Saturday, October 20, 2007


News of note — Oct 20 07


Friday, October 19, 2007


Asymmetry of the Day

In the news media—

If you say a true but unflattering thing about Bush or in fact about any other prominent conservative, oh boy! People are going to go after you.... But if you say a false, unflattering thing about a Democrat or a progressive, no risk… And that shapes coverage, no question about it.NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman in an interview with Rory O'Connor.



Reuters goes on a data-mining safari

Reuters went to the "Google Trends" website and matched certain emotionally charged ideas, products and personal names with the countries that most often searched for them. The statistics cover a period from 2004 to the present.

The results are interesting in a voyeuristic sort of way. But more to the point, even if we assume (foolishly, of course) that internet users aren't individually spied upon, these statistics give just a hint of the cultural data available to any organization that monitors the internet night and day. If anyone were trying to sway global opinion on an irrational basis—perish the thought!—and have an instant measure of the results, I believe they would be useful.

Of course the people who use the search engines don't represent the populations as a whole. In most countries we're seeing the activity of only the more educated up-and-comers.

I thought I'd arrange the Reuters results in a table—

Search term Top 3 countries searching
Botox Australia, US, UK
Britney Spears Mexico, Venezuela, Canada
burrito US, Argentina, Canada
car bomb Australia, US, Canada
David Beckham Venezuela, UK, Mexico
Dolly Buster Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia
gay Chile, Mexico, Colombia
hangover Ireland, UK, US
Hitler Germany, Mexico, Austria
homosexual Philippines, Chile, Venezuela
IAEA Austria, Pakistan, Iran
Iraq US, Australia, Canada
Jihad Morocco, Indonesia, Pakistan
Kate Moss Ireland, UK, Sweden
love Philippines, Australia, US
marijuana Canada, US, Australia
Nazi Chile, Australia, UK
sex Egypt, India, Turkey
Taliban Pakistan, Australia, Canada
terrorism Pakistan, Philippines, Australia
Tom Cruise Canada, US, Australia
Viagra Italy, UK, Germany

Some of the findings seem obvious, at least after the fact:

"Sex" would naturally be most sought after in those countries getting the least.

The Filipinos are all about "love," though the word may have different meanings in different countries.

"Gay" is big in countries where they're trying to figure out how, while "homosexual" is big in countries where they're just trying to find out what it is. Chile seems to have a lot of both types.

Mexicans either already know—or don't care—about burritos.

But who'd have thought Australia would come first in "car bomb"? In addition to "car bomb," the Axis of English—the US, UK, Australia and now Canada—reveal a fascination for Botox, Iraq, marijuana and Tom Cruise. This may bear further thought.

Finally, I'm ashamed to admit that I do not know what a "Dolly Buster" is. Is it a sex toy?

Related post
Totalitarian Plan of the Day (10/18/07)

Related websites
Google Trends


Thursday, October 18, 2007


A reader writes in ...

Tuesday I wrote about Microsoft's offer to donate up to 10¢ a day to your favorite charity in return for using their search engine. This left me feeling a bit squeamish, especially when I consider that Microsoft requires you to register for the program and then records your search engine activity in order for the charity to receive the payout. But I did mention—only as an afterthought, you understand—that if enough readers were to designate Simply Appalling as their favorite charity, I might revise my opinion.

So in my Inbox this morning was a note from a reader—

In my limited experience reading Simply Appalling I would have to say Simply Appalling is anything but charitable.

Well, I never! Has he considered all the writing I devote to religion?

Related posts
Microsoft search engine does charity fundraising (10/16/07)
Totalitarian Plan of the Day (10/18/07)



Totalitarian Plan of the Day

I do intend to carry out a clear exploring exercise with the private sector ... on how it is possible to use technology to prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism —Franco Frattini, Justice and Security Commissioner of the European Union, as quoted by Ingrid Melander in "Web search for bomb recipes should be blocked: EU"

Frattini is the EU's counterpart to our own Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Dept. of Homeland Security. By way of timing Frattini made this statement on September 10, the day before "[r]epresentatives of the Internet industry [were] meeting the EU on ... the sixth anniversary of al Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the United States, at a European Security Research and Innovation Forum."

