aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Giving us what we want
The Times on what Netflix could teach Hollywood:
I visited Netflix in Silicon Valley last month. Out of the 60,000 titles in Netflix’s inventory, I ask, how many do you think are rented at least once on a typical day?
The most common answers have been around 1,000, which sounds reasonable enough. Americans tend to flock to the same small group of movies, just as they flock to the same candy bars and cars, right?
Well, the actual answer is 35,000 to 40,000. That’s right: every day, almost two of every three movies ever put onto DVD are rented by a Netflix customer. “Americans’ tastes are really broad,” says Reed Hastings, Netflix’s chief executive. So, while the studios spend their energy promoting bland blockbusters aimed at everyone, Netflix has been catering to what people really want - and helping to keep Hollywood profitable in the process.
I’m glad I wasn’t behind them in customs:
In a race to save amphibians threatened by an encroaching, lethal fungus, two conservationists from Atlanta recently packed their carry-ons with frogs rescued from a Central American rain forest - squeezing some 150 to a suitcase - and requested permission from airlines to travel with them in the cabin of the plane.
The frogs, snuggly swaddled in damp moss in vented plastic deli containers big enough for a small fruit salad, were perhaps the last of their kind, collected from a pristine national park that fills the bowl of El Valle, an inactive volcano in Panama.
The scientists were able to predict that the fungus - which is blamed for killing amphibians worldwide - would arrive in El Valle in a matter of weeks, so they stepped in to save as many different species as they could.
They went into the forest at night, since most frogs are nocturnal, slogging down a river in hip waders and carrying powerful flashlights. After four separate trips, some lasting only 48 hours, the two men, along with a native guide who possessed stealth and fast hands, managed to gather 600 frogs, shooting for 20 males and 20 females of each species to ensure good genetic variation in their breeding colonies.
To feed them, they rented a house and left piles of rotting fruit in the corners to attract flies. “It was pretty stinky,” Mr. Gagliardo said.
They got the frogs back here, while, as predicted, the fungus did hit El Valle. They expect 90 percent of the frogs there to be gone within 90 days.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Taking pictures of buildings is not a crime
Even if some people (photo at right) behave as if it were.
Thomas Hawk was harrassed while trying to take pictures of a building in San Francisco:
45 Fremont was in our path and we were shooting some photos of it as we were walking by. It was then that the security guard there told us that we could not shoot the building. When I explained that we were in a public area and had a right to shoot the building he insisted and called another security guard over on his radio who also tried to get us to stop taking pictures of the building. I still refused as it is my right to shoot buildings in San Francisco from a public area.
It was at this point that things went from bad to worse. At this point an individual came over who identified himself as a police officer and told us to get out of the plaza, off the sidewalk and to physically stand on the asphalt in the street where the cars were driving by. When I tried to object this individual (who was significantly larger than me) assaulted me and forcibly grabbed my arm quite hard and pulled me towards the street…
I’m an architecture buff, so much so that I once had my own walking tours of Manhattan. I was a New Yorker who liked to look up, and liked to look at lobbies too. Post 9/11 I wouldn’t be allowed to do it.
Back then you could walk in and around buildings and security guards would talk with you about them. We’re in a different time. It’s sad, unnecessary and not likely to be effective.
I’m assuming there will be a terrorism claim here but I also remember well the copyrighted park. I hardly care what the real reason is; I can say that this is not the kind of America I want to live in.
I like him. I watch him. I have no doubt his ratings are up. But his show is no different from the others:
Scott Collins notes that “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” has been on a ratings upswing, last month beating “Meet the Press” and “Face the Nation” in the key ages-25-to-54 demographic two weeks in a row. “I just think people are giving the show a chance and looking at what we have to offer,” says Stephanopoulos. “The more people watch, the more they see it’s not your standard Sunday show. We go on the road more, give people a look at the political humor of the week.”
Pulling out all the stops
Doug’s the organist in the family but on my recent trip to the Czech Republic I went on organ tours in Hradec KrÃƒÂ¡lovÃƒÂ© and Olomouc. I had no idea that the organ was a wind instrument, or that a hazard early organists faced was the young boys paid to work the bellows drifting off at key moments.
