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Since 1:30am, September 16, 2001

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{Wednesday, February 27, 2002}

Song of the day: "Ramblin' Man," by The Allman Brothers.

New York

to Denver,
to Los Angeles, to

New York.

Back next week.

Image stolen from one of Treebeard's Stumpers.

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{Tuesday, February 26, 2002}

Song of the day: "I Walk the Line," by birthday boy Johnny Cash
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{Monday, February 25, 2002}

“She kissed him with her tongue until the leaves on the trees, the soles of his shoes, and even his thoughts, felt like happy tongues.”

A List Apart has an article by Dennis Mahoney called How to Write a Better Weblog, from which the quotation above was appropriated. I recommend reading the article for its own sake, but its effect on me was first a result of those words I had to steal.

I want to grin, and brag, and say "I have been kissed like that." I want her to remember that that's how it was. Kisses like secret messages printed on sky-sized billboards with letters as big as circus tents. They said SHE LIKES YOU. They made the world simple and glorious, and the best thing in it was how she would stand so close and want to tell you so much. It was storytelling--with her fingers and with her tongue and with her fearlessness and her trust--and the moral of the story was "this is how happy you make me."

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{Thursday, February 21, 2002}

I'm going to Ottawa. See you in a few days.
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"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron."

- Dwight Eisenhower, 1953 speech

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{Tuesday, February 19, 2002}

Conscientious Objection
The number of IDF reservists and soldiers who signed a statement refusing to serve in the occupied territories has climbed to 263. These people are risking their careers by speaking out publicly against the occupation, and it now appears that they are inspiring others in Israel. The Miami Herald had the following report today:

A large group of retired military and security officers has called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories.

The group of 1,200 former officers also urged Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to immediately dismantle 50 settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.


The retired officers who make up the Council for Peace and Security circulated a statement saying Israel's military control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip is ``a strategic and moral liability for the state of Israel.' (more)'

[ Sharon pressured to leave territories, by Tim Johnson | The Miami Herald ]

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Which side your bread is buttered on
NPR's correspondent in Israel, Linda Gradstein, takes cash payments from (self-described) Zionist groups, in violation of NPR policy (via The Electronic Intifada). In a related story, NPR is shocked -- shocked -- to hear that its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is biased.
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Andy Kashdan over at A libertarian reads the paper has a great blog. Check it out, and don't miss in particular:________________________________________
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The post below on Iraq has been updated rather extensively. Take a look again if you read it before Tuesday morning. Thanks.
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{Monday, February 18, 2002}

A matter of trust?
For some time, Matt Welch has been promising to address the issue of the (U.S. led) international sanctions against Iraq and their effect on civilians, particularly children. His "The Politics of Dead Children," is the result, published recently in Reason (via Daypop).

Matt's piece is surprisingly even-handed given the contentious nature of his subject. He criticizes those who grossly exaggerate the death toll as well as those who claim with certainty that sanctions have not caused suffering. Though he doesn't belabor the point, Matt's article suggests that sanctions are not useful as a lever for shifting the policies of foreign governments.

"Yet the basic argument against all economic sanctions remains: namely, that they tend to punish civilians more than governments and to provide dictators with a gift-wrapped propaganda tool." (more)

Ultimately, Matt concludes that at least 100,000 children have died, and mentions that the most credible source he is aware of says that a more likely figure is 350,000. The article makes it clear that while the debate has been murky, the reality of sanctions has resulted in tragedy for the Iraqi people.

However, Matt can't resist aiming a few darts at Edward Said and Noam Chomsky, pointing out that a statement they jointly signed in 1999 condemned the situation in Iraq as "sanctioned mass-murder that is nearing holocaust proportions." In Matt's words, Said, Chomsky, and their cohorts "have authored reams of hyperbolic nonsense since September 11," but is this a fair characterization?

Their original statement, dated January 8, 1999, says "since the end of the Gulf War, at least hundreds of thousands -- maybe more than 1 million -- Iraqis have died as a direct result of the UN sanctions on Iraq, which are a direct result of U.S. policy." Note that the statement above applies to all Iraqis, not just to children.

Said and Chomsky's "hyperbolic nonsense" is not, in truth, so far off from the sober analysis of Richard Garfield, whom Welch praises. According to Garfield, as quoted in Welch's article, the death toll up to March 1998--almost a year before Chomsky and Said's statement--was between 106,000 and 227,000 among children only. According to Chomsky and Said, "at least hundreds of thousands" of children and adults perished. This is not a vast gap, especially given that their statement was published nine months after Garfield stopped counting.

Even Said and Chomsky's contention that "maybe" more than a million Iraqis have died is supported by others whom Welch does not criticize. Welch writes:

The former U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, Denis Halliday, travels around the world calling the policy he once enforced "genocide." His replacement, Hans von Sponeck, also resigned in protest of the U.N.’s "criminal policy."

In an interview with Matthew Rothschild of The Progressive, in February of 1999, Denis Halliday is quoted as saying that the death toll is "probably closer now to 600,000 and that’s over the period of 1990-1998. If you include adults, it’s well over 1 million Iraqi people."