The reporter notes that—

The Internet has taken on huge importance for militant groups, enabling them to share know-how and spread propaganda to a mass audience, as well as to link cell members.

And in an earlier age, so did the printing press. Does anyone remember the "pamphleteer, revolutionary, radical, liberal and intellectual" Tom Paine?

When asked if blocking searches for certain words "could infringe on the rights to expression and information," Frattini replied first with a non sequitur

Frankly speaking, instructing people to make a bomb has nothing to do with the freedom of expression, or the freedom of informing people.

And then with an absurdity—

The right balance, in my view, is to give priority to the protection of absolute rights and, first of all, right to life.

If the priority of the EU member states or the US were the "right to life" for the living (or for the unborn, for that matter), they would be acting a great deal differently in regard to war, genocide, poverty, healthcare and the environment.

Sgr. Frattini hopes to present his plan "to member states early in November as part of a raft of anti-terrorism proposals."

[Note to readers: Since I've used some of the words that Sgr. Frattini would ban from searches, I suggest you bookmark this page—or better, save it to your hard drive—as you may not be able to find it later.]

Related posts
This is serious: Indymedia servers busted (10/8/04)
The Indymedia seizure and the media (10/12/04)
Samizdat and other matters (9/30/05)
Plane spotting (3/13/06)
U.S. government "blocks" a website (7/10/06)
Update on "U.S. blocks a website" (7/13/06)
Bill Moyers: "The Net at Risk" (10/19/06)


Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Vatican official takes wide stance against Satanism

Monsignor Tomasso Stenico, third from top man in the Vatican's Congregation of the Clergy, inadvertently appeared on Italian TV last week. Stenico shared his thoughts on homosexuality and sado-masochism with a young man whom he'd met online and then invited to his office across from St. Peter's. Unfortunately, the recipient of his favors turned out to be an employee of Italy's only independent television network and had brought along a hidden camera and mic.

Paul Bompard narrates for us—

Mgr Stenico asks the man, “Do you like me?” and tells him that he is very good-looking. When the young man expresses fears that having sex would be “a sin in the eyes of the Church”, the priest replies: “I do not feel it would be sinful.” Drawn on the subject of sado-masochistic sex, the monsignor says that these are “inner choices, the psychological basis of a personality”. The young man continues to raise moral and religious objections to actually having sex, until the priest becomes irritated, says that he has no time left and takes him back to the lift. On parting, the Monsignor tells him that he is “really tasty” and that he can telephone him or send him a message.

La 7, the news channel, had disguised the faces and the voices, but a number of people in the Vatican had been to Msgr. Stenico's office and recognized the furnishings. (News accounts do not specify whether it was the Sacred Flagellum in the umbrella stand or the Grand Inquisitor's Mask that jogged their memories.) The Vatican, always quick to respond when sex is at issue, immediately suspended Fr. Stenico from his post.

While in other circumstances he might have welcomed a suspension, Fr. Stenico has refused this time to be left dangling. Like Idaho Republican Senator and Hall-of-Famer Larry Craig, who has stipulated that he takes a wide stance when seated on the toilet, Fr. Stenico says he was taking a wide stance trying to purge the bowels of the Church of Satanic seductors—

... he claimed that he was pretending to be gay in an attempt to unmask a Satanic plot to seduce Catholic priests to homosexuality and thus discredit the Church. “I only pretended I was gay to study how priests are seduced,” said Mgr Stenico, a frequent guest on television programmes discussing religious issues. “There are people who go after them . . . I really believe there is a diabolical plan by groups of Satanists.”

Similarly, I believe in the end it will be revealed that Sen. Craig, who has filed an appeal of his appeal to overturn his guilty plea,1 was on a mission to expose undercover cops who hang out in airport men's rooms and try to discredit traveling Republican Senators. In the end it will certainly turn out to be some sort of Satanic Democratic treachery.

