light-stream from a wand. Seems crazy, but that sounds like the sort of thing I learned from Dumbledore.

“There’s something else that might have a lot to do with what happens next. I remember something Dumbledore told me in that long talk we had after Sirius died—you know, when I nearly trashed his office. He said there’s a room in the Department of Mysteries that is always locked, and contains something that is stronger and greater than anything else down there—even the death veil and the time jar. Dumbledore told me that I have this…something…inside me, and that it had saved me from Voldemort’s possession.

“I have a feeling that I might have to go there, and see what this thing is; how it’s stored there and what it does. I think I might need it to find all these Horcruxes, you know. I think it’s probably some other force, like Fate—maybe it’s the river that opens into that ocean of Love that Dumbledore talked about, that has saved me so often before. I also wonder whether it might save me from having to kill, because that’s something that really scares me—the idea of having to kill.

“I don’t want to have to kill Voldemort, or anyone else, for that matter. I want to find those horcruxes, and I want to see Voldemort’s power finally destroyed, of course. But I don’t want to have to kill him—no more than Dumbledore wanted to kill him. I think that the last force in the Department of Mysteries might help me there—that it will help me finish what I have to do without having to kill. If Voldemort has to die in order for our world to continue, then I hope he is forced to kill himself.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Geek Wednesday: The Empire Strikes Front

media policy:

Hey everybody—before you run out and buy the Nike shoes with the Apple logo and the iPod Nano in the sole, ask the question another Nike customer once asked them: "Could you please send me a color snapshot of the 10-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?"

Today, I'm disgusted to be writing on a Mac. Will we ever, I wonder, live in a world where the poison of profit does not turn men into monsters, and children into slaves?

How about you, Google? Could you make computer hardware and an operating system as good as Apple's, and still "do no evil?" Can anyone?

Now, on to another visit from Nearly Redmond Nick for the second in his series on Google, The New Empire.

Yes, Season Two. As in, the battle for all the world's search traffic was season one and Google had the best ratings. This statement is easy to make, as stats from all over the place prove me more than right (not to mention their stratospheric stock price and company valuation).

Now, I will restate my earlier prediction: Google will be the next Great Empire. What? You doubt my ability to foresee the future? Let's take a look at some recent news and see how the rest of the pundits sit.

In a recent article on, Chris Kraeuter and Rachel Rosmarin report back on the plans of Yahoo! and Microsoft to "overtake Google". While offering no opinions of their own, a few experts chime in with some comments. If you take the article to heart, you'd be selling off GOOG and buying MSFT as fast as your E*Trade account would let you. And maybe that wouldn't be such a good idea, being that you could buy almost 20 shares of MSFT for each share of GOOG sold. If only Microsoft paid dividends...

But most of the readers of a smart, insightful blog like this would know better than to blindly follow crap like that. They would swiftly debunk all of the claims presented, and comfortably add more GOOG stock to their portfolio. I know I would definitely do the same if I had the money (so click on some advertising, will ya?) and it seems that 2/3 of the general public agrees.

We first hear about Microsoft's new rollout of AdCenter - their foray into paid search marketing. While this should boost Microsoft's profits a bit, their overall search market share is still at 13% - getting less than 30% of Google's traffic. In a business where eyeballs = revenue, it's easy to see why Google will continue to produce results easily trumping their rivals.

But wait! There's more! Mr. Ballmer announced that Microsoft will be pouring over $1.1 BILLION dollars into the company's MSN division! With this investment, he is confident that he can overtake Google and Yahoo within 5 years. Now don't get me wrong, but I find it hard to believe that he can picture what an industry less than 5 years old will look like 5 years down the road! I have a strong feeling that this whole plan of his may not get executed as desired, and it seems the analysts agree, at least in the immediate future. An inside informant at GeekSpeak reports that the new MSN office in NYC is now on a hiring freeze as they approach the end of their fiscal year. We have also seen evidence of MSN turning down some top-notch talent seeking positions with that group. All this while Yahoo! and Google continue to add jobs, Google at a faster pace.

Now, what about Yahoo!? Mr. Semel was probably saying the same thing after all the attention Google attracted during last week's Press Day. Now don't get me wrong, I've always loved Yahoo! and always will. I think their strategy and direction are quite sound, and they've made a ton of great acquisitions (Flickr,, Konfabulator) lately. Unfortunately, they seem poised to be the eternal also-ran in the search market, despite grabbing the most global Web visitors.

While Yahoo! is optimistic about the improvements made to their ad platform (coming in Q3 in the US, Q107 internationally) and search engine, they're not expecting any benefit until at least next year. Even with their estimated 24-31% yearly growth figures, is there some irrational frothiness in those numbers? You would think so after hearing CFO Sue Decker's Greenspan-esque statement yesterday.

Without touting Google any further today, I'll just point to a few positive indicators of their future:
  • An incredible stranglehold on the search market
  • Growing cash reserves estimated at around $10 billion
  • Increasingly diversified product offering
If those aren't enough for you, come back soon and I'll have more! And if you don't agree with my outlook, I'm sure you're wrong, but leave a comment anyway.

