Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beauty and the Hate Bots

The Rating Game

The spread of Internet rankings and reviews is freeing consumers to focus on the decisions that matter

by Kevin Maney

Rich Barton, a superstar of the Internet era, settles across from me in a coffee shop in Centreville, Virginia, looking like a 1950s sitcom dad�glasses, preppy haircut, V-neck sweater. He built Expedia in the 1990s, co-founded the real-estate site Zillow in 2005, and most recently launched, which lets employees grade their workplaces for the public to see. When I wonder what Barton might get into next, he leans forward to tell me his investment mantra: "If it can be rated, it will be rated," he says.

Sounds so absurdly evident, yet it's so big. Customers rate hotels and restaurants on Web sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. College students dive into before signing up for courses. Readers rate books on In 2007, the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that about one-third of all American Internet users rated something online.

But rating is about to spread like a pandemic. Everything�everyone�will get rated by Web users. You. Me. The dentist. All the hairstylists in town. The sermons in every place of worship. Youth soccer coaches. Lunch meats. Wine. The fact is, on tomorrow's Internet, everyone will know if you're a dog.

Web companies will drive a lot of the activity, using it to make money. Zillow just built a way to rate mortgage brokers alongside its information about housing prices, hoping to draw more house shoppers, who are targets for ads from Home Depot and Snapper lawn mowers. In other cases, online ratings will be less about business and will arise out of need or passion. Tom Seery says he started to rate plastic surgeries, after his wife found it easier to get information about hotel towels than about a $2,000 laser skin treatment.

The proliferation in ratings is already changing societal dynamics. Look at its impact on the relationship between doctors and patients. According to Pew, 47 percent of Internet users now search online for information about doctors. Ratings, though still just a trickle, are increasingly part of that information. Now, if a medical practice routinely leaves patients in the waiting room for two hours�or leaves a spare scalpel in someone's abdomen�the whole world will know. The power shift ticks off doctors so much, about 2,000 have turned to a company called Medical Justice, which offers advice about using legal and bullying tactics to stop doctor ratings. (Predictably, lawyers have sued�so far unsuccessfully�to shut down Avvo, a lawyer-rating site.)

Today's ratings are only the raw material for what's to come. Rearden Commerce's Web-based personal assistant already helps employees in corporations like ConAgra make travel plans, by quizzing them about their age, income, job, family situation, lifestyle, and preferences like favorite types of restaurants. (JPMorgan Chase will roll out a Rearden-based travel adviser to its credit-card customers later this year.) The next step, says Rearden CEO Patrick Grady, is to pull in ratings from all over the Web and mash them up with anonymous information from Rearden users. Then, if a beef-loving cat-litter salesman is traveling to Dallas, the system can recommend a top-rated steak house where other cat-litter reps have had luck taking pet-shop owners to close deals.

"You'll see more passive ratings turned into active suggestions by software that runs behind these sites," Rich Barton says. "It's a hard problem to get right, but it will be super-compelling."

But the ratings game still faces, well, a few challenges. I talked to Dartmouth about RateMyProfessors, and was told that the site's ratings often don't match Dartmouth's more rigorous survey results, in part because contributors to RateMyProfessors score teachers on some nontraditional criteria�like "hotness" and "easiness." Yelp has been accused of not being transparent about how it filters ratings and reviews; anonymous bad ratings might come from the rated business's competitors.

In theory, though, the more technology can help with decisions, the better life will be.

10 True Things About President Obama His Opponents Are Wrong About

1. He will not pressure Israel into some deal that will undermine its security.

2. He will not push for a health care plan without regard for cost savings.

3. He is not captive to his party's liberal interest groups.

4. He is not captive to liberals in Congress.

5. He has a ferocious political operation that is thinking clearly everyday about avoiding a nomination fight and about re-election in 2012.

6. He cannot be rattled by the right-wing Freak Show echo chamber.

7. He is a free marketeer.

8. His hold on his supporters (including those in the press) is firmer than even Reagan's was.

9. He will not hesitate to use force to fight terror.

10. He likes a lot of Republicans.

The Asterisk President

Cyberwar guide for Iran elections

The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through Twitter.

1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP's over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.

2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.

3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don't retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.

4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become 'Iranians' it becomes much harder to find them.

5. Don't blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don't publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don't signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind...

