Monthly Archives: January 2011

Oddity of the Week

Dating from 1975 or 1976, here it is: the original pitch for The Muppet Show.

I completely lack the capacity to fathom why this show was rejected by American studios and had to wait to be picked up  by a British studio.  But then, I can’t imagine why a show with such a breadth of appeal was canceled, either.

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Picture found here.

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Goodbye, Threat Levels

Hear that?  It’s the sound of inevitability, the sound of a foregone conclusion.  The sound of the Department of Homeland Security ending their color-coded threat levels.

If you’re unfamiliar with the system, they were one of the many superfluous creations of the Unnecessary Department of Redundancies, er, DHS, in the wake of 9/11 to assure the populace that graphs were being made to ensure their safety.  The threat level is currently Bert, or Ernie if you’re flying.  Don’t even ask how blue got to be between yellow and green.

Perhaps I’m being overly derisive.  After all, there’s no inherent problem with using simple graphics to communicate important information.  I’m a huge fan of the health rating letters that local businesses have to display, for instance.

Except that this graphic is meaningless.  It not only does not, but cannot be used to communicate actual information.

In the first place, it’s impossible to make an accurate estimate of the likelihood of a terrorist attack.  It’s not like predicting how bad flu season is going to be–rare, catastrophic events are never going to pan out as predicted.  Some terrorist threats are serious, most are sound and fury, and there’s no reason that a real attack should come preceded by a warning.  At any rate, if Homeland Security did have the intelligence to accurately predict whether a terrorist attack would happen, hopefully they would just stop the attack rather than fiddling with alert levels.

But regardless of the accuracy of their intel, DHS could never set the alert level to anything other than orange or yellow.  If it were red, everyone would be freaking out and Homeland Security would appear incompetent.  Setting it to green or blue would be fine…unless something actually happened, in which case Homeland Security would, again, seem unprepared and incompetent.  No wonder the alert level hasn’t changed in four years.

And so I issue a happy farewell to threat levels.  I would like to think that this means Homeland Security will hereafter focus on creating actual security, rather than the appearance of security, but such a hope is chimerical.

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Oddity of the Week

The cows…the cows…whimper…

If you need me, I’ll be in the corner, rocking myself.

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Moderation Policies (Left and Right)

Free Republic has been attracting some attention on the web for having stated policies like this:

Free Republic is a site dedicated to the concerns of traditional grassroots conservative activists. We’re here to discuss and advance our conservative causes in a more or less liberal-free environment. We’re not here to debate liberals. We do not want our pages filled with their arrogant, obnoxious, repugnant bile. Liberals, usurpers, and other assorted malcontents are considered unwelcome trolls on FR and their accounts and or posts will be summarily dismissed at the convenience of the site administrators.

It’s not just a stated conservative site–it’s an enforced conservative site where being liberal (or even non-conservative) is a bannable offense.  This raised the question of moderation policies on other political partisan blogs, so I did a brief survey.  Let’s handle the liberal sites first.

DailyKos has a whole pile of posting rules, conventions, and suggestions, but here is the pertinent part:

Some Rules Regarding Participation in Diaries and Comment Threads

  • Do not make threats or calls for violence. Threatening to beat up or kill someone, or suggesting that people should kill themselves, or saying that poison should be put in somebody’s crème brûlée, or making similar remarks, even as a joke, is prohibited and can lead to banning. This does not mean that all forms of cartoon violence, literary references, metaphors and the like are barred.

Admin Moderation: A single warning. Second offense: Banning.

  • Revealing the real identity or other personal information of a registered user who has not him- or herself made that identity known at Daily Kos or otherwise given permission for such information to be publicly revealed will result in summary banning. Among other things, such revelations include, but are not limited to, phone numbers, addresses, including email addresses not publicly available at Daily Kos, places of employment or clients, gender, sexual orientation, and the identities of other family members. Asking hostile outing questions such as: Do you work at such and such a place? when research has shown this to be true or likely to be true is a form of outing and will be dealt with as such.

Admin Moderation: Summary banning.

  • Registered users working in paid (or unpaid positions of authority) for political campaigns must disclose their affiliation when it is relevant to the conversation.

Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning and, in an exception to the outing rule, exposure of the paid person’s real name.

