Monday, August 29, 2005

Abu Aardvark: Originalism and Islamic Law

There have been a number of bloggers that have made the connection between fundamentalism of the US right wing and the fundamentalism of the jihais. Abu Ardvaark does so in, Originalism and Islamic Law:

Kevin Drum writes:

Of all the pillars of modern conservatism, the one that has long struck me as the most obviously absurd is the doctrine of orginalism. Think about it. Are we really supposed to take seriously the idea that the Supreme Court of 2005 [...] is supposed to make its judgments based on divining the intent of a small group of men who lived in a simple agrarian community 200 years ago? Presented baldly, it's an idea that wouldn't pass muster with a bright 10 year old.

Constitutional law is outside my area of expertise, so take all that follows with several big grains of salt. That said, Originalism - or the "original intent" approach to Constitutional jurisprudence - sounds very, very familiar to these Middle East expert ears. Basically, it sounds like Islamic fundamentalist (salafi) jurisprudence.

Islamic jurisprudence after the passing of Mohammed revolved around establishing procedures for interpreting the Quranic message. [...] The Islamic reformers - the original salafis - in the late 19th and early 20th centuries - called to sweep away these centuries of accumulated traditions and return directly to the text of the Quran and authentic hadith.

From what I can tell, that's pretty much exactly what Originalist scholars do. Brush aside centuries of accretion to return directly to the text of the founding document. Prioritize this original text over all later interpretations, even if the conditions of modern life dramatically differ from those prevailing at the time of its drafting.

It does sound absurd, doesn't it? Too bad its no laughing matter. The Republican right wing is intent on turning back the clock and undoing a century of social progress in the US while blurring the lines between church and state. It may not be as medieval as the salafis, but the underlying world view is damned similar.

Ray and the power of blogs

The family watched Ray last night. Beth and I were watching for the second time. It was Hanna's first viewing. I love everything about that movie. I love Ray Charles' music. (Thank you, mom, for having it in our house growing up.) I love Jamie Foxx's performance.

After the movie, Hanna asks how Ray went blind. I remember hearing that it was glaucoma, but I decided to google it just to be sure. Most links confirmed the glaucoma story. But then I found this blog link: The blinding cause of this... that includes a comment that suggests that, a) childhood glaucoma is very rare, and b) the movie depicts symptoms that are more consistent with trachoma. Since the movie was done with Ray Charles' blessing, I'm inclined to think the trachoma diagnosis is more likely. Ray Charles would remember his symptoms well. The sharecropper living conditions were bound to be conducive to that kind of infection.

How cool that a few disparate individuals can make these connections via movies, the web, blogs,... I love it.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Digby channels Ben Franklin

Must be the end of summer vacation. For some reason, my favorite blogs were chock full of good posts. Better than they have been in a while. I guess we're all getting over vacation and getting down to business. Here are some excerpts from a really long and powerful post by Digby on his hullabaloo blog, Expecting Different Results:

I believe that there is a less than zero possibility that George W. Bush is going to implement any sane plan to withdraw from Iraq, much less one set forth by a Democratic presidential aspirant. And I say this with the greatest assurance that I'm right for the simple reason that George W. Bush has failed on every level, at every moment, from the very beginning to do anything right on Iraq. Why in God's name would we think that he will suddenly become sane and do something different today?
He makes an important point, that its not up to the Democrats to come up with a realistic or likely policy alternative to Bush. Nothing they do or say will influence policy until they win some elections. So the task right now is to differentiate a Democratic vision, highlight what Democrats would do differently, and lay the ground for future elections
Why are people so unwilling to admit what they are seeing before their eyes, even today? The Republican party is corrupt, incompetent and drunk with power. And no matter what their intentions, they are incapable of setting things right. We have seen this over and over again.
So we need to get ready to exploit their ineptness and corruption.

Fafblog on Chavez and the Democrats

Fafnir gets of Dr. Strangelove-y on us with this post Will No One Stop The Northward March Of Red Petrol?:

Oh sure, so Chavez wants to sell you gas now. But what he won't tell you is that it's commie gas. Infiltrating your engine, redistributing wealth in your carburetor, nationalizing your internal combustion engine, assasinating czars in your windshield wiper fluid! Oh, he has plans. Dark red Marxist plans - and they're headed right for your gas tank! You were warned, America - you were warned!"
I was visiting Fafblog to read this hilarious post, Fafblog Interviews: THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. There's no way to do it justice with a small excerpt. You'll just have to go read it yourself.

Whiskey Bar: Bring Me the Head of Hugo Chavez

Whiskey Bar is on a roll again. Bilmon and Digby are the most entertaining political writers I've found. This post about Pat Robertson's Huga Chavez fatwa is excellent, Bring Me the Head of Hugo Chavez:

I mean, the fact that Pat Robertson babbled something completely insane (and dangerous) to his TV cult followers has a definite dog-bites-man quality to it. When Robertson says something sane, that will be big news. But I wouldn't keep a hole waiting on page one for that story.[...]

