Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: September 2007 (page 2 of 4)

President Bush is afraid of horses

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox says President Bush is afraid of horses. What’s interesting about that to me is that when Will Ferrell portrayed President Bush in a campaign video for ACT in 2004, one of the running themes was Bush’s fear of horses. Was it just a guess?

The origins of restaurant criticism

Jason Kottke found what is most likely the first piece of restaurant criticism published in the New York Times, in 1859. Really, truly interesting stuff.

Wherein I am left speechless

You want to know why they call it the “imperial Presidency”? Here’s why:

Every morning, Josh Bolten, the chief of staff, greets Bush with the same words: “Thank you for the privilege of serving today.”

Doesn’t that just tell you everything you’d need to know about President Bush? What kind of person willingly accepts that kind of obsequiousness on a daily basis? Maybe we should just call him Xerxes from here on out? Ironic that the man obsessed with war with Iran behaves most similarly to a Persian despot.

By way of Unqualified Offerings. The anecdote originates in Robert Draper’s Bush biography Dead Certain.

Six Apart’s great experiment

Six Apart (the folks behind Movable Type, TypePad, Vox, and LiveJournal) have announced that they will be opening the “social graph,” the list of people to whom you are connected on their social networks so that you can use it in any way that you choose. They’ll be doing so through open standards, in a manner vastly preferable to giving your account name and password to your online mail service to a social networking service, about which they have this to say:

Many services today, such as Facebook, allow you to log in and upload your contacts and friends from other services on the web. Facebook allows you to enter your email address and password from Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo! to extract all of the email addresses you’ve exchanged messages with. While you may not think of this as a security risk with services you trust such as Facebook, a few weeks ago it was shown that giving someone easy access to your email address books can have very unanticipated consequences.

Quechup.com launched a few weeks ago as a new social networking service. With little context for the new service, many people happily gave their Gmail username and password to check to see if their friends were already members. What many of those people did not realize is that Quechup could use that information to email invitations to join Quechup to everyone in their Gmail address book. Lots of unwanted email, and embarrassed apologies, followed.

This is a bold move, and an important one for the industry. I don’t know whether it will work out, because for it to be a big success, other social networking services will have to join in, but I applaud Six Apart for showing leadership in this issue. They’ve given themselves the best chance to succeed by adopting existing standards for everything. So many of these types of efforts are non-starters because they begin with the announcement of a new file format, XML schema, protocol, or Web service. Six Apart is being smarter and humbler in their approach.

If nothing else, hopefully people will question why other companies aren’t showing them as much respect as Six Apart is.

Sophia from Kid Nation assesses President Bush

I watched some of the new TV show Kid Nation tonight, and happened to find a gem on the bio page for one of the cast members, Sophia:

Who have been some of the worst U.S. presidents, and why?

I think George W. Bush takes the cake. The planet is disintegrating, we’re fighting an unnecessary war, millions are without health care, the school system has gone down the toilet, the country is billions of dollars in debt, the world seems to be headed on a path towards destruction, and America’s hypocrisy is mocked by many nations. I think that merits recognition.

Or here’s 9 year old Alex answering the same question:

George W. Bush, for leading us into a war without checking his facts first and for not having a clear plan prior to the invasion. He also suppressed anyone who wanted to question his decisions, which is against the American concept of free speech. William Harrison because he was too stupid to wear a coat at his inauguration speech, and caught pneumonia and died without doing anything in office.

On the other hand we have Taylor, with the red state perspective:

Since I’m only 11 & Bush has been Pres. for the last 7 years then I asked my family & friends to tell me about some past presidents and their opinions. This is what we came up with. Bill Clinton because he lowered the country’s moral. Jimmy Carter because he gave away the Panama Canal.

From a fellow Georgian, that’s got to hurt. Who knew anyone was still worked up about the Panama Canal?

25th birthday of the emoticon

Today is the 25th birthday of the emoticon. I may mark myself as tragically out of step by saying so, but I have always been a big emoticon fan.

