Thursday, June 30, 2005


What with Tom Cruise's rather erratic behavior lately, I thought this a great opportunity to highlight this 1991 Time cover article about the cult of Scientology. (Via Kevin Drum.)

I think it is important to be respectful and polite about others' religions, but I also think it's important to call a spade a spade from time to time and to dispel superstition and myth whenever possible, and especially whenever harmful. Some belief systems have acquired the aura of respectability simply becasue they have existed for 1000, 2000 years, but that doesn't make them any more factual or truthful. However, as this article reminds us, not only is Scientology a spring chicken as far as religions go, it's also a ruthless and almost maniacally greedy and controlling cult.

I had my own run-in with Scientologists as a teenager in my hometown of Perth, Australia, when a Scientologist approached me and my friend and began harassing us, trying to convince us to come into his church (or "center," or whatever term they use) and take some personality tests. They can be quite evangelical. Even your average manic street preacher isn't trying to drag you into his church on the spot for a battery of tests!

Avoid at all costs. And I agree with Kevin, it wouldn't hurt for the media to do a better job of challenging people like Cruise, as their beliefs won't hold up under scrutiny. It can be done politely, but insistently and I firmly believe it should be the job of the media to shine an honest and evaluative light on some of these indefensible and manipulative systems.

Update: Saheli directs us to this speech by the Time reporter, Richard Behar, responsible for the article. He explain how Scientologists wouldn't speak to him while he prepared the article, but began a campaign of harrassment after him when he published it. As he says, "How can reporters NOT cover it?"

Also, in the comments over at Political Animal, Praedor Atrebates details his own horrific run in with Scientologist thugs.

I don't know if all high-level Scientologist operate in this beastly fashion, but considering Cruise's own aggressive, combative behavior, maybe it's characteristic of their training.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Information Architecture

Tom Myer on IBM's developerWorks actually has as decent an explanation of what I do for a living as I've seen.

I've been trying to come up with a succinct description of my job as it's one of those jobs where no matter how many times you explain it to folks, they end up thinking you're either a developer or a designer.

So far the shortest description I've been able to come up with is something along these lines:
Arranging information so it can be found intuitively.
I could add "efficiently" or "economically," too, I suppose. If I wanted to sound high-falutin', maybe I could say "discovered" instead of "found." And then you could add a lot of detail about navigational structures, taxonomies, labeling, usability, site maps and blueprints, schematics, personas, etc. And what's the difference between an IA and an interaction designer? Interaction designers usually attend more to the experience users have when interacting with an application. Depending on where you work and what you're doing, you might end up doing both. Also, depending on who you talk too, an IA does all of the above anyway. Blah, blah, blah.

It's at this point that people's eyes usually glaze over. But it can be interesting work. Swear!

Fortunately for me, I enjoy information architecture, interaction design, and content development (as well as plain ol' "writing"), which means I'm usually able to find something for my idle hands to do.

Anyway, if you're a recruiter calling or emailing me about a systems or Web architect position: NOT my job. Thankfully.


Words are like that, they deceive, they pile up, it seems they do not know where to go, and suddenly, because of two or three or four that suddenly come out, simple in themselves, a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, we have the excitement of seeing them coming irresistibly to the surface through the skin and the eyes and upsetting the composure of our feelings, sometimes the nerves that cannot bear it any longer, they have put up with a great deal, they put up with everything, it was as if they were wearing armour, we might say. The doctor's wife has nerves of steel, and yet the doctor's wife is reduced to tears because of a personal pronoun, an adverb, a verb, an adjective, mere grammatical categories, mere labels just like the two women, the others, indefinite pronouns, they too are crying, they embrace the woman of the whole sentence, three graces beneath the falling rain.

-from Blindness by José Saramago

Updated: Top Ten NPR Reporter Names

In my quest to come up with a definitive list on this important subject, here's an update on this previous post:
Here's an idea I've had for quite a while: a Top 10 list of NPR Reporter Names. Specifically, names that when you hear them, you think, man, that's a cool name. And then you have to say it out loud a few times: "Man-dah-leet Del-bah-ko." The fact that most of these reporters seem to be women? I can't help that!

