Monday, August 30, 2004

Public High School Administrators and Their Ilk

Most people who have survived the usual bureaucratic idiocy of an American public high school won't be surprised, but let yourself be appaled anyway. Student Terrell Jones was pulled out of class recently for wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of his former home town, Hempstead, New York. The wary principal of his current school assumed it was a reference to that everyone's favorite recreational botanical, and was on the verge of applying his own brand of aversion therapy when young Jones pointed out that Hempstead was, in fact, a real town which had nothing to do with either Phish fans or glaucoma sufferers. Amazingly enough, an apology was allegedly forthcoming. Speaking of which, why is it that school disciplinarians exhibit zero tolerance for drug references yet happily ignore the idiotic innuendo of Big Johnson and Coed Naked style t-shirts? My high school was rife with them, each one dragging the practice of the heavy-handed double entendre to a new low - no mean feat considering the audience.


Friday, August 27, 2004

Photos from the Summit


Jim Lucier consults with Sonia Arrison outside the lounge of the Sky Hotel in Aspen. Declan McCullagh looks on.

A glum-looking James Taranto contemplates questioners after the Summit's final session, "The Future: How Politicians, Policy Wonks, and Ordinary People Use the Web." Randy May of PFF and Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury-News converse to the right.

David Post and Sonia Arrison share a moment Tuesday night at dinner in Aspen.

The Future of the Internet at 7,900 Feet

A l33t time was had by all at the Progress & Freedom Foundation's Aspen Technology Summit X. The presenters were informative, the surroundings refined and the cocktail receptions generous. Speaker highlights include FCC Chairman Michael Powell at lunch on Monday and ICANN co-founder Esther Dyson and FTC Commissioner Orson Swindle at that evening's informal working dinner on Internet governance.

Telecom executives mixed with university professors and policy wonks to the general edification of all. I especially liked the comments Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury-News gave on Tuesday about blogs and the future of media, many no doubt taken from his new book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

From the 'No Good Deed...' File

Scenario: McDonald's Australian division decides to donate large amounts of money to sponsor a children's sport league. That's good, right? Many of their menu items may be high in calories, but at least they're out there trying to get kids to be active and healthy. A few years ago, that might have been the case. These days it gets the corporate benefactor in question compared to a tobacco company.

The ubiquitous public health advocates of this day and age point out that the resulting positive publicity may improve the company's image and make some people more likely to eat there. Which, of course, is always bad. So the only way McDonald's, or any similar company, could possibly gain any praise from such quarters is if they were to run an advertising campaign telling people not to buy or eat any of their food. And people laughed when we told them the trial lawyers were gunning for the food industry next.

Wireless Service Ate My Brain

New York City is finally poised to get complete wireless phone coverage, ending a long city-wide nightmare of dropped calls and inexplicably coverageless black holes. A great move forward for a great city, right? Well, almost. Some professional agonizers are afraid that all the extra transmitters are going to dissolve their brains, or perhaps slowly cook them to medium-well. They're a little vague, actually. "What happens if in 20 years, there's even a minor adverse reaction to human beings?" asks John Campos of Queens. Good question, John. A better question, however, is "What will it be like if the city of New York falls two decades behind in telecommunications technology on the strength of your baseless speculation?" That may sound a little cavalier given the dire radiation-induced fever dreams the activists are trying to warn us about, but let's remember one could prepare similar scare scenarios against virtually any other technology when armed with a scary theoretical risk yet no evidence of actual harm. Imagine if these people had been around when our ancestors were switching over from tallow candles to whale oil lamps or from coal-burning stoves to natural gas heat, much less from the crapulent horse-drawn carriage to the Model T. We'd all still be striking flint against the side of a cave.

One would imagine that the legendarily tough residents of the fabled metropolis wouldn't be such easily rattled crybabies. If you can't stand the microwaves, Mr. Campos, get out of the city.

Wang v. Cox

According to the BBC News website, the same day that Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal for the US, "Great Britain enjoyed a magnificent day winning five golds, including a thrilling rowing triumph for Matthew Pinsent in the men's coxless fours." Unfortunately, given a recent change in government policy, I don't think anyone in the People's Republic of China will ever find this out (see below).


Friday, August 20, 2004

Beware of Wang Online

My good friend Thomas Pearson has hit up just the story I was going to write about myself, that being the announcement that the People's Republic of China is going to attempt to ban all access to online pornography. While trying to keep 1.2 billion people from engaging the wonderful world of electronic filth stikes me as likely to succeed as Canute's strategy for Atlantic tide diversion, one has to give the communists credit for being willing to take on massive projects with complete confidence, no matter how clearly they are doomed to failure. Whether its collectivizing agriculture, rooting out counterrevolutionary tendencies or imprisoning those who take a virtual ride on the Bang Bus, they know how to break some eggs.

And of course, note well the name of the official in charge of this ambitious undertaking.

