Thursday, February 26, 2009

Political correctness is THAT bad?

Somehow or another, I got on the email list for this amusingly wretched blob of spam from the Worldview Weekend. The people who put out this stuff seem to worship at the church of Jesus John Birch Christ, combining the most intolerant forms of Christianity with the paranoia of the Montana militia types. "Hysterical" is almost too mild a word to describe some of this stuff.

But once in awhile, I worry that they might be right and I should be far more frightened of those liberals than I am. Here is a headline from one Brannon Howse that terrifies me:

The Ft. Worth columnist that did the yellow journalism piece on Brannon and the Biblical Worldview Code Blue Rally e-mails one of our listeners and tells him that he thinks that political correctness is about being polite to people.

A confession! Straight from the mouth of one of the liberals himself! I knew political correctness was an evil mecahnism to break down my knowledge of good and evil, but on top of that, it turns out to be a secret plot to make me be polite? Holy jumpin' Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and Underdog, will the wickedness never end?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The superior intellect

Mike Dunford, at The Questionable Authority, points us to the Conservapedia article about the moon, which has this to say about theories of lunar origins:

Origin theories

Atheistic theories of the origin of the Moon, widely taught for decades despite lacking the falsifiability requirement of science (see Philosophy of science), have been proven false.[9]

The footnote, by the way, points to a page at the Planetary Science Institute's web page, describing the strengths of the theory that the moon is a piece of the Earth which got whacked off in a big collision with other pieces of planet-wannabees while the solar system was still coalescing. There's nary a word about this theory, or any other, having been proven false. Is it any surprise that the writers at Conservapedia don't understand what a citation is, or that it's supposed to provide supporting evidence for your claims? Who else would be telling you they've falsified the unfalsifiable?

It still pleases me that, while there are some silly and ignorant liberals around, there is no market for an endless parade of demagogues like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and even God can't keep track of how many others, and there is no Liberalpedia.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stumbled upon

I can't help it.

Now it gets complicated

I forgot where I saw this comment, so I can't link to it ... blogger crime, I know. Anyway, it was just a parenthetical comment that said the writer was going to miss President Bush's regular supply of outrages, or something to that effect. I'm ashamed to admit, but at a certain level, I feel the same way.

Bush was the most consistent cuss I've ever seen. Except for spending money to fight AIDS in Africa, he seemed to be wrong on everything. Everything! I mean, I used to say that no one could be wrong all the time, if only because of the law of averages, but dang if that fellow didn't come near proving me wrong. I hated almost everything he did. Which was, in a way, comforting. I always knew where things stood with Bush.

You see, now I have to bitch about Obama, who I mostly admire, and who I definitely want to do well. But then he turns around and doesn't turn things around - I mean, this damned email investigation he wants to quash, or the trial in England that can't go forward because the nature of CIA torture is a state secret, or secrecy about domestic wiretapping, and the same damn crap that Bush/Cheney threw at us for eight years. Now I have that ambiguity again of decent folks (I do think he is decent) doing bad things. It's so much more comfortable when the people doing the bad things are the bad guys and you know they're bad because they do bad things every day and then boast about it. It's another form of that "moral clarity" that Bush prattled about in order to praise his own simple-mindedness. I've lost that, and it's a good thing to lose, but I'm going to miss it nonetheless.

Oh well, I still have the fundamentalists.

Transparent government? Nope.

Distracted as he may be by the economic crisis, Obama is fast running out of excuses for why he talked a good game about open government, but in reality his DOJ is backing Bush positions on concealing records at every turn. The latest:

Obama’s DOJ quietly sought dismissal of missing White House emails lawsuit

But despite it all, the newly minted Obama administration said in court papers that the issue revolving around the missing emails is “moot” because some steps, however incomplete, had been taken by the Bush White House to preserve and restore missing emails, even though the work has been conducted under the cover of secrecy by an unknown outside contractor hired by Bush administration officials.

In a mid-January court filing that sought dismissal of the lawsuit, the Justice Department claimed that the 14 million emails were never actually “missing,” rather the emails were simply unaccounted for due to a “flawed and limited” internal review by the Office of Administration in 2005. The documents were retrieved, the Justice Department claims, “through a three-phased email recovery process.”

Obama’s Justice Department appears to have taken the Bush administration on its word that a good faith effort has been made to restore missing emails, according to CREW’s 24-page motion arguing against having the case dismissed.

