January18, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Spying on Ordinary Americans

In times of extreme fear, American leaders have sometimes scrapped civil liberties in the name of civil protection. It’s only later that the country can see that the choice was a false one and that citizens’ rights were sacrificed to carry out extreme measures that were at best useless and at worst counterproductive. There are enough examples of this in American history – the Alien and Sedition Acts and the World War II internment camps both come to mind – that the lesson should be woven into the nation’s fabric. But it’s hard to think of a more graphic example than President Bush’s secret program of spying on Americans.
  • The White House has offered steadily weaker arguments to defend the decision to eavesdrop on Americans’ telephone calls and e-mail without getting warrants. One argument is that the spying produced unique and highly valuable information. Vice President Dick Cheney, who never shrinks from trying to prey on Americans’ deepest fears, said that the spying had saved "thousands of lives" and could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks had it existed then.

    Given the lack of good, hard examples, that argument sounded dubious from the start. A chilling article in yesterday’s Times confirmed our fears.

    According to the article, the eavesdropping swept up vast quantities of Americans’ private communications without any reasonable belief that they could be related to terrorism. The National Security Agency flooded the Federal Bureau of Investigation with thousands of names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and other tips that virtually all led to dead ends or to innocent Americans.

    About the only result the administration has been able to dredge up on behalf of the spying program is the claim that the information it gained helped disrupt two plots: one to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and one to detonate fertilizer bombs in London. But officials in Washington and Britain disputed the connection. And that plot to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch has been trotted out so many times that it would be comical if the issue were not so serious.

    This was not just a tragic waste of the F.B.I.’s resources in dangerous times. It was an outrageous and pointless intrusion into individuals’ privacy. Anyone who read the original reports on the spying operation and thought, "Well, so what, I have nothing to hide," should think about the uncounted innocent Americans who had F.B.I. officers knocking on their doors because of secret and possibly illegal surveillance. The National Security Agency was originally barred from domestic surveillance without court supervision to avoid just this sort of abuse.

    The first lawsuits challenging the legality of the domestic spying operation were filed this week, and Congress plans hearings. We hope that lawmakers are more diligent about reining in Mr. Bush now than they have been about his other abuses of power in the name of fighting terrorism.

 

Blogging News

Search Engine Shows Bloggers’ Opinions

In bloggers

OpinmindOpinmind is a new blog search engine that shows bloggers’ opinions. When a subject (keyword) such as "beer" is typed into the search engine the results are divided into two categories: positive opinions and negative opinions. Opinmind also displays the Sentimeter, which displays the relative number of positive and negative opinions identified by Opinmind. The results can also be sorted by date or by the strength of the opinion. A surprising find using Opinmind is that a search for blogging shows sentimeter score of just 71%. There are lots of negative posts about blogging like "i hate blogging…" "I think blogging is an evil thing" and "I hate my blogging style." Of course, a tool like OpinMind can pull things out of context and everyone gets frustrated now and then on their personal blogs. (Via TechCrunch)

 

My Message

I have resumed posting here after an unexpected and unwanted interruption of about two weeks. It feels like an eternity. The reasons for this are not matters that will keep me from being here indefinitely.

 

However, if there is an interruption again, please understand that is through no fault of my own at this point, and I will do everything in my power to remain consistently dedicated to additional content on this page on a daily basis.

Happy New Year To All.

We can make this year, 2006, a great time in all of our lives, if we are able to help each other and love one another. The two will always go hand in hand.

May all of God’s blessings be yours in the coming year.

 

Michael P. Whelan

 

Blogging News

Universities Hiring Student Bloggers to Describe Life on Campus

In universities

A Chicago Tribune article says some universities have college students blogging about life at the school. The colleges are using the student bloggers as a marketing tool to help bring in new students. Some of the schools using blog posts by college students as a marketing tool include Colgate University (Hamilton, NY), Wofford College (Spartanburg, SC), University of Dayton (Dayton, Ohio) and Ball State University (Muncie, Ind.) At some of the colleges the Tribune article says the college bloggers are being paid.

