Google will no longer censor searches in China

Quick, read this article, because it's probably going to be all anyone talks about for the next few days.

After researching the cause of numerous sophisticated hack attempts on their servers, as well as those of many other large companies, Google has announced that they will no longer be filtering searches in China.

In a one-page statement released on January 12, Google less-than-subtly implies that they believe that the Chinese government is responsible for these security threats, and that the purpose for carrying them out was to access the accounts of Chinese dissidents at home and abroad.

In retaliation, it seems, they have opted to discontinue all search filtering and censoring in China, and are actively reconsidering whether they should do business there at all.

Personally, I think they are 100% in the right on this, and it's about time they reversed their controversial filtering policy. It's ridiculous to hide behind the shield of Chinese law while behaving in a categorically un-American way. I felt that it was a giant slap in the face to all the American people who made their technology a massive success to take that technology and apply it as a means of mass control.

As Orwell pointed out, you only have to restrict access to words in order to prevent their assimilation into new ideas. By allowing selective filtering, and in some cases a complete lack of search results for certain keywords such as "freedom" and "democracy", Google was complicit in an act of totalitarian thought control over close to one quarter of the Earth's population.

New from MIA

MIA posted a really cool new song and video today. Is motherhood pushing her in a new direction? Who knows? But, whatever it is, I dig it. Some scratchy lo-fi effects, nice flange/phase on the vocal melody. Something very different from her experimental hip-hop stuff, and, I think, much better than that old favorite "Jimmy."

Is that a tweaked out sample of Bjork's "All Neon Like" I hear at the end?

"There's space for ol dat I see."

Sarah Palin returns, like a bad relative

Sarah Palin, a woman who gave new life to the term "Seward's Folly", is back on the scene. And where else, but Fox News.

The beauty queen turned governor has done what many of us have expected for a long time, and has mavericked her way into lockstep with the Republican mainstream's greatest ally.

She began her new career as she has begun so many things, by saying something entirely asinine in her press statement:

“I am thrilled to be joining the great talent and management team at Fox News. It's wonderful to be part of a place that so values fair and balanced news’

I'm sure there must be someone who believes that, but I haven't met him.

As for that higher calling . . .
Remember back in July, 2009 when she made that bizarro resignation speech, promising "no more politics as usual?" Well, for a change, she was telling the truth. No more politics at all, is more like it, and thank God for it.

A lot of people are still living in this happy magic land where Sarah Palin is the Republican future. But, seriously, people, she's no Hillary. She's a package of vote-bait with little substance. She's an outsider, because she has no qualifications to get in.

Modern politics is exactly the opposite of leadership, and the idea of running Palin as a "real" Vice-Presidential candidate is something from the extreme edge of manipulation and cynicism. In my eyes, she's not a figure of hope, or the triumph of the underdog. She's a glaring example of politics-by-demographics.

Not coincidentally, the characteristics that got her her last couple of jobs are the same that have gotten her this one. Rupert Murdoch is just a guy trying to make a dollar and he does it by getting people to watch television, no matter what's on it. He'll even skewer himself if it gets him an ad buy.

Right now, he's got a cable news network filled with angry, nasty people, and watched by millions. Fox's crazy cable news has better ratings than any of the major stations, and Palin will fit right in to the shtick.

Fox Personality Reason to Watch Who's watching
O'Reilly Wondering which liberal he is going to constantly interrupt Angry out-of-work white people
Hannity To learn which new ultra-patriotic thing must we all do (Formerly to laugh at Colmes) Internet tough guys
van Susteren To learn what Sarah Palin is doing Plastic surgery consultants
Beck To feel less alone about being fat, stupid, and having bad hair. Fat, stupid people with bad hair.
Palin To find out what stupid thing she'll say next. Stoned liberals

It will be argued by some that at least she's eye candy, and that's better than anyone else on the network. Well, she's not my type, I guess. And, if you're going to elect someone just because she's a milf, go with Yulia Tymoshenko. The Ukranians did.

Overall, I think this is the end of the road for Mrs. P. It's been rumored that she'll be taking home something in the low 7-figures this year working at FNC, and she'll be a hero to millions of fly-over soccer moms. Plus, she'll get to live in warmer weather than she's seen in a long time. There's no reason for her to ever get back into real politics. Those who can, do. Those who can't, well, they go to Fox News and spew vitriol at those who can.

Swans to reunite, sorta

According to this little nugget, brought to my attention by Pitchfork, the band Swans is set to reunite and tour, presumably this year, though the announcement is very vague.

The line-up will include many old-schoolers, but will sadly lack Jarboe, which makes me sad. I've seen Gira about half a dozen times performing as himself, or with Angels of Light, but, somehow I've never seen her, and I always hoped the two of them would find a way to work together again.

Anyway, if you know what I'm talking about, then I'm sure you're already excited. If not, nothing I say can really change that.

