Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Meta-Bloggin 15: Psychology of the Blog Style

Daniel Solove, in his introductory guest-blogging post at Jack Balkin's legal blog, gets off a great epigraph:
Just as the key to robust free speech is battling attempts at censorship, the key to robust blogging is, I think, battling internal censors.
Superego, be quiet!


Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Meta-Blogging 14: Blogging At Work

Part of the debate over the nature of blogging concerns how to consider a blogger's independance from his or her workplace. If Kevin Drum's "Calpundit" is hosted by Washington Monthly, how much of his work can be divorced from that journal? (Answer: some, about as much as an Op-Ed columnist from the editorial policy.) If Duncan Black's "Eschaton" is financed by his work for Media Matters, how much of his work can be divorced from that organization? (Answer: some, while Eschaton disavows dependance on MediaMatters, Black has also publicly embraced that organization's work and often links to it.)

Alright, let's get trickier. If Teresa Nielsen-Hayden's work on Making Light is enabled by her salary at Tor publishing, and if she sometimes writes about what kinds of standards prevail in her place of work, and if sometimes the timestamp on her posts indicates that she was probably at work, maybe using office machines, while writing her post, what version of independence obtains?

These questions are not merely philosophical. Conservatives in particular are scratching their heads to define "sponsorship" for bloggers under campaign finance reform law, and Erick at RedState attempts to prove that under current law, more than one hour per week spent blogging at work hours will constitute either sponsored speech or just cause for termination. His reasoning picks up an ongoing conversation, so the post isn't entirely self-evident. Still, the overall gist is ominous to opiners who earn their living.

Hell, we've seen this before. The well-reputed SF-Fantasy resource at Waterstone's being fired--"sacked"--for his blogging on company time, about the company, the conservative demand for political ads to be pulled from Kos's site after his comments about the deaths in Fallujah. Well, it's starting to get codified, gradually.

Brave New Blogosphere? We'll see about that.

[UPDATE: This post seems to attract more than the usual number of hits--is it Teresa's replies below?--so I figure it appropriate to post the EFF's faq on your legal liabilities if you blog at work. If any of you would like to tell me how you ended up here, since Technorati's being of no use, I'd be curious...]


Monday, June 27, 2005

Now I'm beginning to get paranoid...

I literally get over twenty emails per week from "PayPal" and "Ebay" customer representatives. According to them, my account is continually under threat of being suspended and/or vulnerable to haxxors. To reiterate, I have never knowingly signed up to either service. Increasingly, however, as I see a few seemingly authoritative emails, I wonder whether some of the online services that "Jackmormon" has signed up for might not have involved a genuine automatic registration with one or two genuine services.

(Don't worry: I remain skeptical enough of all of these emails to delete almost all with even opening them, and I've never opened an attachment or sent any information--knowingly--to anyone.)

So here's the question de jour: does anyone know whether opening a blogger account registers one with either PayPal or EBay? does opening a yahoo email account trigger such mechanisms?

With blog comments, these are practically the only exposures my email has. Any thoughts?


Sunday, June 26, 2005

Gitmo Sutras [Title edited to correct egregious typo]

Mike Leung has been composing a full Gitmo Sutra at an astonishing rate on a comment thread at Making Light. He has compiled a draft version of the first 50-odd verses on his own site, ChickenSoup4TheDamned.

Some of the verses are extraordinary; some come up a little short of what they promise. Here's one of my favorites, which illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of this series:

A prisoner who is detained
is the foundation of dominance.

A detainee is kept in a room;
that is how we know we are free.

His accusers owe him no explanation
and their biases are not subject to scrutiny.
The trick of this conceit--i.e. writing the interrogator's meditations--is to flatten out the charge of such language. The verses will be read ironically, of course, but the shock of understanding will be more profound if the words are plain (except when obfuscatory jargon is part of the torturers' zen), the syntax direct, and the voice not clearly partisan as such.

That's why I think that the last line of the above verse doesn't quite work. "Subject to scrutiny" is a phrase that reflects the current political debate about torture; the interrogators themselves would I think be more distant from the language of us citizens.

Some of the other posters on Making Light have created Gitmo Sutras of dark luminescence, like Avram's initial offering:

The Gulag that can be told
is not the true Gulag.
The Nazi that can be named
is not the true Nazi.

Free from the Gitmo, you see only the manifestations.
Caught in the Gitmo, you realize the mystery.

Yet Gulag and Gitmo arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness,
The gateway to all understanding.

Or there's Jonathan Vos Post's wonderful rewriting of verse 59:

In torturing others and spinning others,
There is nothing like using restraints.
Restraints begin with giving up one's own ideas.
That depends on Intelligence gathered in the past.
If there is a good database of Intelligence, then nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, there are no limits.
If a man knows no limits, then he is fit to be a ruler, or at least Secretary of Defense.
If he codify the lack of limits, then he is fit to be Attorney General.
The mother principle of ruling holds for a long time.
This is called having deep roots, family values, and a firm foundation,
The Tao of long life and eternal re-election.
Here the partisan tag--well, particularly the last word--comes off more as a Baudelairean smack to the face rather than as a break in the voice.

Despite my quibbles with some wording, Mike's Gitmo Sutra is shaping into something very powerful. It's even developing a plot line! With a suprise ending! The most satisfactory end for the interrogator character, as well as for Gitmo itself, would have them blown into very small pieces, but we'll take what we can get.


Friday, June 24, 2005

Question for a hot day

I live in a pre-war apartment building in NYC. It was built before people merrily moved into shoddy pre-fab houses with AC in inhospitable places like Phoenix and Atantla. The building is well-constructed, decently maintained.

So why does it retain the heat in a way that none of the apartment buildings I lived in in Paris did? These weren't really posh buildings; they tended to be Hausmannian era, but more slummy than grand-style. Why does my current old-fashioned building warm up faster and retain the heat longer?

Since I don't know anything about difference in floors and walls between these buildings I'm comparing, I'm fixated on the windows.

--Almost all Parisian buildings have tall windows with two tall windowpanes that swing inward; you can, and most people in summer do, open the entire window. This NYC building, like every single one on the block, has horizontally aligned panes, so that when you open the window, you're actually just sliding one pane under another to create a sad little square of a vent. Some of the nicer brownstones in NYC have tall windows, but most buildings have my kind of window. And most people replace one of those panes with an AC unit.

--Almost every damn building in Paris has shutters for its windows; almost none in NYC does. Shutters are not just decorative, for God's sake! This is very simple: when it is hot out, you close the shutters and open the windows first thing in the morning. Then the light doesn't get in to turn your apartment into an inferno. Maybe in the late afternoon you can open the shutters to enjoy the humid NYC evening summer air. WHERE ARE MY SHUTTERS?

This is an old building, constructed back when people knew a thing or two about living through seasonal weather without electricity-based comforts. This building wasn't a slumhouse back then. Did the building have shutters that the owner decided to take down (thus transfering cooling costs to the tenants)? Did the architect decide to leave elegant solutions to heat-management back in the Old Country?


Thursday, June 23, 2005

Eminent Domain for the 21st Century

So the Supreme Court decided today in the Kelo case that the local legislature could essentially define what the "public interest" meant when private property rights and redevelopment plans clashed. That's my understanding, at least; I ain't no lawyer.