Some bloggers are paid for posting their observations. At Wofford, for instance, student bloggers receive $25 per week. Allison Kretz, a sophomore at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, earns $500 per semester for being an online scribe. Colgate’s Burnham, on the other hand, received no compensation.

Until the university approached her, Kretz had never considered becoming a blogger. "I had applied for a tour guide position, but I didn’t get the job," she said. "But they had my references from professors." The recommendations, and her desire to share her college experiences with family and friends, made her an ideal blogger. "I’ve really fallen in love with the university, and it’s a good way to let people at home know how I’m doing," Kretz said.

Tim O’Keeffe, director of Web content at Colgate, told the Tribune that he has not had to censor any of the blogs — although he does advise them not to blog about subjects like partying ahead of time.

Bloggers don’t rely on a set of rules or a handbook to guide them on the content of their posts. Instead, the universities rely on the students’ good judgment. "As for the rules, we don’t have formal written guidelines," said Colgate’s O’Keeffe. "But I sit down with the students and have a good discussion about the university’s expectations and goals. I let the students know we’re not interested in posts about parties or trips to the local taverns."

Based on some of the comments elsewhere in the article it sounds like the colleges pre-screen carefully so they already have idea of what to expect from the college bloggers they choose. The end of the article includes links to the student blogs mentioned in the article including Allison Kretz’s blog and the Colgate blog mentioned above. All of you college kids hanging on MySpace.com that enjoy blogging may want to take a look at the university job board and see if there are any blogger opportunities.

 

Blogging News

Is Blogging Cooler Than Writing?

In writing

Simon Dumenco, who writes the Media Guy column for AdAge, offers a new opinion piece called "A Blogger is Just a Writer With a Cooler Name."

And it occurred to me that there is no such thing as blogging. There is no such thing as a blogger. Blogging is just writing — writing using a particularly efficient type of publishing technology. Even though I tend to first use Microsoft Word on the way to being published, I am not, say, a Worder or Wordder.

It’s just software, people! The underlying creative/media function remains exactly the same.

OK, you might argue, blogging is aesthetically a different beast — it’s instantaneous media. (Well, since the dawn of the 24-hour news cycle, pretty much all media has had to learn how to be instantaneous.) It’s unpolished. (The best blogs I read are as sophisticated as anything old-school media publishes.) It’s voice-y. (The best old-school media I read tends to be voice-y.) It’s about opinion, not reporting. (The best reporting to come out of MacWorld in San Francisco last week was published on blogs.) It’s, well, often sloppy and reckless (and Judy Miller wasn’t?).

We’ve seen the blogging is writing argument before and since blogging is a form of writing it is hard to argue against. You could say that unlike other forms of writing blogging also incorporates photographs, hyperlinks, trackbacks, video clips, etc. Unlike the title of Dumenco’s column we still think writing and writers are cool too. Dumenco also made this interesting point:

But over the next few years those legacy systems will be phased out and everyone publishing online will be using some form of what’s now commonly thought of as blogging software.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: In the very near future, there are only going to be two types of media people: those who can reliably work and publish (or broadcast) incredibly fast, and those … who can’t.

True dat, double true! Speed is now an essential skill for bloggers (and writers) in the new media world

 

Blogging News

NY Times: More Business Travel Blogs Coming

In blogging

A New York Times article expects an increase in blogs by business travelers. The article, which mentions business travel blogs like Inflighthq, PatandMeg.com, Jenidallas Day to Day and Road Warrior Tips, says many more such blogs are on the way.

An Internet search for full-time business travelers who write Web logs produces astonishingly low numbers, considering the eight million Americans whom the Pew Internet and American Life Project say publish a blog.

But that appears to be changing. "Just wait," said Steve Broback, a business traveler in Woodinville, Wash., who edits the new blog Inflighthq (www.inflighthq.com) and is an organizer of a blog conference called the Blog Business Summit. "The rush is starting."

Mr. Broback, whose Web journal is sponsored by Connexion, Boeing’s wireless division, writes about the plight of the road warrior and offers links to news for business travelers. And he expects a lot of company soon. "In a year or two we’ll probably even have blogs focusing on vintage airport vending machines," he predicted.