This might be the official site, if you want to learn more.

Prop. 8 goes on trial

On Monday, January 11, 2010, America will begin another walk along the road to equality, as US District Court Judge Vaughan Walker will begin hearing testimony in the case of Perry vs. Schwarzenegger, wherein two same-sex couples are suing for their right to marry in the state of California.

The court's decision is not the end of the road, but most likely the kind of beginning that is only seen once in a generation. The outcome of this case, which will almost certainly be appealed to the Federal Appeals Court, and later to the Supreme Court, will mark the first step in holding this country accountable for its promise of liberty and justice for all.

Points worth noting
1) The lawyers who brought the case to trial are David Boies and Theodore B. Olson, who opposed each other in the historic Bush v. Gore trial that decided the 2000 presidential election. Now, they are an unlikely team working together for a common cause.

2) Depending on a decision that must be made soon by a higher court, this may be the first US District Court case ever televised. It has already been decided that it will be provided at some Federal courthouses via closed-circuit television.

3) It's Schwarzenegger in name only. Don't spend any extra hate on old Arnold this week, because he's only listed on the complaint in his official capacity as Governor of our state. He's officially neutral on the issues, as are almost all of the "defendants" in the case. Many defendants in the case actually agree with the plaintiffs, so the court has granted "intervenor" status to lawyers for the folks who gave us Prop. 8.

4) There is much more in the balance here than simply the right to marry. This case could serve to determine once and for all if homosexuals are a protected class of people, or merely sexual deviants. This has ramifications all the way up, including the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy in the armed forces, and most likely every instance of law that currently allows gays to be discriminated against legally.

Bonus Reading Materials

Full text of the complaint. (Very interesting reading)

LA Times early coverage. (Nice breakdown of the players and issues.)

Collected pre-trial documents

The New Yorker's article

Great site for info and live blogging of the trial.

Ted Olson's 'Conservative Case for Gay Marriage

My own two cents

Personally, I wholeheartedly support the cause of gay rights in America. Many of my friends are gay, and for as long as I can remember, my life has been positively affected by gay coworkers, teachers, roommates, and community activists. My best friend's mom is a lesbian. One of my fiancee's oldest friends is in a same-sex marriage.

In the next couple of weeks, we are all going to be subjected to a lot of blustering speeches about both sides of this issue, and a lot of entreaties to universal justice, divine will and other nonsense that misses the point.

Sure, a very good case can be made that this is about protection, or tolerance, or wickedness, or sin, or Godlessness, or equality, or virtually any other ideal a person might possess. But, what's forgotten is that to some of us, it's not even an issue.

When most Americans look back on Loving v. Virginia (a case with the most amazingly appropriate name in Supreme Court history), we simply shake our heads and think "were people ever so stupid?" It's hard to imagine that this country was a place where people had to argue that Black people and White people were sufficiently similar that they should be allowed to marry. It's difficult to accept the idea that there was a time when people had to fight against an ideology that was so asinine.

The reason is that the outcome reached far and wide, and quickly. And, since "miscegenation" became legal in 1967, so many inter-racial couples have married that few people living in this country don't know at least one mixed couple.

For those of us who have lived around gay couples, the gay marriage ban already seems like some horrible relic from a long forgotten era, like doctors using leeches, or cocaine soda pop. It looks and feels like hate for hate's sake, and when we see protesters on the street vehemently supporting this nasty ban, part of us is angry, and part of us is really sad, but some part, I hope the largest part, feels a sort of pity for them.

They have lives that are so small, and so cloistered, that they are afraid of other people getting married. Imagine that for a second. Try to imagine what that must be like.

We all know by now that exposure is the cure for bigotry. When we meet people who are different from us, really meet them, spending time with them and their families, it becomes obvious very quickly that we all have a lot in common, and there isn't much to fear from any group of people in general. We see that the things that once worried us soon become a source of infinite conversation and inquiry. Now, just imagine how secluded a person's life must be, how harshly defended, that in all his years he never got to know a gay person.

It's not scary, really. It's just pathetic. And it's temporary, astonishingly temporary.

Terrorists are lame

Fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about the real damage done by terrorism as a proportion of the horrible stuff that happens every day. It seems that terrorism is about the least likely way to die, way behind most things that we do every day. But, because of our reaction to it, it has a monumental effect.

From the article:
Consider that on this very day about 6,700 Americans will die...

...Consider then that around 1,900 of the Americans who die today will be less than 65, and that indeed about 140 will be children. Approximately 50 Americans will be murdered today, including several women killed by their husbands or boyfriends, and several children who will die from abuse and neglect. Around 85 of us will commit suicide, and another 120 will die in traffic accidents.

Now, a lot of people will throw their arms up, or their fists, and shout "Are you saying that terrorism doesn't matter? That it's no big deal?"

