Social media, that dastardly upstart of a content type, is a little like a cocktail party: occasionally interesting and usually full of people you sort of know. Social media aggregators, on the other hand, are more like boozy pubs: entertaining and loud.

Forthwith, 10 links this week from Digg and Reddit that I found informative and deliciously strange. This (and every) week's meme: the internet! Think of social media aggregators as newspapers that report on the internet as if it were a place. That's right, kinda like a bar and kinda like a newspaper. Enjoy.

1) Does anyone else feel like despite the vastness of the internet you just visit the same 4 or 5 sites over and over?

2) Trent Reznor explains the music industry.

3) Is it immoral to review leaked copies of The Wolverine movie?

4) Hey, Bill Gates has a Facebook page!

5) Should Obama control the Internet?

6) The dark side of Dubai.

7) Yes, the Internet sucks on April 1. Every year.

8) Chewbacca chord. Hilarity ensues.

9) Hungover in London? Have I got a bacon cure for you. 

10) Just cuz it reminds me of the Homeward Bound movie..

First, there were all of those "slanty eye" photos that circulated during the Beijing Olympics. Not okay. Then teen uber-sensation Miley Cyrus thought it would be funny to pose thusly, and it still wasn't (she apologized, twice). A regrettable trend, but maybe one that we could chalk up to athletes caught up in the moment and Hannah Montana-ness?

Well, today Texas state Rep. Betty Brown suggested (out loud, during House testimony) that Asians should adopt names that are “easier for Americans to deal with.” (There's no accompanying photo of her making slanty eyes, that I have seen.) Brown was responding to testimony from Ramey Ko, a representative of the Organization of Chinese Americans, who was explaining to legislators the challenges Asian Americans face in voting and in obtaining identification because their legal transliterated names are often different from a common name they use on official forms. Brown thought she would help out:

“Rather than everyone here having to learn Chinese — I understand it’s a rather difficult language — do you think that it would behoove you and your citizens to adopt a name that we could deal with more readily here?...Can’t you see that this is something that would make it a lot easier for you and the people who are poll workers if you could adopt a name just for identification purposes that’s easier for Americans to deal with?”

Wow. So helpful. You must have suggested that because you have helpfully shortened your own name from Elizabeth (long and full of syllables, I know) to the much more accessible, Betty. And Brown is a color, and one syllable, and so easy to say, like Bush! But Betty, if your name weren't Brown, but instead you (or your husband) descended from a long line of, say, Bartholomews, what a pain in the ass that would be if you ever wanted to become a poll worker, huh?

Miscellany

Here are two miscellaneous factlets that have caught my eye recently.  First up is On The Public Record, who is reading The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover From Disaster:

DAMN!  Cities NEVER give up.  Like, ever.  You cannot raze a city so bad that it goes away.  Like, some study showed that between 1100 and 1800, only forty cities stopped existing.   I suppose that makes sense.  I mean, the fact of a city not existing is so powerful that we remember it forever: Atlantis, Babylon, whatever that one was that got volcanoed.  I’ve been wondering if New Orleans and Galveston will be the leading edge of a new era of cities vanishing.  We’ll know in a generation, I guess.

Well, there's always Carthage.  It can be done as long as you're single-minded enough about the project.  Next up is Mark Kleiman, exploding an urban myth about marijuana cultivation:

Cannabis is not "the largest cash crop in California." That zombie statistic has a history: during the collapse of the lumbering industry in the early 1980s, the Ag Department county extension agent in Humboldt County, which grows timber and pot, was so angry about the suffering he saw around him due to unemployment among loggers that when he filled out his annual estimates of crop-by-crop revenues for his county he listed pot as #1, using a completely made-up number. Dale Gieringer of California NORML then projected that out nationally to show that cannabis was the nation's #2 cash crop, ahead of soybeans but behind corn (or maybe it was the other way around.) Since then, another NORMALista named Michael Gettman has produced even more fantastic numbers. In fact, the Abt Associates estimate put the total retail value of the cannabis trade at about $10b, about 15% of the total illicit-drug trade. That's retail price, not farmgate price. And not all of that is grown domestically; some of it comes from Mexico, from Canada, and from Jamaica.

No special axe to grind on either one of these things.  Just thought I'd share.

UPDATE: Jeez, bust one urban legend and propagate another.  Bad blogger.  In comments, coyote says:

The myth about salting the earth, etc, for Carthage is just that — a myth. Yes, the Romans trashed it, but it was such a logical trading spot that it was rebuilt, and by 400 or 500 AD it was a wealthy city again.

OK, so Carthage doesn't count.  Or does it?  If you destroy a city, drive out all the people, reduce everything to rubble, and then repopulate it a few decades later with your own people, is it really the same city?  Or is it a different city of the same name in the same place?  Hmmm.  Is there a philosopher in the house?  Did Shakespeare really write all those plays?  Or some other guy named Shakespeare?