Below the fold: first, a round-up from some of the blogs, legal and political, and then my reaction. Fair warning before you click through: this decision worries the hell out of me.
The horrified
Todd Zywicki at Volokh is appalled:
"I thought the purpose of the Bill of Rights was to create rights that would be protected from the government, so that we wouldn't have to rely on the honor system of the government to do the right thing, but had rights that would be enforced.
He notes that Clarence Thomas's dissent points out the obvious: that it won't be the rich and powerful who have their homes repossessed. I reproduce this last primarily because I'm trying to figure out why exactly right-leaning blogs like Thomas so much; here, I agree with him entirely. Nicole Garnett at ScotusBlog praises Thomas's dissent as another instance where, as a conservative, he stands up for the little guy.

The conservatives of RedState are, as is their wont, alteratively philosophical and livid. Livid diarist Pejman Yousefzadeh, who has been following this case rather closely, quotes from an article he wrote for TechCentralEtc.:
As such, the NLDC is not trying to take land for a "public use" such as a public works project, but rather, it is taking land that is not blighted in order to institute vague and unformed businesses and development projects that will generate higher revenues for the city. If this is not an abuse of the eminent domain power, it is difficult to conceive of a situation that is.[...]Under this reasoning, not only will you have to lose your homes for development plans that are still up in the air, the local coffee shop may have to give way to a Starbucks, the local bookstore may have to surrender its property to the creation of the latest Borders outlet, and the local video store may have to vacate in favor of the creation of yet another Blockbuster franchise -- all because a Starbucks, a Borders and a Blockbuster could give local governments more tax revenue. In none of these hypothetical situations is the "public use" requirement satisfied. In none of these situations is an "urban blight" finding required. All that is required under the argument of the New London city attorney is that a local government must find that a current and existing business would yield less tax revenue than a potential incoming business would, and that government could exercise its power of eminent domain.

The biggest surprise for SCOTUS-watchers seems to be that O'Conner fell within the 4-party dissenting group. Not only does she tend to vote with the majority, but she also authored an important opinion on eminent domain, which her dissent reverses, according to Ilya Somin at ScotusBlog's discussion forum on the decision. He also suggests that the court is here deferring to an idea of local expertise that is inconsistently applied:
"Stevens and the other justices in the majority routinely vote to "second-guess" political decisions on issues like abortion, the death penalty, police searches, censorship of pornography, and privacy rights. While Stevens is probably right to assume that judges do not have as much expertise as elected officials do on takings, it is also likely that they have less expertise than legislatures do on most of the other issues mentioned above."
I'm not entirely sure I agree with the last sentence--do state legislatures really have more reasonable expertise on privacy rights than SCOTUS does?--but the inconsistent exercise of judicial authority does seem problemative.

The less-horrified
On the other side, Thomas Merrill at ScotusBlog suggests that the majority opinion should be read as a message to state courts that they should
go ahead and use eminent domain for economic development, but please try to take property rights more seriously in the future.
Merrill thinks that this decision preserves "federalism in this area" while trying to "re-shape" attitudes about the casual use of eminent domain. Similarly, commenters on the thread attached to a (livid, horrified) post by Jammer at the TPMcafe defend the idea that local communities should be able to control, via elected officials, the shape of their community.

Scott Lemieux at Ezra Klein's blog offers a more forthright justification:
I am sympathetic to the defendants, who were forced to sell their property for what seems to me like a boondoggle, and I understand what O'Connor means when she suggests that "for public use" might as well be deleted from the Fifth Amendment. But once the courts start making determinations about what constitutes the "public interest," the Court becomes an all-purpose economic regulator, and history makes it quite clear that this is a state of affairs that is not good for democracy or for progressive interests in the long run. [...]

The lesson here, again, is the the Constitution does not provide a remedy for every bad public policy. Combining upper-class tax cuts with increased pork-barrel spending, like the current administration is doing, is awful public policy, but it's constitutional, and the same goes for Robert Moses' grandiose road-building schemes. You beat them the way the West Side Stadium was beaten; through politics. Expecting the courts to protect poor property owners by determining which policies are legitimate public interests is a sucker's bet.
Politics, huh? The Westside Stadium was beaten, I suspect, in large part because of Sheldon Silver's ability to pull the 9-11 card in his favor: how much less sympathetic would press coverage for a hold-out "my district needs this money" representative from a less prestigious district have been? It doesn't seem likely that poorer districts--and, let's say it, neighborhoods whose residents have brown skins--will have that kind of political pull.

This is definitely a case where the conservatives stick to the principle of property rights and the liberals are torn their desires to improve communities by rational planning and their desires to ensure the rights of the more vulnerable to hang onto what they've managed to acquire. Atrios's ambivalence is telling:
Yes, this is a bad decision, but we must think of what the alternative might have been. I don't know what was in the hearts of the justices who ruled the way did, they may be fully on board this apparent belief in the unlimited power of eminent domain. This is not something I support. However, the alternative could've been a conservative written opinion severely limiting the power of eminent domain and the concept of public use, which would've eviscerated a truly necessary government power.

Black doesn't go far enough here, though.

I've been keeping my eye on one particularly powerful private party's attempt to exploit the loopholes of eminent domain--Columbia University's efforts to expand into a semi-but-not-quite-yet blighted region of what is referred to alternately as "Manhattanville" or "West Harlem." The Columbia student newspaper has been covering this story indepth for a few years; they are as objective as undergraduate Ivy-Leaguers can be, and a partial archive of their articles can be found here.

When the flyers first started appearing around the neighborhood that Columbia was using eminent domain to force property-owners out, I was frankly skeptical, thinking to myself that expanding Columbia's campus was in no way analogous to the "public use" involved in building a road. Gradually, however, I started to wonder: Columbia was certainly optimistic that its plans would proceed--even announcing its architectural designs despite the evident community opposition and the articles about locals refusing to sell.

Then the Columbia Spectator got a terrific scoop (which almost had to have come as the result of an insider tip-off) : the student paper filed a FOIA request and obtained records that showed that Columbia trustees had asked NY state officials to condemn certain key buildings--in exchange for $300,000 in "legal fees." The neighborhood's protests have been, so far, peaceful, but don't think they're not pissed off. I imagine that politically active residents were made aware that their case might fall under the Kelo decision.

With this specific, local instance of a local power influencing local politics, it is very hard for me to sigh away this decision as "bad" but not as bad as it could be. I'm pretty far left; I think that locally planned redevelopment is a good thing and that, if done properly, it could conceivably trump private property. Maybe. This decision seems to bless the forced transfer of property from poor private individuals to rich private corporations. The "public interest" seems represented only by elected officials who conduct such business in the darkest of back rooms.

Well, I guess I'll be saying my goodbyes to the fishermen off Marginal Drive below Fairway, then. Hello, brave world...


Monday, June 20, 2005

Product Placement

I'm not getting paid for any of this blogging stuff, don't worry, but some products have indeed made my life easier. This is my blog, so I can deliver praise as I see fit. So, with that non-disclaimer in mind, I advocate:

--The Joy of Cooking. This book makes my life happier and yummier at least one a week. It has a couple of features that set it apart from all the other cookbooks: it has a kick-ass index, it has comprehensive conversion-tables, it offers basic-ingredient entries ("Asparagus are best in the Spring, and you'll know the spears are fresh when..."), and it has an extraordinary knack of explaining very simple processes without ever seeming condescending. This may not be the most specialized, coolest, or most exciting cookbook you could buy, but it's like a dictionary to me. Irma, I thank you.

