Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Google's Big Announcement

The big tech news of the day is the Google has announced that they are scanning the contents of several libraries and making them available on the web. Wired has a nice piece here. Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine has some other suggestions as do his commenters.

One more: There is rather unique collection of information that unfortunately, is going the opposite direction of the efforts by Google. Vanderbilt University maintains the world’s largest collection of archived news footage. Rather than digitizing and making the entire collection available online, either independently or in conjunction with a partner like Google, Vanderbilt is making it more difficult to gain access to this wonderful resource.

As for the Google announcement rather than concentrating on the spread of information, which is a great thing indeed, it is important to look at another angle to this story. If society, at least first world society, is not at the point of being able to digitally record everything, this demonstrates that such a time is not far away at all. Publishing the entire contents of two university libraries and partial content from 3 more libraries will require vast amounts of storage space. Even a few years ago projects of this size would have been severely hampered by a long list of hurdles that would have included both bandwidth and storage capacity. As the cost per unit of both of these commodities continues to falls Google’s library project will likely look small and rather pedestrian in scope.

We are rapidly approaching a time when our capacity to store and stream/publish information exceeds the requirements of such efforts. Imagine an IP enables video camera, handheld, that can transmit its recordings directly to your own personal space on the Internet when your friends and family can see exactly what you saw as you toured Machu Picchu. Imagine it in real time, in the classroom, available at 1 AM as you research a paper due the next morning.

Projects like Google Library are tremendous for what they do to the spread of otherwise closed off information, available only to students at top universities before. It is even greater as a measure of technological development. Today’s announcement is far bigger than Google; the announcement gives present day observers, especially lay observers, the first good look at how the Internet is a far, far greater development than we can possibly fathom.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

UN Oil-for-Food

Democrats calling for Annan’s Head: (Via Instapundit)
It seems as if everyone is talking about Kofi Annan and the need to replace the head of the UN for the mismanagement and/or malfeasance associated with the Oil-for-Food scandal. No one is talking about the fact that Saddam was aided by no less than 3 permanent members of the Security Council. That placing “leaders” from smaller countries less involved in the interactions of the largest and most influential countries on the planet makes it easy for those same countries to manipulate the UN, Security Council, and the Secretary-General. You can replace Kofi Annan, but unless there is a change in the way the Secretary-General is determined, the exact same thing is likely to happen, over and over again anytime that one or more member of the Security Council seeks to subvert the power of the Secretary-General for their own nationalistic/internal/personal reasons.

This may also be of interest.

Kevin Drum's Questions, My Answers

· Considering how Iraq has gone so far, do you still think that American military power is a good way to promote tolerance and democracy in the Middle East? Has your position on this changed in any way over the past two years?

I would never use the word “tolerance” as an ideal any military promotes. That is not the job of a military. It may a goal of a “provisional authority,” but not a military. A military can be a means to the end of democracy. Any “hearts and minds” work that an actual military does should be seen as extra and treated as such. As for my position on Iraq, in general I still think it was better to have removed Hussein than to have allowed him to continue to rule Iraq. On a point by point level, I think we could have done things better. Troop commitments and especially placements after the fall of Saddam’s regime could have been handled better.

· Shortly after 9/11, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said publicly that they thought the attacks were well-deserved retribution from God in response to moral decay — as personified by gays, feminists, the ACLU, and NOW. Do you worry that Falwell and Robertson are identified by many as the face of the Republican party? Do you think President Bush has sufficiently distanced himself from them and their followers?

I will not defend Falwell and Robertson, now or then. I would like to see more distance between The President and them, yes.

· Is democracy promotion really one of your core concerns? Just how far are you willing to go to demonstrate your credibility on this subject? Note: President Bush's policy toward either Pakistan or Saudi Arabia would be excellent case studies to bring this question to life.

How many fronts do you want to open, Kevin? Fighting every battle at once is not a very good idea, from my perspective and it certainly does not demonstrate credibility on the subject. Pakistan has gone along way to help us. This was a tremendous risk for Musharraf and pushing for even more is quite a stretch. How does pushing them to the breaking point help us in fighting al Qaeda? Unlike Eastern Europe, for example, pro Western democracy advocates in the Middle East and Southeast Asia face considerably more internal hurdles.

· On a related note, which do you think is more important to the Bush administration in the short term: preservation of a stable oil supply from the Middle East or spreading freedom and liberty throughout the region? Would you be interested in seeing the records of Dick Cheney's 2001 energy task force to verify this? Please be extra honest with this question.

