weblog
Saturday, August 31

Lieven on America's error
Bookmark this. Anatol Lieven, always interesting, writes about over-reach by the US in the current issue of Prospect. "The inflammation of US nationalism since 9/11 has blinded it to the potential strategic disaster of a split with Europe." The full article is subscriber-only till the end of September, which is extremely frustrating.
The end of the west [Prospect]
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Jewish paranoia
Anton Lerman argues pretty thoroughly that European anti-semitism is way exaggerated in the US. He blames American Jewish paranoia, and rhetorical overkill in defense of Israel. Anyone out there in blogland who wants to take a little sideswipe at genocidal Euros: read this first. By the way, this was published a month ago in Prospect, the most serious political mag in the UK. The articles only go up online after a month, unfortunately.
Sense on antisemitism [Prospect]
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Genealogy search
Dave Galbraith's father has launched a vastly expanded genealogy search engine. The dataset: 344 million names, aggregated from an array of different databases.
Origin Search
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Alternate London
If you're into alternate history, and urban planning, well, first of all, you're as weird as I am. But there's a book that caters: a collection of plans and concepts for buildings in London that were never made it off the drawing board.
London As It Might Have Been [Amazon]
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Imagined cities
There's something sad about a world in which the most fantastic buildings exist only in the imagination of movie set designers. Here's a gallery of the cities of an imagined future -- from Fritz Lang's Metropolis to the inundated Manhattan of Spielberg's AI. Back in the real world -- do we have to? -- we'll have to make do with bog-standard office blocks on the site of the World Trade Center.

Scifi city gallery
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nickdenton.org recommends
In Arguendo [via Matt Welch] #

WTO
So the World Trade Organization has ruled against the US on tax breaks. Not long now before the WTO takes its place -- alongside the United Nations, the European Union, and the Trilateral Commission -- as an instrument of satan's world government.
Trade Panel Says Europe Can Impose Penalties on U.S. [New York Times]
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Cultural divide, part 57
Revenge for all those Euros humiliated for wearing skimpy swimming outfits on Florida beaches. An Anglo-Saxon friend of mine, going for a swim in Paris, wore his usual American surf shorts. Interdit! The swimming pool bureaucrats, no doubt inspired by a pronouncement from the Academie Francaise, ordered him into speedos. Very tight speedos. No wonder the French are so hated. #

Thursday, August 29

Still pretending
We've all heard the euphemisms for post-bubble unemployment. I'm doing an MBA. Working as a consultant. Evaluating some startup ideas. Here's the best line I've heard recently. Question: so what are you up to nowadays? Answer: "Oh, I'm still pretending to put together a venture capital fund." #

Where is Google?
A rumor, which a paid journalist should investigate: Google has been advised to keep the location of its servers secret. The rationale: the internet search engine now counts as strategic infrastructure, and could be a terrorist target. How flattering. #

Sleeper
Paris used to feel like the most modern city in Europe. Superfast TGV trains, automated public restrooms, ambitious modern architecture. But the money for great public works has run out. The pyramid in the middle of the Louvre is a preposterous 1980s glass living room table. And Charles de Gaulle's main terminal, skewered by unnecessary moving walkways, looks like nothing more than the set of Woody Allen's Sleeper. Indeed, there is nothing as dated as the last century's vision of the future. #

They all look the same
So maybe Europe isn't as much of a melting pot as I'd like to think. A friend of a friend, from Barcelona, switches magically between Spanish and Catalan, depending who she's talking to. The strange thing is: she can tell before they've even said a word and, to me at least, Catalans and Spaniards look the same. #

French kissing
The French have the kissing ritual down pat. Left cheek, then right. If you're just good friends, that is. None of the American fumbling, which so often results in an embarrasingly outstretched hand and colliding noses. Of course, to make things really challenging for Anglo-Saxons, French kissing comes in as many varieties as the country has cheese. Paris: the straightforward one-two. Geneva: three, as in left-right-left. And southern France, where I've just spent a few days: left-right, pause, then left-right again. Globalization? Pah! #

Wednesday, August 21

Fish stew
The Haddock crew -- the NTK creators, Azeem Azhar, Tom Coates, and others -- aggregate themselves. #

Avoiding marriage
I was thinking more of a book which would show -- statistically and scientifically -- whether a man was marriageable. So that all those single New York women don't have to sit around in cafes, consulting over the previous night's date. Mattress on floor: negative sign. That kind of thing. The book -- with companion website -- would have been a huge bestseller. Never happened. Anyway, here's something nearly as good: a guide for men who are looking for girlfriends, and not wives.
The Froy Marriage Test via Azeem Azhar"
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Mockneys
So the difference between the US and the UK boils down to this. American workers think of themselves as middle class; and the English middle class think of themselves as workers. The latest social values poll in the UK shows a ridiculous 68% of people defining themselves as "working class and proud of it". The model: Madonna, a working-class New York girl busy learning a posh English accent; and her husband, Guy Ritchie, who's actually quite posh, but puts on a Mockney accent. Mockney? That's mock Cockney -- the version of working-class colloquial which was essential to social survival in the young North London bourgeoisie.
Most Britons are working class and proud of it [Guardian]
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A Europhobe relents
Katherine Kennedy writes in with an explanation of American Europhobia. It sounds honest.
I think most of us are just sick of always being wrong. I personally do think that Europeans have something worth listening to; the problem is, with all the criticism, I believe we just get tired. Tired of always doing the wrong thing, tired of always being the bad guy to the point we just ignore everything that is being said. It is something to be remembered that Europeans might get tired as well of always being portrayed as leftist, anti-semitic socialist weenies. It takes something like your blog to remind people that no one likes to be stereotyped and painted with a broad brush.
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Tuesday, August 20

And the winner is...
Jason Kottke. The competition, in case you haven't been following, was to prove whether Aylesbury was once part of the London tube system. A subject of much debate in English pubs. When those damned Euroweenies aren't busy firebombing synagogues, ridiculing the obesity of upright Americans, or applying their fancy-pants pseudo-Marxist ivory-tower lit-crit to George's latest misspeech, of course.

   The answer is yes, Aylesbury, which is deep in Buckinghamshire, was once part of the London Underground. Jason's wins a fiver. And, once again, Americans take the honors in a game that was once Britain's. To rub it in, Kottke, who never even saw a subway, growing up in the cheese state, or wherever, shows he knows all about disused tube stations too. And now do you understand why you are so hated?

· 1951 tube map [Davros]

· Disused stations [Starfury]
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Problem customer
The agony of a dotcom creative forced to turn to enterprise sales. "The problem is the customer. I'm selling to mid-level managers I'd mow down if I saw them from my car." #

Beat me
The United States is truly considerate to its enemies. Government offices post up safety evaluations of nuclear plants. Academic journals are a how-to of bio-weapons. Reports highlight the vulnerability of port cities to container nukes. Newspapers print satellite photos of the US air base in Qatar. And, now, a general has shown in a wargame exercise how to inflict significant damage on the US fleet: a surprise attack, and communication by motorcycle courier to evade US electronic eavesdropping.