These blogs will be of interest to frequent business travelers as they look for the latest scoop on the best deals and the best places to stay. Blogs providing information about how to navigate airports and tips about hotel rooms and restaurants will also be sought out by travelers. On the plus side maybe some aspects of business travel will improve as a result of bloggers pointing out flaws and inconveniences. The downside is that business competitors may also be reading these blogs. Inc.com’s blog called Fresh Inc. advises business travel bloggers to be careful about what they blog:

One business travel blogger noted that after her colleagues began reading her posts about being homeless after Hurricane Katrina, she felt she lost her anonymity. Her quote: "When your boss is reading your blog, you say to yourself, ‘Well, maybe I shouldn’t be writing about staying at the Ritz-Carlton.’" Another reason business travelers should be wary to blog: competitive intelligence. A blogging specialist in the article noted that business travelers who mention cities they’re staying in or about to visit could reveal "enough information for a competitor to surmise what’s going on."

If that’s the case then maybe anonymous business travel blogs are the most likely to emerge

 

Living Green, but Allowing for Shades of Gray

January 15, 2006
At Lunch With Wendy Gordon

Wendy Gordon  is no fanatic.

Yes, she believes deeply in living green. She buys only hormone-free milk, cooks only certified organic meat and cleans her house with concoctions made of environmentally innocuous ingredients like vinegar, water and lemon juice.

But she uses supermarket spices, soups and dishwashing liquids. She eats nonorganic bananas. She thinks that plain soap and warm water kill germs as well as any antibacterial soap, and that canned tuna and salmon are not any less healthy than fresh. While she prefers the sauce she makes from tomatoes she grows at her country house, she keeps store-bought tomato sauce around her Manhattan kitchen, too. And she drives an S.U.V. because, despite numerous studies that have come to the opposite conclusion, she says it makes her feel safer.

Perhaps most surprising – at least to this reporter, who walked into lunch at Isabella’s, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with lots of preconceived notions about green-living types – she happily spurns bottled water in favor of New York tap.

"Americans spend billions on bottled water, on this myth that it’s safer," Ms. Gordon, 48, said.

Such a pick-and-choose attitude toward greenness is not unusual in itself – except that Wendy Gordon is executive director of the Green Guide Institute, a nonprofit group dedicated to, as she put it, "helping people make healthy decisions in a world of imperfect information." She calls the Green Guide, which it publishes six times a year, a "Consumer Reports for the eco-conscious."

Ms. Gordon is a realist. Sure, she would love it if people stuck to containers made from corn-based materials instead of petroleum-based plastics, and if they used only packages that were reusable, recyclable or at least biodegradable. But she knows that few people are ready to spurn cheap plastic packages. So the Green Guide settles for listing the best of the lot – for example, polyethylene terephthalate, commonly used in soda bottles, is relatively O.K. – and cautioning cooks not to reuse plastic containers that seem old, stained or worn.

She is equally realistic about eating habits. Yes, the Green Guide rails against the possible carcinogens unleashed by deep-fat frying – but it stops short of asking Americans to abandon French fries. Instead, the guide offers a recipe for "fake fries" that are baked in oil, a process that it says generates fewer cancer-causing agents.

Even as a child, Ms. Gordon did a balancing act between greenness and practicality.

She grew up in Englewood, N.J., but her fondest memories are of weekends spent with her parents and four siblings at their vacation home in upstate New York. She recalled her young self as "a lonely, unhappy teenager, a stutterer, an excellent student who was a bit of a nerd, I guess." Even her name – her parents named her after Wendy in Peter Pan – was a misnomer. "I loved the concept of Neverland, but boy, I wanted to grow up," she said. In the meantime, she "retreated to nature," riding her bike in the woods and swimming in the Hudson.

Her father, a surgeon, very much wanted her to be a doctor. She wanted to work with nature. So she compromised: she majored in geology – "at least it was science," she said – at Princeton, and worked with several professors to unearth corporate polluters of the Hudson. "I was a little Erin Brockovich," she recalled.

