Musings on John McCain’s Facebook Page

Asking the natural question: Facebook Politics?

Nonetheless, she persists, and the (presumably) American posters take great pleasure in teaching her the ropes of speedy American political debate, even as they wonder what she’s doing on this particular wall.

In fact, that question seems to haunt the whole crowd. What are we doing here? Clearly, it could go either way. What they’re doing on John McCain’s Facebook page — debating, joking, cooking up homemade propaganda about war, poverty, taxation, sexuality, immigration, religion — is, depending on who’s talking and what day it is, either just another online waste of time or the most important thing they’ve ever done in their lives.

How Convenient!

In Digital Age, Federal Files Blip Into Oblivion

Federal agencies have rushed to embrace the Internet and new information technology, but their record-keeping efforts lag far behind. Moreover, federal investigators have found widespread violations of federal record-keeping requirements.

Many federal officials admit to a haphazard approach to preserving e-mail and other electronic records of their work. Indeed, many say they are unsure what materials they are supposed to preserve.

This confusion is causing alarm among historians, archivists, librarians, Congressional investigators and watchdog groups that want to trace the decision-making process and hold federal officials accountable. With the imminent change in administrations, the concern about lost records has become more acute.

[…] When President Bill Clinton left office, the National Archives preserved snapshots of agency Web sites as they existed on or just before Jan. 20, 2001. The Archives decided recently that it would not take such snapshots at the end of the Bush administration. “Most Web records do not warrant permanent retention,” because they do not have “long-term historical value,” the Archives said.

Many historians disagree. Several university libraries and the Internet Archive, a nonprofit digital library based in San Francisco, are starting to do what the federal government refuses to do: copy government Web sites, so they remain available after Mr. Bush leaves office.

More On Textbooks

Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.

“This market is not working very well — except for the shareholders in the textbook publishers,” he said. “We have lots of knowledge, but we are not getting it out.”

See earlier The Open Source Text

A Cautionary Tale? Or Planting A Meme?

Stuck in Google’s Doghouse

When he pressed Google to explain why the changes hadn’t helped, he said, the company gave him the brushoff.

“Your landing pages will continue to require higher bids in order to display your ads, resulting in a very low return on your investment,” a Google executive named Nathan Anderson wrote on Jan. 2, 2007. “Therefore AdWords may not be the online advertising program for you.”

Two days later, in another e-mail message, Mr. Anderson told Mr. Savage to “please refrain from repeatedly contacting our team.”

As he stewed about his predicament, Mr. Savage came to believe that there was something more nefarious going on than a subpar landing page. […]

In the three months since the Google-Yahoo deal was announced, there is very little doubt that the Justice Department is seriously examining whether to block it. As you may recall, the deal was not a merger, but rather a cooperation agreement. Still, it would give the two companies a staggering 90 percent of the search advertising market, a market share figure so high that even the notoriously lax Bush antitrust department can’t look the other way.

[…] But it is also true that people like Mr. Savage, who are demonstrably not bad guys, find themselves in Google’s doghouse and then can’t even get the company to respond to them. Is it any wonder that they feel treated unfairly by a ruthless monopolist? What makes it worse is that Google simply refuses to acknowledge that its algorithms could ever be wrong. Could Google really treat its own customers so shabbily if it faced true competition?

See also Ads That Built Google Could Now Pose Test (pdf)

A Review of Laptop-Based Music Performances

Re-start — The New Yorker (pdf)

An act that embodies many of the complications of the laptop’s role is Girl Talk, the stage name of Gregg Gillis, who performs with nothing but a laptop onstage and uses only loops and samples from other people’s songs, most of them well known. Girl Talk tracks combine Southern rap with Radiohead songs, Lil Wayne with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and have proved popular both live and on the Internet. The live draw is perhaps not surprising. To flesh out the experience of watching a guy working on a computer, Gillis leaps about, invites fans to dance onstage, and often ends shows wearing just his boxers. To protect his Panasonic Toughbook, Gillis covers it in Saran Wrap and uses a mouse rather than the track pad. (“My hands just get too sweaty,” he explained to me.)

[…] Several decades ago, Gillis might have been playing at clubs like Danceteria or the World, where the d.j. booth was not necessarily visible from the dance floor and the space had no obvious front or back. The music floated above and around the dancers, who were both witnesses and performers. But, as dance clubs have dwindled in number, acts like Girl Talk are generally playing rock clubs that have traditional stages, and this demands some kind of visual. Gillis is happy to comply, and his open-ended act and communal free-for-all certainly constitutes a live performance. It is ironic, then, that Gillis is so hands on in executing his mixes. If there was ever somebody who could simply hit “Play” and bounce around, it is Gillis. With some version of the Girl Talk mashup coming from the speakers and Gillis jumping out of his pants, most concertgoers would feel as though they had got what they paid for. There is no longer any way of telling whether or not the Wizard is behind the curtain. Does it matter?

“Lipstick” and Copyright

The practical problems of fair use: This lipstick just won’t fade (pdf)

To buttress its argument, the McCain campaign used footage in its ad from a Web commentary Couric did this year on CBSNews.com about the media’s coverage of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. “One of the great lessons of that campaign is the continued and accepted role of sexism in American life,” Couric said.

By midday Wednesday, viewers looking for the ad on YouTube instead got the message: “This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by CBS Interactive Inc.”