1. Mandalit del Barco
2. Snigdha Prakash
3. Sylvia Poggioli
4. Lakshmi Singh
5. Neda Ulaby
6. Anne Garrels
7. Joanne Silberner
8. Daniel Zwerdling
9. Lourdes Garcia Navarro*
10. Corey Flintoff

BTW, Don'tcha think "Robert Stribley" would be a cool-sounding name for an NPR reporter? [click] Mandalit? Mandalit? Are you still there?

*Updated 6/26/05: Sorry Linda Wertheimer/Eric Westervelt, but Lourdes Garcia Navarro? Come on - did you really think ya'll would stand a chance once I realized I'd left her out? Maybe if I start a Germanic-only list?

Also: honorary runners-up to both Kojo Nnamdi (not technically a reporter) and Mora Liarson.

A Great Unveiling

Now that John Ashcroft is out of office, Justice can bare her breast again.

BTW, did you know Claire Braz-Valentine wrote a sometimes poignant, sometimes silly poem called "An Open Letter to John Ashcroft" about the incident of his having the statuary covered (at a cost of $8,650 dollars)? You can even hear her read it.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

Just, um, checking out Blogger's new add-an-image functionality. Heh.

Murakami's Writing Regimen

Ah, so this explains why I've never completed a novel:
[Murakami] wrote "Kafka" in six months, starting, as he usually does, without a plan. He spent one year revising it. He follows a strict regimen. Going to bed around 9 p.m. - he never dreams, he said - he wakes up without an alarm clock around 4 a.m. He immediately turns on his Macintosh and writes until 11 a.m., producing every day 4,000 characters, or the equivalent of two to three pages in English.
Of course, I have my job as an excuse, but that never stopped folks like Einstein and Eliot from pursuing their own creative dreams.

Somebody, lash me to the mast!

American Dynasties

I was thinking the other day, if Hillary Clinton and/or Jeb Bush were to run for President in 2008, and either were to win, we'd have another President from one of two families, effectively keeping the Presidency within 2 families over the course of 4 straight Presidents and at least 6 Presidential terms. 24 years in a row between 2 American families.

Do we really need dynasties in America?

Isn't this a sign that the system ain't workin'?

Can any little kid growing up in the United States really grow up expecting to be President?

Maybe not unless their name is Bush or Clinton.

Apparently, however, this is nothing new, and the Roosevelts have 'em all beat, hands down. So far.

Friday, June 24, 2005

They'll None of 'Em Be Missed

Michael Bérubé celebrates his inclusion in David Horowitz's Discover the Network, which, if you haven't heard of it, is roughly equivilent to one of Joe McCarthy's little lists of American commies.

Bérubé helps us put the whole thing in context:
This is a time to celebrate! There are only about 250 people listed on Discover the Network’s “academics” list, and some of the entries are really perfunctory. The one for Paul Gilroy, for instance—one of the leading figures in British cultural studies—basically consists of “Paul Gilroy: is uppity. Teaches at Yale. Criticized the Iraq War.” Compared to that, I got me a stretch limo with complimentary hemlock, folks!
Congrats Michael!

Skewering a Sacred Cow

I'm sorry, but if I arrived at a store and they had closed 15 minutes early, I wouldn't expect to be let in even if there were still people shopping inside.

So, if being shut out of Hermès, really "one of the most humiliating moments of [Oprah's] life," well, that's pretty pathetic. I understand that celebrities get special treatment in life. But the fact that they get obstinant when they don't get special treatment leaves me repulsed.

The person I feel sorry for? The security guard who didn't recognize Her Royal Highness and is being vilified for it. He was just doing his job. Oprah shouldn't expect to be recognized and fawned upon everywhere in the United States, let alone overseas. That's precisely the sort of thing that gives us ('cos I'm a Yank now, too) the reputation as Ugly Americans.

And let's not even try to pretend this was a race issue. The store was closed and they were preparing for a special event. Now, I lived in Pusan, Korea a decade ago and I ran into an African-American military guy in the shopping district. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, "Oh, fine, except I just got kicked out of a store for being black." He was in the store, within store hours, and he was asked to leave. Now, that's racism.