--Stop 'N Grow. This is a nasty-tasting nail-hardener. I've only bought it in Germany, but the label suggests that it is also available in England from the Mentholatum Co. Lemme put it this way: after six years, I no longer bite my nails. My fingers tasted vile--and every time I suspect I'm backsliding, urgh! they taste vile again!

--Adorno's lectures on Kant's epistemology: Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I don't usually put "Adorno" and "useful to students" in the same sentence, but these lectures are brilliant, transparent pedagogy. I've been slogging through the first Critique with a reading group, and Adorno manages to address all of our concerns with clarity and panache. Yes, there are a number of comments about "bourgeois thinking," but Adorno's almost overwhelmed respect for Kant might excuse such brief flashes of the Oedipal knives. What Adorno is particularly good at is piercing through our contemporary acceptance of Kant as the "subjective Copernican Revolution guy" to demonstrate the stakes of Kant's system in its time.

--French Camembert. It's got to be made from raw milk; pasteurized will simply not do. Presidente can sometimes be quite good, even though it's a fairly common brand. You want to take the cheese out of its wooden case and palpitate its surface. If it isn't soft, it isn't ready. An unyielding camembert will have to wait perhaps another week to reach its peak. Eat with: apples, fresh bread (white, rye, dark bread with raisens), rich crackers, or, decadently, straight off the board with fingers!

--WNYC, my local NPR affiliate. Congress is threatening to cut the budget for public broadcasting by some %45. I like public radio. WNYC ran continuous coverage of the congressional debates during the run-up to the Iraq war; local political host Brian Lehrer offered shows about the goddamned alumnium tubes and satellite photos of the mobile tubes. Thanks to WNYC, I was able to put page A18 together with my misgivings in order to deem this war misguided. (*Oh!* and you know what? I was right!) I don't have cable, TiVo, or subscriptions to Sirius: I'm too poor for these wonderful on-choice, digital options. So what I see is basically a land-grab: because the technology is moving from analog-wired to digital-wireless, everyone iw moving to privitize formerly public services. A vote on this element of the spending bill is going down later this week, so write letters with vim


Rumors On The Eastern Front

Whispering about a US desire to move from Iraq into Iran seems to be getting louder. These are still rumors, whispers, trial balloons, batshit fantasies, what-have-you. None of this is yet on the level of consciousness of the average US citizen, who is already polling as "fed-up" with the current overseas adventure and decidedly not ready to take this administration's word to invade some other mid-eastern country.

Billmon puts together many of the current threads in this post, where he also, usefully, notes that that this particular neo-con fantasy seems entirely unworkable. Despite the general international concern about a nuclear-armed Iran, despite the general international desire that Iran allow its huge youth bulge to live the way they want to, nobody will meet a US call to action with any patience whatsoever. The US military is already stretched too thin in Iraq. The rumor that the Iraq army is being trained solely to create a human-wave attack against Iran seems ridiculous. Why on earth would these soldiers in the pay of an occupier prefer to face death rather than fade away (or join an insurgency that promises to rid their land of the occupier's presence)? I'm sure there's a lot of bad blood between Iranians and Iraqis, but from this article of thethe War Nerd on the Iran-Iraq war, it seems entirely likely that the resentment is more alive on the Iranian side.

I don't have any fail-safe solutions to the problems that Iran seems to pose to the US. As far as I know, these problems include 1) the possibility that Iran might acquire a nuclear weapon, 2) Iran's overt funding of Hezbollah, as well as its pretty well-demonstrated covert funding of nastier jihadist groups, and maybe its covert funding of Iraqi insurgent groups, 3) its authoritarian control of a restive, cultured, extraordinary population, 4) its rich resources and strategic geographic position.

Most of these problems are exacerbated, as far as I can tell, by our national machismo: since we are quite officially holding a grudge about the 1970s hostage affair, the politician who tried to deal rationally with the Iranian regime would be subject to domestic evisceration. Oh, and then there's Israel.

I recall a Foreign Affairs article in the Spring, I think, of 2002 that tried to evaluate the rationality of various "rogue" state leaders. The focus of the article was already Saddam; readers of expensive foreign policy journals already knew where insider debate was tending. I wish I could locate this article online--and I've tried, but perhaps not as assiduiously as I could--because the author decided 1) on the balance, that Saddam was likely more rational than not, and 2) that it was fairly indisputable that the Iranian leadership was pragmatic, in its way.

The Iranian leadership is made up of religious fanatics, yes, but they aren't stupid or suicidal (altohugh they're quite willing to encourage young children to run suicide missions). They are quite able to perform the calculus of Axis of Evil+US Army In Iraq=Need For Serious Deterrence. It will take an extraordinary act of humble diplomacy on the US's part to avoid either an Iranian bomb or a US attack.

I'm resigning myself to the idea of an Iranian bomb. Welcome back, childhood nightmares of being bombed with nukes!


The New Radical Federalism and Last Acceptable Prejudice

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon links to a post at Tennessee Guerilla Women, reproducing an anonymous yahoo group posting that makes polemical use of statistics to suggest that the red states get all things worth having from the blue states:
We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.

We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss.

We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue. You get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

It goes on; you get the point. A lot of policy-wonk bloggers have indeed pushed the inequitable tax-benefit relationship between blue and red states, but they've generally pulled up short before consigning the red states to wasteland--or suggesting that all people living or voting in red states who contributed nothing to US culture, will never contribute to US culture, and are stuck in perpetuam in their places, voting distincts, or cultures.

Amanda makes an important comment in response to this silly meme:
We Texas progressives are probably more accustomed to being asked why we don't leave job, family and everything we love in order to move to another part of the country where a slightly higher percentage of the population shares our political view than we are accustomed to being congratulated for fighting the good fight in a hostile enviroment.

I've seen loads of reasonable-ish conservatives make the federalist argument that if some states (like Texas or Kansas) want to write laws that force women to bear all fetuses to term or force science teachers to explain the possibility of God to their students, then those residents who disagree with these laws can simply move to another state. This quickie solution is perhaps the most inhumane political shortcut I've ever seen left unrebutted on genuinely argumentative blogthreads.

Yes, the US tends to have a more mobile population than do similar land-masses, and that trend seems to be increasing, but any real cultural conservative should be more finely attuned to the costs of such uprooting: isolation, cultural confusion, lack of family resources for young parents (Dr. Laura made an exception for her moms-should-be-chained-to-the-child rule if a grandmother was around), less affection for local institutions, etc.

Our country is huge. Moving from Texas to, say, Oregon is geographically and, increasingly, culturally roughly equivalent to moving from Turkey to Scandinavia. You would leave your home, family, culture, local accent, climate to undertake a very new kind of life in a place that is likely to be more expensive (especially since rents tend to be more expensive for the person who doesn't know the area), less friendly (because why would people who don't know you personally be especially friendly to you), and, as the relationship between the red and blue states disintegrates, a place that would treat you as either a victimized refugee or a slobbering reactionary.