Belgian separatism

I’ve been following the political problems in Belgium between the Flemings and the Walloons with interest over the past few weeks. The best explanation of I’ve seen of what’s going on was published today at Strange Maps. I had always known that Belgium was home to groups of people who speak different languages, but I had no idea of the degree of separation between the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemings. Apparently partition of the country is a real possibility, but Brussels stands in the way:

The resulting gridlock for some observers indicates that Belgium has reached the end of its tether. Although the present impasse seems to meet with apathy from the general public, this is not an improbable proposition – were it not for Brussels. The capital of Belgium isn’t just also the capital of Europe: it’s also the capital of Flanders, which maintains its parliament there. But 85% of the bruxellois are Francophone, and thus not inclined to think kindly of incorporation into Flanders. Annexation by Wallonia is rather impractical, as Brussels is completely surrounded by Flemish territory.

I’ll be interested to see what happens next.

Does two make a trend?

Yesterday I read that on Friday, President Bush sat down with a group of “milbloggers” to discuss how things are going in Iraq, and more importantly, get his version of the truth out to the public without its being filtered by people who give a crap about whether or not what he’s said is true or even makes any sense.

Last December, Microsoft flew in a bunch of big name bloggers to sit down with Bill Gates and let him disseminate some truthiness as well. At least Microsoft bothered to invite some independent voices instead of assembling a gaggle of sycophants who were so awestruck that they could barely get down to professing their undiminished love and asking softball questions.

These aren’t the only data points either. I’m sure that the ongoing Presidential campaign will feature any number of sit-downs between candidates and the bloggers who love them. In fact, Barack Obama’s already had a blogger dinner. We’ll have to put up with an avalanche of posts about how John Edwards claims he reads so-and-so’s blog and how Fred Thompson really is just as genuine as he appears to be when he’s acting.

I think that the responsibility here falls on readers. Bloggers are, for the most part, just regular people, and when someone you admire singles you out for special treatment, it’s hard not to get caught up in it. So when you read first person accounts of meetings with that special person, just know that everything that follows probably belongs in a gossip column rather than on the news page.

eMusic and Epitaph Records

Epitaph Records has decided to remove all of its music from eMusic because eMusic refuses to sell its songs at 99 cents a track, like iTunes. That’s a real shame, because Epitaph offered some of the most interesting music on eMusic. In announcing the departure of Epitaph, eMusic CEO David Pakman makes the following point:

At a time when the music industry is in such steep decline, our research and experience shows us that consumers are still willing to buy music, provided the value is right. And 99 cents a song is not an acceptable price point for all consumers. That’s one reason why eMusic exists and has been so successful; those consumers who are willing to spend more on music (provided the price is right) do so with us. You spend more than 14 times as much as the average iTunes customer at a time when per capita spending on all music and audio is under $24. You buy twenty times more music than the average iTunes customer.

We know that consumers seeking good value don’t have to buy CDs for $16 or buy downloads for $1 each. They simply go to Amazon and eBay and buy used Epitaph CDs for $3 each. When consumers buy used CDs, as you know, the artist and label don’t get paid at all. Some analysts have estimated that as much as 30% of Amazon’s music business comes from selling used CDs. With facts like these, it’s hard to argue that we, as an industry, can control the price of music. You, the consumers, make that decision and you are telling us what we need to know — you’ll buy more if you can pay less.

The point about used CDs is well taken. Illegal music downloads get a lot of the blame for the woes of the music industry, but I’d love to know the overall impact of used CD sales. He also points out that all of these phenomena have their greatest effect among average music fans. No hardcore music fan worth their salt is going to pay full price for any music recordings unless they’re just feeling charitable. It’s too easy to find better deals.

The “fat” iPod Nano

I had the same reaction I’ve seen from many people online to the first pictures I saw of the iPod Nano. It looked like a “fat” Nano, because its aspect ratio is so different from its predecessor’s. Then I saw the Nanos in the Apple Store today and realized they should be called the miniscule Nano. The new Nano is absurdly small and thin. Even more than the iPhone, it feels like it arrived from the future. Given the size of the Nano, I don’t really see there being a market for the iPod Shuffle any more.

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