U.S. Explores a New World of Warfare [New York Times]
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Monday, August 19

Trainspotters
One reason British men never ask out Gwyneth Paltrow: they're too busy talking about trains. More precisely, the new Crossrail project, which will link Heathrow to the center of London, defunct Underground stations, government bunkers, the secret line from Whitehall out north under King's Cross, and Willesden Junction, which will be the most connected place on the planet. Outstanding question, with the winner getting a Paypal prize of a fiver: was Aylesbury ever a station on a tube map? #

Live from Europe -- the logo
Here's nickdenton.org's Euro series logo, borrowed from Rem Koolhaas, and his much-mocked barcode flag. #

nickdenton.org -- live from Europe
A special edition of nickdenton.org, from Europe. Home of anti-Semitic French, pompous Brits, paedophile Belgians, and let's not even get onto the Germans. I'll be asking the average Euroweenie what he thinks of the invasion of Iraq and, when he says he's more interested in the start of the soccer season, I'll hunt down someone who'll enrage every warblogger within ftp range. Groan at the hypocrisy! Laugh at the inferiority complex! Bridle at the superiority complex! #

Elevated debate
A friend, also in London from the US for a few days, was looking forward to a higher intellectual tone, an elevated public debate about war on Iraq, the crisis of capitalism, and Sartre. (The last bit I made up.) Instead, this is the story that dominates the UK papers: the suspected murder of two young girls in Cambridgeshire. And I thought the California dog-mauling case was provincial.
Blair sorrow over girls' murder [Guardian]
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The rebirth of public discussion
Ray Ozzie -- depressed by the spamming and flaming that destroys most discussion groups -- thinks weblogs provide the answer.
What has struck me over the past few weeks is the fact that blogs represent a radical new approach to public discussion - one that, in essence, completely and naturally "solves" the signal:noise problem, and does so through creative exploitation of a unique architecture based upon decentralized representation of discussion threads.
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Olde England
Back in Olde England, and realizing with a jolt how modern it is. And did you read about Estonia, where the government has streetsigns indicating the presence of wireless networks? The more antiquated the infrastructure, the easier it is to scrap, and start afresh. Yes, so London buildings still look scrawny, and the trains rattle, but a visitor might be surprised by...

· the cathedral spaces of the Jubilee line subway

· the Heathrow Express, whisking arrivals from the airport to the center of town in 15 minutes

· mobile phones sold like candy

· 3p per minute calls to Australia

· free electronic bank transfers

· online grocery shopping

· local government offices that call you back

· discount airlines offering flights to the Med for the price of a taxi
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Steven Levy does blogs
Levy's months behind his competitors in covering weblogs, but he's on the savvy side.
Living in the Blog-osphere [Newsweek]
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Friday, August 16

America's Muslims
M. Ali Choudhury writes in with a good point: America's Muslims are unlikely to prove as violently anti-semitic as some of the immigrants to Europe. "Muslims in Europe are usually dirt-poor and come from backward regions of their countries of origin. When they come to Europe they and their descendants are usually unemployed or stuck in low-skilled jobs. Muslims in the US tend to have Phd's and white-collar jobs. They're not about to go around shoving bricks through synagogue windows." #

Gwyneth disappointed by British men
So my friend Harry -- cruelly thwarted by a cellphone call as he approached Gwyneth Paltrow -- should have persisted. All the time she was in London, she was only asked out twice.
Gwyneth Paltrow Barb Enrages British Romeos [Reuters]
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The real power of art
A property developer behind the revival of SoHo and now DUMBO in New York, asked about his strategy. "I follow the artists." But why should the evil capitalists be the ones who make most of the profit, when the artists are the ones who set the market? Here's a way for artists to capture more of the value they create. Form a cooperative, and agree to move en masse to a new district. Then give a list of half a dozen possible locations to local property owners, and take bids. This would be a free-market version of the relocation support that cities give to attract blue-chip company headquarters. Think of the art itself as a loss-leader. #

Bad culture
Pervez Iqbal, a taxi driver, explaining why he was sending his children back to Pakistan, as he drove me to Newark Airport yesterday. "It is very bad culture here. High school? So girls can get pregnant at 11 or 12 years old. And, if you raise a finger, they dial 911. They can come back to the United States, but when they are mature." My multiculturally sensitive self says: well, Pervez is no different from millions of other social conservatives in the US. Doesn't want his daughter sleeping around and ruining the family name. But I can't help but think that immigrants, especially to the big cities, should be made to sign some kind of waiver: I understand that my daughters may be sluts and my sons porn-obsessed drug addicts, and I will not hold the United States liable for the dissolution of my family and culture. #

Thursday, August 15

Muslims in the US
The US warbloggers have relished the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, glossing over the fact that it's almost entirely a function of Muslim immigration. Don't assume the US is immune. A study by the CIS shows that the number of immigrants from the Middle East has grown more than seven-fold since 1970. At the 1.5m the number of Middle Eastern immigrants is still a fraction of the Jewish population of the US, but it's growing rapidly.
Immigrants from the Middle East [Center for Immigration Studies]
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Amazon invasion
A random thought about the proposed attack on Iraq. If the West wants to make a point about the bankruptcy of patriarchal Arab social systems, how about an invasion force made up entirely of women?
Girls with guns [Reuters via Corsair]
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Gizmodo -- some blogback
Take a look, in particular, at the Blogroots discussion. Meg Hourihan, Matt Haughey and Dave Winer, among others, argue whether premeditated blogs are possible. Update: more links added, including a Daypop roundup.

· I suspect it will appeal to overgrown girls as well [Meg Hourihan]

· Will Gizmodo be profitable? [Blogroots discussion]

· Gizmodo launch [Paul Boutin]

· Love gadgets. Gotta love the blog. [Jeff Jarvis]

· Breakeven, which for publishing ain't bad [Anil Dash]

· Introducing Gizmodo, the first e-commerce blog [Rick Bruner]

· It'll be an interesting experiment [601am.com]

· ... with a paid blogger! [Cory Doctorow]

· I'll be browsing away wishing I had some money [FCD]

· Like cool doohickeys? [Tom Maszerowski]

· El weblog dedicado a los gadgets [Minid.net]

· I really hope it works [Exploding Fist]

· Full of shiny gadgets [I make content]

· More on Gizmodo [Daypop]

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Cellphone contracts
A top tip from Christian: how to get out of cellphone contracts, and avoid the penalties. You know the situation. Some new gadget comes out, and you have to have it. But you're in a one-year contract with your nasty old cell provider. Well, apparently, you can suspend your account for up to three months. So you suspend the account, rather than canceling it, and then shift at the end of the three months to the cheapest package available. And then suspend again. The suspension periods count towards the one year. Much cheaper than paying a $200 early termination fee. I'll let you know how it goes. #

Wednesday, August 14

Unveiling... Gizmodo
We've been wondering when blogging -- rather than provide a form of procrastination -- will actually make anyone a living. Sure, Andrew Sullivan claims he made $27,000 last year from donations. Jim Romenesko gets paid by Poynter to produce his Media News weblog. Glenn Fleishman's site has become the central switch for news about Wi-Fi, and he's recently begun taking advertising. [Also see Meg Hourihan's article, linked below.]

   
But there are still few commercial weblog media products. Media products. Notice how unwebloggy that sounded. Anyway, Pete Rojas and I thought we'd try a little commercial experiment. It's called Gizmodo, and it's a vertical blog devoted to superskinny laptops, spy cameras, wireless wizardry, and all manner of other toys for overgrown boys. All gadgets, all the time.

   
The site is designed by Mena Trott of Movable Type, and is edited by Pete Rojas, who also writes for Red Herring, Wired and the Guardian. Pete is, after Jim Romenesko, one of the first paid bloggers. Imagine, getting paid to blog: everybody's dream job until they realize they *have* to post six times a day, and can no longer just head off to the beach at a moment's notice.

   
I have no idea how much Gizmodo can bring in revenues. All I know is that weblogs are a compelling form, gadget addicts are all online, and Amazon.com's API makes it easy to connect product with content.

   
Most importantly, this is a low-risk commercial experiment. Most media companies suffer from overblown editorial, an ad sales force with padded expense accounts, and overly complex publishing systems with a team of primadonna sysadmins to maintain it. By contrast, Gizmodo will be a couple of hours a day of Pete's link-picking skills, some automatically generated Amazon.com links, and $150-worth of Movable Type. Media has never before been this lean.

   
Gizmodo is still a work in progress. So, please, your comments and suggestions, on user interface and editorial style, as well as tips on cool new gadgets. Send Peter Rojas email at peter@gizmodo.com. We're also looking at a couple of other vertical commercial blog ideas. I can't think of any other sector that works as well as gadgets. Porn is the only other vertical that seems to make sense. But I'm open to more salubrious ideas. Email me.