Oh yeah, just let Texas, Kansas, and Alabama go to hell, stigmatize people working to improve their local communities, send the message that anyone who deserves legal protection against creeping reaction should get the hell out of Dodge and relocate to NYC: you're enabling some kind of ideological cleansing. There's a message I won't get behind.

And to bring this over-long comment back to the yahoo-group post and its broad-brush tarring of southerners.

About a year ago, I had a Texan in my freshman composition class. I'll call her A. She had a broad twang and, I soon learned, a husband in the Air Force. I was fairly paranoid about political expression of any sort in the classroom and didn't want to make politics an issue, in any event, but I'll admit to a slight oh-don't-make-any-assumptions warning signal going off in my hindbrain when I first heard that accent. A. turned out to be the most politically engaged student in my class--years of being the only progressive and populist in her small town in Texas had sharpened her sense of why, for example, sex education really mattered--and besides her politics, a general delight of a woman. So it nearly broke my heart to hear from her that one of her instructors in my Northeastern university had sneeringly asked her to repeat her remark in a seminar, "because your accent is so thick, it's sometimes difficult to penetrate." A. knew full well that the remark was a thinly veiled insult, as in "you're a hick, and probably a troglodyte."

As a progressive, I want this student to get a good education, which maybe she'll find here in the NE. I want her to get the opportunity of knowing that she's not crazy to think that the rates of teen pregnancy in her home town are not only shocking--but, most importantly, preventable, if only people would look facts in the face. (As a "snooty liberal elitist intellectual academic," I saw my job in this particular case as 1. improving her grammar, logic, and rhetoric, of course, and 2. convincing her that her opinions weren't crazy or marginal.) And there's a big part of me that wants this wonderful firebrand of a Texan populist to go back to Texas, armed with confidence, trained with rhetorical judo-skills, and to kick her local town into shape.

Because that local Texas town can ill-afford to alienate smart young things like A.

And because progressives will continue to lose elections if we continue to demonize more than half of the electoral college.

Generosity of spirit wins elections? Well, there's my local childhood culture (Berkeley, CA) showing through the culture of my adopted home (NYC).


Spam 2

How do those of you who actually have Paypal or Ebay accounts deal with the false emails?

It's easy for me: I haven't registered with either of these services, so I easily delete all emails referring to "my" accounts.

I suspect my question answers itself, finally. Those who are web-savvy trust that their services are also web-savvy enough to know not to send out such emails, and those who aren't don't realize that they're being taken--and also don't find their way to blogs such as these.

You may wonder why I'm bothering to notice such spam, which is, I recognize, fairly anodyne. The fact is that I've closely guarded my private email addresses. The only spamish emails I've ever been inundated with have been "calls for papers," a list-serv that basically destroyed my favorite email address and my professional confidence. Never signing up for more general mailing lists, never providing a true email on webforums, never making myself available in that way sufficiently protected me and my accounts.

So now I have an account, about four months old, that is available to spammers via blogger and my blog-handle. It gets thirty-odd emails per week, neatly divided between paypal and ebay references.

I offer this as data for someone. Warnings for others.


Reflections on Translating French Art PR

Here’s an infalliable sign of bad writing about art: it’s heavy on abstract nouns, linked into sentences with the shoddiest of verbs.

Here’s another: it piles descriptive sentence fragments together into which the writer might think is a crescendoing flood but is actually just a list.

Here’s a third: the tone and style have a certain self-satisfied cleverness of the “clin d’oeil erudit” school.

It’s enough to make a writing instructor scrabble at the floor, vomiting blood. Dilemma below the fold.

Writing about visual art tends to be bad, but the rococco standards of French prose pose a particular problem for an English-language translator, whose audience expects more substantive, plain-prose commentary.

As I see it, a translator of French art-journalistic
glitter and powder has two options.

The first option appeals to the honest Puritan: extract the sense from the foldelol and make it conform to Anglo standards of coherence.

The second is the default
option: render the original silliness and hope that nobody will blame it on you.

If I like the writer, I'll tend to go for the first. If the writer seems pretentious and overblown, I'll tend towards the second. Is this wrong? Have I got it backwards?


Friday, June 17, 2005

Meta-Blogging 13: The Corporate Blog

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, fierce gardener of astroturf, finds the PR agents' guide to storming the blogosphere. The article seems to focus on emailing already-known bloggers with "informative" tips that, presumably, the blogger would then filter up into the mainpage. One of the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Blog PR":
Quality, not quantity: Here's a new rule for agencies. Never send out more than one or two communications to blogs a day. Use the remaining time to research the industry and relevant issues, study the blogger's hot buttons and craft a finely tuned email. Make the email seem like it's coming from a knowledgeable best friend, not a direct mail house.
Well, I guess it was inevitable.

And now that I have my own webspace, I really should publicly thank the fine fine people at Wampum, hosters of the Koufax Awards, who, some two or so years ago, put me on the trail of the best that blogs have to offer. *waves*


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ideological Strategic Update

Charles Bird, at ObWi, cuts n'pastes an unwonted strategic analysis of internal ideological struggles within the Muslim world. Quoting from Christopher's Henzel's "The Origins of Al-Qaeda's Ideology: Implications for US Strategy" from Parameters (the Army's War College magazine), Bird highlights the US's role as rhetorical useful outsider:
Zawahiri argues that because the terrain in the key Arab countries is not suitable for guerilla war, Islamists need to conduct political action among the masses, combined with an urban terrorist campaign against the secular regimes, supplemented with attacks on “the external enemy”—i.e., the United States and Israel—as a means of propaganda that will strengthen the jihad’s popular support. Zawahiri wants his Salafist readers to keep in mind that the Arab establishments are the real targets, even if “confining the battle to the domestic enemy . . . will not be feasible in this stage of the battle.” Highly visible attacks against external enemies, and the inevitable retaliation, Zawahiri explains, will rally ordinary Muslims to the radicals’ cause, strengthening the main struggle, the one against the current regimes of the Muslim world.

According to these authors, US strategy should
exploit its ties to the existing regimes of the Sunni world in order to combat jointly the revolutionary Salafists. The US struggle against al Qaeda and similar groups will be chiefly a matter of intelligence and police work, with perhaps a role for special forces working with local partners in ungoverned areas. Only the existing Muslim regimes, in coordination with American investigators and spies, can defeat the cells of al Qaeda and similar groups moving among the Sunni world’s masses. The United States needs to support and to engage with these undemocratic regimes even more closely if US security services are to be granted the liaison relationships with local authorities that are essential to the real war against terrorism. Washington should set aside, for now, its ambitions for democratic revolution in the region, at least until the Salafist revolution is contained.
Despite the fact that this article was written in Spring 2005, the author doesn't seem to acknowledge the degree to which public diplomacy, at least, has embraced democratic revolution--and not just diplomacy aimed at the Mideast, but political symbolism aimed at true-believing Bush-supporters.

The fascinating part of CB's post is the tension between the the US's role as outsider symbol and as agent for reform in this debate. As an outsider, we want stability: we want to be able to negotiate trade agreements and to avoid the internal conflicts from spilling over into attacks on us here. This tack looks basically like more of the same from the last century: propping up basically corrupt regimes, while attempting to aide reformers within the existing power structures. Once we tip over into agents for reform, we run the risk of legitimizing as a vanguard the Salafists (or other radical parties) for those moderate-tending-nationalist elements within the population.