  • Registered users who write GBCW diaries – saying they are leaving and never coming back – will be banned after their diary’s 24-hour recommendation period has expired. A user who changes their mind may return to Daily Kos under their pre-ban moniker and user identification number only after appealing for reinstatement to the Director of Community or Markos. Users who write diaries saying they are taking a temporary hiatus from posting at Daily Kos are not banned.
  • This is a site for adults and language is not generally policed here, in terms of “shit, ” “fuck, ” “asshole, ” or any of those other family-unfriendly words. Avoid “fuck” in headlines to avoid triggering browser filters of users who log on at their workplace. Anti-semitic, anti-Arab, racist, sexist, ableist and heterosexist language, however, is unwelcome.

Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning.

  • Thread stalking is defined as having three requirements:

1. On multiple occasions, one or more commenters follow a community member into diary threads; and, 2. The commenter(s) posts comments that include false information, personal attacks, lies, or implied/express disclosure of private information; and 3. The commenter(s) engages in this conduct with the intent to harass, harm, humiliate, frighten or intimidate another poster. This intent may be inferred from the number of times that the commenter follows a community member into threads and/or the nature of the comments posted.

Stalking does not include the mere expression of disagreement, seeking out diaries or comments of favorite diarists or simply frequent interaction on the boards.

Before calling someone a stalker or tossing H Rs at a person thought to be a stalker, community members should post a comment explaining what conduct and/or statements constitute the stalking with a link to relevant evidence so that adminstrators and the community have a record to review. Admin Moderation: Warning, suspension, banning.

Nothing there about political opinions; in fact, it’s specifically mentioned that disagreeing with other people is allowed.

Here is the Crooks and Liars policy:

C&L takes pride and a vibrant and lively discussion on our posts. In order to insure that, we ask all our readers to adhere to the following commenting rules:a) Keep all comment threads on topic. This includes the main comments of the post and all sub-threads within that post’s comments.

b) Will not post comments that contain spam, malware, Trojans or any other items harmful to the community. Failure to comply with this rule is grounds for an immediate ban.

c) Will not engage in racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism or other intolerance.

d) Not post comments that are obscene, hateful, threatening or wishing acts of violence against other.

e) Will not engage in “flame-baiting” or trolling.

f) Will opt to ignore users before engaging in any of the above.

g) Keep all discussions civil. Everyone has a right to disagree, but do so respectfully and refrain from name calling.

h) Give proper attribution to all copied content and keep said copied work to a maximum of three paragraphs

i) Will not repost the same content numerous times.

j) Understand that the C&L staff reserves the right to edit or delete any comment for the purpose of; compliance with the TOS and/or privacy policy, content and clarity. We also reserve the right to edit content for any reason not stated above.

The bit about racism, sexism, and the like could be considered squelching the opinions of racists and sexists, but it’s a standard rule found on all kinds of blogs.  Again, there is a specific statement that dissenting opinions are allowed.

The Huffington Post lists five guiding principles for commenting.  This is the first one:

The Huffington Post welcomes all users to join our community and to comment and treats all members of the community equally.

We do not discriminate based on the person who is posting, and we never censor comments for political or ideological reasons. We never delete an appropriate comment because we disagree with its viewpoint or ideology, and we never publish an inappropriate comment because we agree with or support its viewpoint or ideology. We also do not tolerate ad hominem attacks of any kind.

Media Matters:

We are committed to providing a forum where anyone, from anywhere on the political spectrum, can address and respond to the work we do. We request that your posts be relevant to the topic at hand and respectful of others. Media Matters reserves the right to remove comments, topics and threads that are hateful, derogatory, trolling, irrelevant to the conversation, or in violation of copyrights.

Think Progress has its policy in legalese, but the idea is the same:

Blog Community Rules. We have adopted the “Blog Community Rules” set forth below to create a forum where information and progressive views can be shared in a productive way. While using the Blog, you agree to adhere to the Blog Community Rules below.You agree to:
• Respect other Bloggers – please do not threaten, insult, abuse, intimidate or harass other Blog users.
• Use the Blog for your personal use only. Posting entries solely to promote your own projects are not allowed.

You agree not to:
• Post any messages or provide links to any messages that endorse or oppose a particular political party or candidate for office.
• Post any private information, or otherwise harvest, collect or disclose information, about another Blogger without his or her express consent.
• Post any content to the Blog that is unlawful, racist, hateful, libelous, defamatory, obscene, or that intentionally discriminates against or harasses particular individuals or groups.
• Post any death threats.
• Post any content to the Blog that infringes any third-party’s intellectual property or other rights.
• Use the Blog for any unlawful purpose, or transmit or otherwise make available in connection with the Blog any material that would give rise to criminal or civil liability.
• Use the Blog for advertisements, chain letters, “spamming,” survey solicitations, junk mail or solicitations.
• Impersonate any person or entity, including any CAPAF employees, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with any person or entity.
• Imply that CAPAF endorses any of your statements or positions.
• Transmit any harmful, invasive or disruptive code or other materials (such as viruses, worms or web bugs) through or to the Blog, or otherwise “hack” or deface any portion of the Blog.
• Frame or mirror any part of the Blog without our prior written authorization.