· Gizmodo -- the gadgets weblog

· Blogging for Dollars [Meg Hourihan]
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Iraqattack
Tired of all those words about the possible invasion of Iraq? Try this interactive map instead, courtesy of the brilliant El Pais multimedia team.

Posibles ataques a Irak [El Pais]
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Tuesday, August 13

Love thy neighbor
Peter Maass, war correspondent and occasional blogger, is chuffed. His book about the conflict in Bosnia -- Love thy Neighbor -- appears in a bedroom scene in High Fidelity, between John Cusack and his girlfriend. A cheating girlfriend who, wait for it, loves her neighbor. I've grabbed the screenshot.
The screenwriter, Peter has now discovered, thought the book would also show Cusack's girlfriend to be intelligent. That's the only reason I have it on my bookshelf, of course.
Peter Maass
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Emotional response
Oh, the marketers are going to be all over this. UCLA research shows that brandnames, more than other words, trigger a detectable response on the right-hand side of the brain: they mainline into our emotions. Yuck. Here's an obviously delighted quote from one leading brand strategist: "This is very intriguing indeed. It supports our instinctive belief that brands are a special class of word - they are like a poem all in one word in their ability to evoke and express ideas."
Brand names bring special brain buzz [New Scientist]
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Google frequency
Is Google indexing less frequently? I used to be able to search for recent posts. Now the latest cache on Google of nickdenton.org dates back a month, and I can't find any posts more recent than that through the search engine. Don't tell me even the great Google is having trouble scaling.
nickdenton.org cache [Google]
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Humorless
Some bloggers -- mostly on the left -- get touchy when described as humorless. They're quite right to take the word as an insult; it's about the worst accusation one can make against a writer. Here's a line from Martin Amis, swiping one of his critics: "And by calling him humorless I mean to impugn his seriousness, categorically: such a man must rig up his probity ex nihilo." No, I don't know what extra meaning is implied by ex nihilo, but it sounds really bad.
Lightness at Midnight [Christopher Hitchens]
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Better Singapore than Oakland
Two shipping stories from the New York Times, one from Oakland about the triassic longshoremen trade union and its attempts to block new technology. Not to save existing jobs, but to save hypothetical future jobs. Ludicrous. Elsewhere in the paper, another piece, about the hyper-efficient port of Singapore, and its enthusiastic embrace of new security checks on shipments to the United States. If there's a risk of container nukes, better the Singaporeans make the inspections than the Oakland jobsworths.

· Technology on Docks: Fears Despite Promises


· Dockside, the War on Terrorism May Hone Rivalry
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Soul-searching
Nitpick with Glenn Reynolds on transatlantic tensions. He says that Europeans should be searching their own souls, rather than counseling the United States to do so. And Glenn points to the recent Economist piece on the widening gulf, which actually rather undermines his point. The European press is full of angst about the state of the transatlantic relationship. I don't know whether I'd call it soul-searching. But it's certainly more reasonable, and better informed, than the drivel about European anti-semitism that passes for comment in the US papers.

Glenn Reynolds
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Lunch with Bernard Lewis
The Financial Times takes Bernard Lewis, the 86-year-old Arabist, out to lunch. Lewis is a wonderfully lucid and erudite writer, and he even speaks in full sentences, which the FT is wise enough to reproduce. The whole interview is worth reading. Lewis, when pressed, says sexual inequality is at the core of the Arab world's failure. And there's a funny episode when Tom Friedman of the New York Times sits down, unexpectedly, at the table. Here's a sample Lewis, on Saudi Arabia.
Imagine if the Ku Klux Klan or Aryan Nation obtained total control of Texas and had at its disposal all the oil revenues, and used this money to establish a network of well-endowed schools and colleges all over Christendom peddling their particular brand of Christianity. This is what the Saudis have done with Wahhabism. The oil money has enabled them to spread this fanatical, destructive form of Islam all over the Muslim world and among Muslims in the west. Without oil and the creation of the Saudi kingdom, Wahhabism would have remained a lunatic fringe in a marginal country.
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The CIA does blog
Richard Bennett digs into Traction -- the corporate blogging company -- and finds the CIA venture capital fund is one of the investors. Shocked by the failure to communicate intelligence information between the FBI and CIA, and even between departments in those organizations, we've all wondered whether a blogging culture would help. It would be cool if the CIA was thinking along the same lines.
Richard Bennett
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Monday, August 12

Consumer goods and insurance
A couple of investment ideas in some recent news. First, there are the revised numbers on productivity in the US, which show growth of 4.7% over the last year. The productivity growth shows US companies quick to lay off workers as demand slows. Which augurs well for export-driven sectors; but job insecurity, together with investment losses, will hit consumer demand. So short consumer goods companies -- and particularly those associated with luxury spending. While we're at it, how about another sceptical look at the insurance sector.

   The corporate failures have left somebody holding bad credit. Only this cycle, it's not the banks. They have tended to package up credit exposure and sell it on to other investors. So where in the ecosystem is the poison collecting? Looks like it's the insurers who jazzed up their returns by taking on credit risk, and they're the ones who'll take sick as the credit goes bad.

   Some of that exposure is already in the price of insurance stocks, which have plunged. But insurance companies operate over such long timespans that their losses only tend to come to light late in a cycle. Japanese insurance companies have been going bust for most of the last decade. Sell, sell, sell.
· New Data Confirm Amazingly Strong Productivity Trend [Brad DeLong]

· European banks eat their bad debt [Economist]
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End-to-end blogging solutions
Oh no, the corporate wordmanglers have got hold of blogging. "Traction is a leader in next generation Enterprise Weblog software, delivering interoperable, inexpensive, rapidly deployable, open and easy to use tools for groups and teams to communicate, share, organize and link business information in context."
Traction Software [via Werbach]
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Flights to Europe
BA have some very attractive deals on flights to Europe. $179 from New York to London one-way, with as much flexibility in changing dates as a business-class ticket. Only the movies on Virgin Atlantic are still better.
British Airways - US Special Offers
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Borders
Jonathan Foreman, in the New York Post, says the US should pick up the imperial mantle, and train colonial administrators to keep order in fractious countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But this is the same logic that has left UN peacekeepers beached in places like Kosovo and Bosnia. Anyone ever wonder what all these troublesome countries -- Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the list goes on -- have in common? They shouldn't really be countries at all. Each has territorially distinct minorities, and swings between anarchy and repressive central rule -- and western intervention, when things get sufficiently bad.
   
So here's an alternative to sending in Western troops to prop up artificial countries. Let's face the fact that they - the Bosnian Muslims and the Serbs, the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs, the Sunnis and the Shias, the Pushtuns and the Tajiks -- are never going to like eachother, no matter how generous the western aid and how just and committed the peacekeepers. Split these countries up, yes, even if it means the State Department has to change its maps. Divide Afghanistan between its warlords, let Iraq split into a Kurdish north, a Sunni Arab center, and a Shiite south. And so on, unto Saudi Arabia, which has a large Shiite minority located conveniently over the oil fields. Who knows? Maybe new mono-ethnic countries would actually function as responsible states.
Afghan endgame [New York Post]
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The Bush recession
The Bush family has always had bad timing. George Bush Senior took office as the 1980s boom was ending, and paid for voters’ economic discontent; George W is equally vulnerable.
   

Forget about the war on terrorism; his father had the Gulf War, and that failed to distract voters from their pocketbook concerns. Forget about George W’s high approval ratings; his father’s slipped quickly once Americans no longer felt the need to display national unity. George W. Bush will likely lose the next presidential election.
   

To be sure, the parallels are far from exact. The first Bush recession pushed unemployment to 8%; this one has been much milder. The losers are not so much the middle Americans who lost their jobs in the last recession, but the wealthy professionals who are watching the erosion of their retirement plans and mutual fund holdings. Bush Senior paid little attention to domestic policy, or to his conservative base; his son has learned the lesson, and has given more influence to vote-grubbing political consultants.
   