#iranelection cyberwar guide for beginners

Activists Launch Hack Attacks on Tehran Regime

By Noah Shachtman

ddos_iran_tweetWhile demonstrators gather in the streets to contest Iran's rigged election, online backers of the so-called "Green Revolution" are looking to strike back at the Tehran regime � by attacking the government's websites.

Pro-democracy activists on the web are asking supporters to use relatively simple hacking tools to flood the regime's propaganda sites with junk traffic. "NOTE to HACKERS - attack - pls try to hack all iran gov wesites [sic]. very difficult for us," Tweets one activist. The impact of these distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks isn't clear. But official online outlets like,, and are currently inaccessible. "There are calls to use an even more sophisticated tool called BWraep, which seems to exhaust the target website out of bandwidth by creating bogus requests for serving images," notes Open Society Institute fellow Evgeny Morozov.

In both Iran and abroad, the cyberstrikes are being praised as a way to hit back against a regime that so blatantly engaged in voter fraud. But some observers warn that the network strikes could backfire � hurting the very protesters they're meant to assist. Michael Roston is concerned that "it helps to excuse the Iranian regime's own cyberwarfare." Text-messaging networks and key opposition websites mysteriously went dark just before the election. Morozov worries that it "gives [the] hard-line government another reason to suspect 'foreign intervention' � albeit via computer networks � into Iranian politics."

Iran has one of the world's most vibrant social media communities. That's helping those of us outside Iran follow along as this revolution is being YouTubed, blogged, and Tweeted. But Iran's network infrastructure there is relatively centralized. Which makes Internet access there inherently unstable. Programmer Robert Synott worries that if outside protesters pour too much DDOS traffic into Iran, carriers there "will simply pull the plug to protect the rest of their network."

For the moment, however, those connections are still live. And activists are using them to mobilize mass protests in Tehran. Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has just appeared.�Tens of thousands of protesters are chanting "'No fear, No fear, we are with each other.'"

Meanwhile, universities are recovering from assaults by pro-regime goons. Students were bloodied. Memory cards and software were swiped by police. Computers were smashed.

Michelle Bachmann wants the Treaty of Tripoli abrogated with the Barbary States

In a recent address to Congress, Bachmann spent five minutes whining about how Barack Obama asked for religious symbols to be covered when he spoke about the economy at Georgetown because the US is a secular nation.

She also indicated Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were God fearing presidents unlike Obama. Of course, Lincoln is one of Obama's favorite presidents, too. Bachman also wondered what the United States would be without Jesus.

Would anyone be surprised to learn that Obama demanding the religious symbols be covered up for his Georgetown speech wasn't true? He just asked to have a simple backdrop that covered everything behind him. Amazingly, the story was reported in the Washington Times. Bachmann said "It was reported, so it must be true."

Well, it was reported. but wasn't true. She had clearly not fact-checked the story.

Rightardia (RI) asked Michelle Bachman (MB) about her recent comments in an interview.

RI: You have said the US is a Christian nation. Why do you believe that?
MB: All of the Funding Fathers were Christian and liked their churches. They said nice things about Christians.
RI: Have you seen Bill Mayer's movie, Religulous?
MB; Oh, Good Lord, no! That is a secular movie that was directed by a Godless atheist.
RI: Did you know that John Adams said, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."
MB: Oh, that must be taken out of context.
RI: Franklin also said, "Lighthouses are more useful than churches."
MB: Well, Franklin was a scientist and very secular.
RI: Thomas Jefferson said, "Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man."
MB: Well, he was a liberal, wasn't he. He even committed heresy and even worse wrote his own Bible.
RI: Yes. the Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, was Thomas Jefferson's effort to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects and misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists.
MB: I am an evangelical so Jefferson had to be wrong.
RI: You think a Founding Father was wrong?
MB: He had to be.
RI: In your biography, you attempted to make children learn the 12 principles of Christianity in a charter school in Minnesota. These principles were a lot like the 10 Commandments.
MB: What is wrong with that?
RI: Are you aware of the First Amendment and the legal doctrine that has arisen form it?
MB: What are you talking about. The US is Christian nation.
RI: Actually, there is a legal doctrine on the Separation of Church and State. It is based on nearly 50 district and Supreme Court cases.
MB: What is this, gotcha journalism?
RI: This is what Jefferson about the clergy. ."The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man."
MB: That is why the US is a Christian nation.
RI: Well, Jefferson believed this is why a firewall was needed between church and state. This is why there are no "official religions" in the US.
MB: Well, you'll have to prove that to me (laughing)!

