Saturday, August 05, 2006

How to avoid (or repair) expired NY Times links

Old NY Times links don't die. They don't fade away. They don't even break. They just "expire," becoming solicitations to access the article for "free" if you have Times Select and haven't accessed more than 100 articles that month. (And if you don't have Times Select, you're invited to search for the article in the archives and purchase it.) You know, that familiar "screen of death" shown here. Sigh.

I just found out that this was happening to all the Times links (but no other major newspapers) on my old posts (not that old, either -- they expire after a week). This really bothered me. It sort of undermines the whole idea of a hyperlinked blog posting when direct access to the story it references is denied. I have no interest in becoming a marketing arm of the New York Times, helping them hustle Times Select memberships or paid archive downloads.

Before starting to scream at the Times (again), I figured I better check some other blogs -- maybe it was just me. But, as it turned out, lots of blogs have the same problem, some of them pretty big. For example, check out this recent post on AMERICAblog . Click on the first link, which is to the Times. You’ll get the “screen of death.” Click on the second link, which is to the Post. No problem. The article comes right up.

But not all blogs have this problem. On some, the Times link works just fine -- for example, this Althouse post about “boomer slackers.” Try it. Click on the link. It opens right up. What’s going on? Does Ann Althouse have some special pass?

Well, no. Actually, it was looking at the code for her link that pointed me in the right direction. Take a look. You’ll find it’s a longer-than-usual URL, and it has “RSS” at the very end. That’s when I realized there must be a way to get a websafe link from the Times RSS feed. But how?

A quick Google search for “NY Times expired link RSS” took me right here -- to “The New York Times Link Generator, presented by reddit.” You’ll find an explanation of how they worked with the Times to generate websafe links that would identify the link as coming from a blog and preventing it from expiring. (It works with all the regular Times news content -- not columnists, etc. that are behind the Times Select firewall in the first place.)

There’s a text box where you can paste in the NY Times URL you want to use, and the converter will give you a new, websafe URL you can paste into your blog. (Or use it to convert the URL and read the story behind another blog's expired link.) Bookmark it and you’ll be all set -- if you even want to bother.

I’m not sure I do. Oh, I’ll try to go back and fix the old links. But after that, I’m not sure I want to bother with the extra step that no other newspaper forces me to take. It’s not as if there aren’t any others.

Note to New York Times: You seem willing to let people link to your stories. So why force them to go through all these contortions just to put up a link that won’t expire? Way to shoot yourself in the foot, (again).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where is Herblock when we need him?

"Save the Holy Places"

In the Library of Congress. (Hat tip to Land of Enchantment who posted the 1948 image as a comment on Daily Kos.).

The cartoons of Herbert L. Block -- better known to several generations of Americans as “Herblock” -- provided liberal commentary to the nation from the depths of the Great Depression to the Millenium. We lost a giant not long after 9/11 when Herblock passed away on October 9, 2001.

The Library of Congress website (speaking of great national resources) has a couple of Herblock online exhibits. One is a 2000 retrospective -- "Herblock's History" -- that surveys his career and, in addition to cartoons, has additional background information and photos. And when I say that Herblock is in the Library of Congress, that’s literally true in the sense that his entire personal archive was donated to the nation, in the form of a gift to the Library of Congress. Another online exhibit celebrates this gift. Scroll down and you’ll find the “sacred places” cartoon, with accompanying historical notes.

Herblock’s work looks old-fashioned to the modern eye. It’s not lyrical or beautiful in a conventional sense, and his graphic technique is a pretty blunt-edged sword. But you knew where he stood, and he was one of the giants of his field. Herblock was a tough-minded liberal who was one of the first national voices to stand up against Joe McCarthy and coined the term “McCarthyism.” From the “Herblock’s History” notes:
In this climate of fear and suspicion, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which Herb Block had opposed since its inception in the 1930s, became active. And in 1950, a young senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, seeking political gain, began a well-publicized campaign using smear tactics, bullying and innuendo to identify and purge communists and "fellow travelers" in government. Herb Block recognized the danger to civil liberties posed by such activities and warned of them in his work. He coined the phrase "McCarthyism" in his cartoon for March 29, 1950, naming the era just weeks after Senator McCarthy's spectacular pronouncement that he had in his hand a list of communists in the State Department. His accusations became headline news, vaulting him into the national political spotlight. For four years McCarthy attacked communism, while in his cartoons Herb Block relentlessly attacked his heavy-handed tactics.
Herblock also was an early critic of the Vietnam war.

