The Craig Shirley / CIA / Wikipedia Mystery.

August 11th, 2014

Last week I wrote about how historian Rick Perlstein had been falsely accused of plagiarism by author Craig Shirley. In the course of writing that post, I looked at Craig Shirley’s Wikipedia page, and found something really surprising. At that time, the page contained this — completely unsourced —  assertion about Craig Shirley:

He was a decorated contract agent for the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Whuh?” I thought to myself.

Before going on, I want to make something very clear:

Just because an assertion is on a person’s Wikipedia page, that doesn’t mean a) that the assertion is true, nor does it mean b) that the person who is the subject of the page added it. In other words, Craig Shirley himself might have nothing to do with this claim, and there is no proof here either that he is ex-CIA or that he wanted people to think he was.

Since the claim was unsourced, I added a standard [citation needed] tag to it (in this change, for those keeping score at home).

A couple of hours later, an automated Wikipedia maintenance bot came along and added a date to my tag. Then a day later, John Broughton, a pretty experienced Wikipedian, came along and removed the claim entirely, on the grounds that contentious assertions must be sourced, and if they are not, the proper remedy is to simply remove them. (John Broughton was quite right, by the way; I’d been tempted to make that edit myself, before settling on just marking it as needing a citation.)

Naturally, I became curious about when and how the CIA claim had first appeared on the page, so I looked deeper into the page history. It turns out it’s been there since 29 December 2012, when it was added as part of a bunch of changes to the page by a user named Reagan1988. Here are all the substantive changes added in that revision by Reagan1988:

His books have been hailed as the definitive works on the Gipper’s campaigns of 1976 and 1980. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Reagan Ranch and has lectured at the Reagan Library. …

Shirley is the founder of the Ft. Hunt Youth Lacrosse Program, was coach there for 14 years, compiling a record of 121 wins, 19 losses and 4 ties, winning several championships. In the 20 plus years since Shirley founded the program, thousands of boys and girls have enjoyed learning and playing for Ft. Hunt. He was also an editor of Coaching Youth Lacrosse, published by the Lacrosse Foundation.

… His varied interests include sailing, waterskiing, sport shooting, renovating buildings, and scuba diving. He was a decorated contract agent for the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is so embarrassing that I think there’s a real possibility it’s a false-flag operation, by someone who doesn’t like Craig Shirley, to make it look as though Shirley had made these edits to his own Wikipedia page. On the other hand, the CIA assertion stayed in the page from late 2012 until last week. I don’t know Craig Shirley personally, but my guess is that a person who runs a public relations firm is aware of what his own Wikipedia page says, and unlikely to be so concerned about maintaining good Wikipedia form [1] that he would have let an error remain in his own page for more than a year without doing something about it.

So that’s where things stand. I don’t know how seriously to take the claim that he was a “decorated contract agent” for the CIA, and I don’t know if Craig Shirley had anything to do with its presence in his Wikipedia page.

I wonder who the user “Reagan1988″ is. Whoever they are, all they’ve ever done (at least while logged in as that user) is edit Craig Shirley’s page, for a short period between 29 December 2011 and 10 January 2012. They have apparently made no edits since then.

__________________

[1]: There isn’t a hard-and-fast rule against editing one’s own page, by the way, though if one can say that one has never done it it’s a nice way to shut down certain trolling arguments. For example, my own page has had an uncorrected error for a few months now. I didn’t put it there, but I also haven’t corrected it since I feel it would be bad form to edit my own page. What Wikipedia’s Conflict-of-Interest Policy says on this is:

If you have a personal connection to a topic or person, you are advised to refrain from editing those articles directly, from adding related advertising links, links to personal websites and similar, and to provide full disclosure of the connection if you comment about the article on talk pages or in other discussions.

An exception to editing an article about yourself or someone you know is made if the article contains defamation or a serious error that needs to be corrected quickly. If you do make such an edit, follow it up with an email to WP:OTRS, Wikipedia’s volunteer response team, or ask for help on WP:BLPN, our noticeboard for articles about living persons.