If you’re interested in such things, yesterday’s Morning Edition had a piece on the new organ at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia. The explanation of how it works ends with this wonderful Bach anecdote:
Music commentator MILES HOFFMAN: The quality of the sound and the pitch - the actual note - is determined by the size and the design of the pipe. So the shorter the pipe, the higher the pitch, in other words, the higher the note. The longer the pipe, and bigger and wider, the lower the note. And some organs have pipes that are 32 feet long or 64 feet long, and then the smallest pipe, for example, on this new organ at the Kimmel Center, is the size of a drinking straw… Imagine the range of this instrument. It’s all determined by the size and the design of the pipes. That’s how you get different sounds with an organ. That’s what the organist does. He or she chooses what’s called a registration - chooses which ranks - which stops to open up - which valves to open up so that you get all these different sounds.
Host RENEE MONTAGNE: Here’s sort of an astonishing thought. That expression, pull out all the stops…
MONTAGNE: ...it comes from - could you pull out all the stops on this Kimmel Center organ.
HOFFMAN: I asked Lynn Dobson, who is the maker of the organ - the builder of the organ, Dobson Organs - if you could pull out all the stops and he said, yes, I think you could.
MONTAGNE: Would you want to?
HOFFMAN: Well, that was his next point, would you want to, because it would be an absolutely overwhelming sound. And I should mention that when you say, pull out all the stops, first of all, that expression is associated with Johann Sebastian Bach, because he was not only a great organist, he was an organ tester. And when he went to a different city, he was much in demand to test organs. When he went around testing an organ, the first thing he would do would be to pull out all the stops to get all the pipes sounding at once so that he could see, in his words, what kind of lungs the instrument had.
Not here. I’m in Athens, GA for training and awoke to this headline in the local paper, Court: Uninsured can be charged more:
Lawyers for the five former ARMC [Athens Regional Medical Center] patients said the dual-pricing system is unfair and fraudulent and should be declared illegal, partly because the burden of the higher charges falls disproportionately on poor people and minorities, those least able to pay.
Among the plaintiffs were Mercer Cox, charged $941.60 for ointment and a bandage in ARMC’s emergency room for a minor burn; Keith Hambrick, charged about $8,500 for a two-hour outpatient hernia operation - not counting what the surgeon charged; and John Wilson, charged $10,650.26 for a one-day hospitalization for a cardiac catheterization.
The hospital did not dispute that it charges more to uninsured patients, but maintained that the law doesn’t prohibit the price structure… The practice of charging uninsured patients more than insured ones is common across the United States, and the lawsuit against ARMC was part of a coordinated wave of lawsuits against more than 30 hospitals in 25 states.
For a more serioius consideration of the issue of activists judges, here’s Justice Stephen Breyer speaking on the topic at the University of Chicago Law School.
Monday, June 05, 2006
Mr. CHRIS BRUZZO (Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at Amazon): Our primary goal is to entertain our audience. But, you are on Amazon.com when you’re watching this show, so that allows us to make it incredibly easy for an audience member to both experience and be entertained by an artist, and follow-up on that.
NPR’s LAURA SYDELL: No doubt, with a credit card in hand.
In an age when digital video recorders are making it possible for most people to skip past television commercials, advertisements and entertainment are moving closer together… [M]erging the interactivity of the Internet with entertainment that promotes products has many advertisers salivating, says Peter Seeley, an adjunct professor at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, at Berkeley.
Professor PETER SEELY (Marketing, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley): If you can bring the impulse buy of the product, and an advertisement for that product, together, and at that moment - do you think that American Idol wouldn’t have been selling those concert tickets they started promoting on the Idols’ concert tour? Can you imagine selling those concert tickets just as they were watching Kat sing her Over the Rainbow on the floor? Oh!
SYDELL: Seeley believes Amazon is riding the wave of the future. Retailers will start to use online entertainment to promote their products. It’s actually closer to early television, he says, when single sponsors supported a show, and the soap operas got their name because soap companies produced them to sell their products to housewives.