Other sections of the Chomsky-Said statement are balanced as well. Writing of a campaign to oppose the sanctions, they say "such a campaign is not equivalent to support for the regime of Saddam Hussein. To oppose the sanctions is to support the Iraqi people. The people are suffering because of the actions of both the Iraqi and U.S. governments, but our moral responsibility lies here in the United States, to counter the hypocrisy and inhumanity of our leaders." What in these words is so abhorrent to Matt Welch?

Matt has drawn some criticism, notably from Jude Wanniski over at SupplySideInvestor. Jude's Memo to Matt Welch (via A libertarian reads the paper) takes the United States to task for supporting an "evil policy" that was meant to "make the Iraqi people suffer so much that they would overthrow Saddam Hussein." Then, this:

The exact number of dead children is unimportant when set against Madeleine Albright's stupid remark about it being worth the deaths of 500,000 children to contain Saddam. Once that went into global circulation, it is a waste of time for reporters to fuss about the exact number. The reporting on Iraq by our press corps has been scandalous and as a result of its incompetence, 9-11 was the price we have paid. So far. (more)

I disagree with Jude here. The terror attacks were not retribution. They were an unconscionable murder of innocents. This would be true even if it had been the parents of dead Iraqi children flying the planes. Neither self-defense nor retribution justify the murder of innocents, because murder can't be justified. But antagonism can be, and the general mood in the Middle East that many Americans can't seem to understand is, in truth, very simple to explain.

It begins with facts like U.S. support of Israel's brutality in Palestine and sanctions against Iraq that kill hundreds of thousands of its children without removing Saddam. It is possible that both of these facts could be justified, that a story could be told that would explain the U.S. point of view in such a way that a fair-minded Middle Easterner would accept our motives as honorable. This does not happen, though, because the people who have been implementing U.S. policy themselves do not believe they are acting honorably, and it shows.

Albright's words confirmed the worst fears of people in the Middle East. They made plain how little value Washington places on the lives of Arabs, even innocent children. To observers whose neighbors are the victims of U.S. policy, it's become clear that the Americans are not well meaning people who, in the process of pursuing good, have done unavoidable harm. Albright admitted otherwise. To any Middle Easterner hearing her, Americans became a people who's conception of good did not include them. This is now the Arab mindset: to Americans they are calculated risks, their children's deaths acceptable losses.

This is the context we should keep in mind--not when examining why 19 men attacked the U.S., as Jude Wanniski suggests; their motives are likely to be particular and enigmatic (if they even knew they were fated to die). Rather, this context reflects on the ordinary person in the Middle East. It makes it easier to understand their ambivalence and their anger. If we admit that the Arabs' reasoning is credible (even if we disagree), it should make it easier for us to deal with each other in a rational way. If we continue to paint a picture of madmen and their bloodthirsty supporters jealous of Western success, we will only contribute to more tragedy.

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{Sunday, February 17, 2002}

Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain
The Blue Button points to a Reason article on the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill that recently passed the House of Representatives. The point--the ostensible point--of this legislation is to clean up politics by more closely regulating political contributions.

Here is a handy summary of the national thinking on campaign finance reform so far:
1. Gee, all these unregulated political contributions sure are a problem!
2. It seems like the wealthy are taking advantage of the corruption of our politicians to buy their votes.
3. I know, why don't we ask these same politicians to fix things by writing some legislation?

It has occured to the folks at Reason (and a few others) that the likelihood of a fair and impartial bill on this matter coming from the pens of our Congress is slim. This is the kind of situation that the phrase 'conflict of interest' was invented for, and even proponents of big government should be wary of handing over the keys to the chicken-coop so readily. Unfortunately, they're not. As for our elected foxes, here's what Reason has to say about the bill they've written:

Soft money to political parties, which disproportionately benefits challengers, is outlawed, as is anonymous soft money that funds advertisements within 60 days of elections, the period during which ads pose the largest threat to incumbents. But there are no restrictions on raising money for incumbents to use lobbying state legislators on redistricting issues. The principle is clear: Soft money that hurts incumbents is corrupting, but that which helps them is ennobling.

Blue Button finishes up his next post with some wise words: "Want to get money out of politics altogether? Take away politicians' favor-granting powers."

Thanks to Libertarian Samizdata for pointing me to The Blue Button, and to Zem a few days ago. And for adding me to their Commuter blog stops list.

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{Saturday, February 16, 2002}

OC's first press mention
Henry Jenkins mentioned this humble blog's name in an article he wrote for Technology Review (via blogdex) "Like cockroaches after nuclear war," Henry writes, "online diarists rule an Internet strewn with failed dot coms ... Their sites go by colorful names like Objectionable Content, the Adventures of the AccordionGuy in the 21st Century, or Eurotrash, which might leave you thinking that these are simply a bunch of obsessed adolescents with too much time and bandwidth."

Yes, we accept backhanded compliments here at Objectionable Content.