The one major exception is Democratic Underground, which states:

Who We Are: Democratic Underground is an online community for Democrats and other progressives. Members are expected to be generally supportive of progressive ideals, and to support Democratic candidates for political office. Democratic Underground is not affiliated with the Democratic Party, and comments posted here are not representative of the Democratic Party or its candidates.

Being conservative isn’t listed specifically as a bannable offense, but it sounds like it is.

Moving on, we’ve already mentioned Free Republic, but let’s look at some other conservative blogs and forums.  For instance, Red State:

The posting rules for redstate.com are as follows:

  • No profanity.
  • No personal attacks.
  • No harassment or demonization of a particular individual.
  • No disruptive behavior or off-topic remarks for their own sake.
  • No trolling or mobying
  • Notwithstanding the list above, the proprietors of this site in their or their designated site moderators’ sole discretion may disable an account if the proprietors in their own judgment or the judgment of their designated site moderators believe a user is disruptive in any way or intends to disrupt

The purpose of this site is promote conservative and Republican ideals. This is our home, and we ask you kindly not to track mud into it. Revocation of posting privileges (banning) will take place after a warning of behavior which violates the intent and spirit of these rules.

The bulleted rules are all standard, but the following paragraph suggests that banning may result if you disagree with conservative ideals.

Right Network/Gateway Pundit has a much more inclusive policy:

RIGHTNETWORK encourages expression, discourse, and respectful debate.
RIGHTNETWORK is a vibrant community where people from all sides of the political spectrum can come together and join the national conversation.

RIGHTNETWORK is an entertainment media company and as such, we won’t dominate the conversation, we’ll stimulate it. The content and values you express in your comments are a reflection of your character and values.
All comments, visuals, videos and other type of material posted by fans on this site (“User Content”) do not necessarily reflect the opinions or ideals of RIGHTNETWORK, its employees or affiliates.

We review all content posted here and reserve the right to remove anything that violates the RIGHTNETWORK Terms of Use.

That’s an example of a conservative blog that specifically allows people of all opinions.

Pajamas Media is an aggregate of conservative blogs:

Pajamas Media appreciates your comments that abide by the following guidelines:

1. Avoid profanities or foul language unless it is contained in a necessary quote or is relevant to the comment.

2. Stay on topic.

3. Disagree, but avoid ad hominem attacks.

4. Threats are treated seriously and reported to law enforcement.

5. Spam and advertising are not permitted in the comments area.

These guidelines are very general and cannot cover every possible situation. Please don’t assume that Pajamas Media management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment. We reserve the right to filter or delete comments or to deny posting privileges entirely at our discretion. Please note that comments are reviewed by the editorial staff and may not be posted immediately.

Nothing about dissenting opinions there.

Michelle Malkin’s policy is a bit nebulous:

I may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as I choose, in my absolute discretion, and I may close particular comment threads or discontinue my general policy of allowing comments at any time. By registering to post comments, you warrant that you are at least 18 years old and that you are solely responsible for your account’s activity.

I reserve the right to delete your comments or revoke your registration for any reason whatsoever. Rarely will I do so simply because I disagree with you. I will, however, usually do so if you post something that is, in my opinion, (a) off-topic; (b) libelous, defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, profane, pornographic, offensive, false, misleading, or which otherwise violates or encourages others to violate these terms of use or any law, including intellectual property laws; or (c) “spam,” i.e., an attempt to advertise, solicit, or otherwise promote goods and services. I may exercise these rights myself and I may delegate them to employees and/or contractors.

I do not own your comments and I expressly disclaim any and all liability that may result from them. By commenting on my site, you agree that you retain all ownership rights in what you post here and that you will relieve me from any and all liability that may result from those postings. You further agree to grant me a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sub-licenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by me.

In short, you’re my guest here. I welcome your participation, but if you abuse my hospitality, don’t be surprised if you are shown the door.

Generally reasonable, pending an explanation of what “rarely” means.  Also note that, like most political blogs, commenting requires registration; unlike most political blogs, registration is currently closed.

