January 2008

How’d it get through QA — and why didn’t they fix it?

Over on Tales from the Net, I’ve been discussing Kevin Poulsen’s articles about a MySpace security bug that allowed access to photos in profiles that had been marked as “private”. It had been well known for months, but MySpace didn’t fix it until the day after Kevin’s first article. In the interim, somebody wrote an automated script to download photos, and released 500,000 of them on the BitTorrent p2p network.

Since it’s social network-related, I posted about over there, but it’s on topic here as well, so I figured I’d mention it …

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Privacy and civil liberties: showdown time on the “Protect” America Act

Update on February 12: Final votes were today. Barack Obama voted against telecom immunity — as did Harry Reid and 29 other Democrats. John McCain along with every single Republican Senator, Joe Lieberman, and 19 Democrats voted for. More here.

Update on Super Tuesday: Ari Melber’s Nation article gives the current snapshot; read the thread for more.

Russ Feingold’s video on YouTube sums it up perfectly:

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Birthday wishes to …

Google’s home page is bricked up, the requisite Slashdot thread is up, and Gizmodo’s got a great timeline of “50 years of building frenzy” … which can only mean one thing:

Happy birthday, Lego!

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“An experiment in community information gathering”

I thought the Clinton Attacks Obama wiki was a great idea the first time I heard about it, and it’s steadily grown since then.  Here’s the welcome message:

This is an experiment in community information gathering. My name is Baratunde Thurston. I’m a comedian, writer and social media junkie. As a contributor for Jack & Jill Politics, I’ve seen the strong black community reaction to what looks like a pattern of race-themed attacks against Obama by Bill, Hillary and other members of her campaign. As folks have questioned the number and validity of these incidents, I thought I’d put together a place to keep track of them.

Blog posts are not good places to keep a running list, and I’m too busy to do it all by myself, so like a multinational corporation, I’m outsourcing this bad boy.

Not only does opening it up to the community means that sources any one person would miss keep flowing in, it’s an excellent use of the automatic list generation features available on most wikis, too.  Seeing the list of race-themed attacks that are being flung around really highlights how extensive the pattern is.  Baratunde’s also the Jack of Jack and Jill Politics (blogging as Jack Turner), and his The Clintons, Black folks, and America — a Reckoning gives some great perspectives that don’t usually make it into mainstream coverage.

The wiki’s starting to get some press attention and this’ll probably steadily increase, no matter whether or not the attacks stop.   And deservedly so: the general technique is something that supporters of candidates from any party can use to surface repeated uses of code words or images as part of smear campaigns.   Swiftboating will be a lot harder this year …

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My “interventions” are admired!

From Moderator’s closing statement in The Economist’s debate on social networking technologies in education:

I also admired the interventions from JON PINCUS, who pointed out that supporters of the motion underestimated “the risks that the new technologies will in practice reinforce (rather than counter) existing negative biases and trends in the educational system”. He also thought that opponents of the motion were “generalising from very limited experience with social networking technologies—and don’t seem to view this as a problem.”

Both of these points strike me as useful, and true. I would only add that I suspect many supporters of the motion have been generalising from limited experience, too.

I don’t have a lot of experience with the Oxford Debate 2.0 format they’re using. Does this mean I get to say “hi mom”?

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What’s up with me, mid-January edition

After taking a couple of months fairly completely off (sleeping, doing some writing, and plenty of hanging out with Deborah), as January gets going I’m starting to re-engage, so I figured it’s about time for another “what’s up” post….

The biggest news is that I’m going to be starting a consulting gig in early February. Before we get to that, though, I want to put it in context: my top priorities for 2008 are working on Tales from the Net — we want to get a solid draft done and a contract in place by the end of the year — and training to to climb Mount Kilamanjaro in early 2009. Yes, really.

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Democratic candidates’ positions on trans- and LBGTIQ issues

All the Democratic candidates have shown a willingness to discuss LBGTIQ issues, and there are some very clear litmus tests. The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy mandating discrimination against gays in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) restricting marriage to heterosexual couples are great lenses for discovering the candidates’ views on LGB issues, and last fall’s craven decision by Democratic leadership (endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign) to advance a non-inclusive version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ENDA] has added an equally good one on the trans front. So it’s unusually clear where they stand — and there are some significant differences.

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Kos gets one very, very, right

On the heels of posts by Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein yesterday, Kos has an excellent short post highlighting how Bill Clinton and Edwards both completely distorted Obama’s quote about Reagan as a transformative politician.