Related posts
Sex education in America (8/31/07)
Tourist Attraction of the Day (9/18/07)



1This is now referred to as the "Larry Craig Stall." As columnist Froma Harrop writes of Craig's reversal of his decision to resign at the end of September, "avocados stay firm longer than a Larry Craig deadline." [back]


Microsoft search engine does charity fundraising

In my junk mail this morning was an email from the "Live Search Club." The subject was "Benefit your favorite nonprofit with Search & Give." Since most of my junk mail comes from Nigeria and begins "Dear Sir, the $5 million is ready for transfer to your account," I thought I'd see what this was about.

It turns out that the Live Search Club (LSC) is a Microsoft operation intended to bring traffic to its search engine "Live Search." The engine was launched in 2004 and is running third behind Google and Yahoo.

What to do when your competitor's trademark has become a verb? You turn to the pros. You set up a charity operation—a technique discovered and refined by the nation's top TV evangelists.

Here's how it works. After you, the searcher, sign up (and presumably designate your favorite charity), you can "earn money" for your beneficiary by conducting your searches through the LSC. They pay a penny per search up to a dime a day. At 10 cents a day that works out to a maximum of $36.50—or $36.60 in leap years. Microsoft makes the payout to the charities once a year.

Since I've never used Live Search, I thought I'd run the Simply Appalling© Search Engine Test. I typed in "Simply Appalling" and up popped—

Simply Appalling
Quite frankly, when you spend £150 [$300] on shoes and only £10 [$20] on your vagina, it doesn't match in terms of sense of importance in your life. —Sam Roddick, owner of ...

Well, that should draw traffic, I thought.

So I decided to give Google and Yahoo a whirl. Google produced—

Simply Appalling
Here's a staid translation of it—. No man of any kind, lover of husband, shall approach me with a hard-on. At home in celibacy shall I pass my life wearing ...

Am I running a porn shop? I began to wonder.

And Yahoo—

Simply Appalling
[a Simply Appalling translation] Previous post ... Simply Appalling detritus. Political censorship of the news now official. Liar of the Day

How incoherent and boring can you be?!

Though none of the search engines was truly up to date on the latest Simply Appalling effulgence, Google was the winner for the most recent "crawl." But Live Search won in the "Most Titillating" category. And believe me, titillation counts.

Still, I can't shake the feeling of something sleazy and underhanded in Microsoft's latest effort against its competitors. Maybe it's the TV evangelists. Yet if enough of my readers were to join the club and designate Simply Appalling as their favorite charity, I might come to view it in an entirely new light.

Related post
The wonderful world of Google (9/22/07)


Monday, October 15, 2007


Fauna of the Day

Until 1967 Aborigines were governed under flora and fauna laws. A referendum in that year saw Australians vote to include Aborigines in the national census.... —Rob Taylor reporting in "Australia PM switch on Aborigine status draws flak"

Recognizing the Aboriginal Australians as human was one of the achievements of the hated-by-conservatives culture of the Sixties.

Australia is to have a national election in November and December. John Howard, the current prime minister, is promising that if re-elected for a fifth term, he would act to give indigenous Australians recognition in the Australian constitution. He says he has learned the value of "symbolism."

Related posts
Howard gains in Australia (10/9/04)
Imperial Alliance of the Day: the Axis of English (3/31/07)


Sunday, October 14, 2007


Apartment Squatters of the Day

Two months ago Heftsiba, an Israeli construction firm, went bust. One reason for its woes was a court order last year to freeze work on a big housing project on an Israeli settlement just inside the West Bank. The land, it turned out, had in effect been stolen from private owners in a neighbouring Palestinian village, Bilin. Yet after the bankruptcy, the same court ruled that the apartment blocks—and their prospective buyers, who had broken in and occupied them at the news of Heftsiba's impending collapse—could stay.

.... The Bilin case was just a variation on a tried and tested method: seize land illegally, establish hard-to-reverse “facts on the ground” and then legalise the claim retroactively through the courts or the government. The result is a West Bank so riddled with settlement that it is hard to see how enough can be removed for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.

—Review "One reason for the absence of peace" in The Economist of a book by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, the title of which the unnamed reviewer neglected to name but which in fact is "Lords of the Land"


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