The view from your windowDaniel Radosh
No blogging until Sept. 4th. I will do my best to get next week's Anti-Caption Contest up eventually, but I can't promise anything.
No blogging until Sept. 4th. I will do my best to get next week's Anti-Caption Contest up eventually, but I can't promise anything.
You'd think it wouldn't be necessary to spin an article about pedophiles in order to make them sound more despicable. But that's apparently what Kurt Eichenwald did.
A comment to one of my earlier posts about Eichenwald prompted me to look a bit more into BL Charity, described in the story like this:
a putative charity that raised money to send Eastern European children to a camp where they were apparently visited by pedophiles"...
"For example, an organization called BL Charity said it was seeking money to send Eastern European children to camp.
The charity’s site, which recently closed, showed scores of images of children at camp and in their homes, supposedly taken by the men running the site. The effort was organized by pedophiles; BL is the online term for “boy-lover.” It eventually shut down, largely from a lack of money, according to a posting from the site’s operators. After the site closed, further details of BL Charity could not be learned."
In my post I called this "the most alarming" anecdote that Eichenwald found, and it would be, if his description of it was accurate. After the story came out, BL Charity posted a statement
Both statements are vaguely true, but also grossly exaggerated to help fill the New York Times' agenda. The article would have you believe BL Charity raised donations for a summer camp in an effort to gain contact with children, which is completely untrue. Yes, BL Charity did raise donations to help fund a summer camp in Eastern Europe after social services asked for our assistance, and did so quite successfully as well. Visiting children simply did not happen though, and we had no intention of doing so. This was especially impossible seeing as how we were 7000kms away in Canada as the camp took place, and while BL Charity was operational. The photographs posted on our web site were taken by social services.
You will notice how the author uses the words "apparently" and "supposedly", meaning he doesn't have any facts to support what he's saying, and instead is just merely printing accusations to increase the value of the article.
That's a shrewd observation about words like "apparently." I used that one myself in the second sentence of this post because I wanted to say something without actually trying to find out if it was true. But I'm a blogger. Eichenwald is a journalist for the the New York Times. He makes the (maddingly passive) claim that "further details of BL Charity could not be learned." That's flatly untrue. It would have been very easy for Eichenwald to e-mail the administrators or look them up in the phone book; they apparently (!) used their real names. According to one of the administrators, Eichenwald never made any attempt to contact them. How do I know? I e-mailed him.
Now, I'm well aware that the folks behind BL Charity could be lying through their teeth. It's entirely possible that they were at least hoping to use their charitable work to gain access to children. But -- and this is the important part -- despite how Eichenwald makes it sound, there's nothing on the site to actually indicate that. I read through the whole thing on Google cache. Contrary to Eichenwald's description the photos were not "supposedly taken by the men running the site"; they are clearly described as having been taken by the "charity's" Eastern European volunteers. Although it's true that sending kids to camp is one of the things the charity said it was doing, it mostly talked about buying food for them, which sounds far less scary. And if the whole thing was a scam to help pedophiles get access to boys, the pedophiles didn't know about it, based on discussions in their forums.
None of this is to say that BL Charity's owners had "the best intentions," as they claimed to me. One of their stated intentions -- and my hunch is that it was their primary one -- was "to make a positive impact on society, by letting them see that we aren't monsters." Anything that polishes the image of pedophiles is inherently ill-intentioned. And yet, that's also not quite as scary as the scenario Eichenwald paints.
I should note that a little more poking around finds that one of the site's owners apparently works for a porn company based in Hungary. That would put him significantly closer to these children than the "7000kms away in Canada" mentioned in the site's new statement. This is certainly a discrepancy worth looking into. The question is, why didn't anyone?
Update: See Eichenwald's reply followed by my (apparently) gracious concession.
Final update: Debbie Nathan has a different problem with the Times series.
I believe in keeping science separate from sentimentality. You don't base decisions on whether one particular age group (or religion for that matter) really, really wants something to be true. So I'm pretty happy to see Pluto kicked to the curb today.