A wake-up call on water use

A long-running resource issue finally trickles down to more consumers.

By Gloria Goodale

Move over, carbon, the next shoe to drop in the popular awareness of eco-issues is the "water footprint."

That's the word in environmental circles these days. Just as the image of a heavy carbon foot made it possible for the masses to grasp the power of carbon-dioxide emissions, water footprint is the phrase now drawing attention to the impact of human behavior regarding water.

"H2O is the next CO2," says Nicholas Eisenberger, managing principal of GreenOrder, a consulting firm that specializes in sustainable business. As a phrase, water footprint "will probably move more quickly through the public mind as it catches on," he says, because water is more tangible than carbon.

Measuring how much water an individual, business, or government uses is a concept everyone can viscerally relate to, he adds, "because they put their hands on it every day, which is not the case, necessarily, with carbon."

Why is "water footprint" coming to the fore now? And why does what is arguably humanity's most vital resource need what some call a gimmick to connect people with its importance?

"You can't control what you don't measure," says Laura Shenkar, principal of the Artemis Project, a water consulting firm. People take water for granted, she says, but the growing talk about climate change inevitably includes water. And recent droughts in the usually verdant southeastern United States have helped bring the issue to public attention.

But causing people to take action on this issue isn't necessarily going to be easy. One simple "wake-up" tool is the calculator at the website of the Water Footprint Network. It asks questions about your diet and lifestyle and then churns out eye-popping "prints," or water consumption estimates in the hundreds of gallons.

These figures include both direct use and indirect, or what's known as "virtual water," meaning how much H2O your Big Mac or Toyota Prius required all the way through the production chain � including growing the alfalfa that fed the cow that made the beef patty.

Death as Infotainment Is Wrong Period

by Gene Lyons

Lyons180.jpgSince when do imprisoned terrorists get to hold press conferences? I speak of Scott Roeder, the accused assassin of Dr. George Tiller. Roeder's alleged crime was also a sacrilege: He gunned the physician down during Sunday worship services at Reformation Lutheran Church, where he served as an usher.

A classic Midwestern lone demento, Roeder appears to envision himself as a soldier in an avenging army. They always do, don't they? Broke and alone, according to one of his ex-wives, Roeder ranted constantly against God's enemies, defined by him. Police arresting him found explosives in his car, a 1993 Ford Taurus listed as his only asset.

Roeder phoned the AP from a Wichita jail cell to complain of poor treatment, and to warn that, "I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal."

Sheriff's deputies will surely keep a closer eye on him. As for the warning, all it probably means is that Roeder's familiar with fellow extremists venting in Internet chat rooms. The prospect of a federal investigation into possible accomplices may have damped enthusiasm, although some get off on feeling persecuted.

Meanwhile, hundreds of mourners attended Tiller's funeral, where they heard him "eulogized as a loving father and friend, a regular guy, a lover of Elvis and old movies, of ice cream and axioms," according to Fred Mann in the Wichita Eagle. Tiller's son described his murder this way: "I believe that God decided, 'You have done everything I asked a person to do here on earth. Now I will show the world what a loving, compassionate, courageous, selfless man you are.' And so it happened."

To anti-abortion absolutists who dubbed him "Tiller the killer," this must be incomprehensible. Fox News viewers regularly heard him described as a "mass murderer" by bullyboy commentator Bill O'Reilly. He depicted Tiller as a conscienceless profiteer who "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000."

Comparing Tiller to Hitler, Stalin and Osama bin Laden, O'Reilly argued his unwillingness to turn over patient records to a crusading Kansas prosecutor made him an accomplice of pedophiles who impregnated children.

After a Wichita jury acquitted Tiller of violating Kansas law restricting late-term abortions, deliberating for only 45 minutes after days of testimony, O'Reilly all but pronounced the whole state guilty. "If I could get my hands on Tiller," O'Reilly thundered, "Well, you know. Can't be vigilantes. Can't do that. It's just a figure of speech. But despicable? Oh, my God. Oh, it doesn't get worse."