Maybe Pat thought he could shake something loose with a little fascist hatemongering -- or at least draw attention to the fact that America's fourth-largest supplier of oil is run by a charismatic, enormously popular leader who (gasp!) builds health clinics for the poor and (horror!) distributes land to tenant farmers, even as he (shudder) promotes workers' cooperatives, and (outrage!) squeezes taxes out of giant oil companies.
Is there any doubt that Chavez would be ousted if not for his hand on the spigot.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Global warming? Nah, just more Intelligent Design

The times, they are a changing... Green Car Congress reports on another study confirming major climate and ecosystem changes due to global warming: Seasonally Ice-Free Arctic Appears Locked and Loaded:

Current warming trends in the Arctic will shove the Arctic system into a seasonally ice-free state not seen for more than one million years, according to a new report.

While this is not the first forecast of the melting of Arctic sea ice due to global warming, the authors indicate that not only is melting accelerating, but that they were unable to identify any natural processes that might slow the de-icing of the Arctic, land and sea.

Over at WorldChanging there's been a lot of talk about the need for "terraforming" projects to help counter changes like this by helping the earth become more earth-like again. Yipes.

TPM: The Bolton Civil Wars

Steve Clemons, subbing for Josh Marshall at TPM, has been out in front of the breaking news of Bolton's first big move at the UN: The Bolton Civil Wars

For those who followed the Bolton battle from early March through August, one of the real issues with John Bolton is that he was constantly attempting to undermine Colin Powell, Richard Armitage and others but did so with Dick Cheney's blessing.

There is evidence bubbling to the surface—not altogether clear—but pointing to the possibility that Bolton has already stepped out of his holding pen and is undermining Condi Rice and Bob Zoellick—again with Dick Cheney's blessing.
Just when it looked like the grown-ups were back in charge...

Book review: Everything Bad Is Good For You

Sitting by a lake in the woods near Yosemite, far from the nearest hotspot, might seem like and odd place to read a book extolling the merits of wired media and pop culture. But for a blog obsessed on-line junkie, it was the perfect setting. No web to distract me. No blogs to read or write. And my knee was killing me, so my usual routine of hiking, biking, and sports was out of the question. There was no choice but to settle down on the lawn at Camp Mather and dive in.

Everything Bad Is Good For You
How Toady's Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter

Steven Johnson has some very interesting things to say about Gaming, TV, and pop culture. He takes a very novel approach to challenging the commonly held assumption that pop culture is vapid, and TV and gaming are bad for you. Au contraire! He'll have us believe that the demands of modern high tech culture are making us smarter-that we are enriched and challenged by our media and our hobbies more than every before. As he postulates near the beginning of the book,

"The most debased forms of mass diversion - video games and violent television dramas and juvenile sitcoms - turn out to be nutritional after all. For decades, we've worked under the assumption that mass culture follows a steadily declining path towards lowest-common-denominator standards, presumably because the "masses" want dumb, simple pleasures and big media companies want to give the masses what they want. But in fact, the opposite is happening: the culture is getting more intellectually demanding, not less."

He traces an ambitious arc across this slender 200 page book, attempting to borrow from "economics, narrative theory, social network analysis, neuroscience" to make his point.

I'm here to heartily recommend that you run right out and give it a read. It's a fun, provocative, and engaging book that will change the way you think about the media and technology all around us. It is a very hopeful book that does a good job of skewering well-meaning critics of pop culture who just don't get it. I really wish everyone I work with at Leapfrog would read it.

I'm also here to say that he takes the ball and runs way past his blockers. He stretches a few pithy observations to the breaking point. It's only a 200-page summer best seller, not an academic text. There are many key assumptions underlying his argument and many interpretations that bear closer examination. He just does not have the room to elaborate or carefully substantiate many of his claims. Instead he gallops along at a lively clip, trying just a bit too hard to convince us that Grand Theft Auto is brain food.

Maybe his work will inspire others to write the more detailed analyses. Maybe he will inspire researchers to conduct the carefully designed studies and experiments that will prove or disprove his assertions. I'm sure their books will be a lot less interesting.

The book starts with his most cogent observations about video gaming. Johnson starts with careful target selection. He does not want to talk about the content or meaning of games. He rejects that analysis in favor of a more "systematic" approach. He sets out to identify how kids play games and why they play them. He examines a gamer's obsessive, immersive dive into the imaginative world of the game. The way a player gets into their role and probes and explores the game world is, as he notes, not often described. I've tried playing my kids' games, and I've watched them playing over the years. I'm no gamer but I can understand the allure. Johnson captures it in his description of the problems solving, the probing and telescoping, and the decision making required to map out an objective and do it.