So here's where I tenderly approach blasphemy: It's about time someone pierced Oprah's bloated sense of self-importance. Yes, she does a lot of good (though I could wax really, really cynical about that), and, yes, she's an important figure in our society and a decent role model, but it's been clear for a long time that she lives in her own little Oprah world. She canceled her book club because "It has become harder and harder to find books on a monthly basis that I feel absolutely compelled to share." Like it's possible to run out of books worth reading. Of course, the truth was more likely that she got sick of the whole enterprise, worn out from all that monthly reading, and--let's face it--humiliated by Jonathan Franzen's admittedly insensitive remarks after she selected "The Corrections" to spotlight. (Which clearly was more humiliating than being shut out of Hermès.)

Three words for you Oprah: Get over yourself.

I assume a special place in hell awaits me for criticizing, Her Highness.

(Via Yahoo's The INSIDER Online.)

Update 7/12/05: Diversity Inc disagrees with me, and fair enough. Not sure I buy their reasoning, but I'll happily recant if the store does turn out to have embellished their story. Problem is, I think Oprah's silence speaks volumes. Diversity Inc quotes her friend and I read those quotes, too, and they sound a little sensationalistic. There's nothing to say that people weren't still shopping in there, and that the store was turning away anyone who came late. This I'll say too: since I don't know all the facts, I should be more careful about weighing. After all, that's why I haven't written at all about the Rove/Plame affair: I think there's a lot more to the story and people are viscerally homing in on Rove because he's easy to vilify. Oprah has my apologies in advance if I'm wrong. Rove may habve created a reputation for himself that has lead folks to see him as Machiavellian.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Defining Barbarism Down

Andrew Sullivan has a very measured and articulate post on the reaction of many conservative's to Gitmo, and Dick Durbin's recent bout with foot-in-mouth disease.
I supported this war in large part because I wanted to end torture, abuse and cruelty in Iraq. I did not support it in order, two and a half years later, to be finding specious rhetorical justifications for torture, abuse and cruelty by Americans. I'm sick of hearing justifications that the enemy is worse. This is news? This is what now passes for analysis? They are far, far worse, among the most despicable and evil enemies we have ever faced. Our treatment of their prisoners is indeed Club Med compared to their fathomless barbarism. But since when is our moral compass set by them? The West is a civilization built on a very fragile web of law and humanity. We do not treat people in our custody as animals. We do not justify it. We do not change the subject. We do not accuse those highlighting it of aiding the enemy. We do not joke about it. We simply don't do it.
Except for his initial support for the war, I agree with him in toto.

I support staying in Iraq now. Unfortunately. We broke it, we fix it. Nature abhors a vacuum you see, and if we leave what do you think happens in a country with three opposing factions? Personally, I think to leave would be inhumane now.

So, when I hear about some folks, who were eager to go to war, and now are eager to pull out, I can't help but think that they're not allies of those who initially opposed the war at all; they're just not particularly concerned about the welfare of people who aren't Americans. They didn't care about the welfare of th eIraqi people when we went to war. They're probably not too concerned about the welfare of people in American detention facilities either. They're just not concerned.

I recognize that I'm speaking in generalities, of course, and I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong on this particular point.

Mini Review: Batman Begins

As a fan of the Dark Knight since I was a kid (ahem, not too long ago), I'd been looking forward to Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins for ages and . . . me liked. Not quite as good as I'd hoped, but waaay better than all (or at least most) of the previous ones. Plus, I liked the realism of it and the nifty little explanations for Batman lore. And I think Bale is the best Batman/Bruce Wayne so far. It's easier to pull off Batman I think, due to the suit. However, the cultured, but damaged aspect of Bruce Wayne, coupled with his viciously good looks and a cold remote demeanor - now that's a lot harder to pull off and Christian Bale nailed it.

And that scene where he's sitting in the courtroom, trembling with barely constrained rage. Holy method acting! Sent chills. I'm not sure I've even seen someone tremble with rage realistically in a movie before.

