China vs #OccupyCentral

Sep 30 2014 @ 3:42pm


Beijing’s censors have been working overtime to scrub coverage of the Hong Kong protests from social media:

Weibo censorship hit its highest point this year at 152 censored posts per 10,000, according to Weiboscope, an analytics project run by the University of Hong Kong. (“Hong Kong” and “police” were the day’s top censored terms.) To put that in perspective, the Sept. 28 censorship rate was more than double that on June 4, the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen student movement — an event so meticulously censored in both traditional and social media that many of China’s younger generation are largely ignorant of the event. …

Read On

Going Viral

Sep 30 2014 @ 3:20pm

Kalev Leetaru considers the role that online data – even blogs – could have in halting diseases like Ebola:

It turns out that monitoring the spread of Ebola can teach us a lot about what we missed — and how data mining, translation, and the non-Western world can help to provide better early warning tools.

Earlier this month, Harvard’s HealthMap service made world headlines for monitoring early mentions of the current Ebola outbreak on March 14, 2014, “nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic,” and issuing its first alert on March 19. Much of the coverage of HealthMap’s success has emphasized that its early warning came from using massive computing power to sift out early indicators from millions of social media posts and other informal media.

As one blog put it: “So how did a computer algorithm pick up on the start of the outbreak before the WHO? As it turns out, some of the first health care workers to see Ebola in Guinea regularly blog about their work. As they began to write about treating patients with Ebola-like symptoms, a few people on social media mentioned the blog posts. And it didn’t take long for HealthMap to detect these mentions.”

The unfortunate flip side:

But there was some great news today:

Meanwhile, Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre assesses the latest US role in combatting the Ebola epidemic – boots on the ground:

Read On

Parody For Profit

Sep 30 2014 @ 3:00pm

David Hajdu charts the rise of the satirical music video:

Song parodies now generate more revenue than official videos, according to YouTube data provided in the 2014 Annual Report of the International Federation of Phonographic Industries (IFPI), a music-recording trade group. While YouTube once discouraged parody videos on the dubious grounds of copyright infringement – its attorneys must have skipped the readings on Berlin v. E. C. Publications in law school – YouTube now welcomes music parodies, because it has figured out how to make money from them. YouTube is helping record companies and rights administrators to hit up parodists (and others who employ copyrighted music in their content) for licensing fees.

He finds himself ambivalent about the genre. On the one hand, parody amounts to “critique in creative form, and as such it provides a service essential to society”:

Read On

Fluid Dynamics

Sep 30 2014 @ 2:41pm

Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart objects to describing women as more “sexually fluid” than men:

There is some evidence that women experience arousal in response to a wider range of visual stimuli than men do. There’s also a great deal of evidence that females can go from having female partners to male ones, or vice versa. But nowhere in the literature is any firm line drawn between this vague concept of “fluidity” and the other word we use for people who experience attraction to people of both genders: bisexuality. Why don’t we just call it that? …

Read On

Is John Oliver A Journalist? Ctd

Sep 30 2014 @ 2:19pm

Several readers comment on our praise of Last Week Tonight:

My brother and I have fallen into something of a Monday-morning ritual where we rave about how great John Oliver‘s expose-of-the-week had been the night before. Not because the extra 8 minutes have afforded him the equivalent of brutally delivered “long-form comedy-news journalism”, but because Oliver routinely taps into the collective influence of his audience’s Internet fluency toward a sort of “social media civic engagement” we haven’t seen before.

Seemingly without exception, he always gives the audience an opportunity to participate in his issue-of-the-week in surprisingly meaningful ways: send comments to the FCC about net neutrality, donate to other scholarship funds made available to women to supplant Miss America’s status at the top, copy a satirical letter to APSCU lampooning the abuse of student loan subsidies by for-profit colleges.

Where Jon Stewart tends to end his rants with pithy statements that leave us feeling angry but hopeless, John Oliver seems to be going out of his way to channeling that outrage into non-trivial calls for action. Even if his goal is only to dominate the next day’s cable news cycle in replays, it makes the endeavor seem much more traditionally journalistic than The Daily Show or The Colbert Report.

Another sends the above video:

I know how you feel about Michael Moore, but he did much the same thing with his show TV Nation.