[2]: Thanks to my friend Sumana Harihareswara for clueing me in to the link for getting all of Reagan1988’s contribution history on Wikipedia.

According to Craig Shirley, Your Choices are Plagiarism or Amnesia.

August 5th, 2014

So, a friend of mine just got accused very publicly of plagiarism by author Craig Shirley.

The charge is completely bogus, and note that I have carefully arranged the above phrasing so as not to cause the Internet’s search engines to add any weight to the charge merely from my mentioning it here. You can’t trust those bots to use good judgement.

I’ve read Rick Perlstein’s new book The Invisible Bridge cover to cover, and now have seen the specific accusations Shirley makes. Perlstein shouldn’t even have to defend himself or his fine book against such claptrap, but unfortunately, because of a shallowly-reported New York Times piece about the accusation yesterday — the usual problem of just reporting what each side in a dispute says, instead of digging into the sources and presenting enough factual information for an interested reader to discern what’s actually going on — it’s necessary for the rest of us to do for free what the NYT reporter failed to do for pay.

So first, kudos to Paul Krugman for noticing and writing a short piece about it today. But a full presentation of the facts overwhelming favors Rick Perlstein’s case here, so I’d like to offer the primary sources — the claims Craig Shirley is actually making:

  1. First letter from Craig Shirley’s lawyer (07/25)

  2. Second letter from Craig Shirley’s lawyer (07/28)

  3. Response from Rick Perlstein’s lawyer (07/30)
    …and if you read only one of these letters, read this one; their response is beautiful.

I know you might not have time to read them — though you should if you can: Shirley’s side is fascinating as an exercise in intellectually bankrupt brazenness, and Perlstein’s lawyers are a joy to watch in action as they take it apart claim by claim — so I’ll give just the flavor of it here:

From Craig Shirley’s Reagan’s Revolution (2004) From Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge (2014)

Page 326: “In 1982, White House Chief of Staff Jim Baker was in the Oval Office with President Reagan. While reminiscing about the 1976 campaign, Baker asked Reagan if he would have accepted the offer, if it had come from Ford. Seconds passed, and Reagan said, ‘Yes, Jim, I probably would have.’

Page 794: “However, when Jim Baker was his White House chief of staff in 1982, Reagan told him he would have taken the running mate spot if Ford had offered it.”

Yes, I’m not making this up — in fact, that’s the very first example of so-called plagiarism Shirley offers.

Now, Shirley and Perlstein are both writing about historical events, Shirley in a 2004 book, Perlstein in a 2014 book. So apparently, if Perlstein reports the same historical event that Shirley reports, Perlstein must be guilty of plagiarism, because… Craig Shirley has some kind of monopoly on history itself?

The rest of the accusations in Shirley’s letters are similar to the above. Essentially, he accuses a fellow historian of, well, being a historian.

Plagiarism or amnesia: those are your choices, in Craig Shirley’s universe.

It’s difficult to know what to do when someone behaves like this. It’s like Shirley is standing in front of you, pointing his finger at a carrot

a carrot

…and he says “See? There’s the smoking gun! Right there!”

And you look at it and you say, “Uh, I’m sorry, but that’s just a carrot…” It doesn’t do you any good. You can’t argue with people who insist that a carrot is a gun. All you can do is try to ensure that everyone else understands what’s happening.

It’s true, and perfectly normal, that Shirley’s book was the source — or sometimes one of several sources — for some of the historical facts used in The Invisible Bridge. But Perlstein never tried to hide this: he thanks Shirley in the acknowledgements, and cites Shirley repeatedly — over 100 times — in the source notes, the way any good scholar should.