In a statement, the network said that “CBS News does not endorse any candidate in the presidential race.”

McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said the campaign thought the Couric footage was allowable under the fair-use exception to copyright laws.

OT: We’re Done

That’s it. The campaign is over. We’re just waiting to get the vote count now.

No more discussion of issues. No more consideration of what America can and should be.

Nope. It’s all personalities now. Slurs. Slams. Making mountains out of molehills.

It *is* like an election for class president in the 5th grade. The teachers kept telling us “You should vote on the basis of the candidates’ issues and proposals,” but everyone knew that the whole thing was a popularity contest.

Of course, in the 5th grade, the teachers were there to ensure that the discussion *was* about the issues. Any effort to make the election about personalities was squashed.

Of course, that didn’t matter in the end. It was still a personality contest. But we at least got a lesson about what adults did when they held their elections, for positions that really mattered.

Real responsibilities: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Like that. Important work, for serious people.

How naive.

I miss the 5th grade.

Links to pdfs: Campaign shocks! The Outrage Machine is on a roll; McCain Camp Hits Obama On More Than One Front; Civility is casualty as campaigns spar; Anti-Obama ‘The One’ ad goes funny, not negative, McCain says


Roger Cohen is even more heartick about this than I. His op-ed today (to which I linked above) is a stunner: In The Seventh Year:

And, lo, a strange thing did come to pass. For as surely as the seasons do alternate, so the ruler and party that have brought woe to a nation must give way to others who can lead their people to plenty. How can the weary, flogged ass bear honey and balm and almonds and myrrh?

Yet many Americans believed the exhausted beast could still provide bounty. They did hold that a people called the French was to blame. They did accuse a creation called the United Nations. They did curse the ungodly sophisticates of Gotham and Hollywood and sinful Chicago; and, lo, they proclaimed God was on their side, and carried a gun, and Darwin was bunk, and truth resided in Alaska.

For Bush ruled over the whole nation and so sure was he of his righteousness that he did foster division until it raged like a plague. Each tribe sent pestilence on the other.

And in the seventh year after the fall, the dust and debris of the towers cleared. And it became plain at last what had been wrought — but not how the damage would be undone.

Alex Beam on Textbook “Piracy”

A textbook case of piracy (pdf)

I was heartened to learn that college kids are wielding the same Internet piracy tools they used to bring down the recording industry to download textbooks. Although the textbook oligopolists are fighting back mightily – the Association of American Publishers uses Covington & Burling, a take-no-prisoners law firm in Washington, D.C., to hunt down malefactors – there are at least two sites still around offering books: Textbook Torrents tends to be shut down, and moves around the Web, but the last time I checked, thepiratebay.org was offering such books as – well, youll see.

As a writer, how can I support this? I should be an absolutist on copyright protection for all books, magazines, and newspapers. But Im not. The publishers have disgraced themselves, and they are paying the price. Three-hundred-dollar textbooks in the hard sciences are not unusual, and the companies are selling to a captive audience. Hundred-dollar add-ons, masquerading as digital workbooks, or problem-solving sets, are not uncommon.

Publishers love to put out bogus “new” editions to drive a stake though the heart of the used textbook market, which was gaining its second wind at online auction sites. […]

I don’t really recall what Mr. Beam’s early take on Napster was (or if he had one at all), but it’s interesting to note the common elements of these apologies for “piracy”: an industry that exploits its control over distribution to extract profits; the rise of a technology that upsets that chokehold on distribution; a (perceived) lack of innovation in content and/or delivery; and an expectation that, in the end, the content will still be available among the wreckage of the old business model — capitalism’s creative destruction at its finest, coupled with a certain joy from participating in the wreckage.

Which is not to say that it’s a bad thing; it is, after all, what got us to where we are today. But, while it’s certain that textbooks will survive this, and the profits of the textbook companies will not, there is the question of whether this is a model that applies everywhere. In particular, what about the news media, and the print media in general? Google’s announced plan (Google to Digitize Newspaper Archives) looks like it should be a plus for this struggling industry, but the fact that it continues to drain the advertising revenue upon which these firms are founded means that it remains problematic whether there’s going to be a continuing source of material to be archived in the future.

At what point do the “new media” come to recognize that their business models will necessarily depend upon shoring up the old media? And will they come up with a successful approach in time — i.e., before the two sides are so intransigently positioned that they all elect to go down in flames instead?

Later, this related article: Times Will Shut Down Its Distribution Subsidiary and this: Google Strikes Partnership With NBC to Expand in TV Advertising

Rowling Wins A Round

Rowling wins book copyright claim

Author JK Rowling has won her legal battle in a New York court to get an unofficial Harry Potter encyclopaedia banned from publication.

Judge Robert Patterson said in a ruling Ms Rowling, 43, had proven Steven Vander Arks Harry Potter Lexicon would cause her irreparable harm as a writer.

[…] Making his ruling, Judge Patterson said reference materials could help readers, but Vander Ark had gone too far in this case.

He said: “While the Lexicon, in its current state, is not a fair use of the Harry Potter works, reference works that share the Lexicon’s purpose of aiding readers of literature generally should be encouraged rather than stifled.”

He said he had made his decision because: “Lexicon appropriates too much of Rowling’s creative work for its purposes as a reference guide”.

Later: Rowling Wins Lawsuit Against Potter Lexicon