However, history is – if not word-for-word – repeating itself. Bush II may win his war, if that is possible against an enemy so intangible, but lose the peace. Come 2004, voters will be looking for someone to punish for their investment losses, and George Bush is the most obvious target.
   

And Democrats are already starting to aim. Paul Krugman writes about Crony Capitalism, USA. Al Gore digs out his populist playbook to call for a government for the people, not the powerful.
   

It is not entirely fair, of course. George Bush inherited an economy already entering into recession. The spectacular corporate failures – Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, ImClone – built up inflated debts and inflated expectations during the Clinton boom.
   

The Democrats’ corporate supporters came from precisely those industries which became most overblown: technology, telecoms, entertainment and finance. Had Al Gore won the presidency, he would have given a job to John Doerr, the venture capitalist who boasted that the internet had sparked the greatest legal creation of wealth in human history, a phrase that would have come back to haunt him in government.
   

Republicans can blame deregulation of the telecommunications industry – a proud Clinton-Gore achievement at the time -- for some of the speculative excesses in that sector. They will also try, with less success, to link corporate failure to the supposed moral bankruptcy of Bill Clinton. Martha Stewart as the bastard child of Monica Lewinsky, that kind of thing.
   

But none of this will matter, mainly because the cult of the CEO – staple of business magazines for the last half-decade -- is about to become as popular as is the Falun Gong in Chinese government circles. Bush administration heavyweights are inescapably, undeniably, indelibly CEO types.
   

Remember, this was going to be the CEO presidency, a well-managed administration that started meetings on time. Vice President Dick Cheney used to run Halliburton; Paul O’Neill, the Treasury Secretary, was CEO of Alcoa; Donald Rumsfeld, though a long-time Washington hand, came to the administration from G. D. Searle & Company. Even George Bush, a relative under-performer, had an MBA and some kind of business track record.
   

CEO was a badge of pride. Here, in happier days, is Thomas White, a senior executive at Enron who is still secretary of the army despite the energy company’s ignominious collapse: "We effectively are the CEOs of wholly owned subsidiaries of the Department of Defense." Amazing to think that kind of language was once reassuring.
   

To be sure, the polls do not yet show corporate corruption rising up the list of salient issues. Neither press nor political opponents have succeeded in tieing Dick Cheney or George Bush to regulatory infractions at their former companies. Republicans maintain, hopefully, that the US is a fundamentally pro-business country, and any political attack on corporate boardrooms will backfire. And it is undeniable that leading Democrats such as Al Gore and Joe Lieberman are in no position to attack anybody for cosy ties to business.
   

Nevertheless, this issue will still hurt Bush. The US has a strong populist tradition, and periodically asserts its prerogative over the robber barons. There are a few candidates – admittedly most of them called John McCain – who could credibly run against corporate corruption. And no one should ever underestimate the anger of a voter who has just lost money. Least of all a Bush.

[Written for Management Today]
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Ceci-Cela
At my favorite morning cafe, a woman wants to discuss wedding cakes with the manager. He comes over, congratulates the bride-to-be, and nods to the other woman, presumably a girlfriend present for moral support. She's not a girlfriend; she's the girlfriend. "You should congratulate us both," says the bride. Ouch.
Ceci-Cela
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Crows
Ken Layne knows when everybody has had their fill of politics. A much more reliable source of entertainment: stories about amazing animals. You'll remember Ken's great dissertation on the Serval cat. In the latest instalment, read all about genius crows, and how they are the most American and democratic of birds.
Ken Layne
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Sunday, August 11

Atlantic tensions
A good summary, from the Economist, of the growing US disdain for Europe, and Europe's diverging worldview.
You can be warriors or wimps; or so say the Americans [Economist]
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Hanging on by a thread
First Verizon cancel the DSL order, the Roadrunner guys can't find the right cable, the phone line (also Verizon) has been down for two days now, and, to cap it all, I leave my cellphone in a cab. My last connection to the outside world -- and my sanity -- is one fickle Wi-Fi connection from a neighboring building. #

Saturday, August 10

The gloves come off
A lethal speech by Terry McAuliffe to the Democrats. If this is the template for the current midterms, Bush is in trouble.
President Bush was unwilling to spend political capital to make the necessary corporate reforms. But even worse, his own past leaves him unable to lead on this issue. How can he restore confidence to Wall Street when he has engaged in the same practices he condemns today ... when his own Vice President's former company is under investigation ... when he's appointed Harvey Pitt, a walking conflict of interest, to chair the SEC? When it comes to corporate accountability, it's not just that George Bush won't lead ... he can't lead.
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Friday, August 9

T minus 8
Only eight days left to the SEC deadline: CEOs of large public companies have until August 14th to sign off on their accounts. 600 of the 700 executives still haven't sent back their letters, and some are threatening to defy the edict.
New accounting rule upsets US executives [Financial Times]
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Thursday, August 8

Bestial kuffaar contraptions
Oh, this is just too good. In this Islamic guide to toilet etiquette [see below], a diatribe against western standing urinals. "Those who feel no pangs of shame using a standing urinal to urinate like asses in full public view suffer great deficiency in their Imaan. Nowadays, such shameless contraptions are installed even in Musjid toilets. Even Imaams of Musaajid are exposing themselves shamelessly and filthily in public view by using these bestial kuffaar contraptions." #

Islamic toilet rituals
Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that Islamic toilet rituals are any less valid than secular ones. Personally, I find those automated French lavatories bizarre. Political correctness established, check this out, a 16-part guide to Istinja, including this invocation, before entering the toilet: "O Allah I seek protection in you from the male and female devil." You gotta laugh.
Taqwa'ul Islam
#

I'll always remember you, April dearest, said January
Saparmurat Niyazov, president of Turkmenistan, wants to rename the months after heroes of his country. He gets January and some assembly sycophant proposes to name April after the president's late mother. How sweet.
Turkmen leader to rename calendar [BBC]
#

Incompetence
To my question [see below] about poker skills: Olivier points me to an article about incompetence, and the difficulties we all have in recognizing it in ourselves. Thanks, Olivier.

Unskilled and Unaware of It [Journal of Personality and Social Psychology]
#

Mark Steyn on Iraq and war
Another insanely great article by Mark Steyn. A few questionable assumptions. Would revived Iraqi oil output really unbalance the Saudis? Would dissension in Saudi Arabia really keep the country's suicide bombers busy at home? But these are quibbles. Steyn makes the larger case for invading Iraq. Particularly good are his riffs on the Hashemite taste for hot-looking Westernized women, moustache boy, UN refugee camps, and the virtues of instability.
Mark Steyn [The Specator]
#

Other blog martyrs
Brian Sobalak writes in to remind me that Heather Hamilton of Dooce was fired when her company discovered she'd been bitching on her site. Here's Heather's post on the subject.

Tell it to their face for Christ's sake [Dooce]
#

Poker
The metaphysical question of the moment. How can you tell whether you're good at poker, or anything else, that matter? You know you're good if you're aware of your own cleverness, or blind to your foolishness. But how can you tell which is which? #

The first blog martyr
Steve Olafson of the Houston Chronicle has been fired for running a weblog on the side. First time I've heard of that happening. Olafson got a call from Chron editor Jeff Cohen, who he says told him, "I'm running a mainstream American newspaper. There's no place here for gonzo journalism…Take the fucking site down!" Here's the article, from the Houston Press, and the offending blog itself.