“One day after the Bush administration ended, defendants filed a motion to dismiss that reflects an incredibly cynical and narrow view of defendants’ obligations under the Federal Records Act (“FRA”),” the watchdog group’s court filing says. “According to defendants, because they have taken some action -- no matter how flawed, incomplete or limited -- the first four counts of plaintiffs’ complaints are now moot. Hiding behind technical jargon and theoretical constructs, defendants attempt to obscure three basic facts: we still do not know how many emails are missing; we still do not know the source of the problem that caused emails to be missing in the first place; and we still do not know if the problem has been fixed.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Art and posters

Speaking of Shepard Fairey, he's been ripped off! By someone with a more fertile imagination, too, if you ask me:

(Via Pharyngula)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Soviet archives

Front Page Magazine has an interesting interview with Olga Velikanova, a professor of Soviet History at the University of North Texas.

FP: So what is the current situation with the access to the archives in Russia?

Velikanova: Historians can call this situation an “archival counter-revolution.” With Vladimir Putin coming to tenure in 2000, historians noticed a gradual imposition of limitations to access to archives. For example, many files were stalled in “de-classification commissions” and were not given to scholars. I got refusals to my requests to see even those files that I had studied in the 1990s. A "Re-secretizing" process got momentum after 2001 when Putin signed a Presidential decree substituting de-classification commissions with "the Interagency Commission to Defend State Secrets.” Even in the Hoover guide to the CPSS archives, we can see this reverse process - some documents became unavailable and probably were re-classified again. I know the student who had to change the subject of his dissertation because the sources became unavailable again.

I recall a conversation with a Russian historian when I was still at Oregon, who commented that one effect of the various "thaw" periods in Soviet history was the release of some previously-secret documents. Compared to the opening of the archives in the 1990's, these were relatively small,and so each document could be scrutinized carefully and never be effectively made secret again. The current situation is more muddled, because the authorities can lock up things that aren't so well documented. On the other hand, there's still no comparison with the Soviet era, because so much more historical information is now known and will remain known.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

RIP, #6, c. 1993-2009

Remember this bad dude?

The Salt Lake Tribune has his obituary.

He tripped while trying to cross a fence and somersaulted onto his back. Pinned between large rocks with his antlers beneath him, No. 6 slowly suffocated. He was found dead Sunday.


No. 6 was believed to be at least 15 years old. He is survived by a large harem of cow elk.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Publishers make another play to lock up research

Back in September, I had this to say about the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act:”

"Imagine that a movie studio just spent $100,000,000 on a terrific new movie, but if they want anyone to see it, they have to give it to a movie theater. Not just the film itself, but all rights to the movie forever and ever. And the theater owner says this is perfectly fair, because the studio doesn't pay for the screening or provide any popcorn."

Like Jason, Freddy, and all those other slasher movie staples, it's back, as H.R.6845 and introduced by Michigan's own John Conyers (D, 14th district). Once again, the the idea is to outlaw the NIH Open Access Policy, which requires taxpayer-funded research to be deposited with PubMed Central, but only after 12 months.

That embargo is, for a front line researcher, a lengthy time. A research library cannot afford to wait a year and avoid paying the subscription prices for journals; they have to buy access to that research ASAP. But that's not good enough for the publishers because, y'know, it's just so cool for business when you can own other people's work without ever paying them a penny.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Oral history

Thursday, February 12, 2009

That Obama image

I'm starting to get intrigued by the case of Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the now-famous "Hope" image of Barack Obama and is now being sued by the AP because he copied Obama's image from one of their photographs.

Fairey doesn't deny that he used this photograph:

as the basis for this poster:

What he argues is that this falls under Fair Use and I expect he has a pretty good chance to win his case. Here are the "four factors" that a judge must way in determining whether Fair Use applies:

1) the purpose and character of theuse
2) the nature of the copyrighted work
3) the amount and substantiality of the portion taken, and
4) the effect of the use upon the potential market.

Under (1), I think Fairey is on strong ground in claiming that he has significantly transformed the original, enough to make it a new creation, with a new meaning that the original did not have. It might not be the most technically impressive transformation - actually, it looks pretty easy and (see below) that would be perfectly in character for Fairey - but it's still a different work than the photograph.

(2) Fairey is emphasizing his view that the photograph is a strictly factual piece of work, not a creative one. Now there's a fine way to insult the entire field of photography and that certainly won't win him any friends. The classic case involved a ruling that phone books could not be copyrighted, as they consisted of purely factual data, but it would be nuts to rule that all photojournalism is no more creative than a phone book. Fairey's on shaky ground with this one.

(3) Fairey has not reproduced the entire photograph, but merely the portion that interested him. I doubt this factor will weight very heavily either way.

