SPAM

Spam. We get more and more of it every day. I am a little crazy, I have four active e-mail accounts. One is with AOL. It was my first account. I’ve had it for 8 years — if that is possible. I’ve kept it not because I like AOL, but because it has been free (– long story) and friends and family know that e-mail address. It is inconvenient switching accounts. You have to notify everyone. Then not everyone updates their address books immediately and they get annoyed by undelivered messages. But spam in my AOL account is out of control. SPAM totals 40 or 50 mesages a day. I am dropping that account.

The account for this site is at Yahoo. It has been active for almost a year. Yahoo — so far — seems to have a good spam blocker. I get spam, but 95% of it is dumped into a bulk mail account. When I dump AOL I expect to have less spam and to read the messages that I want to read much more easily. But now as I try to reduce e-mail spam there is a new spamming technique on the rise. E-mail spam now has competition from blog commenting spam.

On the old Byrd’s Brain site the first blog comment spam message appeared recently. Spam purportedly came from Drugstore. com. A Google search has shown that “comment” spam is not new, but like all spam it is increasing. Spam is not like junk mail in your (USPS) mailbox. You don’t pay more because you get junk mail. You don’t have to weed through junk mail messages that are interspersed with your real mail. No, instead SPAM costs us all. It takes time and money to download and weed through all those useless messages. I have to scroll through the 60 or so daily messages in my AOL account. Then I have to select and delete each individual message that looks like spam. Every unfortunate now and then I open a spam message that looked like it was legitimate. This only lets the spammers know that they have a live one and that they should send even more spam.

I am dismayed at the thought that this phenomena will affect blogs. In the future will much time be required to weed out spam messages from the blog comments? If so, bloggers will drop the comment functions and people will stop leaving comments, because it will be too frustrating to scroll through the spam while looking for the real comments. If that happens it will negatively impact this medium. Comments make this blogging thing (which like all writing is done in relative isolation) much more of a community.

Posted by robert byrd in Culture, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gagged by Google

Google protects its commercial advertisers. The on-line ads of Oceana, a non-profit environmental group dedicated to restoring and protecting the world’s oceans, were banned by Google after they ran for two days. The ads protested Royal Caribean cruise line’s sewage treatment (dumping) methods. Clearly, there is no freedom of speech with Google. Haven’t search engines become a necessity for internet users? If so, should we treat search engines in like utilities? In other words, should search engines be regulated in some way to insure fairness and objectivity? Shouldn’t search engines be required to have clear, coherent, resonable and not arbitrary content policies?

Last week, Oceana placed two advertisements with Google, the first describing Oceana’s mission and linking to the organization’s website, www.oceana.org, the second focusing on Oceana’s well-known campaign to stop cruise pollution. Google removed the ads after two days, citing the cruise pollution ad for “language that advocates against Royal Caribbean,” and the general ad for using “language advocating against the cruise line industry and cruisers.” Google’s public editorial guidelines, however, make no mention of any such specific prohibition, stating only that the company reserves the right to exercise editorial discretion when it comes to the advertising it accepts.
Source: Oceana.

To Google’s credit one can use Google to find news about the ad banning using the search, “Oceana ad banned by Google.” There is speculation that Yahoo would run the ads without any censorship because Yahoo’s content policy permits critical ads, if they aren’t obscene or libelous. Spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens said, “We see it as a freedom of speech issue.” So do I.

There once was a “Robert’s Ramblings”

Who Blogs? And How Careful Are They? Mostly men (63 percent) who are Caucasian (79 percent), between the ages of 21 and 40 (75 percent), have a college or advanced degree (85 percent), and have been blogging for a year or more (67 percent). That’s according to survey results reported recently by Fernanda Viégas, a doctoral student in the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab.

In January, Viégas ran an online survey focused on the tension between the chatty, uninhibited nature of most blogs and the social and legal accountability many bloggers are facing as they evolve into full-fledged Web publishers. She collected responses from 486 bloggers. Viégas found that most bloggers seem to be wary of slandering, libeling, or even offending someone through their blogs. About 80 percent of respondents said they are either somewhat, very, or extremely liable for what they write in their blogs, and 36 percent said they had experienced that liability first-hand at least once by getting into trouble with friends, family, or the law over something they’d written in their blogs.