· Houston Press [via Rick Bruner]

· Steve Olafson
#

Choosing domain names
Here's a tip for researching domain names. You don't want to pick an obvious word, because that's boring, and the word is probably already taken. But at the same time, some connotation is usually a good thing. So, for instance, a site to do with weblogs might usefully contain the syllable "log". Most online dictionaries don't let you do wildcard searches. But OneLook does; try a search for *log*, for instance. Lots of possibilities to stimulate namestorming. Anyway, thought I'd pass that along.
OneLook
#

Camera on a keyring
I want one of these, a megapixel camera small enough to put on a keyring.
Dynamism.com
#

Saudi Arabia and nukes
Here's that report that's got people thinking about Saudi Arabia getting nukes from Pakistan. But there's plenty else to worry about. Almost every significant country in the region has some combination of chemical, biological or nuclear weapon plans.
WMD in the Middle East [U.S. Foreign Policy Agenda]
#

Moderation
Some respond to moderation in kind. Others take it as a sign of weakness, and an invitation to attack. Let's examine the record, and determine the camp into which the Islamic militants fall. This, from Osama bin Laden's epic 1996 declaration of war against America.
Where was this false courage of yours when the explosion in Beirut took place on 1983 CE (1403 A.H)? You were turned into scattered pits and pieces at that time; 241 mainly marines solders were killed. And where was this courage of yours when two explosions made you to leave Aden in less than twenty four hours?! But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; whereafter vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear.
#

Pitching blogs
We're training them well. An article for the Public Relations Society of America, advising caution in approaching bloggers.
Blogs are a new medium and, therefore, require a new approach. It is crucial not to spam bloggers and to be aware of their likes and dislikes before you drop them a line. Canned, conventional pitch letters can be seen as offensive. Their preferred means of communication is e-mail and their address is often prominently featured on the site. When communicating with blogs, make sure to be completely open and honest about why you are contacting them, disclosing your organizational affiliation. Keep it to the point and always make sure to include a link to a published story or item that they might consider featuring. Do not ask bloggers to link to your client's site or latest press release. Bloggers are sensitive about becoming mouthpieces for other organizations and companies, which is the reason they began blogging in the first place.
#

A new blogging tool
Trellix launch a new publishing system -- with weblog functionality. This is broadly inspired by Blogger, but the Trellix system manages an entire website, rather than just the weblog posts.
Trellix Blogging screenshots [danbricklin.com]
#

The Powerpoint papers
I love the internet. Here's the Pentagon Powerpoint about Saudi Arabia, online. Just a day after the story broke in the Washington Post. This is the presentation which describes Saudi Arabia as the main enemy in the Middle East. Slate, which reproduces the slides, also delves into the dodgy background of the author. But I'm more interested in the content.
Taking Saudi out of Arabia [Defense Policy Board, via Slate]
#

Wednesday, August 7

A final world on humiliation
Okay, one very last thought on the political uses of humiliation. Bruce Baugh, and several others, have made the point that a person or a people, humbled, becomes resentful rather than self-critical. Witness Palestinians in the occupied territories, Germany after the First World War, or Bruce himself. "Possibly I'm just projecting from my own personal experience of the world, but I've never found that humiliating others helps me get anywhere in the long run, nor have I found that being humiliated made me inclined to admit defeat or accept the agenda my humiliator wanted to foist on me."

   And, with that, I'd agree. While total military defeat has changed countries for the better, a partial victory would be the worst of all worlds. The most dangerous enemy is one humbled, but still capable of retaliation. It's all or nothing: if the US is to invade Iraq, let it do so without hesitation, and with confidence in complete victory. Otherwise better to listen to the pragmatic isolationists, stay home, and hope that Arab rage burns itself out. Or wait until New York is attacked again, and the mandate for war is clear.

Bruce Baugh
#

Designers
A San Francisco friend asks whether designers are better respected in New York. "Yes," I reply, "sometimes they are mistaken for technologists." #

Iraqi intelligence click here
Satellite photos of new facilities at the US base at Al Udeid, in Qatar. #

Mistaken identity
After a disastrous car crash, Jeremy Hylemon's family sit vigil; relatives of John Grubs, his friend, prepare to cremate his remains. They finally realize that they've got the boys mixed up, but only after Hylemon's grandma goes to Grubs' funeral, and sees her own grandson in the casket. Horrific.
Family learns teen in casket is not their son [Courier-Journal via Obscure Store]
#

Fly free on September 11th
Spirit Airlines -- never heard of it -- is offering free flights on the anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers.
DealsOnTheWeb.com [via Doctorow]
#

Light relief
By the way, after all that politics, I'm definitely in the mood for something trivial. Sex, gossip, gadgets, UFOs. You know the thing. Email submissions much appreciated. #

When weblog worlds collide
If you've been following the Iraq-Arab-humiliation-holocaust thread [see below, with updates], be relieved that it's winding down, for the time being. Let's put aside politics for a moment, and talk about the one subject that unites all webloggers: themselves. It's interesting that this discussion on war against Iraq has involved writers from weblog networks which didn't much connect until recently: Dave Winer and Doc Searls, Bay Area techbloggers, though Dave hates the label; Glenn Reynolds, warblogger extraordinaire; some of the more lefty political blogs such as Eschaton; and me, though of course none of these labels apply to my boundlessly varied views. Irony tag here.

   Which makes Dave Winer's most recent post on the thread, particularly appropriate. There's one measured passage that everyone can endorse. "We have the freedom to express ourselves, guaranteed by the Constitution, and that guaratees that we will hear ideas that sound wrong, that we disagree with, that stimulate writing and hopefully thinking (maybe not in that order). As long as that's all that happens, it makes us safer." There are a couple more concluding statements, from Doc Searls and Glenn Reynolds, which are linked here. And, with that, back to regular programming.

· Dave Winer

· Glenn Reynolds

· Doc Searls
#

A beef with Paul O'Neill
As Paul O'Neill lectures Argentina and Brazil on government spending, some contrition would be in order. A Brazilian rancher's production costs are a third to half those of his American counterpart, according to Beef Magazine. So why aren't Brazil and Argentina exporting their way out of financial difficulty? Because the US government, while teaching the world about free markets and spending discipline, is busy increasing subsidies to domestic beef farmers. Beef Magazine -- no, it's not a pornomag -- quotes a Brazilian rancher. “If other countries would reduce their barriers and subsidies, we could compete on the same basis,” he says. “We could compete against anyone if it were simply a matter of markets.”

Brazil Looks North [Beef Magazine]
#

Living with mistakes
To the continuing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Thomas Friedman compares the relative peace between the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. His implication: intervention is pernicious. The New York Times columnist says both Israel and the Palestinians have had blank checks from their respective backers, giving less reason to settle. Sri Lanka, ignored, has had to take responsibility for its own peace. This quote, from a Sri Lankan official. "Ours has been a forgotten war, and we've had to live with our mistakes and to find our own way out," said Milinda Moragoda, one of the government's peace negotiators. "It had its disadvantages, but also its advantages."
Lessons From Sri Lanka [Thomas Friedman]
#

PR v advertising
Not the best time to be saying this, with PR agencies hurting for revenues more than any other marketers -- but a new book argues that advertising can't build brands cost-effectively any more, and public relations can.
The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR [National Post]
#

Zamzam
Iran's Zamzam Cola is doing well in Arab countries after boycott campaigns against American goods.
Coke, other US brands, target of Arab boycott [Beverage World]
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Oil-spiv
Richard Dawkins, Professor of the Public Understanding of Science, says Bush is just as much of a danger to world peace as Saddam Hussein, adding: "It would be a tragedy if Tony Blair were to be brought down through playing poodle to this unelected and deeply stupid little oil-spiv." I'm not endorsing the sentiments, but his description of George Bush does have the virtue of colorful language.
Blair is our last hope, says Iraq [Guardian]
#

Tuesday, August 6

Nuclear fusion
Maybe science will come to our rescue after all. The Tore Supra experimental reactor in France worked for three and a half minutes. That's a record, apparently, for a fusion reactor. In theory, fusion reactors should be cleaner and more powerful than existing nuclear reactors; they were once seen as sources of endless electricity. The next version of the reactor is due for completion in 2013. Let's say another decade till a commercial version. Heck, that's only another couple of decades of dependence for energy on the most fucked-up part of the world.
Fusion reactor breaks duration record [New Scientist]
#

What if America wasn't America?
A video ad for civil liberties. A student asks for some books. The librarian looks up the titles, and replies: "These books are no longer available... may I have your name, please?" The punchline: What if America wasn't America?
Freedom. Appreciate it. Cherish it. Protect it.
Ad Council [via Christian Bailey]
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Argh!
Remind me never to get into an email argument, and never to participate in a discussion forum, and never to enable comments on my site. Ken Layne gets back to blogging, as entertaining as ever, and then discovers the incredibly tedious comments on his post about boring lefties. Followed by yet more comments, on his post about the comments. Which kind of makes Ken's point.
Can you see how bored I am, via the Innernut? Can you feel it in your karma or whatnot?
Ken Layne
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Holocaust survivors
Dave Winer says [below] he's the son of Holocaust survivors, and I can have no insight into his thinking. Well, I've been trying all day to give Dave a graceful exit, but he hasn't taken it. You see: I, too, am the son of a Holocaust survivor. Yeah, Denton: a misleading name. Dave wasn't to know.