Legacy of Lies: The Great Economic Cover-Up

Remember back in February, when Bill Clinton urged Obama to be more “upbeat” about the economy? Clinton actually implied that the new president could be making the financial crisis worse by being honest about how bad it was, thereby rattling public confidence—and with it, the market. You’d have thought the primary campaign would be enough to convince Obama that nothing good could come from Clinton homme. But the president has clearly taken a page from Clinton’s playbook. He now largely avoids statements that might frighten the horses in favor of cheerful declarations that we are at “a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery,” while at the same time promoting the latest bank bailout plan, which he says will get us there.

There are plenty of reasons why its wrong to try to buoy up a sinking economy on a raft of positive rhetoric—among them, the fact that it obscures what actually happened in the past, and clouds our judgment about what should be done to “fix” it. In the current issue of Newsweek, Daniel Gross comments on the Orwellian linguistic feat by which the government seeks to rebrand the piles of worthless crap created by our financial system.

Remember those toxic assets? The poorly performing mortgages and collateralized debt obligations festering on the books of banks that made truly execrable lending decisions? In the latest federal bank-rescue plan, they’ve been transformed into “legacy loans” and “legacy securities”--safe for professional investors to purchase, provided, of course, they get lots of cheap government credit. It’s as if some thoughtful person had amassed, through decades of careful husbandry, a valuable collection that’s now being left as a blessing for posterity.

According to this morning’s New York Times, the administration is now taking things a step further by promoting a plan that would let us ordinary folks buy what are being called “bailout bonds”—shares in mutual fund-type bundles of lousy mortgage securities. These are supposed to eventually become profitable, thereby allowing us to share in the wealth. But of course, they could also go the other way. As the Times notes: “If, as some analysts suspect, the banks’ assets are worth even less than believed, the funds’ investors could suffer significant losses.” In other words, having been screwed once by Wall Street, we’re now being asked to bend over for a twofer—which some people just might do, if they believe the rhetoric that happy days are about to be here again.

Another point of view came from William K. Black, who was the chief federal regulator during the S&L crisis, in a long interview with Bill Moyers on Friday. Black calls Bernie Madoff a “piker” in comparison with the Wall Street giants that committed mass fraud, and are now nonetheless raking in government funds. When Moyers asks Black “why the bankers who created this mess are still calling the shots” instead of being fired like the auto executives, Black mentions the close relationships between Washington and Wall Street, which applies to Tim Geithner and Larry Summers as much as to Henry Paulson. Then he talks about what he doesn’t hesitate to call a “cover-up”:

Video: Anti-Gay Marriage Ad Audition Tapes

The National Organization for Marriage, which probably called you Vermonters recently during dinner about keeping holy wedlock away from The Gays, has a video for you. Why are the people in it more concerned about gay marriage than the lightning bolts falling around them? Never mind, watch people flub their homophobic lines on these audition tapes instead:

UPDATE: The audition tapes are already inspiring YouTube parodies.

The Circular Firing Squad

We liberals are our own worst enemies sometimes.  Take climate change.  For over a decade we've been promoting the idea of cap-and-trade as a way of dealing with carbon emissions, partly for technical reasons (unlike a carbon tax, it imposes firm caps) but also — in fact, mostly — for pragmatic and political reasons.  A carbon tax, even if it has some theoretical advantages, is unlikely ever to happen.  We all know why.  Cap-and-trade, because it uses market mechanisms, has a proven track record with acid rain control, and raises money via auctions rather than taxes, has at least a fighting chance.

So now that liberals are in control of Congress and the White House and have an actual chance to pass legislation, what happens?  Everyone starts talking about carbon taxes instead.  Because, you know, in some theoretical economic sense you can argue that they're more efficient.  It's enough to make you scream sometimes.  At least, that's what it did to David Roberts, who must have been reading my mind after digesting Tom Friedman's most recent column:

So now, on the cusp of an enormous fight against dishonest and well-funded proponents of doing nothing, Friedman decides it’s time for “an alternative strategy, message and messenger”? Are you f*cking kidding me?! The only conceivable effect Friedman’s endorsement of an alternative bill can have is to divide support and distract attention from the best chance for a serious energy/climate bill in 30 years. His timing could not possibly be worse.

I’m sure Friedman would respond that hey, he’s not a Democratic operative. He’s an independent thinker. He’s under no obligation to stump for a bill that doesn’t make his mustache tingle. And in this he’s like all progressives. They all want to be the Smartest One in the Room. None of them want to sully their purity by compromising or rowing in the same direction. They all want to show how you clever they are, how their pony plan, their messaging, their strategy is the one those silly legislators ought to be using. Meanwhile, the coordinated opposition kicks their ass, over and over again. But at least they’re clever!

Be sure to read the rest of the rant.  As David points out, the key part of cap-and-trade is the cap, not the trade.  And contra Friedman, it's not hard to explain a cap on carbon.  In fact, it's a lot easier than trying to explain why a tax will reduce global warming.  Here's the elevator pitch: "We're going to reduce carbon emissions by setting a nationwide cap on carbon emissions."  See?  It's easy!

