Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Pleased no violations of the law were found? Pleased?

Posted by metaphorical on 10 December 2006

As we wait for the Democrats and the 110th Congress to begin in January, let’s remember that in the 109th, the minority party didn’t exactly abstain from earmarks, boondoggles, or ethics violations.

So when we look at this, are we seeing the dying gasp of Republicans, putting their own malfeasances to bed while still the majority party, or is it a harbinger of demoralizations to come? Here’s a clue, 110th Congress. We didn’t elect you to make sure laws weren’t technically violated. Start doing the right thing, or you’ll go the way of the 109th.

Panel blasts Hastert in Foley scandal

WASHINGTON – Former Rep. Mark Foley was described as a “ticking time bomb” for his sexual come-ons to male pages, but Republican lawmakers and aides for a decade failed to protect the teenagers vulnerable to his advances, the House ethics committee concluded Friday. Despite that finding, the panel said no rules had been broken and no one should be punished.

The committee harshly criticized Speaker
Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., saying the evidence showed he was told of the problem months before he acknowledged learning of Foley’s questionable e-mails to a former Louisiana page. It rejected Hastert’s contention that he couldn’t recall separate warnings from two House Republican leaders.

Hastert said he was pleased the committee found “there was no violation of any House rules by any member or staff.”

Hopefully we the voters can’t be so easily pleased.

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Smugness, Thy Name is Bennett

Posted by metaphorical on 8 December 2006

In all my time in Washington I’ve never seen such smugness, arrogance, or such insufferable moral superiority.

— William Bennett, National Review Online

This, from a man Joshua Green once dubbed “The Bookie of Virtue”? Bennett asks, “Who are these commissioners and what is their expertise in Iraq — or even foreign policy?” Um, Bill, did you not notice that James Baker, a few chairs down when you both sat at the Reagan Cabinet table, subsequently served as Secretary of State, while the closest you ever came to foreign policy was as drug czar?

But after a shaky start, Bennett stands tall and high on his hobby horse:

James Baker opened his thoughts today by saying Iraqis “have been liberated from the nightmare of a tyrannical order only to face the nightmare of brutal violence.” So much for any moral distinction between a terrorist sponsoring dictatorship and an embattled, weak, effort toward self-government. The distinction between permanent darkness and days of light and darkness both, and a hope for dawn was lost.

It’s clear that Bennett, never the master of his prose, has completely lost the morning’s battle with it. So let’s go to to Dr. Orwell, and see if we can’t get a diagnosis.

(From Politics and the English Language, of course:)

The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of WORDS chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of PHRASES tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.

Or, to put it more simply, Bill, you’re breaking Rule #1:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

I can’t say that on first blush that the Iraq Study Group looked like it went all the way when it came to telling truth to power, but watching the neocons flail like a prickle of porcupines thrown into the deep end of the pool (Rush Limbaugh, apparently, is calling it “The Iraq Surrender Group”) makes me wonder if maybe they did a decent job after all.

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God, grant Google virtue

Posted by metaphorical on 5 December 2006

The other day I mentioned paidpostingtools.com, and the seemingly growing market for people willing to “post to forums, blog, place comments on blogs and write custom articles” for small sums of money.

In that context, it’s worth pointing out some other growing areas of content fraud.

C|Net has a good story on the rigging of ratings on aggregation sites like Digg and del.icio.us

The big Digg rig

So-called social-media sites, which let users decide what’s newsworthy, are dealing with scammers trying to game their systems.

“Now, dubious Internet marketers are planting stories, paying people to promote items, and otherwise trying to manipulate rankings on Digg and other so-called social-media sites like Reddit and Delicious to drum up more links to their Web sites and thus more business, experts say.”