She graduated in 1979, moved to Boston and – mainly to appease her father – did cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital. She hated it, and a year later again found a compromise between her father’s wishes and her own: she enrolled in the School of Public Health at Harvard, where she earned a master’s degree in science in environmental health. In the summer of 1981 she worked as an intern at the Natural Resources Defense Council, and she wound up working there full time.

Within a few years, she met two famous people who would change the course of her life. In 1981 she met Larry Rockefeller – John D.’s grandson, Nelson’s nephew – a longtime environmentalist and a founding member of the council, whom she married in 1982; they have two sons. Six years later she met Meryl Streep, a mother of three who wanted to fight widespread pesticide use. Ms. Streep and Ms. Gordon formed Mothers and Others, a subgroup of the Natural Resources Defense Council dedicated to publicizing hazards that pesticides pose to children.

But they felt that it would be useless to tell people to spend huge amounts of money to buy organic produce that in the 1980’s still did not look or taste very good, Ms. Gordon said. "We got practical," she said. "We said things like, ‘Buy organic applesauce, but buy non-organic bananas.’ " The group also published a list, called Mother’s Milk, of milk producers that did not use hormones or antibiotics on their cows. Mothers and Others eventually spun off from the council and became the Green Guide Institute.

These days, Ms. Gordon says, organic foods look and taste a lot better than they did back then. But she concedes that the prices are, for the most part, still very high. So during her lunch of (conventional) salad with shrimp, Ms. Gordon offered these tips for people who want to live green without spending too much green:

Check out your tap before you spring for bottled water. Federal drinking water standards are "decent," she said, and a quick call to the local water authority will confirm that safe liquid is flowing through your pipes. If you are still uncomfortable, buy a water filter. "It’s still a lot cheaper than bottles," she said.

Don’t rely only on labels. They are often confusing and often meaningless. "Salmon safe" on a wine bottle has nothing to do with ingredients; it just means that no runoff from the vineyard polluted nearby rivers. And no regulation prohibits companies from slapping "cruelty free" or "all natural" or "hypoallergenic" on any product. Look for specific assurances, like "no petroleum-derived ingredients," and for certification from a third party that you trust, be it the United States Department of Agriculture or the Rainforest Alliance.

Make your own household cleansers. Cleaning chemicals, Ms. Gordon warns, can set off asthma and allergies. She says her recipe, a quarter cup of distilled white vinegar in a gallon of water, works wonders on wood floors. Add some dishwashing liquid and it cleans tiles. Salt and baking soda are great oven cleaners.

Check ingredients in furniture as well as food. Polyurethane foam, common in mattresses and couches, can contain flame retardants that Ms. Gordon says are not proven safe. Go with couches made of wool, which she says is a natural flame retardant.

Take a case-by-case approach to organic foods. Conventional milk is as wholesome as organic milk, as long as it is free of hormones. And conventionally grown bananas and cucumbers are relatively safe. Ms. Gordon does suggest sticking with organic apples and potatoes, though. "Just peeling conventional ones isn’t an answer," she said. "Pesticides can get into the pulp, and the peels hold a lot of the nutrition."

Don’t think that organic processing cancels out other health hazards. Organic cookies and chips are just as high in fats and added sugars as their conventional counterparts. Manure produced by organically raised animals wreaks less havoc on the environment, but the meat may still wreak havoc on arteries. As Ms. Gordon put it, "Certifying something as organic will still not make it health food."

 

Blog News

Blogs Not Big Enough for Daily Kos Founder

In political+blogs

TomPaine.com reports that Markos Moulitsas, the creator of the popular Daily Kos site, a progressive blog and web community, said that the blog and websites like MoveOn were still not big enough to get their message heard by enough people.

"It saddens me that Daily Kos is the largest progressive media outlet," Moulitsas mused, in response to a question about the effects the Internet will have on progressive politics in the years to come. "We can’t just put it all on the blogs and MoveOn and hope that this is future, because if it is, we’re in trouble." These were strange words to hear from a man who has made his name with a blog. But odd as it seemed to me at the time, Moulitsas is almost certainly right: Unstoppable and ever-expanding though the Internet appears, web-based progressivism is not a substitute for the traditional political infrastructure, nor will it be anytime soon.