On a personal note, one of my most treasured possessions is an autographed copy of one of his books that he sent me. This was because, many years ago, I was the editor of a current events filmstrip program for school kids based on editorial cartoons. (Hard to imagine schools today even trying to do such a thing…)

I had to negotiate fees for our use of the cartoons, and we had a very limited budget. The syndication firm that handled his cartoons was asking way more than we could pay, but we really wanted to use his cartoons. They put me in touch with the cartoonist. He wondered what we wanted to use them for. When I explained that the program was designed to stimulate classroom discussion and help students develop their powers of critical thinking, he got really excited about it and arranged for us to pay just a nominal fee. That was Herblock.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The monkeys on a train analysis of the American two-party system and why politicians are not all the same

Check out what Sis at Shakespeare’s Sister does with this throwaway news story from India.
So, Mr. Vidyacharan Patel of Mumbai has the choice of sharing his train with a wild monkey (who will probably try to steal his cigarettes) or a primate that looks like a monkey on a leash. It’s not much of a choice, but anyone with any sense would choose the primate on a leash.

Which is why, when every election rolls around, I vote for the Democrats.
If that seems like a stretch, read her post. She has crafted a brilliant, very funny political metaphor. You won’t be able to get it out of your head. Plus, it makes a lot of sense.

Faith and reason at the abyss -- then and now

Chemical Heritage Foundation

The New York Times Science section yesterday had a story (and a neat slide show, see above) about the role played by the history and practice of alchemy in the origins of modern chemistry. Boing Boing has links to the exhibition and the conference in Philadelphia on which the article was based. While the NYT article is interesting, it’s a bit of a mishmash and covers fairly well-trod ground. Didn’t we all learn in school that chemistry evolved out of the early experiments of the alchemists? What doesn’t come through is the incredible drama of the time when all this was happening.

But if you really want to get a sense of what it was like when the northern European Renaissance and modern science were being born out of the death throes of the medieval, faith-based world, read Marguerite Yourcenar’s great 1968 novel, “The Abyss.” It’s not quite in the league of “Memoirs of Hadrian,” her incomparable, magisterial masterpiece. But it’s an unforgettable and haunting evocation of a pivotal time in the history of Europe and the world. John Banville's "Kepler" covers some of the same ground, but not nearly as vividly.

From Joan Acocella's marvelous essay on Yourcenar in the New Yorker last year.
Yourcenar’s main project in the nineteen-sixties was her next novel, “The Abyss.” The tone of this book is very different from that of “Hadrian.” When an interviewer raised that point with her, she asked him to consider the events intervening between the two novels. When “Hadrian” was written, the war had just ended, and the United Nations had been established. There seemed to be some hope for the world. Then came a series of disasters. She listed them briefly: “Suez, Budapest, Algeria.” (She might have added the Vietnam War, which sickened her. She went to sit-ins, carried placards.) If reading “Hadrian” is like gazing on white marble, reading “The Abyss” is like breaking open a clod of earth and finding strange, dark things: glints and bones and bugs, slimes and roots, sulfur and verdigris. Flanders in the sixteenth century was a pit of violence—secular wars, religious wars, peasant revolts. All this is in the book, together with the explosion of ideas that occurred at that time: the Reformation, the discovery of new worlds, the birth of modern science, the beginnings of industrialization. The hero of “The Abyss,” and the representative of those new ideas, is Zeno, the illegitimate son of a rich banking family, who leaves home at the age of twenty to find truth. He becomes a priest, a physician, an alchemist, a philosopher.
Zeno is a wonderful imaginary figure for the reader, but he was more than that for Yourcenar herself.
Yourcenar often voiced the conviction that her characters actually existed, and lived with her, but there is no character she felt closer to than Zeno. He was a brother to her, as she put it. When she couldn’t sleep, she would hold out a hand to him. Once, weirdly, she recalled going to a bakery and leaving Zeno there; she had to go back and get him, she said. In view of this attachment, the stern and furtive character that she gave to Zeno seems puzzling. Perhaps it was a defense against too great a love for him. Or, more simply, one might say that Zeno was Yourcenar’s tribute to one part of herself, her love of knowledge, and that she made the tribute more pointed by cutting the other parts away. She said she expected “The Abyss” to be read by about ten people. Instead, like “Hadrian,” it was a big success.
In Zeno's time, Europe lived on the edge of the abyss -- a time of great suffering, disease, political turmoil, social upheavals, and wars, both secular and religious -- and at the same time, a vast explosion of knowledge and an unprecedented expansion of human understanding. It was a time when faith and reason were (sometimes violently) sorting out their relationship with each other. In short, a time very much like ours. Reading about Zeno is to spend some time with a companion who would see the problems -- and the opportunities -- we face as surprisingly familiar, despite the passage of nearly five centuries.