Given its importance to the entirety of Western economies stable oil supplies are not the trivial issue that some would like to make them and certainly not mutually exclusive with promotion of democracy as your question proposes. Spreading democracy must be weighed against many factors, including world economic stability. In purely voyeuristic terms, I’d very much like to see the records. I’m not sure that the records are crucially important to understanding our policy with regard to Iraq. Regardless of their content, as it related to this question, would they shed more light on the issue than things Bob Woodward has already written? I don’t know, obviously, but I suspect not.

· A substantial part of the Christian right opposes any compromise with Palestinians because they believe that Jewish domination of the region west of the Jordan River is a precondition for the Second Coming. Is this a reasonable belief? Or do you think these people qualify as loons who should be purged from the Republican party?

Since The President is already on the record favoring a two state solution to Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the “substantial part” is less relevant than you suggest. As for the Second Coming and this group of believers, if you read history you will find that there was plenty of “end of days” talk around the turn of the first AD millennium just as there is now. Perhaps it is a natural human reaction in some to associate the end of the world with the end of a century and perhaps it is lunacy. Frankly, I just don’t care what they believe. I cannot find anything at all in me that can get me worked up about people who hold these views. As I said, the President has a policy and it is, by the way, an extension of the policy held by the previous administration, which if memory serves me was made up of the opposing party.

· Yes or no: do you think we should invade Iran if it becomes clear — despite our best efforts — that they are continuing to build nuclear weapons? If this requires a military draft, would you be in favor?

“Best efforts,” of course, is the subjective out for those who would oppose this action on any grounds. I am not eager to invade Iran or any other country. If a vast majority of the US public agreed that “best efforts” had been made it is an easy yes. I would not agree if it required a draft and I suspect the vast majority of Americans would oppose it as well. Hopefully this is concise enough an answer. Otherwise, yes and no, in that order.

· If President Bush decides to substantially draw down our troop presence in Iraq after the January 30 elections, will you support that decision? Please answer this question prior to January 30.


· Would you agree that people who accept Laurie Mylroie's crackpot theories about Saddam Hussein's involvement in 9/11 might be taking the threat of terrorism a little too seriously? What do you think should be done with them?

No, I think they are not treating the issue seriously enough. I think they should be given the same consideration as Jim Condit Jr.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Journalism and Protected Communications

Via The Right Coast (Via Instapundit)

Eugene Volokh writes about what should and should not be protected under journalistic “confidentiality.” The editorial brings to mind an interesting disconnect between journalism and the professions Volokh mentions that enjoy confidentiality, namely lawyers and doctors. The other professions mentioned require professional certifications. Passing the bar or the medical boards is wholly different than graduating from college with a journalism degree. While journalists can argue that additional graduate level programs are available, and that matriculation through such programs is as rigorous as law or medical school, that argument obviously fall short; for it is not merely graduates of programs such as one finds at Columbia who enjoy the privilege currently being debated.

Furthermore, journalism suffers from image problems that the medical and legal fields are largely immune to. Perhaps this was most notably addressed recently during the CBS/”Rathergate” Memo fiasco by Andrew Sullivan.

Journalism is not a profession as such. It's a craft. You get better at it by doing it; and there are very few ground rules. By and large, anyone with a mind, a modem, a telephone, and a conscience can be a journalist. The only criterion that matters is that you get stuff right; and if you get stuff wrong (and you will), you correct yourself as soon as possible.

Sullivan is right, of course, though he would be right as well if many other careers were substituted for journalism. That journalism differs so greatly in the required training, testing and continuing education from occupations that affords one the privilege of confidentiality is exactly the problem that journalism now faces, not that all bloggers might enjoy such confidentiality.

Since it is counter productive to a free and open press to remove source confidentiality from journalism it is journalism that must adapt to roles in society where confidentiality is afforded. As such, it is time that journalism becomes a profession, complete with certification exams and continual education. This would serve not only to educate journalists about which sources they can and cannot assure they will protect, but bring the continued improvement that journalism so desperately needs.