[ Blog This, by Henry Jenkins | Technology Review ]
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{Friday, February 15, 2002}

This just in
"After four weeks of putting the Segway Human Transporter through its paces, Tampa postal officials say the upright electric scooter has, literally, taken a load off their shoulders." (via broomeman)
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{Thursday, February 14, 2002}

Song of the day: "I've Just Seen a Face," by the Beatles.
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Love is Everywhere

This is a snapshot of the tire tracks left by two vans pulling out of the CBC parking lot. The tracks make two perfect interlocking hearts.

Photo taken by Stewart at sylloge (via old bits of nothing)
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Fantasies of a Dystopian Present
Rabbi Berel Wein writes an open letter to the Palestinians in a recent edition of the Jerusalem Post (via little green footballs). I decided to respond to Wein's letter, and have taken the liberty of speaking for the Palestinians.

An Open Letter (Short Version)
Dear Israel,
Please stop bullshiting (and killing) us.
Thank you.
The Palestinians.

An Open Letter (Long Version)
Dear Rabbi Wein,
If the Palestinians were not blamed for their own occupation so often, I would find it surprising that Israel continued to make the case. Daily, Palestinians are told that their suffering, their death, their brutal subjugation, is their fault. If only they could control themselves or the radicals among them, if only they could "stop the violence," why then all of the Palestinians' troubles would be over.

I hope you will forgive me for my skepticism, and indeed, my surprise, on hearing such an argument.

Do you know that for every Israeli that has been killed by a Palestinian since the current uprising began, nearly four Palestinians have been murdered by the IDF? That means that if your soldiers were to cut their murder rate in half, Israel would still be responsible for almost twice as many deaths.

How is it then that the victims are blamed for their plight? After all, it is not Palestinian soldiers who drive their tanks through Israeli streets. No bulldozers protected by the Palestinian Defense Force demolish the homes of Jewish civilians. In short, Rabbi Wein, it is your government that is the occupier, and my relatives who are under siege. Isn't it a bit silly for you to ask us to bring and end to this dance of death as if you were helpless to stop it?

In truth, it is not silly, but sinister. It is a dodging of the responsibility for evil, a shifting of blame. Shame on you, Rabbi Wein.

You accuse the Palestinian media of preaching bigotry and intolerance, but I submit that the hate exists on both sides, and it is Israel's actions and policies that are the sources of Palestinian hopelessness and anger.

Rabbi, you take the Palestinians to task, noting that you are "discouraged by the rampant corruption" that exists in Palestine. I am discourage by corruption too, but I fail to see your point. Does any internal corruption in Palestine give Israel the right to murder people and steal their land? Will Israel next occupy the Texas headquarters of Enron?

Shame on your government, as well, Rabbi. They signed the Oslo accord in 1993, where they committed to end the construction of settlements on Palestinian lands--but Israel kept building settlements. The pace increased during that peacemaker Barak's administration. Israel does not keep its promises, Rabbi. Instead, it extracts concessions from a subject people, and while they wait, it eats more land.

Why not admit to the world that Israel does not wish to give up the territory? This notion is a common part of Israel's internal dialog, though it is kept from the international conversation as much as possible. But here is what I have seen:

The Women In Green, that self-described grassroots Israeli movement, have said "Unquestionably, a majority of the Jewish people opposes the establishment of a state like this [ie. a Palestinian state]."

Daniella Weiss, the mayor of Kedumim, was quoted in the November 18, 2001 edition of Arutz 7 as saying "The Land of Israel is all ours, and we have to settle it, and we must continue the process of the Jews' return to their land, as told in the Prophets. We have had the privilege to see the Land become more and more settled, and especially since the Six Day War, when we were allowed to return to the important sites of Jerusalem, Hebron, Nablus, Beit El, [and] Jericho."

In the January 2 edition of Arutz 7, Tourism Minister Benny Elon says "the whole purpose of my being in the government is to fight against Peres' ideas and against the establishment of a Palestinian state, even of a small size and even if Sharon agrees to it. Sharon's idea to establish a Palestinian state in 42% is a fantasy and dangerous and should be fought against.... I will not leave the government as long as the red line is not crossed and that red line is an official decision of the government to engage in negotiations with any foreign element over the establishment of a Palestinian state – G-d forbid."

We shouldn't need these words to alert ourselves to the fact of Israel's bad faith. Israel has not even officially agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Since the Oslo accords were signed in 1993 and Israel committed--again--to halt its settlement building, Americans for Peace Now report that there has been an approximately 72% growth in the settler population, from 115,700 at year-end 1993 to an estimated 203,000 by the end of 2000, reflecting an annual growth rate of around 8% over the past decade (compared to an average annual growth of the Jewish population of Israel of about 3%, 1990-1997).

Members of Israel's government call this expansion "natural growth," but this too is a fiction. In the words of Americans for Peace Now, "calls for new building in settlements based on "natural growth" ignore the fact that growth of settlement populations is not "natural;" rather in most settlements it is artificially encouraged by a wide range of government incentives, including highly subsidized mortgages, sizeable housing grants, a 7% income tax break, free schooling from the age of 3, free school busing, and grants for businesses in industry, agriculture, and tourism." Web sites like Amana advertise colonization--the invasion and appropriation of land from another people--as a normal, middle-class endeavor.