--Nearly Redmond Nick

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Finding Your Response to Power

Before we begin today, I'd like to express my thanks to Eric Alterman of the Altercation weblog on, for having quoted one of our recent posts.

Alterman is, to my mind, one of the leading progressive voices in the world today. Virtually every day, he hits notes that are both resonant and clarion on big issues and small. He is the author of What Liberal Media and several other books; and folks who have heard him speak in person tell me he's a fair country orator too. For me, his appeal boils down to this: he makes sense and is rigorously honest, with himself first and then with the public.


Now, another thought about the motivation behind the obvious superciliousness of Sen. McCain toward the students of the New School, and that so-called liberal newspaper's implicit endorsement of his attitude.

The powerful do not like being exposed—least of all by youth. Often, unfortunately, they have the societal authority to take on airs with the young and "put them in their place"—as McCain and Bob Kerrey, the residing authority at the New School, did on Friday.

But that doesn't make it right. So the only question that remains to me is, "why do you think the media would underwrite the discomfiture and resulting behavior of powerful people in such circumstances, and in effect, endorse their folly?"

Perhaps they, too, are afraid of exposure. They are all too familiar with the pain and indignity of having a Jayson Blair revealed, sewing his fabric of lies. They know how it feels when the captain of a media flagship is exposed as a cheap, sick, prurient druggie; or when a leading war correspondent is uncovered as a slave to a corrupt government that breeds lies within her newspaper columns through well-designed "leaks."

A newspaper like the Times, among other big-media outlets, seems to lack the necessary detachment for proper, objective journalism. They have crawled into bed with Power, and now are either unwilling or unable to get out (it's probably a combination of both factors).

This is why I often say that, whether or not you've ever written a word about politics, whether or not you keep a blog or have fired off a letter to the editor; you have a vast potential—one might even say a responsibility—within you to make a difference.

The transformation of society begins within the heart of each individual. So do not throw caution to the wind. Send delusion instead. Ask yourself the recurrent and unceasing question of a self-examining spirit: "what am I here for?" Listen carefully for every response that arises, and ask more questions of these answers. If you have been tempted to conclude that you are here to endure a life of corporate slavery, either as a stroke of bad fortune or as an act of sacrifice to your family, your children, or to society; then discard or suspend that conclusion and try again, calling up another response.

Again, cast belief to the wind and then summon the cautious examination of everything you have ever been told is true. For if you sacrifice yourself and your life to someone else's truth, to some external and distant authority (even a godly one); then the universe is weakened; its light is thererby dimmed. Keep asking; keep probing, until you feel natural truth flowing, alive and in motion, as truth is meant to be.

Hear the music of your destiny, as both an individual and a citizen of the Earth. Follow that, and each star brightens in response.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Lobbyists—Soldiers of Tyranny

Today, Terry McKenna reveals why we should have as little patience with lobby-ism as we do with fundamentalism. Mr. McKenna, fire away.

Lobbyists. We see their effects everywhere. Lobbyists write many of our laws and many of the Op-Ed pieces that we read in our newspapers. Lobbyists form a large minority of the talking heads we see on TV or hear on radio. Lobbyists also give money to electoral campaigns and then ask legislators to vote their way. (Somehow this process is never seen as quid pro quo – which is against the law!)

Lobbyists are involved with all levels of government, from the national government down to the small town. Small towns see many fewer lobbyists – but they come when an issue arises that concerns them. This winter, a lobbyist from a phone company spoke before a town meeting in my small town. He wanted our town to waive the existing town franchise fee for setting up a new cable service.

But why write about this issue now? Well, I’ve been looking for the right time to comment about the “Israel Lobby.” Early this year, a furor arose when the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard) released a paper, which asserted that US support for Israel is at odds with our national interest. It speculated that the reason for US Israel policy is a loose agglomeration of actors dubbed the “Israel Lobby.”

But is there an "Israel Lobby"? No one can be sure, but after the publication of this paper, something went into overdrive. Figures like Alan Dershowitz condemned the paper for anti-Semitism. Behind the scenes manipulations (threats?) led to the removal of the Kennedy School’s logo from the paper. And one of the writers, Stephen Walt, stepped down from his post as academic dean.

In any case, the point of the outrage was to compare the claims of authors Walt and Mearsheimer to those of an infamous early 20th century publication – The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Thus, the very act of wondering why Israel has the support that it has (and merely proposing a possible answer) was made to seem like a claim that Jews operate some sort of secret conspiracy in favor of Israel.

I don’t want to discuss the paper, other than to state that it seems reasonable and level headed. What I want to do instead is point out that all lobbies act in an unseen way. And all successful ones have more influence than seems appropriate based on the size or economic clout of the actors.

Let’s go to some case studies of other areas where we know for certain that lobbyists operate.