I am concerned, however, about one element of the new definition of a planet: "a celestial body that is in orbit around the sun, has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a ... nearly round shape, and has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit."
The sun? Shouldn't that be a sun (or, more rationally, a star)? I'm hoping this is some kind of misunderstanding on either my part or the AP's. Surely the IAU isn't trying to say that there are no planets outside the Solar System.
Update: Here's the full text of the IAU resolution. Since it names "the eight planets," some have read it to mean exactly what I feared. But I think this part of the preamble, while slightly confusing, ultimately mitigates my concern: "The IAU therefore resolves that 'planets' and other bodies, except satellites, in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way..."
The resolution does not say that planets must be in our Solar System to meet the definition; rather, it is only defining those planets that happen to be in our Solar System, leaving open the possiblity not just of other planetary systems but also of other defintions for planets in those systems.
Something strange happens when some newspaper reporters get on the radio to discuss stories they've written. All of a sudden, the details get markedly more salacious. Here, the reporter seems to be saying, is the stuff I know to be true but couldn't prove to the satisfaction of my editors. On the Diane Rehm Show yesterday, Kurt Eichenwald added some eyebrow-raising "statistics" to his already eyebrow-raising New York Times stories. Not quite $20 billion eyebrow-raising, but red-flaggy all the same.
The following quote comes about 7 minutes in, if you want to listen for yourself.
"If your child has a webcam, I guarantee the probability is more likely than not your child has been naked on the internet. Your child may or may not be doing it for pay. Your child will almost certainly have been solicited. The number of kids — certainly last year when I started on this is now much - not nearly as bad as it was last year — but the number of kids who are appearing naked on the internet, who are creating child pornography, either for pay or for compliments, was pretty close to the number of kids who have access to webcams."
Hmm. You'd think that if he could guarantee it, it would be in the article. And let's be a little more precise, shall we? Is it "more likely than not" (as low as 51%) or "close to the number...who have access to webcams" (as high as -- what? -- 90%)? The first figure is at least within the realm of possibility, given the broad definition, but the second...?
Factor in the implication that his article last year was directly responsible for reversing this trend, and you begin to get the sense of someone with just a little too much invested in this story, someone with a need to hype it even more than it already has been.
I can't prove, of course, that there's not an amateur child pornographer in 7% of American homes, but I don't think that if I doubt it, it's just because I need to leave my comfortable Park Slope home more.
I'm not sure if this idea is despicable, brilliant or a little of both. I think it would be less objectionable if the show had a history of casting more than two black people and .02 Asians and Latinos per season.
I'll definitely watch this go round, but does this mean we have to keep waiting before we finally get a (self-identified) Jew?
I’ve long regarded Saturn’s misty tantalizing moon Titan as the Homecoming Queen of the solar system, courted and fawned over, stringing us along with teasing glimpses under her atmosphere, while Pluto was more like the chubby Goth chick who wrote weird poems about dead birds and never talked to anybody. Still, I just can’t stand by and watch as the solar system’s Fat Girl gets pushed down into ever-more ignominious substrata of social ostracism.
Good to know I'm not the only one who sometimes doesn't get New Yorker cartoons. Whoever writes the catalog descriptions for the prints on sale at The Cartoon Bank kind of missed the point of this one.
“I’m turning into my mother.” (Women talking and wearing very old clothes.)
[Hat tip: Jon Delfin]
In part two of our two-part series on The New York Times' two-part series on online pedophilia, we look at an article headlined On the Web, Pedophiles Extend Their Reach.
Unlike the first installment, which raised a few questions but was not terribly objectionable, this one is a stinker. Again, I'm not saying it's Landesmanesque or anything. It's merely another in a long line of breathless, overhyped, underanalyzed stories fed mostly be a pathological fear of the Internet. I've been pissing and moaning about this genre for nearly ten years and not much has changed.