The refusal of many in Israel to acknowledge the rights Palestinians have to live in the land they were born in troubles me deeply. I am dismayed by how easily my Palestinian relatives have been lied to by your government, Rabbi Wein. It saddens me to see them blamed for the failure of a peace process that was never entered-into in good faith, one that was stacked against them from the beginning. It angers me to see them blamed for their own destruction at the hands of Israel.

I hope with all my heart that the occupation will end, soon, with a just peace. I hope that no more will die in Israel or Palestine. Reading your letter, Rabbi, I see that the gap in understanding between the two sides is great. Still, I hope.

Jim, of Objectionable Content
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The Brick Testament
Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was.She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.Herod was furious on realizing that he had been fooled by the wise men.And in Bethlehem and its surrounding districts he had all the male children killed who were two years old or less.

This guy, Brendan Powell Smith, has re-created both the Old and New Testament, in loving detail, using Legos. He calls it The Brick Testament. Check out the steamy sections on Adam and Eve, and the seduction of Lot by his daughters. There's nothing like 3000 year old smut. (And, yes, that's two posts stolen from Ian in as many days.)
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{Wednesday, February 13, 2002}

The U.S. Government: Freedom is Our Watchword
A bookstore in California called Tattered Cover is refusing to hand over its sales records to police. Law enforcement authorities believe the sales records will indicate that a suspect of theirs purchased a book on how to make a certain drug, and they hope that this information will assist in his conviction. Zem mentions the original BBC article, and then quotes this piece in Salon.com, on the broader issues at stake.
"If we allow law enforcement access to customer records whenever they think it's convenient, customers won't feel secure purchasing books and magazines that are their constitutional right to buy," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. "It's important because many books are very private, or about sensitive issues, and if they feel booksellers turn over buying information at regular intervals, customers won't buy those books." By extension, this could have a chilling effect on the types of books that end up being published.


In fact, according to Finan, less-publicized demands by law enforcement for customer information have become "alarmingly" more frequent over the past two years. And not only independent booksellers, but giants like Borders and Amazon, have been subpoenaed. In perhaps the most egregious case, authorities ordered Amazon to give them a list of all customers in a large part of Ohio who had ordered two sexually oriented CDs. Independent booksellers have been especially hard-hit by these cases. And fighting them without the benefit of a corporate budget or in-house counsel means hefty legal bills and months, if not years, of hassle. (more at Salon.com, via zem)

Zem has got a pretty interesting blog, covering this stuff: cryptography, censorship, copyright, thoughtcrime. Thanks to Libertarian Samizdata for pointing me in Zem's direction.
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He fights crime!
He was just one man. . .
A lone force for justice in a land where criminals operate above the law.

He never asked to be a hero. He was chosen.
A black man in a red (and magenta) man's world.

They thought he was dead. . . now he's back to settle a deadly score.

XiaoXiao 8: Stick-Fu Fight, by Zhu Zhq.
The flashmovie event of every era ever.

See it today (via that great guy Ian)

The following preview is approved for all audiences.

The Chase

The Showdown

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{Sunday, February 10, 2002}

Error Messages in Haiku

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.

Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that

Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.
First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.

(via Ruthie's Double, who found it at GNU)
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Song of the day: "Hallelujah," By Jeff Buckley (covering Leonard Cohen).

Jeff Buckley died in 1997 at age 30. Leonard Cohen wrote this about him:

What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is the caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shape of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

- Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1996)

Did you know that Jeff's father, Tim, was also a musician?
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Repetitio Ad Absurdum



Reading the Bits of Shakespeare
(Academic Press)
It may not tell you whether Francis Bacon really authored Shakespeare's plays, but a common computer program designed to compress large files can sort out who wrote what with greater than 90% accuracy.

To a computer, Hamlet's first soliloquy is just a string of characters--but that string still contains information. Just how much information is what determines the string's "entropy," essentially the minimum number of bits needed to encode the string. Unless a string is infinitely long, it's impossible to calculate it's exact entropy. But a program that compresses files provides a convenient estimate: the length of the compressed file containing the string. By estimating entropy, sophisticated compression programs can identify the language and even the author of unfamiliar prose.
(more, via honeyguide)
Whole lot of makin' going on
(Irish Times)
Percentage of unique words in lyrics. Average word length. Frequency of "love", "heart" and "baby". These were the criteria used by a US study of boy, girl and teen bands. The researchers picked albums by four of the biggest pop acts around - Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and 'N Sync - and pitted them against an album by Pink Floyd, their musical opposite.

"The percentage of unique words indicates how repetitive an artist is; the higher the number, the more likely the artist has something to say. A low number forces the artist to use the same words over and over and over and over again," they wrote. Backstreet Boys were the runaway winners of this category, using the fewest unique words, closely followed by 'N Sync, Britney and Christina. Pink Floyd barely repeated themselves once.
(more, via daypop)

You know what compression software is: programs like WinZip that pack your data into smaller spaces. Back when hard drive size was measured in megabyes instead of gigabytes, WinZip and programs like it were used locally on a lot of people's computers to save space. Now, they've found utility on the internet, where it makes a lot more sense to transmit a 500 KB zipped file than a 1 MB uncompressed original.