I don't believe that the ME will never modernize, will never experience an Age of Reason, but I do think that such processes take a ridiculous amount of time and a certain degree of stability. I also tend to think that occupation by a foreign power is one of the less promising venues towards the kind of slow internal reform that as outsiders to this process we're hoping for. But this is perhaps where I'm baring my Jacobin roots: I presume that most people want to be rational and self-determined citizens, or that over time, they will want to be. I even tend to agree, temperamentally, with CB's hope that freedom is on the march--but I disagree about its pace.

This is why I think that the contradiction between dealing, as we seemingly must, with corrupt regimes while holding out a promise of republican values is a particularly dangerous line to walk. It's dangerous to our troops who are conveniently located within a local radius of resentment, and it's dangerous for our domestic politics, which have become increasingly schizophrenic--and on both sides of the aisle.

Probably all important states that consider themselves moral entities as well as political (and economic) entities run into this problem. (One of my roommates recently wrote an article about James I's limited engagement to the Great Protestant Cause, when push came to shove.) It seems to me that one of the particular dangers we're facing right now is that few--within the US or out of it--trust the current administration. This is not the doing of domestic opponents; it's the result of a unsettlingly dishonest push to war. The effect of this general mistrust is the almost-automatic downgrading of any idealistic pronouncement from administrative sources.

The US chose to act, but the way it chose to act and the people who chose to act have changed the nature of the action. We're now there in the Mid-East as occupier--and we're dirty with hypocrisy, corruption, profit, and overwhelming firepower. We don't have open to us the hands-off rhetoric that Henzel advocates, nor can we credibly advance a morally consistent engagement.

Since CB likes responses to his posts to have practical suggestions, here's mine. Let's launch a big, ugly national reconsidering--investigations, Senate resolutions, public uproar and outcry. Perhaps it would give a temporary solace to the extremist elements of the Muslim underground, but I think it would give some real comfort to the moderate elements of the Mideast population who are currently wondering what the hell we think we're doing. Guantamano makes everyone paranoid, the drumbeat of self-justification makes everyone uncomfortable, the enforcement of the hypocratic foreign-policy line (above) forces cognitive dissonance on everyone. Let's force all of this into the open. That's what democracies do, after all.

Direct TV access into the sausage plant! Let's go!


God's Response to 9/11

Regular commentor Jesurgislac on an ObWi thread pointed out this older Onion piece that I had almost forgotten, reminiscing that in the months immediately after the attacks, the Onion was the only newspaper that really said it like it was and comforted the ailing.

So here's some of the words of God:
"Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand."

[...]"I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you'd get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important," said God, called Yahweh and Allah respectively in the Judaic and Muslim traditions. "I guess I figured I'd left no real room for confusion after putting it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words, on the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get?"

[...]Growing increasingly wrathful, God continued: "Can't you people see? What are you, morons? There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. But the basic message is always the same: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism... every religious belief system under the sun, they all say you're supposed to love your neighbors, folks! It's not that hard a concept to grasp."[...]

[...]"I'm talking to all of you, here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. "Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody. I'm against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore—ever! I'm fucking serious!"

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God's shoulders began to shake, and He wept.


Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Meta-Blogging 12: Liberal vs. Conservative, Community vs. Pundit

Chris Bowers at MYDD has written a piece that is making the rounds these days.

In this piece, he presents the results of almost a year's worth of tracking blogs by statistics and by political orientation, with specific focus on growth of audience and spin-off of audience into producers. His basic conclusion seems to be that the conservative blogosphere is top-down and inhibits new voices by virtue of its preferred format and style, and that the liberal blogosphere, by enabling comments and scoop-style diaries, is producing new voices and multiplying its political bandwidth. This all would seem to be old-hat rehashing of familiar points--but Chris has some compelling statistics to prove his case.

In the first category, audience, Chris estimates that that in 2003, the conservatives had more than twice the democratic/liberal blogospheric presence, whereas today democratic/liberal sites dominate by 65%.

In the second category, readers into writers, the data becomes more uncertain. RedState certainly offers a forum for conservatives to become internet celebrities--yet, one imagines, if RedState were really a hot forum, Charles Bird wouldn't bother to cross-post on Obsidian Wings, where his post usually get at least double the traffic as they do on RS. Chris offers some data on the community-disparity between lib and conv sites:
Of the twenty-four liberal blogs in the top quintile, Dailykos, TPM Café, Smirking Chimp, Metafilter, BooMan Tribune, MyDD, and Dembloggers are full-fledged community sites where members cannot only comment, but they can also post diaries / articles / polls. By comparison, there are no community sites among the top twenty-four conservative blogs. None, zip, zero, nada. This is particularly stunning when one considers the importance of the Free Republic community to the conservative netroots. While it would appear that there are hordes of Glenn Reynolds wannabe's among conservatives in the netroots, sticks out as the only success story for a community oriented blog within the conservative blogosphere. In fact, of the five most trafficked conservative blogs (over 200,000 page views per week), only one, Little Green Footballs, even allows comments, much less the ability to actually write a diary or a new article.

Props out to Josh Trevino, and I hope his community can maintain its momentum without him!

Look, it would be far too easy to write a snarky post about why the liberals do grassroot internet stuff better in the long haul than the conservatives, and I have no interest in doing such things here, nor, frankly, do I believe such ideas, familiar as I am with those sites where conservatives don't bother with politics at all.

Eh. I'm collecting.

On that note, I'll collect some responses to Chris's post.

Hilzoy at ObWi, who first brought my attention to this post and whom, as the script goes, I'd like to marry, is baffled that "so many of the most visited liberal sites either community blogs or (at least) blogs that allow comments, and so many of the most visited conservative sites blogs that do not?"

Polipundit, a consversative blog, questions the study's completeness:
First, I’ll note that gets above 200,000 pages views per week, using the BlogAds numbers that Bowers uses. In fact, we’re in the top 20 conservative political blogs by any reckoning. And we do allow comments. In fact, the four “guest” bloggers on this blog all started out as regular commenters. And other commenters have gone on to start their own highly successful blogs, like Scott Elliott’s Election Projection.

Clearly, the blogosphere has arriveed, and the only remaining question is what ideology fostered it.

[Update: Matthew Yglesias has some smart comments on this question at his personal site, as opposed to his BigMedia site or his EliteBlogger site. I do notice, however, that his historiography of the blogosphere tends towards the Great Man theory: the personal idiosyncracies of Atrios and Sullivan--alone!--represent the tendencies of the two--two!--sides of the blogosphere.]


Sunday, June 12, 2005

Virus Warning

Since I made my web-email more accessible, I have received about thirty emails per week that alert me to irregularities in my PayPal or EBay accounts.

I haven't signed up for either services. These emails go directly into the trash. I hope that all six of you are being similarly careful about opening unsolicited email.


Irresponsible Translations, Issue 3

More from the wonderful Spleen de Paris. This time, Baudelaire illustrates, better and smarter than the original, Poe's "Imp of the Perverse." (I've got a whole theory about why Americans and Europeans understand Poe differently, but that will have to wait for another time.)