The most common category respondents identified for their blogs: “Personal ramblings.“

MIT Technology Review

From the survey:

The findings in this survey suggest that blogging is a world in flux where social norms are starting to flourish. For instance, many bloggers reveal the names of companies and products when they blog about them, except when they write about a company for which they currently work or have worked in the past. More bloggers are becoming sensitive about revealing the full names of friends on postings as well. But for all of the careful publishing guidelines that are starting to evolve, bloggers still do not feel like they know their audience. For the most part, they have no control over who reads their postings. The study also shows that bloggers usually have some idea of their “core” audience (readers who post comments on the site) without really knowing who the rest of their readers are – in many cases, this latter group makes up the majority of their readers.

Fernanda Viegas

We have been categorized and pigeonholed, but it rings true.

A McLatte Anyone?

McDonald’s has ventured into the coffee biz. It has 500 McCafes worldwide and has just opened its second cafe in the U.S. This newest one is the considered the real test of its coffee prowess because it is in a coffee crazed part of the country — California. We take out coffee very seriously here.

Conrad Freeman isn’t your stereotypical high-tech entrepreneur, but on Wednesday he plans to launch one of the nation’s most cutting-edge startups.

Freeman, who owns a popular McDonald’s hamburger franchise in Mountain View, a Silicon Valley suburb, will begin peddling delicacies such as skinny double mochas and roasted beef with balsamic vinegar on foccacia at the grand opening of the West Coast’s first “McCafe.” Instead of Egg McMuffins and Styrofoam cups of joe, he and a staff of 13 — including baristas who completed a 40-hour training course — will serve buttery brioche and cafe Americano in porcelain cups (or paper, if you order to go).
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Gourmet coffee — which can top $4 per cup for fancy blended drinks — has a greater profit margin than burgers and fries. More sophisticated morsels may also appeal to San Francisco Bay Area food snobs, who often disdain McDonald’s emphasis on kids and commuters.

The Mountain View McCafe, where sandwiches cost about $4.50 each, adjoins the standard McDonald’s restaurant and features plush love seats and mood lighting, as well as wireless Internet access to encourage patrons to linger longer — ideally with a second double espresso. SF Chronicle

The specially trained barristas are separate from McDonald’s regular counter workers. They dress differently and are trained to help educate the average cheeseburger guy who might be intimidated by ordering a cappuccino, which, by the way, will be decorated with a special “M” stenciled in cocoa powder.

And unlike Starbucks, where the medium is called grande and the tall is small, drinks at McCafe’s will be served in small, medium or large sizes. How refreshing.

“I was shocked at how much there was to learn about making an espresso drink. Technically, it’s really hard to do,” said Freeman, who along with his crew went through 40 hours of espresso training.

He learned that the expectations of the high-end coffee consumer is different from the average McDonald’s customer. “If I mess up your latte, you take it as a personal affront,” he said. Ain’t that the truth.

Fat Filled Menus for Kids

As parents we are very concious about what our children eat. We can control exactly what they eat when we are at home, but we do eat out sometimes. At those times we must trust that the restaurants are providing quality meals. That trust may be misplaced. It seems that restaurants, national chains in particular, put little effort into devising healthy meals for children.

What’s on the menu for kids at chain restaurants? Fat, grease and hidden calories, according to one nutrition advocacy group.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest — which has touted the health evils of movie theater popcorn and Chinese food in the past — analyzed food choices for children at the top 20 sit-down chain restaurants. Results released Tuesday show that most kids’ menus offer little variety and are loaded with foods that are fattening.

Hamburger or cheeseburgers were on 85 percent of the menus, and french fries accompanied almost all of the meals but one. Chicken fingers and pizza were also common items listed for youngsters, the report found.

The center said that many of the menu options met the federal government’s daily recommendation for children of 1,500 calories and 17 grams of saturated fat — or more — in just one meal.

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“The kids’ menus were replicating fast-food menus, except the portions are bigger so the calories and fat content are even higher at the table-service restaurants,” Hurley said.

Blame Game

The game is afoot. BushCo is feeling the heat. The blame bullseye is coming into focus on BushCo’s forehead. Time to move the bullseye. That is much of what this “reform the intelligence community” White House talk is about. If BushCo truly believes that reform is needed then there are two possibilities and neither is very good. Either BushCo has been unhappy for a long time with the intelligence received and the interagency communications and did nothing to improve the situation. Or BushCo has just come to the party, listened to the 9/11 Commissioner member statements and decided that reform is needed. Some leadership. Who elected these people?

However, neither scenario is the reality. The reality is that BushCo is feeling the heat, for being focused on Iraq and the rest of its neocon agenda and failing to heed intelligence on Al Queada. “It is not our fault. They did it. We didn’t do it.” Why do I feel like I am in a grade school playground?