Journalists need to seize this unique moment when confidentiality, especially as it relates to the Plame investigation, and peer review, as afforded by the CBS/memo debacle, to push for reforms within their own house that drive their chosen life path from craft to profession; ultimately to a profession best practiced by craftsmen. Not the wine and cheese celebrity peers on the dais type of events that current attempt to serve this function, peer review needs to be conducted continually and methodically in a manner similar to the way doctors review their own actions. It is only then that journalists will be able to both justify their place among the privileged few able to shield people behind the veil of confidentiality and separate themselves from the ever expanding blogosphere.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

MSN Blogging

It should surprise noone that Microsoft is censoring bloggers, and bloggers and trying to circumvent it.

Rumor has it that your entire blog is erased if you attempt to submit "Microsoft sucks."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

The Trump Money Model

It is interesting that in a time when Donald Trump’s casino business is fully engaged in bankruptcy proceedings that he has actually found something better than a slot machine for making money. First there was the trademarked catch phrase, “You’re fired” followed once per season by the less than creative foil, “You’re hired.” Then, of course, there is all the merchandizing. Finally, if that isn’t enough, there is the fact that Trump is the Executive Producer of the show, meaning: muchos dineros para Trump!

So, it would be foolish to think that The Apprentice is even remotely about the hiring of a company President from a pool of qualified applicants; or, for that matter, even about giving a deserving young entrepreneur the opportunity to learn at the side of a well known businessman. Let us consider some thing about the show. If one were going to hire a company President for one of Trump’s business what would it take? Let’s look at the casinos, since they have been in the news lately. As President of Trump Hotels & Casinos, Scott Butera was making at least $1.5 million, and that was while he was still and E-VP. The $250,000 the “winner” of this game gets is 1/6 of that salary. Certainly, the project each winner works on is smaller than an entire casino operation, but Trump is also not paying anywhere close to top dollar for a top notch candidate.

If you were not able to tell before this past week’s episode, the formula for the show has finally matured and we get to see what this show is all about, product placements. At least ½ of an episode’s cost is deferred by a product placement. For the product placement and also the model to work, though, the company making the placement has to both look good and make the show/contestants looks good. As we saw last week, companies like Pepsi will do anything to make this model work. Let’s look at the two designs: bulbous semi-globes at each end for one team and a molding of a D&G into a bottle with the hole in the D actually cutout completely so that, according to the contestants, “promotional materials” can be inserted. Of course the first bottle described would fit into exactly zero currently manufacturer cup holders, a major problem for getting a product to market. If that weren’t enough this hideously ugly bottle is going to change the dimensions of the bottle as much, or more as the second design. SO, one bottle is going to be much shorter than a standard Persi 20oz bottle and the other, because of a loss of space, is going to be much taller. Yep, you guessed, it, we going to have to redesign the packaging and display racks for this new product. Furthermore, the with second bottle, I don’t have any hard numbers, but anyone even remotely familiar with the look of a 20oz bottle can tell the cost of the new bottle that Trump’s winning team designed with the cutout was going to be several orders of magnitudes more costly than the standard bottle, or even the losing bulbous bottle. In other words, if anyone at Pepsi had thought enough of either of these ideas to actually voice them, they would have been laughed out of the room.

In the end, Pepsi made Trump look good by not giving these contestants the berating they deserved and declaring them both losers and Trump made Pepsi look good as the were featured on a television show where he rewarded the “winning” team with the opportunity to drive Lamborghini’s on a closed track. Thus, the product placement on “reality” show model is proven effective and solidified. Welcome to the new reality show reality, all product placements, all the time.

All in all, The Apprentice may be one of the best comedies currently on the tube.

They're Torturing them with Women!!!

From the lead editorial in the New York Times yesterday, we have this about the appalling conditions in Guantánamo:

The Red Cross did say fearful Guantánamo prisoners complained less frequently in 2004 than in 2003 about female interrogators who exposed their breasts, kissed prisoners, touched them sexually and showed them pornography. But it's hard to see that as progress.

If the editorial board of the NYT keeps this up, we’re going to have every sexually repressed male in this country confessing to terrorist connections and devote Muslim beliefs. Perhaps the Arab terrorists aren’t so stupid after all, or maybe they're just smarter than the Red Cross and NYT Editors.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Blogoshpere Goes Mainstream

Can pajamahadeen be far behind?

A Wonder Drug?

The promise of a miracle drug is always just around the bend in modern medicine. As such, we would be remiss to overlook Acomplia / Rimonabant, from Sanofi-Aventis (SNY). The drug has been getting quite a bit of good press in the past month or so. Including articles such as this, this and this. (Via. Rimonabant blogger) I expect to hear a lot more about this drug over the next year. It could be very exciting on several fronts.