The tip off comes early on when Eichenwald refers to online activity as "chatter in the ether." Ooh, ether! Mysterious! Primordial! This may seem like a small thing, but these turns of phrase reflect a fundamental discomfort with the Internets that color everything in the article. After all, when was the last time you saw a newspaper refer to a phone call or radio show as "chatter in the ether"?
The premise of this article is that the pedophilia community (did I really just write that?) "uses the virtual world to advance its interests in the real one." In practice that means lumping together three distinct types of activity so that they enhance one another in the reader's mind, the scary (but infeffectual) ideas making the other parts more scary by association, and the effective (but less scary) ideas making the scarier parts sound more effective.
The three activities, in descending order of seriousness, are:
• Using the Internet to gain physical access to children
• Using the Internet to justify sexual feelings for children, thus allowing pedophiles to cross the line from thought into action (The Times's experts call this "the most dangerous element," but I think my ranking makes more sense)
• Using the Internet to promote societal acceptance of pedophilia
Let's take these one at at time.
More Internet panic at the Times this week. This is gonna shock you, but I have just a couple of concerns about the new two-part series on online pedophiles. Nothing terrible, to be sure. We're not in Landesman territory or anything. But I do have a few questions.
Let's start with yesterday's feature, With Child Sex Sites on the Run, Nearly Nude Photos Hit the Web.
First off, I wonder how new and newsworthy this "latest trend in online child exploitation" really is. As reporter Kurt Eichenwald notes, "the concept of for-pay modeling sites using children has been around for years. They first appeared in the late 1990’s..." And were widely and well covered at the time. Eichenwald says "The sites that have emerged in recent months, however, are markedly different." I haven't checked them out, but from his descriptions, they don't sound too different from the original "child model" sites. [Update: A reporter who has investigated this topic assures me that the new sites "are far creepier than during the 1990s."] He notes that "the newer ones are explicit in their efforts to market to pedophiles," but only in semi-private news/chat groups. Indeed, "many of the sites portray themselves on their main pages as regular modeling agencies trying to find work for their talent," just as the original 1990s versions did. I assume he didn't go back to check how those early sites were marketed, but it's likely they were just as explicit as the new ones are when they felt they were in friendly territory.
The second minor problem is with the headline, specifically the "child sex sites on the run" part. This is extrapolated from the assertion that, "In recent months, an array of investigations of the child pornography business — by the Justice Department, state and local law enforcement and Congress — have contributed to wholesale shutdowns of some of the most sexually explicit Internet sites trafficking in child images."
Now, considering that just a few weeks ago, online kiddie porn was a $20 billion a year business, you'd think the fact that it's been virtually eliminated would be the real news here. But has it? The only stab at evidence that such sites are on the run are the impressions to that effect of pedophiles in chat rooms. Hardly the most reliable sources. There should also probably be a mention of the fact that Eichenwald himself has testified in some of these investigations.
But my most serious concern about this series comes in the editor's note:
Covering this story raised legal issues. United States law makes it a crime to purchase, download or view child pornography, unless the images are promptly reported to authorities and no images are copied or retained. The Times complied with the law, disclosing what it found to appropriate authorities.
Newspapers report on criminal enterprises all the time. Maybe some Poynter type will correct me, but my understanding is that it is always illegal not to tell the authorities about someone who has committed a crime, but that reporters almost never do, and have traditionally relied on the First Amendment to protect them. It's a bedrock principle that the media should not become an arm of law enforcement. Eichenwald has famously treaded on this territory before. The last time, I praised the care and transparency with which the Times explained its reasoning. This time around, we get nothing more than a simple "we obeyed the laws," without any discussion of the larger issues involved. It would be easy enough to see a crusading prosecutor point to this as a "new standard" set by the media itself when trying to indict a reporter who does want to stand on the First Amendment to protect his sources on some other story -- probably government-secret related.
[Update]: I'm informed by actual reporters that there's a difference between protecting a source who has broken the law and breaking it yourself. Which, I guess, duh. Despite what you see in the movies, reporters can't trespass to get a story. And if you do report on law-breaking, you can be compelled to testify about it afterwards, hence Judy Miller. Still, I'm told this is something of a gray area, especially as the Times is accepting without question that these images actually fall under the law, something that is less settled than you might think from reading this.