President Bush said Monday that “now may be a time to revamp and reform our intelligence services,” opening the way for consideration of changes at the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and other agencies.

***

Expanding the powers of the director of central intelligence and establishing a domestic intelligence agency like the MI5 in Britain are among ideas now circulating in Washington as the independent commission looking into the attacks holds hearings and prepares to make its own recommendations.

Mr. Bush, speaking to reporters at his ranch in Texas at an appearance with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, did not mention any specific changes but said he looked forward to receiving the commission’s proposals. “We’re thinking about that ourselves and we look forward to working with the commission,” he said.

NYTimes (registration required)

The Wrong Debate on Terrorism

Okay this is the last one, I promise.

Here is Richard Clarke’s op-ed from today’s NYTimes. (The op-ed is reprinted here in its entirety because the NYTimes on-line is subscription based and articles are not available after one week.)
The last month has seen a remarkable series of events that focused the public and news media on America’s shortcomings in dealing with terrorism from radical Islamists. This catharsis, which is not yet over, is necessary for our national psyche. If we learn the right lessons, it may also prove to be an essential part of our future victory over those who now threaten us.

But how do we select the right lessons to learn? I tried to suggest some in my recent book, and many have attempted to do so in the 9/11 hearings, but such efforts have been largely eclipsed by partisan reaction.

One lesson is that even though we are the world’s only remaining superpower — as we were before Sept. 11, 2001 — we are seriously threatened by an ideological war within Islam. It is a civil war in which a radical Islamist faction is striking out at the West and at moderate Muslims. Once we recognize that the struggle within Islam — not a “clash of civilizations” between East and West — is the phenomenon with which we must grapple, we can begin to develop a strategy and tactics for doing so. It is a battle not only of bombs and bullets, but chiefly of ideas. It is a war that we are losing, as more and more of the Islamic world develops antipathy toward the United States and some even develop a respect for the jihadist movement.

I do not pretend to know the formula for winning that ideological war. But I do know that we cannot win it without significant help from our Muslim friends, and that many of our recent actions (chiefly the invasion of Iraq) have made it far more difficult to obtain that cooperation and to achieve credibility.

What we have tried in the war of ideas has also fallen short. It is clear that United States government versions of MTV or CNN in Arabic will not put a dent in the popularity of the anti-American jihad. Nor will calls from Washington for democratization in the Arab world help if such calls originate from a leader who is trying to impose democracy on an Arab country at the point of an American bayonet. The Bush administration’s much-vaunted Middle East democracy initiative, therefore, was dead on arrival.

We must also be careful, while advocating democracy in the region, that we do not undermine the existing regimes without having a game plan for what should follow them and how to get there. The lesson of President Jimmy Carter’s abandonment of the shah of Iran in 1979 should be a warning. So, too, should we be chastened by the costs of eliminating the regime of Saddam Hussein, almost 25 years after the shah, also without a detailed plan for what would follow.

Other parts of the war of ideas include making real progress on the Israel-Palestinian issue, while safe-guarding Israeli security, and finding ideological and religious counter-weights to Osama bin Laden and the radical imams. Fashioning a comprehensive strategy to win the battle of ideas should be given as much attention as any other aspect of the war on terrorists, or else we will fight this war for the foreseeable future. For even when Osama bin Laden is dead, his ideas will carry on. Even as Al Qaeda has had its leadership attacked, it has morphed into a hydra, carrying out more major attacks in the 30 months since 9/11 than it did in the three years before.

The second major lesson of the last month of controversy is that the organizations entrusted with law enforcement and intelligence in the United States had not fully accepted the gravity of the threat prior to 9/11. Because this is now so clear, there will be a tendency to overemphasize organizational fixes. The 9/11 commission and President Bush seem to be in a race to propose creating a “director of national intelligence,” who would be given control over all American intelligence agencies. The commission may also recommend a domestic security intelligence service, probably modeled on Britain’s MI-5.

While some structural changes are necessary, they are a small part of the solution. And there is a risk that concentrating on chain-of-authority diagrams of federal agencies will further divert our attention from more important parts of the agenda. This new director of national intelligence would be able to make only marginal changes to agency budgets and interactions. The more important task is improving the quality of the analysts, agents and managers at the lead foreign intelligence agency, the Central Intelligence Agency.

In addition, no new domestic security intelligence service could leap full grown from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security. Indeed, creating another new organization while we are in a key phase in the war on terrorism would ignore the lesson that we should have learned from the creation of Homeland Security. Many observers, including some in the new department, now agree that the forced integration and reorganization of 22 agencies diverted attention from the missions of several agencies that were needed to go after the terrorists and to reduce our vulnerabilities at home.