Like Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who'd moved his organization to Wichita largely for the purpose of harassing Tiller and his patients, O'Reilly spent last week denying responsibility. Not his fault, oh no.

Terry blamed the victim. "George Tiller was a mass murderer and horrifically, he reaped what he sowed," he said.

Then why did that Kansas jury acquit him? Essentially because while propagandists obscured it, Tiller's medical practice had almost nothing to do with abstract moral and theological arguments about when life begins.

Quite like the Terri Schiavo case, it had to do with irreparable tragedies at life's end: catastrophically deformed fetuses, pregnant children too young to carry a baby to term, suicidal, retarded or mentally ill victims of statutory rape, and with women stricken by cancer or other deadly complications.

Who should make such heartrending decisions? You? Me? Bill O'Reilly? Even the Vatican recently advised compassion in the case of a 9-year-old Brazilian child raped by her stepfather. But because such conditions often fail to become manifest until later in pregnancy, many doctors, out of religious conviction, fear or simple lack of expertise cannot deal with them. To such patients and their families, Tiller seemed a kind of saint.

Sarah Palin Is the One Who Is Subjecting Her Children to Public Scrutiny, Not David Letterman

The Palin theory that Willow could not be mistaken for Bristol might be disproved when you see their family Christmas photo from 2007

by Chad Rubel

If you don't think Sarah Palin is dangerous -- and chances are, you are already do -- what she and her husband Todd pulled off this week is just the latest chapter in "Which Palin family member will be sacrificed to make Sarah Palin look like a martyr."

She got a significant percentage of the population to think David Letterman was actually making a sex joke about a 14-year-old girl and got Letterman to apologize profusely for something he never did.

Margaret Carlson of Bloomberg News put it best when talking to Keith Olbermann last night on "Countdown."

"David Letterman did not drag the 14-year-old daughter into this. The Palins dragged the 14-year-old daughter into it. And it was absolutely egregious. And they obviously hunger for this kind of melodrama."

Just about anybody -- literally -- understood that when Letterman made the jokes about Alex Rodriguez and Eliot Spitzer, he was talking about Bristol, not Willow. If by some chance you believe Willow was the target, the jokes don't make sense, and Rodriguez and Spitzer would have excellent libel suits ready and willing to file against the late-night comedian.

But we haven't heard from the Yankees 3rd baseman or the former New York governor. Why? Because they know who the joke was about, and it wasn't about a 14-year-old girl.

Fun With Statistics!

June, 2009

In New York City, a crowd gathered with signs of protest, wanting David Letterman to go away. The crowd was estimated at 50 people. That's .0006% of the population of New York City.

September, 2008

In Anchorage Alaska, a crowd gathered with signs of protest, wanting Sarah Palin to go away. The crowd was estimated at 1500 people. That's .54% of the population of Anchorage.

So�.given home court advantage to each of them, the number of people protesting Palin was 90,000% higher than those protesting Letterman.

Just sayin'.


Author: Fitzgerald libel threat aimed at censoring key 9/11 tale

Powerful prosecutor's efforts to suppress book virtually guarantees elevated sales

Peter Lance should be thanking Patrick Fitzgerald right now, even as the attorney's checks are being signed.

If it were not for the U.S. Attorney who famously prosecuted I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former Vice President's Chief of Staff, the re-release of Lance's stunning tale of mishandled espionage leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, might be overlooked.

The former ABC News investigative reporter's book Triple Cross hit relatively few shelves in 2006 as a hardcover and left retail quietly, almost completely ignored. Now, with its paperback release looming, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is threatening to sue over material which he calls "defamatory" and "easily proven to be objectively false," some of which touches on little known information relating to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Because of the threat, the reissue of Triple Cross received attention from The Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal and the Associated Press, among others.

"That's the lesson of censorship," chided Lance, speaking to RAW STORY.

The dark plots of Ali Mohamed

Ali Mohamed, according to Lance, was something of an al Qaeda super-spy who managed to work with terrorists, the Green Berets, the CIA and become an FBI informant, even while ensuring Osama bin Laden's safe passage around the middle east. For years, Triple Cross alleges, the FBI and specifically Fitzgerald, knew about him but allowed Mohamed's activities to continue unchecked.

Mohamed, Lance wrote, was actually responsible for writing portions of the terror network's training manual and played a key role in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa which left over 200 dead.

