Sunday, October 26, 2008

look into

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Keyword Based Advertising Run Amuk!

When I first heard about the Virginia Tech Shooting, the first place I went to view the news was CNN. While viewing the lead story at the time, I noticed on the left this Somewhat Tasteless Advertisment . Is this a case of mindless keyword based advertising getting out of hand? The life insurance advertisement itself contains the keyword 'died', so that may have been the trigger (no pun intended), but I supposed it could also have been dead, death, deaths, kill, killed, etc. I wonder if CNN or Accuquote really care?


Monday, November 13, 2006

War is not the Answer

The people over at, in a post called When Liberals Sound like Neo-Cons are discussing the dangers of using the language of War to motivate people to understand their point of view. This prompted an angry response from me (see the comments), but it also made me think a little about what it is that they are struggling with. While I stand by the general point I made in the comments, I do think that there is value in defining just what is meant by War. There are two definitions of war. In general, war is a series of agressive actions committed by one group of people against another group of people. The reasons groups of people go to war are many, but can be divided into two main ideas. In aggressive, imperialistic warfare, one group of people attack another group in order to destroy them, or steal resources from them for their own selfish uses. In defensive warfare, one group of people defend themselves, using whatever force necessary, from another group of people who are attacking them. I believe that most Americans would readily reject the first reason to commit war, but would wholeheartedly agree that we are engaged in a defensive war. This language suggests a number of avenues that Liberal minded people can follow to convince these Americans that they have the right ideas to solve the problem. They can distinguish the small number of warlords/generals/presidents/wealthy that are promoting the war against us, and the common people who tend to be the ones making the most sacrifice. They can then distinguish the motives of each group, pointing out that the former wage war in order to protect/extend their own power and wealth, or impede the ability of western people to expand their own wealth and power, while the latter are manipulated into this position by the former using the language of defensive war against the agressions United States, e.g. believe they are engaged in a defensive war. They can then point out the way that the former use the language of defensive war, along with the language of 'national sacrifice for a common good' in order to compel the latter into waging war against us. Liberals can then contrast that with the complete lack of willingness of the Republicans to require any form of sacrifice from anyone other than those in the military and their families. They could then admit that, yes, we are engaged in a defensive war, and that, yes, our lives will be dramatically affected if we do not find a way to counter the forces that are aligned against us, but that the effects for the vast majority of Americans will be loss of jobs, and not loss of life. They can then point out that the Republican tax cuts, combined with very poor planning and execution in the post war period, have almost guaranteed that some portion of us or our future generations will be required to sacrifice something to pay off the debt incurred to wage this war, and that this sacrifice will likely be much worse than what we would have experienced had we truly mobilized the resources of our entire society today. This makes it clear just how little the Republicans really care about protecting the majority of Americans (other than the wealthy), and removes a large part of power of the fear rhetoric that has been employed by them so successfully. If we can convince most Americans that the vast majority of those people aligned against us are doing so based on the belief that they, like us, are enganged in a defensive war, there is hope that we can engange these Americans into discussing the truly global struggle, and possible shared sacrifice that is necessary to make the lives of these people materially better off, so that they are no longer so open to the ideas that their leaders use to compel them into war against us. We can then point out that we are not the only ones who are being attacked, and that we suffer inordinantly more by failing to allign our efforts with those of the international community, using the standards of international justice, human rights, etc. Then we can start to discuss what is truly meant by the 'War on Terror', and take back the rhetorical advantage from the Conservatives.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Content Filtering Solution Not involving Government