Huh. I didn’t see the part where Obama said the GOP’s ideas were “all the good” ones.

In fact, Obama isn’t saying anything that couldn’t come straight out of Crashing the Gate — that the GOP build a Vast Right Wing Conspiracy that used its think tanks to create ideas, a media machine to sell those ideas, and a modernized campaign operation to win elections on those ideas. Yes, the GOP was the party of ideas. They were crappy ideas. But they were “ideas”.

I can see why people such as Melissa McEwan at Shakesville are offended that Obama would refer to Reagan without explicitly criticizing his ideas (although as Greg Sargent points out on TPM, he has been a lot clearer in the past); and of course I can see why Clinton wouldn’t much care for the notion that Reagan was more transformational president than he was (although for what it’s worth, I agree 100%). However, that doesn’t give license to distort his statements — and this mischaracterization has been floating around both the progressive blogosphere and the mainstream media. Good on Kos for calling it out so clearly.

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Gender, race, age, and power in online discussions, chapter n

I summarized the Economist’s debate on social networks in education on the Tales from the Net blog, but I wanted to focus more on the race and gender aspects here on Liminal States. To start with, check out the participants and their roles. Superficially (and to the extent we can tell from the pictures and pronouns people use), it seems gender balanced: three male, four female. Look a little more closely though:

  1. the “speakers”, presenting the arguments for and against, are both male.
  2. the “moderator” (who frames the issue, provides commentary on both speakers’ arguments, and “will peruse all correspondence from the floor and raise points that are of particular interest or merit with the two speakers”) is also male.
  3. the women are all “guest participants”

Marginalized much?

Things are even more extreme in the “age” dimension — in a comment in the debate, I asked whether there were plans to involve any current or recent students as guest participants. And although it’s much harder to infer reliably from photos and language, there appears to be even more extreme marginalization in the race dimension … it’s a mighty white-looking bunch of folks they’ve got.

One of the thing that makes this lack of diversity more acute is the Economist’s “Oxford 2.0” debate rules:

In our reconception, the proposition and the opposition are each represented by individual speakers—experts in their fields chosen by The Economist‘s staff to match the proposition at hand.

Because, after all, we wouldn’t want those (nudge-nudge) other perspectives to get equal standings with the guys hand-picked by The Economist’s staff.

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This just in: failure is now an option

WASHINGTON—In a stunning reversal of more than 200 years of conventional wisdom, failure—traditionally believed to be an unacceptable outcome for a wide range of tasks and goals—is now increasingly seen as a viable alternative to success, sources confirmed Tuesday.

And there are likely to be significant consequences:

Overturning one of America’s most cherished and oft-repeated aphorisms is expected to have far-reaching implications for the future of human ambition. Some predict that a majority of the U.S. populace will now opt out of its previous obligation to give it 110 percent, and, in the coming weeks and months, give as little as 45 percent. For underachieving Americans, that number is expected to drop to as low as 5 percent by March.

The Onion has the rest of the story.

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DA who sent ‘amorous’ and racially charged messages to drop arson charges against Texas Supreme Court Judge

Now that’s a story you don’t see every day!

A Texas Supreme Court justice and his wife were charged on Thursday in an arson fire that destroyed their suburban Houston home last June, the judge’s lawyer said.

But in a bizarre reversal, prosecutors plan on Friday to seek dismissal of the indictments against the justice…

It appeared, the lawyer said, that a grand jury had voted the indictments precipitously over the objection of prosecutors.

District Attorney Charles A. Rosenthal Jr., who has been fending off calls for his resignation over amorous e-mail messages to his executive secretary and other sexually explicit and racially charged messages, issued no statement.

Good thinking on the ‘no statement’ part.

Update on January 18: it’s not just any DA, it’s the guy who defended the Texas law that criminalized homosexuality in Lawrence v. Texas at the US Supreme Court!

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Strange maps

It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the name: a blog with pictures and discussion of interesting, different, and strange maps.  As well as the Transit Maps of the World (the postcard for a new collection that was published in October by Penguin) and its peer the tree of life down the Tube, I really like combien de bises?. (appropriate number of kisses on the cheek for each French département), ancient Mississippi courses, Taiwanese-centric map of China, and  marzipan Europe. Oh, and for those who are Lost-obsessed, there’s a nice map of the island.

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