And I’m particularly impressed with the playlist feature. I’m not interested in watching whole shows; I want to watch what I want - and only as much as I want - when I want:
SYDELL: Amazon Fishbowl will be stream cast every Thursday night. It will remain accessible in its entirety for sometime after. In new media fashion, it can also be watched in segments. Interviews with the guests will be placed right next to links to their products.
And while the show itself is essential one long ad for several different products, it doesn’t mean its commercial free. Show sponsors, UPS and Cingular, both have ads in the first show.
Gay Days at DisneyWorld
Speaking of DisneyWorld, I used to go regularly, (the photo’s from 1999):
Sixty thousand gay and lesbian visitors dressed in red T-shirts visited Walt Disney World Saturday as part of the weeklong celebration of Gay Days.
Participants we spoke with say it was more a show of solidarity than a political statement.
They say they don’t want to force their lifestyle on other people. They just want to be accepted for who they are, not what they are.
“Mostly I’m here to have fun and be with my friends,” Gay Days participant Danielle Gilbertson said. “But if this is seen as a political statement, then all the more for it.”
Park visitor Nell Skeen said: “I think we can all get along and have a good time. They’re people just like us.”
Venice as theme park
After experiencing the masses of tourists in Prague I concluded I would never go to Venice:
The waters are rising around Venice. Each year the floods worsen and last longer. Carpets of slime coat St Mark’s Square. Statues and church walls are coated with filth. The city is drowning. But there is a solution: run the place like Disneyland, says leading UK economist John Kay. [...]
Under Kay’s scheme, tourists would be charged an entrance fee of between Ã¢â€šÂ¬20 and Ã¢â€šÂ¬30 - roughly the fee to Disneyland Paris. Once inside, they would be able to visit Venice’s glorious churches, restaurants and hotels, which would be run as franchises dispensed by the corporation in charge of the city.
The idea will form the core of proposals to be outlined at an international symposium at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 12 June. It will debate the proposition ‘Enough money has been spent saving Venice’.
And is this a variation of what we’ll be reading about New Orleans next century?
Recent archaeological digs have shown that Venice has been sinking by about 10cm a century for the past few hundred years. But in the 20th century it sank 20cm because water was pumped from natural underground reservoirs, causing the subsoil to compact. In addition, the water level in the Venice lagoon has risen by about 5cm. In 1900, St Mark’s Square flooded 10 times a year; now the figure is around 60.
The Italian government recently backed a Ã‚Â£3bn plan that would involve building barriers between the lagoon around Venice and the sea. The barriers would be raised when abnormally high tides were due.
But this plan is based on predictions that there will be a sea rise of 15-26cm this century. And that poses serious worries for climate experts. Most sea-level forecasts now envisage rises that will reach up to a metre by 2100. If such rises occur, Venice will receive precious little protection from the proposed barriers, thus wasting Ã‚Â£3bn.
Sunday, June 04, 2006
200 liters of Diet Coke & 500 Mentos
A mint-powered version of the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas, brought to you by the mad scientists at EepyBird.com.
Most blog traffic is trash. I’ve written about it before, and it’s not exactly news. Everyone knows it. If you look at your stats, you’ll learn that half of your traffic--or a lot more than half--comes from search engines. People type in things like “nipple schoolgirl goat priest molasses,” and they end up at your site for ten seconds, and they leave, hopefully disappointed. Those people aren’t “visitors,” no matter how much you like to think they are. They’re just lost. And they don’t click ads. Even worse, you may be getting traffic because big bloggers link to you. That doesn’t make you a success. It makes you a pet, living on table scraps. When the scraps stop coming--when you say the wrong thing and stop toadying--those tasty scraps can stop coming, instantly, and then you find out how much readers really care about you.
I’ve only ever had three traffic spikes. Most recently my Religious groups push same-sex marriage ban post sent traffic soaring - because I accidentally left off the last word in the headline. Good cocktail chatter maybe but not the kind of acclaim I might long for…
Saturday, June 03, 2006
I spent Memorial Day at the TerezÃƒÂn concentration camp with students. I was troubled to find that only one student knew that gays were targeted and sent to concentration camps (and there was no real mention of them in the TerezÃƒÂn displays).