One of the amusing side threads in Shirley’s letters is his umbrage over one of Perlstein’s best decisions: the decision to put the source notes for The Invisible Bridge online, instead of printing them in the book itself. The advantages of doing it this way are obvious, and it’s just a matter of time before it’s the new normal: 99% of readers don’t ever look at the source notes (so why waste paper?), and for the scholars and other interested parties who do want to look at them, they’re actually easier to use in electronic form (hint: you can do automated searches on them that way — that’s how I was able to quickly count the citations).

Perlstein never covered up that he was doing this. Quite the opposite: he states it clearly in the book, explains why he’s doing it, and the print edition gives the Web address for those source notes. Here they are:

www.rickperlstein.net/the-invisible-bridge/source-notes/

Somehow, Shirley’s laywers try to twist this innovative and entirely practical step into something sinister — getting their facts wrong in the process. From Shirley’s first letter:

After realizing the book contained no bibliography, footnotes, end notes or other citations, Mr. Shirley initiated an exchange of e-mail messages in which Mr. Perlstein confessed to making a “principled decision” to omit them because he thought they were “useless except for show.” (Of course, as Mr. Perlstein’s May 2014 phone call to Mr. Shirley betrays, he found the notes in Reagan’s Revolution to be quite useful.)

This is such a bald mischaracterization of what Perlstein said and meant as to be a misquotation. Perlstein did not “confess” a decision to “omit” the notes; rather, he explained that he had placed them online, which saves space and makes them more easily useable by those most likely to use them. He also never said that source notes are “useless except for show”; what he said was that printing them in the treeware book is useless except for show — and he’s right.

And from Shirley’s second letter:

Also, it is worth noting that while Mr. Shirley is referenced in the online source notes for these passages, the address at which the notes are posted appears nowhere in The Invisible Bridge or on its dust jacket — a fact which further evidences Mr. Perlstein’s intent to steal and conceal.

Wow. “Intent to steal and conceal”. Yes. That must be why Perlstein put the source notes online, where they could be indexed by any Internet search engine and more easily found by scholars.

What can one say about a historian like Shirley, who would wilfully misunderstand a bone fide and clear explanation from a colleague about perfectly legitimate sourcing techniques? At the very least, that one should worry about Shirley’s ability to faithfully report, in his own work, what he has learned from his own sources.

That worry would be justified, it turns out.

Look carefully at footnote number 2 in the response from Perlstein’s lawyer, which says:

Your two examples of Mr. Perlstein’s supposed failure to credit Mr. Shirley fail. Mr. Perlstein’s source for Nancy Reagan’s quote on page 631 of his work (and the reason his quote is different from Mr. Shirley’s) is a book published in 1977, PR as in President, by Victor Gold (p. 97).

Leave aside the obvious fact that it’s not plagiarism when you use the same Nancy Reagan quote that someone else uses — she said it; that’s just a historical fact — and leave aside even the fact that Perlstein had two sources for that quote, only one of which was Craig Shirley’s book. There is something more interesting going on here:

That book by Victor Gold, PR As in President, which came out twenty-seven years before Craig Shirley’s book, is one that Craig Shirley acknowledges having read too. (He told Rick Perlstein so on the phone.) Perlstein describes Gold’s book as an “excellent book, full of behind-the-scenes nuggets”, and one such nugget is that Ronald Reagan’s famous and supposedly spontaneous speech at the 1976 Republican convention where Reagan lost the nomination to Gerald Ford — a scene that Perlstein concludes his book with — was not in fact spontaneous at all, but had been carefully negotiated with the Ford campaign. Shirley claimed to have read and liked Gold’s book — but in Shirley’s own Reagan’s Revolution (2004), he still, with a bit of perfunctory hedging about how “sources differ”, portrays the speech as having been extemporaneous. You don’t have to know much about political campaigns, or for that matter about Ronald Reagan, to know that is highly unlikely on its face. (Update: There’s more detail about this episode in David Weigel’s excellent piece today about the false plagiarism charges.)