We do not need another new agency right now. We do, however, need to create within the F.B.I. a strong organization that is vastly different from the federal police agency that was unable to notice the Al Qaeda presence in America before 9/11. For now, any American version of MI-5 must be a branch within the F.B.I. — one with a higher quality of analysts, agents and managers.

Rather than creating new organizations, we need to give the C.I.A. and F.B.I. makeovers. They cannot continue to be dominated by careerists who have carefully managed their promotions and ensured their retirement benefits by avoiding risk and innovation for decades. The agencies need regular infusions throughout their supervisory ranks of managers and thinkers from other, more creative organizational cultures.

In the new F.B.I., marksmanship, arrests and skill on the physical training obstacle course should no longer be prerequisites for recruitment and retention. Similarly, within the C.I.A. we should quash the belief that — as George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, told the 9/11 commission — those who have never worked in the directorate of operations cannot understand it and are unqualified to criticize it.

Finally, we must try to achieve a level of public discourse on these issues that is simultaneously energetic and mutually respectful. I hoped, through my book and testimony, to make criticism of the conduct of the war on terrorism and the separate war in Iraq more active and legitimate. We need public debate if we are to succeed. We should not dismiss critics through character assassination, nor should we besmirch advocates of the Patriot Act as fascists.

We all want to defeat the jihadists. To do that, we need to encourage an active, critical and analytical debate in America about how that will best be done. And if there is another major terrorist attack in this country, we must not panic or stifle debate as we did for too long after 9/11.

Censorship

“You are either for us or against us.”

What happens when media is controlled by just a few entities? What happens when the people in government are vindictive towards those who are disloyal? Corporate censorship happens.

Michael Moore has a new documentary, “Fahrenheit, 911”. The film’s $6 miilion cost was financed primarily by Miramax and Miramax was slated to distribute the film in the U.S.. But there is a catch. Disney owns Miramax and Disney has told Miramax that it can’t ditribute the movie. “Fahrenheit 911” deals with “financial connections between the Bush family and its associates and prominent Saudi Arabian families that go back three decades”. Michael Eisner is reportedly fearful that distribution of an “anti-BushCo” film will cause Disney to lose tax incentives that Disney gets in Florida.

That’s censorship folks. That is government censorship. In a free country people are supposed to be able to voice opinions against the government. That’s called dissent. Good democratic government does not operate in a vacuum. To their credit, the people at Miramax are opposing Disney, but what will happen remains unclear.

The Walt Disney Company is blocking its Miramax division from distributing a new documentary by Michael Moore that harshly criticizes President Bush, executives at both Disney and Miramax said Tuesday.

The film, “Fahrenheit 911,” links Mr. Bush and prominent Saudis — including the family of Osama bin Laden — and criticizes Mr. Bush’s actions before and after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Disney, which bought Miramax more than a decade ago, has a contractual agreement with the Miramax principals, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, allowing it to prevent the company from distributing films under certain circumstances, like an excessive budget or an NC-17 rating.

Executives at Miramax, who became principal investors in Mr. Moore’s project last spring, do not believe that this is one of those cases, people involved in the production of the film said. If a compromise is not reached, these people said, the matter could go to mediation, though neither side is said to want to travel that route.

Disney came under heavy criticism from conservatives last May after the disclosure that Miramax had agreed to finance the film when Icon Productions, Mel Gibson’s company, backed out.

Mr. Moore’s agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney’s chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor.

“Michael Eisner asked me not to sell this movie to Harvey Weinstein; that doesn’t mean I listened to him,” Mr. Emanuel said. “He definitely indicated there were tax incentives he was getting for the Disney corporation and that’s why he didn’t want me to sell it to Miramax. He didn’t want a Disney company involved.”
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“It’s not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle,”
NYTimes

Nausea

I have been so disturbed by the images from Abu Ghraib prison that I haven’t known what to say about them. They are the best recruiting tool for Al Quaeda that one can imagine. I have opposed all of BushCo’s actions in Iraq. However, although I desperately want BushCo out, I held some hope that the Iraq war would turn out better than I feared. Now events are becoming worse than I had ever imagined. Finally, yesterday’s news of an on-line video of a beheading — snuff porn complete with screaming — was more than I could handle. It depressed me. I felt nauseaus. How could this man’s family handle this viedotaped and publicized death of their son. His death, the death of thousands of Iraqi’s, hundreds of American soldiers and the future murder of countless civilians by terrorists are the fault of BushCo. Myopic narrow-minded zealotry has led us down a very dark path. For the first time in decades I feel that there is little hope for a positive turn in global, or even domestic, affairs.