Operation Offended Pride

The Kerry campaign is finally moving to publicly counter allegations made by fellow Vietnam swift boat crew members that the candidate's war record is exaggerated and promising that this week was to be "the start of the mother of all backlashes." I had thought the phrase "the mother of all..." had been made permanently ridiculous after Saddam Hussein promised The Mother of All Battles in the days before Gulf War I, but I don't suppose that would stop the campaign from using it. In any case, the response so far seems to be a combination of outraged indignation and irrelevant counter-attacks. Take the supposedly dire charge that the men behind the book Unfit for Command ( sales rank: 1) are coordinating with the Bush campaign. They've denied it repeatedly and vehemently, but even if they were, so what? What does that have to do with whether or not the accusations are valid? The authors were there, they saw what they saw, and they're either telling the truth or they aren't. Of course the opposing campaign is going to want this to gain wider attention. Whether they're working with authors directly or not has nothing to do with what really happened in Vietnam thirty-some years ago.


Tuesday, August 17, 2004

What the Avant Garde Offers Us Today

Or, What Brown Can Do For You

It's easy to criticize some of the contemporary art world's more flamboyant and provocative trends, and that's because for the most part, they're crap. The intentionally obscure and insular world of modern visual arts has made a fetish of alienating all but a select few initiates, reveling at the incomprehension of otherwise enthusiastic gallery and museum goers. Naturally, self-indulgent crap art has reached its literal reduction to absurdity with Belgian artist Wim Delvoye's installation "Cloaca." It's actually been around for a year or two, so it's doubtless been upstaged by something even more simultaneously banal and grotesque, but it serves as a fine example of type. For a detailed description you can read Belgian critic Els Fiers' fawning review, but it will suffice to explain that it is a mechanical shitting machine. Attendants insert food into one end and something very like the human final result emerges on the other side after a reasonable interval. According to Fiers' keen critical eye, the product is "something close to genuine, human shit."

He could fairly expand his assessment to include much of contemporary artisitic endeavor, at least insofar as it's celebrated in "elite" environments. Unfortunately the average person is too intellectually intimidated to say so. The lesson here is that just because you're not scandalized by Chris Ofili's combination of Marist iconography and animal dung doesn't mean that "Sensations" was an artisitic triumph. The next time you look at a preserved slice of farm animal suspended in a preservation tank with a confused grimace and someone from the black-turtleneck mafia stifles a condescending snicker, smack them with your program and keep walking until you see something worth looking at. Don't let the postmodernist toffs define what's worth being called art.


Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Going Local: Pedophiles, Gang Slashings, and Occasional Religious Intolerance

I’ve never been much for the Metro sections of the big daily newspapers, much less exclusively local print outlets. Over the last few months, however, I’ve come to appreciate the innocent charms of my local morning tabloid, the Northern Virginia Journal. This morning’s front page headlines included the arrest of a 62-year old sex offender caught sneaking into a private club’s swim meet, the confession to malicious wounding of a 17-year old "machete-toting" gang member, and news that a local school for the children of Saudi Arabian diplomats were being taught that all religions other than Islam are "false religions."

The global-clash-of-civilizations implications of the last item is very much an exception to an otherwise precise focus on the close to home. Oddly enough though, because most of its readers are suburbanites who commute to jobs in the District of Columbia, even the short bits of national and international news often seem like hometown stories. News of the increased terror alerts in D.C., New York, and Newark? As it turns out, the paper box from which I picked up my copy of today’s Journal was being looked over by a submachine gun wielding police officer just this morning. The aftermath of Abu Ghraib and its influence on the future of Pentagon policy? Half the people reading the story this morning probably passed through the Pentagon subway (Metro) stop on their way to work.

Even with the scanty, 300-word national and international wire stories, though, the Journal never disappoints in giving heart-warmingly tedious, violently alarming, and inexplicably detailed block by block reportage. For example, 78 local bus drivers were recently honored for having each driven more than 1 million miles while maintaining safe driving records; there’s no mention of a reception with cake and fruit punch, but the image doesn’t take much imagnation. Next is the story of Alejandro Coroy, 36, charged with forcibly entering his sister-in-law’s home, standing over her bed, and stabbing her repeatedly as she slept next to her husband. The motive is described as "family-related." And don’t forget to honor the fifteen years Sharon E. Pandak spent as Prince Willaim County attorney. She’s a member of the Virginia, District of Columbia, and U.S. Supreme Court bars, and no doubt spent many a long day over the past decade and a half observing the court progress of the parade of unfit mothers, attempted rapists, and gang members that the Journal reports on daily.

One last note on the local crime scene from today’s paper. Everyone love tales of stupid crooks and their boneheaded capers, and as always, the Journal does not falter. Page three carries the story of two sixteen-year old boys, arrested after throwing (or, in staff writer Andrea Pricer’s much hipper word,"hucking") rocks at not one but two police cars on succeeding nights. These kids stayed up all night to hurl rocks at easily identifiable police cruisers. May the long, sultry nights of summer vacation in Northern Virginia never end.