Rick Perlstein would never be so shoddy as to make a mistake like that. I’ve not only read Perlstein’s book, I’ve gotten to watch him working on it on many occasions. I’ve seen his own library, and sat next to him at scholarly libraries as he pulled out resource after resource and pored over them; I’ve seen how obsessively he checks sources, not merely scouring the Internet, but also flying out to various physical libraries to get access to material that isn’t yet online — not just print, but audio and video too. Rick Perlstein would never let an important detail like that slip by without bothering to integrate it — and properly attribute it.

And yet it is Craig Shirley sliming Rick Perlstein with baseless charges of plagiarism. Shirley’s lawyers should have had the good sense and the professional standards to tell their client that the accusations make no logical sense, but instead they wrote letters that misstate both the facts and the law, to their extreme discredit. (Perlstein’s lawyers, on the other hand, should get some kind of prize for the clarity and thoroughness of their response — how they managed to maintain a straight face while writing it, I don’t know; perhaps they didn’t.)

In the end, this will blow over, and Rick’s book will be the bestseller and conversation-changer it deserves to be. But the kind of “he said, she said” reporting that leads unsuspecting people to believe there’s some kind of real controversy needs to be vigorously countered. There’s no plagiarism here; there is just deep research, great narrative and analytical writing, and thorough attribution of sources. Craig Shirley should be grateful to be cited in a book as good as Rick’s, and no objective person who looks at the claims — just at the letters from Shirley’s side, even without reading the responses — would come away thinking there was a problem.

So, please:

  1. Buy Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, read it, and tell all your friends about it. It’s the best analysis of the why Ronald Reagan became President, and what that signifies about the U.S., that I have ever read (and the book includes a deeply perceptive capsule biography of Reagan, along the way).

  2. If you hear someone say things like “Oh, wasn’t there some scandal about that book? Something about plagiarism?” let them know firmly that there is no scandal, no plagiarism, and that they have been successfully conned by an unscrupulous (perhaps jealous) author and his allies.

Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute. If you want to help spread the word, you can retweet this (or redent this).

Enjoy the book!

The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

Comment to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality.

July 15th, 2014

(This is what I wrote in the comment I just sent to the FCC from battleforthenet.com. Please consider submitting your own comment!)

Net neutrality is absolutely necessary if the Internet is to continue to serve the broadest public interest. The principle that ISPs must treat all data equally is easy to articulate, easy for users of the Internet to understand, and easy for regulatory agencies such as the FCC to enforce. This simple principle should be fully protected by the FCC, under its Title II authority.

The Internet is not just another tool. It is rather the environment within which millions of creative people build new tools, exchange knowledge, and organize themselves in ways formerly only available to large, centrally controlled organizations — such as the monopoly-based music- and video-streaming companies who would love the opportunity to use their size to arrange preferential-treatment deals with ISPs and effectively force smaller competitors and other alternatives offline.

This dystopian dynamic is perfectly predictable, and perfectly stoppable. The FCC should reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II, and use all necessary provisions thereof to ensure that the Internet remains the platform for democratic organizing and decentralized innovation that it has been so far.

On an Internet clogged with prioritized traffic belonging to the highest bidders, there is no way my own young company would ever have been able to succeed. I watch with alarm the growing pressure from larger competitors to reformulate the Internet to treat their traffic differently from ours, and wonder how we — or the many other new companies in our position — could possibly continue on an Internet run by giants for giants.

Please don’t let that happen. Use Title II reclassification to fully and fairly protect traffic neutrality on the Internet. This is one of the few cases where a well-defined, targeted government regulation would unambiguously support both democratic ideals and a fertile environment for the growth of innovative businesses. Those who argue otherwise are trying to sell us something — and trying to have the market to themselves while they do it.

Sincerely,
-Karl Fogel
 Partner, Open Tech Strategies, LLC

English to live by.

March 15th, 2014

I finally found an example of how ending a sentence with a preposition in English is not only not wrong, but is sometimes the best way to avoid ambiguity:

Make sure your facility’s storage room is clearly organized, so that people will know how to fit in their boxes.

vs

Make sure your facility’s storage room is clearly organized, so that people will know how to fit their boxes in.

