Monday, September 29, 2008

Is this a Parody? I Can't Tell

Tina Fey's imitation of Gov. Sarah Palin is frightening for its near lack of exaggeration. It's noteworthy that Fey and Amy Poehler simply replayed some parts of the Palin–Couric interview verbatim, but I'm actually amazed the SNL writers felt compelled to write anything for this sketch.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Urgent Secret Business Relationship

This is making rounds via email. I've removed some articles to make it more like those Nigerian scams.
Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is matter of great urgency. We need blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

I still don't quite know what I think of the bailout. But the urgency of it, and Paulson's proposal to control fully what goes on, are dubious, in my opinion. Also, after years of being lectured by the Bush Administration not to intervene in their economies, foreign governments are not blind to the irony of what Mr Paulson is now pushing. More on this later.

Spoof of The New Yorker's Cover

This is for anyone who saw The New Yorker's cover showing Michelle and Barack Obama doing a fist bump in the Oval Office and wondered, "Uh, why?" I like The New Yorker, but sometimes it's just too clever by half.

Stephen Colbert wearing an Afro. I love this country.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Medieval IT

Here's an oldie but goodie.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Turn Around

Every once in a while my friend J sends me an email with the subject heading, "What is with your people?" with an article, photo, or video that somehow concerns Scandinavians – or some extremely rough approximation thereof, like Belgians or the Dutch. God forbid he should refer to the Swedes as my people; those are the oppressors! (Note: While there is some factual basis for this, "oppression" is a strong word to use in any discussion of Swedish–Norwegian relations, and I'm only joking.)

Today's edition of What Is with Your People? is priceless. It's the Norwegian band Hurra Torpedo, which plays on kitchen appliances, performing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Friday, September 5, 2008

BarackBook: Part of a Maverick's Campaign?

The Republican National Committee's website offers rich material for comment. Take, for instance, the red bar on the homepage that displays a clock that counts down from "Biden's Last Gaffe." The other day Sen. Biden "again mixed up military 'battalions' with 'brigades.'" (*Snicker* Again!) There's also the website's "Audacity Watch," which might be more appropriately titled "Uppity Negro Watch."

I mentioned the rotating graphics on the homepage in another post. One of them is a link to "BarackBook," which initially appears to be a relatively innocent dig at Sen. Obama's popularity on Facebook. But it's actually an attempt to smear Obama based on associations – both real and imagined.

Many of the people in Sen. Obama's "social network" are yawners. Others are included because, say, they protested the Vietnam War – they're just there to kick up the culture war embers.

Then there are the people that the GOP is clearly using to scare voters – people with scary names. Take, for instance, Ali Abunimah, founder of the online publication Electronic Intifida. This American author's BarackBook page details all the times he has talked about Obama or talked about talking to Obama.

Mr Abunimah says that Israel is the result of "Zionist colonization" – an inarguable fact – and that the Israeli government has demolished Palestinian homes (also true). He also uses the term "Jim Crow" when describing the daily lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and, in general, describes the daily hardships that ordinary Palestinians endure.

In other words, Mr Abuminah talks and writes about incredibly complicated issues from a perspective that is barely heard in the United States. But the implication on his BarackBook page seems to be that he's a terrorist, or at least a terrorist sympathizer, and this then seems aimed at raising the question in the reader's mind, "What does that make Sen. Osama?"


We should, of course, dig into politicians' associations, and asking about Tony Resko is certainly fair game. (I actually think The Chicago Tribune's editorial about the affair was pretty poorly written and unconvincing.) The thing to which I object is the innuendo.

Whatever your opinions about Ali Abuminah, he's not an explosives-vest-wearing psycho – he's a commentator and writer whose pieces have appeared in Ha'aretz, the Israeli paper, as well as The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Financial Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. But what can be the intent of including Mr Abuminah in BarackBook other than to lead some people who are not familiar with the Middle East to believe that Obamah is a terrorist sympathizer?

But instead of coming out and making any serious, fact-based accusation against Sen. Obama, the McCain campaign instead relies on whispers: "Hey, did you know that Barack Hussein Osama wants to wipe Israel off the map?" Insinuations such as this are as insidious as any ridiculous and insulting (not only to Sen. Obama, but also to everyone's intelligence) direct accusations, because they quietly calcify into feelings and hunches and are so hard to shake with clear facts. Even if the any associations with Ali Abuminah don't work, 20 or 50 other such stories are there to take its place – only a few of them need to yield the intended result. And that result, in the end, is black paint slapped on sand to look like a road. Go down that road and you arrive at the inevitable conclusion that Sen. Obama is dangerous. But look down, and look behind you; what do you see?