Those students know better now.
We had gone to a Gypsy party and learned of them and their experience; there was no equivalent Gay visit. No mention that a thriving, if nascent, Gay movement had been snuffed out by the Nazis.
I came back to America to find that the anti-gay marriage amendment will be debated next week. It is in this context that I went back and reread Richard Plant’s important 1986 book, The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals:
After a homosexual arrived in camp, he underwent the first experience of all newcomers: he was seized by a profound trauma. He was battered, kicked, slapped, and reviled. According to at least one witness, homosexuals and Jews were not only given the worst beatings, but their pubic hair was shorn; others lost only their head hair.
A clergyman, remanded to Dachau in September 1941, describes the process well: “The SS man asked everybody on what charges he had been sentenced. One man was there on account of crimes against Paragraph 175. He was cuffed, forced to tell in detail what he had done and how. Then they fell upon him, cuffing and kicking. Another victim recalls his first day in Sachsenhausen: “When my name was called, I stepped forward, gave my name, and mentioned Paragraph 175. With the words `You filthy queer, get over there, you butt fucker,’ I received several kicks ... then was transferred to an SS sergeant in charge of my block. The first thing I got from him was a violent blow on my face that threw me to the ground ... he brought his knees up hard into my groin so that I doubled over with pain ... he grinned at me and said: `That was your entrance fee, you filthy Viennese swine . . .’ ”
But they love us
Commenting on this quote from this important Times article last summer:
Their passion comes from their conviction that homosexuality is a sin, is immoral, harms children and spreads disease. Not only that, but they see homosexuality itself as a kind of disease, one that afflicts not only individuals but also society at large and that shares one of the prominent features of a disease: it seeks to spread itself.
Ah, yes. The danger of the Jews/Gays spreading their disease throughout society, their enormous power despite tiny numbers, their ability to pass, their threat to children, their flaunting of their disagreement with the New Testament. It’s all so familiar. I think the arguments now made by some Christianists are replicas of the old anti-Semitism, peddled by so many Christians in the past: that Jews are to be loved, but loving them is dependent on their conversion to Christianity; that you can love individual Jews while disdaining Judaism; that Jews’ stubbornness in resisting conversion is evidence of their inherent evil; that such evil, at some point, has to be segregated from mainstream society as much as possible. Gays are not the new blacks. They’re the new Jews. And the Church, in both Catholic and Protestant variants, is dredging up its old anti-Semitism in new guises. The GOP is along for the ride.
An amendment they’d like
I keep asking, what is their public policy goal? Might conservatives, upset with the courts for Lawrence v Texas and unhappy with the anti-gay marriage amendment as written, actually prefer something along these lines:
A man who engages as the active or passive partner in lewdness with another man is to be punished by imprisonment.
That’s from Paragraph 175 a provision of the German Criminal Code in place from 1871 to 1994. Significantly, the Nazi’s amended it in 1933. From Richard Plant - who died in 1998 and once said, “I emigrated as a Jew to survive as a homosexual” - in his important 1986 book The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals:
On June 28, 1935, Paragraph 175 was revised to extend the concept of “criminally indecent activities between men.” It permitted the authorities to arrest any male on the most ludicrous and transparent charges… Mutual masturbation was declared a felony; a kiss or a touch could be interpreted as criminally indecent. The specialists in the Ministry of Justice were not satisfied until anything that could remotely be considered as sex between males was labeled a transgression… Later, courts decided that a lewd glance from one man to another was sufficient grounds for prosecution.
Benen exactly right on Bush amendment ploy
Steve Benen wrote yesterday that Bush’s new-found interest in the marriage amendment is a l losing proposition:
Dobson, Falwell, Robertson, & Co. wanted the White House to take this amendment seriously for months. For the president to speak out, literally at the 11th hour, will probably be interpreted as too-little, too-late.
Today the LATimes agrees:
“I’m going to go and hear what he says, but we already know it is a ruse,” said Joe Glover, president of the Family Policy Network, which opposes gay marriage. “We’re not buying it. We’re going to go and watch the dog-and-pony show, [but] it’s too little, too late.”