Estate Taxes

This is a good place to begin. The top 2% of Americans pay estate taxes. And most estate taxes are paid by the top 0.14% for Americans. Yet polls suggest that most of us think that the effort to end estate taxes is aimed at all of us. When my 87 year old mother died in 2003, her estate (assets less expenses) was approximately $260,000. Not one dime was owed for estate taxes.

Somehow, about 20 years ago, a few well-financed conservative lobbies (think tanks) started to lobby for change. This was a diffuse effort, and the ultimate goal was not clear to the rest of us, but they started by changing the language - thus estate taxes became “death taxes.” They also added “pro growth” to as many phrases as possible. Over the years they honed their pitch and over time, the media accepted the new phrase. As “death taxes” became the standard term for estate taxes, it became clear that estate taxes were doomed – or would be soon. Estate taxes are now set to end for one year in 2010. It’s a good bet that if the Republicans retain their hold on Congress, the removal will be made permanent. For a typical conservative website, try this one.


What this awkward word means is something that produces an abortion. And to most of us, abortion is the cessation of pregnancy. But there is the small segment on the right who want to use anti-abortion language to stop birth control. They do so by sowing confusion over when pregnancy begins. Here’s how – let’s look at a simple question – when does human life begin – the common answer is – at fertilization. Sounds ok, doesn’t it? But it’s not true. Do you know that 40% or more of fertilized eggs fail to implant (and then wash away)? So pregnancy never occurred.

What right wing Christians are trying to accomplish is the re-labeling of contraceptives as abortifacients. Thus all the furor over the morning after pill – high dose hormones (not to be confused with RU 485, which is an abortifacient).

Since most of us are not health care specialists, it’s easy to be confused (easy to be lied to). And then the damage is done. The bad policy decisions follow. For links to right wing Christian websites, look here and here.


I picked diversity just to show that both the left and right use diffuse forms of lobbying to obtain what they want. Diversity was not a word that I heard growing up. It seemed to emerge in the 1990’s as a way to dress up affirmative action. Thus, if you look at a typical diversity website (here or here) you’ll see a soft-sell variety of advocacy. I don’t want to discuss the details, but if you look at the papers, you’ll see an effort to influence and engage. And one that has been every bit as successful as anything done on the right. Thus, once the phrase affirmative action was replaced (for the most part) by diversity, the battle was all but won.

The Israel Lobby

So, back to the “Israel Lobby.” Is there any such thing? If we consider lobbies to include diffuse actors then yes, there is such a lobby. Does it have undue influence? Again, all successful lobbies have influence out of proportion to their relevance – so yes.

Pre-1947 Palestine was an Arab colony which began to be bought up by European Jews who rightly saw the threat to their existence by the unending anti-Semitism of Europe. During the 1930s, lucky European Jews made it to Palestine, and in 1947, they created Israel. For them it was an assertion of their right to exist. For Palestinians, it was just another western assault on their medieval society.

The US has no easy way out here. We don’t have the power to control Israel’s opponents; and if push comes to shove, there may come a time when we have to modify our support for Israel. Our support is one undeniable reason why terrorism exists. Our support for Arab autocracy is another good reason. A third reason may be unique cultural factors that we are unable to parse.

We don’t want to abandon Israel, but as time goes by, our support may only make things worse.

—T. McKenna

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Thank You Note to the Children

I am, unlike most Americans, far from convinced that a college education is an absolute necessity for a full and satisfying life on this planet. However, my 12 year old daughter is already talking about college; so like many parents, I'm trying to start saving money now. If she does indeed decide to go to college, I hope it's to a place like the New School here in New York. I want her to learn to feel, think, speak, and act from her own core of truth, and not in mute obeisance to some institution's or putative leader's version of truth.

The New School's credentials in this connection have long been apparent to me, and now they're firmly established to my mind. If you haven't read the story in the Times, here's an excerpt:

Senator John McCain of Arizona received a cantankerous reception during his appearance at the New School commencement Friday, where dozens of faculty members and students turned their backs and raised signs in protest and a distinguished student speaker pointedly mocked him as he sat silently nearby....Some 1,200 students and faculty signed petitions asking the university president, former Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey, to rescind the invitation. Petitioners said McCain's support for the Iraq war and opposition to gay rights and legal abortion do not keep with the prevailing views on campus.

Now I have a bone to pick with some of the verbiage in that Times article, but first I'd like to quote some of the remarks from Jean Sara Rohe, a graduating senior who (unlike Sen. McCain) discarded her prepared speech and addressed the situation:

The senator does not reflect the ideals upon which this university was founded," Rohe proclaimed to loud cheers, with McCain sitting just a few feet away...."He will tell us we are young and too naive to have valid opinions," Rohe said. "I am young and though I don't possess the wisdom that time affords us, I do know that pre-emptive war is dangerous. And I know that despite all the havoc that my country has wrought overseas in my name, Osama bin Laden still has not been found, nor have those weapons of mass destruction."

McCain's response was to thank Rohe for her "Cliff's notes" version of his prior speech (given at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University), and then to launch into a mimeographed version of that very same tirade.