It's true that the trade part of cap-and-trade makes things more complicated, but it's not all that complicated.  It's just designed to lower the cost of complying with the cap and make everything a little more efficient.  Still, the cap is the key.  And as for complexity, anyone who thinks that a carbon tax — an actual, real-world carbon tax, not the chalkboard variety — would be nice and simple, hasn't been paying attention to the way Congress has been making tax policy for the past 200 years.  "Simple" is not a word that usually gets used in the same sentence.

The Anti-Gay Commercial, Plus 'Talking Points'

By now, some of you have surely seen the National Organization for Marriage's anti-gay marriage commercials being aired across the nation in response to recent developments in Vermont and Iowa. If not, you can see them online here. The Human Rights Campaign has already rebutted the commercial's claims very well, so I won't go into that except to say Mother Jones wrote extensively about the case involving the "California doctor" who says she's forced to choose "between my faith and my job."

Like others in the blogosphere, I thought the commercial was pretty heinous, not to mention factually inaccurate. But my jaw really dropped when I went to NOM's site and read the suggested "talking points" supporters can use when confronted by pro-gay marriage folks. Here's one gem: "We need a marriage amendment to settle the gay marriage issue once and for all, so we don’t have it in our face every day for the next ten years." That's right: they said "in our face." I'm taking this to mean, "Why can't you people just go back in the closet and stop asking for rights?" That said, I agree with NOM. We do need a marriage amendment. But if this map is any indication, I don't think it'll be the amendment NOM is hoping for.

Another online amusement: NOM lists answers supporters can give to common, but uncomfortable, questions such as "Are you a bigot?" and "Isn't the ban on gay marriage like bans on interracial marriage?" The suggested answers really speak for themselves. Apparently banning interracial marriage was about "keeping two races apart so one race could oppress the other." And gay marriage has absolutely nothing to with keeping two kinds of people apart or oppressing one of them, right? Right. Seriously, the rest of the questions and answers are pretty priceless. You can check them out here

 

Tar Sands Bad for Caribou

If health problems and polluted rivers weren't enough reason to worry aboout Canada's energy boom, here's another red flag: Declining caribou. According to a report scheduled to be released today by the Canadian government, herds of woodland caribou are struggling to survive in the boreal forests of southern Canada:

Parts of the highly technical, 300-page report show caribou herds are likeliest to decline in northern Alberta, northern Saskatchewan and the Northwest Territories.

A boom in natural resources such as oil and gas has spurred industrial development in those parts of the country, disturbing the caribou's habitat.

Of 57 recognized herds, 29 are are "not self sustaining," says the report. If the current trend continues, woodland caribou could be gone by the end of the century. For a great visual, check out National Geographic's photo essay on the tar sands. Doesn't exactly look like caribou paradise.

Are Nazis Funny? Even in Berlin?

Mel Brooks' "The Producers" is set to open in Berlin in May. It's even being performed in a theater that used to have a luxurious "Führer's Box" for Hitler. But how will Brooks' musical, with its 20-foot swastikas and singing stormtroopers, be received? As Der Spiegel points out, the musical has already had runs in Vienna (modestly successful) and Tel Aviv. So it was really only a matter of time before it came to the Fatherland. According to the Berlin theater's manager, advance ticket sales are doing well. Still, what a strange experience to see a fey, dancing, Hitler sing "Heil Myself" in the same theater where the real Hitler once watched "The Merry Widow."

 

What Does "Pass" Mean to You?

This is a peculiar story from the New York Times:

For the last eight weeks, nearly 200 federal examiners have labored inside some of the nation’s biggest banks to determine how those institutions would hold up if the recession deepened.

....Regulators say all 19 banks undergoing the exams will pass them. Indeed, they say this is a test that a bank simply will not fail: if the examiners determine that a bank needs “exceptional assistance,” the government, that is, taxpayers, will provide it.

....Regulators recognize that for the tests to be credible, not all of the banks can be winners. And it is becoming increasingly clear, industry insiders say, that the government will use its findings to press certain banks to sell troubled assets. The hope is that by cleansing their balance sheets, banks will be able to lure private capital, stabilizing the entire industry.

So what have we learned here?  First: all 19 banks will pass.  Second: not all the banks can be winners.  Third: the ones that pass — but aren't winners! — will be propped up by taxpayers.  Fourth: no, they won't be propped up by taxpayers, they'll be forced to sell assets and raise private capital.

Huh?  Which is it?  If by "pass," regulators merely mean that a bank won't be instantly seized and its management defenestrated, then I guess this makes sense.  Awards for all!  On the other hand, the prospect of a bank getting a "needs improvement" grade and then successfully selling a big stock issue to raise private capital is just fanciful.  Even banks that pass with flying colors will have trouble doing that.

So what's going on here?  Why are Treasury officials privately telling reporters that everyone is going to pass but that some banks will receive a pass-minus and may be required to do things that are almost certainly impossible?  Are they just trying to lay the groundwork for failure and temporary nationalization later on?  Or what?

I'm having a harder and harder time figuring out what's going on as time goes by.  If everything is on the up and up, it doesn't make sense.  If there are hidden wheels, though, I'm not sure they make sense either.  Just what is Treasury up to?