I think many people, including the author of that article, will quickly defend themselves with shallow backpedaling nonsense like "No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying that we need perspective." I, on the other hand, will not. In fact, I think that the "no big deal" approach is exactly what is needed here.

What people don't see, or refuse to see, or maybe are incapable of seeing, is that terrorism is not about killing people. It's about idea warfare, and in this type of warfare, America is hopelessly outmatched. Allow me to explain.

Traditionally, the phrase "asymmetric warfare" applies to a conflict where one party is massively more powerful than the other, so both sides end up using wildly different strategies and approaches. Typically, it is the smaller country who has to adopt "non-conventional" tactics, such as guerrilla warfare, to outlast their enemy and cause attrition.

But, in the war on terror, things are different. First off, it's important to call it what it is. It's not a war on terror. It is a war against militant, fundamentalist Islam. Yes, I understand that there are other types of terrorists, and that most Muslims are just like everybody else. But, there is a small group of a few serious ideologues (everybody has them) who have quite literally declared war on the West, and have in no uncertain terms promised to bring us Islam by the point of the sword.

They understand that they cannot kill all of us who oppose them. Their goal is to wear us down and convert us. It's a long term goal. Their purpose is to spread an idea, not to take territory. They want to promote a meme, and random violence is merely a tactic. Unfortunately for us, their tactic is so devilishly effective that we are completely outmatched.

The Western World is the world of rapid, constant communication, and that is our weakness. When someone's goal is memetic warfare, communication is the battleground where all the skirmishes are fought. Kraft and Coca-Cola spent hundreds of millions of dollars every year for advertising time that interrupts your favorite television shows. Al Qaeda spends substantially less than that, and receives a hell of a return. It costs them one Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab to get many millions of dollars in television coverage.

Not only will the news post the man's picture time and time again; they'll also reprint whatever diatribe he gives in court. They'll publish and rebroadcast whatever gloating victory statement his supporters have made on a shaky VHS tape, dead-dropped on the steps of some office building somewhere. And if this work creates one new follower, and it will, they will break even. If it creates two, they win.

And here's where we are outmatched. Imagine that the American response is "Let's beat them at their own game," and that's kind of a good idea. Unfortunately, the people we're fighting live in places virtually untouched by media. They live in caves and forgotten Afghan grottoes. Their followers are people essentialy removed from the mainstream. They prey on the poor and defenseless; people whose yearly income might be in the low 3-figures, people who can barely afford a newspaper, let alone a television set. They prey on the illiterate. They take advantage of people who only know one book, and can't read it, so they have to listen to some nut interpret it for them on the fly.

Does memetic warfare work? It works amazingly well. Did you know the average European knows quite a lot about that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving? They know that we eat a turkey. They know about the Pilgrims and Indians. They know about cranberry sauce in a can, though most have never tasted it. They even know that we fight with our relatives and get drunk watching television. And why do they know this? Because we've exported our cultural virus far and wide. We gave them Friends and Cheers and The Simpsons. And, as a result, they mostly think that, on a personal one-to-one level, we're alright people. Some may hate our politics, but that's a different story.

In the forgotten media vacuum of the rural Middle East, no such connection has ever been made. The big cities know our work, but the word has yet to get out to the fringe, where it needs to get out.

While the CIA and NSA figure out a way to get televisions into the hands of poppy farmers, they need to figure out a way to control the weapon that is affecting us all the most, which is the media. Am I saying that the press needs to be forbidden from reporting on attempted suicide bombings? Should they be banned from broadcasting terrorist videos? Honestly, I don't think they should. But, in times of war, they need to look inward and see if their need for viewers outweighs the damage that they do to those viewers.

When the media is the weapon, it's not completely ridiculous to expect them to exercise a modicum of safety when handling a very dangerous type of ammunition. When every news program is filled with hate and hysteria about the coming ninja-Muslim apocalypse, the media play right into the hands of the people they think they're hurting, and they're hurting the people they claim to support. The so-called "fourth branch" of government is essentially programmed by terrorists.

Robot sex in 2010?

In an effort to keep up with NBC's edgy side, ABC wrote about about 100 column inches today on the nasty side of the Consumer Electronics Show, its gigantic little brother, Adult Entertainment Expo, and, in particular, the new trend of high-tech substitutes for sex. Apparently, the Sexbot is here.

The article has no pictures, so I'll have to assume that these sexbots look like Sorayama's Gynoids.

Sure, I understand why you'd want something like this. Some people are just overwhelmingly obsessed with sex, and we live in an environment that gives these people the tools to keep falling down a rabbit hole.

From the article:
According to True Companion's Web site, she "can carry on a discussion and expresses her love to you and be your loving friend. She can talk to you, listen to you and feel your touch."