It only works because of the implied “…to the storage room” at the end of the second sentence, though, so maybe it’s not the pure example I’ve been looking for.

Support Snowden all the way, New York Times.

January 2nd, 2014

In an unsigned editorial today, “Edward Snowden, Whistle Blower”, the New York Times is needlessly weak:

… Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community. …

Well, there you have it. The iron-clad resolve of the nation’s most respected newspaper, taking a firm and uncompromising stand in support of a source who, at great personal risk, revealed a massive and ongoing abuse of government power. Yes, the New York Times is definitely who I want next to me in a trench.

Not. Come on, New York Times. The yellow-bellied, lily-livered, sop-to-power sycophancy of this position is… unseemly. Are you really saying “a pig like that, you don’t eat all at once” about Edward Snowden?

The worst thing in the editorial is also the subtlest:

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

Note the lacuna in the transition from the first sentence to the second. What I expected the second sentence to say was something like “Terrorists already assume their communications are being monitored and behave accordingly; Snowden’s leaks are a revelation only to law-abiding citizens who expected their government to play by its own rules.”

But instead the second sentence is an apparent non sequitur — it talks about how reducing the scale of data collection and increasing oversight would not harm the effectiveness of the programs. The implication is that the if Snowden’s leaks were to harm national security, they would do so by causing public outrage sufficient to force the programs to be reduced and brought under real oversight; and the Times is saying that we shouldn’t worry: because such reduction and oversight would not harm national security, therefore Snowden should not be punished to the full extent of the law.

There are two infuriating things about this. One is that they left out the obvious point that the real reason the leaks do not harm national security is that they do not cause terrorists to behave any differently than they are already behaving. Two is the implication that if changing the programs in response to public outrage did result in harm to national security, this would somehow be Edward Snowden’s fault, rather than being the responsible decision of the citizenry who demanded the reforms in the first place. Whistle-blowing is about pointing out when laws (not to mention Constitutions) are being broken in important ways — as was certainly happening here. It means giving the public a chance to decide how they will be governed. It does not mean the whistle-blower is personally responsible for whatever ultimate decision the citizenry makes.

Snowden himself has said this over and over: that his purpose was to inform the public, and that if we conclude, with full knowledge of what’s going on, that we want these programs to continue unchanged, then that’s fine. The point is to be making that decision in knowledge, not in ignorance.

They muffed the last paragraph of the editorial too:

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

Are they citing Rick Ledgett to endorse what he’s saying? And if not, why are they citing him? “Please, Mr. Snowden, let’s not have too much of a good thing now…”

(Luckily he can’t stop the leaks; he gave the trove of secrets to journalists and didn’t keep any copies himself, as he has repeatedly said.)

Here’s how the editorial should have ended:

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. President Obama should immediately grant a full pardon to Edward Snowden and let him come home to the hero’s welcome he deserves.

If the NYT thinks that’s unrealistic, then they’re right — but that’s no reason not to ask for it. As President Obama himself has learned time and time again, there’s no reason to start negotiating from any position other than the one you actually want. If something less than a full pardon is really what the NYT advocates, then I don’t understand why, and can find no explanation in this editorial.

Lucky in 2013.

December 31st, 2013

It’s the last day of 2013. I’ve thought a lot this year about how lucky I am: I get to work on freedom full-time, among other places at OTS, OpenITP, QCO, and the OSI.

I don’t want anything different for 2014, except for more people to be so lucky.

U.S. National Parks sign indicating a so-called 'free speech zone'.

Free Clarendon!