You know the world has gone mad when (some of) what Pat Buchanan says starts to make sense

From his column "Israel’s overkill enabled by immoral U.S. policy" in the Boston Herald:
“One who goes to sleep with rockets shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t wake up in the morning,” said Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman.

Today, we hear unctuous statements about how Israel takes pains to avoid civilian casualties, drops leaflets to warn civilians to flee target areas and conforms to all the rules of civilized warfare. But Israel’s words and deeds contradict her propaganda.

Gillerman, at a pro-Israel rally in New York, thundered, “To those countries who claim that we are using disproportionate force, I have only this to say: You’re damn right we are.”
Buchanan aims much of the blame right back at U.S. politicians of both parties.
And how does one defend our behavior?

When Gillerman was exulting in the disproportionality of Israel’s attack on Lebanon, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton was smiling smugly beside him. When the U.N. Security Council tabled a resolution condemning Hezbollah’s igniting of the war, but also the excesses of Israel’s reprisals, U.S. Ambassador John Bolton vetoed it. When a few congressmen sought to moderate a pro-Israeli resolution by adding words urging “all sides to protect innocent life and infrastructure,” GOP leader John Boehner ordered the words taken down.

America shares full moral and political responsibility for the massacre at Qana.
Clearly the Bush administration has its own agenda in the Middle East and is egging Israel on to carry out the attacks on Lebanon. That doesn't mean Congress has to go along with it, or the American people.

And we shouldn't have to rely on Pat Buchanan, of all people, to remind us that the collective punishment being carried out against the nation of Lebanon is as immoral as it is stupid.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A picture that’s worth 1,000,000 words

Nina Bramhall for The New York Times

Art Buchwald with son, daughter-in-law and grandkids at home on Martha’s Vineyard, in case you missed it in the New York Times Home & Garden section.
Mr. Buchwald has always been, with the exception of his periods of black depression, a man who needed to be the life of the party, and in a way only a humorist could truly appreciate, he has gotten his wish: after checking into a Washington hospice in February to die — his leg had been amputated, his kidneys were failing and he had declined dialysis — he lived. The longer he lived, the more attention he got and the happier he became. He resumed his syndicated column. He made a book deal. The hospice became his salon. In early July he checked out and returned to his summer home of 30 years on Martha’s Vineyard, which he calls “its own sort of heaven.”
Welcome back, Art! (Thanks to donkeytale for the link.)

When did Portland get so uptight about coaster brakes?

Remind me to go around Portland on my next big bike trip. Coaster brakes Fixed gear braking is illegal there. You need caliper-style handbrakes. WTF? Boing Boing takes you in the courtroom:
Now it was time for Officer Barnum to ask questions.
He asked Holland, "What would you do if your chain broke?"
Holland: "I would use my feet."
Officer Barnum: "What if your leg muscles had a spasm?"
Holland: "I'm not sure...these are emergency situations."
My entire childhood was spent on fixed-gear coaster brake bikes, and although I had my problems, brake-failure was not among them -- and the fixed-gears aren't all that different in their braking power. What's wrong with the folks in Portland? Don't they have better things to do? (Thanks to Andrew Turley in the Comments for the technical advice.)

Isn't it a little early to give up on planet Earth?