We’re redoing the kitchen this summer. This might be fun. Doug?
Gotta love Mike Luckovich
Back in town after three weeks away - three very challenging, busy and productive weeks - it’s hard to get going again. I have to remind myself that it’s fine to slack off:
In America, Franklin’s work ethic has always dominated, but the slacker undercurrent has always been there, and has always resonated with the public. Much of Lutz’s book [DOING NOTHING: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America] is a survey of the many incarnations of the slacker in popular culture - from Bartleby the Scrivener to Bart Simpson, with all the bohemians and beatniks, hobos and hippies in between. What Lutz finds, over and over (and over) is that slackers and workaholics aren’t always as different as they appear. Ben Franklin, it turns out, was a party animal who was often neither early to bed nor early to rise. Samuel Johnson, for all his praise of idling, was an immensely productive writer - and writing is hard work, as we have established (feldspar).
Friday, June 02, 2006
Gay marriage polling
I don’t really know what to make of this that and the other poll whose conflicting conclusions document gay marriage as the battle of our times. So I was happy to find Andrew Sullivan pointing to this AEI summary and observing:
There has been a massive shift in the last thirty years toward acceptance of gay equality. This has continued despite (or even because of) the campaign against marriage rights by the Christianist movement. The proportion of people who say they know a gay person has doubled in twenty years. In my view, that has been the real agent for change. And if gay people want their civil rights, they know what to do. If you’re in the closet, you have no one to blame for your inequality but yourself.
I love Ubuntu Dapper:
For years Linux operating systems have been the sole domain of geeks, nerds, and brave souls. Only people who had the knowledge and courage to jump feet first dared try it. In the past five years or so this has changed dramatically. The holy grail for super geeks and newbies alike has been a free - as in beer and freedom - easy to use DESKTOP operating system (OS). There have been many attempts. Red Hat, Fedora, Linspire, Gentoo, etc. [all of these OS work very well BTW] But it wasn’t until I tried Ubuntu (THANK YOU COREY!) that I realized we were VERY close to finding the holy grail.
The official release of the newest Ubuntu Linux 6.06 - code named Dapper Drake - may very well be THE easiest and most powerful desktop Linux OS yet. I feel confident that even your grandmother could use this OS. Now of course we all have to be willing to try new things. I suspect its habit and love for the first thing we learn that keeps us shackled to bad software. No longer can we say Linux is too hard to use!
Emphasis in original. More here. I took it on my recent study abroad program where it was used by various students with absolutely no training or introduction whatsoever. It performed flawlessly.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
YouTube’s sense of humor
I love YouTube!
Engineers at video upload site YouTube.com played a practical joke on fans late Thursday evening as they prepared to roll out new site features.
YouTube, which hosts homemade videos, took down the site and posted a cryptic and grammatically incorrect place-holder message written in capital letters: “All your video are belong to us.”
The inability to get on to the site and the poor grammar had some YouTube fans believing that the site had been hacked. At around 10:45 p.m. PT, an additional sentence appeared that let confused users in on the hoax.
“No, we haven’t be hacked. Get a sense of humor.”
YouTube posted a note on the site at 7 p.m. PT warning users that it would be going down, said YouTube spokeswoman Julie Supan. The San Mateo, Calif.-based company has often placed humorous photographs or messages up when performing maintenance on the site.
They’re fun and playful and so much better than Yahoo! or Google.
The future of the evening news?
Interesting but I haven’t yet subscribed:
Since debuting 5 months ago, “World News Tonight’s” daily podcast “World News Now” has quickly become one of the most popular podcasts available on iTunes. Data for the week of May 22-28 reveals that the video podcast was downloaded 1.4 million times via iTunes and ABCNEWS.com, a record level for “World News Now.”
“We launched an ambitious venture last January-sharing the rigors and resources of Ã¢â‚¬ËœWorld News Tonight’ with an entirely new audience,” said executive producer Jon Banner. “‘World News Now’ is a testament to ABC News’ commitment to providing the news anywhere, anytime.”