After the fold, Baudelaire's extraordinary prose-poem #9, "Le Mauvais Vitrier," in a reckless translation.

The Bad Glazier [Le Mauvais Vitrier]

There are some temperaments, purely contemplative and totally indisposed to action, which, however, in the throes of a mysterious and unknown impulse, sometimes act with a rapidity of which they would have thought themselves to be incapable.

That man who, fearing getting into a new argument with his concierge, walks up and down for an hour in front of her door without daring to enter it; he who keeps a letter for fifteen days without opening it or only resigns himself after six months to start some paperwork that for a year has been necessary—they sometimes feel themselves brusquely precipitated towards action by an irresistible force, like an arrow from a bow. The moralist and the doctor—who claim to know everything—cannot explain how such a crazy energy comes so suddenly to these lazy and voluptuous souls, and how, incapable of accomplishing the most simple and most necessary things, these people find at a certain moment a luxurious courage to execute the most absurd and often the most dangerous acts.

One of my friends, the most inoffensive dreamer possible, once set fire to a forest to see, as he said, whether the fire would spread as quickly as was generally claimed. Ten times in a row the experiment failed; but, on the eleventh try, it succeeded only too well.

Another will light a cigar next to a barrel of powder, to see, to know, to tempt fate, to compel himself to prove his capability, to play at gambling, to know the pleasures of anxiety, for no reason, out of caprice, out of idleness.

This is a kind of energy that springs from boredom and daydreams, and those in whom it shows up are in general, as I said, the most indolent and the most dreamy of creatures.

Another, shy to the point that he lowers his eyes even at the glances of men—to the point that he has to call up all his pitiful will to go into a café or to walk up to a box-office where the ticket-takers seem to him to have the majesty of Minos, [Éaque], and Rhodamante—threw himself suddenly around the neck of an old man walking by and enthusiastically kissed him in front of a suprised crowd.

“Why?” Because...because that physiognomy seemed irresistably kind to him? Perhaps. But it makes more sense to think that he himself didn’t know why.

I have been more than once the victim of this sort of crisis and excitement that permit us to believe that malicious Demons can slip into us and make us perform their most absurd wishes without our knowing.

One morning, I woke up sullen, sad, tired of leisure, and compelled, it seemed to me, to do some glorious, some brilliant action; and I opened the window--alas!

(I beg you to observe that the spirit of mystification, which, in some people, is not the result of work or conspiracy but rather of a fortuitous inspiration, has much to do, be it only by the heat of desire, with that humor—hysterical according to doctors, and satanic according to those who think somewhat more carefully than the doctors—which compels us, unresisting, toward a multitude of dangerous or inconvenient actions.)

The first person I perceived in the street was a glazier, whose piercing, unharmonious cry rose up to me through the heavy, dirty Parisian atmosphere. It would be impossible for me to say why I was taken towards this poor man with a hatred as sudden as it was tyrannical.

“Hey! Hey!” I yelled for him to come up. I thought—not without some joy—that, as the room was on the seventh floor and the staircase was extremely narrow, the man would have some trouble ascending and that his fragile merchandise would catch in many of my staircase’s angles.

Finally he appeared. I examined curiously all his windowpanes, and I told him: “What? You have no colored glass? pink glass, red glass, blue glass, magic glass, glass of paradise? Impudent man! You dare to walk around in poor neighborhoods and you don’t even have glasses that helps one see the world as beautiful?” And I pushed vigorously him toward the stairs, to which he stumbled, grumbling.

I approached the balcony, and I grabbed a little flowerpot. When the man reappeared at the doorway, I dropped my bomb perpendicularly onto rear edge of his frames. As the shock knocked him over, he managed to break under his back all his portable fortune, poor as it was, which made the glorious sound of a crystal palace shattered by thunder.

And, drunk with my folly, I cried furiously to him: “The world in beauty! The world in beauty!”

These nervous jokes are not without danger, and they can end up being rather costly. But what does an eternity of damnation matter to one who has found, in a second, the infinitude of ecstasy?

Paracritical notes: first published in La Presse, 26 August, 1862, my translation taken from the GF-Flammarion Edition, 1987.


"Yes, but..."

The title of this post comes from a dear, ancient professor of mine who seems, in our recent crossings on campus, to have forgotten that I ever existed. He began his seminar, a few years ago, by suggesting that the most fruitful mode of discussion--and argument--that we should aspire to would be that which acknowledged and disagreed (or perhaps transcended).

In that vein, I introduce a new feature to this blog: a link to my Amazon wishlist, handily located under the rubrick "Shameless Self-Promotion"--to your right. Yes, I hardly have a following. Yes, I post infrequently and obliquely. Yes, pleas for people to give me things works better when I know them or when I've built up enough of a web-presence so that people feel as though they know me. But it would be really cool if someone liked my Wodehouse blogging or my irresponsable translations enough to send me the Pluhar translation of the 3rd Critique. Wow, wouldn't that be cool!

Hey, you never know.

Perhaps I have finally arrived at a position where I can understand the motivations of those young men who, lounging around on the streets of Paris, shout out to female pedestrians--"he! t'es buonne! t'es chaude! viens ici... un pet't bisou, alors?" Why not? Maybe someone will turn around, like what he or she sees, and do the unthinkable of buying me a present.

And if not, I promise not to turn on you and shriek "Pute! Salope! Espece de sale conne!" That sort of thing only mixes one's message. Unless, of course, one is Baudelaire, and that is one's point.

I shoot a wishlist in the air, and where I lands, I suspect altogether too well where...


Friday, June 10, 2005

Hot Town, Summer In The City [with update]

Apologies to those five readers for not posting so frequently these past few. I've been busy having a damned good time. There are a couple of silly draft-posts that attempt to address the current blogospheric concerns, but they're on save and will probably remain there.

In other news:

-Kant's first Kritik has a testy edge that surprises me. "Look, it's just irresponsible to prove that our logic and our experience have different justifications and to stop there--how dare you people continue being so unsystematic!"

-Classical Persian percussion works a tight and grandiose 6/4, and if I'm ever presented at court, that's the rhythm I want to accompany me.

-If you're gay-friendly and like to sing, go to Marie's Crisis Bar on Christopher St., west of 7th, where a pianist and regulars (and staff!) belt out show tunes. Audience participation stoutly encouraged.

-A hard lesson learned: if, once you have completed spring cleaning, you learn that your facade is due for update, cultivate contacts with the work crew to know when a thick coat of dust is a possibility.

-Don Herzog of Left2Right writes some pretty great political history of the Revolutionary debates in England; his Poisoning the Minds of the Lower Orders (1998) is rich with archival material and historical context, and yet it keeps the modern-day importance of the arguments he rehearses firmly in mind. One sees in this book what attracted him to blogging, and yet I sometimes also see so many voices present in his own mind that I wonder that he needed seeing them echoed out in comments.

[Update: Prof. Herzog points out in email that his book does not have much in the way of archival material, to which I must respond that his primary source citations range awfully broad and that letters and parliamentary records, never cited as "qtd in" somewhere, can tend to overwhelm the poor grad student at the beginning of a dissertation. In other words, if he didn't do archival work, he gave a very good impression of having done so, and I'd like to learn that trick.]