The article says that Daily Kos gets an amazing five million pageviews each week but that is just 1/3 to 1/4 of Rush Limbaugh’s 14 to 20 million listeners.

Consider the numbers: Daily Kos gets about five million page views a week. That’s not chump change, but Rush Limbaugh still gets somewhere between 14 and 20 million listeners in the same period of time. The contrast with cable news is equally striking: While Moulitsas gets about 700,000 page views a day, almost four times as many people tune into cable news stations during primetime alone, and more than twice as many watch Fox. Nine of the top 10 highest rated cable news programs are on Fox.

The bottom line–and it is a bottom line Moulitsas was manifestly aware of–is that blogs aren’t reaching an audience anywhere near the same size as the traditional news outlets.

It sounds like Markos Moulitsas will need a tv or radio deal to vault his viewership up to the level of Limbaugh. Still with five million visitors a week and with blogs still growing the Daily Kos site is probably still gaining ground. Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh continues to charge for his archives — a policy which likely limits readership

 

Andrew Sullivan DailyDish

By Andrew

MORE AWARDS! We’re not done yet. This year’s blue-ribbon panel of judges worked very hard. The Begala Award for left-liberal idiocy is still much prized, even though 2005 was a pretty sweet year for the anti-Bush hordes. The Begala Award is given particularly to lefties who deploy personal abuse and bitter hyperbole.

BEGALA AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "There is much to be said and done about the man-made annihilation of New Orleans, caused NOT by a hurricane but by the very specific decisions made by the Bush administration in the past four and a half years." – Michael Moore.

BEGALA AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: "Fuck Tom Friedman. Speaking of degenerate sacks of shit, this is what he thinks of liberals: ‘Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed.’ Here we get to gaze deep inside the heart of Tom Friedman, Pundit extraordinaire, for whom being right is more important than the lives of thousands or millions of people. Deal with your own sick and twisted sociopathic existence. Don’t project it onto me." – Atrios.

BEGALA AWARD WINNER 2005: "The religious right’s position on embryonic stem cell research is clear: consign Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers to death on the off chance that a blastocyst will crawl out of the garbage pail to work the breakfast shift at Burger King." – Jerry And Joe Long, at Huffblog.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE: Last but not least, the Yglesias Awards. These are doled out to people who actually risk something in alienating their own readers, and challenging their own side in political combat. Drum roll, please:

YGLESIAS AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: "Forget that the nation and the party would both have been better served by the temperamentally suited and professionally qualified John Roberts’ winning Senate confirmation with 90-plus votes. The nation would have been better served because such a margin would have represented an un-petty act in a city descended into hateful pettiness. And the Democrats, because by acknowledging Roberts’ obvious assets – intellectual firepower, genuine respect from, and friendship with, colleagues who are active Democrats, a reputation for open-mindedness and not being a captive of ideology – they could have then believably used the "Roberts standard" to measure President Bush’s future court nominees." – Mark Shields.

YGLESIAS AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: "Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place–when he’s not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America’s poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber that he does. But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong." – Brad DeLong.

YGLESIAS AWARD WINNER 2005: "Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the "author" on the cover. What a tumble! From ‘The Conservative Mind’ to ‘Savage Nation’; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman – all in little more than a generation’s time. Whatever this is, it isn’t progress." – Andy Ferguson, Weekly Standard.

DERBYSHIRE AWARD WINNER 2005: Finally, an old favorite. I’ve basically retired this award for neanderthal bigotry from the right, because the Malkin-Hannity types are far more influential than an old codger venting about blacks and gays. But the Derb still has it. And so this award is reserved for him alone. He competed with himself fitfully this year, but we finally have a winner for 2005:

"DEALING WITH COMMIE JOURNALISTS: Jonah – Seems to me the best advice one can offer our troops manning checkpoints in Iraq is the same as that given informally by friends & neighbors to me when I became an armed homeowner: If you have to shoot, shoot to kill. You’ll face much less trouble afterwards." – John Derbyshire.

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