He jumps into the neuroscience pool to explain how games are not an opiate, but a gin seng for the brain, offering heaping servings of cognitive nutrition. He lays it on a bit thick I'm not totally buying it when he uses the science to support the idea that content doesn't matter, that Zelda, GTA, Sims… offer the same rewards in proportion to the cognitive challenge overcome. That may be true at some level. But GTA is still not playing on our PS2.

I dug the way he uses Zelda, Windwalker as an example of a mental workout. Sam loves that game and has played it at length, so he was able to audit those sections of the book with me - he corroborated the details of the "pearl of Din" case study. Sam was most happy to help prove gaming is educational!

Next up after gaming comes TV. For me, this was a much harder pill to swallow.

I agree with a lot of what he was saying about the evolution of TV programming. Most of the examples he uses are shows I know well and watch frequently. It is true that good TV programming today is flowering and getting more and more interesting. Plots are more layered, interwoven and complex. Large casts of characters have more varied, intersecting "social networks." He shows how TV programming is changing and becoming more complex and more challenging - at least for the "cream of the crop" shows he cites as examples.

His deepest insight about TV concerns the economics of syndication. He shows how the change that comes when you design the programming to be seen over and over changes the creative game. Instead of 100 separate, self-contained 30 minute shows, you now have a 50 hour epic in 100 multi-layered installments. Instead of superficial pabulum that anyone can fully appreciate on the first viewing you have shows that are watched again and again. Technologies like cable, VHS, DVD and the web have changed the format for the better. It carries over into movies to. Instead of formulaic Disney fare for kids, you have food films like Finding Nemo or Shrek.

OK. Good point. I like those shows and movies he talks about.

But what about 80% or Nickelodeon? For that matter, what about any kids programming? "The Simpson's" or Pixar films are about as close as he gets. What about commercialism? Like MTV? Its also much harder to argue that content is not relevant in TV. Of course it is.

When he trots out Reality TV and tries to measure it on some "emotional intelligence" axis, I have to gag. There may be some redeeming qualities to shows like The Apprentice or Survivor. Or maybe not. But he claims to be comparing Bad TV of old with Bad TV of today, but I don't think he knows or cares to talk about the true bottom of the barrel today. It's not a pretty sight.

If I'm not buying the reality TV defense, you can be sure I wasn't about to be taken with his defense of TV on politics:

"So what we're getting out of the much-maligned Oprahization of politics is not boxers-or-briefs personal trivia - its crucial information about the emotional IQ of a potential president, information we had almost no access to until television came along and gave us the tight focus."

If only TV gave us any insight into any real personal traits of the candidates, or allowed us to be voyeurs observing the real people. No, we get none of that.. There is nothing unscripted or real on the campaign trail. Instead of emotional IQ we get Ann Coulter. Instead of authentic, strong individuals TV gives us an animatronic smirking chimp to lead us. Shudder.

What I really liked about this book was its basic optimism. Our culture is not debased. It's not just a race to the bottom. The kids are not mindless slackers after all. In fact, maybe all our children really are above average in Johnson's digital Lake Wobegon. Maybe we're actually getting smarter.

There is much in the book about the Flynn Effect, attempting to credit pop culture for making our IQs rise. I don't know if it's true. What do I know about the Flynn Effect? Nada. But it is nice to spend a few pages wondering why we're all getting smarter.

My bet would be to attribute this Flynn Effect to things like the end of child labor and post war nutrition. Especially since the gains have been strongest in the lower end of the IQ spectrum. Maybe being poor isn't as nasty as it used to be.

Or maybe Johnson is right and it's The Sopranos, Finding Nemo, Half Life, The Sims and all the rest of Pop Culture that's our brains' Wonder Bread.

Either way, the kid's all right. And gaming and TV are not rotting their brains. It's really good to get a dose of that point of view. "Everything Bad Is Good For You" dishes it up in delectable portions. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Body and Soul: Withdrawal

Another great voice heard from. Body and Soul: Withdrawal:

I'm not a wonk. I'm not a military expert. But neither are most Americans. The important thing is that right now, for whatever reason, most Americans finally recognize that this war is a nightmare they want to wake up from. They are more than ready to listen to plans for getting out. And in all honesty, whether they hear my call to get out now, Kevin's call for a 'gradual timed withdrawal' (and 51 percent of them are echoing Kevin) or Russ Feingold's plan to get everybody home in time to ring in 2007, is less important to me than making sure the national conversation is about getting out, not digging in.
Pardon me while I echo loudly. This idea is in the air. Breath it in! How can Bush put this genie back in the bottle? He can't.

Thank you, Cindy Sheehan.