As Saheli points out, Batman Begins probably doesn't add any iconic moments to cinema history. There was one maybe: when the camera swings wide around that one Gotham cityscape and Batman's standing atop a skyscraper, like a towering gargoyle. It's been done before, so, maybe it's not iconic exactly, but it was certainly breathtaking.

Where it fell apart for me was at the end where it did kinda turn into typical summer blockbuster fare and then, especially when he and Katie Holmes kiss. They'd been so distant throughtout the whole flick and then she kisses him like that? Didn't fit. Seemed like an audience-tested moment. So that was disappointing.

Nonetheless, for much of the movie, I was enthralled.

It was like a Batman movie Ridley Scott might have made if he'd turned his attention to the superhero, immediately after Bladerunner.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Bowtie Boy Breaks

"I think it’s a total nightmare and disaster, and I’m ashamed that I went against my own instincts in supporting it," he said. "It’s something I’ll never do again. Never. I got convinced by a friend of mine who’s smarter than I am, and I shouldn’t have done that. No. I want things to work out, but I’m enraged by it, actually." -Tucker Carlson, Yes, Tucker Carlson, AKA "Bowtie Boy."
Huh, couldn't agree more.

Friday, June 17, 2005

How Long Is a Last Throe?

I try not to reproduce too much from blogs as well-read as Kevin Drum's, but this stuff is so rich, it begs to replicated in as many places as possible. Drum excerpts Terry Moran's persistant questions from this recounting of a briefing with Scott McClellan:
Q Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its 'last throes'?

Q But the insurgency is in its last throes?

Q But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?

Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?

Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?

Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.

Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a "last throe" lasts for?
I mean, you hafta laugh. Hard. One day, these turkeys (AKA Busk lackeys) will answer a question honestly and surprise us all.

I toast Moran for his persistance. All journalists should be this dogged with this (any) administration's waffling/prevaricating.

And tangentially, Is there any idea how long a 'last throe' lasts for? Man, that's comedy gold!

Drum also suggests that "maybe the White House should institute 'wiki-briefings' that allow us all to go in and edit the transcripts." Oh, man, that's rich, too.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Problems with Polling

I came across this poll on CNN's home page Friday and sent it over to Mark Hurst for his This Is Broken site:

See the problem? Later that day they got it right:

Or did they?

I'd argue they still didn't get it right, and that this question suffers from the same problem many online polls do.

You'd have to add some additional choices in order for this poll to be accurate, e.g. C) both D) neither and potentially some additional more specific selections. Otherwise, as polls often do, you're presented with a fallacy of limited options. Here, you can only choose one one thing or another. Arguably, the scenario isn't as bad here as elsewhere, though, as many people taking the poll may feel comfortable assigning motivation to one of the two choices, politics or principles.

A great example of this fallacy (or propaganda technique) is how the Bush administration has presented the problem with social security. They present a crisis (another propaganda technique: creating a crisis) and reduce what may be a myriad of solutions to only two choices: A) leave it as it is (bad) or B) privatize (good). Behold, the fallacy of limited options.

As commenters over at This Is Broken pointed out, there are additional problems with the poll, too, including the spacing and alignment of the radio buttons, etc.

I seldom talk about work on this blog, but this is related to the sort of thing I do: presenting and arranging information so it's intuitive and easy for end users to navigate.


Is roadcasting the next big thing?

Here's the gist:
The real innovation, though, comes from what happens once a playlist is created. While a driver is listening to music from his or her choices, the songs will be broadcast and available for reception by any other car with a roadcast-equipped car stereo. So, if a driver gets bored with a personal playlist, the software's collaborative filtering capabilities will automatically scan the airwaves looking for other roadcast stations that match the driver's stated preferences, and return any matching available stations. Listeners can search by bands, genres, and song titles, and skip through other users' radio stations to find music they want to hear.
Sounds way better than ol' commercial radio, that's for sure. Maybe even better than satellite radio, too. No commercials though? What's the bet the music companies will want to declare this illegal?

