This Weeks Reader June 22, 2008  

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blogging
AP Goes After Bloggers For Posting Article Headlines And Snippets
And, now, it's expanding its target list. Rather than just going after the big aggregators (surprisingly, Google settled), it appears that the Associated Press is going after bloggers for merely posting a linked headline and a tiny snippet of text from the article. In this case, Rogers Cadenhead informs us that the AP sent 7 DMCA takedown notices last week to his site, the Drudge Retort (a site that mocks the Drudge Report). In six cases, a blog post on the site quoted just a small snippet of text from an AP article (between 33 and 79 words -- nowhere near the full length of the article). In every case, they also contained links back to the original AP article. Five of the six used a different headline than the original AP article. The other complaint was about a comment to a blog post, which also included a very short snippet and a link.

Civil Rights
Destroying Marriages to “Protect” Marriage
I was married in California and lived part of my married life there, so I feel somewhat invested in this. First and foremost, the idea that marriage in general needs to be “protected” by denying it to same-sex couples is ridiculous, just as it was when people believed that marriage needed to be “protected” by denying it to interracial couples. Second and more specifically, the idea that my marriage needs to be protected by a bunch of hyperventilating ninnies in the midst of a queer panic makes me want to retch. Please do keep your clammy, quivering, homophobic fingers off my state of matrimony, if you please. My marriage has not once been threatened by same-sex marriage; heck, I’ve been to Massachusetts at least four times since same-sex marriage was made legal in that commonwealth. Roving bands of same-sex married couples did not trample my marriage rights while I was there.

I Do -- And Why
Look at the patchwork of laws around this country regarding same-sex marriage. Look at the states that have banned it, and the ones that have gone so far as to ban the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Look at the fact that if my partner and I travel to Alabama or Michigan, Alaska or Pennsylvania, or any of over two dozen other states, our marriage will be seen as not having existed at all. Null. Void. Look at the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed by President William Jefferson Clinton in 1996, stating that the Federal government will not recognize same-sex marriages, even if they're completely legal in the state where they were performed.

What does that tell you about how those states, and the country as a whole, sees us?

Second place award That's the weird paradox of the California ruling. It's thrilling. It's unbelievably great news. It's a huge historical step. But at the same time, it throws the true meaning of this legal patchwork into sharp focus. It makes it that much clearer that queers in this country are, in a very literal sense, second-class citizens. We pay taxes, we serve on juries, we have to obey the same laws that everyone else does... but in a very practical, codified- into- law sense, we just don't count for as much.


Comics
Waking the Feminist inside the Fangirl
Women don’t just like a story because it is about women. We like stories that are well-written and well-developed, just like anyone else. There’s no need for Lifetime comics. As comic story lines become more grounded in the real world, the fact that often their female characters are mere sketches becomes more apparent. That is not to say that there aren’t more developed depictions of women in super hero comics. One example is the push to make Ms. Marvel a major player in the Marvel U, a heroine with some authority. I appreciate moves like that. However, it’s a small step and since the marketing is not there how are girls and women to know that there might be a story they'd enjoy coming from the Big 2?

Government
Authorization or Declaration?
Because they gave him discretion, the likes of John Kerry and Hillary Clinton were able to question how the President conducted this war, and say, “I would’ve never done it that way.”

To all the “patriots” out there that “support the troops,” this was the dumbest thing you could’ve done. You gave the President’s opponents an out. Congress basically voted to say, “We’re not responsible,” and then proceeded to act that way.

Every member of Congress, in an hour where young lives are going to be committed and some will surely die, must be on record, for or against. They must take responsibility for the decision they have made. They should not be able to hand it off.


Government “Strike Teams” Invade Homes, Harass Flood Victims
No warrant, no knock home invasions are being carried out on the flimsy pretext of "checking for structural damage" as cops harass and threaten with arrest people who refuse to have their homes ransacked by thugs in uniforms.

Cedar Rapids police chief Greg Graham promised residents over the weekend that "Law enforcement officers are not entering homes," and that firefighters would only enter homes through unlocked doors and windows yet the video clearly shows locked houses being broken in to.


Nonbelieving Literati
Humanist blogging à la Voltaire!
Printed books are a form of one-way communication -- like television -- from knowledge producers to knowledge consumers. There's one big difference, however: less is more. The less your infotainment consumes of your brain's attention, the more your brain has to work on its own in response. Caleb Crain argues this in The Twilight of Reading: "It makes you smarter because it leaves more of your brain alone." Darnton's research illustrates this in his chapter analyzing police records of (spying on) nightly conversations taking place in taverns around town. Unlike television today which can consume all of your brain's leisure time without your brain ever having the strain of producing a single thought of its own, in those days you could only read books for so long, and then the next natural step is to go down to the pub and discuss them.