Earth Observatory: Microbe Has Huge Role in Ocean Life, Carbon Cycle

I love it. A tiny organism -- the smallest free-living cell known -- that was not even observed until 1990 -- may be the most prosperous life form on earth? Microbe Has Huge Role in Ocean Life, Carbon Cycle:

In a publication today in the journal Science, scientists outlined the growing knowledge about SAR11, a group of bacteria so dominant that their combined weight exceeds that of all the fish in the world's oceans. In a marine environment that's low in nutrients and other resources, they are able to survive and replicate in extraordinary numbers—a milliliter of sea water off the Oregon coast might contain 500,000 of these cells.
How beautiful, for the world to be revealing itself, for our advancing knowledge, and for the utter mystery and miracle of it all.

And while I have you here... Check out the NASA Earth Observatory site, and especially their new image gallery. They have an RSS feed that I use that combines a lot of interesting news and images. Very cool stuff.

The Religious Policeman on Punishing Disobedient Wives

The Religious Policeman is "The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment." He is a brave soul who bears witness to many outrageous things in the Saudi Kingdom. For a while his blog went silent—which was worisome for a blogger like him—and now he has returned ith lots to say. Check him out. And check out this entry, Punishing Disobedient Wives:

"Dear Alhamedi
My wife won't do what I tell her. What should I do?
Dear "Inadequate from Dammam". The answer is all in the Quran. As it says there
1. Tell her to behave.
...if that doesn't work...
2. Go and sleep by yourself
...and if that doesn't work...
3. Beat her
...because that works every time

No, this isn't black humor, along the lines of Humphrey Bogart's ghost's advice to Woody Allen in "Play it again Sam"
"Dames are simple. I never met one that didn't understand a slap in the mouth or a slug from a forty-five."

Instead it's real life advice, written by Ghada Al-Hori and published in the "Al Watan" newspaper, in 2005 (and that's CE, not BC)

Punishing Disobedient Wives

Really, the title says it all, but sadly, there's far more. It's what you get when you take:

  • a book written 1400 years ago
  • and an absolutely literal, fundamentalist interpretation
  • by someone with no sense of reality or balance
  • who was 'educated' at the worst Theological College in the world, the Imam University in Riyadh.

The result is the religion as practiced in Saudi Arabia, and many other parts of the world if the fundamentalists get their way.

Here's an idea—Let's christen "The Global War on Fundamentalists" and unify all the world in the fight for liberation.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Chron: Sunnis offer an exit plan

The urgent need for the US to extricate itself from the Iraqi war is becoming more and more obvious to more and more people. For career officers in the military, for the realist Republicans like Chuck Hagel, for Democrats like Barbara Lee, Lynne Woolsey, Russ Feingold, and dozens of others, for so many Americans it is becoming clear that we must find a way out.

So its both hopeful and surprising to hear that a possible consensus is emerging among Iraqi Sunnis on how to do just that without making the mess worse. Check this out from the SF Chron: Sunnis offer an exit plan

Largely unnoticed amid the U.S. political debate, al-Rawi and other Sunni leaders close to the insurgency have reached tacit consensus over the broad outline of an interim program to reduce the violence, stabilize the country and thus enable the U.S.-led coalition troops to begin a gradual withdrawal. While differences remain on some points, there is wide agreement on these steps:

  • A troop pullout from most urban areas and an end to military checkpoints and raids. "The Americans and British must leave all residential areas," said al-Rawi. [...]
  • Overhaul of the Iraqi Army and National Guard. [...]
  • Release of prisoners. [...]
  • Amnesty for pro-Baathist, radical Islamist and hard-line nationalist groups, while excluding al Qaeda. [...]
  • Negotiations with the "resistance." [...]

"We realize that it will take a long time for the Americans to leave. We cannot say six months or 12 months, because we may have to change the plan when the situation changes. If the Americans start taking real steps, if the Iraqi people feel that they will no longer be occupied, they will say with one voice to the terrorists, 'Please leave us.' And they will go," he said.

"But in this situation now, when the troops are even in our universities, our mosques, our houses, it is impossible."

Its not a simplistic "Get out now" recipe. It is not blind to the danger of jihadi insurgents. It is a realistic way to gradually lessen the violence, reduce our military presence, and give Iraqis a chance to establish their own peace.

Zakaria - Mile by Mile, Into the Oil Trap

Another solid article by Fareed Zakaria: Mile by Mile, Into the Oil Trap

If I could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be? The answer is easy, but it's not something most of us think of as foreign policy. I would adopt a serious national program geared toward energy efficiency and independence. Reducing our dependence on oil would be the single greatest multiplier of American power in the world.

He ends with this bullseye:
We don't need a Manhattan Project to find our way out of our current energy trap. The technologies already exist. But what we're searching for is perhaps even harder: political leadership and vision.
Actually, I think we do need a Manhattan Project. The coming oil crises have the potential to be catastrophic. I believe it will take an Apollo-style effort to bring real solutions on-line in time.

Yet Zakaria is right. Finding the silver bullet is putting the cart before the horse. What we need first and foremost is real leadership.