I have a message for you, Mr. McCain: if you are going to thus look down your nose at the youth of this country, I don't want you anywhere near the White House. In fact, I don't want you in Congress; but I can't do anything about that except to appeal to the people of Arizona to reject this kind of lazy and contemptuous arrogance with their voices and their votes.

I also have a message for the Times: Ms. Rohe did not "mock" McCain ("pointedly" or otherwise). She didn't make fun of his looks, his manner, his speech, or his message. She was (again, unlike McCain himself) neither scornful nor contemptuous. What I read of her remarks reveals to me that she took on his record and his known allegiances, and exposed them as marks of grievous error and failed policy. If that is mocking, then I recommend that your editors go back to English class—third or fourth grade level ought to do it.

These kids, to my mind, did the same thing Ray McGovern did in a Rumsfeld press conference; the same thing Americans at the President's recent public appearances have been doing; the same thing that more than two-thirds of the electorate in this country are doing now. They raised their voices against a regime, against a tyrannical coterie, that has suppressed democracy, alienated the world, and wrought untold death and suffering on a nation that had done no violence against America, that posed no threat to our nation.

Therefore, my final message tonight is to the people whose day this occasion was supposed to honor, the graduating seniors of the New School. Thank you. The more the authorities—whether of your own school, the government, or the mass media—tell you to be silent and obedient, the more we will need to hear your voices. Thank you again for letting us hear them today.

Friday Reflection: My Friend of the Earth

I'd like to introduce you to a good friend of mine, someone who is a constant inspiration to me. She sits outside my apartment building, in a tiny, nine foot square patch of earth over a subway station and beside a road that gets more traffic than your average highway.

There she sits, amid a constant stream of pollution, noise, and neglect. During the summer, when she is at her busiest, I care for her a little, watering and occasionally trimming her verdant hair. The only other attention she receives is rather more malignant. My landlady has pursued a personal vendetta against her: every autumn, the poor deranged nut hacks away at my friend, chops her down to a mere stub in the earth, and does her best to plow up the ground beneath her.

Every spring, my friend returns, reanimates—more lively, bushier and more beautiful than ever. Her sturdiness, courage, perseverance, and friendly indifference to every assault against her fill me with respect and admiration. I sometimes wonder, "who could have taught this creature to be so modestly bold, so quietly self-assertive, so humbly heroic?"

As the botanically-inclined among my readers may have already observed, my friend is of the genus dicentra, more commonly known as "bleeding heart." I'm not sure whether I particularly like that name (though it does not appear to cramp my friend's style in the least); but it at least suggests something about a certain well-known stereotype applied by neocons upon a political lefty like me.

For if I am to be styled a "bleeding heart liberal," well then, let me take that as a compliment, and let me model my liberal life as far as possible after the seemingly indestructible beauty, creativity, and ingenuity of my friend in the earth surrounded by pavement, concrete, and human indifference to the lessons of living Nature.


Video Time: On the left (naturally), the trailer to Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth. On the right, a bizarre advertisement for carbon dioxide that seems to have been produced by the Hallmark company. I will merely show them and allow the discerning viewer to draw his and her conclusions.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In Search Of: The Liberal Media

Looking for the liberal media, are you? How about that bastion of the lib-med, the venerable New York Times? Today, you have many choices to satisfy your appetite for liberal perspective and insight: you can read how General Hayden "dazzles" Congress (no doubt with the gleam of that chrome dome of his); or if you really want to tap the core of the news, check out the radical changes in men's swimwear or the transformations happening in American attics and basements. There's also a video segment on CBS's fall lineup. Where did summer go?

All right, another question: where did journalism go? Does heaven-spelled-backward as the hottest new baby name for girls rate as front page news? And how often will the most inept but celebrated NYT columnist in their stable make his "wait six months" prediction about Iraq? I say let's check wtih Mr. Friedman in another six months, and ignore his claptrap until then.

The other big print news outlets here in NYC are also at the center of controversy, this time about Britney's grasp of child car seat safety laws.

All front page stuff, all of it far more crucial for human knowledge than Darfur, than Iraq, than the continuing destruction of the Earth. Maybe it's time I looked into that NYT piece about how men are making themselves into hermits by converting attic into cave.

Meanwhile, you want real news? Put down the newspaper and look here.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Geek Wednesday: The New Empire

Today we're honored to have Nearly Redmond Nick back on the blog, to help sort out all the latest offerings from The Stanford Franchise, better known as Google. Nick, unlike me, is a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool geek: I mean, he builds computers, writes code in more languages than they had at Babel, and has a bloodstream that's 99% caffeine. Believe me, you'll get more out of this Geek Wednesday than you have from any before it.

For eons and eons (in Internet time, that is), Microsoft has been referred to as the Evil Empire. And for my part, I'd say the moniker is well earned with their well-documented monopolistic practices and habit of swallowing up any start-up that may pose a realistic threat. Here I'd like to make my case for a new sheriff of this town. Watch out Bill, Mr. Schmidt is lurking in your backyard!