I’ve said enough. Now I’ll let Mark Murford speak for me:

The pictures are worth a thousand disgusted moans. It’s all flag-draped coffins and dog chains and forced masturbation and pistol whippings and miserable bloody hooded Iraqi men — not terrorists, just men — with wires attached to their fingers and genitals and made to stand up for hours and days on end until their feet swell and their lungs collapse and their livers fail, and you can hear our stunned death-drunk nation cry: Hey, whatever happened to our nice, clean little war? How did it get so ugly and out of hand? And isn’t the “Frasier” finale on soon? Sigh.
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Isn’t the nation just so very outraged — outraged! — over the nasty rogue’s gallery of photos gushing forth from the stunned media of late (with frightening promises that the worst is yet to come), all those snickering U.S. Army guards and sickeningly abused Iraqi POWs and dead U.S. soldiers and scowling generals.

And there’s BushCo blaming Rumsfeld and Rumsfeld blaming the military and the military blaming miserable 21-year-old female trailer-park scapegoats and once again there stands Dubya, looking angry and baffled, like a kid who just got grounded for getting another D on a spelling test.

Did you really think war would be all light spankings and fur-lined handcuffs and afternoon tea, George? All happy giggling soldiers blasting each other with squirt guns and playing jacks in the streets of Fallujah?

Did you really believe your second war in as many years would be all neat and tidy and bloodless and gift-wrapped and lacking in gruesomeness and bile and disfiguring genital mutilation? What are you, a puppet? Oh wait.
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But let’s not be too hard on the least articulate, least intellectual, least accountable president in U.S. history. After all, Dubya’s just like much of America. He is the prefect embodiment of our world-famous myopia, a selective type of dangerous tunnel vision whereby if we don’t see it and don’t really feel it and the media doesn’t splash it all over us, it must not be true.

And, really, what Bush-votin’ flag-wavin’ God-numbed patriot wants to hear that the U.S. is a world-class hypocrite, committing many of the same crimes and tortures, rapes and humiliations that Saddam himself did, in the very same prison? Who wants to hear that, in many ways, we’ve done no better by the Iraqi (or Afghan) people than their former leadership, and in some ways have made things far worse?

And who wants to know that we have become the violent, unwanted clown on the global stage, justifiably ridiculed and thoroughly unsympathetic, as the world boos and hurls rotten foreign policies? Who wants to know that we are, in short, losing the war? Look there, isn’t that Dick Cheney, hiding behind an American coffin, fondling his Halliburton portfolio and snickering quietly? Why yes, yes it is.
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Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is also Bush. This is a man who goes on Saudi television to claim rape and torture and sadism is not the American way of conducting a war (but not, actually, to apologize — never that), that such behavior is contrary to our God and our principles and our morals and our happily imbecilic black-and-white, good-versus-evil worldview.
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And what is that truth now? What have these photos, these glorious wartime atrocities, accomplished? Why, nothing short of guaranteeing that the United States has never been so violently hated among Middle Eastern nations as it is right now.

Nothing short of massacring any last vestige of remaining 9/11 sympathy. Nothing short of supplying a whole new generation of enraged terrorists with all the proof they need that their cause is entirely valid and just.

And nothing short of proving, for the 10,000th time, that BushCo has dug us a grimy, violent, blood-soaked hole so deep we may never fully emerge.

Just good contingency planning?

I have been expecting a terrorist attack prior to the November elections for almost a year now. An attack then would be convenient for BushCo since Americans might be more likely to stay the course — in time of war — and vote Bush back in. Some commenters have said that I am a conspiracy theorist, nuts and worse. But then in the last couple of weeks we have heard repeated warnings about attacks to disrupt the election. Attacks planned by Osama himself — so these threats must be serious.

Of course, if the U.S. had put 160,000 troops into Afghanistan instead of Iraq Osama wouldn’t likely be a threat any more. Or maybe he isn’t a threat now.

Would you be surprised if he were “found” and “captured” just before the November elections? That would sure give BushCo a boost. Of course, if a terrorist attack and the displaying of Osama isn’t enough to assure victory for Bush then one could always “suspend” the elections. Suspending the elections in the case of a national emergency is the latest idea being floated by U.S.

officials. In order to maintain plausable deniability about these ideas, Condileeza Rice says that there is no plan to delay the November elections. Do you believe her? Remember she was one of the many who said that Iraq had WMDs. If we take her statement at face value, perhaps there is no plan now, but there will be soon.