Alliance to Rescue Civilization

Come on, guys ... When I wrote the post "Bush to planet Earth: 'Drop Dead!'" the other day, I was speaking metaphorically, if a bit sarcastically. But today the NYT seems to be taking the prospect literally and exploring off-planet alternatives, under the headline "Life After Earth: Imagining Survival Beyond This Terra Firma," accompanied by a wonderfully loopy illustration reminiscent of 1950's Russian science fiction art.
SAVING SPECIES: The Alliance to Rescue Civilization differs from other so-called doomsday projects. It envisions a lunar base where, in the event of global catastrophe, humans could carry on, protecting DNA samples of life on Earth and maintaining a bank of human knowledge.
The story is about scientists affiliated with the Alliance to Rescue Civilization, which largely seems to be a book-promotion website. They reference the same Earth-from-the-moon photo I did the other day, but draw a different conclusion.
In 1999, the same year the book came out, Dr. Shapiro wrote an essay with Mr. Burrows for Ad Astra, an astronomy journal. There, they formally laid out their plan for the rescue alliance, beginning by warning that “the most enduring pictures to come back from the Apollo missions were not of astronauts cavorting on the Sea of Tranquility, nor even of the lunar landscape itself.”

“They were the haunting views of Earth, seen for the first time not as a boundless and resilient colossus of land and water,” they continued, “but as a startlingly vulnerable lifeboat precariously plying a vast and dangerous sea: a ‘blue marble’ in a black void.” A conversation shortly after the essay was published, Dr. Shapiro recalled, resounded with the earnest imagination of science fiction drama:

Dr. Shapiro: “We’ve got to use space to protect humanity!”

Mr. Burrows: “By God! Yes!”

The concept is not new, but there is some fresh momentum. Mr. Burrows’s new book, “The Survival Imperative: Using Space to Protect Earth,” is due out this month. And the physicist Stephen W. Hawking, who is not part of the group, began arguing this summer that human survival depends on leaving Earth.
Obviously, there are some technical difficulties here. It's hard to imagine human life being sustained on the moon, even in stripped down form, without a lot of support from infrastructure on Earth that presumably would no longer exist in the event of some ultimate calamity that the venture is designed to protect humanity from in the first place.

But that's just a quibble. What this really reminds me of is the old fantasy that's accompanied Western science from the beginning -- the dream of an ultimate escape into some higher realm, more often than not in recent years, that of cyberspace. As Margaret Wertheim demonstrates in her wonderful book "The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet," it's an old theme that's basically religious in its origins, with Neoplatonic, Christian roots. The same theme runs through a lot of science fiction. On that level, it's harmless enough.

But once it starts to invade "Science Times" -- or worse, when even Stephen Hawking seems ready to bail on our home planet -- I worry that our best and brightest minds are simply starting to give up on the problems that face us. Granted, saving the planet won't be easy.

But retreating into escapist fantasies isn't the answer.

Cross-posted at My Left Wing.

Words are so inadequate these days ...

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity. -- Gustave Flaubert

Posted again because this is how I feel so frequently these days, especially while talking about the Middle East. For all our banging on the kettle, the bombing continues, and an indifferent world does nothing. Yet all we can do is keep trying. (More information about Flaubert at the original post.)

Monday, July 31, 2006

Monday peacock blogging

At least nobody's bombing these guys.

Lebanon: Robert Fisk's cry of outrage

Really, I would like to be blogging about something cheerful, funny and/or intellectually stimulating -- anything but the awful nightmare taking place right now. Instead, I keep reading things like this.
I dropped by the hospital in Marjayoun this week to find a young girl lying in a hospital bed, swathed in bandages, her beauty scarred for ever by some familiar wounds; the telltale dark-red holes in her skin made by cluster bombs, the weapon we used in Iraq to such lethal effect and which the Israelis are now using to punish the civilians of southern Lebanon.

And, of course, it occurred to me at once that if George Bush and Condoleezza Rice and our own sad and diminished Prime Minister had demanded a ceasefire when the Lebanese first pleaded for it, this young woman would not have to spend the rest of her life pitted with these vile scars.
And now it's cluster bombs.. Robert Fisk ‘s article titled “Bush and Blair: ‘Keep It Up!’" continues on in this vein, unbearably so. Read it and weep.

Iran: Why not just go on and break all the pottery?