The Rude Pundit - Speech, Free and Otherwise

Kids, avert your eyes and ears. Here comes the Rude Pundit in fine form. After warming up with a sincere Free Speech defense of the author of Redneck Nation, The Rude One follows up with this well place kick to Pat Robertson's groin:

But if you support [the 1st Amdnement] wholeheartedly, even for those you despise, you can feel free, free, so liberatedly free to say things like: 'Fuck you, Pat Robertson, you squinty-eyed shitbag, so full of years of unmitigated hate and bile that it oozes out of you like pus from an untreated herpes sore. And fuck anyone who still buys that said bag of shit is anything even remotely related to Christianity and is gonna defend Robertson no matter what crazed nightmare vision of reality spews from him like vomit from a flu-ridden toddler. Like male dogs who suck their own balls to get little red hard-ons, you 700 Club fans want everyone to see your proud, slimy cocks, but, really, you're just blowin' yourself. Robertson wants the U.S. to assassinate legally-elected Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Ain't that what we call a 'fatwa' in other contexts? Or should we just call it more bloviation and bullshit from a man who's been buggering Jesus on live television for decades?'

Intel Dump - Another officer steps forward on Able Danger

Intel Dump - Another officer steps forward on Able Danger:

Captain Phillpott has admitted that he was the naval officer that briefed the September 11 commission on Able Danger. The commission reported 'the officer's account was not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation' and that the intelligence operation 'did not turn out to be historically significant.'

A defense contractor has also corroborated the claims regarding Able Danger and Atta.

At this point I think we might want to know why the September 11 commission didn't think Able Danger warranted further investigation.
Intel Dump has been a primary source for a lot of the Able Danger story, with LTC Shaffer posting informaiton there, and some of the group bloggers providing first hand vetting of the sources and players involved. Its a bit of a fishy story, with the motives and validity hard to discern from the outside. But any Able Danger fan has to dig into the information found on Intel Dump.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Get Real - New York Times

Get Real - New York Times: "the Bush doctrine has collapsed, and the administration has consequently embraced realism, American foreign policy's perennial hangover cure."

"Seen in proper perspective, in other words, the Bush administration's signature efforts represent not some durable, world-historical shift in America's approach to foreign policy but merely one more failed idealistic attempt to escape the difficult trade-offs and unpleasant compromises that international politics inevitably demand - even from the strongest power since Rome. Just as they have so many times before, the realists have come in after an election to offer some adult supervision and tidy up the joint."

Friday, August 19, 2005

RSS failing to gain audience mindshare

Seems that not enough of the interenet has read my article How do I read your blog? They still don't know about RSS, according to this article over at Ars Technica, RSS failing to gain audience mindshare:

Although RSS feeds were pioneered by the blogs, online news presences such as CNN and others soon joined the fun, and it's common to see a small orange 'XML' icon on many pages these days. But are people using them? Not according to recent surveys:

Nielsen/NetRatings polled 1,000 members of its research panel who read blogs. It found that nearly two-thirds of the respondents either never heard of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) or did not know what the technology is used for. The study found only 11% of Web log readers use RSS to monitor blogs...

...According to a Pew Research survey released in January, less than 6% of U.S. Internet users take advantage of RSS. Despite the low adoption figure,

Only 1 in 10 blog readers and 1 in 20 web surfers use RSS? Get with the program folks! (Hmmm.... does that mean that half of all web surfers read blogs? Curious...)

I have at least one friend hooked up with my blog's RSS feed. Most browsers offer simple RSS support that lets you subscribe to a feed and see the headlines easily without having to visit the site. But the real power comes when you have a decent feed manager like Bloglines or Rojo or Feedburner that lets you manage multiple feeds in one place. I visit my bloglines page and I get to see all of my subscriptions on one page. I can click on a blog and see titles, summaries, and in some cases whole blog postings without having to visit the blog. It really changes the game.

But if you don't believe me, or just don't get it, maybe Scott Rosenberg can explain it better. Here is an article I read on back in December 2003 that got me started. It didn't immediately lead to my current blog addiction, but it planted the seed. Here, in full, is Scott's article:

That 1994 feeling

RSS delivers a long-promised Internet dream—getting you the information you want from the people you want without hassle or bother.

By Scott Rosenberg

Dec. 4, 2003 | What if someone had sat you down in 1994 and told you, "There's this new thing called HTML, and it's going to change how we get much of our news and information"? (Maybe you were lucky enough that someone actually did this for you. It happened to me—though it took more than one introduction for the message finally to get through.)

You would probably have thought, "'HTML'? Sheesh, couldn't they come up with a better name?"

But of course, they had: The name was the World Wide Web, a term that instantly conveyed a rich metaphor for the global orgy of linking that was about to commence.

RSS, a similarly opaque name for a similarly important technology, is at just such a moment in its history. This much-argued-over but basically elementary technical standard allows you to subscribe to blogs—or any other source of information.