-The dead-mouse smell in the elevator having abated, now--and by now I mean yesterday and today--it smells unmistakably of goat. I remain perplexed.

-Academic librarians are the shit. Particularly on the off-season. I am continually floored by their intelligence, generosity, curiosity, and sheer friendliness. I declare June the Flirt With Your Academic Librarian Month. Let's put sexiness back into the archives, and not just between Sa-Si!

-American Apparel may have nice t-shirts, but their swimwear is crap.

-My current thesis advisor, the most important of the three iterations who preceeded him, is probably moving to another university. Yay, free movement of labor!

-Oh, and I don't really mind so much that Amnesty International abused a simile when calling attention to GITMO as "the gulag of our times." It seems to me that the debate that this word-choice has provoked represents more public thought about the legality (or non) of this facility than has been allowable for some time--and that therefore AI managed to create an argument that should ultimately be beneficial.

-Once the TPMcafe gets over its cuteness, once its posters begin to realize that longer front-page posts are more amenable to the blog-format, and once its commentors realize that their opinions aren't gospel, it should be a fairly interesting place to hang out.

-I've finally come to terms with my gruesome technological gap and am looking for solutions. Anyone know how best to transfer some two-hundred dubbed cassettes to digital? (Yes, go ahead and make fun of me if you must.)

-I've also finally accepted the embarassing, drunken footage of myself that has occasioned raised eyebrows among the New York 1-watching book-vendors in my neighborhood. I'm somewhere on this site; let's agree on my identity as the hottest contestant. (Warning: the link has audio.)

So. These are some of the things I've been up to. I haven't mentioned the sublime experience of grilling steak on a penthouse terrace, the thrill of watching seeds sprout from an old gift-card, the cross-cultural pleasure of eating a Philly cheesesteak--with Swiss cheese, tomatoes, and lettuce--from the USA #1 Deli, run entirely by Yemese immigrants...

New York. I love you.


Monday, June 06, 2005


I have to admit that the identity of Deep Throat never kept me up at night, and Nixon's crimes seemed pretty settled by history. I wasn't born yet during the Watergate scandal, and I haven't immersed myself deeply enough into that period's chronicles to have a clear sense of how it felt to people living through that time. So, I tend to read Watergate through the prism of today, as seems to be a common enough failing. I've been reading the post-revelation news, as you have, and I've been reading the indictments of the contemporary press (Billmon, Atrios, Digby, etc.), as you may have, but here's the piece of the autopsy that stands out to me. From Seymour Hersh's article in the New Yorker:
Many people in government were outraged by the sheer bulk and gravity of the corrupt activities they witnessed in the White House. Reporters were their allies and confidants. Those men, who dealt with the most sensitive national-security issues, had their worst fears confirmed by the revelation, in July, 1973, of the White House’s taping system, which recorded their meetings and conversations with the President.
Over the last five years, we've seen tens of government officials sufficiently outraged by the Bush administration that they were willing to go on the record under their own names to denounce its practices. And one by one, they've all been accused of bad faith: "they're just bitter at having been passed up"--"they just want to sell books"--"Bush-hatred will gain them upper-westside cachet" and it goes on. These open leakers are discredited and destroyed in the public realm: enough fog is cast to ambiguite their clear indictments

There are deep sources who are engaging in secret Watergate-style leaks today. My favorite candidate for the first term is Dick Armitage, who not only carried water for Powell but also had a less, erm, metaphysically encumbered idea of loyalty. My sense, though, is that generally these dissonant voices are operating tactically: on a specific issue or story, putting out a politically savvy leak that had Washington as its primary target. There have been a number of leaked reports on US military abuses, but I wonder about the genuineness of these leaks, given current FOIA standards and the coordinated responses to them.

For me, what stands out in the comparisons of today to the Watergate era is this idea that one could find hard evidence of the executive's intentions. Nixon taped his offhand conversations? Was he mad? I do understand that within his worldview, it was unthinkable that anyone would ever gain access to these tapes whom he had not explicitly authorized to do so; my understanding is that these tapes represent in part his desire to control other people's conversation. But as all computer users these days now know, private data is rarely guaranteed to be such; I suspect that most politicians have learned either by example or by experience that detailed records--particularly of political skullduggery--can be used more devastatingly against oneself in the long run. The result is that the political opposition has had myriads of informants, named and otherwise but that there's been an unfortunate lack of smoking, scilllizing white-hot guns.

Oh, and there's the on-going problem at our permanent intelligence-gathering and -analyzing institutions that people feel as though their expert opinions are being warped into political talking points. Disgruntled? Clearly, some of them are. Solid proof of wrongdoing into the highest causes?


Meta-Blogging 10: Teresa NH on 'Ware vs. Praxis

I'm a relative newcomer to participation in subculture. I didn't join clubs, I didn't participate in my friends' zines, I didn't follow bands, I didn't go to conventions of any sort. Maybe what I really mean to say is that I didn't really participate in public life in any meaningful way--besides voting in every election I could--until I realized, in a fit of madness and isolation, that the online blogging community was smart and electric--which I mean in all possible senses. Having not wedged carrots in my ears and cucumber-slices over my eyes, however, I was aware that communities of non-traditional sorts, online and off, had been going on for years, and that I was comparatively late to the game.

Teresa Nielsen-Hayden, along with Gary Farber, help constitute the instutitional memory of the rapidly expanding blogosphere. These old hands--and I'm sure there are others, but these are the ones with whom I am familiar--have the experience with mediated communities to gauge blogging, as a medium, as a platform, and as a media phenomenon. They also, by the way, have handy advice for keeping mediated discussions from becoming useless flamewars, having witnessed and survived years of such behavior.

So it is with particular interest that I collect for my bloggish archives TNH's survey of 66 random, "recently updated" blogs from She notes that of the 66, 32 are sites that are using the blog software to post data that is in no way personal or represents a "log": most are google-whores, some are online casinos and variants, some are archives using blogging format, some are community-specific bulletin-boards. Many of the remaining sites, after the rubbish is cleared, are in languages that TNH cannot properly evaluate.

Her concluding remarks, however, are, I think, spot on. One of her bullet points:
Weblogging as currently constituted may or may not prove to be an enduring literary form, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the weblog template—episodic, open-ended, easily modified to have sidebars and text jumps and comments and embedded mini-blogs, imposing no relationship on it elements beyond chronological order—outlives everything else we’ve done. When people talk about innovation on the internet, all too often it’s about, say, some ditzy proprietary e-business software nobody’ll remember a few years from now. Inventing a new documentary form is a far rarer thing.
Indeed, something in the blogging format is answering a need. The genres will evolve--blogs will probably rapidly scatter into commercial, pop, corporate, left, right, personal, categories, which will bear little resemblence to each other--but the template, the medium, seems to address rather well our current being-in-the-world that requires constant connection and searchable history .


Friday, June 03, 2005

Meta-Blogging 9. Thinking Through the Legalese of the Brave New Blog

Usually, when a blog moves to Scoop is when I stop commenting.

I used to comment on Tacitus--minimally, but here and there--but the switchover forced me to join what was clearly designed to become a more closed community. I actually tried to join once, but the responding email seems to have gotten lost in the ether, and I wasn't too sad about it, having discovered the much superior beta site, Obsidian Wings.