WinZip is just one implementation of a compression algorithm. The net has made them ubiquitous: GIF and JPEG are compression algorithms for images, MP3 for audio, MPEG1 and MPEG2 for full-motion video. The bandwidth constraints of the internet force us to find more concise ways to represent information.

There is a great little explanation of how text comperession works over at Howstuffworks.com (and also one for audio compression, which relies on different principles--clicking on the image takes you to the audio explanation; be sure to read the one on text, it's good). But basically, compression algorithms work by identifying portions of a set of data that can be eliminated (or represented once and referred back to many times).

In Shakespeare's plays, or Pink Floyd's lyrics, redundancy means patterns that are repeated (How I wish, How I wish you were here or Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in its petty pace from day to day). Compression algorithms identify patterns and swap out the full text for a pointer that refers to a single instance of the repeated portion. The more times something is repeated (ie. the more redundancy in the data), the more often you can swap out full text for a pointer, and the more space you save.

The article at left from the Academic Press describes how scientists have been able to use the inherent pattern detection features of compression algorithms to determine the authorship of literary works with 93% accuracy.

My hunch is that accuracy rates in this same experiment would have plummeted if the base texts used were song lyrics by the pop acts mentioned in the article at right in the Irish Times. As the Times notes:
On the frequency of "love" ("a word that has lost all meaning, having become a staple in many pop ballads," according to the team), "heart" ("another word used too often by horrible musicians wishing to instil a bit more meaning into their otherwise empty lyrics") and "baby" ("there is a scientifically proven relationship between how bad a band is and the number of times they sing the word 'baby' "), the researchers found that Christina used the first word 32 times, Backstreet Boys 48, Britney 62, 'N Sync 77 and Pink Floyd 0. The results were similar for "heart" and "baby".
In other words, 'N Sync and Britney lyrics would compress wonderfully. They've approached the ideal of near-infinite compression by crafting lyrics with near-zero information content.

Of course, lyrics by their nature can be repetitive, but your average pop lyric gives the word repetition its meaning. I wanted to use an analogy here but I found I couldn't think of something more repetitive than pop lyrics to compare them to. A broken record? What's the difference between that and the actual sound of No Doubt's new single (and I admit, it's catchy).

A compression algorithm would have no trouble reducing these songs to some Platonic ideal combination of "baby" "love" "heart" and "hey," but would it then be able to tell Britney from the Backstreet Boys? I'm not sure that it could.

I wonder if compression length might be a handy proxy for lyrical quality: those songs that compress the least using WinZip are most likely to be lyrically complex and inventive--and good. It's probaby too easy to game such a system with long, complex nonsense, but I'd love to see the experiment tried.

Maybe I'm just getting too much Leonard Cohen.
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{Friday, February 08, 2002}

You are luckier than 500 million people. (via reenhead)

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Today was the feeling, at 4pm, the sunlight making the office windows hot, making it seem as if the trees outside should have leaves.

I could see dust motes in a shaft of light that cut across my cubicle. I could hear the sound of my younger self: it's 2:45 and school is out in eight minutes. The sun is still high, the day is that first warm after winter--in reality it's cool, but it is such a contrast from snow that it feels stuffy, it feels hot. And I'm going to make it from this class to my locker in under a minute, and I'll be outside waiting for the bus by 2:55.

At 4pm we'll be at the basketball court. Running, shouting. We're arrayed on the blacktop like spilled marbles. Until the toss, the held breath, the rocketing of the ball to one side of the court or the other. We're off, after it like misguided missiles. We run fast and tire quickly; we change directions often with little discipline and only hints of skill. Sam brags, Mohan--Mo--mumbles. Horace quietly places a perfect foul shot--of course his nickname is Ho, and we take any chance we can to greet him and Mo in the same breath. Move! Too much running and the soles of your sneakers feel paper thin, every step a drumbeat against your feet. Tom Kosaka sails over everybody's head, and we all shout "Toyota man!" because he jumps the way the excited suburban families do in the ridiculous commercial: boy what a feeling!

Overheating comes quicker than it should. Exhaustion salved by Peach Snapple (it's new) or by licking our own sweat from dirty wrists, laying on our backs in the grass in the field next to the blacktop, squinting up at the sky, tasting the salt on our tongues. We're tired. We won. We lost. It was a tie, a robbery, a joke.

No kid with self-respect would own a ten-speed, not with those thin tires. Even a Huffy bought from Service Merchandise or Toys "R" Us is better. It's dark on the way home, and we'll get talked to by our mothers. And we'll collapse onto couches and catch our breath. Mom feeds us, indulges the guests and then banishes them from her house. It's Friday, time for homework. ... But Mom, it's Friday!

Looking out the window, the highway is still mostly empty of cars. The office is mostly empty. Papers are spread out across my desk, completely obscuring its surface. The sunlight makes it seem like 1988, and I can hear the chaos of ecstasy on the basketball court.