"While some contend that Mohamed's intimate relations with the FBI and CIA are proof of government involvement in a 9/11 plot, Lance says that it was instead embarrassment and ass-covering on the part of Justice and Pentagon officials over the mishandling of Ali Mohammed that led first to a conspiracy of silence and then to a conspiracy to cover up their incompetence and deception," noted author Rory O'Connor in November, 2006. "He believes that chagrin over the fact that bin Laden's spy stole top-secret intelligence (including, for example, the positions of all Green Beret and SEAL units worldwide) led to a decision on high to bury the entire Able Danger intelligence program, which identified the Al Qaeda cell active in Brooklyn months before the 9/11 attacks, and also identified Ali Mohamed as a member of bin Laden's inner circle as early as March 2000."

This is my column. This is my column on drugs. Any questions?

by Ben Goldacre

In areas of moral and political conflict people will always behave badly with evidence, so the war on drugs is a consistent source of entertainment. We have already seen how cannabis being "25 times stronger" was a fantasy, how drugs-related deaths were quietly dropped from the outcome measures for drugs policy, and how a trivial pile of poppies was presented by the government as a serious dent in the Taleban's heroin revenue.

The Home Affairs Select Committee is now looking at the best way way to deal with cocaine. You may wonder why they're bothering. When the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs Act looked at the evidence on the reclassification of cannabis, they were simply ignored. When Professor David Nutt, the new head of the advisory council, wrote a scientific paper on the relatively modest risks of MDMA, he was personally attacked by the Home Secretary.

In the case of cocaine, there is an even more striking precedent for evidence being ignored: during the early 1990s the World Health Organisation conducted what is probably the largest ever study of global cocaine use. In March 1995 they released a briefing kit which summarized their conclusions, with some tantalising bullet points.

"Health problems from the use of legal substances, particularly alcohol and tobacco, are greater than health problems from cocaine use," they said. "Few experts describe cocaine as invariably harmful to health. Cocaine-related problems are widely perceived to be more common and more severe for intensive, high-dosage users and very rare and much less severe for occasional, low-dosage users."

The full report � which has never been published - went on to challenge several of the key principles driving prohibition, and was extremely critical of most US policies. It suggested that supply reduction and law enforcement strategies have failed, and that alternative strategies such as decriminalisation might be explored, flagging up such programmes in Australia, Bolivia, Canada and Colombia.

"Current national and local approaches which over-emphasize punitive drug control measures may actually contribute to the development of heath-related problems," it said, before committing heresy by recommending research into the unintended adverse consequences of prohibition, and discussing "harm reduction" strategies. "An increase in the adoption of more humane, compassionate responses such as education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes," it said, "is seen as a desirable counterbalance to the overreliance on law enforcement measures."

It specifically singled out anti-drug adverts which sought to modify behaviour through fear. "Despite a broad range of educational and prevention approaches, most programmes do not prevent myths, but perpetuate stereotypes and misinform the general public. Such programmes rely on sensationalized, exaggerated statements about cocaine which misinform about patterns of use, stigmatize users, and destroy the educator's credibility. This has given most education campaigns a na�ve image and has reduced confidence in the quality and accuracy of these campaigns."

It also dared to challenge the prevailing policy view � still enduring - that all drug use is harmful misuse. "An enormous variety was found in the types of people who use cocaine, the amount of drug used, the frequency of use, the duration and intensity of use, the reasons for using and any associated problems they experience." Experimental and occasional use are by far the most common types of use, it said, and compulsive or dysfunctional use, though clearly worthy of close attention, are much less common.

It then descended into outright heresy. "Occasional cocaine use does not typically lead to severe or even minor physical or social problems � a minority of people start using cocaine or related products, use casually for a short or long period, and suffer little or no negative consequences, even after years of use." And finally: "use of coca leaves appears to have no negative health effects and has positive, therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations."

At the point where mild cocaine use was described in positive tones, the Americans presumably blew some kind of outrage fuse. This report was never published, because just two months after the press briefing was released, at the 48th World Health Assembly, the US representative to WHO threatened to withdraw US funding for all their research projects and interventions unless the organisation "dissociated itself from the conclusions of the study" and cancelled the publication. According to WHO, even today, this document does not exist, (although you can read a leaked copy in full on the website of the drugs policy think tank Transform at ).

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