Hot Air’s terms of service are carbon copied Michelle Malkin’s (or vice versa):

Hot Air allows you to post comments on the site, provided that you first register to do so with a valid e-mail address. Comments registration is now closed. That means you cannot comment unless you have already registered. We may allow as much or as little opportunity for registration as we choose, in our absolute discretion, and we may close particular comment threads or discontinue our general policy of allowing comments at any time. By registering to post comments, you warrant that you are at least 18 years old and that you are solely responsible for your account’s activity.

We reserve the right to delete your comments or revoke your registration for any reason. Rarely, if ever, will we do so simply because we disagree with you. We will, however, usually do so if you post something that is, in our good-faith opinion, (a) off-topic; (b) libelous, defamatory, abusive, harassing, threatening, profane, pornographic, offensive, false, misleading, or which otherwise violates or encourages others to violate these terms of use or any law, including intellectual property laws; or (c) “spam,” i.e., an attempt to advertise, solicit, or otherwise promote goods and services.

Hot Air does not own your comments and expressly disclaims any and all liability that may result from them. By commenting on our site, you agree that you retain all ownership rights in what you post here and that you will relieve us from any and all liability that may result from those postings. You further agree to grant us a worldwide, irrevocable, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to store, use, transmit, display, publish, reproduce, or otherwise distribute your comments without limitation, as well as to make such additional uses of them as may be needed by HotAir.com, Hot Air Network, LLC, or any affiliated entity.

In short, you’re our guest here. We value your opinion and are happy to provide you with a forum in which to express it, but if you abuse our hospitality or use our site to injure someone, don’t be surprised if we throw you out.

Again, comment registration is closed; again, we don’t know what “rarely” means.

While we’re on the topic of major personalities, Ann Coulter’s blog has always been closed for comments.  Bill O’Reilly‘s blog allows comments for Premium Members–and yes, that’s exactly what it sounds like (plutocracy in action: Your opinion counts if you have money!).  On the other side, The Maddow Blog, Ezra Klein, and Paul Krugman are all open for comments.  Their terms of service, which are pretty standard, I haven’t included because they are those of their respective news organizations, not those of the bloggers themselves.

In summary, all Democratic sites except Democratic Underground allow participation by people with all kinds of opinions; most specifically encourage it.  Republican sites run the full range from actively encouraging disagreement to specifically forbidding it.  In addition, all the conservative personalities surveyed either disabled or greatly restricted comments on their blogs, whereas all the liberal personalities surveyed allowed anyone to comment.

One possible reason is that liberals may be more likely to troll conservative sites than vice versa.  For instance, the largely-liberal Tumblrverse likes to flood polls on Fox News and similar sites (note that this isn’t actually trolling:  A public poll is going to be touted as “real people’s opinions,” and Tumblr users are real people).

Alternately, there simply may be a preponderance of liberals on blogs and forums, since internet-savvy demographics (young people) tend to overlap with liberal demographics, meaning that if a small proportion of everyone hangs out at blogs they disagree with, there will be more liberals on conservative sites than vice versa.  At any rate, I came up with a longer list of prominent liberal blogs more quickly than I could find even a modicum of prominent conservative blogs.

But it could also be that conservatives simply have less tolerance for disagreement.  Outside sources support this:  Republicans’ ability to walk in lockstep in Congress while Congressional Democrats hardly ever all agree on anything; sites like Conservapedia designed as alternatives to mainstream sites that allow conservatives to avoid exposure to other opinions (Conservapedia, which looks like a parody but isn’t, is notorious for banning editors so aggressively that it is essentially written by admins, and registration has been closed for several years now).

Liberals, in my experience, enjoy a modicum of disagreement because it gives them a chance to repeat their opinions and evidence.  Discussions among people who mostly agree with each other feel like preaching to the choir; one or two dissenters make the conversation feel much more productive.

After all, trolling should not be a serious problem for a healthy, vibrant online community.  True trolls–people who make obnoxious comments with no intent to engage in actual conversation–can be banned or simply ignored easily enough; people with differing opinions who want to have a real discussion are a benefit, not a harm.  If a community doesn’t like them, they can be ignored, voted down into oblivion, or simply told that they are not welcome.  After all, Free Republic is in love with their own importance:

Over 300,000 people have registered for posting privileges on Free Republic since inception in 1996 and our forum is read daily by over one hundred thousand freedom loving citizens and patriots from all around the country, and all around the world. We’re currently delivering over thirty million pageviews per month to over one million visitors.  Oh, we’re big stuff all right.

So why can’t their hundreds of thousands of patriots handle a few random liberals?  (And seriously, they actually said that last sentence?)