Today was the feeling at 4pm.
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Song of the day: "Growin' Up," By Bruce Springsteen.

When they said "sit down" I stood up
Ooh, ooh, growin' up.

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Jesus H Christ, Houston, We're on the fucking moon.

Tranquility, we read you, you are on the fucking moon.

(via PlanetJon)
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The Land of the Free
On Sunday, February 3rd, MSNBC aired an interview with Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudia Arabia's former chief of intelligence. At one point, the host, Dennis Russert, asked the Prince the following question:
MR. RUSSERT: Americans read newspaper articles about women soldiers in Saudi Arabia not being able to drive and have to dress a certain way and it disturbs them, because they think we’re there as a partner with Saudi Arabia, we’re they’re there to defend you against Saddam Hussein. The Saudi Institute did an analysis of some of the rights that are available to women in your country and I’ll give you a chance to respond: “Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women must—by law— surrender their lives to fathers, husbands, brothers, and other male relatives. ...Saudi women...need the approval of their male relatives to receive legal identity or even acquiring a mobile phone. ...Saudi women are not allowed the following without permission of their male relatives: The freedom to accept marriage proposals...consent to surgery (scores of women have died in labor because no male relatives were available to sign the consent), register in college, apply for a job, or attend court...”

When will the kingdom treat women as full citizens?

Take a look at al-Faisal's reply.
PRINCE AL-FAISAL: You know, Mr. Russert, the kingdom is a very young country. It went through a very rapid rate of progress. We covered in 70 years what countries like yours took more than 200 years to do. And we have our ideas and our principles, and those are based on Islamic law. And in Islamic law, we believe that all the rights of all people, whether they be women, men, children, grandfathers, are guaranteed in those rights. The unfortunate thing, as happens in many countries, in the practice of these rights, there are shortcomings. I ask you, Mr. Russert, when did women get their rights in the United States? Your Constitution is more than 200 years old. When did black people get their rights in the United States? It took time for social progress and bonding to allow for these things to take place. And the thing, I think, about Saudi Arabia that is important is that we are convinced and committed to develop ourselves and reach levels of progress that are attained by others. So it might take some time, but it is there in the progress.

The International Parliamentary Union has a web site that gives a chronology of the achievement of women's suffrage around the world. In the U.S., women couldn't vote until 1920; not until 1947 in Argentina, or 1971 in Switzerland. Think about that. The Prince has a point that the civilized Western world has a pretty shabby record on human rights. Blacks had it worse than white women well into the 1960s. Maybe they still do.

But ... the failings of other nations don't grant Saudi Arabia or anywhere else a carte blanche to deny human rights within their borders.

And, ... but ... we in the West should remember our own history when we go out chastising the rest of the world for their backwardness, shouldn't we?
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{Thursday, February 07, 2002}


Bitter after being snubbed for membership in the "Axis of Evil," Libya, China, and Syria today announced they had formed the "Axis of Just as Evil," which they said would be way eviler than that stupid Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis President Bush warned of in his State of the Union address.

Axis of Evil members, however, immediately dismissed the new axis as having, for starters, a really dumb name. "Right. They are Just as Evil... in their dreams!" declared North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. (more)

[ Satirewire ] via The Hollow Times

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{Tuesday, February 05, 2002}

Very few friendships can survive your saying: 'I like you but I don't like your poems.' Much better to say: 'I don't like you but I like your poems.' Yes, that would have been OK.

- Ian Hamilton

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Partnership for a Propaganda Free America
"From running shoes to agribusiness, from automobiles to energy, one way or another, some of our money will eventually support bad people and bad policies. Significant amounts of money contributed by every law-abiding, tax-paying citizen of the U.S. go to support all manner of questionable regimes. We insulate ourselves from some of these bitter notions with convenient justifications. "If we don't defoliate their country and destroy their crops, I won't be able to prevent my kid from using drugs." "Yes, this company abuses their seed and water monopolies in regions of famine and scarce resources, but golly wouldja look at the size of this tomato?" "Yes, the money for my gasoline goes to fund monarchies with dismal human rights records, who in turn foment just the sort of anti-American fervor that leads to flight school -- but hey, it's cheap and my Esplanade is thirsty." The drug user is merely one among many uninformed contributors." (more on Superbowl ads and drugs, via snowdeal)

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{Monday, February 04, 2002}

I've come so far for beauty
Leonard Cohen on the stereo, naked women on the screen, a day without booze or cigarettes or you; just the memory of a night that went exactly the way it was supposed to.

The dinner, the wine, the movie too. We closed the deal, but her kiss fell through.

Maybe it's a lie not to say "it won't do." She doesn't have what you want, but you let her pitch her woo. I was kind; I don't think she ever knew.

Last night, ah, yesternight, I did what I had to do.

We closed the deal, but her kiss fell through.

Photo by Petter Hegre, stolen from Nerve


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Petter Hegre has a book of photography out. I haven't seen it and don't know if I will, but he is hawking it on the web. The photo in the post above is Petter's, and so are the two here.