Last week, Google announced four new products. Much to the chagrin of their major competitors, this was headline material even though the concepts behind their offerings were nothing new. In fact, this writer found more than a few eerie similarities between these services and existing competitors' offerings. Let's dig in, shall we?

Google Trends
Google Trends is neat little tool that allows a user to gauge the relative popularity of a search term. For example, enter "cruise vacation" and you can see the seasonal trends of the cruise travel business. Google Trends generates a graph showing the total number of searches for the entered term originating from the chosen geographic region within the selected time period. Similar to a stock chart, what Google calls the "News Reference Volume" is displayed along the horizontal axis to give you an idea of how frequently that term was referenced in the news on a particular day. In addition, significant news events are shown on the graph using callouts. What this means is that you can tell why there was a huge spike in searches for "Cheney" on February 14th of this year (something to do with a good friend of his getting shot in the face).

Google Co-op
Co-op is probably the geekiest of the new products. At its core, "Google Co-op is about sharing expertise." You can be either a user of co-op or a contributor to co-op.

A co-op user can choose to subscribe to the offerings of contributors who match their interests. For example, as a travel buff I have subscribed to co-op offerings from Fodor's, Frommer's and Lonely Planet. In electing to subscribe to their offerings, I am saying that I trust their expertise and would like to see their input on the things I search for. So now, when I search for "Seattle", I'm given a set of links with which to refine my search. I can choose from "Dining Guides", "Lodging Guides" or "Attractions" to view a new set of search results that are influenced by my chosen co-op subcriptions.

For aspiring co-op contributors, a little more work needs to be done. You must work through a 4-step process that includes picking labels, designing facets and creating a context file (in XML) to describe your labels and facets. Once that is done, you need to get users to subscribe to your contributions. While this seems like a lot of work (worthy of an experienced Information Architect), I expect many content creators to participate. With increased usage of Co-op, it will allow them to become recognized experts in their domains. This is already happening in the limited number of categories available now.

Google Desktop 4
Anyone not living in a cave for the past few years has heard of Widgets. But for those cave-ridden few out there, Widgets are small (both in size and weight) applications that run on your local machine and can be placed anywhere on your screen. If you're an owner of Mac OS X, or a user of Yahoo! Widgets (formerly Konfabulator), you know the many uses of Widgets. There are the useful (news alerts, weather forecasts) and the not-so-useful-but-mildly-entertaining (Dilbert cartoons, Harry Potter quotes).

With release 4 of Google Desktop, Google introduces Gadgets (a widget by any other name). Currently, the available selection is small but I'm expecting developers to hop on board, as they did for OS X and Yahoo!, and begin creating a large library of offerings.

Google Notebook
Available as a Firefox Extension or Windows application for IE (I recommend the former), Google Notebook acts as your digital scratchpad for all your browsing notes. The application hides away as a small icon in the browser's bottom-right corner as you do your normal browsing. However, when you finally come across that lobster bisque recipe you were looking for, you can click on the icon and copy all the pertinent information right into your notebook.

At this point, you're probably looking back at the beginning of this article and asking yourself, "How exactly does this make Google the next Empire?" And you would have every right to ask such a question. After all, I've only described 4 new offerings that simply copy existing technologies. Google Gadgets? Check out Yahoo! or OS X widgets. Notebook? Ever heard of A9 Search? But wait, that Trends thing is pretty cool, right? Well, it was pretty cool when Yahoo! introduced it as Yahoo! Buzz way, way back. And while Google Co-op may be the closest thing to a unique offering, pieces of it seem to have been culled from Flickr (now also part of Yahoo!).

Now for the part that makes all of this important: people care! When Google announced all of these new and updated products, they did so in front of over 100 reporters. If the atmosphere wasn't so electric, you may have heard self-pitying whimpers coming from Redmond or Sunnyvale. "Why don't they care about us?" Well, that's for another day. Let's consider this the first of many installments about Google's rise to supreme power!

--Nearly Redmond Nick

Today's Geek News

The MacBooks have arrived. Pictures here and here; Tech Specs and options here. Prices range from $1100 - $1500, making it an affordable high-end option. Like the other Intel Macs, they will run Boot Camp with Win XP and Mac OS X. But if you don't need that dual core power; the ability to run Windows on a Mac (I still don't understand that one); or are simply looking for a bargain, sit back a little and watch the prices drop on the "old" iBooks.

Take out the "service" and make it "spy": ISPs are about to become Internet Spying Providers, if the neocons have their way. This is another invasion courtesy of our good friend Jim No-Sensenbrenner.