Tomorrow: part two in this meta-series
Don't get cocky, kid.
I'm trying to make heads or tails of two different, equally crappy wire service reports about a new study linking teenagers' sexual behavior and HIV risk to musical taste. And not having much success.
Part of the problem is that the research seems to have found some music correlated with behavior (amount of sex and number of partners) and others correlated with risk (defined as inconsitent condom use), and the CanWest story plays up the former while the AFP version emphasizes the latter.
But confusion reigns throughout. For instance, did the survey involve "hundreds" of teens (AFP) or "46" (CanWest). And how were music fans divided up? Into two large groups or many small ones? The AFP story says that "A behavioral analysis divided participants into two musical groups: hip hop, reggae, reggaeton, rap and rhythm and blues; and rock, heavy metal, pop, techno, electronic and gospel." But it also says that "Researchers also distinguished between two styles of hip hop: the "bling, bling" hip hop that values fancy cars, money, and many girlfriends; and "real" hip hop that tells of urban youth stricken by violence, poverty and drug abuse." Why make such distinctions if it doesn't determine which group you put people in?
Also, it may be true that "Rock music is less likely to influence the lives of young people, added [lead researcher] Munoz-Laboy, probably because it is marketed in a less sexual manner," but does "rock music" in this case mean the omnibus grouping that also includes "pop," because I'd like to see you tell the Pussycat Dolls that pop isn't marketed in a sexual manner.
Also, why does the AFP version prominently include "gospel" music, while the CanWest one doesn't mention it at all. For that matter, gospel? I'd bet nearly anything that gospel actually means CCM, but that would be an important thing to know, given the completely different audiences for CCM and traditional gospel (are there any young men 16-21 who listen to traditional gospel?).
Naturally neither article links to the actual research, and I can't find it myself. If you come across it, let me know.
You remember Cast of Shadows, right? (Now available in convenient paperback form.) Well, recently Kevin Guilfoile made the transition from two-bit bestselling novelist to big-time blogger. You can find him at The Outfit, a group effort of seven Chicago crime-writers, including at least one you've heard of. There's fine stuff about the art and business of writing over there, but in a recent promising development, Kevin branched out with an eloquent post about a woman who was arrested and tortured (OK, made to watch Gigli) for having her maiden name on her Social Security card and her married name on her driver's license. Apparently this is something the terrorists do. Damn evil-doers!
Please encourage Kevin to continue blogging about bloggy stuff, as opposed to merely literary stuff, because he seems to be good at it, and because it might stall him from writing any more books, and let's face it, the world has plenty of books already.
Maybe you've seen an article like this in the last few weeks about new express security lanes at airports. The premise is both deceptively simple in concept and deceptively complicated in execution, which is probably why most people are deceived.
The program requires people to provide fingerprints or an iris scan upon enrollment, and to submit to a background check conducted by the security agency and the Department of Homeland Security. When applicants are approved, their biometric data is placed on a plastic card; at the airport, their iris scan or fingerprints are matched against the card.
These "registered travelers," who pay $80 a year for the title, get to waltz past the rest of us through their own private security gate. No line, no nothing.
Well, not "no nothing." I happened to be in the Orlando airport a year ago where the Clear program got started and after a few minutes of talking with the representatives, an obvious and inconvenient fact came out: registered travelers have to go through the exact same security checks as everybody else*. All that biometric, background check nonsense is a red herring, designed to make you think that some sort of security pre-screening explains why certain people get special treatment. Nope, they get special treatment because they paid for it. The only thing this program does is let you pay $80 to cut in front of everybody else in line. I suppose it's fine if airports really want to create yet another perk for business travelers/rich people, but since that might piss off the rest of us, they're doing it under the name of security.
And by the way, the airports don't add a new line for these lucky people. They take one line away from everybody else, thereby making our waits even longer. I suppose the best thing to hope would be for enough people signed up for this that the VIP line becomes just as long as the regular ones.