“World News Now” airs live at 3 p.m. (ET) and is available throughout the day at http://www.abcnews.com: , on ABC News Now, through the iTunes Music Store (http://www.itunes.com: ) in the video podcast section, and on mobile phones via MobiTV, GoTV, and Sprint TV Live. This is the first time a network newscast has produced a unique program for the Internet audience.
Katie? Do something great!
Thank you guest bloggers!
I’m back and getting into the swing again after being away for over three weeks. My trip was wonderfully successful, even as this was the rainiest May in Prague in 89 years!
Three weeks is a lot to ask of a guest blogger, and I am sincerely grateful to my four guest bloggers for sharing their time and talent here. They kept this blog afloat while I was gone
Bailing on Cox in the GA gubernatorial primary
I’ll be among those boycotting:
Many Georgia gay voters - a group political experts say could sway a close Democratic primary - say they plan to boycott the July 18 gubernatorial contest between Secretary of State Cathy Cox and Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor.
Analysts say that could spell trouble for Cox, who was thought to be the favorite of metro Atlanta’s large and politically active gay and lesbian community.
Gays and lesbians, who are concentrated in Fulton and DeKalb counties, are angry at Cox for what they call a “flip-flop” on the gay marriage issue. Two years ago Cox blasted the state’s Republican-authored constitutional gay-marriage ban as “unnecessary.” But she recently backed a call for a special legislative session to reinstate the ban after it was thrown out by a Superior Court judge.
I’m not so sure it will always be the gift that keeps on giving:
Contrary to what some politicians expect voters to believe, that a single judge usurped the will of 76 percent of the people, 3.2 million of them, who voted for the ban, the judge’s ruling isn’t about same-sex marriages at all. From the beginning it has been more about politics than preventing marriages between same-sex partners.
It was a pretty crass ploy in 2004 designed to turn out the conservative vote. And it worked, not only in Georgia, but ten other states with similar measures on the ballot, but Georgia’s effort is a special case. Republican politicians designed the amendment as an issue that would keep on giving. During the legislative debate in ‘04, language was suggested that would have allowed the amendment to pass constitutional challenge, but it was rejected. This brouhaha in an election year is exactly what some politicians wanted.
This is also being played out on the partisan federal stage. The Republican-dominated Senate Judiciary Committee approved sending to the full Senate a constitutional amendment that would prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriages. If approved by the Senate next week it would have to be passed by 38 states. Just what the doctor ordered for the 2008 elections.
Maybe. Or maybe they’ve drunk that well dry and the public will quickly flip on the issue.
LATER: Bush is expected to promote the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on Monday.
Gay Rights in Russia
It doesn’t look like there are any. Read this first-person account of last Saturday’s Moscow Pride:
When we arrived, the square was ringed by police and militia, and dotted with nearly 300 homophobic counter-protesters, including neo-fascist thugs, extreme nationalists and Russian Orthodox fanatics waving religious icons.
I was with the Moscow Pride coordinator, Nikolai Alekseev, and a few of his colleagues. We crossed the square to the Tomb. Each of us was carrying a bunch of flowers. Much to our surprise, the way was barred by locked gates. Apparently, the Moscow authorities thought it would be an insult to Russia’s war dead to allow gays to lay flowers. So they closed the gates to the Tomb.
As we approached the locked gates, a dozen of us were set upon by 100 anti-gay protesters. They began shoving, punching, kicking and pelting us with eggs.
Our flowers and rainbow flags were snatched from our hands. They abused us with chants of ‘No sodomy in Moscow,’ ‘Death to fags,’ ‘Russia is not Sodom’ and ‘Put the pederasts on the iron’ (a reference to an ancient Russian method of executing gay men by forcing an iron rod up their anus). Initially, the police did nothing to protect us.
I applaud the important heroism of those protesters. Here’s the Reuters story. Moscow’s mayor says he banned the gays because the city is morally “cleaner” than West. Apparently there’s some hope that organizers may succeed in upholding their rights in the European Court of Human Rights. Here Radio Netherlands looks at the history of gay rights in Russia.