I'm still working on my Tao of Hogwarts book, and I'm using a recent Google acquisition, the Writely online word processor, which--like my life--is still in beta. Overall, I'm very impressed: the uploading is a nearly flawless process. I've uploaded a number of Word documents from both my iMac and the Wintel machine, with equally good transfer of formatting, design, fonts, and screen elements. The only slip I noticed in this respect was with first-line indenting of paragraphs. Otherwise, it's a full-featured word processor with collaboration options, versioning, blogging features, and the ability to save a document in any of five different formats (html, doc, pdf, rtf, and Open Office files, with WordPerfect compatibility on the way). The product will need some fine-tuning in browser compatibility (though it currently works well in Firefox and IE) and viewing options; but on balance this is an excellent effort with great potential. No wonder there's an extensive waiting list for admission to the beta user group. Since it's a Google product now, it works a lot like G-Mail: so I've got 50 invites to hand out, if you're interested.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Secrecy: The Soil of Tyranny

I'm still working on other stuff at the moment, which means there's precious little time for blogging. The good news, then, is that we get an extra dose of Terry McKenna, who has some detail on what's really at the root of this NSA brouhaha. I personally think he's hit on one issue that's at the very core of what is so repulsive about this Bush administration: they're the most secretive, skullduggerish lot I've ever witnessed in action, and yes, I'm counting Nixon. Mr. McKenna, then:

The overarching tyranny of the Bush administration is secrecy. I believe that if they offered the same policies, but were open and honest about them, we would be much better off. Yes, the Bush policies are terrible, but had he been honest about his aims, and quick to admit their often inevitable results, public reaction would have been swifter and surer—maybe even more positive. Of course, had Bush shown us his true intentions, the 2004 elections probably would have turned out much differently.

Let’s get to this week’s controversy. And remember, the new stories are about data mining, not wiretapping. In case you are unfamiliar with them, data mining and wiretapping are very different both in concept and in practice.

Wiretapping is just straightforward listening. The government intercepts the phone line at a convenient junction, or places a listening device in a phone itself, and just listens.

Data mining is a process where data is gone over for patterns. In the current instance, the government has a nearly complete list of all US telephone calls – just the phone numbers, dates and times. Then the Feds run a series of pattern recognition queries against the database. My guess is that first they look for calls to and from certain numbers (like known associates of the terrorists). Then they might look for the numbers that call these numbers. By trying out a series of guesses, the Feds should then have a list of possible internal suspects. They can do the same with e-mail traffic. And remember, the feds just have the phone numbers, not the calls themselves.

In any case the President tried to take the heat off the data mining controversy by a series of evasive speeches. And as usual, he mixed lies and evasions. Here’s what he said in this week’s radio address:

“The government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval. We are not trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”

Notice that he was talking about listening to calls (wiretapping) but avoided discussing data mining. So he denied something that he is not being accused of (at least for now). So we can be sure that he IS data mining, and with calls made in the US.

For myself, although I don’t trust the current government, I can envision an instance where data mining might be reasonable – especially in a digital age, where an awful lot of harm can be started just via the telephone (and by cell phones that are hard to trace). I’ve made an informal survey of my younger colleagues (all employed in business, all college grads - all easterners, so presumably more liberal than the general population). All suggested that data mining might be ok – as long as there was responsible oversight outside of the administration.

So the president could have silenced many critics if he said something like this:

“Yes, we have been data mining. We believe that it is the only way to trace the activities of the terrorists. We also believe that, as president, I have the authority to order such data mining without a court order. But in order to demonstrate good faith, we will turn over the records of the data mining, and the internal legal opinions supporting our actions, to the appropriate congressional committee for review in secret session.”

Sadly, this president doesn’t know how to level with us.

Speaking personally. I don’t know the laws regarding invasions of privacy – but I can accept that a lot of things may be necessary to prevent attacks from our enemies. And the September 11 tragedy suggests that we face new threats that are not caught in the usual satellite nets that track larger forces like the movements of fleets or the flights of intercontinental ballistic missiles. But if the government wants to protect us, at very least, it has to allow the oversight that was granted to the Congress in our Constitution.

Defenders of the President often point out the Abraham Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus during the civil war. And this is true. But he also faced congressional oversight. And even review by the Supreme Court.

The problem is with secrecy.

Monday, May 15, 2006

President Gore Speaks

I just learned from our part-time correspondent, Nearly Redmond Nick (who we'll be hearing from on Geek Wednesday) that the SNL video of the State of the Union that could have been has been taken off YouTube for copyright infringement issues.

Well, here comes the blogosphere to the rescue, kids. I made an mp3 audio file of the moment. Download, listen, and enjoy.

Monday with McKenna: The Beast is US

Today, Terry McKenna talks tax policy, or specifically, the lack thereof amidst the Bushies. Then, have a couple of yuks over a look at what might have been. Finally, for an eloquent return to reality, check out Bob Herbert's column (if you don't have or don't want to join Times Select, take out a free trial subscription just to read this piece, it's that good).

The Bush tax cuts were never the result of honest policy. They were also founded on a lie. Tax cuts were originally touted as a way to return the surplus (remember the surplus?); then as the surplus morphed into debt, they were repackaged as stimulus. By now, the very phrase "tax cuts" is a mantra - no more, no less; a sacred phrase chanted by believers. Honest conservatives will admit that if there is any “policy” behind tax cuts, it is to “starve the beast” – thus in the next decade, when we will need income tax revenue to replenish borrowed social security funds, we’ll be so deep in debt that there will be no tax revenue to spare.