What's the big deal in that? Bigger than it looks. The simple combination of blogs and RSS presages a whole new model for personal publishing and communication online that's already taking shape.

Think for a moment how many of us have come to use the Web as part of our daily rounds. I've been assiduously keeping a roster of bookmarks for years now. Browsers (even my beloved Opera) have never made this as easy as it could be, but the real problem with bookmarks is that they're dumb—they can't tell you whether there's anything new on a site.

Bookmarks and blogs seem to be the perfect couple, but they work well together only with those blogs that are feverishly updated around the clock. You don't really need to ask whether Boing Boing or Dave Winer have updated their blogs, because the answer is nearly always yes, and a click on a bookmark to their sites is nearly always rewarded with new stuff.

Where bookmarks break down is with those blogs that are irregularly and infrequently updated. Who wants to keep reloading those Web pages only to find there's nothing new on them? This is where RSS comes in. If you're consuming your blogs not through a browser but through an RSS "aggregator," or reader—there are dozens out there now, many of them free—the aggregator will tell you which of the sites you've subscribed to has new material.

That single, simple interface upgrade changes everything. Suddenly, it becomes easy to subscribe to dozens, even hundreds of feeds from pundits, friends, organizations, companies you're interested in. You'd never, ever be able to keep up with so many under the browser/bookmark model.

"Who has time to read hundreds of blogs?" I hear you objecting—"I can't even keep up with InstaPundit!"

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding of the blogging phenomenon arises from the sheer volume of postings in the highest-profile blogs. We tend to think of these as the models for all blogs—but they're not the rule. Most bloggers don't update around the clock. Many of my favorite bloggers post relatively infrequently, once a week or less. Some high-profile ones—like Lotus Notes creator and Groove founder Ray Ozzie—allow months to pass between posts.

With RSS, it doesn't matter. The next time Ozzie drops an important posting—like his presentation of prior art evidence in the Eolas lawsuit against Microsoft—I'll know.

The beauty of RSS is that it lets you build an ad hoc network of experts and friends whose postings you want to tune in to. Then you don't have to think about it again. Along with blogs, RSS fulfills the Internet visionaries' prediction that we'd all find a set of "human filters" to help us navigate the new information seas.

For those with long memories of the Web industry, RSS is what was once called "push" technology, but done right this time, from the grass roots up. It's a level playing field shared by individuals and big and small publishers. Salon, the New York Times and many other publications have long offered their headlines in RSS form. All you need is any one of a multitude of blogging tools (like Radio UserLand, which we use here for Salon Blogs) to begin distributing your own.

I started seriously using RSS to read my blogs in the last couple of months. I'm now closing in on 100 subscriptions in my Bloglines aggregator—and instead of wasting time clicking on bookmarks, I'm finding it's getting easier and easier to keep up with a wider set of subjects. (Bloglines is a free Web-based application; you can find a list of many other flavors of RSS reader here.) Every day, some new resource I enjoy or depend on has begun offering an RSS feed. That's where the RSS explosion really makes it feel like 1994 all over again.

Like HTML before it, RSS is neither especially elegant nor hugely complex. Like HTML, it has been the subject of a certain amount of high-profile bickering. (Here's one survey of the technical story from Mark Pilgrim, and here's Dave Winer's take on some of the issues that have divided RSS developers.) And like HTML, it has achieved wide adoption, in spite of some version incompatibilities, because of its essential simplicity and eminent usefulness.

But unlike HTML, it does not have a good name yet, a label—like "the Web"—that quickly conveys to a nontechnical person what it's all about. RSS's initials have stood, at various points in its evolution, for "Rich Site Summary," "RDF Site Summary," "Really Simple Syndication," and probably other phrases I'm forgetting. None of these does us much good.

RSS needs a better colloquial name. And easier, more intuitive interfaces for aggregators. And a simpler method for subscribing to feeds (right now you need to copy the URL from one of those increasingly ubiquitous orange "XML" buttons on a site—if you click on the button, you'll just get raw XML in your browser, which confuses novice users no end).

Once those barriers are overcome, and I don't doubt they will be, I don't see anything else in the way of RSS becoming a vast tide in the affairs of the Net. RSS isn't going to replace e-mail, as some have suggested; but the ravages of spam make it an increasingly attractive alternative for many kinds of one-to-many communication. Some publications are already experimenting with ads in RSS feeds. Microsoft says it's building a ton of RSS support into its next-generation Longhorn operating system. And, since RSS is a format for structured XML data, there's a lot more that programmers can and will do with it beyond the simple subscribe-and-aggregate model that has put it on the map.