   But this is beside the point. My origins, and Dave's, may give us additional moral responsibility; but I don't believe I'm uniquely qualified to comment on the Arabs, Israel, Nazi Germany, and the danger of genocide. I'd rather leave family history out of it. Arguments should stand by themselves.
#

Why wage war on Iraq
And some more -- mainly critical -- comment. Micah Holmquist's post is a good summary of the debate so far. And Matthew Yglesias explains why it's best to stick with the pre-emption argument in public, even if the private war aim is a demonstration of Western power.
· The origins of a poisonous idea [Eric M]

· Confusing verbal bombardment and the real thing [Eschaton]

· Warblustery [Doc Searls]

· A summary [Micah Holmquist]

· Public and Private Reasons [Matthew Yglesias]

· Doc Searls is persuasive [Scott Rosenberg]

· Blast them all and let God sort them out [Shelley Powers]

· Hiroshima and humiliation [Eric Olsen]

· Lots about Iraq recently [Patrick Nielsen Hayden]
#

Winer and the Holocaust
In addition to being a technologist and living on the west coast of the US, I am also the first-generation American son of Holocaust survivors, born and raised in NY. Does Nick have any insight into my thinking? Clearly not.
So Dave Winer brings in his own family's suffering to the discussion. What does one say to that? I do believe that Jews bring an awareness of the genocidal tendencies beneath seemingly civilized societies. If the Holocaust is to have meaning beyond its tragedy for the Jewish people, Jews do have to bear witness to the persecution of other ethnic minorities, as well as their own history. Dave Winer's anxiety about another Holocaust is noble.

   But we should despair were only Holocaust survivors and their children, themselves growing older and fewer, capable of insight into genocide. And bringing in an emotion-laden family history, unless it's simply to introduce some fact, can have the perverse effect of closing down a discussion. You can't know how I feel: it is an argument at once unanswerable, and unpersuasive. Here's the exchange, in reverse chronological order:

· Son of Holocaust survivors [Dave Winer]

· Dave isn't there yet [Glenn Reynolds]

· Winer and the warbloggers [Nick Denton]

· That's where holocausts come from [Dave Winer]

· Nick Denton is sounding like a warblogger today [Glenn Reynolds]

· Why make war on Iraq [Nick Denton]
#

One happy family
A scientist at UCL has shown that modern Europeans trace their roots to Middle Eastern farmers. The Beeb's lure-line declares that "Europeans have Arab genes" -- which would make us all one happy family -- though the story itself doesn't actually say that, and I thought that Arabs emerged out of the Arabian peninsula only after the birth of Islam.
Finding agriculture's 'genetic signature' [BBC]
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Holocausts -- Glenn Reynolds weighs in
"[T] he hardline Arabs (who are the ones calling the shots pretty much everywhere) already have the desire to perpetrate a holocaust, as has been made abundantly clear. They merely lack the means. The mentality we're dealing with isn't Germany in 1914. It's more like Germany in 1939. And that Germany was in dire need of abject defeat and humiliation, the sooner the better."

Glenn Reynolds
#

Our enemies, the Saudis
A great scoop in the Washington Post: a briefing given to a think-tank close to the administration, arguing that Saudi Arabia is the chief enemy of the United States in the Middle East. Finally. The recommendation: an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its oil fields and its financial assets invested in the United States. In response to the story, the defence department spokeswoman, like CJ Gregg in the Aaron Sorkin's West Wing, described Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally. Only CJ Gregg, if you remember, was being sarcastic.
Briefing Depicted Saudis as Enemies [Washington Post via Reynolds]
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Monday, August 5

Call a spade a trowel
Iran -- contending with an explosion of prostitution -- is considering the establishment of shelters to house poor street women and satisfy the sexual needs of men who cannot afford to get married. Only don't call them brothels; they're described as "chastity houses".

Iran Debates 'Chastity Houses' [Reuters]
#

Holocausts
Eric Mauro, who could fill a blog with all the emails he sends me, says:
You just don't get it. Holocausts come when those in power decide that they ought to kill those under them for their own good. That the Arabs are not developed enough to understand what's good for them, and a war will fix that. They will not be humiliated into their senses. They will resist again and again, more violently each time, and you will hit back, as if just a little more humiliation will do the trick.

   It's not that the Arabs will make a holocaust, it's that we will do it, because by adopting this idea, our humanity is going out the window. There's a reason they call it "humanism", it's because it's supposed to apply to all humans. By segregating Arabs this way, by determining them culturally unable to process secular humanism without getting bombed to their senses, you're the one committing the holocaust.
It is indeed one of the greatest dangers of this conflict: the risk that the West abandons its own values in the process of their defense, that civil liberties and ethnic tolerance are sacrificed, that we become what we're fighting against. And that's why, even as the West engages in military action in Iraq, and tightens internal security, it needs to demonstrate its welcome to a kinder gentler Islam. Let Eric Mauro warn against genocide; let Bush go to a mosque in New Jersey to apologize for the necessity of profiling; let the US put the rights of democracy activists in Egypt over the convenience of its diplomats; let Turkey enter the European Union; let Pakistanis export textiles without hitting them with tariffs; and let the West protect peaceful Muslim minorities, where they are under threat, as in the former Yugoslavia. Oh, I forgot, we already did that.
#

Winer and the warbloggers
Dave Winer -- father of the West Coast techbloggers -- falls out of love with warbloggers.
I may try to write a new definition. It'll probably involve the words blow and hard, and examples from playgrounds. Dangerous stuff. Watch out for the humiliation, that's where holocausts come from.
Dave is being obscure, but I presume he's referring to the humiliation of Germany at Versailles, which preceded the holocaust. The argument being that an Arab world, humiliated, is all the more dangerous.
   Not an unreasonable point. But I'd draw a different lesson. The Arab world has long felt humiliated, it's already dangerous. If you are going to defeat your enemy, do so conclusively, as the US and UK defeated Germany in the Second World War. One could equally well say, to paraphrase Winer: watch out for appeasement, that's where holocausts come from.
#

National IDs in Japan
Every Japanese citizen will be given an 11-digit identification number, linked to a database of names, addresses, and dates of birth.
Japan launches mandatory national IDs [Reuters]
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Galaxy in a computer
Scientists have simulated the evolution of a galaxy, from a mass of gas and dark matter to a shining spiral. It's the first model that has produced a galaxy of roughly the shape and scale of the Milky Way. Check out the animation.
Giant galaxy means model success [New Scientist]
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Andrewsullivanitis
Peter Maass, too measured to get into arguments on his own weblog, writes in to oppose the invasion of Iraq.
Nick, you are showing early signs of andrewsullivanitis. If everyone in the Arab world, or just a majority, shared the medieval views of Wahabis, I might be tempted to consider your invade-them-and-humiliate-them-until-they-love-us rationale. But not only is the Arab world more diverse than you give it credit for, there are better ways than war of conveying the capitalism-and-democracy-are-superior message.
   Do you think the Algerian government, which has crushed a fundamentalist insurrection, needs to be lectured about the evils of Islamism? Do you think we need to humiliate Jordan¹s King Abdullah, who is so westernized and pro-western that, who knows, he might start blogging any day now? And don¹t you think we could make a rather strong impression on our intolerant and corrupt clients in Saudi Arabia and Egypt by withdrawing our support for them?