Then why do economists say tax cuts work? Well, they don’t really say that. Of course, if you look at any income stream, and then lessen it by any expense, the stream gets smaller. So expenses like tax cuts (and R&D) take cash off the table. But we’ve also paid for something. An honest economist needs to value what we get from government’s expenditures.

The tax cuts (and the Iraq War) have increased federal debt so much so that we can no longer afford the government we need and desire (remember Katrina and FEMA). And how about mine safety? Or the EPA? Truth be told, the Bush budgets have shrunk domestic spending – much of it for essential services.

Do we then get more prosperity?

If you listen to FOX news or read the Wall Street Journal, you’ll hear endless stories of GDP growth. But what about jobs and wages? If we compare job growth over the past 10 years, even factoring ups and downs, we get a growth rate that is less than half that of population growth. Then, we have stagnant wages. Working class families depend on wages from both a husband and wife. Even in middle class families, while a working mother may have more flexibility in looking for work, the bottom line is that even for the middle class, both adults must work.

So at best, we are running in place economically.

But what about the world? Surely, if conservative are right, highly taxed nations would envy our prosperity. But despite what Fox News or the Wall Street Journal would make us believe, they don’t. Yes, European taxpayers chafe at high taxes, but their collective economies are doing at least as well as ours is – and better in terms of genuine prosperity. So their old smoke stack industries like auto manufacturing are in trouble (just like ours). But their high tech sector has the same sort of successes that ours does (thus Germany’s SAP is a world leader in accounting systems), and their pharmaceuticals and specialty chemicals are the envy of the world.

Yes, I know that employment numbers look bad for Europe, but their generous social benefits make unemployment survivable – and by the way, it’s well known that our unemployment statistics hide the long term unemployed, as well as the underemployed.

When we look at genuine measures of prosperity: life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy – we fall short. Way short. For example, our infant mortality rates are similar to that of impoverished Cuba. And our life expectancy is 18th out of the top 20 nations. To be sure, we are a continental nation so share characteristics with Russia and China. But Canada also straddles a continent, and their life expectancy is near the top.

Even within the US, the relative status of high tax and low tax states is informative. High tax states like Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut are among our richest. Low tax states like Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana are also among our poorest. And if we examine almost any measure, the high tax regions do better.

Conservative policy reflects the irritation of small businessmen who are tired of the many regulations, license fees and other annoyances that have been put in place by government. And when all is said and done, they hate paying taxes on their hard work. Small business is a bitch (my wife runs 2 dozen small bookstores, so I know this well). But despite the frustrations, businessmen keep coming back for more. And when a business fails, it’s because of products and markets and not tax policy.

—T. McKenna

Friday, May 12, 2006

Another New England Patriot Rides

It seems New England has always distinguished itself for the ability of its citizens to speak truth to power. From Hancock and Adams, to Thoreau and Hawthorne, to Susan B. Anthony, William Sloane Coffin and W.R. Pitt, those Yankees have had a gift for strength and eloquence in the exposure of tyranny.

Today, another joined their ranks: Professor Steve Almond of Boston College. I highly recommend you read his entire letter to the President of BC on the question of honoring Condi with a degree and a speaking engagement, but here's an excerpt:

I am not writing this letter simply because of an objection to the war against Iraq. My concern is more fundamental. Simply put, Rice is a liar.

She has lied to the American people knowingly, repeatedly, often extravagantly over the past five years, in an effort to justify a pathologically misguided foreign policy.

The public record of her deceits is extensive. During the ramp-up to the Iraq war, she made 29 false or misleading public statements concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda, according to a congressional investigation by the House Committee on Government Reform.

To cite one example:

In an effort to build the case for war, then-National Security Adviser Rice repeatedly asserted that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapon, and specifically seeking uranium in Africa.

In July of 2003, after these claims were disproved, Rice said: ''Now if there were doubts about the underlying intelligence . . . those doubts were not communicated to the president, the vice president, or to me."

Rice's own deputy, Stephen Hadley, later admitted that the CIA had sent her a memo eight months earlier warning against the use of this claim.

In the three years since the war began, Rice has continued to misrepresent or simply ignore the truth about our deadly adventure in Iraq.

Like the president whom she serves so faithfully, she refuses to recognize her errors or the tragic consequences of those errors to the young soldiers and civilians dying in Iraq. She is a diplomat whose central allegiance is not to the democratic cause of this nation, but absolute power.

Bend Over—We're Here to Protect You

While I am among the first in line to assail the sleeping Democratic politicians who think they can win this November by sitting on their hands now, I also feel that sometimes you do have to let a man hang himself with his own words (but then you have to make sure everyone can see the noose, Hillary—and that means taking a stance every now and then, honey). Case in point: Dubya's comments on the USA Today story on the wiretapping of tens of millions of Americans under the NSA program:

"Our intelligence activities strictly target al-Qaeda and their known affiliates," he said in a brief White House statement...