Read On


It turns out White House fence-jumper Omar Gonzalez made it far past the mansion’s front door. Adam Baumgartner created the above animated GIF of Gonzalez’s route based on the following description from Carol Leonnig:

After barreling past the guard immediately inside the door, Gonzalez, who was carrying a knife, dashed past the stairway leading a half-flight up to the first family’s living quarters. He then ran into the 80-foot-long East Room, an ornate space often used for receptions or presidential addresses. Gonzalez was tackled by a counter-assault agent at the far southern end of the East Room. The intruder reached the doorway to the Green Room, a parlor overlooking the South Lawn with artwork and antique furniture, according to three people familiar with the incident.

According to Leonnig, an alarm box meant to alert the Secret Service to intruders had been “muted” at the request of the White House usher staff. Joe Coscarelli adds:

That wasn’t the only failure. Gonzalez seems to have made it past the following lines of defense, according to the Post:

Read On

Doubling Down On Afghanistan

Sep 30 2014 @ 1:39pm

Today, Afghanistan and the US signed an agreement allowing nearly 10,000 American soldiers to remain there past the end of this year, fulfilling a campaign pledge from the new president, Ashraf Ghani:

Under the agreement, 12,000 foreign military personnel are expected to stay after 2014, when the combat mission of Afghanistan’s U.S.-led NATO force ends. The force is expected to be made up of 9,800 U.S. troops with the rest from other NATO members. They will train and assist Afghan security forces in the war against the Taliban and its radical Islamist allies. The U.S. has the right to keep bases in Afghanistan as long as the security pact is in force, and in return it promises to raise funds to train and equip the Afghan security forces, which now number 350,000.

Ghani was inaugurated on Monday and called on the Taliban to join peace talks. He formed a unity government with election rival Abdullah Abdullah after a prolonged standoff over vote results that ended in a deal to make Ghani president and Abdullah a chief executive in the government with broad powers.

“Like it or not,” Ioannis Koskinas argues, “Afghanistan remains a key battlefront in the fight against extremists, terrorists, and fanatics hiding behind the veil of religious fundamentalism”:

Read On

My old friend, Jesse Norman, is an MP in the British parliament and noted something odd in the recent war debate in the Commons:

During the past decade or two, a convention has started to develop that, except in an emergency, major foreign policy interventions must be pre-approved by a vote in Parliament. The idea springs from honourable motives and it is understandable given the present climate of distrust in politics, but in my judgment it is nevertheless a serious mistake … It is a basic purpose of Parliament —above all, of this Chamber—to hold the Government to account for their actions. It is for the Government, with all their advantages of preparation, information, advice and timeliness, to act, and it is then for this Chamber to scrutinise that action.

If Parliament itself authorises such action in advance, what then? It gives up part of its power of scrutiny; it binds Members in their own minds, rather than allowing them the opportunity to assess each Government decision on its own merits and circumstances; and instead of being forced to explain and justify their actions, Ministers can always take final refuge in saying, “Well, you authorised it.” Thus, far from strengthening Parliament, it weakens it and the Government: it weakens the dynamic tension between the two sides from which proper accountability and effective policy must derive.

In the British constitutional system, Jesse is surely right. He reminds us that when Margaret Thatcher PresidencyKingrecalled Parliament for an emergency session before the launch of the Falklands war, the motion before the House was simply: “That this House do now adjourn.” But what makes this so striking is how the American republic, meanwhile, has turned into the British one. It was long understood as a vital part of the American constitution that declarations of war had to come from the Congress and not the president – precisely to avoid the dangers of a pseudo-monarch using war to bolster his own standing, to project strength or to act as some kind of protector of the realm. None of that really applies any more, the president launches war after war (while calling them counter-terror operations), and the Congress’s only remaining role is to provide the funds. This is precisely what the Founders feared; and it is precisely what is now routine. In a stark review of a new book on presidentialism by F H Buckley, The Once And Future King: The Rise Of Crown Government In America, Gene Healy sees how far the rot has gone:

We’re hardly “the freest country in the world.” As Buckley points out, his native Canada beats the United States handily on most cross-country comparisons of political and economic liberty. In the latest edition of the Cato Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World rankings, for example, we’re an unexceptional 17th. Meanwhile, as Buckley points out, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Democracy Index” ranks us as the 19th healthiest democracy in the world, “behind a group of mostly parliamentary countries, and not very far ahead of the ‘flawed democracies.’”