Like so many other online innovations, RSS found its first avid users in the world of software developers. But it has already leapt out of that subculture and developed avid followings in politics, law, medicine and other fields. As the lines between "publisher" and "subscriber," "producer" and "audience" get increasingly blurred and decreasingly useful, RSS will be at the center of the action—helping deliver on the Internet's promise of personal publishing for all. If, as the saying in the blogosphere has it, "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 people," RSS is how your 15 readers will keep up with you—and how you will keep up with as many others as you want.

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About the writer

Scott Rosenberg is Salon's managing editor.

Ok, I know. I really should not have posted that much of their copyrighted material. Sorry Salon. Can I make up for it by recommending that anyone still reading this far should run over and subscribe to Salon? Piss Rush off right now and give them your subscription money. Its not much.

Still on a Camp Mather high

Haven't really gotten back into the blogging routine after my week in Camp Mather. I hope to review one or both of the books I red up there -- Everything Bad is Good for You, and My Forbidden Face.

I'm really ambivalent about writing about Camp Mather. As I told one camper at one of our Happy Hours, there is something dissonant about combining blogging with Camp Mather. Maybe sacrilegious.

For now I'll just offer up this link to my recent Flickr photos of the trip. That may be enough of an explanation of why I love the place. Enjoy.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Kos: Corruption isn't a partisan issue

Next up is another one of my mainstays, Kos, weighing in on another one of my favorite themes, Corruption isn't a partisan issue:

The moral imperative behind a 'clean government' crusade is self-evident. But there's also a practical reason to oppose corruption even amongst Democrats -- it's a sure-fire way to lose elections. Rampant Democratic corruption cost us Congress in 1994, and we've yet to recover. And continued Democratic corruption has made House Dems wary of charging ahead with the 'corruption' theme to hard, lest some of the current members get snared in the web.

Good. Let those who sit in Congress enriching themselves go down. They are supposed to be doing the people's business, not their own. Unlike the GOP apologists, I consider corruption a non-partisan issue. I'd like to see them all thrown out with the Capitol trash.

I agree wholeheartedly. I just wonder who can provide the leverage to bring down the corrupt house. Maybe Kos can?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Whiskey Bar: Dog Day Afternoon

After a week spent relaxing in the woods near Yosemite at Camp Mather, there is no chance I can "catch up" with all my regular blogs. So I'll skim my favorites, like Billmon who comes down hot and heavy with this one, Dog Day Afternoon:

One angry mom is dangerous enough, especially when the President of the United States insists on being her unofficial publicist. But now there are 300 of them standing in the dirt and the heat down in Crawford -- and millions more watching on TV, silently asking themselves the same questions Sheehan wants to ask Bush: How did we get into this mess? How do we get out? Have our sons and daughters been sent to die in vain?

The machine can try to demonize Cindy Sheehan. But it can't demonize those questions -- not any more, not when so many others are asking them. Here in the dog days of August, it appears the rabid curs of the authoritarian right have finally met their match, in the form of a middle-aged woman in a sunhat, holding in her hand the metaphorical equivalent of a rolled-up newspaper for wacking bad little GOP doggies (and presidents) on the nose.

If that's not enough to shake off the dog day blues, I don't know what is.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Orzo, Pine Nut, and Feta Salad

A gift from Epicurios to me to you. This recipe is great for picnics, potlucks. It always works and its easy to make. One key: use your best olive oil. It absolutely is worth it here. Orzo, Pine Nut, and Feta Salad:

Active time: 15 min Start to finish: 30 min


1 lb -- orzo
3 tablespoons -- fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup -- olive oil
1/2 cup -- pine nuts, toasted
6 oz -- feta, crumbled
1 cup -- thinly sliced scallion greens


Cook orzo in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender, then drain well in a colander.

Whisk together lemon juice, oil, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl, then add hot orzo and toss. Cool orzo, then toss with pine nuts, feta, and scallion greens. Season with salt and pepper.

Cooks' note:

  • Toast pine nuts in a shallow baking pan in a 350°F oven until golden, 5 to 10 minutes.
Makes 8 side-dish servings.
August 2001

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Wolf Palette: The Wolves of Yellowstone

Thanks to WorldChanging, I found this article on the return of wolves to Yellowstone. Seems appropriate as I get ready for a week up in the Sierra.

There is color in the land again. Or perhaps the color was always there, like a pigment in the soil, but was simply rendered imperceptible for a while. But not for long. Not all that much separated the land—famous already for the mineral-rich hues of its cliffs and mountains, its gurgling hot springs and bubbling mudpots—in terms of time or space, from the breath of the wolves that would bring the color back like painters.

In the ten years since the wolves have been back they have reshaped huge sections of an awkwardly leaning ecosystem[...]

By pruning the wildly excessive elk numbers, and by forcing the elk to be elk again, the Yellowstone wolves kept the elk herds on the move, allowing overgrazed riparian areas to recover. The elk were no longer encamping in any one spot like feedlot animals, and the restored riverbanks served as nesting and feeding habitat for songbirds of different hues. Blink, and a howl equals the color yellow.