Speaking of freedom…

The U.S. National Parks sign above uses the Clarendon typeface — a high-quality digital incarnation of which is now on the way to being freed thanks to the Free Clarendon campaign on IndieGoGo, started by Linus Drumbler. If the campaign makes its goal of $30,000 Canadian, Clarendon Text will be released under the OSI-approved Apache License 2.0. While by font geek standards I’m no font geek, I love Clarendon, both aesthetically and for its association with effective government programs, and have contributed to the campaign to Free Clarendon. I hope you will too.

twitter.com/kfogel/status/418083411727618049 and identi.ca/kfogel/note/9Fk3frNZQmKEspQxr_PQjw:

Contributed to the Free Clarendon campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/free-clarendon! Join us? Classic font needs a Free digital life… #FreeClarendon

Healthcare.gov, why do you taunt me so?

December 22nd, 2013

The new healthcare.gov web site sure looks great. Under the hood, though, it’s apparently implemented with Bronze Age web development technology :-(.

I tried to sign up today. After dutifully filling out my name, state of residence, and email address, then choosing a username and password, then answering three required security questions, I got this error:

Account creation failure.

That is:

Important: Your account couldn’t be created.

Please wait a few moments and try again, keeping this in mind:

The User ID you created may already be in use. Try using a different User ID.

The email address you entered may be used with another account. If you think you may have already created an account with this email address, select “Forgot your username” on the Log In page.

Since this was my first time signing up, I figured maybe someone had chosen the same username already, so I clicked on Try Again, expecting the site to preserve my old responses so I could just change the one that needed changing.

Instead, it started me all over from scratch. Yo, healthcare.gov, newsflash: my first, middle, and last names have not changed since the last time I filled in this form 30 seconds ago:

Blank name and email form.

Oh look, the next page is blank too — but okay, maybe that makes sense because I’m probably supposed to try a different username, and it’s common practice for web forms to not preserve passwords…

Username and password form.

…But then… wait, really? You’re going to make me fill in the three security questions all over again? Did I mention there are three of them?

Security questions form.

This is insane. The site knows what the cause of the error was. After all, it displayed the big red error box at me. So why not tell me? And, in the meantime, don’t trash the form values I’ve already filled in that are not the source of the error.

Just to be sure, I tried the mailback option. After all, maybe somehow my email address was in the system already, even though I’ve never clicked a button nor filled in a form field on the site before tonight. No email never arrived, though, and it’s not in my spam folder.

(I’m now 0/2 for Federal web site mailback login links, by the way, as petitions.whitehouse.gov has also swallowed my account there, no longer responding to the password I’m pretty sure I set, and never sending me a recovery email no matter how many times I ask for one.)

While we’re at it:

A username collision could be easily detected as soon as the user types it in the form field anyway. So “the User ID you created may already be in use” is a silly situation to be in in the first place. If the User ID is not unique, then don’t let me go farther; make me fix it on that page, especially since I have to go all the way through the security question choices again before I finally get to an error.

But anyway I’m pretty sure the error is spurious, because I’ve now been through the loop several times, with definitely unique usernames, and it still gives me an error every time.

This is not how we do it in 2013. I am not a happy camper

.

IRC away messages.

December 10th, 2013

I set my IRC client to keep logs. Among other things, that means I have a record of all my away messages from the past couple of centuries or so… Some themes emerge, notably a nostalgia for an imagined Paleolithic past:

  kfogel is away: http://www.rants.org/2013/12/10/irc_away_messages/

kfogel is away: slowly leaching toxins from bloodstream while in a
state of severely lowered consciousness

kfogel is away: replacing busted USB port replicator so can haz
mousez and keyboardz simultaneouzly. Stay away from the IOGEAR
4-port USB 2.0 hub model GUH285 if you ever need a replicator.

kfogel is away: Upgrading to Lucid. Send a posse if you don't
hear from me in 30 min.

kfogel is away: enumerating the integers

kfogel is away: dealing with some reasonable subset of todo list

kfogel is away: errand in the city that never stops talking about
how it never sleeps

kfogel is away: communing with sessile benthic fronds

kfogel is away: pursuing striated brachiators

kfogel is away: metabolizing

kfogel is away: attending to metabolic requirements

kfogel is away: gym time -- yes, geeks are allowed to exercise,
stop looking at me like that

kfogel is away: bun run

kfogel is away: piano time is the only sacred thing

kfogel is away: deep in concentration

kfogel is away: ululating

kfogel is away: Post Office, possibly including metabolic detour.