Meanwhile, we're supposed to believe that this kind of innuendo is part of a maverick's campaign. We're supposed to believe that this is not politics as usual, and that Sen. McCain rises above the partisan, win-at-all-costs furor of typical political discourse.

But ask yourself: Is this is a tactic of an honorable man?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pundits' Hypocrisy About Gov. Palin

Thank God for Jon Stewart; he's one of the best media critics out there. In the clip below he skewers Karl Rove, Bill "Papa Bear" O'Reilly, Dick Morris, and Nancy Pfotenhauer – all of whom can't seem to make up their minds on "the gender card."

A highlight: a segment featuring Papa Bear commenting on two different teen pregnancies:
First, on September 2nd, 2008, talking about Gov. Palin's 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy: "Millions of American families are dealing with teenage pregnancy, and as long as society doesn't have to support the mother, father, or baby, it is a personal matter.... It is true that some Americans will judge [Gov. Palin] and her family.... For the sake of [Gov. Palin] and her family we hope things calm down."

Second, on December 9th, 2007: "On the 'pinhead front,' 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears is pregnant. The sister of Britney says she is shocked. I bet.... Here the blame falls primarily on the parents of the girl, who obviously have little control over her."

In Ms Pfotenhauer's defense, she is a senior policy advisor to Sen. John McCain – of course she wants her horse to win. And if that's not made clear when she makes appearances, that's the network's fault, not hers.

But these other guys? To paraphrase Mr Stewart: in their defense, they're lying sacks of shit.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The RNC's Designs on Obama's Design?

I just logged onto the Republican National Committee’s website. The centerpiece of the homepage is a series of rotating graphics. One of these graphics – the one featuring Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. McCain’s running mate – caught my eye instantly.

Look familiar? Just in case it doesn’t, now look at this:

It’s part of the banner on the Obama campaign website. Compare the fonts, the colors, the poses. Now check this out from the homepage of the Obama campaign website:

In the graphic featuring Gov. Palin the word "from" is italicized, just as is the word "of" above. This is not that unusual a typographical feature, but it's also not that common, and the RNC's use of it is striking.

Similarly, blue is very common among campaigns. Having been proven again and again to be especially appealing to consumers (esp. when compared to red), this is no surprise. But the shade of blue in the Gov. Palin graphic is remarkably close to the one that the Obama campaign uses.

You’d think that the RNC would want to differentiate its design from that of the Obama campaign – that it wouldn’t want anyone to be struck by similarities. What’s going on here?

I have a quick and dirty theory. The Obama campaign’s logo and fonts have been hot topics of blog posts and in the press throughout the past year. Google “obama design” and you get nearly a million pages on the topic (or so it appears). From what I’ve read, the consensus is that the Obama campaign’s graphics – and its control of the visual message – are brilliant; for instance, Newsweek's "Stumper" featured an analysis back in February that included color commentary from Michael Bierut. Could the RNC be trying to get a little of that marketing and design savvy to rub off on it?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Visualization of Data

I learned about Many Eyes, the brainchild of scientists at IBM's lab in Cambridge, Mass., from my friend Adam. It's a Web tool that anyone can use to create visualizations of data. As a rabid fan of Edward Tufte (speaker, anti-PowerPoint crusader, and author of several books on the visualization of data, including The Visual Display of Quantitative Information), I had to pass it along.

There are already several visualizations on the site. Here's one that I found quite compelling, because it uses a "network diagram" to depict visually the medal count at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing:

Note: If the graphic does not appear above, it's because Many Eyes is moving databases around. I've had problems signing in and performing other basic tasks – IBM may not have devoted enough server space to Many Eyes.

I think it would be easier to understand if the countries and the sports were better differentiated, and I posted a comment to that effect (I accidentally went down as "Anonymous," which was annoying because anonymous posting is a pet peeve of mine). If you're looking for a specific country, you can select a sport in which you know that country medaled, and all of the countries with medals in the sport light up; you'll then have an easier time of finding the country. (Of course, the same is true the other way around.)

I also think this visualization would be improved if you could find the actual data by rolling over a country or sport; for instance, if you hold the mouse over "Boxing" a pop-up window appears to list the countries that medaled in that sport. But these are minor quibbles, and I'm not even sure if it's possible to make those changes.

I love that you can pull apart different elements to get a better handle on the information. And the interactivity doesn't stop there: this is also a forum, by which IBM accomplishes two things. First, it is better enabled to improve this tool and its subsets through user feedback. Second, IBM provides an additional service to its users: free consultation from the thousands of other users who frequent the site. Many Eyes thereby builds a solid user base.