   Until someone *proves* that Iraq represents a clear and present danger to America, the costs and risks of invading it are too high and unnecessary. Ruthless diplomacy -- an oxymoron until now -- can accomplish the job that you wish to have done.


#

America's ring of steel
Kid's 2-inch gun seized [The Sun via Fark] #

Arab escapism
Christophe Kotowski, writing in, argues an invasion of Iraq isn't enough. "Partially crushing Arab/Muslim already happened in '48 '56 '67 '73 '90/91 '01/02. Did the lesson sink in? No. '02/03 in the way you argue won't be different; there will be room for denial and escapism. The true Islamist cores are Saudi Arabia and Iran, Iraq is too secular to impress. In fact it represents the old fashioned and already bankrupt Arab modernism of Nasser. What's the point of confirming its death? If you really want to humiliate, then you'd have to do it in a grand, total, undeniable and very bloody scale: Iraq + Syria + Iran + Saudi Arabia + Gulf States + others? It's not just about winning; it's about inflicting a boundless defeat that all people can relate to - death and destruction must reach every corner of society. I doubt anybody in the US is mentally prepared to inflict that much suffering and killing, not to mention the necessary commitment in equipment and blood." #

nickdenton.org in XML
Here's an XML version of nickdenton.org, for all of you with fancy blogreading gadgets. #

Sunday, August 4

Why make war on Iraq
The debate over war with Iraq needs to be recast. So far, justification for the war has fallen into three categories: retribution, pre-emption, and geo-strategy. All miss the point.
   
Start with retribution for the destruction of the Twin Towers. The ties between Iraqi agents and Mohammed Atta, leader of the September 11th bombers, are in the news again, no doubt to persuade us that an invasion of Iraq is connected to Al-Qaeda's attack on the US. But no convincing evidence of Iraqi involvement has been made public. Better to leave that rationale on the cutting-room floor.
   
Pre-emption, the Bush doctrine, has more weight to it. Saddam Hussein has attacked two of his neighbors, and has professed enmity towards the United States. I can just about buy the argument that he's too unpredictable to be allowed nuclear weapons. But let's not forget that Pakistan already has nukes, ultra-Islamic political groups, and an intelligence service with connections to Al-Qaeda. Pre-emption ought to imply the destruction of Pakistan's nuclear capability, as well as the Saudi network that funds Islamic fundamentalism. So, pre-emption: an entirely defensible policy, but highly vulnerable to the charge of inconsistency.

   Geo-strategy. Some armchair generals hope the imposition of a pro-American government in Baghdad will undermine violent Palestinian nationalism, and make the Saudis nervous, which would indeed be salutary. The Pentagon civilians argue a democratic system in Iraq would also provide a beacon to other Arab countries. Messing around with the map of the Middle East can't do much harm; even chaos would be preferable to the deathly status quo. But the establishment of a government in Baghdad that is both democratic and pro-Western: that's just wishful thinking.
   
But there's a much more basic reason to crush Saddam Hussein's regime. The Islamic world -- mainly the Arab Islamic world -- needs to realize that it has failed. Medieval Islam cannot compete with liberal capitalism either economically or culturally. Unfortunately, that message has taken several hundred years to filter through. There is nothing like cataclysmic military defeat to teach the lesson more rapidly.
   
One could point at the examples of Japan and Germany after the Second World War. But the Muslim world provides its own case study. Ottoman Turkey only began to pay attention to Western science and organization after its first serious military defeats at the hands of Austria and Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries.

   The US needs to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime because he's a bad man, sure, because he may conceivably be connected with Al-Qaeda, because he's developing weapons of mass destruction, because a friendly Iraq would alter the balance of power in the Middle East, sure, because of all of that. But the US needs to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime mainly because the West needs to humiliate the Arab world, and dispel the Islamic millennial fantasy.
   Inhabitants of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries must realize that medieval Islam and strongman dictatorships are bankrupt. Arab political systems have held back progress, and even the Islamic traditionalists who deny those Western notions of progress will have to accept the objective measure of military accomplishment. Let the US send 40,000 soldiers against an Iraqi army ten times the size; let the defeat be total; and let Arab people realize that liberal democracy isn't just a soft western indulgence, but the most effective form of social organization on this planet, and it is their future, if they want a future.
#

Let chaos reign
Steven den Beste -- one of the most persuasive hawks either online or offline -- draws attention to this article in Parameters, the US Army War College Quarterly. It questions the central tenet of US foreign policy: the lazy assumption that global stability is America's primary interest.
Stability, America's enemy [Ralph Peters in Parameters]
#

Bush's Shame
I do like it when Tom Friedman gets angry. Our man in Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, has just imprisoned one of the country's few democratic voices, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and Friedman writes: "The State Department, in a real profile in courage, said it was "deeply disappointed" by the conviction of Mr. Ibrahim, who holds a U.S. passport. "Disappointed"? I'm disappointed when the Baltimore Orioles lose. When an Egyptian president we give $2 billion a year to jails a pro-American democracy advocate, I'm "outraged" and expect America to do something about it."

Bush's Shame [Tom Friedman]
#

Al Gore's hypocrisy
Al Gore was a no-show at the DLC, but he hasn't disappeared from political discourse -- unfortunately. In this op-ed in the New York Times, he answers the implicit criticism last week of his people-versus-the-powerful rhetoric of 2000. I don't have a problem with the underlying message. The corporate class has run American capitalism like a snotty country club, and it deserves the lashing it's now getting. But to frame the debate in purely partisan terms, as Gore does, without an ounce of self-criticism, is crass, and dishonest. Gore was the cheerleader for the new economy, a buddy of the Silicon Valley venture capitalists who foisted dodgy tech shares on a gullible public. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Or at least, before casting stones, first confess to his own sins.
Broken Promises and Political Deception [Al Gore]
#

The limits of deterrence
A rigorously argued essay from Steven Den Beste on the logic of preemptive military action. Here are the killer paragraphs.
The point of [deterrence] is to present any potential adversary with the certainty of horrific consequences to any preemptive attack of that kind against the US. If that opponent has a certain mind-set, then it will prevent them from making any attack against us; and with the USSR and China, it did work. The leaders of those nations do indeed have the correct mindset (they are "rational players").
   

But when you're facing an opponent who wants to kill you and doesn't mind dying in the process, it won't work. Your threat of deterrence is meaningless; he expects to die and doesn't care. In that case, if you are pretty certain he does intend to attack you, the only way to prevent it is to attack him first.players").
   

Deterrence is useful, but it isn't universally applicable. Attempting to use deterrence where it is not appropriate is a suicide pact; it gives your determined enemy carte blanche to try to make his first blow as devastating as possible in hopes of preventing you from responding at all. Or it gives your enemy the ability to launch his blow when he doesn't care what you do in response.
   