kfogel is away: gradually converting oxygen to heat

kfogel is away: Speaking of certs and Apache redirects, it's time
to put my laundry in the dryer and start the next load.

kfogel is away: synthesis is the new creativity

kfogel is away: put the pencil in the suitcase when the whiskey
bottle faces the moon

kfogel is away: pipette herbivore cesium bricolage

kfogel is away: Drinking the blood of innocents.

kfogel is away: Q: How many Semantic Web advocates does it take to
screw in a lightbulb? A: What exactly do you mean by "a"?

kfogel is away: Every odd integer > 5 is the sum of three primes.
That made my day.

kfogel is away: weeping, once again, that "ombudsman" has neither
a sex-neutral form nor a verb form.

kfogel is away: One of the nice things about a downtown Chicago
office is exiting into a Daley Plaza protest most weekdays.

kfogel is away: gallivanting with brachiators

kfogel is away: afk for a bit; ask the NSA if you need to find me

kfogel is away: attentiveness to metabolic needs

kfogel is away: avoiding stobor

kfogel is away: oiling my Turing Machines

kfogel is away: pubpat.org is my hero -- victory for
non-patentable genes at U.S. Supreme Court!

kfogel is away: Literally heading to a restaurant whose motto is
"We Serve People". I am not making this up.

kfogel is away: Correction to previous away message: it might be
"Serving People", sorry

kfogel is away: realizing that public school systems are useful
for teaching children how to handle bullies well, and how to
subvert hierarchical authority structures, therefore they should
be preserved

kfogel is away: Is that Edward Snowden in a tuxedo, disguised
among the penguins in Antarctica?

kfogel is away: Seeing what that sound is.

kfogel is away: Researching the hallucinogenic properties of
oxygen -- hmm, continuous consumption appears to cause delusions
of reality...

kfogel is away: fulfilling humankind's millennia-long dream of
flight, albeit in a cramped, commercialized, sadly routinized and
perhaps slightly tawdry way.

kfogel is away: Neither hunting nor gathering.

kfogel is away: avoiding subsidizing further Mesopotamian
adventurism

kfogel is away: wondering why web sites use Flash in situations
where HTML+CSS+images would actually have been easier

kfogel is away: pondering the futility of empathy in a universe
made mostly of hydrogen

kfogel is away: pining for the fjords

kfogel is away: nostalgia-drenched lunch in NYC Chinatown

kfogel is away: stalking the wild asparagus

kfogel is away: converting sunlight to metabolic energy

kfogel is away: traipsing

kfogel is away: checking in on the progress of my escape tunnel

kfogel is away: flossing pulsars

kfogel is away: off to hear Chicago Schola Antiqua in concert --
I'm sure all of FreeNode writhes in jealousy

kfogel is away: contributing some heat back to the Universe

kfogel is away: consumption of sunlight, indirectly, via organic
solar repositories

kfogel is away: "What do we want?" "TIME TRAVEL!" "When do we
want it?"

kfogel is away: Los Angeles looks exactly like Los Angeles

kfogel is away: neural network nightly reset

kfogel is away: accepting silver medal for the 200 meter "not
thinking about the Olympics" challenge

kfogel is away: transferring heat from one location to another

kfogel is away: time to pay the cafe fee again -- maybe it'll be
another wheat-based sugary substance this time

kfogel is away: re-spending my misspent youth

kfogel is away: eating arugula in honor of Barack Obama

kfogel is away: improving my Sogdian accent

kfogel is away: converting matter into heat, using only my body

kfogel is away: Converting sunlight into energy, indirectly.

kfogel is away: admiring your gritty urban authenticity even as he
prices you out of your neighborhood.