According to James Bamford writing in Rolling Stone, a small group of neocons in the Pentagon and their allies are determined to get us into a war with Iran -- and have been for some time. Although Bamford’s credibility has been heavily attacked in right wing media, he’s the author of the classic “The Puzzle Palace” and one of America’s most respected reporters on intelligence matters. His concluding paragraphs are chilling:
Over the past six months, the administration has adopted almost all of the hard-line stance advocated by the war cabal in the Pentagon. In May, Bush's ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, appeared before AIPAC's annual conference and warned that Iran "must be made aware that if it continues down the path of international isolation, there will be tangible and painful consequences." To back up the tough talk, the State Department is spending $66 million to promote political change inside Iran—funding the same kind of dissident groups that helped drive the U.S. to war in Iraq. "We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared.

In addition, the State Department recently beefed up its Iran Desk from two people to ten, hired more Farsi speakers and set up eight intelligence units in foreign countries to focus on Iran. The administration's National Security Strategy—the official policy document that sets out U.S. strategic priorities—now calls Iran the "single country" that most threatens U.S. interests.

The shift in official policy has thrilled former members of the cabal. To them, the war in Lebanon represents the final step in their plan to turn Iran into the next Iraq. [Michael] Ledeen, writing in the National Review on July 13th, could hardly restrain himself. "Faster, please," he urged the White House, arguing that the war should now be taken over by the U.S. military and expanded across the entire region. "The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it," he concluded. "There is no other way."
In other words, the same gang that broke Iraq now wants to break all the pottery in the cabinet. Just in time for the election, no doubt.

The Pottery Barn rule revisited: We broke it, the pieces are still being smashed, and the damage is spreading

Ceerwan Aziz/Reuters

In speaking to George Bush, Colin Powell invoked what became known as the Pottery Barn rule in the run-up to the Iraq war, to little effect.
" 'You are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people,' he told the president. 'You will own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You'll own it all.' Privately, Powell and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage called this the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you own it."
We’ve seen the result. It’s as if all the broken shards are constantly being stomped on and ground into the dirt. Kirk Semple reports in the New York Times on his conversation with a local -- Umm Hassan, a 44-year-old Iraqi woman who works as a reporter and translator for the NYT --
in the back seat of a Baghdad car, both of them crouched down to avoid attracting attention.
“Once there was only one Saddam, now there are many,” she continued. “Everyone has their own reasons to kidnap or kill.” She reached over and took my notebook and pen, then drew a circle. “That’s Saddam,” she said, tapping the circle with the pen. “I knew to stay outside the circle, away from him, and I was O.K.”

She then drew a chaotic group of circles, all overlapping — the most complex Venn diagram on Earth. She put the pen tip in the middle of the madness. That’s where the ordinary Iraqi now stands. The enemy, she said, “is everywhere, many sides, every side.”

“There is a new saying,” she went on. “ ‘We’re all sentenced to death but we don’t know when.’ ” Indeed, one of the greatest victims of the war is certainty. There’s uncertainty about who rules and who can be trusted. There’s uncertainty about the safety of moving from point A to point B, the source of the next meal, the meaning of a glance.
Welcome to Baghdad, the hellhole the Bush administration created by breaking the balance of terror that existed under Saddam, because they were sure democracy would solve all of Iraq’s problems.

And the damage is not limited to Iraq. From her vantage point in Baghdad, River Bend writes in Baghdad Burning and reflects on the tragedy in Qana, Lebanon.
And the world wonders how ‘terrorists’ are created! A 15-year-old Lebanese girl lost five of her siblings and her parents and home in the Qana bombing… Ehud Olmert might as well kill her now because if he thinks she’s going to grow up with anything but hate in her heart towards him and everything he represents, then he’s delusional.

Is this whole debacle the fine line between terrorism and protecting ones nation? If it’s a militia, insurgent or military resistance- then it’s terrorism (unless of course the militia, insurgent(s) and/or resistance are being funded exclusively by the CIA). If it’s the Israeli, American or British army, then it’s a pre-emptive strike, or a ‘war on terror’. No matter the loss of hundreds of innocent lives. No matter the children who died last night- they’re only Arabs, after all, right?

Anybody have a rebuttal that doesn't sound like cynical sophistry?