Where previously the overcrowded and static elk and deer herds conspired to keep stands of aspen from regenerating, browsing with sharp teeth any and all young aspen suckers as soon as they emerged, the beautiful groves of aspen, snow-white bark and quivering gold leaves in the fall, are now prospering, flaring back up on the landscape like so many tens of thousands of autumn-lit candles. Entire mountain ranges are ultimately being painted anew—more color, more vitality, more light—by the arrival of, initially, a mated pair of wolves, an alpha male and female, followed by the next wave of other wolves, new wolves.

Certainly the renewal of the aspen, and of streamside deciduous trees that had previously been repressed by the overabundance of elk—willow, cottonwood, ninebark, chokecherry—is not limited to showcase-only values of painterly aesthetics. As in all of wild nature, there is function everywhere—purpose, meaning, and a sophistication beyond our wildest dreams. Cerulean, sapphire, bordeaux, jade—the return of deciduous saplings to the hoof-cut, denuded riverbanks once abused by too many elk has been good for more than songbirds and artists. Beavers, too, have prospered, able now to access their requisite building and feeding materials without needing to venture so far into dangerous territory. This has resulted in the return of more backwater ponds and pools and eddies, the filtering and life-support systems for so much other river life, and provided a greater distribution of nutrients in the shallow sloughs that back up and create gentle floods behind the beaver dams. In these shallow areas of submersion young cottonwoods prosper—more flame color, and more beaver habitat.

On overly long excerpt, I know. Please follow the link and read the whole thing. Its a very beautiful image it portrays. May it be retold in the future about other returned species and other reinvigorated wildlands.

Photothop is not the problem

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Where is Khalid?

This story is actually about Khalid Jarrar and his recent arrest and release from a Mukhabarat prison. But lets rewind.

Reading Salam Pax may have been what first hooked me into reading blogs. I caught on to Salam's "Where is Raed" blog after the war started. Meeting him and Riverbend during and after the shooting war got me hooked on blogs. Their words were immediate, personal, direct and moving. They erased so much distance. Gave me a way of listening in on life during war in Baghdad. I was already obsessed with reading about the Afghan, then Iraqi news -- blogs gave more depth, a more human dimension to news of wars and politics and policy.

Through Salam we met the actual Raed and others in his famlily, Khalid, and their mother Fazia. The whole Jarrar family. Bloggers all. Pretty cool. I don't read every post of their blogs time, but I keep tabs on them. After Fallujah they started an effort to bring supplies to the city. Then there was a remeberance of Marla Ruzicka.

So when Khalid was arrested recently, it set off ripples through the Iraqi blogger community that I picked up on immediately. I read about it in Riverbend, Helena Cobban, Justin Alexander... Once again blogs were able to add a personal, human dimension to on ongoing story of prisoners in Iraq and the Iraqi form of justice. Its one thing to read about conditions in places like Abu Ghraib. Its another to worry if someone you (sort of) know is there or not. To be able to read this friend's family blogging about it was unique.

Now he is free and has written a long description of his arrest and detention. One thing really jumped out at me. Starrled me.

He was arrested for surfing the web.
Visiting his brother's blog.

Then finally I understood why I was there, after few hours. Security guards at the university had printed out all the websites I was reading while I was online there. They were accusing me of "reading terrorism sites" and "having communications with foreign terrorists".
"Do you know what these pages are?"
I looked at them and figured out they were the comment section of Raed in the Middle!!
I opened the comments section while browsing in the university, read some comments, and didn’t even post anything. But these people don’t seem to know what the internet is, and they don’t speak English, so I was a major suspect of being an assistant of al Zarqawi maybe! Or that I have a terrorist group of my own, with foreign connections!

Chilling to me. It humbles me to think of the liberties we enjoy here and compare it to Khalid's life. Khalid's humility at his good fortune (he got out) has inspired a new initiative to establish three basic rights for Iraqi detainees.

  1. the right to inform their families about their location within 24 hours of detention
  2. the right to appear in front of a judge within 48 hours of detention
  3. the right to a public defender

Let's hope they can achieve this modest goal. It would be a simple, solid step to rebuilding a civil society there.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sue NASA again, quick!

These scientists at NASA are really messing with our celestial alignment. First they lob a refrigerator at a comet, hitting it at something like 35,000 kilometers per hour (that's really, really fast!). The resulting Deep Impact has had the predictable effect of "ruining the natural balance of forces in the universe". Didn't they know this would happen? So naturally an agrieved Russian astrologer, Marina Bai, is suing NASA for $300M for violating her "life and holies". I know $300M would go a long way towards restoring my life and holies.

And now, what are they doing? Finding new planets? Once again they're messing with the universe. Throwing another monkey wrench in our prayer wheel. Will these insults never stop? I have an idea! NASA should let Bai name the new planet. She'll come up with something better than 2003UB313.