We target only known al-Qaeda—all 20 or 30 million of them that reside in this country. It kind of makes a commie under every rock seem rather tame by comparison.

But will the Cowards of Congress raise the mildest stench over this? Take this as an indication of that likelihood: today, they sent the $70 billion tax cut for the mega-wealthy to Bush's desk for his signature. Here's the Center for American Progress on what this means to you and me and Bill Gates:

...$70 billion in tax cuts, almost all of which would benefit the wealthy. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the average tax cut for middle income households would be a mere $20, while families earning over $1 million would collect nearly $42,000. As the package moves to the Senate today, the Washington Post sums up the plan thusly: "Budgetary dishonesty, distributional unfairness, fiscal irresponsibility — by now the words are so familiar, it can be hard to appreciate how damaging this fiscal course will be."

That's $42 grand for 'roided up baseball players, obese oilmen, circle-jerking Bush pioneers, and Secretaries of State who stroll the aisles at Saks while New Orleans drowns. Oh, and a twenty for me and you.

Well, shall we bend over together? Do you think your poor descending colon can take anymore of this reaming? Just think: this administration says it's against anal sex between men. But they sure do it harder and more frequently than anyone else.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Lunacy in the Land of the Blue God

Quick follow-up to the post below: it appears that the prejudice against a film that no one has seen yet is also appearing in India.

This is especially disappointing: I can remotely understand how medieval fundamentalism might take root in a nation like the Phillippines, which lacks a thriving native spirituality--but India--the land of Ganesh and Shiva and Krishnu; the culture that produced the Kama Sutra? Wouldn't you think that in India, of all nations, the idea that God may have had sex would be met with a smiling receptivity?

Well, for us, it's another lesson in how the disease we call fundamentalism can so easily propagate. For Dan Brown and the producers of the DVC film, it's simply great publicity.

So Dark, the Con of Man...

With all that we've written in this space about fundamentalism (see the April archives in particular), you'd think that nothing from the fundamentalist mindset would surprise us here at Daily Rev.

But then we encountered this story today, which was brought to our attention by our part-time correspondent Nearly Redmond Nick. Let me quote the final sentence. It's a recommendation that the Da Vinci Code movie be subject to a nationwide ban, from the mouth of Eduardo Ermita, a high official in the Phillippine government—sort of the Andy Card of their administration:

"It's something that we should not be talking about," he said, referring to the movie's storyline. "We might get struck by lightning."

Reading it was like being thrown right back into the 13th century. Mr. Ermita was referring, of course, to the actual story of Dan Brown's novel and the film to be released next week. I will only add as comment what I have mentioned before—if these foul, loathsome, decrepit, petty vermin were to put half as much energy into clearing out the poison of pedophilia from their highest ranks of priesthood as they spend over a novel and a movie, then our world might be a safer and more reasonable place. But these decadent fools are as likely to discover reason as they are to be struck by lightning.

And while we're on the subject of toxic, psychotic speech, how about this? It's another pearl from the mouth of our pilfering, predatory, poisonous President:

The president said Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is well-suited for another office and would make “a great president.”

Welcome, my friends, to the new Dark Ages. So dark, the con of man, indeed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

King George's America: Graft, Corruption, Elitism, and Dead Babies

Just what we need...another Cheney scowl in Washington

Plowed to be an Amurkin:

Elitism is US: $70 billion more in tax cuts for the mega-wealthy
Whoring for Votes and Profit is US: Dusty Foggo, Secret Agent
Graft and Corruption are US: Ney, said the horsie with the golden bridle
Infant Mortality is US: But we beat out Latvia
31% is US: You're on the right track, America—keep it sliding


Geek Wednesday

Here's more on the net neutrality debate in Congress. Note that Ted Stevens, whom you'll recall from last year as the champion of the mega-million dollar bridge to nowhere, Alaska—one of the Pork Kings of Kongress—was steered away from supporting net neutrality because some suits from Wall St. said it would "chill investment." Heaven forbid that the mega-rich should go wanting a single extra million on behalf of a fair and vibrant web!

Geeks, you've got to stay with this issue—wear your local pols out with it, and let them know that you've got nothing against wealth, as long as it keeps its hands in the cash pile and off your content. C'mon, down an extra Red Bull, pop some of that new Jolt gum, and chew your Congressman or Senator out on this one. Don't know who your local pols are? Look here, or use this action page.

No MacBook yet: The iBook replacement with the Intel Core Solo processor is not quite ready yet, it appears. Maybe the folks in Cupertino were just too busy celebrating the Dell stock plunge to pay any attention to their work.

Now, I've got to get back to work on my book, so I have a chance at making enough money to get one of those 17" MacBook Pro machines. It's either that or try one of those eBay collecting scams. But I'm afraid I wouldn't pass as a poor college student these days. Nor, of course, a rich one.

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