There’s a lesson there. While “an American is apt to think that his Constitution uniquely protects liberty,” the truth “is almost exactly the reverse.” In a series of regressions using Freedom House’s international rankings, Buckley finds that “presidentialism is significantly and strongly correlated with less political freedom.”

Read On


A reader is aghast:


Another wonders, “Are you sure you didn’t mix up the daily VFYW and contest photo?” Another gave up in about 20 minutes:

Clearly you decided to put up an easy one this week. What with the Ents in the distance, I know I won’t be the only one to pin this down to the Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth. I think I see the mist of the river Earwash ahead, putting us at or close to the site where Gandalf the White met the hunters. Heck, it’s as good a guess as any other. A tree in the middle of the forest?????

Another goes for a “shot in the dark”:

Looks like deciduous trees, the coastal range, and a fog bank. That sounds like Walnut Creek, CA to me.

Or South America?

Ariau Towes, an eco-lodge outside Manaus, Brazil:


Another looks for clues:

There are a bunch of deciduous trees. That’s less than helpful. We seem to be on a mountain. I see nothing outside to help me other than that. Given that the paucity of detail outside, I chose to focus on what was inside. There’s more to work with but … yeah, not a lot. It looks like some recording equipment (headphones, cabling, something that might possibly be a sound meter), a water bottle, and a floor with interesting swirly markings. I’m sure someone will recognize the logo on the water bottle instantly, but I got nothin. Same with the floor.

Based on the trees and recording equipment, my husband guesses Tennessee. I don’t think you’d stay in North America four weeks in a row, but I don’t have a better alternative. So, we’re going with a recording studio in Tennessee. On a mountain.

It’s not recording equipment. Another reader figures out the key characteristic of this week’s view:

Read On

Is The HIV Divide Now Over?

Sep 30 2014 @ 12:20pm

What are your options today as a gay man with a sex life in America? You live in a community where a deadly virus has killed hundreds of thousands and is still resilient in the gay male world as a whole. It has no external or visible symptoms most of the time. Many people have no idea they have it. But the virus can be permanently suppressed to a point where it cannot be measured in your bloodstream and to a point where an HIV-positive man cannot transmit the virus to another person. And someone who is HIV-negative can also have access to a daily pill that, if taken conscientiously, all but wipes out the chance of getting infected.

Here are your options: the blue pill or the red pill. Take the one-pill-a-day Truvada (below right) and never get HIV; take the often one-pill anti-retroviral pill (like atripla, below left), and truvadayou will never give someone HIV. To make doubly sure, you can always use a condom. Except almost every man who ever had sex hates condoms – and, unlike a pill you take every day, wearing a condom means making a decision in the middle of sexual desire and passion when your rational self is at its weakest.

For me, this seems obvious – partly because I have been through the HIV mill for my entire adult life. I was dumped by an HIV-positive man when I was HIV-negative; I was dumped by countless HIV-negative men because I was positive; I have had an undetectable viral load for nearly two decades; and I am open about my HIV status – even to the point of risking deportation; I’ve been publicly shamed by HIV-negative gay men for seeking sex only with other HIV-positive men. I have navigated relationships with men on both sides of the divide – and yet the divide remained. These trials-by-fire are mercifully not always the norm any more – but that means that the young generation has fewer psychological resources or experiences with HIV to grapple with the whole issue of getting infected, or avoiding infection, or navigating sex with the issue of HIV menacingly in the way. Which may be partly why the younger generation remains the one most at risk. The trauma of the distant past still echoes in the collective psyche; this is still a disease people feel ashamed of; it is still a disease which other gay men will stigmatize and ostracize you for; it is still a disease that your friends and family regard as terrifying – even though it is no more rationally terrifying at this point than diabetes. It still compels you into denial; or fear; or blame; or ostracism.

imagesAnd so our psyches are lagging behind the science – and behind the epidemic. And one of the most powerful aspects of that traumatized psyche is the division between HIV-positive men and HIV-negative ones. It’s been there from the very beginning – this segregation of fear. But surely, at this point, there is no reason to continue the segregation. What matters is not whether you are HIV-positive or HIV-negative. What matters is whether you know your status and are on one medication or the other. Once that is true, sex can cross the bridge once more. The pills can erase the stigma and the divide – if we really want them to.

There’s a terrific new piece in Poz magazine that explores much of this territory. It weighs some of the risks of the Truvada revolution, but it also illuminates the liberation of it as well, the amazing promise that the viral Jim Crow can be dismantled at last:

Read On