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Plain Talk
Ha'aretz, the Israeli paper, is often a more honest source of mid-east news than American television. For example:

Both practically and legally, Shimon Peres' oft-repeated statements that Israel has adopted the Mitchell Report, including the settlement freeze, are worth less than Yasser Arafat's declarations of a cease-fire. The Palestinian cabinet at least voted to adopt the Mitchell report. The Israeli government, on the other hand, said this week in an official letter that the report "was discussed in various government forums, including the Ministerial Committee on National Security." In other words, discussions yes, decision no. Now it's official - the public and international discourse, for months based on the "fact" that the Israeli government had adopted the Mitchell report, is, in fact, based on a bluff. (more)

[ Can he become Yasser Luther King Jr.? by Akiva Eldar | Ha'aretz ]
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The New York Times published the following Op-Ed yesterday.

The Palestinian Vision of Peace

...We seek true independence and full sovereignty: the right to control our own airspace, water resources and borders; to develop our own economy, to have normal commercial relations with our neighbors, and to travel freely. In short, we seek only what the free world now enjoys and only what Israel insists on for itself: the right to control our own destiny and to take our place among free nations....

...The Palestinian people have been denied their freedom for far too long and are the only people in the world still living under foreign occupation. How is it possible that the entire world can tolerate this oppression, discrimination and humiliation? The 1993 Oslo Accord, signed on the White House lawn, promised the Palestinians freedom by May 1999. Instead, since 1993, the Palestinian people have endured a doubling of Israeli settlers, expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land and increased restrictions on freedom of movement. How do I convince my people that Israel is serious about peace while over the past decade Israel intensified the colonization of Palestinian land from which it was ostensibly negotiating a withdrawal?

But no degree of oppression and no level of desperation can ever justify the killing of innocent civilians. I condemn terrorism. I condemn the killing of innocent civilians, whether they are Israeli, American or Palestinian; whether they are killed by Palestinian extremists, Israeli settlers, or by the Israeli government. But condemnations do not stop terrorism. To stop terrorism, we must understand that terrorism is simply the symptom, not the disease. (more)

Sharon doesn't dream of giving Palestinians full sovereignty, of course. He wants to set the terms of Palestine's existence, to define what rights they will have and what rights they will not. Commentators in the Israeli press still talk about keeping 58% of the West Bank if they can.

Much of Israeli society just doesn't seem to get it. They believe they can negotiate down indefinately, whittling away at the goals of the Palestinians until nothing has to be granted after all. Much, but not all of Israeli society. Ha'aretz reported two days ago that "More than 300 Israelis defied a ban against travel to the Palestinian Authority ... to express solidarity with the Palestinian leadership and people."
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We are a bone in their throats
Meanwhile, the Times has published more of the Palestinian viewpoint than I've ever seen in an independent news outlet. In addition to Arafat's Op-Ed and the numerous pieces I blogged about a few days ago, the cover story for this Sunday's Magazine is "The Palestinian Conversation," a piece about the internal dialogue in Palestine. This is a portion of it:

Like many Palestinian farmers, Yousef sees the world through his olive trees. Their oil is the elixir of his existence; their roots are his roots. This year, for the first time, he has not been able to reap the harvest from his groves, which are adjacent to a settlement. ''This is the first season in my life and in the life of my father before me that they did not allow us to pick our olives,'' he said. He lifted a metal teapot. ''If you placed this cold pot on my heart, it would start boiling as a result of the fire that I have inside me.''

His wife, Nabieha, who wore a traditional black dress with purple embroidery, led me to a hill and pointed out the settlement block that has grown, year by year since 1983, to surround them. ''What do you think is the problem with this picture?'' she asked me. ''We are the problem with this picture. We are in their way. We are a bone in their throats. We are not warriors. Do I look like a warrior? But if I go down to my fields, they will shoot me, a little old lady, and they will say that I was on my way to plant a bomb.'' She literally wrung her hands. ''We tried to reach an understanding with the soldiers. We even asked the Red Cross to accompany us to our trees. But they met us with rifles. If they were human beings, they would feel for us.''

I asked the Yousefs if they see any hope on the horizon. ''I was listening to the news this morning, and they said that in eight weeks there would be a Palestinian state,'' Ahmed said. I raised an eyebrow. ''I have come to expect the unexpected,'' Ahmed answered. ''Did we ever believe there would be a Palestinian Authority? No. Did I expect to see Arafat in the White House? No, no, no. So don't raise your eyebrow.'' (more)

These people have hope. Isn't it amazing? Don't your troubles seem smaller?

Time Magazine interviewed Billy Joel in January (this is relevant). He said, "I have a theory that every seven years we live a completely different life." And then, this:

And then at age 21--another turning point. The band thing wasn't working. I had no money. I had had a series of jobs like oystering, landscaping, pumping gas. I was homeless. I slept in Laundromats or in cars. I was crashing at friends' houses. I'd sneak into my mom's house and sleep there. I didn't want to move back home; I didn't want to admit defeat.