And then there’s the problem of click fraud. Wired worried about it back in January, and now BusinessWeek has an article about the Augustinian box Google is in, needing to combat it, yet reluctant to take certain steps, such as working with law enforcement. (Augustine famously prayed, “God, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”)

The Vanishing Click-Fraud Case

“Hundreds of thousands of advertisers that market on Google’s search engine also let Google distribute their ads to other Web sites. When an ad is clicked on a partner site, both Google and the Web site operator split the revenue and the advertiser is charged. If such a click is bogus, and gets through the search company’s filters, Google still profits, at least in the short run—leaving some in the industry suspicious of its efforts to combat fraud.”

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Broadband wolverines

Posted by metaphorical on 4 December 2006

There’s an interesting story about broadband this week coming out of Michigan.

AT&T Michigan to Invest $620 Million, Hire 2000 Workers if Bill Passes

LANSING, Mich. – AT&T Michigan on Thursday announced a three-year plan to invest $620 million in upgraded technology and hire 2000 employees across Michigan. AT&T expects about 1200 of these jobs to be in place by the end of 2007.

There’s just one catch: a controversial bill would have to pass in order for the cash to flow freely. AT&T cited House Bill 6456 as the catalyst for the commitment. The bill, which passed the Michigan House on Nov. 14, 2006 in a lame-duck session, addresses cable and video franchising in the state.

In the meantime, activists have jumped in to try to get some form of net neutrality into the legislation as well.

I blogged about this at work so here I’ll just jump to the conclusion: adding net neutrality to this bill is locking the barn door after most of the horse has passed through it, and there are better ways to go, such as municipal networks (which I wrote about in May ( “A Broadband Utopia” ), and true net neutrality, built right into the fabric of the network, as the British are doing (which I have an article in January about).

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The New York Pirates

Posted by metaphorical on 24 November 2006

What exactly is the problem with renaming Shea Stadium? It’s not as if it’s named for the team, or some individual who wasn’t a political hack who built a stadium that was neither on time nor under budget, nor as planned (where’s the dome and the other 35,000 seats?). Denis Hamill’s otherwise estimable rant is typical.

“What’s next,” Hamill asks, “the Chaseboro Bridge? The Citisphere? North Fork Hall of Science? Hey, how about the Statue of Liberty Mutual?” The difference between a bridge and ballpark, Denis, is that one is an inherently commercial enterprise with the ceaseless goal of screwing the municipality and its citizen-fans, all in the name of profit. If some sap corporation wants to kick in $400 million to fulfill some masochistic wet dream of its own, do we really care?

I grew up 30 blocks from Shea. I was 12 in Tom Seaver’s sophomore season (16-12, 205 SOs, 2.20), the first year I was allowed to go to games by myself. I used to ride my bike there and lock it up to the chainlink fence of the parking lot (and idea that today would be so stupid I’d deserve to have it stolen), or take the subway. In the glory year, one year later, I used to look in the afternoon paper, the Long Island Press, see who was pitching, and ask my mother for $2, enough for a round trip on the subway and a $1.30 general admission seat. Around the third inning I would relocate myself, but never lower than the yellow seats (the first decent viewpoint at a ballpark that, like Madison Square Garden, ought to give out binoculars to everyone in the cheap seats).

My friend Mike always knew which week in early autumn the stadium was switched over from baseball to football. The seats were angled away from the center, the field re-striped, and the dugouts filled in with dirt. We used to watch from the bullpens, casually throwing a football back and forth on the soft grass. I loved the stadium, but not necessarily the name.

Shea was a political hack attorney, hardly a rare breed in New York, nor one much worth celebrating. His first idea was to do to Cinncinnati, Philadelphia, or Pittsburgh what California did to New York. If that didn’t destroy whatever moral authority the new baseball enterprise would have, his next strategy was to fill the heart of an aging Branch Rickey with hope that he could run a ballclub one last time. With Rickey’s reputation and heart in his pocket, Shea announced plans to form a third baseball league. MLB quickly capitulated with four expansion teams, one in New York. Shea got his team, Rickey got nothing, and the stadium I grew up a mile and a half from was named for a hack.

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