When you have a good reason to suspect that someone means to seriously harm you, there is no honor in letting the blow fall. It is merely stupidity. But that's what the world is demanding that the US do, because they are trying to bind our hands with moral persuasion.
#

Saudis click here
Here's one way to build an Arab internet directory on the cheap: take the Saudi censors' list of banned web sites. It lists URLs for the predictably offensive organizations such as the Israeli Defense Forces and various non-Muslim religions; but what is so bad about dictionary.com's online translator?
URLs Blocked in Saudi Arabia [Harvard via Mark Sellman]
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Saturday, August 3

Abandoned in East Village
It's pouring with rain, and a guy comes past the restaurant, drenched, preceded by a pushchair. The baby was abandoned on September 11th, and he needs to find a tattoo parlor nearby, in order to return the infant. There's a $15,000 reward, advertized on Pampers, and he'll split the money if anyone will help him find the tattoo parlor. There were no takers, so he carried on up the street. I presume this is a con, though a needlessly convoluted one. Anyone know what happens if you offer to help? #

Training goals
A friend, asked at the gym about her training goals, responds: "I'm trying to stay at optimum dating weight." #

Wardriving competition
Lock away your daughters, close down your Wi-Fi networks -- the hackers are in town. "A wardriving competition is being held as part of the annual DefCon conference which takes place in Las Vegas between 2-4 August."
Find a network, win a prize [BBC]
#

Discount luxury
LuxRes offers discounts on hotels at which you might actually want to stay. #

The emerging Democrat majority
The New Republic questions the assumption of Republican political dominance. The Democrats have a lock on the three fastest-growing constituencies in the US: working women, minorities, and metropolitan professionals. "The Bush administration can scour the coal pits of West Virginia or the boarded up steel mills of Youngstown for converts, but America's future lies in places like Silicon Valley and North Carolina's Research Triangle."
Majority Rules [The New Republic]
#

Friday, August 2

Blogs and capitalism
Now MSNBC.com has seen the light, and the virtues of weblogs over discussion groups. There's a lesson on social organization here somewhere. Discussion groups are the communes of internet conversation: open, egalitarian, but prone to takeover by free-riders and tyrants. They work, but only if overseen by a scrupulously fair and eternally vigilant moderator, a rare personality type. More often they degenerate into anarchy, tyranny, and then collapse. And why does the weblog form thrive? Because individual authors take responsibility for the content and context, and benefit personally from their investment. Weblogs are a testament to capitalism, and the importance of clear property rights. Of course, were there some financial return to weblog writing, this theory would hold up better. #

The American's burden
Victor Davis Hanson, concluding that the US will get no gratitude for keeping the peace in the world, is taking on a well-worn role. One last played by British colonial administrators, persuading themselves they needed to stay in India, if the Hindus and Muslims weren't to kill eachother. There's one thing less appealing than an empire, and that is a sanctimonious empire. That's as true now as it was in the 19th century.
Victor Davis Hanson [National Review]
#

At least they came out okay
The Financial Times tots up the personal fortunes made by Ken Lay of Enron, Gary Winnick of Global Grossing, and other executives who enriched themselves as their companies went bankrupt. According to FT researchers, since 1999, while shareholders were wiped out, the executives made $3.3bn. Top of the list: Winnick, who grossed $512m.
Capitalism in crisis [Financial Times]
#

Trade free, or die
The British internationalist papers -- the Financial Times and the Economist -- are giving much more coverage and credit to Bush for winning the authority to negotiate trade agreements without second-guessing by Congress. Even if the test of his free-trade resolve remains ahead. The Economist news article is linked below. This, from the editorial, which is subscription-only: "Mr Bush has indeed won a big victory. But the passage of fast-track does not, by itself, promote free trade or undo the damage of this year's steel tariffs or the farm bill. Rather, it gives Mr Bush the chance at last to prove himself as the free-trader that he claims to be. And that means using fast-track wisely -- and, in the process, facing down the protectionist lobbies to which he has so far pandered."
World trade talks [Economist]
#

Sullivan and Paglia
Andrew Sullivan, much less shrill than usual, in this interesting email exchange with Camille Paglia. Topics: the war, gay politics, and the curse of progressive university education. He should invite her to join his blog.
The Camille Paglia IMterview
[andrewsullivan.com]
#

Blogs oust discussion boards from MSNBC.com
The online news site, which has already rolled out weblogs to some of its personalities, is building a directory of weblogs by topic. This will replace freeform discussion. MSNBC.com executive producer Joan Connell says the site's discussion boards "were often chaotic, off-topic and not conducive to the kind of civil and coherent communities we want to develop on this news site."
Creatures From The Web Lagoon: The Blogs [National Journal]
#

Nokia's new picture phone
The Nokia 7650 camera phone lets you take snaps with 640x480 resolution. It faces a chicken and egg problem: what's the point in sending photo to friends if their own devices can't display them. And transmitting from a phone to an email address hasn't really taken off yet.
A shot of the future of phones [BBC]
#

Thursday, August 1

Ice ages
Another theory about ice ages. Research shows they coincide with the passage of the solar system through the spiral arms, as it rotates around the center of the galaxy.
Galaxy 'may cause ice ages' [BBC]
#

nickdenton.org recommends
601am.com #

Performance art
Matt Wells with a story that I'm surprised got past the BBC's taste police: a 25-year-old New York artist has found a more lucrative profession. Brock Enright charges clients thousands of dollars a time for a realistic kidnapping experience. "One of my favourite ones is the guy who loves small places. When I abduct him he's always under his bed, says Mr Enright.

Kidnapping for kicks in New York [BBC]
#

Sex and the City, and straight guys
The core audience for Sex and the City is made up of women, and gay guys, for whom the casual sex and cattiness are resonant, even if the sex of the protagonists isn't. But there is a straight guy constituency, where constituency means that there is one guy I know who watches the HBO program religiously. The show is a source of dating tips, and it's a good topic of conversation, particularly with women who will leap into bed with the alacrity of a Samantha. Cunning.
Sex and the City [HBO]
#

Lefties can't write
Ken Layne, insulted that anyone should include him in the lefty directory, bites the hand that listed him. His problem isn't so much with lefty politics; it's with the writing.
Have glanced at some of the other sites, but lefties generally can't write. They sound like earnest preachers. They're rarely funny. Everything's always horrible, the world is so mucked up, we have failed as a species, blah blah blah. As somebody said -- P.J. O'Rourke? -- you'll never hear a good bar described as "leftist."
#

Galactic in scope
Patrick Nielsen Hayden jokes about being categorized as a left-leaning blog. "Understand, my political views are subtle, complex, galactic in scope, and transcend such petty categories as 'left' and 'right,' and in this I am utterly different from all the other hidebound, lockstep, and ideologically doctrinaire voices in blogdom." My sentiments entirely.

Nielsen Hayden
#

Random
Here's an expression I've been hearing recently, on the subject of casual sex outside the social circle. A guy's explaining what he got up to last night, and says: "Yeah, I went to the local, and got it together with a bit of random." #

Mash-ups
Pete Rojas explains how amateur bootleggers, empowered by ever faster computers, are creating and trading "mash-ups" -- typically the vocal track of one song superimposed on the instrumental track of another. "Home remixing is technically incredibly easy to do, in effect turning the vast world of pop culture into source material for an endless amount of slicing and dicing by desktop producers."
Bootleg culture [Salon]
#

WorldCom arrests
And so, it starts. The first arrests in America's frenzy over corporate corruption. (I'm not counting the Adelphia guys, who simply raided the company bank account to finance personal expenses.) Scott Sullivan, WorldCom's chief financial officer, was taken into custody. I don't see how Bernie Ebbers can avoid indictment now.
Two former WorldCom execs arrested [Reuters]
#

The Lefty Directory
It is a testament to the triumph of the Right in the US, and the blogosphere, that a bunch of hawks dominate Brian Linse's list of liberal blogs. I mean, what are Jeff Jarvis and Ken Layne -- quintessential populist centrists -- doing up there? And what on earth am I doing on the list? Invade Iraq, let Saudi Arabia go to hell, screw the Alaska wilderness, flatten taxes, curtail abortion, privatize schools, trustbust trade unions: that counts as left-wing now? Hilarious.

The Lefty Directory
#

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Nick Denton
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about me
· Sep 02: weblog media
· May 99: Moreover Tech
· Aug 98: First Tuesday
· Jan 90: Financial Times
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articles
· Israel -- the mistake
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· All about timing
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