*Actually, there is one small difference. VIPs are exempt from "automatic selectee screening," in which travelers are randomly stopped by an impersonal red light for a bag search. If this happened frequently -- or ever -- there might be something to this, but the odds of any one person being stopped are extremely small. You are almost guaranteed to spend more time registering for the program than you ever would being randomly searched.
For kicks, read the VIP FAQ explaining the benefits of the program:
• A more consistent, fast and stress-free airport experience. • Exemption from automatic selectee screening. • Access to a designated Clear lane staffed by professional, courteous Clear attendants. • Extraordinary customer service. • Increased productivity-time spent working, not waiting. • Fewer missed flights.
That's six benefits! Too bad all but the second one mean exactly the same thing: no line.
Update: It actually gets worse. Looking around a little more I see that: 1) there are now prototype government-run versions of the program I saw in Orlando. So now it's our tax money going to allowing rich people to cut in front of us (and not going for actual security measures). And 2) new technology that can check shoes for explosives without passengers having to remove them may be deployed first in the VIP lines. Yep, that means that a system designed to eliminate some hassle for travelers will be used first to help those passengers who are being hassled the least already. Again, there's no security rationale for this. It's just a nice bonus for those willing to pay.
Now it's the General Accounting Office that's objectively pro sex slave.
As you probably know, AOL recently dumped a bunch of user searches online for everyone to see, and then failed to backtrack quickly enough to prevent every asshole on the Internet from rifling around for funny/creepy trends.
Yet somehow, no one has thought to put this data to its most valuable use: constructing a profile of the typical Huckapoo fan — Until now.
According to AOL Search Logs two users searched for Huckapoo between March and May 2006.
One of my favorite features of the old Modern Humorist was John Warner's Encyclopedia Brown parodies. If I need to explain who Encyclopedia Brown is, you might as well stop reading here. The rest of you will want to hurry over to Amazon and pre-order John's new book, Encyclopedia Brown And the Mysterious Presidency of George W. Bush, featuring (mostly) all new adventures of the enterprising and increasingly liberal 10-year-old genius and his coded-lesbian sidekick Sally.
Check out a few sample chapters [PDF], including The Case of The Million Little Lies, then drop in on John's MySpace blog, where he's charting his effort to manipulate his Amazon ranking by having all his friends pre-order on the same day (today), "in an attempt to expose the Amazon rankings for the fraud they are. (Please note that if “Encyclopedia Brown
and the Mysterious Presidency of George W. Bush” reaches the top 1000, the Amazon rankings are not 'fraudulent,' but instead a leading indicator of the top books in the country.)"
Update: Ranking at 2:20 pm: 627. Also, major media coverage.
Submit the worst possible caption for this week's New Yorker cartoon. Click here for last week's results. Click here for an introduction and "rules" to this contest. Click here for amplification of those rules. Click here for contest index.
"Okay, Jenkins, you've got two minutes until... [stops talking as stiletto punctures his cerebrum, instantly sending him into a coma. Though he will eventually recover, he suffers impared memory that results in a permanent loss of the punchline, as well as profound changes to his personality that render him unfit to be a corporate executive. Privately his children will admit that he's more pleasant to be around now that he's not such an asshole, despite his impared motor function.]"
Results after the jump (finally):
I'm flying again on Monday, so naturally I've been busy parsing the latest carry-on restrictions. My favorite part is that there will be a second search when boarding the plane to make sure that passengers don't bring on any beverages they may have purchased inside the terminal.
Now, I understand the logic — if not the efficacy — of banning outside liquids, but ones that you actually purchase at the airport itself? If somebody is selling liquid explosives at the airport newsstand, I would think the thing to do would be to make them stop, not to let people buy them as long as they don't get on the plane. [Update: Me and my big mouth.] Or is the point that it's OK to have a deadly liquid explosive in the terminal itself, where it can do absolutely no harm? If they trust me with a bottle of water in a crowd at the gate, why do they suddenly not trust me in that same crowd on the airplane?