Pardon My French, Voltaire
Anyway, the whole book has a spontaneously knocked-off quality, as if it were made up by someone who had never actually told a coherent story before. I can imagine Voltaire, sitting down at his desk, setting his pocket watch (watch de poche) for an hour (soixante minutes), and saying to himself: “Today, I’m going to write exactly 1,000 words.” (Aujourd'hui, je vais écrire exactement 1.000 mots, give au take dix mots.) And that’s apparently what he did. Some of those words were shaped into blasphemous or satiric sentences, which no doubt made him chuckle. Me, too, in a bland sort of way. An example of his irreligious wit: Is there anything more worthy of respect than an abuse dating from ancient times? Cute. I won’t cite any more here, because I’m going to leave the best quotes for the other Nonbelieving Literati to steal; there aren’t really enough to go around. Still, I do identify with someone using that kind of automatic-writing authorship style, and can easily picture Voltaire slapping himself in the knee: “I think this stuff is very funny.” (Je pense que cette substance est très drôle. Ouch. Mon knee.)

Thoughts on Zadig
Zadig has the answer:

Reason is of more antient Date than the Custom you plead for.
Interesting thought, isn’t it? We atheists confront this sentiment routinely in debates with theists. How often do we have to refute a book written anywhere between 2000 and 4000 years ago, depending on the appropriate chapter? This is “antient’ wisdom we’re talking about here, set down, if not by god, at least by god’s scriveners. Well, now I’ve got the perfect rejoinder.

Nonbelieving Literati: Zadig - Voltaire
This passage as after Zadig convinced his master, Sétoc, that he was wrong to worship the elements in the representation of the sun and the moon after Zadig made a great show of bowing down to a lantern. But instead of picking up on the idea of worshipping nothing he instead worshipped Zadig's god. Not so wise there, in my opinion. Would it not have been better for Sétoc to then show Zadig that he was just as ridiculous? But then the entire point of the story would have been thrown off its rails (much to the better, I think).

"It would have been a great pity if he had been hanged."
That's one of the funniest sentences I found in Zadig, this "sardonic* comedy" about a man named Zadig, written by the French Enlightenment figure Voltaire. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but rather silly in its understatement, especially if you imagine it being said by very rich people in an off-hand way, and if you know that the reason he was almost hanged was because of half a poem. But of course it was all solved in the end - with an assist from a parrot - because Zadig was a nearly perfect, charming, intelligent, reasonable, handsome, and modest character. It could be argued that the theme of the book is how tragic it is that he lives in a world of less perfect, less intelligent, absurd people, like the woman who begged to be beaten after she asked for help not to be beaten by her lover, which sort of brings to mind the cycle of violence, except that it was over-the-top.

NL: Zadig
But there is a difference between Zadig and Candide more profound than the degree of the heroes' trials. Candide eventually comes to understand that Dr Pangloss's outlook is absurd and useless; he settles instead on "we must tend our garden". Zadig, on the other hand, musters nothing more than a feeble and - crucially - unanswered "But..." in response to the angel.

Photography
Solstice Moonrise, Cape Sounion



Tech
Men Write Code from Mars, Women Write More Helpful Code from Venus
Emma McGrattan, the senior vice-president of engineering for computer-database company Ingres–and one of Silicon Valley’s highest-ranking female programmers–insists that men and women write code differently. Women are more touchy-feely and considerate of those who will use the code later, she says. They’ll intersperse their code–those strings of instructions that result in nifty applications and programs–with helpful comments and directions, explaining why they wrote the lines the way they did and exactly how they did it.

The code becomes a type of “roadmap” for others who might want to alter it or add to it later, says McGrattan, a native of Ireland who has been with Ingres since 1992.

Men, on the other hand, have no such pretenses. Often, “they try to show how clever they are by writing very cryptic code,” she tells the Business Technology Blog. “They try to obfuscate things in the code,” and don’t leave clear directions for people using it later. McGrattan boasts that 70% to 80% of the time, she can look at a chunk of computer code and tell if it was written by a man or a woman.


Woo
CityNews Exclusive: The Mother, The Child, The School Board And The Psychic
The frightened mother rushed back to the campus and was stunned by what she heard - the principal, vice-principal and her daughter's teacher were all waiting for her in the office, telling her they'd received allegations that Victoria had been the victim of sexual abuse - and that the CAS had been notified.

How did they come by such startling knowledge? Leduc was incredulous as they poured out their story.

"The teacher looked and me and said: 'We have to tell you something. The educational assistant who works with Victoria went to see a psychic last night, and the psychic asked the educational assistant at that particular time if she works with a little girl by the name of "V." And she said 'yes, I do.' And she said, 'well, you need to know that that child is being sexually abused by a man between the ages of 23 and 26.'"

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