(4) You could try to argue that Fairey's work damages the market for the original photograph, but I'm afraid the "giggle test" would trip you up here. The photo had already been filed away under "stock" and no one was asking for it specifically until Fairey made it famous (not - see below - that he intended to).

All in all, I predict that (if the case goes to court) Fairey would win on point 1 and 4, with 2 not being consequential enough to outweigh the other factors. Which would be a nice defense of Fair Use, a principle that is under relentless attack these days.

Unfortunately, it could certainly have happened to a nicer guy. I came across a reference to this attack on Fairey, by artist Mark Vallen, who makes a convincing case that Shepard Fairey is a serial plagiarist who routinely copies other's work, not because he has something to say about that work, but simply because he is "too lazy to come up with an original artwork." He provides over a dozen instances where Fairey obviously copied a work, slapped his own slogan on it, and then passed it off as an original work. In this example:

Fairey's work is in the center and the unacknowledged originals are on either side. That's not transformation; that's just plagiarism. After all, how lazy do you have to be to copy a drawing of an Old Faithful eruption, when you need a picture of exploding bombs:

Not that a WPA poster is likely under copyright - government work, by law, is not. Some of the other work that he's stolen is protected, though, and Fairey's had to withdraw some of his t-shirts when rights-holders objected. Lucky for him, AP's case is not so strong and his Obama poster will likely pass muster as an original work. It might be a first.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The intertubes is truly miraculous:

State secrets

I don't like this:

Obama Administration Maintains Bush Position on 'Extraordinary Rendition' Lawsuit

A representative of the Justice Department stood up to say that its position hasn't changed, that new administration stands behind arguments that previous administration made, with no ambiguity at all. The DOJ lawyer said the entire subject matter remains a state secret.

I'm willing to consider that this might be a necessary and reasonable position -- pending further actions which the new administration takes in cleaning up our act in the GWOT. But it doesn't obviously fit in with the other actions Obama has taken toward ordering a more open, law-abiding government. Which way is the story going to go? A) Openness is the general guiding principle, but there are a few rare exceptions that have to be made; or B) Openness will be played for its political value when there's not much at stake, but any time there's a rub Obama will readily claim all the privilege and power that other presidents have claimed.

It's too soon to either condemn or excuse the new President on this one action, but conservatives disgraced themselves by refusing to be skeptical of Their Guy in the White House; liberals don't need to go repeating their failures. We want the rule of law again, and we want it now.

(via D.A. Ridgley at Positive Liberty)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Google, continued

This article at NYT has a nice quotation that puts Google into a more proper perspective:

Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia and a free-culture advocate, puts it this way: if the fight over digitization of books is like horse-and-buggy makers against car manufacturers, Google wants to be the road.

Addendum. And this just in, from UM Librarian Paul Courant.

But Google doesn’t have anything like a monopoly over access to information in general, nor to the information in the books that are subject to the terms of the settlement. For a start (and of stunning public benefit in itself) up to 20% of the content of the books will be openly readable by anybody with an Internet connection, and all of the content will be indexed and searchable. Moreover, Google is required to provide the familiar “find it in a library” link for all books offered in the commercial product.


Of course I would prefer the universal library, but I am pretty happy about the universal bookstore.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Big Bad Google?

A coworker sent the office a link to this NYRB article, Google & the Future of Books, which I read in print yesterday (maybe a touch of Luddism, but I just love sitting in a restaurant or coffee shop with a copy of NYRB in hand). This part just annoyed me. Speaking of the recent settlement over the mass digitization project and copyright complaints, Darnton states:

"Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly--a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information."

That's just wrong. Google has no such thing. Google offers me nothing that I can't find in other ways, if I'm willing to give up the convenience that Google offers me. I could use Yahoo or any of a bunch of search engines for searching the internet; I can use MapQuest instead of Google Maps; I can find all the information available on Google Earth, although perhaps not aggregated so conveniently.

All those digitized books? I can already get all of that content, just not conveniently (hundreds of ILL requests, maybe? Big travel budget?). Google doesn't control that information any more than Ford controls my ability to travel; they just make it a lot easier to get what or where I want. It's so easy to find information nowadays, but that's something new under the sun. If only one company can offer us that new thing just now, it shouldn't be treated as if we were having something taken away from us.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Perils of publishing everything you do

How could I not post this, from Making Maps: DIY Cartography?
Google Maps Kills Bambi

A car making images for Google Map’s Street View wacked a fawn in upstate New York.

I'm back, sorry

I left my power cord behind a locked door and had to go without computer and internet access all weekend. Harsh.