Of course, this points to a blindspot not only of the TSA, but of the terrorists. Hello? What is your obsession with getting onto a plane, which requires all that sneaking past security stuff? Take a look at these photos of people packed together trying to check in. Half of them are probably busy dumping out the liquids they packed accidentally. No one would notice if you mixed your little cocktail right there with them and took out the whole concourse without having to go through security or anything. I mean, come on!
Related: "That liquid may be volatile. Let me pour it into this bucket with all this other potentially volatile liquid."
Who Wants to be a Superhero continues to be terrifically entertaining, but I'm beginning to have a problem with it. Not that it seems to be at least 75% scripted, coached or re-enected — that's pretty much the TV definition of reality, right? I mean, so what if Stan Lee had to act shocked that Mary "Monkey Woman" Votava was really an aspiring actress? (As if the producers hadn't checked her MySpace site and — omigod! She went to Oberlin!)
No, the problem is a philosophical one. Stan Lee's definition of a superhero, based on the qualities he's testing for — selflessness, nobility, unfailing courage, even-temperment — are precisely the ones that he so famously undermined in the 1960s with his Marvel Revolution.
Lee [gave] his superheroes a flawed humanity, a change from the ideal archetypes that were typically written for pre-teens. His heroes could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity, greed, etc. They bickered amongst themselves, worried about paying their bills and impressing girlfriends, and even were sometimes physically ill.
Can you imagine Peter Parker triumphing on this show? Ben Grimm? Tony Stark?
Lee keeps saying "a superhero is always" this or "a superhero is never" that, but his original genius was to say that a superhero is just an ordinary person with extrordinary abilities. I say we leave these people in a room full of radioactive spiders and see what happens from there.
"Lamont supporters were a little obsessive about the kiss George Bush planted on Joe Lieberman's cheek, but they were so creative that their videos about it kept the image alive in entertaining ways each week. The mainstream media could only obsess over an iconic moment like Howard Dean's scream for a day or so, but Lamont supporters could take an iconic moment and recycle it again and again and again." —John Dickerson, Slate [emphasis added]
Nexis news results for "Howard Dean AND scream" from January, 19, 2004 until the first day on which there were no new stories using those words.*
Jan. 19 — 4 articles
Jan. 20 — 16
Jan. 21 — 32
Jan. 22 — 58
Jan. 23 — 110
Jan. 24 — 57
Jan. 25 — 96
Jan. 26 — 108
Jan. 27 — 108
Jan. 28 — 113
Jan. 29 — 65
Jan. 30 — 33
Jan. 31 — 25
I went ahead and selected a winner in last week's anti-caption contest (and made a bitchy comment too!) before I realized that there's no new cartoon this week.
To make up for it, here, by somewhat popular demand, is Scouting Magazine Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #3. Give me time and I may even choose a winner from #2. But probably not.
I honestly have no idea what made Gawker think Diary of a Park Slope Mommy would be a good idea. My comment on that post expresses my disbelief. The problem isn't the idea itself so much as Gawker doing it. I mean, I don't happen to find Blue States Lose remotely amusing, but at least it fits the Gawker mandate. This just mystifies me with its earnest cluelessness. Would they do Diary of a Williamsburg Hipster? That's the kind of thing Gawker exists to mock. I've heard that Denton has issued a decree for more high-concept features on his sites, so I guess that's what's behind DoPSM. Which also means that if nobody reads it, it's toast, which is at least some consolation. I'd say more about the initial column itself, except that there's about an 85% chance that the writer is someone I know.
Besides, I would certainly hope that anyone who does want to follow the travails of self-aware Park Slope mothers is already reading Smart Mom in the Brooklyn Papers.
Update: Since there's a dubious tradition of moaning that Gawker (like the Village Voice!) was always better in some mystical golden age that came before this one, whenever this one happens to be, I should say that I think that overall the site has improved tremendously in the last few weeks, presumably due to the addition of TMFTML's Alex Balk.
From the July 10 New York Post. Pic and follow-up via Gothamist.