Many people, especially parents, worry about how to control the content that they or their family members consume. However, the diversity of viewpoints on what is and is not offensive creates a collective barrier against the creation of any monolithic control structure, a fact that has been enshrined into the U.S. Constitution. Currently, there is much political capital being wasted in our elections on this 'problem', with both Democratic and Republican politicians capitalizing on peoples' fears with cynical soundbites and slogans, without actually offering any sound legislation to fix the 'problem'. They both benefit from a media which fuels societies fears with pieces heavy on anecdotal horror stories, but light on any constitutionally sound legislative prescriptions.
For example, a recent issue of Utne devoted several stories to this issue, ostensibly representing many sides of the issue. The articles were definitely thought provoking. While I found myself most in agreement with the more conservative article by Charles Foran, and more opposed to the more liberal article by Andrew Koppelman, I still could not get over the feeling that both authors were trying to push me towards accepting certain positions that I would not normally agree with, given my libertarian leanings. While I do not accept that we should be forced to tolerate the worst that the pornography industry wants to force on us in return for the protection of our freedom of speech and expression, I can not feel comfortable that our government can accurately discern the types of things that should be censored from those that should not be censored. This made me think about possible alternatives that might exist between the Scylla of Leftist Laissez-faire total acceptance, and Charybdis of censorship. There are currently many technologies being developed which could provide the framework for a solution. One of these is the social networking phenomenon known as tagging. While other sites have sprung up to provide similar services, was the first site to offer users the ability to tag websites, and, more importantly, a system of web services allowing complex queries to be performed on the collective intelligence generated as all these users go about tagging their sites. Delicious is the epitome of what Tim O'Reilly has termed Web 2.0. One characteristic of these systems is that their value grows exponentially with the number of people using them. The Delicious infrastructure, along with some of the other popular social networking systems, has already been integrated into a new Web Browser, called flock. This system could provide a framework which allows people to restrict access to websites containing content that they find offensive, without blocking access to these sites to those wishing to make use of them. The beauty of is that it not only allows a single person to tag a particular URL, but, more powerfully, allows each user to tag a URL, and then provides a popularity measure for this tag as it applies to the URL across all users. Filtering software, either in the browser, or in the routers themselves, could be tuned by each individual person to restrict access to sites that are labeled as porn or pornography by some threshold percentage of users. Some people might want to block access to sites registered as pornographic by 45% of users, while others might only block when 85% of the users have tagged the site as pornographic. Still others might choose not to block at all. This sets up a system which could actually change the incentives of the online pornography industry. Currently, these sites thrive on ease of discovery within the search space. Some of the most benign search terms, such as a child might use, will, inevitably, yield one or more pornographic sites in the result list. An effective tagging system would actually make it easier for those wishing to find pornography to do so, benefiting the internet pornography industry, while at the same time empowering other people to block access to these sites if desired. As more content is converged onto the network, such as with TiVo, iTunes, web enabled phones, etc, these systems could be easily adapted to make use of the same tagging scheme. Credit card companies could allow users to use the scheme to restrict their cards from being used on pornographic sites. They could also use the system in their Fight to End Child Pornography by providing their usual incentives to cardholders which use their accounts to tag suspicious sites as 'childPorn' which, after a formal investigation, reveal that the site was indeed engaged in the trade. The point is that, by marrying the interests of the industry with that of those wishing to control access to the industries products, a system could be created which is much more powerful, and more constitutionally sound, than any government solution we could devise.
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Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Let the Market Sort out Immigration

I have a question. Why is it the Conservatives have, for years, argued for the free market, less government regulation, etc. when it came to the environment, conservation, sustainable agriculture, etc, but are now begging for big government to protect them from a percieved Mexican invasion? I say, let the market sort it out. After all, if the market was able to take advantage of a sizable portion of the population willing to pay more money for organic, ethically sourced, and sustainably grown food, why not let the market target all those poeple who seem to be willing to pay more for products only sold by companies who pay higher wages to attract only American or legal immigrant labor?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Just What is a Liberal, Anyway?

There has been alot of words spent by conservatives to denegrate the word Liberal. Pretty much everytime you hear the word, it is accompanied with one or more very negative adverbs, e.g. 'spineless', 'pinko-commy', etc. But what, exactly, is a Liberal? Is George Bush a Liberal, as some conservatives, such as Peggy Noonan, have lamented? I think that the American People have been deeply mislead into believing a false notion about what it means to be a Liberal. I firmly believe that we have been mislead by a small population of radicals, intent on controlling our government completely for their own narrow self interests, at the expense of the vast majority of the American population. Others share this view as well. But to understand why we, as Americans, must rediscover what it means to be Liberal, we must look back a little at history. One place to start is, obviously, 17th and 18th Century England, as this is the time when some of the most influential precedents to the formation of the American Creed occurred. During this time, there were fights between two distinct political parties, each falling down on either side of what we, in hindsight, would label as conservative and liberal:

tory - conservative
whig - liberal

Conservatives in the tory sense tended to protect the interests of the aristocracy. Whigs, on the other hand, were united by a belief that much more wealth could be created overall with a small redistribution of 'THE MARKET'. This differed from wealth redistribution in principle by emphasising the opening of the market to more people within society, rather than simple taking money from one hand and giving it to another. They gained political capital from a strange cadre of landed gentry wishing to protect their land titles from royal usurpation, industrialists wishing to expand the idea of property into what we would now call intellectual property, and a variety of people wishing to find limits to the insatialble taxation policies of the monarchy, as well as a bunch of peasents with pitchforks willing to riot at a moments notice. See Barrington Moore, and Neal Stephensen's Baroque Cycle for more insight. During the early to mid 20th Century, the actions Liberals took to promote this vision changed, but the principles did not. People like Reinhold Niebuhr turned to small amounts of socialism as a way of preventing the split of western societies along the lines of upper-crust - fascism vs lower-crust - communism. This use of socialism was a Liberal legacy precisely because it navigated the middle ground of maintaining a large amount of economic freedom and opportunity for all of society, which dissuaded the wealthy from pushing for the kinds of radical, fascist government protection regimes that Hitler and Moussolini created, while providing for the needs of the working class such that they didnt have the strong incentive to run to the arms of the communists (which were, in reality, just fascists of another stripe, as we have seen in every single communist society that has ever existed, including China). Today, most politicians of either party are, to some extent, classically liberal. But there is still this whig vs. tory difference. Today, the same question is being asked as was asked in 17th centry England. Can we continue to see an expansion of wealth with a new redistribution of the market much like the redistribution that lead to the unparalled prosperity of the west? Or is the aristocracy justified in its propensity to hoard what wealth they have because this idea doesnt scale?