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I’m not a big reader of political partisan blogs, so if there are any glaring omissions in my list, let me know and I’ll have a look at their terms of service.  Several sites (FireDogLake, Daily Kos, FreedomWorks, Ace of Spades HQ) have also been skipped because I was unable to find any relevant terms of service, or because they lack a venue for comments.

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Oddity of the Week

Saudi Arabia detains a vulture on suspicion of being an Israeli spy.  One would think they’d be more worried about moles.

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Oddity of the Week: RNC Debate Edition

Were you watching the Republican National Committee chair debate?

Admittedly there was no reason why you should, since the candidates are all identical (more on that later), but Michael Steele got a last hurrah as national embarrassment.  Check it out.  Oh, and check out the Daily Show version.  And the Colbert version.  Not so bright, those potential RNC chairs, or else smart enough to know that appearing bright won’t help them.  Here’s a longer clip featuring highlights like Saul Anusis accidentally quoting Mussolini.

Notice the first two candidates’ responses to the book question, too.  This is pure posturing:  They are not even attempting to answer the question honestly.  They are not thinking about what books they actually liked (notice how fast the responses come).  They are thinking about what answer would win their base’s approval the most by referencing buzzwords.  The one who mentions Bush’s book apparently doesn’t even know its title.  In other words, it’s a dog whistle.

The posturing is also visible in the other questions.  For instance, someone in this group has to be smart enough to know that Sarah Palin has the proverbial snowball’s chance of winning a general election, but anyone who knows that is also smart enough not to say it.  You’d think that the ability to realistically assess candidates’ chances would be a benefit to a fundraising position, but saying so won’t help you get said position.

Or consider the magnificently-named Reince Priebus’ statement “I don’t believe that judges can redraft the Constitution,” another simple dog whistle.  You can tell it’s a dog whistle partly because it’s something that everyone believes framed with the insulting implication that there are people who disagree, but mostly because the statement is irrelevant to the question, which was about marriage, which is not in the Constitution in any way, shape, or form.

Posturing instead of acting honestly is as poisonous in politics as it is common, particularly when Congresspeople move from posturing in speech to posturing in actual legislation (that is, voting based on what will win them the most political points rather than what they think is right), as Slacktivist pointed out.

Also observe the sheer homogeneity of the answers, so marked that the moderators had to reframe the favorite politician question so that everyone wouldn’t just answer “Reagan.”  (I guess they learned from the 2009 debate, where not only does everyone name Reagan as their favorite president, but most of them refuse to name a least favorite Republican president.)  I think this shows the marked influence of the Tea Party–not as a changing force, but a homogenizing one.  It isn’t bringing new ideas into the Republican Party, it’s forcing old ideas out.  Consider the Party Unity Pledge that they all support, or how the term RINO now gets applied to any Senator or Representative who votes with the Democrats, even once.

Of course there is posturing on the Democratic side, too (women’s issues, anyone?), but not nearly as much homogeneity.  If you asked a panel of Democratic candidates a typical Democratic question, like “Would you legalize gay marriage?”, you’d get a variety of answers.  That’s good, because the American people believe a variety of things.  Ideally, the houses of Congress would contain the full spectrum of American views in their proper proportions.  We can’t afford to dedicate half of our political establishment to one single opinion.

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Hero Rats, Hero Rats, Fighting For Mankind

If you think of rats as disgusting vermin, then either you found a rat’s nest behind your dishwasher (sorry, Katie and Ian) or you’ve never met a domesticated rat.  They’re friendly, gregarious, and full of fun antics.  But longtime rat owner Bart Weetjens came up with another use for them: Land mine detection.  And with that was born HeroRats, one of the most adorable charities known to man (at least among charities that aren’t themselves animal rescues).

Rats have a great sense of smell, they’re as smart and trainable as dogs, and they are too light to set off land mines.  And aside from the cute value, HeroRats has all the marks of a good charity.  Mined land is found in the poorest communities, but demining is done by expensive outside experts.  The organization uses African giant pouched rats, a local species acclimated to the climate and resistant to tropical diseases, both of which pose a problem for mine-sniffing dogs.  Rats are inexpensive to house and can subsist on local food products, like peanuts and bananas.  Their staff of trainers and handlers are also virtually all locals, making it a not insignificant employer in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Yes, Christmas and the officially-sanctioned surrounding season of giving is over, but still:  There are rats.  Mine-sniffing rats.

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Yes, I heard about them from the Parry Gripp video, makers of the famed Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom Nom video and such classics as Dog with a Box on his Head.  Don’t judge me.

Pictures found here and here.

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