kfogel is away: luxuriating in the knowledge that no matter how
bad things get, there's always xkcd

kfogel is away: pontificating somewhere, about something

kfogel is away: It's just about time for historical inevitability
to come back into fashion.

kfogel is away: ancient sunlight will now be converted to
particles of pure energy in my bloodstream

kfogel is away: seeking gourd for use in repurposed pagan ritual

kfogel is away: When you've just typed the same phrase three
times, it is time to take a break. When you've just typed the
same phrase three times, it is time to take a break. When you've
just typed the same phrase three times, it is time to FAKEOUT, YOU
THOUGHT YOU KNEW THIS JOKE BUT YOU DON'T.

kfogel is away: just going to start using "friblopen" to avoid the
whole "free"/"libre"/"open" debate

kfogel is away: Paying money to increase my cardiopulmonary
activity level in a socially-approved and non-disruptive manner &
location.

kfogel is away: taking The Jacket for repairs

kfogel is away: pursuing Outsider to galactic core to see what the
big deal is

kfogel is away: weekly spur waxing

kfogel is away: oak-sporting

kfogel is away: getting away from the computer for a bit and
fondly recalling my paleolithic past

				

My Contempt Knows No Bounds: The Starbucks “Come Together” Petition.

October 13th, 2013

This petition was on a table by the doorway at a Starbucks near my house, during the recent government shutdown threats, and the top sheet had even collected a lot of signatures. I wonder what those people thought they were accomplishing. You can click on the photo to get an enlarged version, but here’s what the text says:

To our leaders in Washington DC,
now is the time to come together to:

  1. Reopen our government to serve the people.
  2. Pay our debts on time to avoid another financial crisis.
  3. Pass a bipartisan and comprehensive long-term budget deal by the end of the year.

It’s as though Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz hears someone getting mugged outside his window and shouts “Hey you all down there, quit fighting!”

The Starbucks 'Come Together' Petition

Memo to Starbucks: the way to solve this crisis is by taking a side. It’s literally true: as their poll numbers have dropped (i.e., as more people have taken sides), the Republicans have started to abandon their demands. When enough of them abandon enough of their hostage-taking ways, the government will re-open, the debt ceiling will be raised, and conversation will be possible. Humiliating defeat is also a bipartisan solution.

If you’re a gigantic publicly-held company and don’t feel you can afford to take a side, then at least don’t put out pointless petitions in favor of unicorns and rainbows and everbody getting along. That’s worse than useless. You might confuse some poor person who hasn’t yet had their morning coffee into thinking they’re actually participating in politics when all they’re doing is donating their name to your misguided and implicitly partisan publicity drive.

Refusal to take a side almost always equals taking one side. In this case, by legitimizing the Republicans’ extortionary tactics, Starbucks is supporting their side. All the people signing that petition are doing so too, but — especially knowing the demographics of Hyde Park, Chicago, where that particular Starbucks is located — they probably don’t think of themselves as doing that. That what makes this worse than useless.

I’m not sure how one conspicuously refuses to sign a petition. Maybe cross out one line? Sign your name and then cross over it? What I did at that Starbucks was write a note at the top of the petition about “false equivalency” and how the only constructive action to take here is to take a side. If you stop by a Starbucks today, please do the same :-).

Eben Moglen talks in New York City: “Snowden and the Future”

October 3rd, 2013

Eben Moglen speaking

Arrgh, I wish I could go to this!

Eben Moglen is giving a series of talks entitled “Snowden and the Future” on four Wednesday nights, spread across October, November, and December. I’d even fly into New York to attend some of them, but I have choir rehearsal on Wednesday nights (and I’ve already missed rehearsals due to travel, so don’t want to do more of that).

But if you’re in New York, you should go! They’ll be at Columbia Law School, Jerome Greene Hall room 101 (map), from 4:30pm – 5:30pm, on Wednesdays Oct 9th, Oct 30th, Nov 13th, and Dec 4th. More information at snowdenandthefuture.info. The talks will be live-streamed at that site too.