I actually tried to commit suicide at 21. I drank furniture polish. I had no purpose in life, and I thought it was all over. I checked myself into an observation ward [in a hospital] for a while because I knew I was suicidal. I wanted to get some help. And I had an epiphany. I saw people who had profound emotional problems. These people were manic-depressives and paranoid schizophrenics. I looked around and said to myself, I don't have any problems. I realized all I was doing was being absurdly self-absorbed and giving in to self-pity, and I wanted to just get out. So I told them what they wanted to hear. I took the medicine. I walked around with the bathrobe open in the a__, like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. People were moaning and groaning all night, and I thought, Please, just let me get out of here, and I'll never be that stupid again. (find it)

So, don't raise your eyebrow.

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I will finish what I star
and other Bart Simpson blackboard quotes.
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The problem with people who think life is inexpressibly beautiful is that they so often try to express it anyway
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{Sunday, February 03, 2002}

"I don't know why you don't want me" is not the song of the day today. It is a song by Roseanne Cash, Johnny's daughter. But for you all, it's a node on everything2.

Dannye, who wrote the node, almost ends it like this: "I never understood why she wanted to make love so badly but never discuss love at all."

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{Saturday, February 02, 2002}

Last week, the New York Times published an Op-Ed piece by Robert Malley. Malley was former special Assistant to the President for Arab-Israeli Affairs during the Clinton administration, and was a member of the U.S. negotiating team at the Camp David summit in 2000 between Barak and Arafat. In July of 2001, Malley wrote an Op-Ed piece in the Times about those negotiations. Called "Myths About the Failure at Camp David," the article makes the point that the failure of negotiations at Camp David was not solely the result of Palestinian intransigence in the face of Israeli compromise.

Malley's original Op-Ed is available for a fee at the Times' web site, here. The Times published a much more detailed look at the talks that same week, in a special report by Deborah Sontag. Update: it's available for free, here. Read it. Another free resource: a good summary of what happened at the talks, including some text from Malley's article, is avaible here, courtesy of The Electronic Intifada.

But I started this post talking about an Op-Ed written just last week. Malley's piece, called "Playing Into Sharon's Hands," begins like this:

To hear the Israeli government tell it, the reason behind the enduring conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people is one man -- Yasir Arafat. Hence, Israel's approach to the problem is confining the Palestinian leader to his Ramallah headquarters, destroying the symbols of the Palestinian Authority he leads and gradually reoccupying its territory.

The United States also says the onus is on Mr. Arafat and passively looks on -- occasionally dispatching its special envoy when the situation looks better, keeping him home as soon as events take a turn for the worse. Today, this is what passes for policy. But one has only to consider the growing number of victims on both sides to realize that far from being a path to peace, this approach is an almost certain recipe for catastrophe. (more)

Malley goes on to make some good points about what is to be done. He also says this about Arafat: "He is the first Palestinian leader to recognize Israel, relinquish the objective of regaining all of historic Palestine and negotiate for a two-state solution based on the pre-1967 boundaries. And he remains for now the only Palestinian with the legitimacy to sell future concessions to his people. For him to be crushed by Mr. Sharon -- whose unswerving goals have been, for the last 30 years, to vanquish Mr. Arafat, and more recently, to undo the foundations of the Oslo agreement -- under the world's passive gaze, would send a distressing message to all Palestinians, guarantee a succession that is in the interest neither of peace nor of Israel, and produce a generation of scarred and vengeful Palestinians."

A good transition into the song of the day: Lou Reed's "Perfect Day," whose last few lines are appropriate.
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"Either war is obsolete or men are."

-R. Buckminster Fuller

In Israel, over one hundred reservists in their army are refusing to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. They signed a statement last week when they only numbered 52, and it was widely discussed in the Israeli press. Though the reservists refused to talk to the international press (to keep pressure off Israel), their statements have been widely quoted, and today they made the cover of the New York Times.

"We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people," the officers wrote. "The price of occupation is the loss of the Israel Defense Forces' semblance of humanity and the corruption of all of Israeli society."

An article in Ha'aretz recently stated that 40 percent of eligible draftees avoid service in the IDF. The Times writes that the reservists' goal is to collect 500 signatures to form "a critical mass of resisters that could force a change in government policy." I don't know if they have a chance, but I hope they do. Reading accounts like the one below, it's hard to believe more people do not object.

Ariel Shatil, 32, said that in the Gaza Strip last September, his squad was supposed to fire heavy machine guns at a Palestinian town in response to mortar fire. "The gunfire penetrates thin walls and windows, and that kills people, and you don't know who you're killing," he said. Mr. Zonshein said that in an area where he served, houses and orchards were bulldozed in response to Palestinian gunfire.

"We all have limits," he said. "You can be the best officer," and "suddenly you're required to do things that you can't be asked to do: to shoot at people, stop ambulances, destroy houses when no one knows who lives in them." (more)

[ Reservists Balk at Occupation, Roiling Israel | The New York Times ]

The Israeli government is calling the reservists' objections a threat to democracy and the rule of law. Words can be used to justify anything, I suppose. Sometimes I do it myself.
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