Kos I never joined, although I've read threads now and then. The threads have a tendency to degenerate rapidly into Eschatonian shouts-out, although some of the major diarists are doing some serious writing. Of course the community power of both these sites is extraordinary--what I once argued could be called the "demotic" voice of blogging.

The Scoop format is, of course, in tension with the demotic: Scoop requires continuity of posters' voices, while the demotic is necessarily anonymous and fleeting. Since Eschaton is still non-Scoop, its threads seem still to reflect some of this open suddenness, but there is a core group of commentors who dominate discussions.

And this is what I think is happening to the blog world: commentors are no longer quite so freely giving their comments. Rather, the whole online world is beginning to understand that a screen name is a kind of property and that familiarity and continuity of that name confer value on that property. While so much has clearly been true of sites for awhile (see Blogshares!), the increasing switchover of blogs into the Scoop format suggests that commentors themselves are also thinking in this fashion--because they accept, and often welcome, the restraint.

I am not so hoary an internet user as, say, Gary Farber, but my general sense is that there have always been closed boards and online celebrities. One can be a celebrity in a closed board by sheer persistance. This is the version that Scoop favors. In this version of online celebrity, I can, for example, go to Collounsbury's LiveJournal, where one Eerie has a privileged relationship with the host, posts comparatively content-free material, and yet is a friendly, familiar, and comforting presence. And then, one can be an online celebrity by opening up posts and a life to all comers or by roaming freely (and smartly) across the internet savannah. Praktike, just to take one example of a 2004 Koufax commentor semi-finalist, has made him or herself a celebrity by simply showing up and writing a one-line, sound comment, simply everywhere (including Collounsbury's blog).

All this commentary is prolegomena to my admitting that because I've become so used to being able to comment (not that I always or even usually do) on Matt Yglesias's blog that I actually registered on the TPMcafe.

Now, I could have commented anonymously, as I usually do on LiveJournals, maybe signing with my handle, but, if the past is to be any predicator, not. But this time, I figured, perhaps out of boredom, procrastination, or narcissicism, I figured I'd go for it. Perhaps I was swayed by hilzoy's post lauding the new launch. In any event, I've registered my handle and link back here.

In the package comes a TPMcafe-hosted blog. I didn't ever really think I'd try to move my admittedly slim archives and readership over there, but the registration user agreement would have pulled that idea up awfully short had I ever considered it.

And now we (finally) get to the title of this post. I have never seen a site that had such a careful, lawyer-crafted registration agreement, and I would really like to hear from any readers (granted, already a small population) who have a longer and broader experience with such matters.

So, on the form for new users (which for me, as a registered user, is no longer accessible), one finds a very official Terms of Use agreement, which includes the following:

The content displayed on TPMCafe, including the selection, arrangement, and design ("Content") is the property of TPM or its licensors, and is protected by copyright and other intellectual property laws. The Content may be used only for your personal and non-commercial use and may not be edited or modified for any purpose. By accessing TPMCafe, you agree not to reproduce, retransmit, distribute, disseminate, display, sell, publish, broadcast or circulate the Content to anyone, except that you may occasionally reproduce, distribute, display or transmit an insubstantial portion of Content, for a noncommercial purpose, to a limited number of individuals, provided you use the phrase "Used with permission from, a service of TPM Media LLC." All rights not expressly granted herein are hereby reserved.

TPM does not claim ownership of the Content you submit or make available for inclusion on TPMCafe. The Content is the property of the author of such Content. You agree to grant TPM a perpetual, royalty-free and irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, sublicense, create derivative works from, transfer, and sell such Content in any format now known or hereafter created, and to use your name and other identifying information you provide in connection with that Content. You also permit any visitor or member of TPMCafe to use such Content for personal use as described above.

If you believe in good faith that any Content infringes your copyright, you may send us a notice requesting that the material be removed though we cannot guarantee that any action will be taken as a result of your correspondence.
Lawyers would be better at parsing this material than I, but from a layperson's perspective, it seems clear that not only do the comments become largely proprietary of the host, but the blog content would, as well. What content that a subordinate blogger would like to use in a commercial sense would have to be granted by (or perhaps eventually purchased from) TPMcafe.

This system seems familiar to me from the acknowledgement pages of books--"I am grateful to the PMLA for permitting me to reproduce material from my earlier article"--formulae which obscure financial transactions and legal claims. Granted, academic journals are hardly sweatshops; granted, TPMcafe is attempting an interesting synthesis of demotic blogging and policy-wonk journalism; still, there's something simultanously faux-populist and elitist about this set-up that puts me rather off. Needless to say, I won't much be using my free blogging space on TPMcafe.

Perhaps this Terms of Use agreement is the sign of a tipping-point that had occured a little while ago. Bloggers are interviewed--although not as regularly cited--in the professional press. More and more bloggers are living off their salaries or ad-incomes. It's becoming clear that the "blog" has become the online way of thinking that connects experts, old-skool online users, and amateurs. The basic form--or genre--of the blog seems rather sturdy, while the formats--registration, comment software, site-organization--are still in flux. The TPMcafe is trying to straddle the line between publicness and carefulness, and I think its legalistic attempts to manage its very openness is a sign of the faultlines inherent in the increasing popularity of the blogosphere.


Thursday, June 02, 2005

Am I an Old-Fogey Feminist?

I had first heard of American Apparel through friends about two years ago, and I thought then, "Cool, a brand that's advertising itself as a sweatshop-free Gap." However, as I persist in my early nineties aesthetic of buying almost everything second-hand, I didn't really follow up on my friend's suggestion that I check out AA's basic cottons.

Since then, however, I've been bombarded with the company's ads, which almost every week festoon the back page of my favorite and most reliable newsource, The Onion, have grown more and more shocking to me. Because I read Gawker, I learned of the disturbing sexual dynamics in the owner's management practices.

Maybe that article was a tipping point: I started to wonder about the informality of the underwear advertisements, along the lines of "Helga, modelling the low-rise brief, is a manager of the Tribeca store." And Helga would be faithfully reproduced there, in an awkward but very sexy pose, under amateurish lighting, and so-very real-seeming.

I laughed it off--and it was easier to do so because I aligned the company with the Williamberg hipster movement and its post-post-everything pretensions--until in about March, 2005, I saw the advertisement that NYT reporter Alex Kuczyinski today also noted and quoted:
"Meet Laura," read another ad. "Laura is a 25-year old D.J. from Denmark. When she moved to New York and discovered that people listen to rock and not house, she became a hairstylist. She is looking to get sponsored for her visa."

This advert, I thought, posed sufficient moral dilemmas that it could serve as an opener to class discussion. It was half and half: the more vocal types, all post-postmodern theoreticians, supported the shockingness as a consensual advertising medium for our times, while the quieter half, made up of international students and unreconstructed liberals (and the occasional apathetic conservative), were taken aback by the ad's brazen exploitation.

I have bought a few items from American Apparel, so I am hardly pure in my criticism here. Their underwear is lovely, but I'm finding that their shirts don't fit quite as I'd want them to.

Anyhow, the hat-tip and source for further, prurient links go to the current Gawker writer, who's paid to search down that loathsome interview with AA founder Dov Charney.