First, let's hope that the guy who was interviewed isn't the guy who worked on the speaking AI, because his English needs help. Second, and more importantly, I just imagine something like the sexual side of talking to an Eliza.

Imagined conversation:
You: Hey, baby.
Sexbot: How does it feel to call me baby?
You: Good. You wanna get it on?
Sexbot: You like to get it on, right?
You: Oh, yeah. You wanna see my cock?
Sexbot: How do you feel about your cock?
You: Um . . . I guess I've always wished it was bigger.
Sexbot: Tell me about your mother.

This project is said to have cost somewhere between $500k and $1 million, and taken 2.5 years to complete. Trust me on this: it's not enough. Actual universities with genius professors and students have spent much, much more than this and have not approximated anything remotely resembling human intelligence or movement.

I bring you a description of horror:
RealTouch, which looks like a rectangular box with an orifice in the front, relies on haptic technology developed in the lab. Two belts inside the device are programmed to give the user tactile feedback that coincides with special videos that are haptically encoded.

Imagine an exciting combination of this:

and this:

So, the device sounds great, given that your penis is also the Kwisatz Haderach.

Stabbing yourself?

So, on page 47 of the news today, I found a link to a blog that says Howard Stern sidekick Artie Lange was in the hospital after reportedly attempting suicide by stabbing himself.

Normally, this wouldn't interest me, because I haven't listened to Stern in years. I actually stopped well before the move to satellite. At some point, I noticed that it just wasn't a good show. There was never any thought put into it. It was just a bunch of rapid-fire sex jokes at the expense of whatever woman was dumb enough to go on the show, or maybe someone with a learning deficiency. It really appealed to the worst side of our collective nature.

No disrespect to the players involved. They know that their brand of radio sells, and they hired people who create that kind of radio. It's no wonder that Don Rickles was a frequent call-in guest. The show was Mecca to people who like that kind of comedy. To each his own.

Anyway, it's interesting because it intersects with a local who was more successful in his bid for self-stabbification, the talented singer/songwriter Elliott Smith.

For years, fans of Smith have been calling for further investigation, certain that nobody could kill himself by stabbing himself repeatedly in the chest. They've asked the Chief of Police why he's not investigating Smith's girlfriend. Nobody ever wants to believe that their star could do something like that.

But, it turns out it's possible. If Artie can do it, why couldn't Elliot? Although he seemed a little more introspective, a little more enlightened, at heart he was cut from the same cloth that made Artie: severe depression, self-doubt, self-destructive addiction. The only difference is that he succeeded.

If Artie had been successful in his bid for a cemetery apartment, all we would know is that a bloated druggie was found dead, from multiple stab wounds, in his apartment. I'm sure there would have been your usual conspiracy theorists spouting off about all his enemies. His detractors would say he didn't have the spine to do such a thing, and was obviously murdered.

But, here we are, a few days later and he's around to tell the tale. It's too bad we can't use a spirit channeler to contact Smith, like in Rashomon, and put all this to rest.

Twangy little song

Just messing around with the gear again. A guitar part, a simple drum part, and a keyboard part. Accidentally wrote a song in the key of C#. Not the simplest project when you have no training with keyboards.

Kinda sounds like animals walking through the jungle.

Rumors of Poutine in Los Angeles

Went to Vic's for lunch and ended up talking to a dude from Montreal for a half-hour. Canadians are nice people. It's true. Polite, friendly people. They really don't belong in Los Angeles at all.

Anyway, I now know of two places in SoCal where one can get poutine.

First, is Redondo Beach Cafe, owned by a pair of Greco-Canadian brothers, and serving up a fine selection of smoked meat sandwiches, Greek food, and poutine.

Second is Soleil Westwood. I guess it's quite a bit nicer, going for the whole French bistro feel, but I've heard they have a good Poutine. I believe it is owned by a Quebecois. No offense meant, if I'm wrong.

Finally went to Soleil, twice actually. I loved it! Read my review here.

If you don't know what a poutine is, it's a Quebecois dish from Montreal. One translation is something like "mess," as in "a total mess of stuff thrown together."

It is made of French fries, covered in cheese curds and brown gravy. Sounds weird, I know, but I've had it, and it was awesome. I only had it once, in New York, at a Belgian place called Pommes Frites. I have been told that their version is fairly lackluster, which fills me with excitement at the thought of having a proper poutine. My opinion is that their version was exceptionally tasty. I have wistful memories of it.

Also, I seriously need to start taking a camera with me everwhere, because I saw the A-1 douchiest thing ever. There was a guy in line for food wearing FAKE nerd glasses. They were 3D glasses, with the lenses taken out, and a piece of white athletic tape wrapped around the middle. Man, I wanted to smack that guy so bad. Some of us actually WERE nerds, and we all hope that fake nerds die in fires.

If you're wearing fake nerd glasses, you make me sick.