Saturday, June 11, 2005

George W. Bush V. The United States of America

[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. --the U.S. Constitution, Article VI, Clause 3
We need common-sense judges who understand that our rights were derived from God. Those are the kind of judges I intend to put on the bench.--George W. Bush, 2002

Monday, June 06, 2005

Defining Chutzpah

"What you are ethically bound to do is go to a grand jury and seek an indictment and not go to a single news source." - G Gordon Liddy on "Deep Throat," Mark Felt. He lead the Watergate break-in.

Here's a Newsday article detailing the (self) righteous idignation leveled at Felt from Liddy, Colson and Buchanan.

Pat Buchanan's espcially laughable: "Here is an individual," Buchanan explained, "sneaking around at night leaking things to damage the president of the United States in the middle of a campaign. And I don't see what is heroic about ... that."

Sneaking around? At night? Trying to damage a campaign? Hey, didn't something like that happen at . . . what's the name of that big ugly hotel on the Potomac?

The outrage. Oh, the outrage!

It's not TV, oh, Wait a Minute, Maybe It Is

So, I'm watching the first episode of the new season of Six Feet Under and so far Federico mentioned and then the first single from Coldplay's new album--which debuts tomorrow--was playing in the background of a subsequent scene.

I don't know that either of those were product placements for sure, of course, but . . . you know. Walks like a duck.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

God's Away on Business

Review: Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

I think this documentary may have made me a lot angrier than Fahrenheit 911, perhaps because, as outrageous as Michael Moore's effort was, I did feel I was being manipulated much of the time. Now it may just be because "Enron" largely avoids making political points (though it inevitably does, considering the coziness of the Bush family with Ken Lay and company) that it's easier not to notice that the documentary actually does utilize many of the same tricks Moore does: the smartly-inserted damning quote, the ironic music--brilliantly selected I might add. The flick opens with Tom Waits sounding positively Satanic as he coughs out the lyrics to "What Is He Building in There?" as the camera pans up and down the glassy phallic Enron towers. You couldn't ask for a more terrifying composition. Later the camera glides over vast smoking oil fields to the tune of "Old Black Magic."

Amost universally acclaimed, "Enron" is a barrage of facts and figures, not to mention almost unbelievable quotes, video and audi tape. Visit the site where you can hear some of this insanity caught on audio tape and download transcripts. Prepare to be repulsed and revolted, though, and I don't use those terms loosely. It's so much worse than I ever imagined.

Some of the most daming quotes come not just from Lay and Skilling and Fastow, but from 20-something stockbrokers, wielding their power like malicious greedy gods over the state of California, as they literally decide whether people will get power their homes, based upon their whims and their desire to make a killing for themselves and the company.

The documentary makes the point that these employees were like Milgram's subjects, zapping away at innocents because an authority told them to. Problem is, at least Migrams subjects protested a little along the way. These young Turks can only laugh and joke about retiring before they 30.

A sample:
Trader 1: So are we going to steal some more electricity from Grandma Millie [in California] today? ….. I heard that a wildfire was threatening one of the main power lines in the _____ Valley.

Trader 2: Burn, motherfucker, burn.
And there's loads more where that came from. Likely the most gripping and horrific documentary I've ever seen.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Pecking Order at Ground Zero

Thanks, but no thanks, Donald: Trump proves once again that just because you're insanely rich doesn't mean you have a modicum of taste.

Paul Goldberger, the epitome of the tasteful architectural critic, has an excellent, if saddening update on the rebuilding progess being made at Ground Zero in the May 30th issue of the New Yorker. (Apparently not available online.) Sounds like Larry Silverstein and Governor Pataki have enough craven interest between them to undermine any elegant or dignified solution to the challenges endemic to the site. Goldberger makes a compelling case for offering a lot more living space and less commercial space on those 16 acres.

Of Trump's plan, Goldberger says, "I think the challenge of Ground Zero goes beyond anyone's individual ego, and the problem of Donald Trump is he's never gone beyond his own individual ego."

Hear, hear.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Found Time

Download yourself this tres cool desktop clock from Blu Dot, which utilizes a random image (photo) of a number to represent the time every minute.